I must be honest, most Christian leadership books turn me off. They strike me as little more than worldly wisdom baptized in spiritual jargon. Manuals on how to do the Lord’s work in the world’s way. They turn the work of the Holy Spirit into a formula, as if we could reverse-engineer “successful” churches. In doing so, they end up fueling our pride and self-importance. If you share some of those same feelings, allow me to introduce you to one of the most unique Christian leadership books you will ever come across.
In A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness (Tyndale), Gene Edwards takes the reader on a journey through two crucial periods of King David’s life. First, the period during his younger years, before he became king, constantly on the run from King Saul and his jealous rage. Second, in the latter years of his reign, we see David’s response to the attempted coup of his own son Absalom. Three kings: Saul, David, and Absalom.
This is a book some would classify as historical fiction. Edwards uses the biblical accounts as his skeleton, but then expands the story utilizing his own theologically informed imagination. Many of the details and conversations are Edwards’s own invention, much akin to The Chosen, the popular TV show depicting the lives of Jesus and his followers. Herein lies a danger, for when we introduce our own speculations into the accounts of the Bible, we run the risk of inserting our own theology as well and thereby teaching a lesson God never intended. However, as readers, if the we understand this risk going in, and if we are firmly grounded in our own knowledge of Scripture, this can protect us from veering off into an unbiblical interpretation or lesson. Personally, I think Edwards does a fine job using this approach while avoiding speculations that would lead to unbiblical conclusions.
Gene Edwards is one of the most efficient writers I have ever read. He can do more heart-level work in two pages than most authors can do in fifty. Indeed, many of the chapters are astonishingly short—little more than a page long, with liberally-spaced font at that. But this effectively leaves more room for reflection, which is essential for those reading this book. These chapters are meant to be read slowly to allow the hard truths to pierce your soul. In fact, I found that I simply could not read this book fast, even if I had wanted to. It was like driving a truck with a governor installed. Your foot has the pedal all the way to the floor, but you can only go so fast. I did not, however, find it frustrating in any way. Edwards leaves you wanting more. As I finished the book, I found myself wishing it was three times as long.
Perhaps the ultimate lesson of this book is that we must be broken and humbled by God if we want to lead his people in his way. God is the one who “removes kings and sets up kings.” (Dan. 2:21) However, none of us know the mind of God. He works in mysterious ways, and does as he pleases. Saul was the Lord’s anointed, even during the period of his madness. Through his experiences with Saul, and later Absalom, David teaches us what it means to wait on the Lord—to refuse to bring about the Lord’s will by taking matters into your own hands.
Here is a taste of what you will find if you read this book. Rest assured, you’ve never read a leadership book like this one. A word of caution: it will confront you like no other leadership book will:
Joab walked directly in front of David, looked down on him, and began roaring his frustrations. “Many times he almost speared you to death in his palace. I saw that with my own eyes. Finally, you ran away. Now for years you have been nothing but a rabbit for him to chase. Furthermore, the whole world believes the lies he tells about you. He has come—the king himself—hunting every cave, pit, and hole on earth to find you and kill you like a dog. But tonight you had him at the end of his own spear and you did nothing! Look at us. We’re animals again. Less than an hour ago you could have freed us all. Yes, we could all be free, right now! Free! And Israel, too. She would be free. Why, David? Why did you not end these years of misery?”
There was a long silence. Men shifted again, uneasily. They were not accustomed to seeing David rebuked. “Because,” said David very slowly (and with a gentleness that seemed to say, I heard what you asked, but not the way you asked it), “because once, long ago, he was not mad. He was young. He was great. Great in the eyes of God and men. And it was God who made him king—God—not men.”
Joab blazed back, “But now he is mad! And God is no longer with him. And David, he will yet kill you!”
This time it was David’s answer that blazed with fire. “Better he kill me than I learn his ways. Better he kill me than I become as he is. I shall not practice the ways that cause kings to go mad. I will not throw spears, nor will I allow hatred to grow in my heart. I will not avenge. I will not destroy the Lord’s anointed. Not now. Not ever!”
(A Tale of Three Kings, p. 35-37)
John Davis is the pastor of Columbia Christian Church in Columbia, KY. He is the author of God-Centered Christianity: The Bible’s Antidote for Self-Centered Religion and Seeing the Unseen God.
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