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February 15, 2024
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March 14, 2024

Shaped by Books: Personal Reflections

by Elie Haddad

Unquestionably, there is no book that has shaped my life like the Bible, God’s written word. No contest. However, God also uses many other spiritual and theological books to deepen my understanding of Him and His word, to challenge my preconceptions, and to spur me into action. Essentially, these books help shape my thinking and practice. The way I look at it, just like God uses many men and women we know to impact our walk with Him, through books He also uses men and women we do not know and have never met to shape our faith.

What inspired me to make these reflections is the passing away of Henry Blackaby earlier this month. His book Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, written in 1990, became a landmark discipleship tool among churches and discipleship groups for many decades. It sold eight million copies in English and was translated to many languages including Arabic. Without personally knowing me, Henry has shaped my ministry calling and my life of obedience. I probably would not have been where I am today had it not been for him. Several times in my life, as my wife and I led discipleship groups using Henry’s Experiencing God, God used the book and the fellow disciples to prime us when we were about to face major life decisions.

At the end of one of these Experiencing God discipleship groups, I ended up in seminary. I was in the corporate world in Canada not ever thinking about studying theology. That decision, mid-life at the age of 40, proved to be a major shift in the trajectory of my life. At the end of another Experiencing God discipleship group five years later, my wife and I ended up returning to Lebanon. That was another major shift in the trajectory of my life and ministry.

I find it intriguing that God used Blackaby’s material to prepare me for making big decisions. It contains no complex theological concepts, but it is brilliant in its simplicity and directness in a way that elicits a response. Here is an example: “Two words in the Christian’s language cannot go together: ‘No, Lord.’ If you say ‘no,’ He is not your Lord. If He is your Lord, your answer must always be ‘yes.’” Blackaby had the gift of highlighting simple principles and putting them right in front of the reader’s face and begging the question: what are you going to do about this? Another one of my favorites: “God can do anything He pleases through an ordinary person who is fully dedicated to Him.” These are simple yet profound principles that stuck with me.

Blackaby’s book is written for the masses. One need not be a sophisticated theologian for God to use him or her in mighty ways. God can use a simple faith. And God can use a deep and inquisitive faith, too. This is the amazing nature of God, unsearchable. No matter how deep or sophisticated we think we are, there is no end to exploring the depths of God. I believe that this is how we will spend eternity, because it takes an eternity for a finite mind to fathom the depths of an infinite being.

At the beginning of my faith journey, God used many devotional books to shape my life, then I slowly shifted to theological books. Right now, I am being challenged by Michael Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Like with Experiencing God, reading this book is proving to be another life-altering experience, not because of the theories presented but because of the implications of these theories on my life.

Gorman makes the argument that not only Jesus is cruciform, but God is cruciform, too. God is a self-giving God in His nature. We are used to understanding Philippians 2 as meaning that despite Jesus being God, He emptied Himself. Gorman argues that Jesus emptied Himself because He is God. And the fact that Jesus was glorified is not a reinstatement to His previous state as much as it “indicates that God has publicly vindicated and recognized Jesus’ self-emptying and self-humbling as the display of true divinity that he already had, and that makes the worship of Jesus as Lord… perfectly appropriate.”

I find this a fascinating exploration of God’s nature. As expected, some theologians agree with Gorman’s treatment of the topic and others question how God’s cruciformity can be reconciled with His transcendence and sovereignty. This is not an insignificant exploration. If the cross is central in understanding God’s nature, imagine with me the implications of this understanding for our life and practice. The first area that comes to mind, which is of high interest and concern for me, is power.

In traditional understandings, power is often associated with domination, control, and the ability to impose one’s will on others. However, the cruciformity of God challenges this understanding by presenting a different model of power—one that is characterized by self-giving love, humility, and sacrificial service.

I am used to thinking of the self-emptying of Jesus as a utilitarian act to accomplish the work of redemption after which He was restored to glory. But, if this self-emptying, self-giving act is the true representation of the nature of God, then consequently my traditional understanding of power is shaken.

By emphasizing the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s power, theologians like Gorman, Volf, and Moltmann argue that true power is not found in domination but in vulnerability and love. This understanding calls into question the ways in which power is often wielded in our societies, including our churches, and challenges us to reevaluate our understanding of power in light of the cruciform example of Jesus.

What about the implications on leadership? Cruciform leaders may lead with a power-with rather than a power-over mentality, seeking to empower and uplift others rather than dominate or manipulate them. Cruciformity can deeply impact leadership by shaping the leader’s values, actions, and relationships. Leaders who embody cruciformity may seek to transform themselves and the people they lead, aligning their actions and values with those of the cross, which can include principles like love, forgiveness, and redemption. Cruciform leadership can provide a deeper sense of purpose and meaning to leadership. Leaders may see their role not just as achieving goals but also as participating in a larger, more profound story of redemption and service to others.

We tend to think that churches operate best from a position of power. I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine, an expert in advocacy. We were talking about the need to equip the Church in this area. But how do you advocate for the weak and marginalized without forming (power) coalitions and appealing to power structures? Our worldviews and plausibility structures revolve around power. How can we start thinking through cruciform structures instead? This distinction gives me a lot to think about.

The point of these reflections is not to resolve all these complexities but to highlight the importance of books and how life-transforming they can be. I thank God for the many men and women whom He uses to provoke us to live a thoughtful, faithful, and obedient life. My life is so much richer because of them.


Elie Haddad is president of ABTS and is seriously exploring how he can lead following the cruciform example of Jesus.


  1. Mike Kuhn says:

    Thanks for sharing those reflections, Elie. I noted Blackaby’s passing and also remembered the impact his book(s) had on me. I have not read Gorman, but on your recommendation, I’ll look into it. Your application of the “cruciform God” idea to power is paradigm shifting. Thanks again.

  2. Huguette Accad says:

    Beautiful, Thank you Huguette

  3. Dani El Tayar says:

    Thanks Elie for sharing this reflection with us. It is a stirring not only to read, but to understand and apply, argue with yourself and others, and always try to challenge your concepts, understanding and application of that in life. I appreciate that a lot. Salam

    • Elie Haddad says:

      Thank you, Dani. These are important conversations to be had with mission-minded leaders like yourself. I would love to continue the conversation when possible.

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