Humility: True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney

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Humility is not one of the hot topics in Christian circles these days. As a matter of fact, the whole subject of pride and humility has been on the back burner for years. So it is with open arms that we should welcome this little volume. Mahaney writes winsomely, with humor (one of his practical suggestions to foster humility is to play lots of golf), passion and transparency. The first two sections of the book lay the biblical framework while the last two-thirds provide a list of practical ways to weaken pride and cultivate humility.

Mahaney defines humility as “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” With this definition, Mahaney goes on to state that he believes pride to be at the core of all sin because “pride is when sinful humans aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.” He has a good point, although I hesitate to reduce the core of all sin to any one factor, even pride.

I was a troubled by Mahaney’s emphasis on sensing the presence of God and I believe he missed the point when he poked fun at his mechanical incompetency as a reason to be humble. I do not believe that most of us have problems being humble in our areas of weakness. It is those areas where we excel (or think we do), those fields of strength and those places where we are admired in which we become proud. Criticize Mahaney all you want on his mechanical ineptness and he will laugh it off. Criticize his preaching or writing skills and he may be tempted to get his back up. The same is true of all of us. I think a proper understanding of this fact was not presented in Humility.

This brings me to the one real deficiency in the book. For the last thirty years or more, pride has been removed from our thought processes and replaced by a foreign concept. The American public, including many Christians, has been conditioned to believe that its real inner enemy is not pride but low self-esteem. Therefore, there are relatively few Christians who think they even have a problem with pride. To be sure, important leaders like Mahaney might struggle with this as they publish books and are invited all over the globe to preach. But that stay-at-home mom who teaches four toddlers Bible stories in Sunday school thinks she has no such problem. Rather, she believes she battles with the opposite – insignificance, feelings of inadequacy and poor self-image.

I believe that the low self-esteem psychology doesn’t have a biblical leg to stand on, and Mahaney is absolutely right to deal as he has with pride and humility. But by not addressing the poor self-image view that most Christians have accepted as true, humility will likely be dismissed as medicine for the elite. I believe that Humility would be a more valuable book if a chapter was added addressing this important topic.

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