A Jesus Manifesto?

by Mike Ratliff

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1 ESV)

Some friends sent me an email they had received from Frank Viola pertaining to The ReChurch Library in which he discussed his new book Finding the Organic Church. He then talked about how well it was selling and then made suggestions that Christmas was coming and what a great gift it would make, et cetera. Then he thanked Leonard Sweet for his contributions in their developing something called A Jesus Manifesto. I honestly did not know what to expect as I read the “manifesto.” As I went through it point by point I began to realize that the focus of this “manifesto” was to abolish within the believer much of what we are taught throughout the New Testament that are actual manifestations of the growing in Christlikeness within genuine Christians. It also attempts to do away with all doctrines and the processes surrounding systematic theology in which we learn the depths of God’s sound doctrines.

The “manifesto” tells us that to “Seek a truth, a value, a virtue, or a spiritual gift, and you have obtained something dead.” Really? Here is the “manifesto’s” definition of Christianity:

It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person. Conversion is more than a change in direction; it’s a change in connection. Jesus’ use of the ancient Hebrew word shubh, or its Aramaic equivalent, to call for “repentance” implies not viewing God from a distance, but entering into a relationship where God is command central of the human connection.”

While I agree that genuine Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy, these two men have given a totally unbiblical definition of the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel is not, “that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person.” Yes, salvation involves entering into a relationship with God where He is central to our all, this is not the biblical definition of repentance.

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8 ESV)

8ποιησατε ουν καρπον αξιον της μετανοιας (Matthew 3:8 WHNU)

This is a rebuke spoken by John the Baptist against the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him preach. True biblical repentance (μετανοιας) bears (ποιησατε) fruit (καρπον) which is evidence of its validity. The Greek word Matthew used here translated as “repentance,” μετανοιας, literally means, “a change of mind, a change in the inner man.” This is in reference to a person’s acceptance of the will of God by the mind instead of rejection. Who can do this? Only those who have been changed into a new creation through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) are able surrender their will this way to God’s will. This is an exercise of faith by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:1-10) as a gift from Him. The Gospel is not a revelation of Christ as one in which beauty, truth, and goodness are found in Him. While this is a true statement, it is not the definition of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that those who were helpless to repent and come to God to walk according to His will because of their utter sinfulness and spiritual death in trespasses and sins have an advocate who is their propitiation before the Father whom they have offended. He, Christ, has paid the price for their sins on the Cross. Those who believe in Him, receiving Him as Lord and Saviour (John 3:1- 21) have forgiveness and eternal life. That is the Gospel. That is the good news. Genuine Christianity is this truth with Christ at the center. It is those who are saved by the Gospel, the Church, serving Him as their Lord and Saviour. To say, “Christianity is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less,” is very misleading and incomplete.

Following this statement are ten points intended to show “a massive disconnection in the church today” hence the need for this “manifesto.”

The ten points are grand statements about the “purpose of God” in Christ, et cetera. They are eloquent and are obviously intended to enlist the reader in their cause to get the Church to sign this “manifesto” in order to get it back into the proper relationship with Christ. I have no problem with some of this because I have been teaching for quite some time about the spiritual bankruptcy of religious externalism, which most of these 10 points attack as well. The problem comes at point 8. Here is the text.

8. It is possible to confuse an academic knowledge or theology about Jesus with a personal knowledge of the living Christ himself. These two stand as far apart as do the hundred thousand million galaxies. The fullness of Christ can never be accessed through the frontal lobe alone. Christian faith claims to be rational, but also to reach out to touch ultimate mysteries. The cure for a big head is a big heart.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with CliffsNotes for a systematic theology. He leaves his disciples with breath and body.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with a coherent and clear belief system by which to love God and others. Jesus gives his disciples wounds to touch and hands to heal.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with intellectual belief or a “Christian worldview.” He leaves his disciples with a relational faith.

Christians don’t follow a book. Christians follow a person, and this library of divinely inspired books we call “The Holy Bible” best help us follow that person. The Written Word is a map that leads us to The Living Word. Or as Jesus himself put it, “All Scripture testifies of me.” The Bible is not the destination; it’s a compass that points to Christ, heaven’s North Star.

The Bible does not offer a plan or a blueprint for living. The “good news” was not a new set of laws, or a new set of ethical injunctions, or a new and better PLAN. The “good news” was the story of a person’s life, as reflected in The Apostle’s Creed. The Mystery of Faith proclaims this narrative: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The meaning of Christianity does not come from allegiance to complex theological doctrines, but a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success . . . not wealth or health or anything else: but love. And God is love.

This is subtle, but I am sure that you can see the intent in these statements to divide the Christian from any sense of solid, sound Biblical Doctrine that includes not only the Gospel, but how to walk before Him as we should. While I teach that we are taught to emulate Christ in our walks, where do we learn this? We do so through sound doctrine which is given to us in God’s Word. The subtle difference from that here is that we are to simply follow Jesus as a way of life sans allegiance to complex theological doctrines. My brethren. I love my Lord and I seek my way from Him every day, but I also know that the doctrines I teach are the truths God has given us that we can know Him and His ways and the purpose of the Gospel and the Church.

As I said, the points in the “manifesto” are subtly deceiving. As with all deception there are elements of truth and I agreed with much of what it said. However, the points I did disagree with I found to be core or vital parts of our faith. If we follow what is taught here by rejecting all teaching of sound doctrine then where is our truth? To say that all we have to do is follow Jesus, but then we reject His own teachings of doctrine then how do we do it and how do we know if we are following Jesus Christ or some other Jesus? This is crucial my brethren. If we follow this “manifesto” then we have no foundation and are like sheep with no shepherd.

The truth war is often fought along very subtle lines. When words are used by those in error that are the same ones we use in Orthodoxy, but with very different meanings then we must rely on the Hoy Spirit to help us discern what is truth and what is only pretending to be. Truth is what God says it is. It is not subjective. It is totally invalid to say that truth is only truth if one believes it to be so or false if one does not believe it. Truth is truth regardless of ones belief that it is so or not. This is why the faith that believes the Gospel, believes in Christ and receives Him as Lord and Saviour is supernatural faith that comes as a gift from God Himself. (Ephesians 2:8,9). We cannot serve God within religious paradigms designed outside of His truth and guidance and will. All we can do when we stray from this is as filthy rags in His sight. We are called to obey Him and the place we learn how and where to do that is in the sound doctrines we are given in His Word. This is why we must have godly Bible teachers who will teach what it says, nothing more, nothing less. From this we learn of the real Jesus Christ and He points us where?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

This is how we walk before the face of God as true Christians. We can only do this as living sacrifices, separate from the world and its ways. We walk through each day in spiritual worship separate from the corruption of the world. Instead of being conformed to this world, we submit to the constant renwal of our minds by immersing ourselves in God’s Word. As we do this, God changes us. We are transformed from fleshly people saved by grace to Christlike disciples who follow Jesus, carrying our own crosses until He takes us home to be with Him. This is not seeking to make the world a better place, but to simply obey Him in all things as we walk in repentance.

Soli Deo Gloria!

23 thoughts on “A Jesus Manifesto?

  1. We don’t need to fear taking a 3 dollar bill… its the well counterfeited 20 that we need to worry about. The manafesto looks like a really well constructed counterfeit.

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  3. Mike

    “but I also know that the doctrines I teach are the truths God has given us that we can know Him and His ways and the purpose of the Gospel and the Church.” are you meaning theologies and doctrines that men have developed over the centuries?

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  4. Hi Mike,
    The last paragraph of point 8 says that to undesrstand being a Christian is “a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success…” Sounds really good, but how do I get this love? Also, how do I get this “big heart” I need to have? (paragraph 1 of same) Last time I checked, my heart was incredibly selfish and full of unkind thoughts, so I am not doing very well on that.
    The Father said, “This is My Son, listen to Him.” You are so right that it is only in listening to the Word that we are being conformed to the image of Christ and therefore are able to do any sort of loving by His power.
    Where did Jesus teach that “love is what makes life a success?”
    Sacrificial love, as we are commanded to do, doesn’t make my life “successful”, but it does make it sometimes hard and even unpleasant at times (otherwise no sacrifice). Most of the time I don’t feel very successful. But, obeying God in His truth as presented in His Word will make my life successful, in His eyes.
    I love John 17:17… “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.”
    Bless you!

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  5. Thank you Mike for dismantling this article. When I read this it reminded me of hearing Leonard Sweet saying he had verse-itis.
    I guess it is the big picture or the story that is more important now, not those silly little verses.
    Every word in the Word of God is important and God breathed…..every word. The word Story is beginning to make my hair stand on end just like the word purpose.
    It is very disappointing to me that Frank Viola has gotten caught up in this deception. There are now 4,182 deceived souls that have signed up as fans of this Manifesto on Facebook. May God give his remnant discernment and protection in these days of apostasy.

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  6. You are very welcome Deborah! Verse-itis??? Hmmmmm, that would mean that those with it can make everything up the way they want. Yes, may God give us HIs discernment and protection for we most definitely are in the midst of an age of deception.

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  7. Mike,

    After reading the Manifesto when it came out, I posted a question on the Manifesto’s blog. I asked in so many words, “Why is no mention made about the payment for sin made on the cross”?

    Unless I missed it somewhere, there is no mention about the atonement. I could be wrong, because I only scanned it, not being able to stand reading it in depth. If it is in there, it is clumsily done.

    My question appeared, and then was deleted shortly after.

    I can find nothing in Viola’s speaking or writing that values the atonement. My guess is, he doesn’t like it. It is really odd that a Manifesto about Christ would not begin with the atonement.

    Sweet’s presence seems to seal it.

    Without the atonement, it is false, completely.

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  8. “If we follow what is taught here by rejecting all teaching of sound doctrine then where is our truth? ” Your right Mike this seems to be the “doctrine” that emergent’s cling too. Its borderline mystical.

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  9. The Manifesto seems to ‘dance around the Truth’…as one who knows, loves, and accepts God’s word for what it is – infallible, inerrant, and inspired – this ‘reshaping’ of it makes my blood run cold. It is nothing short of reprehensible. The ten commandments, for example, were NOT the ‘ten suggestions’!!

    Accept no ‘substitutes’, aka, emergent/fluffy feel-good/softened buzzspeak. God does NOT need a PR campaign to somehow make Him more ‘acceptable’. He is Holy and Mighty and Glorious beyond compare.

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  10. D., Yes you are right. It is eloquent, but where is the depth? It points to nebulous following of a mystical Jesus with no substance whatsoever.

    My wife and I went out to eat after church today. Then we went to a Border’s book store which was nearby. I was looking for a specific Greek study book which they did not have. While there I overheard a conversation on the other side of the bookrack in which a younger women was attempting to sell to a older lady on how “wonderful” the book “The Shack” was. I was saddened to hear them discuss it because there was absolutely no knowledge of the atonement or the real purpose of Jesus’ incarnation in any of it. It was a ‘feel good” book to them. Same thing with this “manifesto.” All it is is a soft sell of a phony Jesus to people who are doctrinally ignorant.

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  11. Wow Mike, just another eye opening and informative article. I am actually kind of disappointed to hear that Frank Viola is apart of the “Emerging” heresy that is so prominent today. I truly enjoyed his book “Pagan Christianity” and it confirmed alot of the issues that my husband and I were having with “church”. It just goes to show us (me) once again how important it is to test EVERYTHING, and to know that just because someone has truth part of the time but if it’s not there all the time there is a problem. I am thanking God for you today, for the amazing amount of discernment He has given you for the building of the rest of the body. Thanks Again.

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  12. Thank you Heather, and yes, any discernment we have comes from God and I agree that He will never forsake His Church. He will continue to “build” it until it is time to take home to be with Him forever. This “building” may not be in great numbers, but in spiritual maturity and Christlikeness. Let us pray for that for the body of Christ.

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  13. Mike, It is truly incomprehensible, once He has opened our eyes and heart to Him and all things of Him, to view the Lord in any other way, other than the way He originally intends for us to view Him, Biblically.

    I read through this manifesto, and as you say there is much truth, but the thing I too saw, was what is so incredibly subtle and if you let your emotions take over your mind, are the near-truths. Lets face it – it is well written, with pretty emotional wording that all sounds ‘sound’. It is supposed to leave you sitting back in your chair saying “Wow that’s brilliant – I had never seen Jesus like that before!”

    I trust what I am going to say below makes some sense. 🙂

    I read through about 40+ comments and responses from the writers and a few things stood out so strongly to me:
    a) there is so much emotional hype response to this, which shows me that many folks are really desperate for a reality with the Lord and this Manifesto, certainly does not do it. 😦 It continues to lead folks up a well worded, seemingly Biblical path, but at the end of leaves them with a non-Biblically, non-existent Jesus.

    b) on the opposite end of the scale, there is a wholly intellectual response with folks from all denominations talking about creeds and all sorts of ‘high brow’ stuff, which really have very little if anything to do with the Lord, but of man. It is only through dealing with the engineered circumstances in our lives, put there by the Lord, that we find out if we have been following a creed or the Lord Himself. It is quite an eye opener, but so necessary if we are to move forward on His terms..

    c) Although there is talk of the cross and of denying oneself, there is no explanation of how that is brought about. It is like you are supposed to know how it works just because you have read about it and get on with it. I drowned in this thinking until recently.

    d) mostly the problem I have is, that it is still all about us doing it and not one mention is made of God being the one who does it in us – or brings it about in us. Nothing about laying down our lives on His altar and allowing God to help Himself to our very lives, giving up all our rights and allowing God to bring this relationship into it’s correct place, with God leading from the front and guiding from the back. No real mention is seemingly made of Biblical humility of God being the one who calls us and saves us and sustains us and all the rest that goes hand-in-hand with it. We are still left being the ‘doers’, which I know from my own experience, is not of God. It is still one of the spiritual diseases I see rampant everywhere – even here in South Africa- humanism – “if you are doing for God, then you are ok with God.”

    Although there is much talk of Jesus, there is little if any Christ consciousness in the whole thing.

    Bless you for sharing this post with us, dear brother.

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  14. Very good analysis Steph. This is why things like this are so successful in misleading people. The myriad of subtleties layered throughout the piece reminded me a great deal of the Purpose Driven Church. Like it, it is very difficult to dismantle and look under the covers to see the engine that is running the whole thing. Neither are solid biblically. Both are successful because they “sound so right” to the mind that is not subordinated to true discipleship, taking up ones own cross and following Jesus as well as being Spirit-filled (Ephesians 4,5,6). No, neither does that because they are based on the person DOING instead of God working in and through those who are walking with Jesus, denying self and simply obeying Him according to the sound doctrines given to us in God’s Word. We cannot please God by attempting to serve Him on our own terms and that is what these things are all about.

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  15. Then he thanked Leonard Sweet for his contributions in their developing something called A Jesus Manifesto.

    “Be Alert” Alarm Bells Clanging Loud and Clear!!

    Superb article, Mike

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and for fighting the good fight – in the truth war!

    Blessings In Christ,

    Karen

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