Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: The Principle of the Path

I had not read a book by Andy Stanley before. I have been listening to the sermon podcasts from North Point Community Church (in Atlanta GA) for close to a year now. So when I saw this one come out, I decided I'd see if Andy's writing matched his remarkable preaching prowess.

I had some mixed feelings as I got started in the book. Not so much because of how the subject matter is presented or the writing style. In fact, Andy's stories in print are as good as the ones from the pulpit (and some are the same stories, of course). My mixed feelings came from the actual message that the book seems to be getting at: If you want to get somewhere, you need to head towards it. I was about 5 pages into the book and was wondering what the other 195 pages could have in them if this was the message.

Fortunately, Andy acknowledges this and tells you why this book rises above the self-help books on the discount table:
This is not a self-help book. I'm not offering a formula. I'm not going to provide you with seven steps. My intention is to bring to your attention a dynamic that is operating in the background of your life and the lives of the people you love.

It was worth it to stick with him.

The Principle of the Path is, and is not, as straight forward as you might think. I say that because on the one hand, the idea that you will end up where you are headed is pretty basic. On the other hand, most of us don't think about how this principle actually affects most everything in our lives.

Andy spends a short time in the early part of the book setting up the premise and describing the principle. Then he moves into the effects of leveraging the principle and the effects of ignoring it. Chapters 1 through 6 are pretty much about what it is, how it can affect you, and why many of us struggle with something so basic and seemingly intuitive.

Andy points out that we are not on a "truth quest" each day when we get up. In fact we are on a "happiness quest" every day of our lives. And that makes all the difference. We are not out there looking for what is true and wise and right. We are looking for what makes us feel happy.
[W]hen we stand at the crossroads between prudent and happy, we lie to ourselves. We turn into dishonest salespeople. We begin selling ourselves on what we want to do rather than what we ought to do... [O]nce we get fixated on the happiness option, we assign our brains the task of coming up with a list of very convincing reasons to support our choice. Reasons, by the way, that really have nothing to do with why we chose to do what we did.

We subvert our own rational, logical brains into trying to cover for our illogical, happy-seeking heart! As a lot of us know by now, that often leads to regret...

So, as I was reading through the book, I "got" the principle and I "got" the consequences of following/ignoring it. What I couldn't reconcile was how the idea of what sounds like conventional wisdom meshed with Scripture about the wisdom of the world:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Cor 1:20-26)

That is, the more I thought about the "doing the wise thing" with respect to finance, relationship, health, etc the more I thought about conventional wisdom, a.k.a., the wisdom of the world.

It took me thinking about it some more and looking and the last couple of chapters (there are 9 in all) to finally resolve it for myself. In chapter 7, the author retells a story of David and Saul from 1 Samuel 24. I won't retell the whole story but will summarize and say that in this chapter, and with this story, we move beyond just conventional wisdom. Andy illustrates with David and his choices how important it is to lean on God in choosing the wise path, and not leaning on just your own brain.
The law, principles, and wisdom of God provided David with the clarity he needed to do the right thing in the right way at the right time, despite incredible pressure to do otherwise.

Since direction, not intention, determines your destination... You should be getting that direction from God.

I liked this book more when I finished it than when I started it. If you pick this one up (and I recommend that you do!), don't bail out on it in the first chapter or two. Stick with it. Andy does point out some obvious, intuitive things. But he does so with good reason. Once he gets to the motivations behind them, the ways you can deal with them, and the importance of God in all of it, you will realize that this book was well worth the read.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the book or the subject. Let me here from you by leaving a comment below.

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.