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Out of the Question...Into the Mystery: Getting Lost in the GodLife Relationship Hardcover – September 21, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Sweet (SoulTsunami, SoulSalsa) argues that Christendom overemphasizes doctrine and reason at the expense of a relationship with God, and that it's time to "replant the faith in the rich biblical soil from which it has been uprooted." To shift from right thinking to right living, Christians must restore various relationships—with God, His revelation, other people of faith, those outside the faith and creation. Sweet might surprise some readers when he says that Abraham should have questioned God about the command to sacrifice Isaac, and that in not doing so, Abraham failed part of God's test by leaving his community. The author borrows from Eastern mysticism, especially in a section about creation that echoes the modern environmental movement's criticisms of airplane travel, the fishing industry and Freon. Sweet's political orientation also surfaces in a general accusation that the world's richest nations are to blame for the plight of the poor. In trying to swing believers from rationalism to relationalism, Sweet challenges evangelicals by saying that the text of the Bible does not become the Truth until it is lived out. Sweet's existential approach will not fit with many formal, historic understandings of the Christian faith, but then, that's the point. Extensive questions for discussion are included.
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“Len Sweet has really done it this time! In true midrash form, Len exposes the beauty of a relationship with our Creator. He asks all the hard questions and leads us to a place of grace beyond the formulaic answers. Throw all your self-help books in the trash and immerse yourself in a book that will help you see your faith journey in a whole new way.”
–Chris Seay, author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano
"No charts, no boxes, no to-do lists. Just everything we thought we knew about faith but didn't. This is the book we should be reading in our small groups."
—Sally Morgenthaler, author of Worship Evangelism, founder of Sacramentis.com and Digital Glass Videos
"Here is a panoramic view of what a relational theology can mean for Christians today. Whether you're a spiritual seeker trying to get the lay of the land, or a seasoned traveler trying to make sense of what you've experienced, or even a disillusioned leader who feels it's all gone stale—this book will help you see in a fresh, inspiring, profound, and invigorating way."
—Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and The Church on the Other Side
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I found the premise of the book interesting, having been raised Catholic but all that entailed for me was showing up at church each Sunday, and in my younger years, going to Catechism. We never talked about our beliefs or why we went to church or how our church was different from other churches or anything else, so I really had know knowledge of what my faith was supposed to be about other than sitting there in the church once a week.
This book was a little too philosophical for me. The author also used a lot of fancy wording, which might put off some readers and gets somewhat beyond his point at times. I sort of lost patience and the book was hard for me to get through due to the tedious nature of reading through all the verbiage.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Press in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion here is entirely my own.
Sweet's treatment of the Abraham/Isaac story is fairly nontraditional in Christian circles though Sweet does indicate that there is a strong thread of Rabbinic thought to support his discussion. I found this view of the narrative interesting and insightful even though I felt that if it were to be held it should be held alongside the more traditional typological (Isaac is a "type" or prefiguring of Christ) reading of the story.
My biggest problem with Sweet's thesis is that over and over in the text he tells the reader to stop focusing on a theological view of God that is focused on what and who God is and to work instead on living a life that inhibits a theological position based on relationship. While it is certainly true that the modern evangelical movement has become too focused on splitting hairs about knowing things about God, it should be remembered that it's very difficult to have a relationship with someone you don't know very well. I wish Sweet would have recognized that almost all early Christian theology was relational. In fact, one of the "relational theologies" that Sweet mentions, that of perichoresis, is a theological statement of both who God is and how God as trinity and unity relates to Himself and to humanity. I applaud Sweet for his desire to move the reader to a more relational approach to understanding God and allowing that relationship to fundamentally alter how one lives their life but I wish he would have written in such a way so as to get past this either or sort of discussion the church in America seems to have about theology. A person can seek to have both a relationship with and an understanding of The Great Mystery.
In closing, my objections above notwithstanding, I recommend this book to those interested in the emergent conversation, those looking for a way to understand and live out a Christian faith in a postmodern and post-Christian world and those who wish to consider an alternative view of the Abraham/Isaac narrative in Genesis.
He begins with a lengthy discussion of Abraham's relationship with God, specifically through the lens of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Sweet sees this as Abraham failing to engage God in relationship because he never argued with God about it, even though he obeyed God.
There are many teaching points in these pages, and it is a very thought-provoking book. At times, Sweet writes very clearly in prose that flows smoothly from one point to the next, and at other times he seems to spout one aphorism after another, bringing the flow of the book to an abrupt and awkward halt. Sweet is adept at using word plays and word origins to illustrate interesting points, however some of the plays on words are a bit overdone. I definitely got something out of this book, but believe it could have been communicated in less pages and in more of a concise flow than what actually is written.
Ultimately, this book is about living in what Sweet calls "the GodLIfe relationship. He sums up the book nicely on the last page: "God does not come to us offering rules; God comes offering relationship. Truth is not found in the solving of difficult theological riddles. Truth is found as we get lost in the mystery of faith. You can maintain your bearings while getting lost... if Jesus is leading the way." -p. 199
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