Gladwell on Power and the Weapons of the Spirit

As Son of God from before the beginning of time, Jesus wielded unfathomable power. Yet he was born in a lowly manger and learned the carpentry trade in a backwater town. According to the apostle Paul, “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Yet when confronted by his betrayer, he put up no fight. He told the apostle Peter, ”For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Malcolm GladwellPower, then, is not always as it seems. That’s the point Malcolm Gladwell and I recently discussed with regard to his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsI spoke with the bestselling author and staff writer for The New Yorker about why he decided to dig deeper into the famous story of David and Goliath.

“There are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish,” he writes in the book, which I have also reviewed. “You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley of Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with the sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine” (274-275).

We discussed several fascinating stories, including the Huguenots in south-central France who harbored Jews during World War II. They defied the French police working for the Nazi occupiers and said, “We make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the gospel teaching.” He told the back story of how he got to know Wilma Derksen, a Mennonite woman who found the courage to forgive the man who tortured and murdered her daughter. In the process we observed the striking difference between law and grace in responses to suffering.

Finally, I urge you to listen for our conversation about how authorities with power and privilege game the system against the weak. As you’ll hear from the 30-minute interview, Christians today can learn a few tricks from the civil-rights marches 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Indeed, the weapons of the Spirit triumph over the ways of the world.

You can stream the full interview below, download the mp3, or subscribe to TGC’s podcast on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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  • Moe Bergeron

    A most delightful interview! Thank you Collin and thank your guest.

  • Tim A


    Gladwell is a great writer and that was a nice interview, but I have some concerns about how much it might appear that TGC is endorsing his book.

    I have not read the book, but I heard his TED talk on David and Goliath. Gladwell believes there was nothing miraculous about the battle between David and Goliath and hints that the bible gives a false picture that Goliath had the advantage in the fight.

    • Cliff

      Hi Tim,

      I agree as well. My friend told me about the story through Gladwell’s book. I told him that it seems the key character of the story is missing, God. David defeated Goliath not because of his might or his strength. David believed that if God could deliver him from lion and bear, God will help him smite Goliath (1 Samuel 17:37).

      There’s nothing wrong with digging the historic facts. Though I would say Gladwell’s description of the story is more a theory (though a very compelling one) than historic facts.

      • Collin Hansen

        Good point, Tim. That’s also how I concluded my review of the book.

  • Ellen

    This is a much-needed word to us as believers about the nature of power. It would be great to hear another interview discussing how this truth plays out in the ugliness of the political arena.

  • Robert Merrill

    I haven’t read Gladwell’s book, but I’m not sure it’s an either/or between David knowing how to fight this fight his way, not Saul’s way or Goliath’s way, and God’s hand in it all.

    God had prepared David for this moment, and no one but David knew it. As evidence that David wasn’t just relying on a miracle, I submit 1 Samuel 17:40, “He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself FIVE smooth stones from the brook…”

  • Isaac Beard

    I am a HUGE Malcolm Gladwell fan, BUT I am bothered by his foray into any religious conversation, simply because he used the title “David and Goliath”. While there are some very interesting analogies and parallels drawn in the book, the entire book is predicated on a rediculous set of assumptions about the historical account of David and Goliath.

  • Michael Snow

    “… the weapons of the Spirit triumph over the ways of the world.”
    Amen. Something about which Charles Spurgeon was also clear:

  • Favian Ee

    I just listened to Gladwell’s TED talk last night, and found it quite disturbing that he makes a lot of logical, factual, historical and exegetical errors to support his theories. While his points about David have some good material, a simple reading of 1 Sam 16-17 and comparing it to Gladwell’s allegations (especially about Goliath) will make it clear enough that he makes a load of baseless claims drawn from biased and poor research. He seems to be looking at the whole story from a purely humanistic perspective, and even so through very tinted lenses. I don’t think it’s a good idea for a reputable Christian organization to give him air time to promote his book which has so much eisegesis and biased research.