Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival

Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival

3.2 4
by Leonard Sweet

View All Available Formats & Editions

The gospel is nothing without relationship. And no one gets it like the Google Generation.
God came to earth to invite us, personally, into a relationship. And while Christians at times downplay relationships, the social-media generation is completely sold on the idea. In Viral, Leonard Sweet says Christians need to learn about connecting


The gospel is nothing without relationship. And no one gets it like the Google Generation.
God came to earth to invite us, personally, into a relationship. And while Christians at times downplay relationships, the social-media generation is completely sold on the idea. In Viral, Leonard Sweet says Christians need to learn about connecting with others from the experts—those who can’t seem to stop texting, IM-ing, tweeting, and updating their Facebook statuses. What would happen, he asks, if Christians devoted less attention to strategies and statistics and paid more attention to pursuing relationships?
The current generation is driven by a God-given desire to know others and to be known by others. Most of them, in seeking to connect in meaningful ways, have found a place of belonging that is outside the organized church. Why not bring the two together?
Those who are sold out to relationships can teach Christians how to be better friends to people who need God. At the same time, members of the social-media generation can learn how to follow their desire for belonging, straight into the arms of God. It’s time for relationship to be restored to the heart of the gospel. And when that happens, can revival be far behind?
End-of-Chapter Interactives Included

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Viral

“There are plenty of books on technology by writers who don’t understand Christianity. And there are plenty of books on Christianity by people who are lost in the world of technology. The genius of Leonard Sweet is that he navigates both worlds, and his insight into living as a believer in today’s media-driven culture is not just helpful, it’s critical.
Viral connects the dots between social media and our witness to the world.”
—Phil Cooke, PhD, filmmaker, media consultant, and author of Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing

Viral is culturally astute, Christ centered, gospel focused, kingdom oriented. Tweet that! Leonard Sweet captures the zeitgeist of our age in a biblically subversive way that redeems our technoculture for Christ. He explores the promise and the peril of our brave new world of electronic connectivity, while showing Christians how to apply the gospel at the crossroads of modernity and postmodernity, individualism and community, rational and relational faith. If you are skeptical of TGIF (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook) or want to learn more, you must read this book.”
—Brian Godawa, screenwriter of To End All Wars and author of Hollywood Worldviews, Word Pictures, and Noah Primeval

“Leonard Sweet has always been Patient Zero for Spiritually Transmitted Dis-ease, and Viral transmits the pathogen of the Paraclete better than any other work I know. Sweet connects the incarnation to the web, taking readers beyond the vapid and introducing us to the layers of meaning behind the pixels on the screen.”
—David McDonald, author of The Undwellable City

“In Viral, Leonard Sweet paints a fascinating picture of today’s highly creative TGIF culture, while inviting the Gutenberg Generation into a new experience of Jesus’s timeless campfire story. The Googler Generation’s passion for spreading the divine viral epidemic through their passion for social media and narratives, as well as their longing for connectivity and participation, provides fascinating challenges for all followers of Jesus. Christians need to become part of God’s viral revival. Sweet shows us how.”
—Stephan Joubert, extraordinary professor in New Testament studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa; extraordinary professor of contemporary ecclesiology, University of the Free State, South Africa; research fellow at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; and editor of Ekerk /Echurch

“The church has never been more equipped to reach people with the gospel. With that opportunity comes a tremendous responsibility to communicate the unchanging message of the gospel in an ever-changing, hyper-connected culture. Leonard Sweet shares how Christ-followers can spread this life-changing message and bring about a revival unlike any we have seen before. He provides practical ideas and pastoral insight into leveraging the exponential opportunities available to share our faith through social media.”
—Tim Schraeder, co-director of the Center for Church Communication and editor of Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication

Product Details

Crown Religion/Business/Forum
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 9.94(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Anatomy of Human Longing

The Christian life is neither Christian nor any kind of life unless we are living out our faith. And faith is not static or regimented. It is viral, and as dynamic and organic as life itself.

Your life and your experience of God will differ from mine in significant ways. But like every human on earth, we share the basic needs of nourishment, shelter, and a network of companions. These longings and pursuits shape us, even when we are not consciously aware of them. Incubating within us is the desire to reach out in order to fill our biological and relational needs. We gather food, find shelter, and do all we can to avoid being alone.

We may laugh at the Delbert McClinton song “If You Don’t Leave Me Alone (I’ll Find Somebody That Will),” but no one truly wants to be left alone. We sense that alone means lonely, and loners are losers in the lottery of life. Beyond that, something inside us pushes us to connect with others. We know that being alone means being miserable. The great poet W. H. Auden predicted the feared manner of his death: “alone at midnight, in a hotel, to the great annoyance of the management.”1 He died of a heart attack in a hotel in Vienna, on September 28, 1973. Alone.

Connection is one of the absolutes of life. We don’t choose it; it is hard-wired within us. Just as neurons that are unable to connect with other neurons will die, so abandoned souls will atrophy and die. Our well-being depends on our ability to connect with other humans. This drive pushes us with as much force as the longing for self-expression, our attraction to stories and storytelling, and the core human urge to know others and to be known. These are not all the things that make us human, but taken together they go a long way toward defining a human being as God created us.

Nature and nurture, destiny and design, shape the way we approach God and the way we live our faith. But it is not only who we are that determines the default setting of our lives (the ways we act and react, how we think). Also shaping us is the culture in which we live. In fact, the theory of neuroplasticity argues that the structure of the human brain is somehow shaped by our experiences, technologies, and cultures.

Admittedly, the word culture is one of the most slippery terms used in the social sciences. In fact, a founder of the field of culture studies, Raymond Williams, called the word culture one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. When I refer to culture, I mean primarily the unvarnished vernacular of a place or period. In the 1960s, when middle-class youth wanted to rebel, they grew beards and smashed stereos. When Amish youth wanted to protest in the 1960s, they shaved their beards and bought stereos. Culture shapes behavior and how we express our beliefs. Faith is not just a matter of logic and learning but of imagination and emotion and culture.

Life, Faith, and the Digital Age

If you are reading this, you almost certainly are a holdover from the twentieth century. You were born toward the end of the last millennium and, without even trying, you bring into this new era some of the trappings of the previous era. For purposes of this discussion, we will refer to two families (or tribes, if you prefer) that populate the twenty-first century. Both arrived here from the last century, but one group is rooted in the past and the other is fully at home in the new world, which encompasses the present as well as what can be seen on the horizon.

We know time is constant, but in recent years it seems time started moving much more quickly. Here is a simple example from just a decade ago. Back then, when travelers were waiting for a flight, they would occupy themselves with people watching, talking, reading a book or magazine, staring into space, or relaxing. Now think about the last time you were waiting for a flight. What were other travelers doing to fill the time? They were watching Hulu, sending pictures to friends, perfecting PowerPoints, creating photoshopped photos, texting, tweeting, on Facebook, and checking e-mail.

The culture has gone digital, but as recently as 1979, the then-current edition of The Chambers Dictionary (TCD) defined digital only as “pertaining to the fingers, or to arithmetical digits.” If you are native to the Digital Age, think about this: the word digital had an entirely different meaning when your parents were in college, or getting married,
or starting to think about adding you to the family.

The tribe that feels most at home in the twenty-first-century Digital Age is what we will call the Googlers—the digitized, globalized group that spends much of its life getting to know one another in a virtual world. The tribe that immediately precedes the Googlers we will refer to as the Gutenbergers—those who arrived from the twentieth century bringing with them influences and assumptions launched long before, in the fifteenth century. Gutenbergers believe they were shaped primarily by the space race, John Kennedy, the Cold War, and the Beatles. They are largely unaware of a more basic influence that determines their approach to life and faith. They are the product of the movable-type technology perfected by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1400s.2 If Gutenbergers still prefer to read a book that is printed on paper, rather than on an iPad, at least credit them with being loyal to the namesake.

Why Gutenberg Is Such a Big Iceberg

When the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls became widely known in the late 1940s, biblical scholars were eager to examine what grew to be a library of very early, handcopied biblical texts. Comparisons of the scrolls’ hand-lettered words with modern translations of the Hebrew Scriptures showed remarkable consistency. Painstaking copying by hand had preserved the integrity of the biblical text over millennia. Christians can be thankful that Essenes and others who honored the words of Scripture used more than just their thumbs in copying the texts.

For nearly fifteen hundred years the Scriptures ( Jewish and Christian) were preserved by the time-consuming process of hand copying. This served to keep the sacred text in circulation, but it was a very limited circulation. The laborious copying process meant there simply were not enough scrolls or codex produced for mass distribution. The available copies were read aloud and listened to, a system well-suited to a largely illiterate population.

That began to change in the 1400s, when technology took a breathtaking leap. Johannes Gutenberg came up with a way to produce books by hand, but through a process that avoided hand copying. Instead, movable type was used to reproduce words, sentences, entire books. His printing press introduced a radical advance in the mass production of books.

The first book created on the first movable-type printing press was the Bible. Gutenberg’s technology eventually resulted in the wide availability of affordable editions of the Scriptures. If any invention deserves the accolade “revolutionary,” give it to the printing press of Johannes Gutenberg.

The first Bible came off press around the year 1439, and the Protestant Reformation followed some eighty years later. Launched by Augustinian monk Martin Luther’s list of ninety-five points issued in Wittenburg, Germany, the  reformation owes more than a little of its success to printing and the technological advances of Gutenberg and the Italian printer Aldus Manutius, who in 1501 introduced the pocket-sized octavo format. This miniaturized the book and brought reading out of libraries into everyday lives.

Think how omnipresent printing has become. Just about every home has its own printing press hooked up to a laptop or desktop computer. But with more and faster ways to circulate written data electronically, most of us don’t bother to print documents. We still are wed to words, but we access them in ways we couldn’t have imagined at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Meet the Author

LEONARD SWEET, PhD, is founder and president of SpiritVenture Ministries and is a professor at Drew University and a visiting distinguished professor at George Fox University. A leading social critic and cultural observer, Sweet is considered one of the most influential Christians in North America. He is the chief writer for and has authored numerous books that have changed Christian thinking, including The Gospel According to Starbucks, Soul Tsunami, and Jesus Manifesto (with Frank Viola). Sweet lives in northern Washington.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
RynO39 More than 1 year ago
I have not had a very good time reading this book. It tends to drag on a little book, plus it didn't do much for my spiritual walk. I don't recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite Influential Christian writer Leonard Sweet has taken on the modern world and people's fascination with texting, tweeting, Im-ing, and sharing on Facebook. In "Viral: How Social networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival", he writes about the differences between the older generations who are Gutenbergers -- book and newspaper readers -- and the younger generations who are Googlers, communicating online. Author Sweet sees nothing wrong with the TGIF culture and admits to tweeting himself since 2009 for he sees "Change is God's signature on life" (page 33) although he admits on page 51 that "When I was born, contacts were lenses, not connections." He admonishes the reader to become a Twitter-disciple and to use social media to strengthen faith, but not to be "web-wise" and life stupid" (page 93). Author Sweet writes that we can use the Internet to connect to fellow Christians and help them if needs be. We can use modern technology as a tool to serve Christ Jesus. "Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival" is a well-written and deeply thoughtful text on using Internet tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate our Christian faith with others around the world. Author Leonard Sweet has looked at modern life with its love of Twitter and Google, and has embraced this technology as reviving the need for people to reach out to others. He offers stories and examples throughout the book and interactives at the end of each chapter that will help the reader absorb his message. "Viral" is not a book for the casual reader who simply seeks entertainment. It is the work of a brilliant Christian writer who has embraced and not cursed modern technology and its potential use in the worldwide Christian community.