I wanted to like From Tablet to Table. It's the kind of book I felt guaranteed to like, just from the title. I've been obsessing about how to create Christian community in a church setting where most people go because that's what you do to be a good citizen in small town America.
There are a few of us in my church who believe that the Christian is lived only in community, and I hoped for some solid ideas from Leonard Sweet.
That's where I was coming from as I waded through From Tablet to Table.
I haven't read any of Sweet's other work, so I can't compare, but here is my review. It was originally published at News for Shoppers.
In From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed, prolific writer Leonard Sweet encourages Christians to make the table — at home, at church, and in the world — central.
The book, published by NavPress, is 196 pages and retails for $14.99 in hardcover.
The book is divided into two parts. In the beginning, Sweet builds the case for the importance of eating together, from both a sociological and theological perspective.
In the second section, he explores how to "set the table" at home, in the church, and in the world.
Why you might want to buy From Tablet to Table:
Sweet's analysis is interesting and worth talking about.
He proposes that most of people's disconnectedness, whether with family or church, could be solved by eating together.
One of the book's strongest sections is the one dealing with the importance of family meals.
The other, which is even better, is his explanation of the way that Jesus uses food and shares meals throughout the first four books of the New Testament. Consider this section:
Jesus broke all the dining rules of his day, introducing a whole new set of table manners. He ate on fast days. He ate with dirty hands. He ate with tax collectors. He called a sinner out of a tree and invited himself to his home for dinner. He sipped water at a well of the bucket of a woman of highly questionable reputation.
He also gives some practical advice for reinstituting family meals in the midst of a busy life.
Why you might not want to buy From Tablet to Table:
If you're looking for practical ways for your church to make the move from tablet to table, — that is, from emphasis on individual scriptures to a real community of faith — Sweet doesn't offer much help.
Instead of giving steps to make the transition, he tells stories that are sometimes relevant but are occasionally tangential.
Sometimes the writing gets in the way of the message, either due to repetition or the stretching of metaphor too far.
Sweet sometimes uses common terms, such as "table it," to mean "bring it to the table," or, more simply, "eat together." Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.
Judge this example, in which Sweet is talking with a pastor with differing theology, for yourself. It is, admittedly, one of the more extreme cases of Sweet's unconventional use of language, but not as uncommon in the book as you might suspect.
What she [the pastor] does like is the moral teaching, the "biblical values" and "Christian worldviews" that make up a tabletized religion. "So why call yourself a 'Christian,'" I asked, "if all you do is use Christianity as a rallying cry to be good?"
She responded, "You know, that's a good question."
So I tabled it. I ate with her, and as we ate I fed her the hot-cross sticky-bun called Jesu Christos.
Sweet offers some great ideas, and even if you don't agree with him about everything, he gives plenty to think about.
Sweet is considered one of the most influential Christians today, however, and I don't think this book lives up to that reputation.
I'm not as critical of writing style in nonfiction as I am in fiction, but the writing often got in the way of the ideas here.
And there wasn't quite enough. I hoped this would be a useful book for my church, and it is, but only in the most conceptual way. I wanted a handbook and found a grouping of ideas. The ideas were good, but I thought he could have taken them further.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of From Tablet to Table from Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. This is my honest opinion.
Other folks certainly liked the book better than I did. It has high ratings at most consumer websites.