I have been given the opportunity to review C.J. Mahaney's new book Humility: True Greatness before it is released. C.J. is the founding and former (27 year) pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaitherburg, MD. He now leads Sovereign Grace Ministries full-time as they seek to plant and strengthen churches through their network. He has written or contributed to several books. He will be speaking at the Together for the Gospel conference in April of 2006 in Louisville, KY.
It was easy to decide to review a book by C.J. First, I figured I'd buy and read the book anyway. It's a good and neglected topic, and I have enjoyed his previous books. Second, because I have had the opportunity to hear him speak live at least twice (maybe three times) and have always benefited from his humble boldness with the Word. I have also listened to several of his sermons over the past few years on CD. Third, some church leaders I know and respect think highly of C.J. as a person, a pastor and a leader.
The book is short, 137 pages (at least in my pdf version) including all the necessary pages for recommendations, title, etc. It's divided into three themes: the need for humility, true greatness according to Jesus, and how to practically cultivate humility. It's well organized and the direction of the book is clear.
In the first section Mahaney admits that pride infects all of us. It's in our hearts squeezing out the space where our dependence on God should be. I think he does an adequate job in very little space showing the problem of pride for all of us, and how it is so deeply rooted in our hearts and lives.
In the second section he turns to Jesus in Mark 9 and 10 as the disciples argue about who is the greatest. Mahaney makes the point that Jesus doesn't kill their ambition, but redirected it so that those who want to be truly great will be slave of all. A helpful observation, and the foundation for all Mahaney says after it.
Mahaney defines "true greatness" as serving others for the glory of God. He points out that Jesus gives us teaching on humble service, is himself the perfect example of this servanthood, but best of all He gives us His death. Mahaney makes clear that we cannot escape the grip of pride, but must get divine rescue through the Cross.
In the third section Mahaney shines as he takes the biblical and makes it practical. He spends the next few chapters explaining through some practical ways to cultivate humility and kill pride. He has some general suggestions (like reflecting on the cross), advice for the beginning of each day (like starting with gratitude and seizing your commute for God) and for the end of each day (like accepting the gift of sleep by acknowledging that God intends sleep to prove how much we have to depend on Him). He also gives suggestions for special focus (like studying sin and the attributes of God) and a few fun ones (like playing golf).
This list is given in a simplified form at the end of the book for easy reference. It's no surprise that Mahaney strongly suggests we all have our own lists on defeating pride so that we will be purposeful about it.
Mahaney believes humility is also cultivated as we seek to encourage others every day, as we invite and pursue correction, and learn to respond humbly to trials. He has a chapter on each of these things. He also encourages the read to leave a legacy of true greatness by preparing our kids to recognize true greatness and not just ordinary things that we call great. He finishes the book with one last look at the Savior, which is Mahaney's Cross-centered style, and one worth imitating.
Here's my closing take on the book.
The one real weakness of the book is a lack of outward focus. He defines humility (true greatness) as serving others for the glory of God, but really doesn't talk much about what that looks like. The only chapter he really gives on this is on encouragement, and that is focused on words, not deeds. The book is mostly about dealing with inner issues and disciplines that cultivate an attitude of humility. I would have enjoyed seeing more interaction with the life of serving the defines true greatness.
I think Mahaney's chapter on inviting and pursuing correction is helpful on a very neglected idea. If I refer to nothing else in this book again, that is a chapter I will be sure to reference for my own battle against pride. It is a unique contribution from this book along with C.J.'s good list on cultivating humility.
This is a small book. I'm looking forward to the day a publisher tells C.J. to dive in and go deep, but this isn't that day. So though this for some this may be the definitive book on humility simply because there isn't much on the subject in print, this is really only an introduction to the topic from a good Bible teacher. That said, I think C.J. would agree heartily that the best books to cultivate humility are not books on humility, but books on the Cross, sin, Jesus, the doctrine of God, etc. Thankfully, C.J. quotes from and recommends a number of good books to read throughout this book. I can attest, having read many of them, that he points us to very good books for this life-long pursuit of true greatness.
As a pastor I am always on the lookout for small, accessible and readable books on important topics for people who are not yet ready for longer and deeper books. This is a very good one for that purpose. I highly recommend it for most Christians as a good place to start their battle with pride. I will be recommending it in my local church.