Christians live their lives in tension: they worship God, who alone is worthy of praise, and yet minister with people, who do surprisingly commendable things. Often the tension increases: how do we affirm and praise those who are not God? Sam Crabtree's excellent book, Practicing Affirmation, seeks to answer and resolve that tension.
Though just a mere 167 pages (including appendices), Crabtree accomplishes much. In chapter one, entitled "God-Centered Affirmation of Those Who Are Not God," he outlines the essential truth that we must commend what is commendable in those who are not God because any good thing that is accomplished comes ultimately from God. Because humans are made in the image of God, there is always something to be commended.
Chapter 2, entitled "Key to Refreshing Relationships: The Simplicity," sets forth the reason one should affirm others. Crabtree gives several practical reasons why we must affirm one another. The most important, perhaps, is the need to refresh the souls of others. Here, the author gives the basic contours of his thought.
Chapter 3, entitled "Toward Greater Refreshment: The Complexity," goes much deeper, than the previous chapter and seeks to answer the how of affirmation. Here, one could say that the author seeks to outline both the theory and practice of affirmation by giving characteristics of good affirmation.
Chapter 4, entitled "Important Assumptions," strikes me as oddly placed here in the book. This chapter likely should have been placed as an introduction (since it the shortest chapter in the book) since it can be skipped. There are some good points of theology here, but the chapter does little to contribute to the book. Rather, it just breaks up the thought-flow.
Chapter 5, entitled "Mistakes I Have Made," was perhaps the most helpful chapter in the book for this reviewer. While I doubt many would question both the benefit and need of affirmation, many would likely struggle on how to do affirmation well. Here, Crabtree outlines what not to do. Despite what many people might think, affirming others is not based just on practical sense. It can be done poorly and to the detriments of others. This chapter will likely be incredibly helpful to pastors and those in leadership positions.
Chapter 6, entitled "Question and Answers," seeks to answer questions that might have come up that were not answered by the author. At this point within the book, this reviewer must confess, things started getting a bit redundant. In many ways, Crabtree labors tirelessly throughout the book to make sure the reader affirms others well. This chapter is an exercise in fine-tuning, to be sure.
Chapter 7, entitled "Sightings of Jesus," outlines what Christlike character looks like. This chapter is helpful in identifying ways that readers might see Christ in others. Many times, Crabtree introduced new aspects of Christ character that are seldom mentioned. Overall, this was a short, yet important chapter.
Chapter 8, entitled "Mixing Correction With Affirmation," felt like it was covered earlier in the book. While again, this chapter was an exercise in fine-tuning, it was really too short to be of too much use. Again, Crabtree covered his topic so well in previous chapters, that some of the later ones felt almost unncessary.
Chapter 9, entitled "100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck," is a great chapter with immense practicality. As the chapter title suggests, it has 100 ideas of affirmation--each creative and useful. Many readers will likely consult this chapter again and again for ideas on how to affirm others.
In conclusion, Practicing Affirmation challenges the reader to look beyond themselves to the needs of others. However, it does more than that: it urges the reader to look beyond themselves and even beyond others to the God who endowed each of us with gifts and abilities that reflect His glory. At least for me, this was a profoundly paradigm shifting book. Anyone who finds themselves in a relationship (whether friendship, work, or romantic) needs to read this book. I am sure that this is a book pastors will be turning to for years on end--I know I will be.
*Thanks to Crossway for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*