From time to time, people write me with questions or comments about the book I wrote titled, Rescuing Ambition. These discussions have reminded me of how ambition is so easily misunderstood and often discouraged as a less spiritual endeavor. The Afterword to Rescuing Ambition talks a bit about my spiritual journey with ambition and how I concluded that God wanted to ‘rescue’ it from the clutches of ambivalent Christianity. This is Part 2 of that Afterword. May it inspire your desire to do great things for God! – Dave
Ultimately only our belief in objective truth—and the hopeful journey toward it—can produce individuals and societies who are courageous, industrious, and enterprising. Without it, we slide into what D. A. Carson calls “a world without heroes.” Where objective truth is denied—where there’s no meaning, no greater truth, nothing bigger than ourselves—ambition suffocates. Progress and community give way to apathy and self.
Nobody set out to murder ambition. But that was the effect. While many in previous generations were often driven by selfish ambition, today we face a different issue—a generation of young men and women missing the adventure of aspiration. Transcendent vision is lost. The engine of ambition lies silent.
Not long ago I heard a radio interview with a Christian college professor contrasting college students today with those of the past. Decades ago incoming freshmen were marked by their pride—they could (and would) become the leaders, the change agents, the innovators for industry, government, and commerce. Their ideas would influence society and determine the course of civilization. It was class after class of proud, hungry, ambitious students.
But over the years the professor detected a distinct shift. Freshmen classes morphed into something else. Gone was the drive to succeed—to aspire to a better life. Replacing it was only the impulse for simple comfort. The professor related how many in this generation have drives and dreams reaching no further than their own ease. There’s no cause gripping them, no quest inspiring their imagination. It’s not simply the loss of initiative. It’s that ambition itself is on life support and gasping for breath.9
Colleges aren’t the problem; they simply reflect the problem. In a culture fogged over by postmodernism, sadly drive, reason, and argument lie dormant. The future isn’t intentionally snuffed out; postmodernism just hangs a “Do Not Disturb” sign over doors of opportunity.
Few risk the hassle of knocking. Fewer still exert the energy to walk expectantly through the door. We go get a latte instead.
Reclaiming the Future
Unknowingly influenced by these cultural trends, the church is undergoing a slow, painless atrophy. The organ of ambition—the God-implanted drive to improve, produce, develop, create, do things—is neglected and well on its way to paralysis. For some Christians, dreams are numbed. For others, there are no dreams; life just happens.
Os Guinness says it this way:
On the one hand, we are told by a myriad of Christian speakers that we should be thinking about our legacy—the clear knowledge of our contribution after our time on earth. On the other hand, we are told by countless other Christians that ambition is always wrong; synonymous with egotism, it is selfish and quite un-Christian. Both of these positions are wrong. In fact, they are the opposite way around. For as followers of Jesus we can and should be ambitious, but we should never be concerned with our legacies.
To recover this ambition that Guinness says we “can and should” have is the reason I’ve written this book. I wrote it because I don’t want the past robbing us of the future. I don’t want the people I love and the people you love to be conformed to the world’s way of thinking about today and tomorrow.
As Christians, there’s much in the past that we love, but we’re also called to the future. It’s a future secured by the cross and commissioned by the Savior. A future both given and grabbed, protected and pursued. It’s our future if we dare to believe God’s promises.
That future is too important to put off until tomorrow. We must dream about it today.
I believe God wants ambition back in our understanding of godliness and spiritual health. Sure, let’s not fail to evaluate our motives and strive for humility—that’s essential. But let’s not be paralyzed by self-analysis.
God calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). He calls us to run it in such a way that we win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24), to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13), to invest our talents wisely (Matt. 25:14–30), and to be a people “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Those are biblical ways to exclaim, “Keep the pistons of ambition pumping for God!”
Let’s not just kick-start a conversation. Let’s move into the future expecting that God can use us to make a difference.
That’s why I wrote this book.