Jun 25, 2012

"Viral" by Leonard Sweet - A Book Review

A couple of months ago I received a copy of Leonard Sweet's new book Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival.  I am not an avid reader of all of Sweet's books, but because I am active on Facebook and Twitter, this title intrigued me.  Sweet is a professor at Drew University and one of the leading thinkers on issues related to the church and the culture.  He is extremely intelligent and also a major influence on many in the more postmodern and emerging streams of the church.

Sweet is notorious in his books for basing the themes of the materials around acronyms and this book is no different.  The entire book is a discussion of what Sweet calls the "TGIF" world, which stands for Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook.  This is because these are the major cultural forces in today's social network culture.  Sweet does a masterful job in the opening pages showing how "the times are a' changing".  He does so by describing that currently we are in the merging of two different cultures - what he calls the Guttenbergers and the Googlers.  The Guttenburgers are those who have grown up in an era that was more modern and heavily influenced by words - the printing press era of Johanes Guttenberg.  The Googlers, on the other hand, have grown up primarily in the internet age and the information revolution.  It is really a fascinating read.

Then, in the successive chapters, Sweet describes how each of these four entities are shaping the world we live in.  More importantly, he describes how church leaders and Christians should interpret these events and use them to engage the culture better and spark a real spiritual revival.  Far from seeing "the days gone by" as the best days, Sweet shows how the church is poised to step in and offer the gospel in new and powerful ways.  While I don't agree with much of Sweet's underlying theological positions, I do appreciate his optimism regarding the power of social media.

This book has many strengths.  For people like me who have one foot in both worlds, we can better appreciate many of the cultural changes going on around us through reading Viral.  It helps to shed a great deal of light on sociological areas that many in the church never take the time to research and understand.  This book is written with a great deal of optimism which is a refreshment in a church culture that spends most of our time bemoaning the times and wishing we could go back to the good ol' days.  Theologically, the book is very weak.  Sweet has very little use for traditional methods of preaching and doctrinal silos. There is an amorphous understanding of salvation and the gospel in his writings.  There are few answers given on a practical level as to how established churches can better use social networking to advance the gospel.  Overall, however, the book is an enjoyable and informative read.  It would benefit a lot of pastors who are functionally illiterate about the power of social networking to reach a world that embraced these entities many years ago.  Like many things in the Christian world, we came to the social networking party a few years too late. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.