What would the church look like if the devil were in charge? In his book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton answers this question by talking about how no one would cuss or smoke, everyone would be courteous and polite, but Christ would not appear. No sermon would talk about Christ, his work on the cross, and how full atonement has been made.
As if the supremacy of Christ were novel expression fashioned in the forges of the post-modern mind, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola take up the same cadence in their book, Jesus Manifesto. In their book, the authors paint a beautiful picture of Christ as head of the church, the subject of all our conversations, and the mediator of all our thoughts. They challenge us to see that “Jesus is the gravitational pull that holds all things together,” while also existing as “the center and circumference of the Christian life.”
Put simply: “This book is a means to an end, and that end is Christ.”
A Christ Supreme
It is a rattling day when you find yourself sitting with a pastor and arguing for preaching Christ in every sermon and he tells you that he does not understand why that is so important. Sweet and Viola send out the call to pastors everywhere to not only talk about Christ more often, but to make every word, every conversation, every thought, every prayer, every good deed centered around who Christ is and what he has done. As in John Coltrane’s epic A Love Supreme, we should hear the beat of the gospel in every measure of our lives.
The challenge also goes to each of us in the pews (or chairs) to examine our church services, and to count the number of times that Christ is mentioned. Listen for his name in the music and in the teaching. Is it really a Christian church if Christ is not preached? “Christians have made the gospel about so many things; things other than Christ.” Too often church has become a social club based around programs, but not on Christ.
“What is Christianity? It is Christ; nothing more and nothing less.” The only thing that makes our faith different is Christ. The Bible teaches about a god who comes; he came to our forefathers and gave them a promise. He came in the form of a small baby to fulfill that promise. He suffered and died on a cross to redeem us from our sin. He resurrected as the firstborn from the grave and promised that he would return. This is what Christianity is all about; nothing more.
Christianity Minus Christ Equals…
“Increasingly the church is in love with the church and not with Jesus.” There is much debate about the right way to do church and the way to get people to come. The only right way to hold a church service is to keep Christ at the center. Like pastors with whom I have spoken, many do not consider what happens when Christ is not made central to our church services. The authors put it like this: “When Christ is not preached…, we lead people to be enthralled by other things and not by Christ himself.”
When we leave out Christ, we have to put something in his place. As Michael Horton has observed, The Purpose-Driven Life starts by saying, “It is not about you,” then proceeds to explain why it is. Christianity is not about finding my purpose, but it is rather about Christ. The Bible does not teach us how to be all we can be, but it points us to Christ as the only hope we have not only to be redeemed from hell, but to be redeemed from our sin here and now. Sweet and Viola urge every Christian to take “the arrows pointing at you and [bend] them back to point at our Lord.”
It may be surprising to hear, but in spite of the beautiful things in this book about the supremacy of Christ, Jesus Manifesto is not the inspired Word of God. As with any book, use discernment when reading this one. In two more posts I will talk about some concerns that have been raised in this book and where some serious study of the Bible may be important. However, I do not want to leave without telling you why and to whom I would especially recommend this book.
Not only is it exciting to read a book that teaches such a high view of Christ, but the book is written by a couple of the most liberal minds in Christendom. I am thrilled to hear the call coming from the post-modern camp to all pastors and all churches to preach Christ, to keep him at the center, and to focus on that redemptive work.
This is a book that I would heartily recommend to people who spend time questioning the authority of Scripture, who ponder philosophical implications of Jesus’ teachings, and who actively question why Christ needs to be a part of every worship service and every sermon. A post-modern voice to speak to others about how important Christ is to Christianity, and how his centrality can again make this a “Christ-ful Christianity.”