Film and Book Reviews

Enlivening but limited exploration of 'more' mantra

BookThere Is More: When the World Says You Can't, God Says You Can by Brian Houston (Vintage Books, 2018)

By Bob Mitchell

December 10 2018If you want to dream big, and discover the “more” that God wants to do in your life, then There Is More is targeted at you.

It vigorously explores this theme in 14 short chapters which are then broken down further into smaller topical reflections. The prose is conversational and easy to read, being intended for popular consumption.

This book is not aimed at Bible scholars or those seeking a deep exploration of a theology of calling. Many of the anecdotes are about the emergence of the global Hillsong movement under the leadership of the author, Brian Houston, giving the work a semi-autobiographical thread.

The strap line “When the world says you can’t, God says you can” reflects the book’s exhortatory posture. Bible references and exegesis are loose and are coupled with an annoying tendency to select whichever Bible translation appears conducive to the argument. The frequent vignettes referencing the extraordinary rise of Hillsong may at times come across (unintentionally) as hubristic.

The book is to be commended for encouraging Christians to reflect critically on their own ministry and giftedness. This is something every follower of Jesus should do regularly. It certainly contains useful teaching, some appropriately nuanced, and provides an important basis for self-reflection. While its exuberant style may not be to your liking, the book imbues a spirit of optimism and new possibilities that will be enlivening for many.

Weighing against these positives, There Is More does not adequately deal with critically important topics like lament, struggle, and ministry failure. Its basic response is to exhort an ever-greater commitment to staying the course and overcoming.

It is undeniable that each one of us can do better in our personal Christian walk and ministry. This truth lays the foundation for an unremitting plea to visionary thinking, greater faithfulness, and spiritual imagination. The reader is implored to discover the “more” that God has always had in store. If only we could all dream big, stay the distance, and overcome! This invitation to self-actualisation is made within the warm glow of Christian positivity and the constant refrain of “more, more, more” expressed in terms of ministry blessing and impact.

The author is careful not to lapse into the heresy of prosperity teaching, unlike in his previous writings (for example, You Need More Money, Hillsong, 2000). Nonetheless, the connection is made between personal faith and blessing in terms of “abundance” and “overflow” in whatever form that might take. There are chapters on how to deal with roadblocks and obstacles. One criticism is that the discourse does not adequately distinguish between unhelpful self-doubt on the one hand, and a critical self-awareness of one’s own limitations on the other.

It is clear that Houston is not comfortable with the notion of ordinariness. This simply does not fit his aspirational narrative. Yet, for many disciples of Jesus, their greatness in Christ is expressed in faithfully following low, humble and even mundane paths. To this extent the book may be a solution in search of a problem. On several occasions I found myself juxtaposing the author’s call to greatness with Paul’s counsel to be content in all circumstances.

Yes, God does raise up leaders, statesmen, thinkers, and even spiritual entrepreneurs. That said, God also raises up ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds and calls them without fanfare into a lifetime of patient service. This should not be confused in any way with acceptance of mediocrity. Does the mantra of ‘more’ end up diminishing these more ordinary contributions?

Houston’s thesis is presented as universal and normative. I am still trying to figure out how the book’s aspirational tone truly fits with the inconvenient notions of Christian suffering, persecution or even martyrdom.

There are those who will loudly extol the virtues of this book, and I can definitely see the positives in it. We should all learn to look higher and seek divine inspiration more often. If this work does result in greater reflection on giftedness and service, as I expect it will, then it will have achieved a worthwhile purpose. I suspect though that a good many other Christians will find that the message of this book somewhat misses the mark.

The Revd Dr Bob Mitchell is CEO of Anglican Overseas Aid.