Yea. I Think Gladwell is Wrong in David and Goliath

By | books, leadership | 3 Comments


Malcom Gladwell just released a new and soon to be popular book, David and Goliath. Here is what is being said already:

“In the tradition of Gladwell’s previous bestsellers—The Tipping Point, Blink,
Outliers and What the Dog Saw—David and Goliath draws upon history,
psychology, and powerful storytelling to reshape the way
we think of the world around us.”

Gladwell’s ideas are shaping a lot of people. This book along with its main idea was just given out to around 13,000 ‘Christian’ leaders at the recent Catalyst conference, therefore, I feel it could use a good examination.

First, I think that Gladwell is a great writer. He wouldn’t be writing for the New Yorker if he was a bad writer or a bad researcher. He asks great questions and I enjoy his books and ideas. He is smart. He pushes many to think and that is a great thing.

The big idea behind his latest book and main selling point for it is the story from the Bible about David defeating the warrior Goliath. But this story isn’t being portrayed in the typical fashion that both Christians and non-Christians are used to. For centuries, people have interpreted that David, the lowly shepherd boy with a huge amount of courage, takes down the big giant, Goliath. It is commonly used to describe any relationship or competition involving the big and strong versus the little and weak. However, Gladwell argues that Goliath was actually the weaker person in the match against David. What he is attempting to convey is that David actually had the upper hand. He argues that David had all the skills to defeat a giant that actually was dumb and blind. After listening carefully to Gladwell’s TED talk and then reading the story in the Bible, I have arrived at a different conclusion. Unlike David’s Stone, I think Gladwell’s new idea on David and Goliath severely misses the mark.  But this is not because of who was strong and who was weak.

Gladwell argues that throughout history, everyone has always said that Goliath was the stronger opponent, yet David was skilled in sling throwing and knew that he, in fact, was better than the giant. Gladwell urges anyone who feels that they are weaker, misfit or outcast to rethink their abilities and realize that they might actually be strengths. Likewise, he encourages a closer look at the giants in our lives to find that they have more weaknesses upon closer investigation. Now these points are not necessarily bad. There are many people who have incredible gifts and talents but don’t believe in themselves. It is good to remind them to believe in themselves. However, as we encourage people to be confident and reach their full potential we have to tread carefully.

Here’s why.

There is a very real aspect of the story of David and Goliath that Gladwell does not mention. At all. It is found nowhere in his talks or in his book.

The role of God.

Yet the Bible makes sure to point it out. It is pointed out very clearly.

The story of David and Goliath takes place in 1 Samuel 17. In verse 37, as David is explaining to King Saul why he can go fight Goliath, here is what he says:

The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and
the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul then replies to David.

“Go, and the Lord be with you.”

These aren’t figures of speech. These guys knew that God was with them.

Now, do people have giant problems and need inspiration? Absolutely.
Should people work hard and fight against all odds in anything they do? Yes.
Do people need inspiration and someone to cheer us on? Totally.

However, the argument in Gladwell’s interpretation of this story is that David was stronger and that he did the work. He argues that David defeated Goliath.  On his own.  He argues that he was actually better than Goliath (which depending on your point of view could true but is beside my point).  Therefore, Gladwell argues that any “underdogs” should recognize that they have the strength, skills and smarts within them to defeat the giants in their lives.

This concept is not necessarily a bad thing at all.  Who doesn’t want to be told that they have hidden strengths, or that they can do something great?  This concept, although good, can lead to very dangerous territory for the Christian. This concept can lead to humanism. Humanism may sound harmless, and even good, but it is not. It is woven into many inspirational stories throughout the ages that seem great. This is why Christians must be very careful.

I am convinced that the greatest threat to the Gospel of Jesus is humanism. Humanism says that we can become great on our own and achieve righteousness. It says that deep inside the human spirit is the answer. What makes this threat even more potent is that this concept is permeating Christianity in very real ways. It weaves itself into our greatest endeavors even as we work to make ourselves better and spread God’s love. We are motived to do great things for God. We want to feed the poor, to rescue the captives, to give water to the thirsty. All great things!  But what if all the while we are working for God but really only wanting to make our name, our brand, or our organization great?  Or what if it is to prove ourselves worthy?

Lets say we did it. We fed everyone. No-one was thirsty. What then? Would we then look at ourselves and pat ourselves on the back? Would we look at our own achievements and marvel at our greatness? It seems a bit absurd and easy to dismiss in such basic sentences, but has this not become our attitude? The reason people are so enamored with Gladwell’s new idea is reason enough. We are concerned more about our glory then God’s. We are concerned with making ourselves worthy.  Both attitudes are evil.

Consider another Biblical story in Genesis 11.

Here, the people of the city of Shinar look at each other and want to build themselves a city, to make something awesome.

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city,
with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that
we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise
we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’”

And look what happened.

“So the Lord scattered them from there over all
the earth, and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel—because there the
Lord confused the language of the whole world.
From there the Lord scattered them over
the face of the whole earth.”

God scattered them.

Realize that God is not threatened by our ability. He looks down upon humanity and sees that the people are going to make something awesome and are going to start worshipping themselves. God says that is not okay. God is concerned about His glory. Not yours. Not mine. God is the main character of the story of mankind. We are not. God owns all the silver and all the gold. (Haggai 2:8)

Gladwell misses this cornerstone fact in his evaluation of David and Goliath. Yes, David was smart. He was good looking. He was weathered and ruddy and experienced. However, it is clear that David knows that God is the one who gave Him victory. God defeated Goliath. God allowed David to train as he watched the sheep. God allowed David the opportunity to face Goliath. God allowed the stone to bring the giant down.

If we are going to be in fellowship with God, we have to recognize that we bring nothing. Stop right there with your strength tests and your skill sets. We bring nothing. We must remember this, especially when we aspire to be better and do great things. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do great things in our lives or for God. But we cannot neglect this truth. Self help is not bad until it replaces God. God is the main character. God is the most important. He will share His glory with no one else. (Isaiah 42:8)

The other day I heard a great song by Matt Maher that goes along perfectly with what I am trying to say.  Here are a few of the lyrics:

“Lord, I Need You”

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You


Is the attitude of this song true in our lives or deep down do we think that we have what it takes on our own without God?

Have you become a “christian humanist”?


The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and
the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”