Writing a book on mankind’s inherent desire for glory is a dangerous task. How does one write to reorient humanity’s misguided pursuit of greatness without falling prey to the pitfalls resident in such a goal? One can almost hear the apostle Paul asking, “Who is sufficient for such things?” Surely JR Vassar must have counted the cost and contemplated these risks when he began the ambitious work of seeking both to wound and heal our glory hunger by directing us to the One who designed our innate cravings for greatness. Writing from the perspective of a pastor who is intimately aware of such struggles, Vassar has produced a sermonic guide for the church that is full of transparency, practical applications, and vivid illustrations to help us recapture a biblical perspective of true glory.
Following an introduction, Vassar begins the book with the opening scenes of the Grand Story. Here we find humanity in the presence of God in the Garden of Eden. Vassar skillfully builds the case for how our God-ordained role as God’s image bearers confers upon us “intrinsic dignity and worth” (p. 23). Yet instead of finding our dignity and worth in God, in our rebellion we seek it elsewhere, which leads to an “unnamed ache” in our lives for someone to speak the “very good” of creation over us again. Vassar writes, “Our craving to be visible and valuable to people is really a legitimate and primal pang for what we are meant to have with the ultimate person. Glory hunger is the passion and ache we are born with to have that ‘very good’ spoken over our lives” (p. 24). But the tragic loss of the “very good” pronouncement on account of our rebellion is not final. Vassar writes, “Yet there is hope. Even in the judgment God pronounces upon Adam and Eve, this is a promise that one is coming who will crush the head of the Serpent and overturn this tragic situation” (p. 25). Instead of us “reaching for glory,” glory will “come to us, and it will be his work, not ours” (p. 25).
The rest of the book explores humanity’s failing attempt to grasp for glory in empty places by way of deficient means. “Our ache for glory,” which is “the Genesis memory,” (p. 28) unfortunately manifests itself in “illegitimate and idolatrous” ways (p. 24). In chapter 2, Vassar dramatically portrays the brokenness of both idols and idolaters in the pursuit of glory. In chapter 3, he looks specifically at our inability to rehabilitate ourselves by paralleling our self-efforts with the boulder-pushing futility of Sisyphus. Vassar makes clear that we cannot heal ourselves. In chapter 4, he directs us to freedom from self-absorption through meditation on that which is the “most glorious, most lovely, and supremely valuable”—namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which invites us to “renounce our obsessive concern with ourselves” (pp. 61, 64).
In chapter 5, the attention turns from our failings to our focus on the value of God. Vassar writes, “I’ve realized that God will make me happy by filling up my world with pictures of him so that I lose my preoccupation with myself and feel the wonder and awe for which I am really hungry” (p. 79). Chapter 6 acknowledges Christ in his rightful place—the center stage of the cosmos (p. 88). Vassar writes, “The happiest people are those who are free from personal glory hunger and refuse to compete with God for glory” (p. 98). Chapter 7 reminds us that “the worth and preeminence of Jesus” are to be treasured more than our social acceptance (p. 112). In the final chapter, Vassar champions the expulsive power of eschatological perception. He writes, “A vision of the glory to be revealed can liberate us from the glory hunger that keeps us quiet and cowering in and often hostile world that needs to be confronted with the love and lordship of Jesus” (p. 123) He closes by appealing to his readers to be “hungry for the glory that comes from God” while seeking “glory for others and not for themselves” (pp. 128–29).
This book represents a well-written, perfectly timed, and merciful antidote for the church of our day. Our selfie-plagued, instagrammed culture is permeated by ubiquitous and shameless examples of self-promotion. Sadly, the central place in society where Christ is to be valued and cherished above all others has become a platform for many narcissistic personalities. Instead of extolling the merits of Jesus, it would appear that some “church leaders” were more concerned with extolling their brand equity or latest book. So I close with a question: In light of Vassar’s tremendous work, how can the evangelical church stop perpetuating the “celebrity culture” that is ravaging many churches and exchange it for a culture of gospel-embracing greatness-seeking that only comes by losing ourselves in Christ? Maybe the solution is found in seeing that “the glory we have always wanted deep down, the compliments we have craved, and the recognition we have desired after every accomplishment are all just misdirected efforts to assuage a God-given ache to be spoken well of by God” (p. 114).