Authority + Vulnerability: A Review

I finished reading Andy Crouch’s newest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing, this weekend. I was telling my wife about it, and she asked why I had been interested in reading it. I said, “Um, because I read everything Andy Crouch writes?” While there are in fact many things Crouch has written that I have not read, I have been a fan of his ever since his days editing re:generation quarterlya magazine of Christian cultural criticism, in the early aughts. He has published two previous books, Culture Making (a declaration that Christians ought to make culture, not just critique it), and Playing God (a declaration that power is not so bad after all, and can in fact bring about a lot of good), both of which I devoured.

Strong and Weak is a bit different from those previous two books, though. The hardcover is a smaller format, for one thing, and so it is much shorter. For another thing, while the Amazon classification system put both Culture Making and Playing God into the “Social Issues” category, Strong and Weak is in the “Church Leadership” and “Self-Help” categories. While there are similarities, this book leans more toward leadership issues than cultural critique.

Crouch begins the book by claiming that, to bring about true flourishing, it is necessary for us to have both authority and vulnerability, where authority is “the capacity for meaninIMG_0057gful action” (35) and vulnerability is “exposure to meaningful risk” (40). He places these on a 2×2 chart that he uses throughout the book. The combination of authority with vulnerability (quadrant I) leads to flourishing; having vulnerability without authority (quadrant II) leads to suffering; having neither authority nor vulnerability (quadrant III) leads to withdrawing; and having authority without vulnerability (quadrant IV) leads to exploiting.

In the first part of the book, Crouch defines more fully each of the four quadrants. The second part of the book is devoted to setting out the path to flourishing, and is chiefly made up of two chapters: “Hidden Vulnerability” and “Descending to the Dead.” Both of these explore paradoxes related to getting into the upper right quadrant. In the first, he writes that “the most important thing we are called to do is help our communities meet their deepest vulnerability with appropriate authority—to help our communities live in the full authority and full vulnerability of Flourishing. And it turns out that in order to do that, we often must bear vulnerability that no one sees” (122). In the second, he writes that “the most transformative acts of our lives are likely to be the moments when we radically empty ourselves, in the very settings where we would normally be expected to exercise authority” (151). In other words, we get to flourishing by going through suffering.

It was appropriate for me to read this book over Easter weekend, as I found it to be a valuable reflection on both the death and resurrection of Christ and his call for his followers to take up their crosses and follow him. This book was simple and profound, and I expect that it will stay with me for a long time as I seek to grow in leadership and help others to flourish.

Note: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.