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An Overview of Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing (Credit: Andy Crouch)In his book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch offers a nuanced view of flourishing and how to lead others to flourish in today's world. It doesn't come from simply being strong and prosperous, or completely transparent. Rather, according to the executive editor of Christianity Today, flourishing comes from a paradoxical combination of being both strong and weak in equal measure.

Crouch crafts a 2x2 chart formed by two axes—authority and vulnerability. The vertical axis is authority, defined as meaningful action that allows one to exercise a measure of dominion in the world in order to make a difference as image bearers. The horizontal axis is vulnerability. "The vulnerability that leads to flourishing," Crouch says, "requires risk, which is the possibility of loss—the chance that when we act, we will lose something we value."

These two axes divide the chart into four quadrants. A flourishing life leads up and to the right. But the road to flourishing is not straight and the idea of flourishing is not simple. Crouch's understanding of flourishing is less health and wealth, and more of "how it cares for the most vulnerable."

Notice the chart. Suffering is quadrant two. This is vulnerability without authority, risk without options. There is no capacity for meaningful action but great exposure to loss, injustice, and death. Suffering makes you intimate with the brokenness of the world. It moves you from knowing about the symptoms to knowing the disease. "Suffering is simply the painful payoff of risking love in a broken world." As has been noted, the road to glory is through suffering.

Withdrawing is quadrant three. There is no authority or vulnerability in this area, but it gives the appearance as comfort or safety, but it is really a fear of exposure and a presence of apathy. As Crouch puts it:

"The real temptation for most of us is not complete apathy but activities that simulate meaningful action and meaningful risk without actually asking much of us or transforming much in us."

In this section, he utilizes video games as a prime example.

"Video games are a far more satisfying version of withdrawing—because while you are engrossed in them, you feel totally convinced that you are flourishing. Games confer authority. But video games (and most screen-based forms of recreation) confer authority more quickly and more completely than any real-world game does."

Finally, quadrant four is exploiting, where there is authority without vulnerability. This "seductive and dangerous" quadrant reveals that appearances can be deceiving and dangerous. Similar to exploiting, control is characterized as authority without vulnerability. As Crouch writes:

"It is the ability to act without the possibility of loss. Control is the dream of the risk- and loss-averse, the promise of every idol and the quest of every person who has tasted vulnerability and vowed never to be exposed in that way again."

So how do leaders move people to flourishing?

"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."

These detours may be questionable and unnecessary, but to be great is to be misunderstood according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. It may not be a direct path, but it is a beneficial and profitable path—to both you and those you lead.

In the biblical narrative, we read about a long expected and awaited Messiah, though he came in a very unexpected way. The people had a perception of who he would be, how he would act. But Jesus broke the mold. His ways were not their ways. His words were noticeably different which caused a varying level of astonishment. He was someone who was in full authority, yet also extremely vulnerable. As Crouch writes:

"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."

There is a level of clarity with his authority, but a measure of ambiguity with his vulnerability. Crouch again:

"But no one fully grasped Jesus's vulnerability. Those around him comprehended almost nothing of his true purpose and destination. The Gospel writers report that even when Jesus began to try to explain to his disciples the fate he knew awaited him in Jerusalem, they resisted and did not understand. As his ministry brought him nearer and nearer to the final confrontation with the forces of idolatry and injustice, only Jesus understood what was truly going to be lost."

Today, you may not be where you thought you would be. On the journey of life, it may appear as though you are on a detour. But take heart, you join a long line of individuals who have been guided the long way. Moses had his wilderness. David had his excursions. Jesus had his desert. But through it all, God used these detours in order to acquaint them with suffering so that they could use their authority to help  those who were currently suffering and vulnerable. And in doing so, they each experienced a level of flourishing that caused one to sing (Deuteronomy 32), one to dance (2 Samuel 6:14), and one to be seated at the right hand of the father in the fullness of joy (Hebrews 7).

You may be in a tough chapter of life, but it does not have to the last chapter.

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