Brief Reviews

Dennis Edwards – Humility Illuminated [Review]

Humility IlluminatedReorienting our Path Toward Humility

A Review of

Humility Illuminated: The Biblical Path Back to Christian Character
Dennis R. Edwards

Paperback: IVP Academic, 2023
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Reviewed by Kevin Wildman

In Humility Illuminated: The Biblical Path Back to Christian Character, Dennis R. Edwards takes a deep dive into Scripture and society to look at what humility is, and how we can live humbly in our day and age. With a bibliography of over seven pages and copious footnotes, this is a scholarly work, written on a popular level for popular consumption.

I was interested in Humility Illuminated as the result of reading Humility, by Andrew Murray a few years ago. Murray’s book convicted me and has sent me on a journey of pursuing and striving to understand this lost character trait (though Edwards’s opinion of Murray’s work is unclear). Murray writes this painful observation:

“When I look back upon my own Christian experience, or at the church of Christ as a whole, I am amazed at how little humility is seen as the distinguishing feature of discipleship. In our preaching and in our living, in our daily interaction in our families, and in our social life, as well as our fellowship with other Christians, how easy it is to see that humility is not esteemed the cardinal virtue, the root from which grace can grow and the one indispensable condition of true fellowship with Jesus. The fact that it is possible for anyone to say of those who claim to seek holiness that the profession has not been accompanied with increasing humility, is a loud call to all earnest Christians, whatever truth there be in the charge, to prove that meekness and lowliness of heart are the chief marks by which they who follow the Lamb of God are to be known” (12).

Murray’s observation is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it over a century ago. Edwards notes the lack of humility in the church today in the opening paragraph of the book writing, “Influenced by the surrounding culture, Christians’ words and actions are often prouder and more scornful than humble, gentle, and teachable” (2). Edwards’s observation here is unfortunately accurate. Additionally, the church is more fractured than ever. Regularly we hear of denominations splitting, divisions in congregations (sometimes leading to splits), people leaving one congregation for another, and other symptoms of our lack of unity. Some even assert that the majority of congregational growth in the U.S. is not from outreach, rather it is the result of people transferring from one congregation to another. 

It is critical to remember the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23, lest we become complacent and justify our division. Jesus directly connects the unity of the church with the church’s ability to fulfill her mission of being the light of the world. 

What is to be done about this rampant division in the bride of Christ?

Edwards asserts that humility is the key factor in healing the division we are experiencing, and often participating in ourselves. He writes, “Humility brings truth’s light by throwing back the shutters of arrogance and opening the window of curiosity…Humility makes us curious, guiding us onward to love, and with love we can heal” (2). 

Edwards points out, though, that arrogance is often a byproduct of our growth and study, “Ironically, arrogance rather than humility often accompanies erudition—the more information we amass, the less we seem to be able to empathize with others” (3). This might be one of the most important points made in the book. We live in a culture that elevates knowledge to a place of utmost importance. We seem to think that knowledge is the solution to all problems. Yet as Edwards argues, knowledge is often the reason for our division, because without empathy we cannot be united. 

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The structure of this work reflects Edwards’s idea that humility is the key to reclaiming the unity to which we are called. Each chapter looks at an aspect of church life and how humility, or lack thereof, impact that area. Edwards does a good job using real accounts of events to demonstrate how arrogance and pride are detrimental to the body of Christ, as well as demonstrating how humility can and does help bring empathy, healing, and unity. 

Some might struggle to read certain portions of this work, because some of the examples and applications may seem to them to be misused or invalid. However, I would argue that often, these are the very portions to which we should be the most attentive. This attentiveness in itself is an exercise in humility. Furthermore, it may be this very humility that helps to reveal our pride and/or arrogance because the very thing we are pushing against might be an area in which we need to grow in humility. 

In a work on humility there are topics of application I would expect to see covered, and Edwards does cover them. Moreover, Edwards addresses some areas that I didn’t expect to see covered, and I found them to be not only interesting and helpful, but refreshing to see other connections. 

As already stated, Edwards begins examining the division of our day, then moves into “Yielding: Where Humility Starts.” From there he spends a chapter looking at the example of Jesus, then chapter by chapter works through the following areas of Christian life: Communing, Reconciling, Shepherding, Enduring, Worshiping, Stewarding, and Empowering. In each chapter there is exposition of a passage of Scripture, complete with word studies and depth, while remaining accessible and applicable. 

This structure will prove useful for future reference for me personally. As situations arise it will be helpful to turn to the respective chapter and be reminded of my need to remain humble in regard to that issue, as well as some practical advice for keeping that humility. 

Throughout the book. Edwards argues accurately, that we fail to understand what humility is, and how to live faithfully to the biblical call to walk humbly. In the conclusion he explains that while writing this book he “became increasingly convinced that by and large we either do not understand humility or we do understand it and are afraid to cultivate it. After all, if we were to embody the biblical humility that I attempted to describe, Christian praxis—at least in many settings—would be altered to the degree that it might no longer resemble what we have become accustomed to seeing” (173).

In Humility Illuminated, Dennis Edwards has offered a gift to the church, reminding us of the desperate need of humility in the life of Christians. May we become committed to living humbly with love, grace, and empathy. And as we do so, may we see unity in Christ’s body grow rather than the continued schism that we watch on a regular basis.

Kevin Wildman

Kevin Wildman lives in west central Indiana with his bride and their five children. He is a pastor and football coach, as well as an alum of Lincoln Christian University (B.A. Preaching 2008 and M.A. Spiritual Formation 2014). He enjoys running and has completed two full marathons. When it comes to reading Henri Nouwen is his favorite author.

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