Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: HOW TO INHERIT THE EARTH – Scott Bessenecker. [Vol. 3, #5]

“The Difficult Work of Obedience”

A Review of
How to Inherit the Earth:
Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior
by Scott A. Bessenecker.

Reviewed by Ragan Sutterfield.

How to Inherit the Earth:
Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior
Scott A. Bessenecker.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

HOW TO INHERIT THE EARTH - Scott BesseneckerWhen I first began reading Scott Bessenecker’s How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior I kept asking the question, “What would Nietzsche say?”  Bessenecker’s book is about servanthood and meekness, and Nietzsche is brilliant at helping unmask all of the ways we use service and meekness as power plays.  When Bessenecker talks about those who “could live in mansions” and “instead live in shacks” I wondered, “what would Nietzsche say?”  When he talks about people turning down “illustrious careers to care for someone in need” I wonder, “what would Nietzsche say?”  I wondered this not because I don’t think that meekness and servanthood are unimportant, but because I know my own tendency to turn meekness and servanthood into a means by which to gain power and pride.  Becoming CEO of a multinational or owner of a newly built McMansion are not interesting to me (and probably not a temptation for most of Bessenecker’s readers), but being known as someone who has given it all up for the poor certainly is.  Nietzsche would have us ask if meekness isn’t really just a clever and deceptive way to gain power.  I think we must answer that it certainly is and that Bessenecker’s book doesn’t do enough to unmask all of the ways in which we might use our meekness to feed our egos.  Thankfully, though, as I read on through the book the Nietzsche questions began to recede and Bessenecker’s words began to penetrate my heart with a critique of my own pride-filled ego.  His central question gets far beyond Nietzsche because it isn’t a question of whether or not I want to be a servant, but whether or not I am willing to truly, fundamentally submit.  To that question my mind says yes, and my heart says very loudly, no!

Bessenecker begins the book by tracing the ways in which the way of the world looks very much like the game MONOPOLY – the goal is to get control of everything.  This requires us to be masters not slaves; we must put everything under our push for domination.  But this, according to the way of Jesus, is not the way to inherit the earth.  In order to inherit the earth, Jesus tells us, we must be meek.  “The reason that the meek will inherit the earth,” writes Bessenecker, “is that they are naturally disposed to use power in the way it was designed by God to be used – as a guard for the weak and to preserve the common good – in contrast to those with MONOPOLY power, who consolidate wealth and status in a single set of hands at the expense of everyone else.” Bessenecker points out that the word here is “inherit” not “possess” or “conquer.”  The meek are about to inherit the earth because they have submitted to the One to whom it belongs.

Meekness, for Bessenecker, is about downward mobility, becoming a slave to all.  Anyone who has grown up in the faith has heard all of this of course, but how we become a slave to all is the tricky business.  For many in the church this means becoming a leader (I mean a servant-leader) over all.  Bessenecker wisely points out how many Christian books there are on leadership and how few there are on slavery and servanthood.  Servanthood itself is such an uncommon concept that both Bessenecker’s and my spell-checkers won’t accept it as a compound word.

To become a true slave of all Bessenecker says that we must put to death our pride, repent of our ill gotten goods, submit, stop comparing, give up our entitlements, and obey.  Giving up goods and all is fine, but obedience and submission are terribly uncomfortable concepts and as Bessenecker wisely explores both I found myself with a new realization of how far I have to go to truly be a servant.

How to Inherit the Earth is a welcome anecdote to a culture obsessed with leadership and independence.  As Bessenecker outlines the ways of submission and death to pride you will find yourself cringing, at least I did.  This is a wise book and we would all do well to submit to its lessons, remembering all the time how our egos might be fed by the very thing we are doing to stop them.  This book would be perfect Lenten reading and will prepare you well for the resurrection life of Easter.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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One Comment

  1. Exceptional comment! Loved it!!