Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival by Leonard Sweet (A Book Review)

Only a few pages into this book, the thought struck: Leonard Sweet is a Renaissance Man for this generation! His breathtaking mastery of multi-disciplinary knowledge, powers of observation, and analytical skill in assessing the traits, tendencies and trends of this culture have been brought to bear in this newly released volume. Sweet has done his research and waded deeply into the waters of change—a “Gutenberger” immigrating from a tribe of Enlightenment-influenced navel-gazers into a country populated by relational, tech-savvy “Googlers”.

I’ve spent days digesting this book, wondering whether Sweet has proved his thesis that social networking is poised to ignite revival. The number of Post-It Notes sticking from the pages—and the number of pages I “dog-eared” when the sticky notes were exhausted—do not do justice to the multitude of passages I found to be thought-provoking and insightful. Indeed, I found Viral  so provocative and insightful I suspect I will be processing it for years to come as the eternal plan and purpose of God in Christ continues to unfold in this generation.

If  Sweet falls a little short of proving his thesis, he powerfully succeeds in pointing to the potential role social networking can play in a Greater Awakening! Given Len Sweet’s appreciation of metaphors and narrative, I don’t think he would disagree strongly with my sentiments after reading this book: social networking cannot “ignite” revival, but can serve as a lightening rod for the Spirit fire (ignition) and provides an ideal network over which revival and a new explosion of Kingdom growth can spread—virally. If you are tuned into the Spirit, you’ve probably already noticed: God does use the internet!

Are you a Gutenberger or a Googler? I had a lot of fun discovering my answer to that question while reading this book! Being born before 1973 doesn’t automatically make you a Gutenberger. You could be an immigrant. Sweet has included a couple of intuitive little quizzes that can help you find out who and what you are. You might be surprised to learn you have the ability to adapt to the ways and means of this tribe that seems to have been born with smart phones in their hands. Adaptability was behind the success of Paul the apostle. Adaptability will be essential in moving the Church along as God reshapes wineskins to hold the new wine. Adaptability is a gift from God, and we need it desperately to counteract the human resistance to change that creates stress. Resistance to change and the resultant stress can lead to death. Adaptability can preserve life—and even keep one young. Ponce de León was born too soon to discover the fountain of youth! Who knew the internet would come along and keep those of us who are hungry for relationship and interaction young?

I was born a Gutenberger. I love books (and I was taught NOT to dog-ear their precious pages—oh well). I was sixteen years old, a true Boomer, when the first Googler was born. I was graduating from college when the first class of Googlers was learning to read. I might have been born a Gutenberger, but I have crossed the Jordan alongside Leonard Sweet into a new country. I’m a tried and true Googler now! From the high places in the Google nation, one can take in a panoramic view of a global culture poised for interaction and primed to receive the Gospel.  Yet, while the world is poised to witness the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth in the fullness of Christ revealed in and through the Church, the “good church people” are sitting back trying to preserve what they have and their manmade traditions…wondering what it will take to get the Google Generation to “come to church”. Unless the Church in the west lays claim to some adaptability, it’s going to be “left behind” as revival and growth spread—virally—like wildfire outside the walls of the institutional church. It doesn’t take a prophet to see that this will happen—is already happening! Just take a look at what the TGIF (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook) generation of Christians is up to on the internet!

Bearing in mind that Sweet offers a valuable insight as to the attention span of Googlers bombarded with text messages and tweets, it almost feels absurd to add to the billions of articles and blogs that flood the internet. Yet, with hope that a tiny percentage of surfers in quest of more information about this book will take time to read these words, I would offer my opinion that Viral  is both an informative and fun read. The “Interactives” at the end of each chapter are wonderful, calling for introspection and making use of internet videos. Don’t pick it up expecting a theological treatise or a “how- to” on “revival”. Do look to it for an overview of the power and the short-comings of social media. And if you are an adaptable person who can read with an open mind, you will find yourself thinking for days afterward about your obligation to use the internet in a way that “becomes the gospel”. Even Gutenbergers may find their attention wandering in the section where Sweet waxes long and eloquent about poetry and narrative (preaching to the choir with me, since my educational background is strong on the “literary”), but this section should leave a strong impression regarding the need for artful, powerful storytelling and vibrant imagery. After all, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations”, and Jesus was the quintessential story teller!

Final thoughts: a valuable book for anyone seeking signs of what God is doing or wondering whether the internet can play a role in the mission of the Church today. BUT, if you can only make time for one new book by Leonard Sweet in the coming weeks, make it I Am a Follower. Viral has something to say to and about “leadership”, if you can read between the lines. But Christianity really is all about “followership”, and if you can get your mind (and heart) around “following”, the outflow of true followership will be manifest in all your interactions, whether they occur face-to-face or online.

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Comments

  1. Interesting! I think I’m gonna have to get this book. It is often talked about how much evil and pornography is spread through the internet but we as believers should take a stand and come back with ministry through the web! I do believe revival is coming in many forms. God has begun a new work in the world. The internet will of course be part of this. God bless.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment! Yes, I agree that God has begun a new work in the world and it is very exciting. Especially exciting that the evidence of the new work is so widespread OUTSIDE the traditional organized church. There is an awakening in those under age forty that, if not yet as widespread, is more intense than the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960’s or the “Charismatic Movement” of the 1970s! If you read this book together with Ross Rohde’s Viral Jesus as I did, I think you will really come away from the experience with a sense of awe and excitement. And God is letting us witness it as He glorifies Himself through Christ Jesus!

  2. Thanks for this excellent post. You’ve inspired me to get buying Prof Sweet’s work. I was overwhelmed (if you’ll pardon the pun) by Soul Tsunami. Seems you think he’s on the button again! Cheers. Amazon, here I come.

  3. Thanks for the recommendations and praise God for the work that has begun! I am a part of the under 40 group and I’m seeing Him do so much every day. It’s a very exciting time indeed! 🙂

  4. Great review, Leah. I just linked your review at the bottom of mine here: http://wp.me/p2iZDp-WI Thanks for sharing!

    Blessings!
    Jonathan

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