I recently read an article in the New Yorker called "How David Beats Goliath" by Malcolm Gladwell. I found it fascinating and highly recommend it - you can find it here.
The article uses the experiences of the shepherd boy David, a middle school girls' basketball coach named Vivek Ranadivé, Laurence of Arabia, Rick Patino, and others to show that the "Davids" of the world - the underdogs - can actually have a distinct advantage in competition of conflict if they focus more on effort than skill - more time looking for unconventional approaches than by playing the game as it is normally played.
The premise of the article is that underdogs actually win most of the time when they approach the conflict on their own terms, unconstrained by conventional expectations. Many times, as in the case of the middle school girls' basketball that used a vigorous full court press the entire game, the strategies are not illegal or immoral - they are simply unconventional.
Sometimes, the underdog wins by simply doing what others would never imagine doing themselves. Doug Lenat, a computer scientist from Stanford University, entered the Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron tournament, a huge multiplayer war game, and won two years in a row by allowing his computer program define his strategy before he even got there. It included fielding a huge number of small non-mobile vessels that were easily sunk (but too numerous to defeat) or sinking his own boats when they became disabled. The others in the tournament were shocked and angered by these techniques - they were within the rules - but were far outside the normal expectations of traditional warfare strategists.
Lenat, with zero previous experience or war history knowledge, won twice. He went from being mocked for his lack of conventional approach to being a pariah because he upset the conventions and turned the game on its head. He was asked to leave or the tournament organizers threatened to shut the tournament down. He left.
And that is the catch of being David. You may win - but you will pay a price for that victory. Goliath not only expects to win, but expects to define the rules of how to win. Goliath uses his great size and clout to bring what he hopes is unbearable social pressure on David in order to get him to put down his slingshot and pick up a sword. And even if he wins, he will often wear a crown empty of glory because he did not win it in the conventional way.
Jesus as the Underdog
Think about it - Jesus was God - sure, so to call him an underdog is a bit strange. But that is exactly what he was.
Theologically, he reveals to us that was bound by his own strength. Like the ram caught in the thicket by its horns and was later sacrificed in Isaac's place, Jesus was bound by his strength. His holiness and justice drove him to destroy sin like fire destroys dried wood. It is his nature - he hates sin and must judge it as the abomination that it is.
The crowning achievement of God's creation - mankind, uniquely created in the image of the Creator - is the very one who introduced sin into the world over which he had been set as guardian. God was bound to judge that sin and destroy it in wrath.
And the only way for God to accomplish that was to take the place of the underdog - and to take the unconventional approach. We know the story. The King of Kings chose to be born to in obscure place to unknown parents. He came into the kingdom struggle through the desert - not the palace. He didn't succumb to the temptation to display his power to get his own ends - to play by the rules of the religious establishment - to win friends and influence people.
He took the unconventional route. And as a result he was misunderstood. At first he was an oddity but soon became a threat. He was turning the game on its head and those who ran the game were not appreciative - so pressured him, they trapped him, and ultimately they killed him. They did what their rules told them to do - well, OK, they bent the "rules" - but in bending the rules they thought they could secure victory. Yeah, that didn't work.
Jesus, the true David, slew Goliath not by picking up a sword and playing by the rules, but by using an unconventional approach. Five smooth stones - five wounds out which flowed his life-giving blood. He was an insurgent - but instead of being a suicide bomber who sought to take as much life as possible - he became a suicide savior who died to save us.
And when he rose on the third day - the game was over. He had won. By sacrificing himself in our place, the Righteous God of the Universe judged sin and destroyed its power. By taking that wrath in himself, he won the freedom to forgive us and restore us to the glory he originally intended for us. He was, and continues to be despised - but his glory is real and ours will be too when the rules of this system are suddenly and permanently realigned with Truth.
The Gospel as a Social Construct for Positive Disruption
When Christ left, he entrusted his followers with the good news of this unconventional victory. This good news, this gospel, is the power by which he continues to spread his victory through his lost but loved creation. And, as in the time of Jesus, there are many who misunderstand, mistrust, and sometimes even try to kill the work of underdogs who continue the work of Jesus the Subversive Revolutionary.
But we have been asked specifically to continue that work. Paul put it this way in Philippians 2:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
As we move out on mission with the gospel, there are going to be people - both outside and inside the religious establishment - who are not going to understand what we are doing. Religious people will get offended that we "dine with tax collectors and sinners" and irreligious people will get offended that we actually believe in absolute truth.
This is the challenge of contextualization - of living and sharing the gospel in an authentic way in the culture and with the people group in which we have been planted. But like David, and Jesus, we need to stop asking "how is this done?" or "how do people expect me to do this?" We need to stop asking, "what will get me the most fame and recognition?" or "what will make my circle admire me?" We need to stop thinking like Goliath.
We need to start asking how we can be effective insurgents, working within God's rules but not constrained by man's in order to see the gospel move out most effectively. We need to stop asking "But how much will that cost?" and ask instead, "how can I best lay down my life to win this war?"
Any team can implement the full court press 100% of the time - but they won't pay the price in grueling conditioning (or the loss of respect) in order to do it. Anyone can think outside the box and do things differently than "they have always been done," but not anyone is willing to pay the price of having the insiders look down on them for ignoring their rules.
But if we are going to be truly successful in following Jesus - we must follow as those who are building his kingdom and not our own. We must pick up our cross and die to the praise of men (both inside and outside of the church - both inside and outside of our "movements") and be willing to act as insurgents.