"Out of the Question, Into the Mystery" by Leonard Sweet

Steve Huber
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Jul/Aug 2005

Leonard Sweet has a beef with modernistic western Christianity. Alerting us to the damage as he sees it, Sweet is instead calling us to embrace an alternative way of looking at faith and to accept an invitation to "get lost in the Godlife relationship."

Sweet seeks to lead us "out of the question": out of legalism, institutionalism, hyper-rationalism, orthodoxy apart from love, right beliefs apart from right relationships … all that bad fruit that no one wants to imbibe. Heading "into the mystery" means to embrace a whole relationship with God, a whole relationship with others, and a whole relationship with God's creation and God's story.

"It's time to replant the Christian faith back into the ground from whence it first grew." Sweet says that the original fertile ground of Christianity is a worldview where right relationships were held to be primary, as opposed to correct doctrine apart from love. "Western Christianity is largely belief based and church focused. It is concerned with landing on the right theology and doctrine and making sure everyone else toes the line…. We may be doctrinally correct but we have become spiritual cadavers" (6).

I'm sympathetic to Sweet's concerns. I also truly want to welcome questioners and strugglers, be more honest about my own spiritual journey, and not "act like I've got the truth in a strangle hold" (to heed the warning of a philosophy professor I once had). A more humble, more relational version of Christianity-who is going to argue? Yet Sweet oversteps in a few crucial areas and some of his basic ideas seem a bit over-reactive.

"Instead of talking about God or 'thinking God's thoughts after God,' theologians ought to be participating in God's life, experiencing God's flow, living the mystery that is God" (196). Sweet, like other Emergent authors, is very emphatic about mystery and paradox. Yet he seems to applaud mystery to the point of forgetting how David leads us in meditation on God's law, God's statutes, precepts, and commands, and prays "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Ps. 19). God is the awesome glorious one-and the one who has revealed himself. Yes there is mystery! But let's not forget that this mystery, namely Christ, has been revealed to the world (Eph. 3:3)!

The answer to our sinful pride as Christians is not to embrace mystery to the point where we are abandoning the importance of doctrine. The solution is rather repentance and a deeper heeding of our Lord's call to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

This book could give Reformed Christians a window into how our concern for correct doctrine is perceived by some of our brothers and sisters as being prideful and elitist. Orthodoxy that is not really alive, life-giving, and yes, relational, is not real orthodoxy. Healthy doctrine ought to give more power for healthy relationships. Let's pursue Christ together for both.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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