The Bible teaches a seemingly contradictory way to power: weakness. Are Christian leaders increasingly succumbing to the temptations of power and forgetting Jesus’ words to first give it up? What can be learned from the insights of J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson, and other spiritual giants?
Bible Gateway interviewed Kyle Strobel (@KyleStrobel), who, with Jamin Goggin (@JaminGoggin), authored the book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church That Has Abandoned It (Thomas Nelson, 2017) (book website).
What does the Bible say is Jesus’ path of power?
Kyle Strobel: Scripture is clear that Jesus could have employed what we normally think of as “power” any time he wanted. He tells Peter that if he wanted he could appeal to the Father and receive more than 12 legions of angels at his disposal (Matt. 26:53). The structure of the Gospel of Mark, for instance, is a journey from his calling in ministry as the Messiah (what we normally think of as a position of power), to the true task of the Messiah—walking the way of the cross. The whole of Mark turns on the key question in Mark 8, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) Most people wanted Jesus to offer power, and Jesus instead points to the cross. Jesus presents us with a different sort of power.
In the way of Jesus, the way Philippians 2 claims is a descent down the ladder of power into service, is, paradoxically, where we come to know true kingdom power. But kingdom power is built on a different foundation than worldly power and it functions according to a different system than the flesh. Kingdom power is power found in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Kingdom power is trusting that without Christ you can do nothing (John 15:5). Kingdom power is believing that if you try to save your life you’ll lose it, but if you lose it for Christ you’ll find it (Matt. 16:25). The question we’re faced with is: Will we trust in this way for real kingdom power?
How and why has the church abandoned it?
Kyle Strobel: When Jamin and I started this project we were inundated with stories of churches employing worldly power, but it was often not done with wicked intent. In other words, the churches had good goals in mind, but they failed to seek them in distinctively Christian ways.
Everything we do in life has a goal and a means by which we attain that goal. Our temptation is to believe that having the right goal is enough, but then turn to the wrong means to attain that goal. As Paul says in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
The temptation the church continually faces, and has given into in many places, has been to try and sow the Christian life in the flesh and yet still believe they’ll reap in the Spirit. This is warping our churches from within. We must accept both Jesus and his way, and not simply accept Jesus and try to follow him according to the power system of the world.
What we have to be confronted with, in our Christian lives and in our ministries, is that Scripture is incredibly clear on this point: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). But do we really believe that Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness? That’s the question that should plague modern churches that have become incredibly savvy. We need to ask ourselves—really discern in our hearts—whether or not we’re interested in Christ’s strength in our weakness, or if we’re just interested in strength.
What happens when Christians embody a worldly approach to power and try to use that to advance Christ’s kingdom?
Kyle Strobel: When Christians embody a worldly approach to power they’re not trusting in the way of Christ. As James puts it, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4) This comes right after James compares two different ways of living—the way from above and the way from below—and it’s not irrelevant that he goes on to say, “Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).
This is the way of Jesus; it’s the way of entering into weakness to rest fully on the power of God. Ultimately, when we employ worldly power, we’ll be able to construct impressive edifices, but it won’t be the building Jesus is constructing. Like the disciples who proclaimed, “Look Rabbi, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1), as they gazed upon Herod’s temple complex, we, too, are often easily impressed with feats of human strength. But the kingdom of Christ is built on an entirely different economy. In the economy of the kingdom, the people of God are known not for feats of power, but for the power of love (John 13:35).
Even now I find that, like the disciples, I’m often really impressed with the kind of power people wield in their own strength, and less impressed with the kingdom power wrought in weakness. I, too, need eyes to see and ears to hear the kind of work that Christ is interested in.
How does love factor into the proper use of power?
Kyle Strobel: Scripture advances two ways of power: the way of the world and the way of Christ, and each of these two ways has unique economies of power.
In the way of the world, we find power in strength for control (and possibly domination). In the kingdom we find power in weakness for the sake of love and humility. In the kingdom, love is power, but this kind of love can only be discovered through our weakness, dependence, and abiding in Christ alone. To bear fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) for the kingdom is to trust and abide in both Christ and the way of Christ. This fruit is oriented ultimately by love, and by Christ, which is why we have to abide in his love to thrive in his kingdom (John 15:9).
One sign that we’ve given ourselves to the way of the world is when we can no longer understand love as true power in the way of Christ. For many of us, myself included, we tend to assume that “power” is always worldly power. When worldly power is our assumption, the Christian life, and especially the church, will fail to make any sense to us. We’ll inevitably seek to use worldly means to enact kingdom ends, and, once again, we’ll reap what we’ve sown.
What’s the most powerful resistance to the way of evil?
Kyle Strobel: Jesus has defeated the powers and principalities on the cross, and Scripture tells us that he’s triumphed over them and put them to open shame (Col. 2:15). That victory is already won by Christ. Therefore, our resistance to evil will entail our abiding in Christ and trusting in his way.
But this is counterintuitive. We don’t want to trust in his way. What we want, in our flesh, is to conquer evil ourselves. In our flesh we want to employ our strength in autonomy to dominate and win.
But Christ took evil upon himself and accepted death on the cross. He humbled himself before the Father and was raised in glory. That’s the only way Christian power works—through an abiding trust in Jesus. This is the only way evil will ever be vanquished in full. Our calling in faith is to trust that Christ has done this, and he has done this for me.
How do you want your book to change readers?
Kyle Strobel: We hope that this project will confront readers with the reality that every Christian already has a power system they trust in; and for most of us, it’s not a distinctively Christian sort of power. Maybe more than anything else, the world’s views have shaped how many Christians understand power, and so they’ve given themselves to a way of life that ultimately undermines the Christian life rather than fueling it. If we give ourselves to worldly power for the sake of the kingdom, as we believe many are, it’ll destroy us from within. Our hope is to cast a vision for a different sort of way: the way of Jesus.
How has this project impacted you?
Kyle Strobel: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb was the hardest book I’ve ever written. I was constantly confronted with places in my heart that wanted to seek out my own power rather than Christ’s, or to employ worldly means of power rather than the way of the kingdom. It was a humbling project. But over and over again, as we sat at the feet of the sages we interviewed, we kept being pointed back to Christ. We don’t lose hope because our hope is not in ourselves, but in Christ. This book led us into our weakness, but it was there that we discovered Christ’s strength anew.
Bio: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel have co-authored several books, including Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself, and The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb.
Jamin Goggin serves as a pastor at Mission Hills Church. He has been in pastoral ministry for eleven years, including several years as the Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Saddleback Church. Jamin speaks and writes in the areas of spiritual formation, ministry and theology. He holds two Masters degrees and is currently earning a PhD in systematic theology. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Kristin, and their three children.
Kyle Strobel is a professor of spiritual theology and formation at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University and is an emerging voice among evangelicals on spiritual formation, discipleship, and theology. Kyle speaks regularly and has written for Pastors.com, Relevant magazine (and RelevantMagazine.com), ChurchLeader.com, and DeeperStory.com. Kyle lives in Southern California with his wife, Kelli, and their two children.
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