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One of the great joys of middle age has been the privilege of watching my oldest son and his wife parent a son who is made in the exact image and likeness of his energetic, curious, strong-willed dad. Like all new parents, they are executing this balance of firmness and warmth, freedom and structure, love and discipline in the midst of multiple distractions and with sleep-deprived brains. Good parenting requires the embrace of two things that seem like opposites, but in Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch shares a useful and inspiring manner of viewing paradox that reveals the myth of our linear model for viewing the world which focuses on the word “or”: humble or bold; firm or warm; exaltation or humiliation.
In the paradox of flourishing we are invited to embrace this tension, for flourishing requires both strength and weakness, authority and vulnerability. Simple and ingenious, Andy Crouch has devised a 2×2 chart that demonstrates “the genius of the ‘and’” which results in a melding of authority and vulnerability, and which captures John 10:10-style abundant living, “the very heart of what it is to be human and to live for God and others.” Capacity for meaningful action (authority) balanced with exposure to meaningful risk (vulnerability) is the essence of the flourishing life. Failures of authority, vulnerability, or both result in:
- suffering (high vulnerability, low authority)
- exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability)
- withdrawal (low authority, low vulnerability).
Everyone experiences each quadrant of this 2×2 grid at some point and to some degree: end of life suffering, complete helplessness (withdrawal) in infancy (or when the X-Box One is on in the living room). Andy helps his readers to see, however, that even though both authority and vulnerability are necessary for a full life and for effective leadership, “we do not pursue these two good things with the same wholeheartedness – or even the same halfheartedness.” The unwillingness of one person (tyrannical dictator) or one group (a police force that uses extreme methods) to bear any vulnerability at all sheds and multiplies that vulnerability onto another person or group. Ironically, those who pursue authority without vulnerability are pursuing an idol which will rob them of meaningful relationships — and will not deliver on any of its lofty promises.
Jesus demonstrated the greatest paradox of flourishing in His own life on this planet by revealing that the abundant life is “only found on the other side of suffering — specifically, our willingness to actively embrace suffering.” Particularly in the case of leaders, we must be willing to take responsibility for the flourishing of others, thereby becoming exposed ourselves to the forces of idolatry and injustice.
“Only those who have faced loss, who have drunk from the cup of undiluted vulnerability — and who have been rescued by a power infinitely beyond their own at the depths of their greatest need — can offer hope stronger than the idol’s word of fear.”
This understanding brings flesh and blood to the Apostle Paul’s upside-down statement about authority and vulnerability: “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong,” I Corinthians 12:5-10.
With elements of memoir and story, Strong and Weak is deeply informative for leaders, or for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world, and this in itself would be “enough”; however, Andy Crouch shares intensely practical advice that brings principles for flourishing into everyday life, as well as some of the best and most memorable advice for public speaking that I’ve read anywhere: do your homework, love your audience, be yourself.
The challenge for the Christian leader is, “How can I take my team into a life of flourishing?” Pastors and executives, husbands and wives, teachers and writers are invited to embrace meaningful risk through accountability, admission of failures, delegation of power to others, and the cultivation of the disciplines of solitude, silence, and fasting. Like the actor who “leaves everything on the stage” but comes away full from his performance, the essence of the flourishing life is to pour ourselves out like an Old Testament drink offering, to go empty to Christ, and then to be rescued from the depths of our own inadequacy, for in this way, our story becomes a tale about our Rescuer, the only One who can truly set us free from suffering, apathy, and exploitation.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”