Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: You Are the Messiah

When I heard that Justin Lewis-Anthony had a new book coming out this Spring I new I had to read it right away! I read his previous book If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry (London: Mowbray, 2009). There are few theological books that make one laugh and this one did. Serving as an ordained priest in the Anglican Church has provided Lewis-Anthony with plenty of material to work with, especially when it pertains to the parish, clergy, and the Church at large. After reading If You Meet George Herbert I told all my clergy friends about it.

Lewis-Anthony's new book, You Are the Messiah is an exploration of the concept of leadership as it pertains to the Church. Anyone who has spent enough time in parish life has encountered the word leadership, or leadership development, or leadership skills. It seems like every year diocesan administrations want to help train clergy for "better leadership skills." My hunch is that Lewis-Anthony, like myself, was tired of hearing so much about leadership that he wanted to write a book about it.

I cannot devote the time needed for a longer review, hopefully a theological journal will do that. However, I do want to provide at least a summary of the book for you to at least consider reading it yourself.

The book is divided into three parts: Leadership is a Myth, the Myths, and Domination and discipleship. This book is not a page turner and nor is it merely just a theological exposition on leadership. Lewis-Anthony also includes plenty of examples from both the silver screen as well as popular culture as to show how leadership, especially heroic type leadership (aka General Patton, John Wayne, etc..) has provided a false image of leadership for those of us in the pews and in the parish. While I found his main thesis very strong I did get lost in the longer second section which really deals with film and film history as well as an excursus into main leadership issues. However I really enjoyed the first and last section when he shows how Jesus provides a very different image of leadership; one of humility, meekness, lowliness, and sacrifice, skills that are certainly not encouraged, taught, or discussed in MBA programs or in the business world.

Basically Lewis-Anthony shows that the Church has really adopted a very bad and even heretical notion of leadership from our culture at large. Bishops and priests cannot be leaders like George Patton and John Wayne, although unfortunately some do, and it often backfires on them! The image of Jesus and also Paul is that of counter-leadership really. When reading You Are the Messiah I really wish Lewis-Anthony explored this more in the last section. He has some really cogent and important things to say about this subject yet he sort of cut it short. He pulls no punches either. What makes Lewis-Anthony's writings and ideas so fresh is that he is radically honest and truthful. Too often our bishops and clergy leaders, even seminary professors, tiptoe through the tulips ignoring or downplaying the real problems and issues in ecclesial life, focusing the annual clergy gathering on "bucks and butts" (i.e. bette income and people in the pew), or clergy development (whatever that means!!), and better administration (again, huh?). It's almost always easier to have ones head in the sand rather than to hit head on the cares and concerns of the day. Perhaps he will be working on a future volume dealing with the image of Jesus and Paul as leaders, teasing out the gospel and epistle lessons which really are great examples for clergy; here I think of John 10 and 12, Romans 10, Matthew 25, and so forth.

For more information about You Are the Messiah click here