Humility Illuminated: The Biblical Path Back to Christian Character is an important read and I learned a lot. But Dennis R. Edwards makes clear that learning is merely a means; growth in humility is the goal. To that end, this was a very good and practical read. Anyone with general knowledge of Scripture will greatly benefit. Anecdotal stories portray the depth of the author’s lived experiences and drive home the importance of recovering this virtue in God’s people. Where some churches focus on performance, power, and personalities, humility may get an acknowledgment as necessary, but it is hardly embraced as sufficient for growth in Christlikeness. Edwards contends that humility is both necessary and sufficient, even vital to the Christian life.

Speaking of “Edwards,” I was reminded of an essay I wrote many years ago on Jonathan Edwards’ classic, The Religious Affections, in which I unpack the notion of “evangelical humiliation.” There are many undercurrents that express considerable similitude between the two books, though both are different in approach. The Religious Affections was a pastoral and analytical critique of the false piety of the 18th century. Humility Illuminated focuses on how Scripture speaks to the need for humility in today’s church culture.

The opening description of the publisher states:

The modern church is immersed in a competitive, polarized, and status-driven society. It’s hard to have conversations about important issues when so many are defensive and unwilling to learn. Too often, Christians fall into these same traps. The health and witness of the church urgently depend on recovering an essential biblical virtue: humility.

This won’t be an exhaustive review covering the entire book, and my remarks will be brief. I will highlight just a couple insights that were new to me. Edwards says, “we tend to take our spiritual cues from prominent people, but in doing so, we absorb more of society’s competitive codes of conduct rather than the countercultural values of God’s kingdom” (p 143). Humility is often found in those who do not rise to the fore but are inconspicuous and even obscure. Two examples from Scripture illustrate.

First, Edwards notes that in Acts 9 the well-known story of Paul’s conversion and his subsequent dramatic escape from Damascus can eclipse the story of Ananias. Even though he was aware of the threat from Saul of Tarsus, Ananias obediently “welcomes Saul as brother” and “puts the interests of the Lord and other Christians ahead of his own, using his time and risking his reputation to build the new community of believers” (pp 144-145). While it may be intuitive that humility “welcomes a supporting role and doesn’t crave the spotlight,” this principle bears repeating because we can quickly forget it and miss seeing the quiet roles that people play in the plan of God for expressing his kingdom. “Ananias may not be the main character in Acts, but his positive reputation lives forever in Scripture. His devotion to God and his upright character made him the perfect choice for that critical moment of welcoming Saul of Tarsus and changing the course of history.” In fact, the last words spoken about Ananias were that he was “a devout man accord to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there” (p 145; cf., Acts 22:12). While fear of Saul’s arrival was no doubt a major concern of Ananias, his humble obedience left a towering example of humility.

Second, Barnabas was also an example of humility. It is well known that a couple “wanting to appear more generous than they actually were” sought to gain recognition for selling property and giving some of the proceeds to those in need (cf., Acts 5:1-11). But Barnabas had done the same thing (Acts 4:36-37), though he did not seek status or recognition for it. Moreover, when the disciples in Jerusalem were fearful of Saul and his reputation, it was Barnabas who defended Saul, “managing to assuage the fears of the Jerusalem disciples. Barnabas, the encourager, embodied humility in the way he stewarded his money and his reputation” (pp 146-147).

When taking on the task of writing about humility, the accounts of both these men would not likely come to mind. But Edwards has convincingly shown us that they are solid examples of humility. They illustrate the truth of Jesus’ words: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Humility Illuminated: The Biblical Path Back to Christian Character would make an excellent study for those in church leadership or in small group settings. Highly recommended!


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