Should Christians have no ambition?
What comes to your mind when you think of "ambition"? Some might point to specific parts of our Bible to suggest that the ‘Christian-thing-to-do’ is to deny yourself, take up your cross to follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). In other words, some might think that Christians should have no ambition. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36).
This book by Dave Harvey is a helpful one to understand this topic. Harvey disagrees with this position entirely, as one might readily infer from his title. His thesis seeks to dispel ambition’s bad rep and provide a framework for biblically sound ambition.
What does it mean to glorify God?
Harvey begins by highlighting that it is in our nature to seek glory, calling us out as ‘glory-chasers’ vis a vis real-life ‘storm-chasers’ mesmerised by the destructive power of huge tornadoes. Harvey has called me out on this. Parts of me seek personal success, fame and praise to my own name. Harvey, however, centres on this as an opportunity. Our very tendencies and dispositions to seek personal glory can be used to ‘glorify God’. What do we mean, by the way, when we say we want to ‘glorify God’? (Admittedly, I say this all the time without reflecting on what this might mean.) Harvey’s take is that “we [clearly] can’t make God something God already is – glorious. But we can recognise the glory that radiates from God, value it properly, and give God his due”. The Westminster Divines grasped this quite astutely. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Take heed, with good sense, of course – ‘selfish ambition’ is another term for ‘idolatry’. We need to recognise that Christ crucified, completely emptied and obedient, was God most glorified. When we recognise this truly in our hearts, our ‘glory-seeker’ tendencies will lead us sqaurely to Christ.
Harvey points out something quite encouraging – “Hebrews 11 [a chapter known as an exposition of faith] is filled with regular people displaying [great] aspiration”. Drawing from this, I would say that Harvey’s thesis isn’t a just a book for ‘Christians who need more ambition’, or for ‘Christians struggling with identity’ or ‘Christians who are naturally ambitious’. From time to time, I think that we are bound to wear some of these hats in various seasons/domains of life, and you’d empathise with some of these positions quite readily. It helps that Harvey is a good writer and can be quite funny. I appreciate that Harvey repeats the gospel repeatedly throughout the text in a multitude of ways, with references from both NT and OT. Exposition of the subject matter also follows key gospel themes where relevant (e.g. Creation, Fall, Christ, Faith and Repentance - Ambition Conceived, Ambition Corrupted, Ambition Converted) before covering other permutations of ambition outcomes (e.g. Failure).
What can we learn from those that have gone before us?
On a final note, this book might be considered ‘educational’, in the sense that it helped me to learn more about the lives of some contemporary Christian figures. Charles Spurgeon almost refused membership in a Church as a young man? Charles Simeon preaching for 12 years to a congregation that locked the pews and boycotted him? David Brainerd kicked out of Yale? Jonathan Edwards who? Harvey also makes it a point to integrate biblical characters into his writing to illustrate his points. For instance, Harvey cites Peter’s denial of Jesus three times to describe the failure to display God’s glory. Harvey further integrates the lives of anonymous members of his flock, describing how average believers can do extraordinary things with a little biblical ambition. Reading about the lives of these men and women of faith is a good complement to the regular reading of scripture.
Written by Kagen Lim.