Monday, December 26, 2016

BookPastor >> "Strong and Weak" (Andy Crouch)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 29th, 2016.


TITLE: Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
AUTHOR: Andy Crouch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (192 pages).

What are we meant to be? If where we are now and where we ought to be are so far apart, what's the reason? These two questions dominate the discussion of this book about the paradox of life. The first question deals with our self-understanding while the second talks about the gaps between who we are and where we ought to be. Essentially, it is about great hopes, great regrets, the human condition, and how one can flourish. The author's key thesis is this: "Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak. Flourishing requires us to embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty — even, at least in this broken world, both life and death."

Andy Crouch is executive editor of Christianity Today and has served for ten years as campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. With his keen interest in Christianity and culture, he has previously written books like Culture Making which deals with the Christian in modern culture, and more recently, Playing God which is about the stewardship of power. If "Culture Making" is about the broader engagement of Christians in their existing culture; and "Playing God" about the engagement of Christians in their use of power; this book is about Christians in their personal and honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, with an eye on personal calling and identity.

Using a 2x2 chart to depict the range of options that often downplay one attribute in order to play up the other, Crouch argues passionately for BOTH/AND paradigm. True flourishing comes from being both weak and strong. He uses a parenting 2x2 chart to parallel his flourishing chart as follows. For instance, the worst form of parenting is the "Absentee" parent who is neither warm nor firm. Likewise, the worst form of living is that of "withdrawing" which essentially removes the plank of growth and opportunity from under our own lives. In seeking to flourish, one needs to live life not simply on the highlights, but also to embrace the lows of life. Crouch stresses that flourishing is not about growth nor affluence. It is about being fully human, warts and all. It is not about individual but the community. True authority is the capacity for meaningful action, and if I may put it, interaction. Vulnerability is about exposure to meaningful risk. One by one, he works through the quadrants of suffering, exploiting, and withdrawal, to show us that those are less than who we are meant to be. The suffering quadrant is perhaps the most painful. In fact, it is not the individual pain but the communal and multigenerational suffering that form the deepest forms of suffering. He points out the fact that half a century's worth of investments to address the problem of poverty have not really helped. This is because of exploitation by the powerful.

Adapted from Andy Crouch's "Strong and Weak"

Crouch has a very important message to share. In a world that tends to see flourishing in terms of quantitative growth and material riches, we are reminded that God sees beyond the surface of positive thoughts and external well-being. True humanity is not about highlighting the positives and downplaying the negatives. True humanity is about learning to embrace both the strong and the weak parts of self. It is about living in a community of acceptance in spite of our flaws. It is about embracing suffering from a position of authority, having the commitment to choose to use or not to use. We learn to avoid entering into a quadrant of exploiting when we wield authority but lacks vulnerability. We most certainly should not withdraw when under threat and when left vulnerable to forces beyond our control. True flourishing is about being fully alive.

So What?
Let me offer three thoughts with regard to this book. First, life is truly a paradox that requires us to embrace the BOTH/AND paradigm. Just playing to our strengths alone could very well mean we hide our weaknesses to the point of lacking authenticity. In terms of ministry, this is very important because ministry work is full of ups and downs, joys and unhappiness, and all manner of expectations rushing at us from all directions and in all shapes and sizes. If we learn to see the truth of this paradox, we will learn not to take our strengths for granted and to see our weaknesses from the eyes of faith.

Second, I like the way that Crouch uses the 2x2 matrix to show us the way to flourishing. It is very helpful considering the main message of this book deals with the two axes of vulnerability and authority. This is why I find it most helpful to have the chart open before me as I read the book. Without the chart, it is easy to get lost in the details. It is also difficult to visualize without getting the image in our heads first. Once this is done, Crouch is a skillful teacher in showing us the flaws of each quadrant and why we should all move toward the FLOURISHING quadrant.

Third, this book is perhaps Crouch's best yet. He has managed to distill parts of his other books into this new volume. With his experience in campus ministry and the knowledge of the Christianity and Western Culture, he knows that the evangelical world tends to be heavy on the positives and to downplay the negatives. There is a natural avoidance among evangelicals to see weaknesses as a bad thing. In fact, after reading this book, one might learn not to use the good/bad paradigm and to choose truth over falsehood instead.

After reading this book, I am most encouraged to embrace all of life, both strong and weak, and to accept myself even more, my strengths, my weaknesses, my everything. Most importantly, I can only do these things according to how God strengthens (or weakens) me.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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