The Great Man Theory. Ever heard of it? Currently, it’s not the en vogue way to think about leadership, but it still has a hold in many corners of our cultural consciousness. The theory was first established in the nineteenth century by historians such as Thomas Carlyle. The Great Man Theory rests on two foundational pillars. First, great leaders are born with certain traits that cause them to rise and lead; in other words, they’re born, not made. Second, great leaders will rise when the need for them arises.
As hinted at earlier, and as you would guess, not everyone agrees with this theory—not then, and not today either. The opposing view essentially says that great leaders are made, and those men are products of their environment, shaped and molded by their times. So how does the Great Man Theory hold up when applied to Abram? A casual reading of these verses in Genesis might lead you to believe that Abram was a leader, but look again:
“Go out from your land,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1–3).
So was Abram born with the ability to lead, or was that ability made, nurtured over time? Chances are good that it’s a little bit of both. He likely possessed some of these traits at birth, by God’s design, qualities that would become necessary when it came to leading God’s people. But there were also lessons to be learned along the way, and they, too, grew Abram further into his leadership role. The origin, the timing, and the means of these skills were from God alone.
But what happens when we look at things in panorama mode, at the wider, bigger picture that encompasses Abram, and even his wife Sarai? We see the Great God Reality, the truest reality in which God specifically chose Abram for His purposes. You might concede that Abram was created for this calling, a seed sown and planted that would grow and lead.
It was God who chose Abram, and God who showed him the land. It was God who made Abram (whose name God changed to “Abraham” in Genesis 17) into a great nation, and God who promised to bless him and all the peoples of the earth through him. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, our Immanuel and our Messiah, was born from Abraham, yet, as Jesus says in John 8, “before Abraham was, I am” (v.58). So the hero of the story, the One who is always leading and working, is always God. It’s always been Him—yesterday, today, and forever.
Written by John Blase