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I don’t remember the last time I saw a recently published book with the author’s name given as Anonymous. In Christian circles as much as in your average secular bookstore or website, nothing seems to be as prominent as the author’s name. The more well known the author, the larger space is devoted to his or her name on the book cover. But with a title like Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything, the absence of an author name seems appropriate. Still, I searched through the book looking for any hint of the author’s identity, half expecting it would be there somewhere. My search was in vain, as the author of this challenging book has embraced its controversial message heart and soul.
Aren’t we all special?
The back cover of the book encapsulates its message well with these words: “I hate to break it to you, but you’re not one in a million. In fact, you’re more like one in nearly seven billion. Just one. One life, lived in relative obscurity.” The next line is even more challenging: “Are you okay with that?” Everything about the American dream with its make-your-own-man, you-can-be-anything, do-it-yourself “gospel,” screams the opposite. You are special. One of a kind! And even Christian leaders and authors trumpet the self-esteem, “be your best self now” message. I imagine many who are reading this right now aren’t so sure Mr. Anonymous is making any sense. Doesn’t the Bible teach that we are all God’s special and unique creations?
Anonymous is aiming at the pride and self-reliance which lurks just under the surface of our outwardly Christian lives. The author points out the role that “sub-titles” play in our lives: you know, the extra details we use to fill in someone’s understanding of us when we introduce ourselves. “Hi, I’m Bob, a well-known Christian blogger and father of six.” Such sub-titles function as a way to: “[M]ake others think I’m a somebody. That I matter. That I’m going places. I’m itching for admiration, respect, and yes, jealousy” (pg. 21). The point is not to eschew any titles but rather to not let worldly pursuits define you, or pride rule you.
The book hammers away at Philippians 2:5-11 and the example that our humble King set for us, in the way of humility. And it calls us to find our true significance not in what we can do, but in who we are by grace. Our significance is in being able to make much of Jesus as his creation, his joint-heir, his bride, etc.
Worldly attitudes toward success
The world’s attitude toward success contrasts sharply with a Biblical view of true prosperity. Yet too often, worldly standards shape us and even shape the church. Anonymous explains:
I don’t think we realize how far we’ve come in imitating the world’s tenets of success or just how dangerous that is. I’m shocked at how easily my friends, family, church, and I have swallowed the lie–hook, line, and sinker–that true fulfillment will greet them on the other side of a PhD and a six-figure income, through a romantic comedy-esque love story, or even through leading a prominent ministry. I’m alarmed at how pride and self-promotion are permeating Christian leadership and how it seems to be seeping down the ranks: to you, to me, to our kids, and throughout our congregations. (pg. 75-76)
He moves on to focus on how servanthood should characterize us as Christians. And how very unpopular this is even among Christian ministries today. He brings up what he calls “the Joseph principle” too, when it comes to suffering. This is the idea that God is using suffering to prepare me for something mind-blowingly big. God has something better for me. But while Romans 8:28 (“All things work together for the good of those who love God…”) is true, the notion that God has something tangibly good in a worldly sense for our future isn’t necessarily the case. Anonymous asks “Will you still trust God if your ‘good’ is to go on embracing obscurity–living in simplicity and devotion to Him–your entire life?… Would you mind if your ‘good’ is only a greater understanding of the suffering Jesus went through on your behalf and mine?” (pg. 118-119).
He goes on to talk about embracing the “mystery.” Our lives and choices should seem crazy to unbelievers. “Is my life mysterious?” the author asks. “Or do I live, love and lust like the rest of the world?” (pg. 129). He brings up the example of NFL running back Glen Coffee who walked away from football after one season, because he wanted to follow God’s call on his life. Is that mysterious or what?
The book ends with a look at how to use public notoriety for Christ, when it comes unexpectedly. And how our embracing of obscurity really earns for us an eternal weight of glory in the age to come.
This book packs a punch but is written in a conversational, easy-to-read tone. It is chuck full of down-to-earth illustrations and personal vignettes. The stories of numerous individuals give meat to the skeletal principles discussed, and flesh out what it means to embrace obscurity. The book is not overly long, but the message isn’t light and trivial, so taking one’s time reading and praying through the book would be ideal. Discussion questions are included for each chapter making this perfectly suited for a small group or Sunday school.
As a Christian blogger, this book is especially convicting. I need to focus more on why I do what I do, and need to also look for the pride which so easily hides behind anything we do. I highly recommend this book and trust it will have a wide influence. The message is radical but the problem is real. Embracing Obscurity calls us to reexamine what it means to live life as strangers and pilgrims, just passing through this world on our way home.
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