“. . . without preparation, there is no success, and without success, there will be no influence. With power, authority, and influence come responsibilities, however, and a host of temptations. Seeking the former without succumbing to the latter is hard to achieve initially, much less to maintain over time. It is my hope that this book will be of some help in both tasks” (p. x).
Hugh Hewitt has indeed written a helpful book. Nonetheless, In, But Not Of has its troubling points. The author is fully aware of the tensions inherent in the subject he explores. In fact, the title—a well-worn phrase among Christians—captures the essence of this tension. Called to be in the world but not of it, Christians must walk a fine line as they seek success in life while avoiding the worldly pitfalls they will no doubt come across on this journey.
Hewitt’s short book is about “Christian ambition—about the desire to help shape the world in large ways, and to do so in conformance to Christ’s teaching” (p. 5). He is convincing in making a case for the “restoration” of ambition in Christian circles and the need for godly men and women to possess it. He also establishes a two-level hierarchy of pursuits or “battles.” The “big battle” is focused on winning souls, “changing the trajectory of a soul’s path . . . a matter of infinite consequences” (p. 20). Hewitt’s book is for those looking to make a difference in the second-order battlefields of government, business, and culture by using their abilities “to protect and extend religious liberty . . . protecting America from its enemies and extending the influence of Western democracy around the globe” (p. ix).
Hewitt is concerned about the trend in recent decades of Christians abandoning the serious pursuit of success in the world. Instead, many have chosen to devote their lives to ministry. Hewitt acknowledges the overriding importance of this kind of work and applauds the efforts of those committed to it. He reserves his criticism for Christians who have disengaged from the world to seek shelter in the imagined insulation of church life or have adopted bifurcated lives in which their spiritual beliefs hold no sway over their careers. These men and women have opted for a less strenuous path, away from the battlefields of first- or second-order significance. Hewitt hopes to inspire those with talent and skill to use the gifts God has given them to serve Him where it counts.
In, But Not Of provides useful counsel along these lines. The practical tips it contains are most relevant for folks in their twenties and thirties. Still, even someone in his early forties like me could stand to be reminded about the importance of building relationships, practicing humility, and cultivating the discipline of deepening one’s expertise while broadening one’s interests. In fact, this blog is a result of my taking Hewitt’s advice.
Nonetheless, the book’s focus is on one’s walk in the world—not on one’s Christian walk. That’s okay so long as the reader continuously keeps the larger context in mind. But it’s easy to let the “big battle” fade into the background. Without this context to frame it, much of Hewitt’s advice can be inadvertently taken as self-serving. There are reminders about taking time to grow spiritually as one scales the rungs of ambition on the ladder of success, but readers just beginning this climb could easily get the impression that such concerns are secondary to the long-term accumulation of influence. The chapter advising career-builders to join a church and participate in a community of believers seems like a special plea. Should talented, ambitious followers of Christ require persuasion and prodding to worship God on a regular basis?
Thankfully, this book is not Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. To be sure, Hewitt clearly wants to channel young Christians to pursue influence as a means to a worthy end. But his emphasis on preparing for and pursuing secular success as a Christian makes one’s Christianity seem like an “add-on” rather than the central idea that underpins, organizes, and drives everything a believer envisions, strives for, and eventually produces. In this regard, In, But Not Of suffers by comparison to, say, Darrow Miller’s LifeWork in which one’s Christian faith serves as the basis for a distinctively Christian calling—a “lifework”—done explicitly, directly, and fully to advance the kingdom of God. (And Miller’s is not a book written specifically for pastors or full-time missionaries.)
Finally, Hewitt’s intended readership seems a bit exclusive. He didn’t write this book for the woman who finished in the top third of her class at a state university and aspires to be a special education teacher . . . or the young man who worked hard to attain B’s and C’s in high school and then sets out to become the best police officer in his county. Hewitt’s book is meant for the guys and girls heading off to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton after graduating at the head of their class while serving as editors of high school newspapers and becoming fluent in French during their spare time. Maybe a lot of these obvious candidates for future success and influence have failed to excel spiritually. Maybe they haven’t quite gotten the point about what being a Christian means. If so, then these kids do, in fact, need to read a book like this one. In, But Not Of will provide them with helpful guidelines for achieving success in a generally godly way. Whether or not they will become inspired to pursue God’s purpose for their lives (and careers) is less certain. Though rich with “tactical” advice, the book’s strategic vision is not as developed as it should be. Moreover, it lacks a compelling framework that ties both levels together to encourage the pursuit of a life lived wholly and productively for God. Read it with those shortcomings in mind.