The Biblical Path to Christian Character
A recommendation of ‘Humility Illuminated’ by Dennis R. Edwards
Humility is a biblical virtue. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” aptly summarizes Scripture’s plotline (James 4:6; cf. Proverbs 3:34). No wonder Peter urged Christians to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).
Unfortunately, humility is not popular. It is ignored when it’s not deprecated. Our celebrity-obsessed culture urges us to look out for No. 1.
These attitudes show up in the Church as well. How many pastors take to social media to build personal brands? How many churches rally around famous leaders who are abusive?
“The church’s growing irrelevance in parts of the United States … is not because Christianity has lost its brain but because it seems to have lost its heart,” writes Dennis R. Edwards in Humility Illuminated. His book presents humility as “the biblical path back to Christian character.”
According to Edwards, “Humility is a way of life rooted in submission to God and is demonstrated in actions that foster mutuality rather than competition.” It does not mean thinking the worst of yourself. Rather, it means living in such a way that you draw closer to God and others.
“Humility is a way of life rooted in submission to God and is demonstrated in actions that foster mutuality rather than competition.” —Dennis R. Edwards
Edwards goes on to show how humility impacts the way we reconcile conflicts, endure suffering, worship wholeheartedly, steward financial resources, and empower the marginalized. These chapters teach valuable lessons to every Christian.
However, the book includes a chapter on church leadership worth highlighting for ministers in particular. One of the New Testament’s images for church leaders is “shepherd” or “pastor” (Ephesians 4:11). Jesus himself is the Shepherd (John 10:2; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4).
It is often said that sheep are dumb, but Edwards points out the real issue is sheep lack “defensive capabilities.” They are “vulnerable.” Their reality shapes the pastoral task, Edwards notes: “We are all sheep who need the care and guidance of good shepherds because we are susceptible to abuse — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
The great tragedy of our times is the steady stream of stories about church leaders who act like wolves rather than shepherds, who see their positions as occasions for self-promotion rather than opportunities to serve. The necessary remedy to this defective view is having the mind of Christ, who humbly placed the interests of others above His own (Philippians 2:4–5).
Humility Illuminated shows how Christians can embody that mindset and is well worth reading by pastors and church members alike.
Dennis R. Edwards, Humility Illuminated: The Biblical Path Back to Christian Character (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2023).
This review appears in the fall 2023 issue of Influence magazine.