Andy Crouch. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016) 192 pp. $13.65
One of the reasons I love reading and books in general is the imprint they leave on you. It is impossible to truly read and engage a good book without it leaving a mark on your life. Good writing is not only compelling in the sense that it grabs and keeps your attention. Good writing plucks your emotions and stretches your mind to lengths you never thought possible. And while I’ve read many good books from good writers this year, Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch–executive editor of Christianity Today–stands above the rest. Crouch’s latest work is paradigm shifting.
Crouch deeply addresses an often superfluously addressed topic–the issue of human flourishing. Through a simple 2×2 grid, Crouch proposes a paradigm for all of life, which will cause you to reflect on whether you are flourishing and if you are helping others flourish. I don’t throw this around lightly: Strong and Weak is a book that can change your life.
We all desire to flourish. It is a basic impulse of every red blooded man and woman to want to matter and to want to thrive. Conversely, none of us wants to suffer. We don’t want to be silenced, belittled, or disenfranchised. While we all know exactly where we want to go, we often have no idea how to get there. What does it mean to truly flourish?
Crouch seeks to answer this question through a simple 2×2 chart formed by the axis authority and vulnerability. The thrust of the book is an argument that in order to truly flourish, one must not simply become strong. Instead, one must become both strong and weak–a balanced and thorough blend of authority and vulnerability, which takes one “up and to the right” toward flourishing.
Crouch defines four quadrants directly correlating with each axis. After a couple introductory chapters, he takes up each of these quadrants to explain the conditions in which all humans live. The desired quadrant is that which is up and to the right–flourishing. Crouch describes flourishing simply, yet profoundly as “what love longs to be.” It is the abundant life Jesus describes in John 10 and the life that is really life that Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 6. Human flourishing is to live in the fullness of God’s creative purpose in your life. It is to fully image God. In this sense, to flourish in the fullest sense of the word will only be realized in the life to come. However, there is a path toward real flourishing now that is marked by both authority and vulnerability–strength and weakness.
Assuming God-given authority along with participating in genuine vulnerability is the path to human flourishing. We flourish when we embody our strength and embrace our weakness. However, we diverge from flourishing when we lose either authority or vulnerability.
Suffering is vulnerability without authority. Crouch argues that in this quadrant, there is “no capacity for meaningful action but great exposure to meaningful risk.” We live in this quadrant when we feel the pain of in justice or death. We have lost authority, control over an area of our lives, and we are left barren and vulnerable.
Exploiting is the opposite of suffering. It is authority without vulnerability. Think of the parent who is hardcore authoritarian with no gentleness, tenderness, or understanding of any measure. In this section, Crouch powerfully and pastorally speaks to issues of abuse of authority, particularly with regard to police brutality.
Withdrawing is the lost middle quadrant directly opposite of flourishing. it is a lack of authority and a lack of vulnerability. It is the quadrant where Crouch believes many Millennials identify with most. A desire to be significant is there, but the response is withdrawal from the world. It is mere existence. While exploiting is the most dangerous quadrant, withdrawing may be the most frightening. Crouch even calls this quadrant “the worst of all.” It is here where we simulate risk and caricature comfort. Everything from pornography to video games thrives here. It is the place where fear of risk and loss lives and any hope to flourish dies.
After describing the four quadrants of Crouch’s paradigm of human living and flourishing, he outlines a way forward. The path toward actual flourishing is truly paradoxical. He writes that we must embrace and move forward with both great authority and greater vulnerability. In his most compelling and convincing chapter, Crouch writes,
Surprisingly, rather than simply moving pleasantly into ever greater authority and ever greater vulnerability, we have to take two fearsome journeys, both of which seam like detours that lead away from the prime quadrant. The first is the journey to hidden vulnerability, the willingness to bear burdens and expose ourselves to risks that no one else can fully see or understand. The second is sacrifice, the choice to visit the most broken corners of the world and our own heart.
Crouch draws his conclusions directly from the gospel. The one who possessed the most authority became the one with the most vulnerability. More than anyone else, Jesus flourished because he walked in ultimate authority as God in the flesh, but he also walked in ultimate vulnerability as God in the flesh. In the words of Crouch, “His authority was evident to everyone—at every turn of the Gospel narratives we see Jesus exercising unparalleled capacity for meaningful action, as well as restoring authority to the marginal and poor.” The rich gospel ground from which Crouch’s paradigm developed is what makes this book so, well, strong.
True human flourishing is walking in Christlikeness. It is growing to look more like Jesus and striving to help others look more like Jesus. It is the ultimate experience of being made in God’s image–exercising a capacity for meaningful action and embracing exposure to meaningful risk. The call to live as an image bearer is a call to be both strong and weak for the sake of God’s glory in the lives of those who are suffering, withdrawing, or exploiting. Strong and Weak will help you begin to pursue and persist in this kind of flourishing.
I received this book from IVPress. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.