Talking with Leonard Sweet


Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the Emergent Theological Philosophical Conversation due to an urgent family matter.  However, this past weekend I did manage to sit on a lively panel with writer/theologian Leonard Sweet Hosted by New Community Church in Raleigh, NC.  My good friend Tripp Fuller invited me up to have a little chat with the chaordic postmodern gadfly.

We had a great time as we covered topics such as technology, church’s role in society and politics, and love or hate it the emerging church.  I felt a level of ambivalence regarding this young conversation but it was civil conversation nonetheless.  Alot of caricatures and valid concerns.  I was glad to sit with folks who had some valid criticism and viscerally held caricatures of Emergent Village.

The highlight of the conversation, for me, was when we got into a brief exchange over his (Sweet’s) disagreement of some of us in Emergent Village whose ‘view’ of Jeus is that of a political revolutionary.  He did not like that.  Of course I reminded him that to divide politics from religion is a Enlightnement/modernist move.  That in pre-modern societies such as the early Christ followers there was no such thing as religion vs. politics.  Somehow in the discussion that was lost but we both agreed that the politics of Jesus did not presuppose the modern nation-state.  Agreed.  There was no such thing as yet.  Which, to my mind, does not negate the reality that the gospel is a ‘political’ message because it deal with bodies and neighbors and goods.

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14 thoughts on “Talking with Leonard Sweet

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  1. Thanks for coming Anthony. Later Len said something about EV being liberation theology for evangelicals and then asked “what did liberation theology ever accomplish?” I imagine you and I would have responded in a similar fashion, but he had to get on the plane. Hope all is well with the family.

  2. I’m glad you kept hounding Len about the political/economic implications of the gospel…
    I wish you could be here with me, and I’ll be praying for you and your family.

  3. That’s funny, as I sat on a panel with Leonard too and this topic came up as well. While I think you are right that you can’t separate politics from Christianity (or Christ), Len reacts to a very really and unhealthy way in which some American Christians usurp Jesus into their own political agenda. GREAT though!

    Peace,
    Jamie

  4. I think Len might need some help connecting with the liberation thinking happening today. I think he relates to what he read back in the 70’s…which is significant and important, but has been recast and refined today. One significant and enriching change is the number of 2/3 World voices shaping the dialog.

    The challenge in conversation weekends like this is keeping in mind that while Len is a respected authority and important voice, in the end his perspective is his perspective.

    It was good to see you Anthony. My blessings to the fam.

    PEACE

  5. zach,

    I have much respect for Len. His writings were the first to lead me in the direction of the emerging church conversation. At the end of the dialogue we both agreed that much of the ‘political’ interpretations of Jesus in the political left assume nation-state politics…which I think can be a dangerous thing.

    End the end we agree more than we disagree…I think. I think he mis-interpreted me as a die-in-the wool liberationist. Where there is an element of that thought in me I am more a post-liberal Hauerwasian Radical Orthodox kind of guy. What I found interesting in his estimation of Hauerwas was how much of at the end he agreed with Hauerwas…even with his protest of him. Interesting. I hope i wasn’t disrespectful to the guy. I apologize if it look bad.

  6. I think I would have rather been there than at the conversation this year. Our two philosophers were great, I think that there’s only so much value for the Church in what they are doing – but sometimes it’s just nice to chew on something without have to demand immediate practical benefit to it. I didn’t much like the “conversation” element of it this year, though – it seemed to be lacking. That, and I’m not sure that I want to unleash deconstruction on the world though a lot of the folks who were there. It’s a bit like my (brief) sojourn at Westminster – presuppositionalism was all the rage and I thought it was very cute and clever, but I shuddered to think of most of the folks there actually trying to use it.

    By contrast, you seem to have had a much more intense encounter and both you and Len came appreciating each other more than when you went in.

  7. Yeshua is political…he just doesn’t own our politics.

    Those who think Yeshua, like every Jew in his homeland, did not have a political message are perhaps “disengaged” from the historical picture. Are just being lazy students. Are perhaps interjecting their narratives into the text…Those who think Jesus wasn’t interjecting himself into an environment where his every move was read politically should perhaps be reading Randy Buth and Brian Kvasnika’s article in Jesus’ Last Week:
    https://www.eisenbrauns.com/ECOM/_22M0LKZEC.HTM

    Yeshua DID arm his followers against Rome (and in one occassion literally). The argument should be rather about tactic.

  8. Sorry I missed this interchange. Much more substantial than my one conversation with Leonard Sweet, in which he told me U2’s (then) recent performance of “Elevation” on Saturday Night Live would change the dynamics of live performance forever, to which I responded, “Really? Cool!” while trying frantically to recall what was so special about the performance.

    I saw it reruns later; it was pretty, uh, Sweet. H

    ope you’re well, Anthony. Tamara just signed a contract with IVP, BTW. Thanks for connecting us.

  9. I got into a similar argument with him a month or so ago when he came to give a talk at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. Before the talk, we were sitting at dinner. In explaining to him what I do, I casually mentioned that my church is becoming Mennonite. He seemed to react strongly to such an idea saying, “Mennonites hate culture.” That led into a short argument of sorts about Hauerwas. I tried to tell him that he gets Hauerwas “all wrong.” When I told him what Hauerwas thinks he said: “That doesn’t sound like Hauerwas, that sounds like SWEET.”

    Needless to say, he just doesn’t like the whole “Politics of Jesus” thing. In his talk he said that even Paul didn’t care much about Jesus’ teachings. Seriously.

  10. Yes, I agree with you Anthony, on what I understand on that. Politics is part of the whole that God in Christ comes to redeem. And really, I don’t see how one can look at the kingdom of God come in Christ as apolitical. Certainly it’s not in the same league as Democratic or Republican for which I’m thankful. Yet it’s meant to impact all on this earth, even now, which should go without saying. And I’m sure Len Sweet agrees with all of that. I scratch my head in wondering what he really means when he doesn’t like Jesus attributed as a political revolutionary, unless he feels Jesus’s way is made to look like some liberation theological way, or something like that. Though what Jamie says is too a point well taken.

  11. Would have liked to have heard more. Because it is an interesting question.

    If two people see God’s Word as political, but see that meaning two different things. How do you live when one of those people get in power? We have lots of examples of that not turning out well, including our current american experiment with quasi theocracy.

    One response is to attempt to de-politicize the Word, so that it never has a power which can be abused.

    Or, another response is to find something else, that would allow me to hold power, to understand Jesus as a revolutionary, and not to use that power to marginalize or destroy.

    That’s the thing worth wondering about. Because the pendulum will swing, and it would be a miracle worth writing about if, when it swung, we didn’t just trade places with the enemy.

    Has anything like that ever been seen? What would it be like?

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