In his book, What Matters Most, Leonard Sweet challenges Christians to focus on a relationship with Jesus. He challenges the idea that faith is simply intellectual assent, and defines true faith as pursuing and active relationship with Jesus, and following Him. The major strength of the book is its call away from complacency and into active faith. He rightly asserts that belief in Jesus requires a life of relationship and action. When Christians are largely indistinguishable from non-Christians in how they live and think, there is no longer a startling freshness to the proclamation of biblical truth when it is presented as principles and propositions. How a person lives speaks much more loudly than what he or she asserts, now as always. And with Christians nearly identical to all others in the culture, what they say loses impact. (34) This call to action is the strongest part of the book; Sweet is right to challenge his readers away from complacency. Another highlight of the book is his challenge to readers to engage deeply with scripture, allowing God's Story to shape our lives. Later in the book, he writes of the need to live life in community, imitating Jesus in our fellowship and community. Of course, we know how much Jesus disliked eating alone. Can the same be said of the church? (142). After initially defining this relationship, the remainder of the book focuses on: 1. Our relationship with God. 2. Our relationship with God's Story. 3. Our relationship with other people of faith. 4. Our relationship with those outside the faith. 5. Our relationship with God's creation. 6. Our relationship with symbols, artifacts, and things and 7. Our relationship with the spiritual world. Though the book begins with a promising premise, the book has several significant weaknesses. The first, and perhaps most significant weakness is the false dichotomy between intellectual belief and action. Though believing right doctrine without action is certainly not enough, right action typically flows out of right belief. The biblical challenge to love God with our hearts, soul, mind and strength implies a unity of thought and action. While Sweet is right to correct the error of intellectual belief without action, he makes the opposite error in undermining the value of right living that flows out of belief. Another weak part of the book is Sweet's interpretation and discussion of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 24. He relies on rabbinic interpretations, and concludes that the passage describes a weak moment in Abraham's relationship with God, rather than a demonstration of his faith. He writes, Abraham's silence in the face of an outrageous command from God signals a failure of relationship on his part. If you give up the struggle of discernment and hearing, you are not in a right relationship with God. (64). Again, with this interpretation and the subsequent dialogue, Sweet creates a false dichotomy between obedience and relationship. Our relationship with God is not that of two equal beings; while God graciously allows us to dialogue with him, there are also times when a love relationship requires faithful obedience without complete understanding. Similarly, later on in the book Sweet repeats a similar false dichotomy, writing, Sin is not a breaking of commands; sin is a breaking of relationships (151). This statement does not allow for the both to be true, when in fact disobedience to a command is a reflection of the relationship; a person in right relationship with God obeys His commands. Though the overall premise of the book, that a real, living relationship with God is essential to living the Christian life is true and helpful, Sweet's book overall is weak. In his attempt to correct propositional belief without right living, Sweet creates false dichotomies and makes the opposite error.
**I received a complementary review copy of this book by Waterbrook Publishers