Leonard Sweet on How to Make Faith Fun


Pleasing God doesn't have to be such hard work. It should be fun. This is the message that Leonard Sweet, Christian author and professor, puts forth in his new book, "The Well-Played Life." He argues that the faithful should unclench our teeth, loosen our grips, and actually experience God's pleasure in us. Here, we discuss the arguments he's making and how he believes we can make faith fun.

RNS: You describe the ways Christians try to work harder to please God. Is this the same challenge the Pharisees faced?

LS: The church today says the same thing the Pharisees did: “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you . .. . more work.” Actually, these are Jesus’ words, but he promised tranquility, not toil. To become a disciple of Jesus in today’s church is almost to be sentenced to hard labor, so far are we removed from the Hebrew understanding of life as Shabbat Shalom. It’s time to trade in our hard hats or pin stripes for a pinata ... with some confetti thrown in.

In the earliest creation story, the first time we meet God, God is down and dirty--playing in the dirt, making mud pies, getting God’s hands dirty and wet, fashioning us in the divine image for the sheer pleasure of our company. Creation is not God at work, but God at play. Labor enters the story with the fall, and we prefer work to play because there is an out-of-control and surprise element to play.

We need to learn to play at life again. All beauty, artistry, excellence comes out of a play paradigm, not a work paradigm. When you work at something, whether it be life or relationships, sports or art, you’re forcing something to be rigid and mechanical that should be natural and pleasurable. We make it harder than it needs to be. Being the church doesn’t require us to earn God’s favor through deeds and acts. All we need to do is worship God in joy and pleasure. This is our nature. This is who we were meant to be.

RNS: But, at the same time, doesn’t James say “faith without works is dead”? So there is a works component to faith isn’t there?