4 Books I Read During My Break

During my time out of the pulpit in July, I was able to read a few books that weren't directly related to a sermon series or a particular ministry of the church. Reading refreshes me, and the chance to read outside of a particular task is a real gift. 

I chose these four books with some intention. I read The Mockingbird Devotional every day simply to have the Gospel preached to me by voices outside of my particular 'tribe'. I picked Playing God by Andy Crouch and Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers for two different angles on a topic I really wanted to look at, power in leadership. Lastly, I picked Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell because I wanted to read a powerful narrative about leadership and sacrifice.

The Mockingbird Devotional by Mockingbird Ministries

Very simply, I love it. I need the Good News every single day and these short devotionals preach the Gospel from every page. No need to elaborate any more than that and to encourage you to pick it up if you don't already have a daily devotional.

 

Playing God by Andy Crouch

What do you picture when you think about power? The mention of power would conjure up images of corrupt politicians, abusive leaders, or oppressive businessmen in many of us. Playing God, by Andy Crouch, is a helpful, powerful, paradigm-changing argument that we most often think of the abuses of power instead of what true power is according to the Bible. Crouch starts in Genesis and shows that true power is creative power, the power to create artifacts and meaning in our world that contribute to flourishing.

What was the most challenging for me was Andy's explanation of the connection between idolatry and injustice. Idolatry always leads to injustice, and justice always needs idolatry to justify it. Both are sins tied to the Ten Commandments, the former having to do with the first tablet (Love God) and the latter having to do with the second (love others). Of course the dichotomy is that we are prone - individually, theologically, denominationally, politically - to emphasize one over the other. Andy’s book challenged me to not be OK with that. The Gospel declares that both our idolatry and injustice are what put Jesus on the cross. But God so loved us that he gave Jesus to die for our sin, at the very hands of our idolatry and injustice. Taking it one step further, Biblically, it is God’s creative power through the Holy Spirit that formed all life from nothing (2 Corinthians 4), that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8), and that gives people new life and faith. It is a both/and: Christians should work evangelistically and to bring justice where it is needed.

Additionally, Crouch’s connection between power, gleaning, and the Sabbath were outstanding.

Crouch’s book is academic but accessible, profound but practical, realistic and hopeful. I’d recommend it highly and am considering adding it to our deaconship training.

Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers

Many people lead without asking “why”. Why do they lead the way they do? Is it because of how they were trained or because of the influence of leaders they’ve served under? Or, are there deeper forces at work? In Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers, looks into the historical and philosophical development of the two major paradigms of leadership in our day, the hero and the creative genius. Here is how Sayers contrasts the two.

"Thus, in the imagination of the Enlightenment, with its mechanical values, the leader par excellence is a successful hero figure: powerful, commanding, and conquering, creating with determination, organization, and systems as powerful as the hero himself."(page 26)

"The romantic vision, with its organic values, imaged the leader and the influencer to not be the achieving hero of the Enlightenment but rather the creative genius who influences through innovation, art, and dangerously brilliant ideas. The Romantic vision imagines the creative genius as a heretic, always pushing boundaries and breaking taboos. Thus, in the organic vision, the creative creates but they also tear down. As we will discover, this is a very different view from the biblical idea of creativity." [note the tie in with Crouch’s explanation of true power] (page 27)

First of all, I can’t help but think Sayers must’ve had Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell in the front of his mind as he was writing this. The comparison and contrast is striking. But, Sayers’ argument in Facing Leviathan, is that both models of leadership are actually pagan in origin and execution and not biblical.

Chapter after chapter, Sayers uses cultural developments in Paris as a microcosm for how these models of leadership were cultivated in the Western world. The aspect of the book that really shines is Sayers’ explanation that these models came to be predominant as our culture shifted to what he calls a “society of spectacle”. He peppers the book with great nuggets like this.

In the society of the spectacle, politics is turned into theater, sex into pornography, religion into consumerism.
page 54

Similar to Andy Crouch’s connection that Sabbath is a the very gift we need to challenge our clamoring after power, Sayers argues that Sabbath is the very gift and challenge those caught up in the Society of the Spectacle need. That was a big takeaway from both books for me.

Now, if the premise of Facing Leviathan is that the Society of the Spectacle needs spectacular heroes, then his call is for Christian leaders to be content with being nobodies by the world’s standards. This is a noble, indeed prophetic, call. My only critique would be that it seems that Sayers anchored his prescription more in the imperatives of “be like Jesus” or “follow Jesus” rather than the freedom that the Gospel gives every believer, including leaders (1 Corinthians 1:10-31; Galatians 4:1-7).

The trouble is, I will fail to lead like Jesus or be like Jesus. There will be times when I will be selfish, competitive, cowardly, manipulative. But the Gospel declares that the King of everything, the one who reigns over heaven and earth, became nothing, a servant, a man, to die for my attempts to take his throne and rule my own kingdom. J.D. Salinger’s character Franny said, "I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.” The greatest incentive for change, the greatest foundation of our courage to be nobodies, isn’t the imperative to be like Jesus, but believing the indicative that I am His.

But, that’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend Sayers’ book, I would. I think it has many insights and helpful things to say. I would recommend complimenting it with John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling, and one of Ed Welch’s books on fear, the need for approval, or even shame.
 

 

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

Like you didn’t want to read the book after watching the movie. I powered through this book in three or four days. If you saw the movie, you know the story: a group of four Navy SEALS has their mission in Afghanistan compromised by unarmed civilians who are in some way connected with the Taliban. The SEALS find themselves at a moral crossroads that ends up costing the lives of three of the four soldiers.

I appreciated Luttrell’s background on SEAL training and insights into the camaraderie and brotherhood. It is a unique look at the men who serve our country as the sharpest point of the spear. The glaring leadership takeaway was Marcus’ mention that, in the midst of the grueling BUDs training and Hell Week there were particular instructors that all of the soldiers loved and respected.  They were the instructors who genuinely cared for the well-being of their men and were ‘for’ them personally rather than viewing them as a number to be checked off.

Those traits seem to have seeped into the friends Luttrell found himself with on an Afghan mountain that fateful June day. As Marcus paints the portraits of Matt Axelson, Mike Murphy, and Danny Dietz the reader is struck with the potent mixture of grief and respect that hangs heavy on him. There’s a saying that SEALs are born, not made, and I think Lone Survivor makes that point powerfully. The action is as intense in print as it was in the movie, maybe even more so.

My first criticism would be that the writing at times felt repetitive. There were multiple instances where I thought, “Wait, didn’t I already read this?” Additionally, Luttrell seems to conflate being a Christian with being an American social and political conservative. In fact, I think the selfless heroism of the Afghan villagers who rescued Marcus from the Taliban is the perfect picture of why that is not the case. The villagers performed an act of goodness for an enemy that, I’m sure, many conservative Americans would fall short of. As Paul Tripp has said, "My problem isn’t that I don’t love my enemies, my problem is that I often don’t love those whom I proclaim to love." What makes a Christian is not nationality, political affiliation, social views, or even outward good works, but repentance and faith in Jesus. I left Lone Survivor with deeper respect for  SEALs and praying that Marcus would know the freedom, comfort, peace, and hope that God offers to us in Jesus.