Pride and Humility at Warby J. Lanier Burns
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (217 pages).
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In Pride and Humility at War J. Lanier Burns provides a biblical-theological study of pride and humility from Scripture. Before I read this book I had no doubts that pride was a great sin that needed to be put to death and that humility was a Christ-like characteristic that Christians should desire to cultivate in their lives. What stood out to me in Pride and Humility at War was how prevalent these two traits are throughout Scripture and as the title suggest, are continually at war with one another. I have found this to be true in my own life and agree with Burns when he states that, “all of my life I have been taught that ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ (true humility). But all my life I have observed that we live for greater profits and our own pleasure until we die (true pride).” I was not taught this my whole life, as I became a Christian later in life, but the observation is still the same. There is a battle that often takes place for self-autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-love, all of which run in opposition to true humility. Pride and Humility at War takes the reader on a biblical-theological survey of Scripture to compare these two character traits.
Who should read this?
My guess is that most, if not all, Christians struggle with pride in some form. It may not be a full-blown, haughty spirit that looks down on everyone, but it still may present itself in very subtle ways. For this reason, I think that this book would be an excellent resource for any Christian who desires to study pride and humility from a biblical-theological perspective.
Pride and Humility at War examines the topics of pride and humility in 5 sections of Scripture: the Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, and in Paul’s Epistles. Burns rightly begins in the garden showing how Adam and Eve lost this battle of self-autonomous pride and brought the devastating consequences of life outside of God’s rule.
He notes that “when the first couple stepped out of the simplicity of obedience to God, possessing forbidden knowledge, they initiated an absurd movement, which has ever since imagined that people could do whatever they wanted apart from God without life-threatening consequences.”
As the title suggests, Burns draws out examples of pride and humility in Scripture and often sets them up in contrast for the reader to note the clear difference. One example from the Pentateuch is the contrast between those involved in the building of the tower at Babel and Abraham. At Babel, the focus was on making a name for themselves instead of being “God’s ambassadors.”
As Burns states, “the city was to be a sign of their aggressive self-reliance, and the tower symbolized their will to fame.” This is contrasted with Abraham, who waited so long for an heir who would carry on his name and was then directed by God to sacrifice his only son. Obeying God at this point is a picture of humility and trust in God. Burns states this well when he says, “when God called Abraham to willingly return the heir of the promises to the Giver, the patriarch’s obedience exemplified the worship of a humble heart.”
The contrast is clear: Biblical pride is aggression against God (or disobedience, such as Cain and the settlers at Babel), while humility is ambition for God’s glory (or serving him like the families of Enoch, Noah, and Abraham).
The same comparison can be seen as the author contrasts pride and humility through Job, the Psalms, and Proverbs. Job shows us that part of humility will be submitting to God’s wisdom even when difficult circumstances arise in our lives. Often times the proud are pictured in the Psalms as having wealth and worldly success which sometimes baffles the psalmists.
God reminds us that the wicked/prideful will ultimately stand before God and his servants should remain humble in their submission to him. Burns tour of the prophets notes how God brings down proud rulers and that in their pride they are not able to please God.
As the page turns to the New Testament the gospels present a picture of what true humility looks like. Humility in the gospels is “being willing to become childlike under God, being willing to be last for God, being willing to serve all people for God, and being willing to follow Christ on the road to Calvary.” These characteristics of humility mark greatness in God’s kingdom and stand in direct opposition to a life marked by pride.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he encourages them to follow the example of humility that Christ has set (Phil. 2:5-11). Burns is helpful here in showing the contrast between pride and humility with the Philippian church as well as with the church at Corinth. Burns adds helpful summarizing thoughts in the final chapter that really bring each of the five sections together.
He notes that both pride and humility will be reflected in a persons character and actions. One of the places that this works itself out for Christians is in the local church. As Burns rightly states, “humility of mind, a Christ-centered attitude, is biblically imperative for unity in the church.” One other observation that I found helpful is that pride is by nature competitive. Pride seeks to be first and wants to be recognized above others. It is antithetical to humility and to a Christ-like character.
Personally, I found the study in this book to be extremely edifying. Any time that I can study a topic and work through how it is presented in the Scriptures I know that I will gain understanding. That was certainly the case with Pride and Humility at War. As Burns worked his way through Scripture the need to cultivate humility and mortify pride in my own life became clear.
It was also clear that this has been a battle since the fall, and so it isn’t one that should catch us by surprise. But, through Christ and the power of the Spirit the characteristics of the humble, that were presented in this book, can be mine as well.
Pride and Humility at War is an excellent biblical-theological survey of these to attitudes of the heart that will be of great benefit to all who read it. As noted above, this would be a wonderful book for any Christian to study. Burns has provided questions at the end of each chapter that could be used for personal reflection or a group study.
I think this book could be particularly useful for Elders or other church leaders to study together as often times it is easy to become proud when in a position of leadership. Pride and Humility at War is a well written, edifying book that I will definitely recommend to others.