Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Good and Angry

In Good and Angry, David Powlison's goal is "to teach you how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with your anger.  Your struggle with anger (and mine) will last a lifetime, but it can go somewhere good.  We can learn to deal with anger differently," (Kindle location 186).

While the author makes a commendable attempt at addressing how Christians should handle anger, he looks at the subject from a human perspective and then adds the Bible on top.  This approach makes his reasoning appear logical, and even biblical at times, but it also distorts the image of God as the author describes Him from man's perspective.  The author believes that his counseling is different from the standard advice given in Christian self-help books (Kindle location 3418).  Mr. Powlison provides many biblical references in his book, but he does not exegete the text.   In Chapter 13, he lays out the eight questions that will help you take your anger apart and put it back together (Kindle location 2330), and in Chapter 16, he helps you determine which ladder your are climbing when you are angry at yourself (Kindle location 3175); but there is no biblical text that contains the eight questions or describes the self-anger ladder.  The author reads his ideas into Scripture, rather than drawing sound doctrine from the Word of God.

In addition, Mr. Powlison believes that because man is made in the image of God and man experiences anger, then God must experience that same emotion.  The author describes mercy and anger as being closely related and defines mercy as "a response to feeling displeasure," (Kindle location 1185).  He states that good anger is the "constructive displeasure of mercy...Good anger operates as as one aspect of mercy...Your anger and mine can be remade into God's image," (Kindle location 1174); and therefore, he likens God's perfect mercy to the human emotion of good anger when he writes:  "He [God] shows the constructive displeasure of mercy...His mercy is not niceness...To what extent does our mercy mirror this?  What we do is infinitely small in scale, but like in kind," (Kindle location 1540, emphasis mine).  This statement implies that God experiences emotions in the same way that people do and contradicts the doctrine of Divine Impassibility which is clearly laid out in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 1: The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions."

From the Confessing Baptist Podcast episode #78 on February 3, 2015, Mr. Sam Renihan, editor of God Without Passions, A Reader, states: "The doctrine of Divine Impassibility states that there are no emotional changes in God; God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by His relationship to creation...It's not wrong to speak in the language of Scripture, but it is wrong to equate human language with the divine Creator."

Finally, the author also presents God as being mutable: "Goodness, if only we did not suffer and did not sin! We would have no need to receive God's mercies--his paradoxical, lively expressions of his displeasure with how things are," (Kindle location 1187), and "The presence of anger depends on the presence of evil," (Kindle location 3594).  Since evil entered the world at the Fall in Genesis 3, these statements imply that God has characteristics [mercy and anger] that did not exist until after the Fall of man.  Biblically, God does not have mercy or anger because sin came into the world; His perfect mercy and anger are immutable parts of His character which have always existed.

There's no doubt that all humans, including Christians, experience anger, but Christians should be angry and sin not (Eph. 4:26) and should strive to put away (Eph. 4:31) and put off (Col. 3:8) anger.  Nevertheless, how man experiences anger should never be ascribed to God.  For all Christians, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22).  The author tries to include anger as an additional positive attribute in a Christian's life by renaming it as "the constructive displeasure of mercy," (Kindle location 1178), but his assertions line up more with human reasoning and counseling philosophy rather than the Bible.  I found other areas of concern in Mr. Powlison's book as well, but his presentation of a mutable, impassioned god, as I describe above, is enough for me not to recommend reading Good and Angry.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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"Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul," (Proverbs 22:24-25).