Michael Metzger

Books on Christianity will not trouble those outside the faith, wrote C.S. Lewis. He recommended “more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.” Latent means underlying or hidden. It fits human design (creation) yet recognizes human corruption (the fall). Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA is a case study in latency.

A lot of Christians don’t like latency. They imagine it as lying. Not so. Latency has to do with shaping proper delights. Augustine said the soul delights in particular what it learns indirectly. Indirect learning occurs when truth is discovered as you live, not when its delivered in a lecture. Educators have long understood this phenomenon, describing it as “incidental learning.”1 Lecture truth is direct. It feels denuded. It’s like a room with no furniture. You can live with it, but you don’t want to live in it. Indirect truth is latent truth. Its circuitous route requires storytelling. Stories are the furniture and floor coverings that warm a room and make it delight-full. Latency makes truth delightful.

Latency not only fits human design, it accommodates our fallen nature. We still delight in the indirect, but knowledge can make us arrogant. We think we know more than we actually do. Our delights then are deceived, or infirm, wrote Emily Dickinson. Pride blinds and truth no longer surprises. We still need the truth, but “tell it slant,” wrote Dickinson.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise.

As lightning to the child eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.2

Holding the tension of creation and corruption accounts for Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA, a new book with theology latent. It takes a circuitous route, starting with the story of Francis Crick and James Watson. On February 28, 1953, they announced the discovery of DNA. Scientists had long suspected that such a code existed. Once DNA was discovered, there was great enthusiasm for deciphering it, or sequencing. This was the work of the Human Genome Project.

The deciphering of biological DNA changed the game yet raised a question. We know DNA tells us what makes us tick but does it explain why we do what we do? Is there a behavioral DNA in every institution and individual? And if properly sequenced, would it help companies and institutions flourish? Sequencing says yes, there is a behavioral DNA. Properly sequenced, it can change how companies do performance reviews, bonuses, and incentives. It can enhance how companies hire and help colleagues thrive. Sequencing our behavioral DNA could enrich firms, factories, and even families since everyone—whatever creed, gender, or ethnicity—operates by this behavioral DNA. It’s latent in everyone. Sequencing could bring people together as never before. This would be a game changer for faith communities, since we live in a time when people are increasingly opposed to the faith or equally common just plain over it.

C.S. Lewis recognized this better than most. After the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Americans became more aware of differing faiths. The most dynamic figure at the Parliament was Swami Vivekananda, who brought “the all-religions-are-one message of his master Sri Ramakrishna.”3 Eighteen years later, at Cherbourg School, a young Lewis was drawn to one of Vivekananda’s disciples, an instructor named Miss Cowie. Her latent universalism undermined whatever vestiges of adolescent faith Lewis had when he entered school. Coming to faith later in life (1929), Lewis recognized that Christians needed books that could “get past the watchful dragons.” We didn’t need more “Christian” books, Lewis wrote.

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way around. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. (God In the Dock: Essays on Theology & Ethics)

Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA is an “inexpensive popular introduction” to human nature applied to corporate management. It is written for Steven Jobs at Apple and John Mackey at Whole Foods. It is written in street language yet informed by scripture. Sequencing starts with lived experience with Christianity latent. The words are drawn from the boardroom yet are derived from the Bible.

To watch a brief video about Sequencing and to purchase a copy, please visit the book’s website at:

Many of the themes in Sequencing have been worked out in conversation with you through this weekly commentary. I trust the dialogue can be furthered with the publication of this book. As C.S. Lewis noted, we need more books that “get past the watchful dragons” so that people of faith—and no faith—can together learn to love their neighbors and assist in renewing culture-shaping institutions. Sequencing is a way to enact shalom in Corporate America… and might just be the “troubling” book that keeps Jobs and Mackey up at night.

1 A. Rogers, “Learning: Can We Change the Discourse?” Adults Learning 8, no. 5 (January 1997): 116-117. McGuffey’s famous readers—widely-used in 19th century U.S. schools to teach reading—used stories that contained important morality tales to accomplish incidental learning.
2 Poem #1129, from “The Riddles of Emily Dickinson.” Obbligati (Atheneum, 1986)
3 Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), p. 39.


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  1. Great piece!

    Latency can also be called conditioning. It is when the underpinning assumptions of a position or opinion are assumed to be correct.

    For instance, the position “If you do not support large scale social programs then you hate the poor” assumes the only way you can help the poor is by giving them free money.

    This underlying assumption is the poison.

    CS Lewis would advise us to tell stories about and celebrate people who pull themselves out of povery with a little assistance from caring individuals. That would be shalom.

  2. Gents! Got to thinking about this piece again.

    How does latency or indirect learning impact modern day evangelism? Are these two concepts not at odds?

    What would “latent evangelism” look like, Mike?

  3. Chris – you are exactly right: latent faith is at odds with what you righty describe as “modern day evangelism.” There are several reasons.

    First, the idea of “outreach” is the result of few Christians being “in there” anymore – in our center institutions – and able to translate their faith in a coherent manner in the workplace.

    Second, the scriptures view salvation as being “born again.” New birth involves conception, and conception involves impregnation. These are sexual metaphors – not designed to be scintillating but instructive about the nature of evangelism. In a marriage, sex is enhanced when swaddled in love. If a husband aims for sex with his wife, he generally gets less – and it’s less enjoyable. The wife feels used. If the husband aims for love, the sex is generally better and more frequent. Sex is simply one expression of love.

    In the same way, we aim to love our neighbors. We don’t aim to merely impregnate them with the gospel (as is the case in modern day evangelism). We aim to love neighbors and become part and parcel of the institutions they operate in. If love them, impregnation is more likely. Conception is the work of the Spirit. Latent evangelism is not casual about a soul – it is more constructive and just as committed to seeing the lost come to faith. It simply looks beyond the new birth. Children conceived in love and healthy environments fare far better than those conceived in a single sexual transaction.

  4. Mike,
    I really like your response to Chris’s questions about evang. . . because those are the categories that the church tends to think in (evangelism, outreach, ministry, .reaching out… etc). Latency is not anti-evangelism, yet where is the place for direct verbal witness that we see exemplified in so many places in the NT?

    To help those in church leadership who take seriously the responsibility to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”, we need to understand how what you refer to as “sequencing” helps people translate their faith in a coherent way in the world/context we live in today. Connect the dots if you will from “sequencing” to Jesus words to us to “make disciples”.

  5. Tom,

    In the lectionary for the church – the three-year cycle where the church reads through the entire Bible – the Great Commission is coupled with the Cultural Mandate. What’s the connection that the Ancient Church saw? It’s this: the Great Commission (“make disciples”) is a reiteration of the Cultural Mandate (“make culture”). We can’t make disciples apart from making culture, since over 95 percent of our behaviors are enculturated. We are largely unaware of them. Making flourishing disciples requires making flourishing culture.

    Second, the Ancient Church held that we can only believe in what is believable (Augustine for example said this). Culture is what makes things believable (or “plausible,” as Peter Berger puts it). Verbal witness makes sense when the verbal makes sense. If I speak German, most Americans won’t be able to make sense of it – even though what I am saying might be true. Words need context. Culture is context… it frames facts and makes words meaningful.

    You can see that many of our modern dichotomies are artificial. Latency is not anti-evangelism. it simply recognizes that word need context.

  6. This is my second whole day of perusing this blog, but I’m already enjoying it quite a bit. The subjects have been well thought out and are compelling – thank you! It occurs to me that the dynamic you’ve described as “latency” in your blog, is a somewhat necessary component to any voluntary, and especially intimate, communication. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, provided numerous living examples of the concept. He met needs and “had compassion” in tangible ways. Once he had the undivided attention of those for whom he had taken action, he didn’t have to ask them for a “hearing.” Our overt evangelistic efforts are too often – it seems to me – intended for a recipient unprepared to receive it. Just like the people who walk near an enthusiastic and loud street preacher without really paying attention to what he is saying (although they can’t avoid hearing his voice), many of the people we would evangelize only hear the “noise” of our message. They hear us – they just haven’t listened to us. Evangelism should, in its latent stage, be more akin to wooing a prospective friend or lover than shouting from the housetops. I heard once that Strong was quoted as saying, “95% of God’s will is above the neck.” Instead of using God-given powers of observation (which we would do in establishing any other legitimate relationship), could it be that we add too much mysticism into the mix of what we think we “ought” to be doing in sharing the gospel. The Bible is clear that a positive response to the Gospel is required for redemption. I doubt that the Bible, however, has called us to operate in ways that wouldn’t make sense in any other context. How awkward might it be, for instance, for the object of a young man’s affection if he approached her abruptly and expressed how beautiful he thought she was – doing so before she even knew who he was. If he had already won her affections, however, her heart would soar with the same words from her admirer. Whether we consider our activities as “latent” or something else, the one thing we can’t escape is the need for “community” if we want our evangelism to be effective. People will listen to almost any message from someone who has won their affections – they will listen to almost no one who hasn’t.
    Anyway, it’s getting late, and I feel like I’m starting to ramble a bit. I’ll be looking forward to reading more entries. Thanks, again, for making me think and thanks for a great venue for meaningful discussion.

  7. Wow. Your analogy re conception as a result of love vs. conception as a result of conquest was right on. Always thought American evangelism efforts were so chauvinistic w/ both their “hit lists” militaristic tactics and their seductive bait and switch techniques. Context equals love. Absence of context equals rape, physically and culturally.

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