By Jeff Goins, Editor
So Beautiful was my introduction to Len Sweet. I had heard of him, read about him, and even bought a copy of The Gospel According to Starbucks as a gift for a friend, but this was my first time reading the words of Leonard Sweet.
The basic idea of So Beautiful (a nonfiction book about church life) is that just as the building block of all biological life is DNA, the building block of all spiritual life is what Sweet calls “MRI.” The church is a beautiful double helix of Mission, Relationships, and Incarnation.
The book is broken up into three main parts, aptly entitled “Missional,” “Relational,” and “Incarnational.” There aren’t really chapters, but rather one- or two-page tidbits (sort of like mini-chapters, each signified by an icthus at the beginning) for each section. Each subsection starts with an eclectic quotation — anything from a pop culture reference to a Scripture verse to an excerpt from classical literature, a range that adequately represents Sweet’s worldview and style of writing.
Sweet credits Alan Hirsch with the majority of credit for the ideas presented in So Beautiful, especially in regard to missiology. If the content of this book appeals to you, you might consider reading Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways, but I’ll admit that Sweet’s writing is a little bit more accessible than Hirsch’s (in my opinion). Of course, Sweet draws a plethora of analogies from pop culture, adding his own voice and angle to the writing.
Len Sweet clearly isn’t interested in pleasing anyone. With So Beautiful, he may easily offend conservatives with his appeal for organic church life and multicultural sensitivity. He appeals to those who have grown up in the postmodern world, relating more to pop culture than to the Bible.
At the same time, he does justice to Christian orthodoxy with strong statements about Jesus’ uniqueness among other world religions (obviously, not interested in entertaining theological relativism). In other words, he doesn’t fit into the typical Christian camps into which theologians often get pigeonholed. He is in a class all by himself.
As an academic, Sweet seems to have written So Beautiful as he might teach a class of grad students. The challenging thoughts on the mission of the church he raises are compelling, but I was disappointed in the lack of practical examples Sweet could have used to illustrate his theories. Where are the stories of all the believers who are living the MRI life? (Sweet could have taken a page from Shane Claiborne in providing everyday examples of “ordinary radicals.”)
Nonetheless, So Beautiful is a treasure to be cherished by pastors, lay leaders, and spiritual pilgrims longing to find deeper meaning in church and the world in which they leave.
For more reviews of So Beautiful, click here to read them.
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. He just got married in January. Check out his blog: Pilgrimage of the Heart.