|A Review of
Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There
By Leonard Sweet.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
As one who grew up in the midst of the heyday of evangelicalism and who was never completely comfortable with notions of evangelism that amounted to little more than proselytizing, evangelism has come to be a dirty word. However, in the concept of evangelism, like all dirty words (and I would argue all dirty people as well) there lies the possibility for redemption. Leonard Sweet, in his new book Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There, offers a fresh, new take on evangelism that points us toward recovery of the language of evangelism in ways that are more consistent with the whole of the scriptural narrative than what passed for evangelism in the days of my youth. In the book’s preface Sweet gives form to this new understanding of evangelism:
Evangelism for too long has been disconnected from discipleship. In Nudge, evangelism is discipleship. What yokes evangelism to discipleship, I propose is the art of attention, attending to life and attending to God (21).
Certainly, in our increasingly technological age, social critics have been denouncing our inability to pay attention (see for example, Maggie Jackson’s recent book Distracted LGT: our review), so it is refreshing to see the fundamental role that the recovery of attention plays in Sweet’s reframing of evangelism. Another particularly refreshing facet of Sweet’s work here is the holistic way in which he describes evangelism using imagery connected to all five senses.
In the typical creative style that has become a hallmark of Sweet’s books, Nudge is seasoned with relevant quotes throughout the text from diverse thinkers from Whitman and Thoreau to Sylvia Plath, Bob Dylan, Henry Miller and Marcel Duchamp to Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton and Madeleine L’Engle. Although immensely careful – dare I say attentive? – with his use of language, Sweet is immensely readable and Nudge will appeal to a broad swath of Christian readers. In particular, his brief introduction to semiotics (the philosophy of symbols) in the book’s first chapter is as clear and simple a depiction of semiotics as I have found anywhere.
Sweet is to be commended for the progress that this work makes in redeeming the terminology of evangelism. However, there is one small beef that I have with this book (one which regular Englewood Review readers will recognize as a recurring theme in my reviews of Christian market books), namely that the church community does not play a large enough role in Sweet’s depiction of evangelism. I should be clear here that Sweet is not a thorough-going individualist, and in fact the church plays a significant role at various points throughout his account, particularly in the chapters on hearing and seeing. However, it seems to me that his account does not do enough to resist individualistic theological readings; one can read Nudge and still understand evangelism in the context of my own, personal faith, rather than as a shared practice of a gathered community.
Setting aside this issue of theological context, Nudge is on the whole an excellent and challenging book and takes us a long way down the road toward recovering the practice of evangelism in a post-evangelical age. It is well worth reading and discussing in churches everywhere.
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