My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church

The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church by J.R. Woodward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very thought provoking book for me. The initial draw was an examination of the fall of high-profile [christian] leaders with an eye toward identifying the primary or root cause. It was intriguing because I felt it should be fairly obvious … pride; however, this analysis took a different approach and dove more deeply into the human mechanisms that contribute to the fall. It was not, as I had expected, a screed about personal responsibility, and yet it does not totally let our leaders off the hook. The basic premise where is that our leaders, like all people, are tempted (or influenced) by various communal forces that are generally identified as powers and principalities … so if they imitate worldly values instead of the image of Christ, they will become trapped in the cycle that eventually spirals out of control. It makes a solid point there and would be worth a read just for how it defines what the author calls a memetic cycle which operates on the principle of imitating what we love or desire. Along with that are plenty of anecdotal and/or practical stories on how to recognize when we come under the influence of the memetic desire and scapegoating. Still, there really is no “silver bullet” solution, so the practical applications were less helpful if still good (it mostly boils down to an exhortation to imitate Jesus).

Still … the introduction to several (for me completely new) scholars in a multidisciplinary effort to explain what the mimetic cycle was, as well as what the powers and principalities and powers might be (was well as how they work in a fallen world) was extremely well down and accessible (especially considering this is really based upon an academic dissertation). The idea of Satan as an emergent power (as well as the impact of fallen, human systems) were absolutely thought provoking and deserve careful consideration. To support the foundation of the author’s imitation based framework, he progresses brings in the likes of Wink, Girard and Stringfellow as he fills in a table that maps expression of principalities & powers to fallen and redeemed leadership across the dimensions of identity, praxis and telos which was very helpful in understanding the general concept as a whole.

The chapters and sections in this work are

Section One: The Challenge of Missional Leadership.
1. A Deeper Diagnosis of Why Leaders Fall
2. The Need for Missional Leadership
3. Domineering Leadership in the First-Century Church

Section Two: Missional Leadership and the Powers
4. Comprehending the Powers
5. Interpreting the Powers

Section Three: Missional Leadership and Imitation
6. Mimetic Theory
7. The Power of Imitation

Section Four: Missional Leadership and Subversion
8. The Work of the Powers
9. The Subversion and Resistance of the Powers

Section Five: Missional Leadership Worthy of Imitation
10. Toward a Theological Remedy
11. A New Way of Being and Belonging
12. The Scandal of Imitating Christ

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

We can often be tempted to put guardrails around our leaders, try to keep them in line, or perhaps encourage a set of spiritual disciplines to keep their character in check. But there is no putting a Band-Aid over the problem of domineering leadership in the church.

High-profile “fallen” leaders often share common characteristics: pride, manipulation, seeking status, isolation, a lack of community to hold them accountable, using status to push an agenda, love of the crowds, an abuse of power and role, a push to “succeed,” and a sense of self-importance.

There is a growing resistance to institutions. But the church relies on people being a community, which requires organization, politics, systems, and structures. The answer, therefore, is not to demonize all forms of power and structure—for all living things have structure, power, and the capacity to cultivate a flourishing life.

And although the principalities and powers were designed to bring life, humanity experiences them in their fallen state, where they seek to master us. No longer do the principalities and powers bind us to God; they separate us from God, seeking to be gods themselves. The principalities and powers still fulfill half of their role, preserving society from utter chaos, but “by holding the world together, they hold it away from God.”

Roxburgh demonstrates how easily leaders tend to uncritically mimic the leadership style of the day, seemingly unaware that a leader’s telos and identity not based on Christ will ultimately lead to unfaithful praxis.

Collective Possession. The second manifestation of the demonic that Wink speaks of is collective demonization. He states, “In a highly individualistic society like ours it is rare to encounter single individuals who are possessed. Instead, the demonic has in our time taken the form of mass psychosis—what Rosen called ‘socially shared psychopathology.’”

The first word is thrones, which is more about the symbolic location of power, like the “county seat, the judge’s bench, the chairperson, the oval office,” more than it is about the person inhabiting that place of power.

Another key word is dominions (NKJV; kyiotétes), which refers to the sphere of influence over which the thrones hold sway. This sphere of influence could be “visible (the actual land or area ruled) or invisible (its capacity to influence other Powers by threat or persuasion).”

Principalities (NKJV; arché) specifies not so much the person themselves, but “the person-in-office, the agent-in-role.”92 In other words, it only applies to the person when they are in that office, like when a person is serving in Congress or the Senate.

Finally, there are authorities (exousiai), which Wink says refer to the way in which authority is maintained. “These are the invisible and visible authorizations and enforcements that undergird the chair. Legitimations would include the laws, rules, taboos, mores, codes, and constitutions by which power is licensed, and all the customs, traditions, rituals, manners, etiquette, and ideologies by which is it rationalized, justified, and made habitual.”

Mimetic desire pushes against the romantic notion that we are isolated individuals uninfluenced by others. Instead, it teaches us that we borrow our desires from our models.

When a mimetic crisis broke out in archaic (pre-state, nonlegal) societies, the scapegoat mechanism would be enacted as a way to establish and maintain social order. “When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its fury is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand.”

Croasmun considers these “superorganisms” social bodies, and he uses the category mythological to describe the social minds that emerge from these social bodies.

Girard deconstructs Satan as the mimetic cycle, while Matthew Croasmun reconstructs Satan as the “body of sin,” giving Satan cosmic personhood. Although Wink follows Jung and identifies Satan more psychologically as the inner spirituality of the domination system, Croasmun’s emergent view locates Satan as a cosmic entity, the mythical that emerges from the social and acts back upon it. In both cases, Satan is an emergent reality.

The relationships we form with others have profound effects on our lives, and because of mimetic desire, we will ultimately become like the people closest to us. This is why Scripture tells us that if we walk with the wise, we will become wise (Prov. 13:20) and that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).


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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.