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So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church Paperback – April 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The prolific Sweet—author of articles, sermons, books—turns his vast knowledge of culture and faith toward what he calls the secret of life: an MRI church where 'M' = Missional, 'R' = Relational, and 'I' = Incarnational. He digs deep into MRI theology, calling it the only theology worth bothering with and offering leaders and laypeople a new paradigm for bringing Christ to the world. Sweet outlines the characteristics of each element: missional—The church is 'sent' to be Jesus; relational—Biblical truth... feasts on relationship and revelation; incarnational—The Incarnational life strikes it rich by multiple connections with community and context. Readers will find much to ponder, but they'll have to wade through Sweet's metaphor-heavy, rambling and jumpy writing style, plus his confusing, frequent use of quotation marks around words and phrases as if tweaking their meaning. His vision for following Christ individually and as the church is commendable; his presentation, however, is confounding. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Inside Flap
What is commonly known as DNA today was called .,."so pretty!" when it was discovered years ago, and over the course of his ministry, author Leonard Sweet has discovered that this divine design also informs God's blueprint for the church. In this seminal work, he shares the woven strands that form the church: missional, relational, and incarnational. Sweet declares that this secret is So Beautiful!
Using the poignant life of John Newton as a touchstone, Sweet calls for the re-union of these three essential, complementary strands of the Christian life. Far from a novel idea, Sweet shows how this structure is God's original intent and shares the simply beautiful design for His church. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
In the book, Len talks about the implications of practicing APC Churches: Attractional, Propositional and Colonial churches. APC churches create members, believers and consumers. However, the MRI Church (Missional, Relational and Incarnational) creates missionaries, disciples, and world changers.
The book is quite thick at over 300 pages. In addition, there are only five chapters, including the introduction. Each of the MRI topics are covered in an individual chapter, along with an introduction and epilogue. Each chapter, however, is broken up into sections that make it easy to take a break in the midst of 40-70 page chapters. I knew this book would be big back in September as Len told me at dinner that each of the topics were 100 pages each and his editor would have to get it down to a manageable size.
Despite it's size, however, it is not a difficult read. But you do have to put your thinking cap on. Len's verbal imagery is very real. He reframes word meanings based on origin and use quite a bit. It is will cause you to pause and consider how you use language yourself. In addition, this a book that draws from a great myriad of sources, as most all of Len's books do. You get a true education by reading Len's book, not just in ministry and life topics, but in science, literature, history, etc.
In the book, Len calls on people and churches to blend together the three MRI strands into one beautiful life.
In Part 1: The Missional Life, Len speaks of God's "going". God is a God of motion, movement and mission. Mission is not an activity of the church but part of the character of God. He is a missionary God. Disciples of Christ are mission-shaped. Every vocation is a missionary vocation. In this section, he fleshes these concepts out in a clear and compelling way.
In Part 2: The Relational Life, Len describes a life where the primary reality is relations and relationships. All of life is about relationships: with God, ourselves, others and creation. In this chapter, he describes the primacy of Relational Truth over Propositional Truth. This is a particularly interesting and needed discussion. I appreciate greatly how he unpacks this concept.
In Part 3: The Incarnational Life, Len describes how instead of pulling people and concepts out of their context, we need to be entering other contexts and in doing so localizing the church within that context. One particular thought that I found very compelling and helpful was this: "Jesus was at home everywhere, but naturalized nowhere. The incarnational life pays homage to context by celebrating regionality, by honoring particularity, by domesticating the missional and the relational. God didn't choose to send us a Superman. God chose to send us an Everyman - `Joe, the Plumber,' `Jesus, the Carpenter' - one like ourselves in every way." (pg. 153) He speaks on how the genius of Christianity is its ability to integrate pagan customs with Christian faith and practice. It uses those customs to communicate itself through indigenous and local expressions of worship.
The final chapter, the Epilogue is practical. It gives you a mirror with which to look at your life and church to see if you are a MRI church. In the epilogue Len provides ten ways to know if your church is MRI. This is a strength of the book.
Additionally, the book is not anti-APC as much as it tries to note the primacy of the MRI over the APC.
In a world when most of the attention goes to large, attractional churches, who are by their sheer size considered successful, it is encouraging for someone with such influence noting the need for a different way of being the church. Len does a remarkable job in this book of reframing the idea of church and being vs doing church. It creates energy to infiltrate the world and the marketplace and be the church. It also creates the theological and practical energy for that as well.
Having gotten to know Len over the past 3 years, I admit a bias. But I truly believe that this is one of the best books on being the church and on being a church that influences the context in which we live. It would be a foundational book were I teaching a class on Missional Theology and Practice.