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What Luther Says

BOOK REVIEW: 'Embracing Obscurity' Is Biblical

I only ever choose to read a Christian bestseller or new release for one of two reasons.

Either it's because I want to be challenged, convicted, and edified by its message for the purpose of God using it to help me mature in my faith (2 Corinthians 13:5; Proverbs 27:17; Proverbs 3:12; 2 Timothy 3:16), or it's because I know that it misrepresents His Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I want to familiarize myself with it so that I can sound the alarm and warn my dear brothers and sisters to be careful and/or stay away from it (Galatians 1:8; Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 11:14; Jude 1:3; Galatians 2:5).

One of the unexpected blessings of being entrusted with overseeing an online ministry like this one is that I am sometimes contacted by various authors and publishers asking me if I would like to receive a free copy of a certain book as long as I agree to read and review it for you.

Of course, I am forever grateful for such an honor and a privilege, but I must take this opportunity to publicly apologize to a majority of those authors and publishers. That's because it takes me forever to read and review a book -- any book for that matter! So, for what it's worth, I'd like to thank those authors and publishers for their patience and understanding.

For those who don't know me that well, I have to admit that I'm horrible when it comes to reading books, especially when I'm asked to try and have a review published by a certain date. It's not that I don't want to (or don't intend to even).

However, between family, serving at church and our kids' school, my own private studies, and work, it's not uncommon that it should take me several months longer than most to read and review a book. So, while I absolutely love to read, and have been called a "voracious reader" by some, my problem is that it takes me way too long to do what I've been asked to do, because I'm often reading multiple books at the same time too. My secret's out!

Honestly, I have no idea how Tim Challies cranks them out as often as he does. Naturally, this presents an obvious problem though. Again, the challenge for me has always been finishing a book completely before I move on to the next one.

Truth is, while there's a lot of garbage out there today that's masquerading as "Christian Literature" there's also some exceptional, genuine Christian material that is quite convicting and edifying (you just have to work a little harder to find it), and they all compete for my attention.

In any event, now that I've allowed you all to peek behind the curtain at me, I'd like to tell you about a book that I finally finished reading...even though I started it way back in September 2012.


Our world tells us that we matter, that we are significant, and that we are all destined to do great things in this life.

While there's certainly an element of truth to all of that, have you ever stopped -- I mean, really stopped -- to prayerfully consider how such a perspective compares to what the Word of God actually tells us?

I certainly haven't and my guess is that neither have you. Thankfully, one Christian felt burdened by this unsettling reality and wanted to expose the clear tension between what we believe to be "Gospel truth" and "Gospel truth" itself.

The result? A ground-breaking book in the spirit of Not A Fan and Radical. The book I'd like to tell you about today is called Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing In Light Of God's Everything by an "Anonymous" author. In fact, I first referenced it on September 8th, 2012.

Obscure And Anonymous

Speaking of Book Reviews, I'm excited to tease another upcoming review of a Christian book called 'Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing In Light Of God's Everything' by...Anonymous?

Yes, that's right! The author is, in fact, anonymous (which I love, by the way, given the subject matter of this important book!).

Without giving too much away just yet, I was recently contacted by the publisher's marketing group and asked if I would mind receiving a free copy of their newest book to read and review.

Unimportance: Surprisingly Good For The Soul

It’s not self-confidence that humans lack, it’s that we have too much self-importance, says an author who , by virtue of that, has chosen to remain anonymous. Or Anonymous.

“We have such a high opinion of ourselves that to live and die unnoticed seems a grave injustice. Yet, has God called us to be anything else?” The very challenge, the very calling, is in fact to embrace obscurity. “When we accept that our value is not dependent on what we do or accomplish, we are – ironically – liberated to do much for Christ.”

Finding that ability – to think little of ourselves – is the topic of the eye-opening book Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything (B&H Publishing Group, 978-1-4336-7781-6).

Arguably so counter to the desire of humans to “make a mark” on the world, Anonymous argues for the exact opposite, an about face that means rejecting the world’s views of significance.

“One of the greatest ironies of all time is that when we give up the hope of earthly fame and fortune, and instead embrace the obscurity of a life given in service to Christ, we are immediately touched with immortality and assured of eternal glory. By Christ’s own decree, we should be no more defined by the world than He is. Ours should be a different embrace.”

Embracing Obscurity is a call to action to recalibrate the strangling embrace of the world to God’s standards for God’s glory.

Too frightening to put away definitions of achievement, success, and reward and replace them with new ones? The alternative is to allow our intoxication with the world draw us away from our Maker and His mission – an epidemic so common most of us do not even know we are under the influence, says the author.

Those radical enough to embrace obscurity will journey far from the spotlight, towards sacrifice, humility, significance in the Spirit, servant hood, and the mystery of Christ’s becoming nothing to glorify the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).

How could I resist after that compelling introduction?

I haven't started reading it just yet, but the similarities to David Platt's Radical have me excited to get started soon due to the fact that the content seems equally unique, timely, and, most importantly, Biblically sound in a day and age when "Easy Believism" reigns supreme.

Please watch for that in the weeks ahead. I have a feeling it's going to be another one of those "convicting" reads for sure.

One of the countless things I love about the Lord is how He's always right on time. Always.

Your Humble Host has been suffering from the effects of a subtle, but extremely dangerous form of P-R-I-D-E that I've allowed to creep into my life over the past several months or so without even realizing it.

I'm not exactly sure how and when it started, but I just know that it's there, and that it's corrupting my time with Him and His people, and this revelation (confession really) came to a head the other evening.

So, needless to say, it's no coincidence at all that He reminded me to finally write about this important book and it's urgent message for the 21st Century Christian who lives in a Me, Myself, and iPad/iPhone/iPod reality where we assume that our lives are so important that they're worthy of constant "Status Messages" and "Tweets" updated on an hourly basis, because I am precisely the type of person who needs to be reminded of these truths right now.

Without getting into specifics, I'll just say that it's important for us to constantly check our true motives of the heart, especially when we're in environments where we are called and expected to serve and worship Him.

That being said, it's clear from the chapter titles alone that this is a book will go a long way in forcing us to ask ourselves some hard questions, but they are questions that need to be asked; questions that need to be asked regularly.


Chapter 1:
One in a Billion

Chapter 2: Embracing Definition
Chapter 3: Embracing the Humble King
Chapter 4: Embracing Significance
Chapter 5: Embracing True Success
Chapter 6: Embracing Servanthood
Chapter 7: Embracing Suffering
Chapter 8: Embracing the Mystery
Chapter 9: Embracing the Spotlight
Chapter 10: Embracing Hope

There it is. Ten chapters. A mere 175 pages. But all of it packs a punch, which is why you need to make this book a part of your personal library, because it's that good.

As always, I'd like to share a few of my favorite excerpts too.

"We live in a culture that bases significance on how celebrated, or common, we are. And now the church seems to have followed suit. This is serious stuff. It's serious because of its source. It's just the sort of lie that Satan -- the father of lies -- manufactures and sells best." [p. 2]

"I can only answer that I've come to realize embracing obscurity is not about wiping ourselves from existence but rather, voluntarily becoming nothing in light of everything God is and has promised us. Why? So we can bring Him greater glory. It's about making Him, not ourselves, look good." [p. 3]

"Being of great faith does not guarantee timeless notoriety. Take as exhibit A 'the young boy' of loaves and fishes fame...And just like the son who whined and pouted but still did what his father asked (see Matthew 21:28-32), this kid got full credit for obedience, even if his heart wasn't completely in the right place at first. (Comforting thought, isn't it? Which of us doesn't have our own attitude issues?) Whatever his initial response, I'd say his act of surrender took remarkable faith! Yet in none of the Gospels are we even given his name, and he is never mentioned again...Would you want to be 'the young boy'? Would you be willing to remain nameless, offering up your meager portion of your Savior, with no promise of return or guarantee of notoriety, but in complete obedience allow God to work His miracle through your small 'lunch'? That's what embracing obscurity is all about: being content with being 'relatively unknown' so that Christ can be made more known. Temporarily going hungry so that many more may be filled."
[pp. 12-13]

"It's interesting (at the very least) that Satan was cast down from heaven because of his pride, then tried to trick Eve into the sin of pride by appealing to her pride. Satan could have used any number of approaches in trying to get her to disobey God's command to let that fruit be, but having been undone by his own ego, I guess he figured that his best shot was to go for the tried and true. After all, he might have reasoned, if I fell for it -- I who am the greatest -- who wouldn't? So he appealed to Eve's desire to be great." [p. 28]

"Could it be that God embedded in each of us a desire to be significant, knowing it would be one of the things to draw His elect to Him? Because the truth is, if we really want to feel worth (in the deepest, truest sense of the word), we need look no further than the cross." [p. 57]

"We keep coming back to this truth: In order to embrace obscurity, we have to model Jesus Christ. He is our example in everything! Humility. The greatest serving the least."
[p. 113]

"Whether intentionally or because of others' projections, Christ epitomized mystery -- bottom line. That begs the question: if we really resemble our Savior, why would we expect the world to 'get' us either? Why would a follower sold out for Him blend in with a system dead-set on promoting self? If our lifestyle doesn't even raise the eyebrows of the world, what does that say about our devotion to the gospel? The gospel is the news that makes it feasible to look like a fool today because of what awaits us for all our tomorrows. If my life were weighed against the magnificent grace and power I claim to believe, would the scale balance, or am I disproportionately self-absorbed?"
[pp. 128-129]

Bottom line, the book is a clear reminder that God’s plan is not ultimately all about me or you. As another reviewer noted: "As a Christian blogger, this book is especially convicting. I need to focus more on why I do what I do, and need to also look for the pride which so easily hides behind anything we do. I highly recommend this book and trust it will have a wide influence. The message is radical but the problem is real. Embracing Obscurity calls us to reexamine what it means to live life as strangers and pilgrims, just passing through this world on our way home."

One thing I didn't highlight is the author's call for us to unplug from social media (or to at least scale back significantly the amount of time we spend with it). It's an appropriate warning to prayerfully consider given the truth of the matter and I've been debating with myself over that issue ever since reading this book.

Many of the book reviews I read were positive, but this "mixed review" is a good read for balance. By the way, I even came across this interview with the anonymous author of this book that you'll definitely want to check out when you can.

Of particular interest to this book review, and in light of what God is exposing and forcing me to confront in my own life right now (2 Corinthians 13:5), is this excerpted gem from that interview.

QUESTIONS: What are some practical, daily suggestions you would have for fighting against pride?

I genuinely wish I had a five-step fix-all for pride. But we’re talking about sin here, not fixing a car. The solutions to overcoming sin are always less obvious than we’d like. Keeps us dependent on our Savior, right? I do believe that God is enough—His salvation and His Word. As we really examine our own personal love affair with self, practical and convicting suggestions leap from Scripture. These suggestions are all taken from verses speaking directly to pride:

· – Serve others (Luke 22:26-27)

· – Humble ourselves by settling for less than we “deserve” (Luke 14:10-11)

· – Fear the Lord (Prov. 8:13)

· – Embrace wisdom (Prov. 11:12)

· – Commit our actions to the Lord (Prov. 16:1-3)

· – Live humbly and do right (Prov. 16:18-19)

· – Don’t trust ourselves; live by faithfulness to God (Hab. 2:4)

· – Associate with the lowly, for Christ’s sake. Strive to be least (Luke 9:48)

· – Receive God’s grace to stand against evil (e.g., prideful) desires (James 4:6)

· – Don’t boast about our plans, but submit them to the Lord (James 4:13-17)

That’s a big list. If it’s a little overwhelming, I’d say to start with 1) serving others, and 2) settling for less than you deserve. Actually practicing just those two commands puts me in my place every time!

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all cure for our individual pride, but God’s Word does hold the cure for each of us if we’ll search for it.

Amen! Boy, isn't that the truth (Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).

Challies is correct to call this a timely message in an age of "Christian celebrityism" and I found it to be quite convicting to me personally on many levels, as previously mentioned.

Do yourself a favor and get this book. Again, we live in a day and age where it's far too easy to obscure the true meaning of the Gospel and what it means to truly live out our faith on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis while convincing ourselves that we are "doing God's work" in the process.

Yes, the content of this book is convicting, but it will be an accurate barometer of your spiritual health, which also means that it's exactly what we need to ensure that we remain on the "narrow...road that leads to life" (Matthew 7:14).

I have been blessed mightily by reading it (and revisiting it here today in order to prepare this book review) and I know you will be too.

Oh, by the way, my money's on the "Anonymous" author being Francis Chan, but that's neither here nor there.

Yes, I am embracing obscurity from now on, because embracing obscurity is Biblical. Why? Because I'm just one. I'm just 1 in 7 billion.

Until next time, God willing, grace and peace to you and yours!

[DISCLAIMER: This book was provided by the publisher for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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