A review of Leonard Sweet's, "Carpe Manana," by Dr. Douglas Groothuis.
Sweet, Leonard. Carpe Manana. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2001. 204 pages.
This is Professor Sweet's basic thesis: Gen Xers are with it; older people are not. In fact, those older than the Gen Xers are “immigrants,” aliens in their own environs. Gen Xers, however, are “natives” because they understand postmodern culture, particularly its technologies and sensibilities. Therefore, we must make the Gen Xer's ways and judgments normative and adjust Christian practice accordingly. This, according to Sweet, is the only way to “seize tomorrow.” This approach is popular. Sweet is much in demand in evangelical circles where endorsing postmodernism has become a trend for many. Some take this strategy to be the only way to address the conditions of postmodernity. Sweet endorses Brian McLaren's postmodernist apologetic A New Kind of Christian-a book I find to be undiscerning concerning the pernicious effects of postmodernism philosophically and theologically.
Sweet wants to make Christianity relevant to a new generation. That is commendable, of course. Every generation of Christians needs to think and pray this through. However, the book disappoints for several reasons, despite its interesting and sometimes surprising information about contemporary culture. Carpe Manana is fat with factoids; thin on theology; anemic on analysis; but hefty with hype. There is little attention to Holy Scripture as authoritative, normative, and cross-culturally pertinent (not that Sweet denies biblical authority outright). Rather, besides giving some basic biblical ideas, Sweet thinks that postmodern culture must drive the church's structure and endeavors. For instance, if postmodern culture is moving “from word to image” (a chapter title), so must the church.
I believe that just the opposite is true. Scripture as Scripture favors the Word, spoken and written. In the beginning was the Word, not the video (John 1:1). The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and the Bible is God's word to us for us for God's greater glory (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Professor Sweet shows no familiarity with the trenchant critiques of our image-oriented (and thus intellectually and spiritually impoverished) culture given by Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) or Jacques Ellul (The Humiliation of the Word). (See also the appendix to my book, Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000): “Television: Agent of Truth Decay.”) Protestants have historically been concerned about the misuse of images, given what the Ten Commandments say about them (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Images easily become idols, and idols are an abomination to God. Sweet shows no such concerns.
If Christians are to “shake the world again,” in the words of Francis Schaeffer, they need counsel and encouragement that is truly prophetic, wise, and courageous. To that end, I suggest reading and rereading Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, Kenneth Myers, and David Wells. As Dean Inge said long ago, “He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower.”
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy