Friday, March 11, 2011

Review of Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree

Have you ever tried to compliment a pastor after a sermon but are not quite sure how to do it?  It’s difficult isn’t it?  You want to be certain to give glory to God but you also thought the message was really good (whatever that means).  Because of this conundrum many people simply refuse to give good affirmation because they do not want to risk causing the other person to struggle with pride, nor do they want to risk robbing God of His glory.  Others want to give a compliment but aren’t quite sure how to do it, so they just offer a “good sermon Pastor”.  Then there are some people that know how to strike that helpful balance of “giving God-centered praise to those that aren’t God”. 

Sam Crabtree, I believe, is one of those people that has found the balance.  That is why I am grateful for his book Practicing Affirmation .  Of course it is about far more than how to compliment your pastor.  The subtitle sums up the book nicely:  “God-centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God”.  Crabtree believes that affirmation is a key that could unlock many relationship problems.  But it is more than a help to our relationships—affirmation is commanded by God.  If we aren’t affirming people in a God-centered way we are disobedient. 

That is a pretty big claim but one that Crabtree aptly defends in his first chapter.  Honestly, the first chapter is worth the price of the book.  From the beginning he is both convicting and motivating; affirming as well as correcting. 

The next two chapters are Crabtree’s explanation of the simplicity of affirmation as well as it’s complexity.  In chapter two he shows how affirmation is the key to refreshing relationships.  If you have a stale or difficult relationship it may be that affirmation is lacking.  Crabtree paints a picture here that makes me wonder what our homes and churches would look like if we were as passionate about affirmation as we are about pot-lucks.  The third chapter simply builds on the second chapter and gives more practical advice on affirming others. 

These first three chapters are the basis of the entire book.  These argue that we are commanded by God to affirm His character in other people.  The glory of God is at stake.  But that is not all.  Living in refreshing relationships is also at stake.  Affirmation, according to Crabtree, is the key to refreshing relationships. 

After establishing these points the rest of the book is stocked full of practical help for living out the beautiful picture that Crabtree paints in the first three chapters.  One very practical chapter is the ninth one, where he gives 100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck.  These are simple, practical, and helpful examples of affirming the character of God in others.  And that is what this book encourages and exemplifies. 

This book certainly exhorted me to be more affirming in my relationships and it also showed me how to do it.  It is also worth mentioning that the foreword by John Piper is brilliant, and the two appendices are also very helpful. 

There is one concern that I have with this book.  It is one that I am guessing he has heard before, because it is a question that he addresses in chapter 6.  There the question is framed this way: “How is your position not the equivalent of straightforward behaviorism?  Are you not suggesting we simply reward behavior as though people were in Skinner boxes? (121)” 

His sum answer is this, “God is not dependent upon behaviorism to bring about change in people, but behaviorism is dependent upon God at every point, whether the dependence is recognized and admitted or not (122).” 

I have to be honest and say I do not think he answered this objection strongly enough.  At times it sounds like he is saying if you do A then B is likely to happen.  Now it is true that the Lord has wired us certain ways and there is an element of truth that Skinner observed.  But is this an element of the fall or redemption that he observed?  Yes, people will often respond refreshingly to affirmation but does it address deep idols in the heart? 

By asking these questions I am not by any means dismissing this excellent work by Sam Crabtree.  I would recommend putting this book in the hands of many people.  My only disappointment is that many people reading this may be motivated by behavioral and relationship changes rather than the obedience to Christ that Crabtree defended in his first chapter.  I think Crabtree is arguing for a “both/and” (both obedience and expectation of refreshing relationships) in that case I agree.  I simply would appreciate a little more clarity on this charge. 

Nonetheless, the authors central point in this book is amazing.  We must affirm others for the glory of God.  He practically shows how to do this and for that I am grateful.  This book has reoriented the way I think about affirmation and Crabtree is right—it has refreshed my parenting and marriage.

You can, and should, buy this book from Amazon for under 10 dollars: Practicing Affirmation

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