I face something of a dilemma here that I believe C. J. Mahaney might appreciate. He has written a wonderful book in which he seeks to share insight on the practice of true humility and the conquest of pride. However, as he and all authors know, a glowing book review is a great temptation to pride for any author. I’ve read and (hopefully) benefited from his book on humility, but I wonder how to write a positive review without encouraging pride in the book’s author — in case he reads the review. Therein lies the dilemma. In order to avoid this conundrum, and to encourage humility in the author, it may be best to begin by pointing out what I believe to be the major flaw in the book…
I wish it were longer.
Mahaney admits in the introduction to his book that he is not qualified to speak as an authority on humility. None of us is. Mahaney is not qualified to write this book because he is a living example of perfect and complete humility. He is qualified to write this book, in my opinion, because he knows he isn’t. All of us have misplaced pride in our lives, but because pride is so deceitful, not all of us are consciously seeking ways to root it out. Mahaney does not write as one who has “arrived,” but as a fellow soldier who is fighting the same battle.
The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, the true nature of humility and pride are described. Mahaney defines humility as “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” In short, true humility requires an accurate understanding of who God is and who we are.
Pride, on the other hand, obscures a true knowledge of God. C.S. Lewis said it well: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that — and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison — you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
Pride was the sin of Satan that led to his fall. It was the sin of Adam, who wanted to be “like God.” Pride truly goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18).
In Part Two, Mahaney reveals that true humility requires a redefinition of success. Our culture defines greatness in terms of the self: self-sufficiency, self-made men, self-accomplishment. Greatness, biblically defined, means “serving others for the glory of God.” According to Jesus, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). True greatness in Scripture is an expression of true humility. It is exemplified in the life of Jesus. It is demonstrated most clearly in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Part Three of the book is devoted to practical application. In this section, Mahaney looks at ways we can encourage the growth of humility and root out pride every day of our lives. He reminds us to begin each day by reflecting on the wonder of the cross. As Carl Henry once said, “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” We should begin each day by acknowledging our dependence on God and our gratitude to God. We should end each day by giving God the glory for the grace we have received that day.
Mahaney also encourages all of us to spend extended periods of time studying what the Bible teaches about the nature of God, our sinfulness, and God’s work of salvation. He also encourages us to laugh often. Prideful men cannot laugh because they are too concerned about their own dignity. And for those who are really serious about cultivating humility, Mahaney recommends, with a smile, that they take up the sport of golf. Anyone who has ever attempted to play golf will know why.
In order to further weaken pride and grow in humility, we should look for evidence of growth in grace in our families and in our churches, and we should look for opportunities to encourage others. We should also seek correction from others because we are very often blind to the sins in our life that are obvious to others.
Mahaney concludes his book by exhorting all of us to respond in humility to suffering and trials. This is, of course, far easier said than done, for none of us enjoys suffering in and of itself. Suffering does, however, tend to remind us of our lack of self-sufficiency, and in doing so, it weakens sinful pride. I cannot recommend this work more highly, for there are none of us who does not need to hear its call to true humility and true greatness.