Don’t confuse sin with negative thinking

think too highly

[A] misunderstanding of sin is to say that it’s just a matter of negative thinking.… Get rid of your old wineskins! Think bigger! God wants to show you his incredible favor, if you’ll just get rid of all those negative mind-sets that hold you back!

Now that’s a compelling message to self-reliant people who want to believe they can take care of their sin all by themselves. That’s probably why men who proclaim that message have managed to build some of the largest churches in the world. The formula is pretty easy, really. Just tell people that their sin is no deeper than negative thinking and that it’s holding them back from health, wealth, and happiness. Then tell them that if they’ll just think more positively about themselves (with God’s help, of course), they’ll be rid of their sin and get rich, to boot. Bingo! Instant megachurch!

Sometimes the promised goal is money, sometimes health, sometimes something else entirely. But however you spin it, to say that Jesus Christ died to save us from negative thoughts about ourselves is reprehensibly unbiblical. In fact, the Bible teaches that a big part of our problem is that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly. Stop and think about it for a moment. How did the Serpent tempt Adam and Eve? He told them they were thinking too negatively about themselves. He told them they needed to think more positively, to extend their grasp, to reach toward their full potential, to be like God! In a word, he told them to think bigger.

Now how’d that work out for them?

Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 53

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Leaders Must Have Conviction and Courage

Erik Raymond:

Leaders must lead with conviction and courage, speaking clearly about what they are going to do. This is true at any level, whether leading two people or two million, because there will always be opposition and a need to make a decision. At the end of the day the leader must lead.

Get The Expository Genius of John Calvin in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (ePub), for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Crucial Questions bundle by R.C. Sproul (paperback)
  • Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation (paperback)
  • Developing Christian Character teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

The Drama of Preaching

Murray Campbell:

We need to understand what is driving some peoples’ preference for dialogue. Dialogue is code for a theological concept: divine conversation. Divine conversation says God has not spoken authoritatively, sufficiently, and finally in his Word. Rather, God invites us to converse with him and each other. Thus, God speaks in the Bible, but he speaks in many other ways and places, and the meaning of any given text is not fixed but dependent upon the community of believers who interpret it.

This Too Is The Day the Lord Has Made

Derek Rishmawy:

Thirteen years ago 19 men hijacked a few airplanes a blew a hole in the psyche of the Western world. We may not think of it this way, but in a sense, they claimed the day. For 13 years we have marked this day as the day we were attacked. It is a day when loved ones were taken from us. It is a day when a dark design was executed to great destruction and a historic, culture-shaping aftermath. It is a day, much like December 7th, that will live in infamy.

It’s also a day that still inspires fear. Many of us around the nation grow anxious at its approach. We wonder whether other men will choose to mark the occasion with similar violence, or an even worse attack that will eclipse the original. We avoid public places, possibly keeping our children at home, or simply go about our daily business with dark thoughts and breathe sighs of relief when the tense day closes.

How to Prepare Leaders of Integrity for Public Influence

Michael Lindsay and Mark Mellinger discuss:

Timing Isn’t Everything

Brian Tabb:

We focus a great deal of attention on the clock and the calendar, from the time our alarm clocks go off —When is the report due? When are we meeting the Smiths for dinner?

We are easily frustrated by delays, when our appointment is late, when the kids are slow to get ready. We see this focus on timing and frustration with delays in our spiritual lives as well, as we wait for God to answer prayers and wait for Jesus to return.

Jesus Did More to Save Us than Die

Gavin Ortlund:

How do we maintain the centrality of the cross without displacing the empty tomb, the manger story, the final trumpet call? To what extend is our gospel Good Friday, and to what extent is it also Easter and Christmas? On the one hand, we don’t want to focus on Christ’s crucifixion so much that we simply have nothing to say about his temptation or his transfiguration, his representation or his return. On the other hand, we don’t want to so flatten out the narrative so much that Christ’s crucifixion loses its central, dramatic significance.

What does accountability look like for Christian bloggers?

word-balloons

One of the great dangers of the Internet is also one of its great strengths: the ability to communicate to a (potentially) large group of people with few (if any) barriers. While much good can come from this, it also represents a great risk to those who write if we don’t have any sort of accountability.

As Christians, we understand that we don’t live our lives in isolation. We live in mutual submission to one another. So, what does this look like for Christian bloggers—or at least, this one? Here are three forms of accountability I have in place:

1. The elders of our church. I believe one of the most dangerous places for a Christian to be is outside of the authority of their local church (insomuch as they are modelling Christlikeness in exercising it). So, when we joined our church, one of the first requests I made of our elders was for them to have oversight over this blog.

This doesn’t mean they spend all their time reading this blog since they have much more important things to do. But it does mean they’re aware of what’s going on. So, if they see something they’re concerned about in a post, they can ask me to clarify or remove it, depending on the degree of concern. If they are see an unhealthy pattern in my writing (for example, unnecessarily chasing controversy or using words sinfully), they can ask me to either take a hiatus or stop altogether. And to date, I can count the number of times I’ve had a concern raised on one hand.

2. My wife. Emily actually reads or hears almost every post I write. She’s a good gauge for whether or not the content is actually helpful, and because she is slightly more in touch with people’s feelings, she can give me a better sense of a reader’s response. The number of times she’s asked me to rewrite something or not publish cannot be counted; the number is far too great.

3. Trusted fellow bloggers. There are a few fellow bloggers I seek out feedback from on a semi-regular basis, particularly when writing on a sensitive subject. If, for example, I’m writing a critical review (such as this one), or addressing a controversial topic or person, a number of people will almost certainly have read the post before it ever gets published. This group of writers has given me a great deal of sharpening critique, pushed me to drop certain arguments or add new ones, and, every so often, let me know when something’s not worth writing about at all.

That, in a nutshell is what accountability looks like for me. Mind blowing? Probably not. Helpful? You bet.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Profiles of Reformed Spirituality series is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

Why Peter’s Idiocy Is So Helpful

Jeff Medders:

But here’s what I love about Peter, he always came back around. He never let shame rest on him. He always turned, repented, rethought his thoughts, and came back to following Jesus. What patience Jesus has for his sheep!

How to pray for and support persecuted Christians

Good thoughts here from Dave Jenkins.

I Want A “Do-Over”

Tullian Tchividjian:

In many ways, all of our striving under this performance idol is a grown-up re-creation of the adolescent playground cry: “I want a do-over!” Have you ever heard that? Watch children playing a game at a park like football or basketball. Maybe somebody messed up the opening kick. Maybe they weren’t sure the ball stayed in bounds or not. So somebody proclaims, “Do-over!” And they start over. They have to get it right. They want the bad play erased and replaced by the good play.

We’re still doing this into our adult years, trying to manage our lives in some bizarre system of spiritual checks and balances, trying to outweigh our bad plays with our “do-overs.”

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

Jared Totten:

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

Loyal To My Faults

Aaron Earls:

Often times, I will stick with something or someone long after they have proven they should not longer have my loyalty. The pain of giving up and changing is harder for me than dealing with the disappointment that comes from being loyal when you shouldn’t.

Maybe I fit the phrase “loyal to a fault,” but I know that I, along with many others, absolutely fit the phrase “loyal to my faults.”

Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry

I don’t know hardly anything about football, but this article from Kevin DeYoung is still helpful.

Crash the Chatterbox

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How do we hear God’s voice? Are all negative thoughts really bad for us? My thoughts on these questions and more can be found in my review of Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others by Steven Furtick over at The Gospel Coalition:

First, let’s talk about the good of this book. Furtick builds his argument, or rather his counterargument to the lies we believe, around four “confessions”:

  1. God says I am. Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your insecurities.
  2. God says he will. Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your fears.
  3. God says he has. Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your condemnation.
  4. God says I can. Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your discouragement. (Kindle location 382)

“These are truths about God and truths about you that come straight from God’s Word,” Furtick writes. “So by filling our spiritual ears with these four declarations of truth, we receive and respond to what God says about who he is and who we are in him” (Kindle location 371).

Taken on their own, these confessions (or, more accurately, declarations) are actually pretty helpful. What matters isn’t what I, or others, think about me but what God says about me. What God says he will do and what God has already done is more than enough to overcome my fears. What God says I can do—or, more correctly, what he’s empowered me to do through the Holy Spirit—is more important than what others think I can do.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And the details, I’m afraid, spoil Crash the Chatterbox. I’ll limit myself to four significant errors I see in this book.

Read the full article at TGC.

How now shall we act online?

A while back, I had the opportunity to sit down with my friends Dan Darling and Derek Rishmawy to discuss how Christians should approach using social media and engaging online conversations (and controversy) in a Christlike manner:

Thanks to Dan and all the folks at the ERLC for the opportunity to be a part of the conversation!

God doesn’t have time to worry about such little things, right?

If God provides

The other day we were on our way home from Port Huron, MI, when our car started making some shady sounds. A grinding/vibrating sound that sounded like maybe one of the brakes had seized. (Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be something catastrophic, to my savings if nothing else.)

Sunday night, as we prepared dinner, Emily and I talked about how much we were willing to spend on repairs. It’s important to have a “do not pass go” line because, at some point, it’s just not worth fixing a vehicle. Of course, when that happens, it’s also helpful to have a fair bit saved up in order to actually pay for a new one. Which we don’t (yet).

One of the things we don’t do all that well is pray over “little” issues. Years ago, as new believers, we were exposed to a lot of damnably stupid teaching on prayer. One video we watched, featuring an ultra-hip (now ex-) pastor, openly mocked a person who would pray for such seemingly insignificant things as a parking space, as though doing so would be a waste of God’s time and yours.

After all, God doesn’t have time to worry about such little things, right?

And yet, we see something very different in Psalm 8:3-4: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Setting aside the christological elements of these verses for a moment, we see something pretty incredible: David is in awe of the mystery of God’s care. What shocks David here is that the God who created all the universe is not distant. He is near to us and intimately involved with every detail of our lives. That he has numbered every hair on our heads. He has determined all the days of our lives. There is not a single event that happens, whether a hair falling from our heads or a piece of dust floating down onto your shoulder, that the Lord is not aware of.

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! … Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (Luke 12:24; 27-28)

This is the mystery of God’s care: that he holds all of creation together, and yet is actively involved in the minutest details of our lives. Do you believe this? Do you believe that right now, God is working all things together for your good—that there is nothing that happens in your life that escapes his sight? Or do you believe, as the song goes, God is watching us from a distance?

Events like our car problems are an opportunity for me to shake off the “little faith” attitude of the man who mocks those who pray for “little things.” If God provides for sparrows and clothes the grass in splendor, will He not provide what His people need? I’m not saying this in some sort of goofy “name it and claim it” sort of way. Instead, it’s a reminder to me that God truly is involved in the most mundane aspects of my life.

We had another car problem about a week ago. The repairs cost $100, though they could have been significantly more had the problem not been easily resolved. It is right to see this as evidence of God’s care. I had $100. I did not have significantly more. We have this latest problem. We have no idea what it will cost to repair or if we have to say “when” on this car. We can only trust that the Lord will provide what we need, when we need it in the way we need it.

And that’s the thing that should give us great hope and encouragement: God is not disconnectedly watching the events of our lives play out. He is actively engaged. He really does care for us and provide for us, no matter how insignificant it might seem.


Photo credit: mohammadali via photopin cc. Designed with Canva.

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The Barney-Stinsonization of America

Chris Martin:

Sleeping with countless women with no strings attached seems like paradise to countless young men, but throughout the show, in between his seductive tricks and sexual triumphs, one reality remains:

Barney is enslaved by his sexual freedom.

And there’s reason to believe he isn’t the only one.

We are in the midst of the Barney-Stinsonization of America, and the most popular song in the country is proof of that.

He must increase, our churches must decrease

Jared Wilson nails it, as per usual:

See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)

No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.

We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.

Having Boldness to Enter the Holiest

L. Michael Morales:

The Book of Leviticus is the heart and center of the Pentateuch. The theological heart of Leviticus—and, therefore, also of the Five Books of Moses—is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On this most sacred day, the high priest of Israel would bring the blood of sacrifice into the holy of holies to cleanse both the tabernacle dwelling of God and the camp of Israel. Ultimately, every other sacrifice and ritual in Israel’s cult derived its meaning and significance from this annual entrance into the earthly throne room of God. Worship in ancient Israel was through the chosen and anointed mediator, the high priest. Significantly, then, in the Pentateuch “messiah” refers exclusively to Aaron the high priest—he is the one anointed with oil, whose mediation allows God’s people to draw near in worship.

Why Twitter is a bad place to do theology

Mark Jones on the problems with trying to do theology well in 140 characters or less.

“I Have Another One…”

Tullian Tchividjian:

Sam confesses an infidelity to Sheila, and she forgives him. Sheila confesses an infidelity to Sam, and he forgives her. Everything seems to be back on track until Sheila says, “I have another one.” Sam says, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. This is what it’s all about…honesty and forgiveness.” But then she says that it’s Cliff, from Cheers (the frumpy mailman played by John Ratzenberger). “Cliff?!?!?!” Sam explodes. This is over the line for him. He can’t take it and storms out of the room, calling off the marriage.

All too often, this is how we think of God’s forgiveness, and why assurance eludes us.

Evangelicalism’s Poor Form

Alastair Roberts:

Whether designed to clarify evangelicalism as an object of study or analysis, or to police its supposed boundaries, definitions of evangelicalism have generally tended to occlude the cultural, institutional, and sociological dimensions of the movement. This is unfortunate, as it is precisely these elements that are most salient in the experience of many within it. Evangelicalism is not There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders.typically experienced as a set of abstract and explicit doctrines or beliefs held by individuals, but more as a distinctive cultural environment within which such beliefs are inconsistently and idiosyncratically maintained. The official beliefs of evangelicalism exist alongside a host of other miscellaneous elements and the cross-pollination from the surrounding society, all sustained within local churches and a shifting constellation of denominations, movements, ministries, groups, and agencies.

Alive and full of power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

If you look back across the history of the Christian Church, you immediately find that the story of the Church has not been a straight line, a level record of achievement. The history of the Church has been a history of ups and downs. It is there to be seen on the very surface. When you read the history of the past you find that there have been periods in the history of the Church when she has been full of life, and vigour, and power. The statistics prove that people crowded to the house of God, whole numbers of people who were anxious and eager to belong to the Christian Church. Then the Church was filled with life, and she had great power; the Gospel was preached with authority, large numbers of people were converted regularly, day by day, and week by week. Christian people delighted in prayer. You did not have to whip them up to prayer meetings, you could not keep them away. They did not want to go home, they would stay all night praying. The whole Church was alive and full of power, and of vigour, and of might. And men and women were able to tell of rich experiences of the grace of God, visitations of his Spirit, a knowledge of the love of God that thrilled them, and moved them, and made them feel that it was more precious than the whole world. And, as a consequence of all that, the whole life of the country was affected and changed.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival

Be eternally grateful for His rebukes of love

spurgeon

Ah! brethren, when we were groaning under the chastening hand of Jesus, we thought him cruel; do we think so ill of him now? We conceived that he was wroth with us, and would be implacable; how have our surmises proved to be utterly confounded! The abundant benefit which we now reap from the deep ploughing of our heart is enough of itself to reconcile us to the severity of the process. Precious is that wine which is pressed in the winefat of conviction; pure is that gold which is dug from the mines of repentance; and bright are those pearls which are found in the caverns of deep distress.… If we have any power to console the weary, it is the result of our remembrance of what we once suffered—for here lies our power to sympathise. If we can now look down with scorn upon the boastings of vain, self-conceited man, it is because our own vaunted strength has utterly failed us, and made us contemptible in our own eyes. If we can now plead with ardent desire for the souls of our fellow-men, and especially if we feel a more than common passion for the salvation of sinners, we must attribute it in no small degree to the fact that we have been smitten for sin, and therefore knowing the terrors of the Lord are constrained to persuade men. The laborious pastor, the fervent minister, the ardent evangelist, the faithful teacher, the powerful intercessor, can all trace the birth of their zeal to the sufferings they endured for sin, and the knowledge they thereby attained of its evil nature. We have ever drawn the sharpest arrows from the quiver of our own experience. We find no sword-blades so true in metal as those which have been forged in the furnace of soul-trouble. Aaron’s rod, that budded, bore not one half so much fruit as the rod of the covenant, which is laid upon the back of every chosen child of God; this alone may render us eternally grateful to the Saviour for his rebukes of love.

Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior

Err on the side of original

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There are a lot of embarrassing things that can happen when you’re preaching. One time, and this was one of my earliest preaching opportunities, I completely blanked out. It was as though my entire vocabulary was lost, and I just stood there for what seemed like at least 15 seconds (which is a really long time to be silent when you think about it). Another time, I preached one of the worst messages of my life at a friend’s church. The entire thing was a scattered mess, and I felt like I wanted to die (especially when people were offering polite compliments).

There are some things I haven’t done, thankfully. (At least, not yet; there’s still time.) But you know what I expect would be really embarrassing? Being invited back to a church and preaching a message you’ve already shared.

At that church.

Toward the end of Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones shares a number of stories of preachers who had this happen. He wasn’t saying this to steer his hearers away from re-preaching a message, but to give wise counsel: if you’re going to do it, make sure you keep track of where you have already preached the message.

This is good advice, for obvious reasons. Although I prefer to not re-preach my own sermons, the odd time I have, I’ve made sure to note where so I don’t do it again.

But, I’ve got to be honest, sometimes it’s sorely tempting to just re-preach out of convenience. After all, I have a young family, a full-time job and multiple hobby jobs… it’s not like there’s a lot of time that exists to write new sermons every time I preach.

But there’s just something about the process of preparing the message that feeds and encourages me, even as the purpose is to encourage others. When I re-preach, I rarely have that same experience. I don’t feel truly prepared, no matter how much time I spend reviewing the text and manuscript. When I preach new material, it’s the message I need to hear, as much as it is the message for the congregation. For me at least, that seems to be a pretty good reason to err on the side of original. What do you think?

Four truths that will change how you care for the poor

happy days

Let’s be honest: no one with a firm grip on reality looks at the world and says, “Yep, everything is running exactly as it should.” When we millions of people go to sleep each night unsure if they’re going to eat the next day while others have an abundance beyond what they could need for a thousand lifetimes, we know something’s not right.

And therein lies the problem: we know things are wrong, but we don’t know what we can do about them. The problem seems too big to really make a difference! And you know something? We’re right to think so, at least in one sense. When we look at the suffering and injustice that exists in this world as a whole, it’s overwhelming. The problem is just too big!

And yet, we see throughout Scripture an overwhelming concern for the needs of the poor.… So we can’t simply turn a blind eye, or give into the despair that comes with the overwhelming nature of poverty. Instead, we need to engage as God has called us to—caring for the needs of others, both in the church and in the world (Galatians 6:10).

So where does it start? I believe it starts with a change of mind and a change of heart. In order for that to happen, we need to understand four things.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – Four truths that will change how you care for the poor

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A gospeled church

Jared Wilson:

The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.

You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.

The Secret of Joy

Jim Martin:

What God promises in return for obedience is astounding: a level of connection to God, a level of joy that is hard to imagine. And in my repeated experience, it is a level of joy that cannot be achieved by direct pursuit. Who stands to benefit more from God’s people being obedient to his mandate? Certainly the oppressed who are set free will benefit greatly. But it seems like God wants to show us that the people of God in general have at least as much to gain.

Churchoholics Anonymous

Mark Dance:

Since my computer didn’t recognize the term churchoholic, it vainly attempted to change it to the ignoble addiction of a chocoholic (def: a person who is excessively fond of chocolate). If you love the church, but suspect that your love has grown into an unhealthy obsession, consider getting help soon. Here are seven symptoms to love for that will help you to confirm and confront your addiction.

Jesus Cares About Your Words

Jeff Medders: “A day will come when Jesus will raise our bodies from the dead; I think he can transform our speech.”

Remembering Sermons

Aimee Byrd:

I stumbled upon a journal I had totally forgotten about. It is a sermon journal. I usually take notes on Sundays, but eventually, when I declutter my Bible, they get tossed as well. So back in 2008 I came up with the idea to keep a sermon journal. In rediscovering it I thought, “How the heck did I forget about this? It’s awesome!” The sermon journal is easy to do, great to go back and read, and therefore got promoted to a shelf on my desk. It’s just three easy steps.

Welcome Back, My Old Friend

Tim Challies:

Summer had some great moments of fun and relaxation. We had lots of good times vacationing and staycationing and otherwise enjoying the season. But it has also been tough. The day the kids left class for the last time and came home chanting something about “no more pencils, no more books…” I saw Routine following along behind them. His bags were packed and he was holding a ticket to somewhere far north, or maybe it was far south—I don’t really know. But I do know that he waved goodbye and disappeared that day.

Facing Leviathan

facing-leviathan

Influence. Leverage relationships. Eschew formal authority. Develop compelling values… this is pretty much what you see in all the best-selling leadership books. And while it’s not all bad (although not all good, either), it begs the question: if influence is the silver bullet, why isn’t it working? 

Mark Sayers, senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia, may have stumbled onto the answer, and, as he writes in Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, it’s less of an issue of technique or style than one of worldview.

A clash of worldviews

 

We are in the midst of a battle between what he describes as “mechanical” and “organic” values—a move away from traditional values surrounding leadership, which includes authority and power toward fluid, creative and (sometimes) leaderless leadership styles. And while some argue that this is our “evolving beyond” the modernist approach to life and leadership, Sayers argues it’s actually a reversion. It’s the reassertion of the values of Romanticism.

“Romanticism arose in reaction to the Enlightenment,” he writes, “attempt[ing] to create an alternative to the mechanical worldview. It would base its ideology on the suspicion of power and structure… They preferred emotion and experience to reason and the empirical.” And while the Englightment (or modernist) vision imagines the leader as hero, “the Romantic vision imagines the creative genius as a heretic, always pushing the boundaries and breaking taboos” (26-27).

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Go take a look at any of the leadership books littering your shelves and you’ll see this conflict front and center. But Sayers goes deeper than the Romanticism vs Enlightenment ideology clash—those two are merely alternatives to the Christian worldview, options that fail to stand up against the true battle:

The real battle in which our culture is engage is not between the mechanical and the organic but rather between the pagan and Christian worldviews. A Christianity that attempts to model itself on the hero or the genius will be a faith that has little potential to speak the good news to the West. Instead, we must rediscover the truly radical vision of leadership found within the Bible. A model of leadership… that dared to proclaim in pagan streets and squares that God had lowered Himself to come and live in the mess and muck of human life, within history, in time, in human flesh. (29)

Christlike leadership

The first and last chapters—and the passage above in particular—makes Facing Leviathan worth reading. Sayers succinctly and precisely identifies the battle within our world, and the struggle within leadership circles. We’re essentially fighting the right battle with the wrong weapons. We’re combating “leader as hero” with “leader as heretic,” preferring to be hip over being heard. And both approaches leave us—both leaders and followers—wanting.

The leader as hero types quickly tend to veer into becoming overbearing and authoritarian. I once knew a man who seemed more like a supervillain than a human being in this regard, laughing maniacally whenever he learned an employee had purchased a car or a house. It meant, from his perspective, he owned them—they needed their jobs, and he delighted in that fact. Followers of this type often feel beaten down and abused. But I’ve also seen the leader as heretic, too, and it also quickly falls apart as they’re too busy deconstructing what already exists to figure out how to move forward. Followers of this type are typically frustrated by the lack of forward direction, which feeds into their distrust of authority, which then makes them even more frustrated, which then…

We don’t need more heroes, and we definitely don’t need more heretics. We need something better. “We must become leaders who are deep in a society of the spectacle that produces shallowness” (115). In other words, we need leaders modelled after Christ. We need people who are, as Sayers calls them, rebuilders, those who are quietly “getting on with the job.”

“Our culture of deconstruction no longer makes sense to them,” he writes. “The culture of deconstruction that has come to dominate the church no longer helps them. It hinders them. They are the rebuilders, partners with God in the rebuilding of His creational order” (217). These are the kinds of people we need to become, he argues, people less concerned with worrying about “moving from the mechanical values to the organic values,” and instead “living wholeheartedly for the God we find in the storm” (218). And out of that comes something compelling and beautiful, something deep in a sea of shallow. Maybe even leaders worth following.

Weaknesses punctuated by the author’s strengths

There is so much strength to Facing Leviathan, particularly when Sayers is exercising his considerable skills as a cultural commentator, that it’s hard to find much fault with the book. But what weaknesses do exist come from its author’s strengths.

Sayers is clearly gifted as a cultural commentator, but is not nearly as gifted a biblical one, as demonstrated by his novel (but not entirely unorthodox) approach to Jonah throughout the book. Jonah isn’t the first book I’d go to tease out lessons on leadership, but maybe that’s just me. I’ve seen it done occasionally, but the results have always left me wanting. Jonah is a powerful illustration of the gospel, to be sure, but I’m not sure he really fits the mould of either the “heroic” or “heretic” leader. Instead, he, like the rest of us, is a deeply confused, broken, sinful, selfish, individual—one who desperately needs the saving work of the One whom he foreshadows.

As borderline blasphemous as it might seem to say “I wish he hadn’t included discussion of this or that biblical passage,” I’d almost rather he’d have not bothered with it since it lessens the impact of the rest of his writing. His theologically informed reading of culture, the arts, and literature stands on its own.

Nevertheless, I would not let this prevent me from recommending this book to most any reader, especially those in a position of influence (or leadership). By recasting our leadership principles as a conflict between worldviews, Sayers will surely cause its readers to rethink what they’ve read in the latest leadership bestseller—and perhaps reconsider their approach to Christlike leadership.


Title: Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm
Author: Mark Sayers
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon