Brief Reviews, VOLUME 2

Brief Review: So Beautiful by Len Sweet [Vol. 2, #48]

A Brief Review of

So Beautiful:
Divine Design for Life and Church
.
Leonard Sweet.

Paperback: David C. Cook, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.

[ Editor’s Note: See Kevin’s poem “Old Toes” below, which he submitted in conjunction with this review. ]

The Church today is teetering on the hump of a paradigm shift.  For a number of years missional ecclesiology has been building steam, permeating and soaking through the pores of seminarians and Church shifters.  The number of books published on the missional church continues to rise as more thinkers are weighing into the academic and practical mix.  Seminaries are adding class after class about missional leadership, missional ecclesiology, missional spirituality, and soon enough we’ll have missional pastoral counseling.  Not everybody will adopt the paradigm shift, but for the past two decades, the missional power-houses have pushed the Church uphill and are now about to ride the change to see missional church become standard.

Leonard Sweet was an early voice in the push.   A standout workhorse, Sweet writes So Beautiful:  Divine Design for Life and the Church – giving one more shove towards the missional church paradigm.  What is so beautiful, he contends, is the trinitarian DNA structure of the Church – Missional, Relational and Incarnational (MRI).

Sweet begins with a 35 page introduction functioning as an apologetic treatise to the missional church.  He pits the church of the times – the A,P,C church – against the church coming – the M,R,I church.  With an audience still to convince, Sweet displaces the model and consequences of the A,P,C church.  The 35 page introduction seems overkill when as he summarized it well in one chart (19):

APC Creates                      MRI Creates
– Members                       – Missionaries
– Believers                        – Disciples
– Consumers                   – World Changers


Members, believers and consumers are not so bad; it has been what the Church has functioned with for a number of decades, but missionaries, disciples and world changers sounds much more like the church every pastor dreams of.

Sweet begins his first chapter describing the missionary life.  It is a sent life – a going life. And the traditional missionary does not get to live a secret life behind closed doors or huts, it is a life that is shared in ministry 24/7.  That, Sweet states, is the essence of everyone in the MRI church.  “Every life is a missionary life.  Every marriage is a missionary marriage.” (55)  He goes on to write, showing his cultural prowess, “Everything about life must be missional, how we Twitter, take vacations, talk to our kids, even how we tip.” (57)  There is no doctrine to impart, no theology to impart, no agenda, no biblical interpretation…just life to go and share. (59)  The MRI church responds to the command, “Go!”

A little girl was saying her bedtime prayers.  For the first time, she was trying to get through the Lord’s Prayer on her own.  She started off beautifully:  “Our Father, who are in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”  Then she became a little confused:  “Thy Kingdom Come, thy Kingdom Go …”  Bad Lord’s Prayer.  Good Lord’s Theology. (66)

One cannot be a missionary and not be relational, Sweet’s second point.  God is a relational God, both in the Trinity and with creation.  Some missionaries can try to push doctrine and “sell” Christianity, but these salespersons are not creating much of a relationship and will find few who buy into it.  However, when a missionary has nothing but life to share, to give freely, many people are impacted.  “Christians,” Sweet writes, “are not in relationship with principals or a principal, but with incarnational realities of beauty, truth and goodness.” (121)  Through living life a Christian may impact another.

A missionary cannot be missional or relational without being incarnational.  Drawing the double helix of the spiraling DNA structures, the horizontal connectors are the incarnation from being sent (missional) joining the incarnation of community (relational).    A missionary does not, as was once believed, take a person out of context and supplant them in a new context.  A missionary enters, as having been sent, into the context, relationships form and the Kingdom of God is realized contextually.  “You know it is incarnational because of its tasty soulfulness,” (161) Sweet says commenting on the flavor of the Kingdom of God when contextualized.

Missional, Relational, Incarnational – MRI.  Sweet’s contribution to the growing library of missional literature says very little that could be considered new, but he does say it so convincingly.  The difficulty with So Beautiful is the necessity of a supplemental Sweet-to-English Dictionary.  The constancy of Sweet’s witty language and witty metaphor actually muddles the very simple structure of the book, yet it serves its purpose.  MRI is a paradigm, and Sweet uses many crafty tools to reinforce it.  So while this book may be nothing new to the missional church, it is an excellent book to enforce the paradigm shift.  This book pushes the current church down the hill towards the missional church so that Alan Hirsch (whom So Beautiful is dedicated to) and others may begin to ride on the back of the paradigm they have been working on for years.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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