Anytime I hear of a book that features Eugene Peterson I will most likely be inclined to read it. Peterson is such an inspirational guy that upon hearing of this new project, I jumped at the chance to read it and devoured the book (hopefully not like a dragon though!).
In this work, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel set out to conduct interviews of certain”sages in the faith, who embodied power in weakness.”
What does that mean?
Well, power in weakness is taking seriously the idea that there is power in lives that are shaped like the cross. Lives that are lamb-like, and self-effacing, and are a marked by humility. Lives that don’t really put off a lot of glitz, but lead relatively quiet, faithful lives. And for their study, the authors chose the lives of Marva Dawn, J.I. Packer, James Houston, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, Dallas Willard, and Peterson as their subjects. A fascinating book concept.
Chapters 3 and 7 alone are worth the price of the book – the ones on James Houston and (you guessed it) Peterson. So I loved the book! But, I’ll have to say I was disappointed to find that many of the interviews were quite short. The authors spent a couple of days with James Houston, and it showed with the quality of chapter 3. Very good! But, the rest of the interviews seemed to be no more than an hour long. To make up for this, I thought the authors could’ve interacted a bit more with their works, but not much of that took place (aside from Peterson’s writings). So I think the overall execution suffered a bit from minimal exposure to their subjects.
However, the overall concept was awesome. I think the authors are on to something very important here. The authors took James 3:13-18 and talked about the wisdom that comes from above, versus worldly wisdom that comes from below. Christians, ministries, and pastors are often tempted to choose the way of the dragon (this is a metaphor Peterson uses from his book Reversed Thunder). It stands for the wisdom from below, and it’s effective and powerful. But the way of the lamb (the wisdom from above) is powerful too – it’s just doesn’t seem like it at the time.
I went through and highlighted how the book contrasted these two ways, and here’s a list I came away with:
Power from below-
-Seeks to control, dominate and succeed.
-Thrives on competition.
-Gets in with the right people.
-Nurtures a culture of fear.
-Emphasizes strengths; hides weaknesses.
-Finds identity in status.
-Is addicted to crowds.
-Is fond of metrics and statistics.
-Relishes being “the guy.”
-Obsessed with recognition.
-Says to self, “I can make it happen,” “I have what it takes,” and “I’ll just try harder.”
Versus the Power that comes from above-
-Seeks to serve others.
-Is okay with being last.
-Leans into relationship.
-Is vulnerable in community.
-Emphasizes weaknesses; hides strengths.
-Is faithful in the hidden place.
-Is content with anonymity.
-Cultivates a sense of nobodyness.
-Pursues and worships God in the ordinary.
-Emphasizes prayer and care.
-Operates in kindness and forgiveness.
-Says to God, “I need You,” “I am lost without You,” and “Apart from You I can do nothing.”
The first list describes how many of us are taught to get along in the world. It may not be overt, but it is the unspoken rule of the day – even in many churches. And it seems to especially thrive in authoritarian structures of leadership. And “successful” ministries are particularly prone to this kind of culture, because who’s going to argue with success? So the things on the first list begin cropping up here and there like bad apples, but they’re quickly forgiven because the branches are laden with fruit. So successful ministries can actually serve as breeding grounds to the dragon way. Sobering thought.
The things on the second list, however, don’t get a lot of attention. The lamb is an unspectacular animal. And the traits described therein seem counter intuitive, perhaps even a waste of our time. We know these principles are in the Bible, but it’s easier to take them as platitudes, than to actually translate them into ministry practice. Why is that though? I think it’s because of a lack of faith. We would rather employ the tactics of the world, than trust the way of Jesus. We don’t really believe that Jesus offers a powerful way of life.
After I got done with this book, I had the taste of the beatitudes in my mouth. So I flipped over to Matthew chapter 5, and sure enough – this book is a beautiful restatement of the way of Jesus.
“Doing Jesus things in Jesus ways” is, indeed, the most powerful thing in the world.
It’s called the way of the Lamb, and we are called to follow it.
These authors are really on to something. And I think we’d be wise to listen to their message.