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Who is My Redeemer?

Written by: on March 1, 2018

The USAmerican Evangelical world in which I was raised frowned upon things like self-awareness and introspection, considering them to be akin to navel-gazing at best and self-absorption at worst. But the idea of self-awareness isn’t a novel concept. In his famous work, Institutions of Christianity, Calvin wrote, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”[1] As we move into the 21st century, it seems that the western Church is waking up to the importance of self- understanding. The Bible teaches that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.[2] We are invited to cooperate with this transformation process, but doing so requires that we open ourselves up to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit and be willing to examine ourselves.

Any authentic self-reflection will uncover faults and weaknesses in our character. In the book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, authors McIntosh and Rima aim to help leaders identify some of those weakness and offer “specific steps for overcoming the dark side lurking in [their] success before [they] get blindsided by it.”[3] I applaud their call to sincere introspection, as I do believe self-awareness increases God-awareness and enables us to respond to the Spirit’s redemptive work in our life.

Unfortunately, though this book offers a couple of nods to the Holy Spirit and a plethora of cameos by beloved historical and Bible characters, it provides few insights as to how this process of understanding, discovering, and redeeming one’s dark side might be different because of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Though the authors are Christians, they present a book that appears to have been written by what Parker Palmer describes as “functional atheists,” that is, “the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.”[4]

Over and over, the authors state that we need to redeem our own dark sides.[5] In fact the third section of the book is entitled, “Redeeming Our Dark Side.”[6] Perhaps these authors have never participated in a liturgical church, where the community confesses each week that they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. One of the great fallacies that emerges from this belief that one can redeem oneself is the instance that our dark side can be “a power for good.”[7] Even the examples in the book demonstrate that what is really happening is that one sin is being used to keep another in check. For example, I am, at my core a glutton. But for years, the reason that I was not fat was not because I had been transformed and redeemed from my sin of gluttony, but rather because I also am very vain. When the authors talk about the dark side being a force for good, it as if they are saying, “Isn’t it nice that your vanity kept your gluttony in check all of these years?”

No. It’s not good. Nor is it good that Billy Graham was driven to “prove Emily and his family wrong and make something of himself.”[8] This is not true redemption. A dark side might push us to succeed, but if the motivations are muddy, then the success is tainted.

Ironically, when Parker Palmer writes about the shadow side of leadership, he identifies “functional atheism” as one of the biggest shadows with which leaders struggle. “This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen—a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”[9]

In all fairness, the authors of Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership do mention a need to find our identity in Christ in the final chapter. But it feels like a courtesy nod to the Savior of the world, rather a cry of desperation to the One who is, in every way, our only hope.

In the Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice there is a fabulous chapter entitled “Identity Based Leader Development” where the authors describe the process of a how leaders themselves undergo transformation and growth.[10] The secular wisdom and research shared in this chapter reveals a deep spiritual truth, which is that information does not equal transformation.  They quote Bennis, who says, “A person does not gather learnings as possessions but rather becomes a new person with those learnings as part of his or her self.”[11]

Similarly, I would say that a Christian does not redeem herself, but becomes a new person as Christ is formed in her.

[1] Calvin, Jean, and Ford Lewis Battles. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian religion. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

[2] In Galatians, Paul talks about being “in labor” for the Church until “Christ is formed” in them. And in 2 Corinthians Paul says that we are being “transformed into the same image” of Christ.

[3] Gary L McIntosh and Samuel D. Sr. Sr Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, Ebook (Grand Rapids: Baker Pub. Group, 2010). Loc 178.

[4] Parker Palmer. “Leading From Within • Center for Courage & RenewalCenter for Courage & Renewal,” accessed March 1, 2018, http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/leading-from-within/.

[5] Loc 403 “…he faced his dark side and began redeeming it.” Loc 696 “Leaders who face their dark side and redeem it accomplish the most over the long run.” Loc 1809 “…we can begin to redeem our dark side regarless of the shape it has taken.” Loc 1813 “…leaders are expected to exercise a higher degree of self-management, redeeming their dark side and thus mitigating its potentially negative influences.” Loc 2603 “It is critical…that we be transparent so that we can keep our dark side in check.” Loc 1899 “When a leader fails to redeem his or her codependent behavior….” Loc 2057 “…before we can begin redeeming our dark side.” Loc 2522 “…in the constant process of redeeming my dark side….”

[6] McIntosh and Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership. Loc 1811

[7] McIntosh and Rima. 1231.

[8] McIntosh and Rima. Loc 1231.

[9] Parker Palmer. “Leading From Within • Center for Courage & RenewalCenter for Courage & Renewal.”

[10] Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership (Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press, 2010). Loc 8095.

[11] Nohria and Khurana. Loc 8095.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

11 responses to “Who is My Redeemer?”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    You nailed it! Nice job going after the shallowness of the authors connection to theological doctrines of self-inspection. I also was troubled by their position that was soft on supernatural, and strong on personal responsibility. While I believe as Christians we are called to be responsible stewards, you have to be a Christian first to even fall into that conditional nature of how God works in our lives.
    I like the way you use the adage, I am paraphrasing you, that good ends do not justify the use of bad means. I will look at your Nohria and Khurarra source.
    I think our missionary members of this cohort see things from the more missionary viewpoint, more meat and potatoes based, than many of our marketplace secular positioned members. That is just an observation, not a critique by any means. Thanks, I always enjoy interacting with your posts.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      There is something about being on the misison field and/or living cross-culturally that not only exposes our weaknessness, but undermines our belief that we can, indeed, redeem ourselves. In coming to face some of my own depravity, I’m having to learn more and more that my best response is to lean in to Jesus. To draw close, and to listen attentively to all that he is saying. Then, YES, of course I have responsibility to respond obediently. But I’m also discovering that the course of action prescibed by God is often quite different from what I might have done had I sought to set my own course.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jenn,

    I too was thankful for the “identity in Christ” chapter. Thank you for highlighting the authors were short on the work of God is removing the dark side issues in our lives. You are spot on!

    So glad you are with us and we are with you. Love having your perspective!

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Thanks, Jay. Finding our Identity in Christ is key to our cooperation in the redemption process. So I was really glad that the authors touched on that idea. But I do wish they had been more thorough, giving examples in story form of what it looks like for a person to find his or her identity in Christ. They did this in all of the other chapters, but not in this one. (They reference Paul and some verses, but don’t give a clear illustration.)

  3. Great insights Jenn! It was sad but not surprising to read…”The USAmerican Evangelical world in which I was raised frowned upon things like self-awareness and introspection, considering them to be akin to navel-gazing at best and self-absorption at worst.” I think many people in church leadership have been brainwashed to believe this and thus have avoided looking in the mirror at themselves and their struggles and weaknesses. This has created lots of stuffing of emotions and emotional explosions, as the authors state.

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Yes, so true Jake. When I teach on self-awareness, I always start with a dicussion on whether or not this is a permissible/valuable exercise for Christians, trying to debunk some of the wrong thinking with which I was raised. There is always resistance at first, but the Bible is clear about this, and often encourages us to “examine ourselves.”

      And as for suffing emotions–I’m a champ! I’ve been really working on identifying and sitting with my negative emotions. This has been a huge challenge for me, but I am also seeing much freedom and growth as I discover Christ in those parts of my soul.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jennifer,

    In my own myopia and personal struggle with this book I failed to recognize the very things you took note of with this text, particularly the functional atheism that you make clear. You have made a very good point and helped me recognize some of the holes regarding the dark side theory that I left untested. I am thankful for your balanced critique.

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Hey Dan, I don’t think you are at all myopic, I think it’s great that this book hit you as it did–the Spirit is so good to meet us where we are and to give us what we need through whatever means are available.
      I acutally didn’t clearly understand why I had such a hard time connecting to this book until I read Trisha’s critique, which resonated with me!

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Jenn,
    I appreciate your pulling from a variety of sources, including my man, John Calvin! “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” Very nice.

  6. Greg says:

    Jenn at first I was resistant to your argument about this book. The more I read and thought about it, the more I began to see some of your points. I do believe we have that free will to choose to allow God to do his redeeming power. God gives us the motivation and the redemption but believe He gives us the power to choose to accept it. I read this book with the understanding that all transformation was God’s transformation and that allowing this “darkside” that is within us to dominate leads us down very destructive paths. Thanks for the view from a different place then where I was sitting.

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    When I was reading the third section I kept thinking the chapter on identity should have been first. We lead with our identity and we need that redeemed by Christ so we can then live differently. Besides the functional atheism, which I acknowledge could be true but probably not the author’s intention, how would you change the book/order of chapters?

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