Book Review: Ambition

Ambition Book Review

Emma Ineson is the Bishop of Penrith, and before that was the principal of Trinity College, Bristol, and so by some standards is an ambitious person who has achieved things that some of us dream of. However, this isn’t a book about her, but rather a book that she has written about some things she’s learned about what success, comparison, and seeking first the Kingdom of God whilst pursuing Jesus. Published by SPCK, who I have worked for in the past, this is a book that deserves a wide readership.

Firstly, this is a book about leadership, at it’s heart. It is definitely more than that, but it is not less than that. And, unlike so many ‘Christian’ books about ‘leadership’, this is a book that takes the Bible seriously, listens to Jesus closely, and challenges both easy answers and uncritically-simplistic baptism of secular language. For example:

As with ‘ambition’, so also with ‘leadership’, my belief is that it need not be a dirty word for Christians, and we can reclaim and reinhabit both concepts for appropriate Christ-focused use for the glory of God. However, the word ‘leadership’ is by its very nature a comparative word. If someone is going to be the leader, others will have to be ‘followers’, or at least ‘not leaders’, or ‘not so much leaders’, or ‘not the same kind of leaders’. And comparison is tricky for Christians. When the Bible tells us to compare ourselves with others, it does so in supposedly inverse ways: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mark 9.35); ‘[do not] think of yourself more highly than you ought to think’ (Romans 12.3); ‘in humility regard others as better than yourselves’ (Philippians 2.3).

Secondly, this is a deeply theological book without being over-dense and unreadable. The penultimate chapter (depending on how you understand these things) is titled ‘Leadership in the Image of the Trinity’, and this is a beautifully written, thorough-goingly theological articulation of what it means to be a leader in a Christian, and specifically trinitarian way. To be blunt, this chapter alone makes this probably the best book about leadership I’ve read this year, and is well worth the cost of admission. Emma reminds us that “no human authority is ever absolute“, a helpful corrective from the perspective of the Father, and she writes beautifully of the way that Jesus’ Cross and humanity challenge the way that we think. We read that “The Holy Spirit is the one who points forward to that wonderful day when the kingdom of God will be fully established on earth and, in signs and wonders, gives us a glimpse of that future-orientated kingdom“, emphasising the presence and power of God in healthy leadership and the ongoing work of the Kingdom of God.

In closing, I think that this book is a really useful resource for those in, or contemplating leadership of any kind – and also for those thinking about what faithfulness to Jesus in changing culture might mean. Church culture itself can breed strange subcultures – Ambition is a book that invites us back to what Jesus actually thinks, the deep and transforming mystery of the Bible, and the possibility of growth. I’d definitely recommend this book to Christian leaders of all kinds!

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