Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Book Preview

Humility: True Greatness

Thanks to Sovereign Grace Ministries, I was one of 50 bloggers blessed with the opportunity to preview a not-yet-released book: "Humility: True Greatness" by C.J. Mahaney. This is the completed book review.


In short, I loved this book. I will go over the reasons why in more detail below, but for now, I wish to say that I strongly recommend this book. Much of Christian publishing these days is filled with man-centred philosophy and little Biblical theology, and the Gospel of Christ Jesus is increasingly a rare focus. I was happy to find that Humility was not only Biblically solid, but that it was absolutely centred on the Cross and Gospel of Jesus. The author’s enthusiasm for the Cross jumps from every page – a beautiful sight to behold.

About the author

The author, C.J. Mahaney, is a founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a growing network of evangelical churches founded in 1982. They may not be very well known, but the musical arm of their ministry has written some very popular songs in contemporary worship music today, such as "Stand in Awe" and "How High and How Wide." Mahaney himself was, until recently, the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and serves on the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I had not read any of Mahaney’s works, such as The Cross Centered Life or Sex, Supremacy, and the Glory of God, until I read Humility. Now that I know what I've been missing, I fully intend to.


Mahaney is a very skilled and engaging writer. The reading level of Humility is such that any adult Christian would have no trouble reading the book. It was a joy to read – Mahaney keeps the book down-to-earth, avoiding heavy theological language while introducing and defending deep doctrinal concepts. The language is smooth and flowing, almost conversational in tone. The author’s use of stories – particularly personal anecdotes – easily and effectively introduced and illustrated the points he made.

As suggested by the title, Humility is a Christian examination and guide to the issue of pride and humility. Mahaney begins with a look at Isaiah 66:2, which reads:

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Mahaney’s central theme in the book is that true humility draws the attention and favour of God. He helpfully (and Biblically) defines humility as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness." This understanding is key to his whole thrust – the idea that all men are sinners, and have nothing to be prideful about. We stand before a perfectly holy and all-powerful God, having nothing of our own that God did not Himself give us – save our own sinfulness. And it was this stress in Mahaney’s work that I truly appreciated, because this humiliation of man before God, this stress that all we have and are is from Him alone, is often missed in our self-centred, experience-driven Christian subculture.

Pride, Mahaney tells us, was the first sin, and indeed is the root of all sin. Sin is rebellion against God, and rebellion is the practical result of rejecting our dependence on God. The author quotes John Stott making the point that pride is not merely just another sin, but is indeed the essence of all sin. Put in this light, all sin is really an expression of human pride and hubris. And, Mahaney says, this is why God so passionately HATES pride.

The book moves from this definition into God’s solution to this problem – Jesus Christ. Mahaney repeatedly stresses that true greatness is servanthood and humility, and points to the only One who perfectly modeled these qualities: Him who died, innocent and pure, in the place of proud and haughty sinners. Mahaney contrasts Christ’s sacrifice with the pride and ambition of his own disciples James and John, who are jockeying for a place of honour in His kingdom. If Christ’s own disciples, the future apostles themselves, fell to such pride, how are we any different?

The Cross, Mahaney points out, was true greatness defined because it was true humility displayed. And so the author takes a whole chapter describing the Cross and the good news of freedom from sin in light of Christ’s humility. This chapter was beautiful, a far more powerful and eloquent presentation of the Gospel than I have seen in any tracts and altar calls. In relating his whole book, every theme, to the Cross and Gospel of Christ, Mahaney truly glorifies God.

Having laid a firm foundation at the foot of the Cross, the rest of the book is largely practical advice. His first suggestion is constant meditation on the Cross of Christ – regular, unceasing consideration of true humility and true greatness. From there, Mahaney effectively ties humility as a spiritual practice into other spiritual disciplines. Without being dogmatic, he introduces several practical ways in which a Christian can increase his own awareness of the pride in his life and strive for humility in his walk. While emphatically stating that he is only giving suggestions, he prescribes beginning each day with acknowledgement of our need of God, and thanks for what He has done. He examines daily prayer, worship, and Bible study as means of increasing our awareness of God’s greatness and our own insufficiency. In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, he even recommends taking up golf as a way to humble yourself!

Mahaney also succeeds where all too many have failed, giving a clear, coherent, PRACTICAL motivation to study theology and doctrine. In particular, he describes three areas of particular importance for developing spiritual humility: study of the attributes of God (his omnipotence, eternity, omniscience, etc.); the doctrines of grace (God’s sovereignty in salvation and our dependence on Him for it); and the doctrine of sin, where we discover how truly needy and unworthy we really are. Without falling into heavy words and concepts, he points out what a humbling and revitalizing effect on one’s spiritual life can result from in-depth study of theology.

Tiny little quibbles

I only had two minor quibbles with the book, neither of which detracted from the author’s aim or my enjoyment of and edification from the book. They were not disagreements or issues of substance, merely questions of emphasis. First of all, Mahaney stresses that humility will bring grace to him that practices it. This is a biblical message, to be sure – God gives grace to the humble. Humility brings the approval and blessing of God, for it gives Him His due. I just felt that the author might have reinforced his point further by stressing that humility in a sinful person, like faith and repentance, is itself a work of God’s grace in his heart, and that it is indeed impossible without it. Mahaney does touch on this issue, of course, in explaining that only Christ perfectly fulfilled Isaiah 66:2 and in mentioning man’s depravity; I only thought he could have emphasized further the role of God’s grace as not just a reward for, but also the necessary precondition for, humility. Humility as God’s gift - that, truly, is a humbling truth.

Secondly, a stress on humility bringing reward detracts somewhat from the truth that the most sincerely humble heart is motivated by love. A Christian is humble not simply because God deserves it from him – although that certainly is enough – but also out of love for God. We deflect praise and honour to God not just because He alone deserves it, but because our love for Him compels us to see Him glorified. Mahaney could have emphasized this point, having laid an excellent foundation for a detailed look at a relationship between love and humility. Maybe in another book…

Why you should read this book

Those minor points aside, I found that the book forced me to be aware of a problem that I grapple with (as do we all). I fight pride on a daily basis. Mahaney points out that the Bible says, "Knowledge puffs up;" and as I am the type of guy who expresses enthusiasm for a subject by reading everything I can get my hands on about that topic, I find I’m particularly prone to this kind of pride.

Perhaps my favorite of Mahaney’s list of practical suggestions is to "look for evidence of grace in all others." Not just Christians – God has showered grace on everyone. And as a recently married man, this challenged me to look at the things I said to and noticed in my wife’s life. Pointing out to someone that "I see God’s hand on you, in this way" is unbelievably encouraging to that person.

There are many more gems like this one in Humility: True Greatness. It comes out in late October. Trust me - this one is worth buying, folks. You will not regret it.

Other information on this book:

Sample Chapter (Multnomah)
Justin Taylor's interview with C.J. Mahaney
Tim Challies


Blogger Erin said...

I'm looking forward to reading this book... :)

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Betty said...

Interesting about pride being the "first sin, and indeed is the root of all sin." I have never heard it put that way, probably because it isn't oft discussed. Is it perhaps because it demonstrates our self-interestedness, thus detracting from the love and honour we could be giving to God for all that He has done? I think that's kind of what you were saying. .. I think ... yeah, I don't know ..lol. Oh well, I can only try ... lol

What does "hubris" mean again? My limited Greek knowledge escapes me ... I can only seem to remember eros, telos, and sophrosune lol but I know I knew what that meant once ... is it simply pride?

Anyhoo, it is indeed intriguing....

9:26 PM  

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