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The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb

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The way from above is power from God and power for God; it is a power known in our weakness and expressed in love. The other way of power, the way from below, seeks power from within and pursues power as an end in itself.”

This was an interesting read about what power can look like in the lives of Christians, those that desire to handle it properly and those that let it get out of control.

(Internal groaning…the Lord of the Rings reference early on made me almost want to set the book aside, but I pressed on.)

In the first chapter, I at first thought the concept that was discussed, the “way from below masquerading as the way from above”, sounded a bit simplistic but the more I read and thought about it, I realized how true this is. This theme is repeated throughout the book and will stick with me long after. The way from below is deceptive because it is made to look like it’s enlightened. “Worldliness pretending to be wisdom.” Oh, how we need discernment.

I enjoyed chapter two and hearing from J. Packer about the way of weakness.

Chapter 3 begins with a description about some of the wise seminary professors he encountered and I loved the language attributed to them… “I couldn’t gain their texture of soul by simply landing in the “right” answer.”
I appreciated the author discussing his own struggle here with wanting a life of significance without the struggle. This feels like a struggle that is widely internalized but not often discussed. And, woah, there are some very powerful discussions with James Houston about how living from our strengths is “practicing atheism” and later about being people who are “weighty of soul”.

Chapter 4 touches on some of the abuses of power within the Church… it seems like this topic is everywhere these days and yet, I still cringe when I read the stories. As a pastor myself, I find it difficult to hear of others who have strayed from Jesus’ heart and still have to continually evaluate myself and my own ministry. Marva’s thoughts about the “power of personality” is especially compelling. What is our ministry really based on? And later in the chapter, the idea that “we all have watered down the nature of immorality to make it more user-friendly”, is a call to truly evaluate what we view as sin and what we view as “ok” and whether that actually stacked up with the Biblical standard. The way from above and the at from below is language used repeatedly and I think it challenges us to further evaluate our lives to see what sort of life we are actually living.

I appreciated that Chapter 5 is about racism, that power system so prevalent, albeit more covert in many ways, in our world today. The phrase “toxin of privilege” rings so true. Also this phrase… “This is precisely what the enemy would wish, that historical snobbery and avoidance of prayerful self- reflection would lull us to sleep while the powers prowl around the household of God.” Ouch. Painful but true.

Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 hit especially close to home in evaluating my profession as a pastor and leadership in general. I’ve never given much thought to the idea of “addiction of crowds”, but agree that it’s a reality for many pastors, and we must guard against the need for more and more notoriety. This line was so good… “we can’t reduce the vocation to what excites us most or what we feel we excel in.” I also appreciated the discussion of the “IT factor” and how it can often be the sign of an unhealthy leader and also the prevalence of toxic leadership.

Chapter 8 powerfully addressed the topic of abuses of power and “fallen” leaders, including Jean Vanier who was one of the “sages” in the previous edition of this book… a timely, important subject and also a clear warning: “we can be tempted to respond to toxic power by embracing the same posture of arrogance and self-righteousness that marks the way we wish to stand against.”

I found chapter 9 so interesting… talking about the reasons and rituals and practices of the church and the correlations to the Exodus story were new to me. I will be referencing some of these themes in an upcoming message at my own church - so helpful!

I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to others.

My thanks to Net Galley and Nelson Books for the opportunity to read this copy of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb.

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This book is a strong prophetic call to the church to rediscover the calling of Christ. The way of the Dragon, often also called the way from below in this book, is the way of talent and ambition. It is the way most of us operate most of the time and it is the way the world assumes we all ought to live. The way of the Lamb, or the way from above, is the way of servanthood. It is the way of John 15 where Jesus took on the role of a servant and then called us to do the same. It is the way of Philippians 2 where Paul tells us we should have the mind of Christ. We should look not to our own interests but rather to the interests of others.

Yes. That's great. But how? Through this book, the authors Jamin and Kyle seek out godly seasoned saints who they believe have done well in exemplifying what it means to live out the way of the Lamb. In consecutive chapters we get to see glimpses into their conversations with the author: JI Packer, the founder of Regent: James Houston, author and theologian: Marva Dawn, the Pastor: Eugene Peterson, the civil rights activist: John Perkins, and the philosopher: Dallas Willard. Each of these has decades of service, wisdom, and insight to impart. Honestly, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a list of six other names I would rather hear from. My only disappointment was that we get only snippets from each interview. I would much rather have had a longer book where we got to get a much deeper look into these conversations.

Another thing I loved about this book was that it fleshed out what it was trying to convey. John and Kyle repeatedly took the humility of admitting their own failings and recognizing that this is an ideal that, at many times they still fall short on. They aren't preaching at their readership, but rather inviting them on a long and hard journey of walking together trying to embody what it looks like to follow Christ. There were many times when it would have been easy to take on an accusatory tone. One of the original interviewees was Jean Vanier, who it was later found had been living a lifestyle of sexual abuse. Rather than ignoring the issue, or throwing him under the bus, the authors did an excellent job of discussing how we should react when people we look up to have failed.

In all, this book is a must-read for those in spiritual leadership. I would recommend it for everyone, but pastors and leaders should certainly get their hands on it, and seminaries and Bible Colleges should absolutely make it a syllabus requirement in their appropriate classes. I am knocking a star because I would have preferred more of the interviews and perhaps a little bit less commentary on the interviews, this is a personal choice and others might disagree.

Some quotes:

"You should have a fifty-year plan - a vision of growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness."

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."

"Wisdom and talent are not synonyms."

"Racism is not simply the sum total of all racists, but it is a system of evil that is greater than the sum of its parts."

"[MLK Jr] chose nonviolence because his movement was resisting evil itself and not simply the evil person. Nonviolent resistance seeks to expose a system of evil to the evildoer so that he sees it for what it is. It is the kind of action that unearths the truth of a person's heart."

"You need to know how to abandon yourself to God. Methods are often temporary, but what God is looking for is a life."

"The problem with our conception of generosity is that we tend to think only in terms of money. But a generous person is someone who gives more than money. A generous person gives themself to another."

"As we journey through this present evil age, faithful living will entail suffering. Suffering is assumed on every page of scripture. The question is not if we will suffer, but how we will suffer and if our suffering will be meaningful."

I have received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. This in no way affected my rating or the content of that review.

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This truly is one of the most influential and impactful reads I've come across! This embodies the "strength in weakness" mentality, which I think we as the Christian body often don't understand. Bottom line, I will keep coming back to this book to re-read and reference!

The authors clearly demonstrate their background, expertise and interest in this topic. They then describe the "way of the dragon" or "way of below", contrasted with the "way of the lamb" or "way of above". The stage is set to discuss the implications of these contradicting mentalities in the current church body and society as a whole.

They share their journey to investigate the "strength in weakness" mindset, being in a mentality to focus wholly on the strength of God; a truly remarkable pilgrimage. Perhaps the most important lesson that the authors embody is that this trek is lifelong and ever present. I appreciate the humble approach the authors take in sharing this journey, not being overly confident or self-righteous. A true example of the "way of the lamb"!

At first, I was confused a bit as the authors' narration alternated, but as the book progresses, it becomes clear how the two authors and their varied backgrounds compliment each other along the voyage.

Despite being given a free copy by NetGalley and Thomas Nelson publishing, I have already bought several paperback copies to give as gifts and hold for my own, to reference in the future. I strongly recommend reading this!

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I heard Kyle & Jamin on the Holy Post podcast a while ago, and was determined to read this book as soon as I could. I wasn't disappointed. This book was profound, powerful and took a posture of humility while addressing some of the very real issues in the Evangelical church today. I appreciated learning from the sages they interviewed and the way they seamlessly worked their thoughts throughout the book. I highly recommend this book to leaders everywhere. 5/5 stars.

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A much needed book, with some flaws that hold it back. The book challenges the ways that churches have chosen to chase the powers of the world. The way of the dragon is defined largely as the seeking of worldly power and influence. The way of the lamb is the way of the weakness of Jesus.

The book is being rereleased with a revision. The revision is not substantially addressed until the relevant chapter. One of the people interviewed in the first edition of the book, Jean Vanier, was revealed to be a sexual predator. His chapter is reworked surrounding about abusive power. I applaud them for pulling their book from publishing and reworking it. This move reveals the heart behind the book is in the right place.

The new chapter is marketed as being for those "who've been impacted by toxic and abusive power." I think it certainly discusses those issues, but I am not sure it is actually helpful for the abused. It is more geared for pastors and church leaders who see, or hear about the abuse from afar.

The book is so necessary for the church. A multitude of church leadership books are released every year that inadvertently lead us to following the way of the dragon. There seem to only be a few calling for a different way. I wish I would have read the book in seminary, or Bible college. There is not enough literature challenging the world's ways of power.

My primary critique of the book is the format. The interviews are actually a short portion of each chapter. In some chapters I was shocked how little time was spent on each person. I left most of the them wanting more. I think the book would have benefited from leaning more into the words and work of the people mentioned. I could be far to nit picky on this issue. But the book markets itself as primarily being these interviews from the sages of the faith. But the conversations themselves end up being short. Most of the wisdom is from the authors themselves. It was still good just not what I expected.

If you just want to hear the wisdom from some of the individuals mentioned, then I would skip the book. However, every other pastor and christian leader needs to read it. The book attacks one of the primary problems in the church today. It is much needed and a helpful contribution to that end.

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The Way of the Dragon or the way of the lamb explores what it means to live for christ and for ourselves. It questions the heart of every believer when we seek more from life with it exploring the power of weakness in christ. Overall this book really explores from personal stories and chat with heroes of faith what it means to live for christ.

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“The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It” is the perfect title for this book, where Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel invite us on a journey where they discern and identify the way of the lamb (Jesus/Love) and its contradictory “worldly” dragon (power/self/weakness).

The initial questions they address - “Why do so many rock-star pastors implode under the spotlight? How have so many Christian leaders and institutions been lured by toxic and abusive power? Why are so many Christians tempted to chase worldly success and status? “ - are all addressed
through a series of insightful interviews with J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, James Houston, and Eugene Peterson. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel also offer their own personal experiences throughout the journey as they seek wisdom from these well-respected theologians.

Through each interview, we are reminded, through many scripture references in the book, of one of the chief tenets of the Gospel: “in our weakness, Jesus is strong”. The authors become vulnerable with us, the readers, by honestly sharing their own struggles with temptations for that power which is easy to find in church and in society, especially in our world today, where Ego is a priority. This book is for believers and non-believers and is relevant in all denominations of Church.

This book pushed me to go deeper into the many scripture references found throughout the book, making the reading experience very rich for me, enhancing my own personal journey.

Thank you to NetGalley for offering this book.

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Honestly, the book lost me the author said “who would want to be a lamb?”. It sounds like the author did not look into ancient Judaism. Jews were called to be sacrifice a lamb. When Christ comes in the New Testament to fulfill His mission, He calls Himself The Lamb of God. That simple paragraph lost me. Maybe later in the book the author explains the humility behind being a lamb. But I was lost from the statement.

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June 24th, 2010: the day it was announced the band I was fronting at the time, the Burial, signed to Strikefirst/Facedown Records. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, I’m not surprised; the Christian metal scene is pretty niche. Apart from Solid State Records, though, Facedown Records was the label you wanted to be signed by if you were a heavier Christian band, so to have this opportunity was incredible, to say the least.

To say it was a dream come true is overselling it, however. While the record deal did help with connections and some fun tours, it didn’t mean we made a lot of money, and according to how most people view success…well, we weren’t successful at all. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for us to not get the guarantees we were promised beforehand, oftentimes when we played for churches and Christian booking agencies. (Imagine that.) Most evenings, our guitarist drove through the night so we could sleep in the van. Hotel rooms or floors at a gracious fan’s house were a luxury, at best.

I mention my story because as I was reading Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel’s The Way of the Dragon, or the Way of the Lamb, I couldn’t help but see myself in their writing. I was facing the hypocrisy of my youth once more. Yes, we spent days at a time on the road, playing to sometimes one or two people a night, preaching the gospel. Heck, we even baptized people in college fountains late at night, which was definitely trespassing. But were my ambitions truly refined and sanctified? Was I always seeking the Kingdom first above my own vanity? I can relate to Kyle when he writes,

"I had healthy intentions to be faithful and grow in Christ. But my desire for power was stronger than those intentions, and my desire came to the surface quickly. […] I wanted to do something big. I wanted to create a name and a legacy. I wanted to make a difference." (p. xxii)

Lest I spend the entire review discussing the way I chased after my own glory, it’s important to establish the following: this is the kind of literature the Church should be producing. Goggin and Strobel have not written a book to tear down the bride of Christ. This is not a book meant to scare people away from evangelicalism, or to incessantly “dunk” on controversial pastors. Rather, speaking from their own experiences, the authors began to ask some serious questions about themselves and the way Christians have approached power:

“I [Kyle] began to realize that our view of power is an issue undergirding all that we do as Christians. We are called to be a people of power, certainly, but ours is a kind of power antithetical to the power of the world. So what does it mean to employ the power of Christ? What happens when the power of Christ comes head-to-head with the powers of evil? What happens when we feel this conflict, even within our churches? These became the driving questions for Jamin and me as we embarked on a journey of discovery for which neither of us was prepared." (p. xxiv)

What followed ended up being one of the most encouraging and convicting books I’ve read all year. Goggin and Strobel compile interviews they had with giants of the faith, such as J.I. Packer, James Houston, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard. I can’t imagine most people not being overwhelmed by these opportunities, yet the interviews are infused with humility, awe, and reverence for the way these men and women have imitated and followed our Savior. Asking insightful questions about power, humility, legacy, and ambition, our authors were able to not only produce a book that is encouraging for leaders and laity alike, but, from the sounds of it, also encouraged them to be more faithful and humble disciples in the process. Goggin and Strobel’s confessionary tone throughout the book is to be lauded; none of it felt manufactured or hollow.

At the core of the book is the discussion of what power actually looks like. While the world views success differently than what we see in our Holy Scriptures, this does not mean the church is exempt from baptizing culture in the name of “winning souls.” I found myself, once again, uncomfortably relating to Goggin when, after talking about a pastor who confessed a skilled atheist could replace him and do the same quality of job, he realized he wasn’t that different:

"This conversation was a sobering moment for me. As I reflected on my life in ministry, it occurred to me that I also devoted much of my time as a pastor to relying on my own strength. I relied on my communication skills, my academic training, and my own thoughtfulness and creativity rather than God. I also used these strengths for the wrong reasons. My strengths are not negative—I could have used them as opportunities to sow in the Spirit—but instead I used them to sow in the flesh (Gal. 6:8). Rather than using them as gifts given by God for his glory, I used them to gain more power. I employed rhetoric instead of pointing to the cross. I tried to self-will growth in my life and in the lives of others rather than abiding in the way of Christ. I was pursuing significance, influence, and position. In short, I was pastoring in the way from below." (p. 105-106)

For Goggin and Strobel, their hope is by the end of The Way of the Dragon, or the Way of the Lamb, through the beautiful testimonies of Packer, Dawn, and everyone else, you will be challenged to look at the way Jesus calls us to walk in power: to love and serve in a cruciform manner. If we are called to lead and teach, then it should be from a place where we are not striving to be in control: “you have to enter a person’s life and they have to enter yours. The minute you start becoming obsessed with control, you lose the relationship” (p. 114). This, among other abuses, is what the authors view as power from below, the way of the dragon, and until the church learns to be faithful rather than effective or successful, we will continue to leave bodies in our wake. “There are two ways,” the author of The Didache writes, “one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways.”

This is the part where I’d recommend who should read this book, but honestly, if you are a Christian, no matter your vocation, I cannot recommend The Way of the Dragon, or the Way of the Lamb highly enough. The book would be worthwhile even without the interviews with Peterson and Willard, but the fact they were able to set up these meetings is astounding. And confession time: I requested to review the book because I was impressed by who signed their name in support of the release. When you have people like Matt Chandler, Os Guinness, Russell Moore, Scot McKnight, Joshua Ryan Butler, and Ed Stetzer giving it their approval, leaders from various different ecclesial positions, that says a lot not only about the content, but also Goggin and Strobel. Again: this book receives my full endorsement.

Postscript: It is important to acknowledge this book is a second edition, which was confusing at first. Once you get further into the book, it becomes clear why. In light of Jean Vanier’s revealed history of sexual abuse, neither Goggin or Strobel felt comfortable leaving his interview in the book and, in fact, reworked the chapter to discuss the fallout of such a horrendous development. I commend them for making the decision themselves, the self-reflection they undertook (“…despite all of this, in the days following Vanier’s abuse, Kyle and I were kept awake at night by the thought that we had missed something” p. 152), and the discussions about how to properly discern the character of our leaders, and what to do as a result when we witness abuse and evil. I’m sure it was not an easy process for them, but I want to commend them for their labors here.


Review will go live on my blog August 16th, 2021.

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The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb
Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It
by Jamin Goggin; Kyle Strobel
Nelson Books
Thomas Nelson
Pub Date 31 Aug 2021

I am reviewing a copy of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb through Nelson Books/Thomas Nelson and Netgalley:

This book asks the question Why do so many rock-star pastors implode under the spotlight? Why is it that that modern day churches sometimes come so entangled in growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? According to Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, Christians have succumbed to the temptations of power and forgotten Jesus’ seemingly contradictory path to power first giving it up.

In The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Goggin and Strobel paint a richly biblical vision of power through weakness. The authors invite their readers to join them on an adventure around the world, seeking out great sages of the faith with uncommon wisdom to offer those traveling the path of Christian life. As readers eavesdrop on the authors’ conversations with people such as J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, and Eugene Peterson, they begin to piece together the new-old reality of following Jesus today.

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb offers a compelling vision of the way of Jesus that will challenge both individual believers and the church as a whole.

I give The Way of the Dragon, or the Way of the Lamb five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!

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