Let me make a confession. Deep within me there is a desire for success and recognition. For much of my life, I was blind to it. But others noticed my longing for status. It lurked behind my actions, motivating me in ways I couldn’t see. I didn’t see how I would position myself to be near the most influential person in the room. I was unconscious of how I manipulated situations and people to make myself look better.
In the past, I would have written off my ambition as an eagerness to use my gifts for God. It’s amazing how good we Christians are at dressing up our actions in God language. We don’t gossip, we share concerns. We aren’t unkind, we’re speaking the truth. Interpreting our actions and motivations in the best, most positive light is a learned skill, and I mastered it. Truth is, driving my desire for status and recognition was a hunger for power.
Power doesn’t get a lot of critique in American Christianity. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon warning the church against using the power of this world. If power was talked about in a sermon, it was always “out there.” The people pursuing power were evil sinners waging war against the church. Few sermons ever turned a reflective eye inward to ask if the church was in danger of adopting the world’s power.
For much of modernity, the church hasn’t wrestled with its relationship to power. Since the post-Constantine era of the Roman Empire, Christianity has been the foundation of Western civilization. The church dispensed power and authority. The church determined what a society thought was moral. The church defined what was great art and literature. The church got officialized by an emperor—and readily accepted that power.
But now that the power to influence culture is slowly being taken away from the church we can see how much we enjoyed it. Our clamoring to recover what we once had reveals our lust for power. We’ll vote for people that disgust us as long as they promise to secure our influence. We’ll neglect speaking out about injustice lest we upset our big givers. We’ll refuse to work with people on issues of shared concern unless they embrace all of our values. These are all power plays, and they’re evidence of power from below (worldly) rather than power from above (Kingdom)
Maybe it’s time we spend time reflecting on power. In an age of celebrity pastors, is it time to ask if we have adopted the world’s understanding of personal power? As churches promote their special place in their cities and country, should we stop and ask why we would celebrate our church more than the church? When we lobby or vote so that a particular “Christian” agenda is legislated by the government, have we been tempted by the power of the world?
These are the questions that Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel ask in their new book, “The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb.” It is one of the most refreshing and personally convicting books I have read in quite some time. It is timely for what is happening in our society and what is going on in my personal life. Jamin and Kyle take us on a journey as they interview seven giants of North American Christianity (J.I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, and Eugene Peterson) about the power of the world and the power of Jesus.
Let give you an example of the wisdom within this book, this tidbit from Marva Dawn:
“It is crucial that Christ’s victory over evil be realized not only be Christians in isolation, but by communities of believers. That is why the New Testament is so concerned that churches remain an alternative society, not fostering the parasitic growth of the powers of evil but maintaining purity and freedom. If churches took this stand, it would change the attitude of our congregations, so that rather than trying to be powerful in the world, we would be a servant in the world. We wouldn’t try to be the strongest or most powerful or richest or most attractive or most popular churches, but we would be willing to be the servant, and therefore walk humbly with God.”
The book would be good if it just focused on the church. What makes The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb profound is that it doesn’t let its critique of power remain “out there” with the church. As a person who has to constantly examine my motivations for selfish-ambition, this book is gently but firmly compelling me to examine my own life. Am I willing to follow Jesus without recognition? Have I embraced my role as a servant, or am I still fighting to be something more? Do I seek to live empowered by my strengths, or dependent on God because I understand my weakness? This book has urged me to reflect on my own relationship to power, and I know it will do it for you. Which makes it incredibly powerful – in the best possible way.