This latest installment in the “Engaging Culture” series will prove a disappointment to those familiar with the literature on leadership, especially from an evangelical viewpoint. According to the publisher, “These books encourage neither an uninformed rejection nor an uncritical embrace of culture, but active engagement informed by theological reflection.” In his foreword Max De Pree picks up on the theme of the book when he says, “The authors of this book are right to discuss the spiritual importance of leadership, which cannot be overstated.” True. And much of the contemporary secular literature treats “spiritual issues,” a welcome change from twenty years ago.
However, “spiritual” is not the same as “biblical,” and that is where these good people have gone awry. With rare exception Banks and Ledbetter view spirituality within a sociological rather than a theological perspective.
Chapter two probably comes closest to a genuine scriptural outlook; biblical texts are frequently mentioned. But chapter four, “Popular and More Substantial Faith-based Approaches to Leadership,” apart from the description of De Pree’s “Reformed Christian Approach,” offers no biblical base, no scriptural support, no other evangelical viewpoint. Strikingly the authors say of Christ, “The conspicuous absence in Jesus’ teaching is the appeal to social motive,” and they quote Bruce Barton as saying, “Frequently the only motive is what we would now call a self-regarding motive, but nowhere—and this is my point—do I find unmistakable appeal to the rights or needs of the other party” (p. 82).
Reviewing Leadership is like a high-powered automobile trying to run on 86-octane fuel. It offers virtually no biblical support except in chapter two; it vastly understates the direct teaching of Jesus on leadership; the writing style, though academically well done, will not appeal to students; there is little evidence that either of the authors has grappled with the evangelical literature on leadership. Of the three hundred entries in the bibliography barely twenty could be considered mainline evangelical.
Sadly, though secular sources and some religious sources are properly reviewed in this volume, it offers nothing new and certainly nothing that will enable readers to engage the culture of leadership biblically and from a distinctly evangelical point of view. Such a book is quite a surprise from this particular publisher, well-known for its evangelical stand.