Why I Give Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous a Mixed Review

Why I Give Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous a Mixed Review October 3, 2012

It’s not often we get to critique something done by an anonymous person — well, come to think of it, I suppose we give mixed reviews of such people all the time. The idiot who set up the construction barrels in a confusing way on the expressway, the moron who didn’t reserve the right hotel room for us, or the nameless mechanic who obviously didn’t check our oil when we took it in 7 months ago.

Ya, I guess we critique anonymous people all the time. But few have written a book about intentionally embracing obscurity and then intentionally left out their name to make the point. Who does that?

Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous, published by B & H Publishing hits the shelves this week. And I have wrestled with it for the last few weeks as — true confession — I found some of it rather convicting. Check out the book trailer here:

My review? Mixed.

Maybe undecided would be better. I was left with some questions but uncertain to whom I should address them. I felt a little like the hapless victim of a drive-by verbal paintball attack that left a few stinging welts, a lot of soul-searching messes to clean up, and an exasperated “What the — !” to the tune of squealing tires and a quick glimpses of the rear end of a rusting and fading Toyota.

What I Liked

First, why the sting? The book ably — and Biblically — calls us to humility in a way that few do these days. It gives a clear reminder that God’s plan is not ultimately all about me or you. As he puts it (hints in the book suggest the author is both male and a father):

Embracing obscurity is not about wiping ourselves from existence but rather, voluntarily becoming nothing in light of everything God has promised us. Why? So we can bring Him greater glory. It’s about making Him, not ourselves, look good.

The author’s soul-baring reflection on his own journey resonated with me as I have recently launched by faith into full-time ministry to write, speak, and create resources to help Christians think, live, and lead with abundant faith. And if people don’t know me, I can’t help them. Hence the tension between becoming known and becoming nothing so that God becomes everything.

The book is loaded not only with convicting Scripture but also with sound exegesis of the passages. There’s a depth in the doctrine here that is often lacking in modern Evangelical writing. Some of my favorite passages included a call to unplug from social media with a warning to consider what we let define us. His chapter on what does make us significant — you’ll have to read it to find out — is a good one, as is his stinging rebuke of Christians who embrace a secular business model to define success.

What Gave Me Pause

Nevertheless, my chief concern throughout the book was that the author seemed to be arguing that embracing obscurity was in itself a noble pursuit. In other words, the chief end of man is to ensure you don’t get noticed since you are but one in 7 billion and really worth nothing apart from God’s saving grace. He even acknowledges that such thinking is “a downer.”

But it reminded me to reflect once again on the classic essay by C.S. Lewis entitled “The Weight of Glory.” In it, Lewis warns that embracing obscurity — or as he calls it unselfishness — is not, in fact, the chief virtue, though it is emphasized by modern Christianity:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love.

Lewis goes on to argue that putting ourselves down doesn’t actually help anyone else. He claims, “The notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing…has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.”

The fact is that often the natural reward for being authentically concerned with helping people and doing it effectively is that more people will come to know you and want to engage you to get more of your help. The aim, then, is not to become famous, but to love others as Christ loved us. Whether fame or notoriety — or obscurity — should com as a result is really irrelevant. One is not worse or better than the other.

The author does finally address this issue, although not until Chapter 9 in “Embracing the Spotlight.” I suspect many readers will have gotten off the “I am worthless train” by then. He does give wise pointers on remaining humble should the spotlight come and ably warns of what he calls the Saul Syndrome. He hits upon the crux of the matter when he says that “the spotlight isn’t inherently good or evil, but being the center of attention sure carries with it a whole lot of temptation.” Exactly. Which is why so many Christian have historically tried to make a pietistic case for running from it. But as Lewis argues, sometime bearing the burden of the weight of glory requires more humility than embracing obscurity.

As for the writing style itself, I found it a bit forced at times, in its effort to be conversational. The preponderance of long, slightly awkward sentence structures and the heavy use of passive voice caused it to drag at times. But the message cam through, as did the call to humility that , I suppose, can’t be heard often enough these days.

Provided love — and not embracing obscurity — is our chief aim as we fear God and keep His commandments.

A Special Offer

And now, I offer you a free copy of Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous thanks to the generosity of B & H Publishing.  You can visit the book site here. All you have to do is engage in the discussion by answering this question:

How should we best balance this tension between embracing obscurity and Christ’s own call to love others regardless of the fame and spotlight that may  come? Or is there a tension at all?

This question is especially relevant for me as I am currently in Atlanta to attend the Catalyst Leadership conference that will feature a lot of spotlights and speakers.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Leave a comment on this post with your thoughts about this question. The author of the best comment — judged solely by me — submitted by Sunday, October 7 at midnight  will receive a free copy of Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous.
  2. You must also share a link to this post on your favorite social media of choice (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever). We’ll be on the honor system. But I trust you.

Oh, and I am required to tell you by our ever-caring federal government of this Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Apparently, they’re concerned that I would tell you a book is good that really isn’t just because I got free copy. As if I could be bought so esily. So I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Well, what are you waiting for? Leave your comment with a click here and let’s grow together while we give one of you awesome readers a free book!

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  • Jennifer

    I’m looking out my window at a riot of colourful leaves blowing wildly rough the air like colourful rain. The yellow sun is shining in the blue, blue sky. I hear children belly laughing outside. I hear my husband’s voice like a murmur as he counsels a crying woman who has just lost a loved one. The workmen outside are yelling jokes to each other as they fix a roof. My puppy is growling in his sleep. And my son has just breezed in with a slamming door to inhale his lunch while sharing the latest Halo 4 developments with me and has flown back outside with a “see ya!” to get back to his afternoon classes.

    We’re all God’s works of art! I just can’t believe He’d want his work to be hidden or unnoticed. I think the tension lies in HOW we are seen. Are we letting our true selves – one of God’s glorious creations – shine with the inner light he gave us? Or are we letting a false self be seen? Does being small in the grand scheme of things mean we must live small? I think it is wonderfully possible to shine as our true selves while still remaining humble.

    I’ve lived long enough to notice that most human beings crave connection/love above almost anything else. Babies die without it. Most people don’t lie on their deathbeds wishing they’d made that extra million. Many of us regret lost opportunities with family and friends. One of the keystones of true connection lies in being known and loved for who we truly are. And for others to love us for who we are they must be able to SEE us for who we are. I have not read the book you mention and do not know exactly what the obscured author means by “obscure”. My comments are based on the video clip and my dictionary which defines obscure as “dim or dark, hidden or shrouded, unknown”

    Please do not enter me for the book draw as I have no favourite social media 🙂

    Thanks, again, for your interesting and thought provoking posts.

  • 1 Cor 13:5b Love is not self-seeking.
    As much as Christ was in the spotlight on Palm Sunday, on Good Friday all there were four women and one of his followers.

  • Yes, Jesus’s non-obscurity is very striking as well as his servant attitude, i.e., being the least. So those two qualities can go together. If you have found treasure in the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom then one is both humbled and at the same time thrilled to want to share it with others. But if no one knows you are there, how can you pass on the Good News to others! So the lesson is excellent, be humble but be prominent, so that others may benefit from your treasure. Jesus is challenging, then, and most unusual. He claims to be God’s chief man and therefore our leader, but he serves in this exalted capacity with humility. A nice model.
    Trouble is that what we call Christianity is barely recognizable since we have forgotten that Jesus was a Jew citing the Jewish unitarian creed, agreeing with a Jew (Mark 12:28ff.) I don’t hear that unitarian creed in church. So is Christianity, as we know it, the only world religion which begins by discarding its own founder’s creed? I hear much about “going to heaven,” but I heard none of that from Jesus who promised entrance into the coming Kingdom at his return and that we will then inherit the land/earth. So we really ought to try to sound like Jesus and copy his teachings not just mouth our “orthodox” traditions. What if Jesus was actually not “orthodox” at all?

  • Jaime

    no tension. we are called to Love. in loving others, we put others before ourselves. If we follow 1 Corinthians 13, we have no time to exalt ourselves. I dont need the book, I just liked the question.