You Are The Messiah and I Should Know...

The origins of the title of this book by Justin Lewis-Anthony will be known to the film buffs amongst you; it is taken from Monty Python's The Life of Brian and in the long section of the book dealing with film, the author explains why, but more of that later. This profound little book happened across my path, in the way that books do, just when I needed to see it. I have been, quite understandably I think, somewhat exercised of questions of leadership of late and many books, articles,videos, well meaning conversations, and not very well meaning admonitions have splattergunned in my general direction a range of views on the subject. Just this week, for example, someone from the North Island somewhere has written a very long letter to all us bishops helpfully pointing out our joint and several lack of anything resembling leadership and telling us to do something about it. He was not clear on exactly what why or how we were to do this, but that's not something he has on his own.Several years of thinking about leadership have convinced me that it is a jolly important thing, but no-one much seems to have a very clear idea of what exactly it is.

And on this point, Justin Lewis-Anthony and I are in agreement. He opens his book with a brief overview of Christian teaching on leadership and points out the glaring lack of anything like a coherent, shared  idea of what leadership is. Instead he says, books on leadership assume that the author knows what it is, and that the audience both knows and agrees with the author on this point. What is assumed, says Lewis Anthony, is usually not some specifically Christian view of leadership but a model of leadership embedded in the general culture out of which the author is writing. We are, he reminds us, subject to various culturally defined myths of leadership which we assume, as we do with many of our cultural mores, to be unarguable universal truths. These myths are usually unconsciously held and are therefore completely invisible to us. If we wish to see them and examine them, the place where they find their  most coherent expression is the place where all of our culture's myths are most transparently displayed and promulgated: the movies.

So, for a good deal of the book   Lewis-Anthony examines a beguilingly diverse range of movies for their treatment of leadership. As movies in the West are dominated by Hollywood, the leadership myths of America have increasingly become those of the whole of Western Civilisation. His argument is complex enough, but is cogently and entertainingly presented. I don't intend to rehearse his argument here but his conclusion both unnerved and reassured me. He says that the model of leadership embedded in our culture and illustrated time and again in our movies is characterised by individualism and violence and that this is the model uncritically assumed by many writers on Christian leadership. In the church, however, another form of leadership entirely is called for. In the Jesus movement the leader and the community are indissolubly linked and leadership is marked not by rugged John Wayne style individuality but by obedience to God. The path of Jesus is about discipleship and in the closing chapters of the book Lewis-Anthony leans heavily on Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he explains the path of discipleship: a path of death and resurrection taken by all members of the community, including the leader, together. The culturally defined individualistic leadership, exercised through physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual violence is, in the final analysis a heresy. We are on a different journey and use methods defined by and appropriate to that path.

This is not a large book at about 280 pages including copious footnotes. It began life as a doctoral thesis, and although it has been edited for popular publication its origins show. I read this on my kindle and was constantly ending up lost in the footnotes after I accidentally hit one of the myriad hyperlinks while turning a page. The editing is in places a bit slap dash with some oddly constructed sentences seemingly the result of a none too carefully polished bit of cut and pasting. But those are minor faults. The style is slick and ironically humorous in a dead pan English sort of way.This is a provocative book whose accessibility and sheer entertainment value disguises the intelligence and depth of scholarship which lie behind it. It's well worth spending a few dollars of your book allowance on.


Anonymous said…
This is good stuff, Kelvin. Have you read his other book, "If You Meet George Herbert in the Road, Kill Him"? Lewis-Anthony leans heavily on Bonhoeffer there, too. Anyway, what the church needs is not "leadership" but ἐπισκοπή, which is precisely a matter of spiritual obedience, on the part of both shepherd and flock. Our models have to come from scripture and tradition, not the thoughtless kitsch we are confronted with every day in the world.
Anonymous said…
Hi Kelvin,
as one who has been foolish enough to write something about leadership, I wholeheartedly agree that there is a danger of allowing hollywood to shape our thinking and assumptions about leadership. Of course in New Zealand, the egalitarian ideal can also skew the way we exercise positions of influence. In Jesus, Peter, Paul et al, we see a fair old range of models.