A Theology for Losers
There is a new #1 national best-seller at your newsstand. It’s called Trump: the Art of the Deal. It’s the story of Donald Trump, a self-made billionaire and the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. One newspaper wrote of him, “Cary Grant has his accent; Clark Gable has his pencil mustache, Donald Trump has his money and power, and like other romantic heroes, he knows what to do with them…. We are swept into the romance.” Other newspapers have made pungent comments concerning Trump. One wrote, “Donald Trump is a deal maker. He is a deal maker the way lions are carnivorous and water is wet.” Another said, “He is the latest of a breed unique to this decade – a superstar member of the business world. Trump: The Art of the Deal may be worthwhile just for the insight it gives on life in the big league.” Still another newspaper suggested, “America’s most glamorous tycoon reveals his successful game plan….” The Washington Post called the book “the most down to earth… guide to making a billion you will ever read.”
Donald Trump is intelligent, handsome, powerful, popular, and rich. And nothing is wrong with those attributes if they are not wed to pride. He has a beautiful, activist wife and three children he apparently adores. Trump owns some of the most spectacular property in the world – much of it in New York City – as well as a number of prestigious gambling casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He is involved in spectacular financial deals throughout the world and has acknowledged that he has more money than he will ever need. For, Trump, it is simply the thrill of the deal, the satisfaction of the success. He has three homes that evidently almost defy description. And among his toys are a $14 million unrivaled pleasure yacht, a Boeing 727 private jet, and a helicopter that commutes him regularly between his business ventures in New York and Atlantic City. If money can buy it and Trump wants it, he possesses it.
Within his circle of friends are many of the most successful business tycoons of the world, government officials, show business celebrities, and superstar athletes. He is surrounded with glamour. In the eyes of the world, Trump is rich, powerful, and successful. His life is bigger than life. It is the things that fairy tales are made of. He is brash, proud, in some ways conservative, and confrontational. There is even some benevolence in his life, thrown in for good measure. Trump does not live life – he attacks it, and with an evident disregard for death. Trump is the epitome of worldly success – a man to emulate in the minds of the “high rollers” and the incarnate fruition of the ideal fantasy in the minds of the multitudes. He apparently wants to be viewed as complex and unpredictable – a man of mystery, an asset in the world of high finance and big deals. But his very public life, evidently made so by choice, is very predictable. Trump appears to exhibit the quintessence of what the Bible calls “pride.”
For Donald Trump and his “Art of the Deal,” bigger is better, and success is its own vindicator. But Trump is not alone. He is a microcosm of the dominant value of this unregenerate world system. This article is not an attack upon Donald Trump as an individual but on his representation of this age in general. If it’s bigger, the world says it must be better. And if it’s successful (as men count success), that is its own stamp of approval.
There is nothing innately wrong with bigness, and success may be a legitimate measure of achievement. But bigger is not necessarily better; success is not necessarily an indication of divine approval; and acceptance by one’s peers is not necessarily a confirmation of correctness.
To God, what men call large may be small; what men call success may be failure; what men accept He may reject.
Vince Lombardi, a great and gifted football coach, once said, “Winning is not everything, it’s the only thing.” When his life was cut short by cancer, there was only one important issue. Did he know God? Was he a citizen of Heaven? At moments like that, win-lose ratios are not important. Neither are wealth, power, prestige, and popularity. At such moments, one question emerges as preeminent: Did he walk humbly before his Creator?
Bigness, success, wealth, power, prestige, glamour – in the scheme of eternity, such things are less than fleeting soap bubbles which float leisurely by, entice with their prism of colors, and then quickly burst.
For those who know not the God of the Bible, to make a big issue over “soap bubbles” is understandable – that may well be the sum of their pleasure throughout eternity. Such men should not be exalted as heroes to emulate. They are to be prayed for as souls to be saved. For the believer to be smitten with the deadly virus which suggests that bigger is better and success is an indicator of divine blessing is a tragic mistake. Wealth and health do not necessarily reflect God’s blessing, and poverty and sickness do not necessarily reflect His displeasure.
Concerning the things of this world, Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are in it, shall be burned up. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:10-11). One day God is simply going to speak the word, and the things of this world are going to be dissolved—bigness, glitz, glamour, wealth, and power won’t mean much in that day.
How terribly important for the true Church to realize, as it approaches the 10th decade of the 20th century, that God is not looking for “superstar” pastors – He’s looking for faithful servants. God is not looking for popular Christian entertainers – He’s looking for faithful servants. God is not looking for wealthy Christian businessmen who can aid His cause – He’s looking for faithful servants. God is not looking for the famous athlete, the show business celebrity, the brilliant scholar, or the “reformed” politician – He’s looking for faithful servants. (When will Christian leaders realize the harm of taking “famous” novices and using them to draw crowds to meetings?)
One day God appeared to Joshua and said, “Moses, my servant, is dead” (Josh. 1:2). God was not looking for someone to fill Moses’ shoes. He was looking for an ordinary man who was willing to be a faithful servant. Joshua took the job. And, nearing the end of his life, he reiterated what had characterized his life. He said to the leaders of Israel, “choose you this day whom ye will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Josh. 24:15).
Had men been left to write the epitaph of Moses, they probably would have written, “Moses, the Lawgiver, is dead”; or “Moses, the miracle worker, is dead”; or “Moses, the judge of Israel, is dead.” But when God wrote the epitaph of Moses, He simply said, “Moses, my servant, is dead.” The complementary commentary on Moses in the New Testament is this: “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant” (Heb. 3:5). God is not looking for great men but ordinary men who have great faith. Someone has said, “If God calls a man to be a servant, he should not stoop to be a king.” And if greatness arises, God has done it, and the glory is His alone.
Oh, how reversed the roles will be one day. The pastor who faithfully shepherded his little flock, kept teaching God’s Word, and refused to quit in the midst of adversity – he will be big in the sight of God. The obscure missionary who gave her life for service in some distant land – she will be big in the sight of God. That senior citizen who sacrificially gave of his limited sustenance for the cause of Christ from a pure heart – he will be big in the sight of God. That unheralded believer who had a ministry of intercession that breached the portals of Heaven on behalf of others – she will be big in the sight of God. That timid soul who found within divine power to share his faith – he will be big in the sight of God. Those things will endure into eternity.
Somehow the Church has gotten its priorities all confused. It’s not bigness; it’s not success; it’s not power; it’s not popularity; it’s not glitz and glamour; it’s not how beautiful your sanctuary is, how many buses you run, how many attend your Sunday school, how much your church grew this year, how many you baptized, how many decisions were made for Christ, or how big your budget was – it’s faithfulness. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Fruitfulness must be left with God.
Perhaps nowhere is faithfulness more graphically presented than in Hebrews chapter 11. Following the listing of a host of ordinary men and women who did extraordinary exploits through faith, the Apostle Paul made this observation:
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets, Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again (Heb. 11:32-35a).
What a display of greatness and victory: Gideon and his band of 300; Barak, brilliant military leader under the Prophetess Deborah; Samson, who defeated the Philistines; Jephthah, who delivered his brethren from the Ammonites; David, who slew Goliath; Samuel, brilliant leader who judged Israel; and the prophets, ordinary men who accomplished extraordinary deeds. These men of biblical antiquity are honored and applauded for their accomplishments, and they should be. But Paul wasn’t finished yet. He spoke of “others” and defined them this way:
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (Heb. 11:36-37).
Some men of faith – like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel – did great exploits. They were big and successful. But other men of equal faith were mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, tested, slain with the sword, destitute, afflicted, and tormented. They weren’t big; they weren’t successful – not as men measure success. As a matter of fact, we don’t even know their names. The world would call them losers. But speaking of those “others,” God’s commentary was this: “Of whom the world was not worthy.” (Heb. 11:38). What glorious commendation from the Sovereign of the universe. Thank God for the great heroes of the faith, men like Gideon, Barak, and David. But thank God too for the “others.” These all – the heroes and the not-so-well-knowns – “obtained a good report through faith” (Heb. 11:39).
Big is not necessarily better. And success is not necessarily measured by notoriety and human achievement.
The Church should leave bigness and success as measuring sticks for the unregenerate world.
For the child of God, there is but one criterion: Faithfulness to his sovereign Lord, wherever that faithfulness may lead, to notoriety or obscurity – it makes no difference.
But what of the attitude of multitudes that is centered on “mammon,” bigness, and success? In a familiar story, Jesus taught us well:
And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no place to bestow my crops? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease. Eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Lk. 12:16-21).
What the Church desperately needs today is a theology for losers – a theology for men and women who may not achieve success, as men count success; a theology that does not worship at the shrine of notoriety, bigness, and success; a theology that understands God does not normally speak through the whirlwind, but the everyday, ordinary occurrences of life.
For the child of God, it is not “The Art of the Deal.” It is the obedience of faith, wherever that faith my lead.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written before Time put Donald Trump on the cover of its January 16, 1989 issue.