Book Review: The Jesus Manifesto

This book’s intention is to make you uncomfortable. In that sense, the authors – Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola – succeed admirably, but probably not in the way they’d hoped, at least not for me.

Of the two Leonard Sweet books I’ve read so far (this one and The Gospel According to Starbucks), Manifesto is much more in-your-face. Of the two Viola books I’ve read so far (this one and Pagan Christianity), Manifesto is probably equally cruel. This leads me to believe that Frank Viola is a very angry man who dragged Dr. Sweet along for the ride. I don’t know either of the authors though. so to the book!

What’s in the Book

Jesus Manifesto is a relatively quick (under 200 pages) attack on what – according to the authors – is the most serious problem in contemporary American Christianity: a lack of focus on Jesus. Viola and Sweet load both barrels and blast away at pretty much anyone that’s not them: Christianity has become about self-improvement. Or maybe it’s about social justice. No, it’s about doing the right things! Whatever the nature of the established institution, they will deconstruct it. And I don’t necessarily disagree with many of their critiques of the modern Church.


Sweet and Viola never bother to construct anything. They don’t offer answers to the critiques they levy so handily. "The question is not ‘What would Jesus do?’ but ‘What does Jesus want to do now through us?’" Okay. so how do we teach people the difference? "The essence of Jesus’ being is not His; he is continually receiving it from the Father. Could it be that those who are remade in Christ’s image live in a similar fashion?"
What? So we just ask "WWGD" instead? How is that significantly different?

Elsewhere, the authors claim that Jesus is not a social agenda. Okay, so does the Kingdom of God have political implications? Yes, apparently. er. maybe not. um. Jesus! Look at what Jesus did, but don’t imitate it! Or maybe you do.

The book does make great points. Lots of them, in fact. But just when you’re about to underline something helpful, the authors backpedal. The only word you’re really safe underlining in the book, in fact, is "Jesus". And while this may have been Sweet & Viola’s point, it’s not done in a clever enough way to be helpful. It ends up being more maddening and confusing.

And in the end, while I have my issues with the contemporary Church, maybe I’m just not ready to throw the Baby out with the manger hay.

The verdict? The book stands on Jesus, but the explanation of that stand is too confusing to be very helpful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”