Ezekiel talked about four-faced winged creatures and spinning multi-eyed wheels within wheels. Leonard Sweet also uses striking spiritual metaphor—such as "faithquakes" and "soul tsunamis." I had suspected Sweet suffered from the futurist-fad-of-the-month syndrome, especially after seeing some of his book titles, such as Eleven Genetic Gateways to a Spiritual Awakening or A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe. But I had a chance to meet Drew University's "Professor of Postmodern Christianity" at the Christian Booksellers Association convention last month in Orlando, and my stereotype was overturned. Maybe, I thought, he is more prophet than faddist.
I discovered that Sweet does not play the provocateur just to be a rebel, but because he worries that the church is choosing a mission different from God's ("We may be seeing a time where God is more active in the world than in the church").
At 34, Sweet was the president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and a scholar in the mold of evangelical historians Mark Noll and George Marsden. But in the early 1980s he felt the Lord challenge him: "Do you want to do ministry in the world you wished you had or do you want to do ministry in the world you have?" When he opened his eyes to the way the world actually is, he saw a postmodern revolution, if not a reformation. For instance, he saw that the future belonged to Pentecostals and the Orthodox in terms of worship style, because they were EPIC: experiential rather than rational; participatory rather then representational; image-based rather than word-based; and communal rather than individualistic. Again, this was not necessarily the way the world should be, but the way it is.
Sweet has just published two new books that flesh out his case for why we need to see the world and our mission in it with new glasses: SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture (Zondervan), in which he analyzes ten cultural trends that are revolutionizing our lives; and AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture (Group), in which he advises churches on how to adapt and thrive during the revolution.
While Christianity Today does not always have Sweet's metaphorical flourish (e.g., "The era of sit-and-soak worship is over"), we share a mission: as Sweet puts it, "My job is to be where God is, to be part of what God is already doing." Sweet sometimes sounds silly ("We're cyborgian: part born, part made") and says things you will disagree with (I greatly value sitting and soaking a good Word-based message, for example), he nonetheless deepens and sharpens and opens us to seeing God in a newer, grander way—like Ezekiel.
Copyright © 1999 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.