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St Arbucks:  the Gospel of Connection
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Leonard Sweet
The Gospel According to Starbucks:  Living a Grande Passion (Colorado Springs:  Waterbrook Press, 2007.  210p.)

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Sweet is constantly referenced by other contemporary writers I read, but somehow I had missed reading anything directly by him until this powerful paperback.  This is a highly articulate, incisive and very clear writer.  In this book you will feel you are really having a conversation with this alert theologian/sociologist.

Seeking Community
Sweet describes how the current generation has tired of modernism's impersonal individualism, and longs for community, for fellowship and acceptance – for connection.  He analyzes why and describes how the desire for community, fellowship and acceptance – for connection – finds fulfillment in current culture and business.

Sweet tells us that the Starbucks phenomenon has become so pervasive because it meets a felt need in an atomized, individualized society without community.  The church, more like the general secular populace than many church leaders recognize, is affected by this sense of alienation and loneliness, too.  In the recent Modern era, programs and organization drew the focus away from fellowship and community.  Starbucks becomes the metaphor for restoring community in modern society.

Starbucks is the iconic provision of adequate opportunity for connection.  Sweet probes the characteristics that inform the church what the current generation finds in Starbucks, as Gospel characteristics, that it cannot find in the current American church!  He has grasped the interactive character of the biblical concept of revelation and reconciliation.

Ideas or Relationships
This commentator on current culture discusses how the real Good News found in the New Testament differs from the standard western church because the Gospel focuses on relationships and restoration of true commmunity and connectedness that the current generation seeks.  While the church has become stultified on ideas, abstractions and programs, the business culture has been alert to the needs and desires of the American public and is filling a gap the church should have filled with the true Good News.

Here he calls us to account for the disconnectedness in our lives and the lives around us.  Referencing current business motifs, he describes how the new connection-oriented malls, which open to the outside, and are designed for event and community inside, have responded to the current generation's need to come together.  He explores how contemporary media and communication technology both isolates us and fosters our reconnection.

St Arbucks
Sweet did not stint.  He even includes a short sociological history (in an epilogue and throughout the text) of coffee as the social catalyst of recent history, in the west and worldwide.  Sweet addresses the concept of conversation, community and connectedness, deep values for the current generation.  In analyzing why the Starbucks phenomenon has become so pervasive, he describes major problems with the traditional American, and especially evangelical, church.

Sweet declares that the church so adopted modernity that it became more about propositions than about relationships, more about intellectual rightness than about covenant community, more about ideas than about God, more about propositional truth than about the relational truth Jesus talks about in the Gospels.

Sweet surrounds us with Gospel concepts from the biblical texts, both from the old Hebrews scriptures and from the later Christians writings.  He refocuses the modern western church on the pre-modern values of the original Gospel and the teachings of Jesus, valuing the human creation, not only as individuals, but as community.

He reclaims the New Testament concept of redeeming nations and rebuilding communities through reconciliation with God and each other.  This message is of course clearly rooted in the Prophets and the redemptive celebration Psalms of Israel and Judah.  Similarly, Sweet references the Creation motifs that open the Bible to illustrate the broken relationships that God is healing in his current reconciliation work that was expressed in Jesus Christ.

Reclaiming Lost Community
God is involved in the process of reclaming his wandering creation, and restores them to relationship with him.  This is what Jesus was all about.  This relational concept is a "heart thing," built on faith, not a "mind thing" built on knowledge.  The Intellectual Gospel of the Enlightenment stole the focus of modern western Christians and facilitated a focus on mental knowledge.

Community got lost in the growing individualism of western culture.  An odd kind of modern Gnosticism, focusing on mental knowledge and information, that is sometimes meanly and defensively touted by vocal advocates as the "biblical Truth" among many Evangelicals.

Sweet calls the American cultural church to return to this relational community focus of the reconciled community, affirming life in its fullness in the benevolent presence of God.  For Sweet, the Starbucks coffee shop becomes a metaphor for that reclaimed community-family of caring faith and faithful caring.

The Hebrew Perspective
Sweet emphasizes the unity of Life as seen in the Hebrew biblical perspective.  He underlines this by rightly pointing out that this is a characteristic of ALL premodern cultures that have not been artifically anesthetized by the abstract rationalism that has led the west to divide the world in to spheres, separating "nature" from the spiritual, self-identity of humanity and its place in the whole of creation.

Sweet truly writes Good News.  Here he brings the stiff modern American church back to Gospel center in the teachings of Jesus and their foundations in the Hebrew scriptures.  Sweet has pronounced the hope of that always fresh Good News of God's Rule for us.  It is the lack of community, the need for connectedness that the Gospel originally addresses.

Awake to Healing!
This is what we see in the new generation and the cultural that has occurred in the cultures of Europe and the North America.  The "Rule of God" will free us and remold life, the world and creation by correcting the brokenness we experience in our relationships, as powerfully portrayed in the opening passages of Genesis.

Wake Up Sleeper!  Here is Good News, and Starbucks has provided the perspective to show why this Good News is so needed and so welcomed in our era!  Reconnect!  Hear the Good News!

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[Review] Dialogue Church to Non-Church - Let's Listen
[review] Business and Faith:  Integrating Life
[Review] Dialogue Church to Non-Church - Let's Listen
[review] The Jesus Hidden by the Church
[review] Jesus' Openly Secret Teachings

See this book with my review on Amazon.com
See my book reviews on Amazon.com
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First review notes written 11 July 2010
Initial review posted on OJTR and Amazon 13 July 2010
This version posted on OJTR 24 January 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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