Article

By Beth Henary


Getting Ahead in Order to Serve

Why "Christian ambition" isn't an oxymoron.

icon1 of 2view all

Radio talk-show host and law professor Hugh Hewitt has written a blessedly practical how-to guide for young Christians who want to engage the world—with results.

Much of Hewitt's advice is what you'd expect to hear from a mentor for whom "tradition" isn't a dirty word. "This is what you need to get down: the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, and of course, the Americans." He follows up with a list of 14 popular works, including Churchill's four-volume masterpiece, A History of the English Speaking Peoples, that will set the student on the road to fulfilling this requirement.

But Hewitt also advises his readers to "Start and Maintain a Web Log (Blog)," as one of his chapters is titled. Keeping a blog, Hewitt says, not only encourages a lively attention to current events but also challenges the blogger to see those events in a larger historical context—precisely what is missing from typical media accounts of "the news."

Though Hewitt's advice derives largely from his own career trajectory, the bulk of it applies to the non-Christian as well. Go to the best schools you can get into, not necessarily those where your currently held beliefs will be reaffirmed. Network. Encourage the success of others. Know who you owe. Don't backstab.

Nevertheless, Hewitt is speaking specifically to Christians, who he thinks as a whole don't pursue power as they should. Many believers, he writes, "fear the corrupting effects of power on belief, and the temptations that authority brings with it." But there are risks to separatism and quietism as well, as the history of the church amply illustrates.

Indeed, Hewitt argues, Christians need to be reminded that biblical aims are not always antithetical to worldly success, nor is the dividing of spheres between the "spiritual" and the "worldly" always clarifying.

"If inviting nonbelievers to worship matters," he writes, "then so does preserving the freedom to worship. If ministering to the needs of the poor is a mandate, then changing the policies creating poverty is very much within that mandate. And if building shelter in developing countries is part and parcel of a Christian's burden, so is the destruction of the power of tyrants who oppress peoples around the globe."

The journey Hewitt lays out begins with choice of college, followed by a university career punctuated with smart choices about extracurriculars and plain old discipline. College Republicans? Forget them. Go work on a real campaign. Avoid classes that study books written in the last 30 years. After college or graduate studies, Hewitt advises, pick a job that comes with the opportunity to closely study great leaders and interesting people. (This may well mean slaving away for low pay in one of the three great—expensive—American cities, Washington, New York, or Los Angeles. No one said it would be easy.)

In, But Not Of is not a book for Christians impatiently minding their watches for the return of Christ, but it's a prize find for those eager to become a better citizens of the world. Directed at the reader just ready to leave home for the first time, its audience is naturally ambitious, flexible, courageous, and inherently restless too. Together, the chapters form a checklist for ordering a life, and a check on stagnation that is useful even to the not-so-young.

Beth Henary is a writer and editor living in Texas. She is currently a fellow at the Washington-based Phillips Foundation (www.thephillipsfoundation.org).

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture presents Books & Culture Corner and Book of the Week Mondays at ChristianityToday.com.

Earlier editions of Books & Culture Corners and Book of the Week include:

Bird Watching with Anne Lamott | A PBS documentary enters the unruly, grace-filled world of the author of Traveling Mercies. (April 21, 2003)
A Story Darwin Might Love | Brian McLaren's evolutionary interpretation of the faith promises more than it delivers, but what it delivers is good enough. (April 14, 2003)
Why We Are in Iraq | Michael Kelly, R.I.P. (April 7, 2003)
Letter from Spain | A former resident returns to find that it is still stony ground for the Gospel. (March 31, 2003)
Lessons in Nation-Building From a Fledgling Democracy | Shays's Rebellion describes a time when revolution was no longer cool. (March 24, 2003)
Whose Reality TV? | Tune in this week to Frederick Wiseman's PBS documentary, Domestic Violence, to see some real survivors. (March 17, 2003)
Oh, Brother | Most everyone agrees that the James ossuary is a significant find. Ask what it means, however … (March 17, 2003)
Vanity Fair | A chronicler of religion plays the straight man. (March 10, 2003)
bottom_line
icon1 of 2view all

Most ReadMost Shared


Seminary/Grad SchoolsCollege Guide