This post is the first in a short series of posts that I am writing that will challenge the thoughts and ideas put forward in the new book Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. Despite the books correct contention that the church is focusing on too many distracting ideas rather than on the person of Jesus Christ, I strongly believe that the book is seductively deceptive and chock full of very serious unBiblical ideas, philosophies, errors and false doctrines that must be challenged, debated and answered. With that preface in mind, I will begin with my first thoughts on the book.
Right out of the chute, Lenoard Sweet and Frank Viola in their new book Jesus Manifesto engage in the same anti-rational anti-thought rhetoric and tactics that have permeated the culture and the church for the last few decades. Said Sweet & Viola:
The body of Christ is at a crossroads right now. The two common alternatives are to move to either the left or the right. It’s our observation, however, that we are living in a unique time, when people are frozen as they look in either of those directions. When they look to the left, they decide that they cannot venture there. When they look to the right, they feel the same.
Whether they realize it or not, people are looking for a fresh alternative—a third way.
Sweet and Viola reiterate this idea in a blog post that lays out the 10 reasons why they wrote the book. Reason number ten states:
To offer a third path that’s not part of the left vs. right/conservative vs. liberal debate that has brought so many members of the body of Christ to a grinding halt spiritually.
This type of rhetoric is completely irrational and doesn’t make a bit of sense! The time has come to challenge these ideas and assumptions and expose them as fraudulent ways of thinking.
Understanding the Primary Differences That Divide Right and Left Reveals There Is No Viable "Third Way"
If you take the time to compare what has historically been the dividing faultline between the theological right and theological left—the primary dividing line being how the Bible is to be understood and applied in the church, then you will understand that believing that a third way exists is like believing that the moon is made of green cheese or that TV Wrestling and TV Magic are actually real rather than theatrical illusion.
Below is a brief list of the radical differences between Right and Left.
Right: The Bible is the inerrant, inspired and authoritative Word of God. 2Tim. 3:16, John 14:23, John 15:3, John 17:17, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Pet. 1:22, 2 Sam. 7:28, Ps. 119:160
Left: The Bible is NOT inerrant, inspired and authoritative. The Bible is a book of fictional myths and fables that teach eternal moral and spiritual lessons much like Aesop's Fables.
The Virgin Birth
Right: Jesus was truly conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the working of the Holy Spirit. Matt. 1:18-23, Luke 1:26-35
Left: Jesus was conceived via natural sexual relations and the story of the virgin conception isn’t literal history, instead it has some allegorical spiritual truth that it is trying to convey.
Jesus' Bodily Resurrection
Right: Jesus rose bodily from the grave on the third day after He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Luke 24:36-39, John 20:27-29
Left: The dead don’t rise so Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual or non-corporeal and the disciples experienced some kind of spiritual encounter with the ‘risen’ spirit of Christ.
Christ’s Death on the Cross
Right: Jesus death on the cross was a propitiatory, atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Rom. 3:21-25, Acts 20:28, 1 Cor. 15:3-7, John 1:29, Eph. 1:7, Eph. 2:13 , Col. 1:19-20, 1 Pet. 2:24, Isa. 53:1-12, Heb. 2:17 , Heb. 9:12-14, Heb. 9:22, Heb. 13:11-12
Left: Christ’s death has no atoning aspect to it (the idea of a blood sacrifice of the Son of God is barbaric and borders on cosmic child abuse). Instead, Jesus' crucifixion was done to expose and lay bare the evils of the Imperial System of Caesar or to show us that we were "worth it" or other such nonsensical speculations that DO NOT appear in ANY of the Bible's own explanations of the Cross.
Jesus' Second Coming
Right: Jesus, as He said, will someday visibly return in glory to judge the living and the dead. Those who persist in sin and unbelief will be sentenced to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. Those who repent and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins will enjoy eternal life with a face to face relationship with their creator who on the last day will create a new heavens and a new earth. Matt 25:14-30, Matt 25:31-46, John 5:28-29, 2 Pet. 3:10-13, Isa. 65:17, Isa. 66:22, Rev. 21:1, Rev. 21:27, Rev. 21:8
Left: There is no judgement and no hell and God doesn’t care about sin or about which religion you subscribe to. So we need to build the Kingdom of God here on Earth by striving to achieve global social justice.
In a nutshell you can rightly meta-categorize the Biblical divide between right and left as:
the Right is Belief
the Left is Unbelief
the Right is Trust
the Left is Doubt
That being the case, how on Earth can anyone claim that they’re offering a third way alternative to the left and right? That is simply absurd!
Either the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word of God or it isn’t. There is no viable "third way" between those two positions.
Either Jesus Christ was truly and miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary as the scriptures tell us or he was conceived through natural human sexual relations. There is NO viable "third way".
Either Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a propitiatory, atoning sacrifice for sins, as the Biblical text tells us or it wasn’t. There is no viable Hegelian synthesis (third way) of these two positions!
Either Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead as He stated that he would. And He will sentence those who’ve persisted in their rebellion against God to an eternal hell and grant eternal life to those who’ve repented and received the forgiveness of their sins won by Him on the cross or Jesus is not going to return as He said. There is no third alternative that is either logically or Biblically viable.
Now some of those who are steeped in postmodern irrationalism may be tempted to protest and accuse me a of being a binary thinker or an artifact of modernity. They may be tempted to say something like “It doesn’t matter if Jesus was literally conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. We believe the truthfulness of the story goes "way beyond" the limits of such cold literalistic modernist calculations.” Such statements only reveal that the person making them is a lazy and sloppy thinker. Saying that you believe in a truth that lies “beyond” the literal would be like me saying that I believe in the truth that is just “East of the Bronx” or “West of the Sky”. All such sentences are pure gobbledygook and tell us no real information about real reality. They are the grammatical equivalent of smoke and mirrors.
Its time for the church to stop fooling itself with these asinine and irrational postmodern word games. Either God’s Word can be trusted and the doctrines in them are true or they are not. Either we can trust that Jesus Christ is God of God, light of light, very God of very God who was born of the virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised bodily from the grave on the third day and is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead OR ALL OF IT is religious fiction and not worth listening to.
There is no viable third alternative.
 It is important to note that not all of these views are universally held by everyone on the left side of the theological spectrum. However, these are common positions that have been promoted and defended by top liberal theological icons and luminaries for more than a century.