Practicing Affirmation: God-centred praise of those who are not God
I decided to check this book out after reading David Murray’s commendation of it in his The Happy Christian. He writes ‘I’m amazed that this book has not had much wider acclaim’. Having read it, I can understand both Murray’s enthusiasm but also why the book has failed to have the impact it could have.
A toxic build-up of negativity and widespread lack of praise for others are certainly issues needing addressed. As John Piper notes in the foreward: ‘When our mouths are empty of praise for others, it is probably because our hearts are full of love for self’. As C. S. Lewis once observed, cranks, misfits and malcontents praise least.
Any call for us to affirm others more will lead to objections – doesn’t that lead to pride? How can we affirm non-Christians? Crabtree is aware these will come and helpfully reminds us where the focus should be. ‘God-centred affirmations’, he says ‘point to the echoes, shadows and reality of a righteousness not intrinsic to the person being affirmed’. Yet the constant defensiveness rather spoils the book, and Crabtree includes a chapter which deals with all kinds of whacky objections, such as ‘Should I affirm Satan?’. If the defensiveness had been left to the first chapter it would have made for a more profitable book for those who are already on board with his premise. Furthermore, in attempting to see God’s grace in those who aren’t Christians, he also seems to grant atheists a neutrality when it comes to God, telling them: ‘I’m inclined to think that you are interested in following the evidence wherever it goes, embracing reality, whatever it may be.’ It’s also doubtful whether Ananias can be claimed as an example of giving someone (in this case, Paul) the benefit of the doubt, rather than simply obeying God.
Yet those who persevere will find useful encouragements and practical examples when it comes to a subject which isn’t just an optional extra for Christians – after all, our prayers can be hindered for a lack of it (1 Peter 3:7). Crabtree also helpfully discusses how we should receive affirmation. To follow Corrie ten Boom’s example – take the bunch of roses, savour their scent for a moment and then hand them up to the rightful recipient. Chapter 7 contains helpful practical suggestions for identifying and commending Christlike qualities in someone. These aren’t restricted to the obvious and include things like diligence, initiative and dependability. As these qualities were fleshed out, people who quietly exemplify them (probably receiving little if any affirmation) sprang to mind.
And yet, even allowing that the book is written by an American, there are copious amounts of cheese that need to be spooned out in order to enjoy the meal. It’s there throughout the book, but some of the worst examples are in his list of 100 practical suggestions for those struggling with affirmation, including literally applauding someone and singing ‘Happy Birthday dependable Debbie’.
The book was also a struggle to read due to a poorly formatted kindle edition. Full stops and commas often don’t have spaces after them, and there are line breaks in the middle of paragraphs where the print book goes onto a new page. And whatever format you read it in, there are a number of typos eg ‘is they believe’ (p. 21) and one of America’s best known film-directors is referred to as George ‘Lukas’.
Despite its flaws however, there remains much in this book to affirm.
Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.