The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb | (Searching for Jesus’ path of power in a church that has abandoned it)
Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel | Nelson Books, 2017
Actually, I heard this book recommended by a brother and fellow church member, Seth York, on one of Hershael York’s PastorWell podcasts, and so I got and read it.
I thought I was reading my own life’s story written by someone else … complete with constant references to the same Scriptures that have taught me, guided me, encouraged me, strengthened me, and kept me from despair and giving up on myself for the past 50 years. I found myself profusely highlighting, marking, writing notes and comments in the margins of the pages, as well as making copious notes in a reading side-journal I keep as I read.
So, here’s the crux of the issue – this issue of “power”: every one of us wants to be a person of influence with others for God. We want our lives to matter, to count. We want to “make a difference.” We want to be effective as a positive, edifying influence in God’s Kingdom. We want to be useful to God as an instrument of His grace in the lives of others. And, that’s a good thing. That’s what God gives every one of us our gifts to do.
The only problem is: far too often we seek to exercise that influence through channels of human wisdom and power. It is so easy for us to revert back to our default fleshly confidence in our own skills, abilities, strengths, or even our very gifts from God. It’s a common axiom among us to “play to your strengths.”
That is what Goggin and Strobel are calling “the way of the Dragon.” These carnal exercises of human wisdom and power are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3.15) and are implemented with “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts” (verse 14). It leads, not to humble service and giving of ourselves to others, but rather to wanting to use others to promote ourselves or advance a personal agenda. It produces a desire for position, prestige, and even a celebrity of some degree or another. I’ve even heard talk of “leveraging” certain people, or positions, or events to advance one’s own personal ministry ambitions. The common methods employed in this “way of the Dragon” are coercion, intimidation (bullying), and manipulation.
However, Jesus has mandated, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.20-28). What we will have to discover is that Jesus’ way of wisdom and power (“the way of the Lamb”) is by His grace working His own wisdom and power through our weakness and brokenness (1 Corinthians 15.10; 2 Corinthians 4.7-12; chapter 12.1-10 et. al.).
There is also the constant reminder throughout these chapters that everything we are doing in the Kingdom of God – all the activities that go on in our churches and in our ministries – it all is in the arena, context, and environment of constant spiritual warfare. Here is just one of many summary paragraphs I highlighted – this one from chapter 4, “Standing Against the Powers,” page 75:
“The church, the place where kingdom values should reign is the place where we come to know and participate in the way of God – where ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 6:12). The church is the place where the powers are to be exposed for what they are and are continually put to shame as they were upon the cross. Sunday morning worship in this sense is a spiritual battle, but the battle isn’t limited to Sundays. This is why we need to discern the fruit of the church to see where it is rooted. Is the church walking in the way from below – a way that is unspiritual, earthly, and demonic, driven by selfishness and jealousy – or is it walking in the way from above, made manifest on the cross in love? This question should be at the heart of our small groups, conferences, seminars, and publishing; it should be woven into our parenting, friendships, and service. This question should drive us and deeply unsettle us.”
One aspect of this book’s writing that I most appreciate is how the authors gathered their content: both Goggin and Strobel are writing from their own personal experiences of personal brokenness and what others may even call vocational ‘failure,’ or at least certainly disappointments. But, what these two “young influencers” have done is sought out the counsel of a number of older, long-experienced servants of the Lord. They listened to them tell their stories, and then wrote about the lessons they learned (or were affirmed and reinforced to them) from these older servants’ lives of living, ministering, and serving in “the way of the Lamb.” I admire their humility and willingness to learn from others who had walked in “the way of the Lamb” before them, instead of strutting into the Kingdom arena with the self-aggrandizing announcement, “We’re here! We’ve got this now!”
Just a personal note here at the end: God has led me on this way of brokenness and weakness all of my ministry. I began my public Gospel ministry with an attitude of pride, but God effectively broke me of any confidence in and reliance upon my self-contained ability or power through a series of experiences which not only marked me at that time, but which have also followed me ever since. He knows how lay His hand on me at any time, pull me up short, and remind me that without Him I can do nothing; and that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4.7). This verse became my signature reference through those experiences and remains to this day.
So, to anyone who struggles with a deep, discouraging, and maybe even debilitating sense of your own weakness and inadequacy, get this book and read it. You are actually stronger than you know – through Christ in you!
Just in case you are still reading – and interested: here is another excerpt from chapter 2, “Power in Weakness,” which is written, by the way, in conjunction with their conversations with J. I. Packer (pages 29-31):
“The problem confronting Paul was that he did not embody any of the marks of power the Corinthians valued. In many ways, he was the exact opposite of what they desired: He did not have an impressive physical presence, he lacked bravado and confidence, and he was meek and gentle in his leadership (2 Cor. 10:10). He did not speak with eloquence (2 Cor. 11:6), and he did not boast in money, intentionally refusing to take money for his ‘services,’ choosing to work a menial job that would have been socially dishonorable (2 Cor. 11:7). On top of all this, Paul experienced continual suffering and hardship (2 Cor. 11.21-30). Each of these things was a sign of weakness in the eyes of the Corinthians. The totality of Paul’s weaknesses had become unpalatable to them. The Corinthians wanted a super-apostle, not an apostle of weakness … Rather than meeting the Corinthians’ expectations, however, Paul shone a light on the very weaknesses that caused him criticism, putting his weakness front and center (2 Cor. 1:3-7; 6:2-10; 11:16-12:10). Radically, Paul embraced the very things that the Corinthians rejected, identifying these weaknesses as signs of his true apostleship. He argued that his weakness was actually verification of the power of God working through him, and he rejected the Corinthian view of power as worldly success, bravado, and status. For Paul, the power to dominate and win was antithetical to the nature of the Gospel. This is not merely a question of what leadership ‘style’ you like, but a question of whether you embrace the way of Jesus. The high point of Paul’s defiant response to the Corinthians’ lust for power is found in the passage we began with: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12.9-10).
For a culture so fixated on power, it is hard to imagine how paradigm-shifting these words were, and how difficult they would have been to hear. But, of course, our own cultural context mirrors the Corinthian context in nearly every way. In a culture boasting of personal accomplishment and success, Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness. Why did he do so? So that the power of Christ may rest upon him. Paul viewed an embrace of weakness as an embrace of strength, because in weakness he could depend upon the might of God. His weakness was the source of his power. Paul did not anchor his life as a follower of Jesus in his ability, talent, gifting, resume´, or strength, but in the grace of God alone. To marshal these skills or achievements in his flesh would have been to embrace power from below and thus reject the Gospel. Paul wrote, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1 Cor. 1:17). Incredibly, Paul argued that to embrace the Corinthian way – to put ourselves forward, emphasizing our strengths and seeking our own power – was to empty the cross of its power.”