Mark Sayers. Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm. Chicago: Moody, 2014. 240 pp. $14.99.
Church and Ministry
Part personal testimony, historical narrative, biblical exegesis and theologically informed cultural engagement, Facing Leviathan connects a lot of dots. And, I’m serious: this book swept me away in its narrative! Mark Sayers, senior leader of Red Church and cofounder of Uber ministries, is a vivid storyteller.
Facing Leviathan weaves the plot of Sayer’s leadership disillusionment, burnout, and bipolar diagnosis into a narrative of the 19th-21st century battle between the emerging post-modernity and modernity outlooks. You’ll learn about the subtle message beneath 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the bohemian movement in France, Igor Stravinsky, the rise of Hitler, and how it all connects to leadership, influence, creativity, and our “society of the spectacle”. This book unlocks so much about arts, culture, history and how it all relates to our Christian worldview and leadership culture.
Sayers pits two leadership styles against one another: the genius (organic) and the hero (mechanical) model. Sayers says, “A Christianity that attempts to model itself on the hero or the genius will be a faith that has little potential to speak good news to the West” (29). Why? Both models are fundamentally pagan – requiring an overhaul of biblical proportions – one that climaxes with the leader on the cross. To set a biblical portrait against a cultural landscape, Facing Leviathan retells the story of Jonah.
The point is this:
A revolution has begun. God has defeated chaos. Leviathan was beaten. God had taken the chaos and sin that exists in the human heart upon himself. Like Jonah, He had plunged into the abyss as a sacrifice. Yet unlike Jonah, He would not remain distant. He must withdrawal, but He will return. (200)
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Facing Leviathan is one of those paradigm-shattering books that leave you reeling. I don’t re-explore many books after re-shelving them, but I’ll return to Facing Leviathan. Page after page offers memorable quotes: some of which you’ll find boldened, underlined, and in huge font. For instance, “In the worst cultural storm, there is always a kernel of good news, a Hebrew in the hold, a person of God ready to be awoken” (85). Or “Ironically, when the leader discovers that they can do nothing in their own power, a new kind of power emanates from their life: they gain spiritual authority” (131). Powerful statements such as these unsettle the pagan deceptions that have slinked into your organizational culture. You’ll re-evaluate how you lead, influence, and create in light of Facing Leviathan’s narrative.
Furthermore, Sayers draws you out of the “Christian bubble” – if you happen to be in one – into a lucid world of arts and culture. Facing Leviathan entices you to expand your artistic horizon. I left this book hankering to visit museums, listen to classical composers, and read classical pieces of literature.
Finally, this book is a case study of cultural exegesis. Sayers’s theologically thick (multiperspectival, multilayered, multidimensional) readings of scripts, memes, trends and root metaphors are a showcase for pastors. Pastors with a penchant for Sayers’s lead in cultural exegesis should read part one of Kevin Vanhoozer’s (editor) Everyday Theology as a companion to Facing Leviathan. Importing all of this into your pulpit ministry is an achievable goal.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Facing Leviathan is a creative cultural engagement that directs biblical leaders to keep their eyes on the cross.