Humilitas by John Dickson is not some great treatise on humility. It is a rather short work that borrows a lot from other sources, but Dickson tells you that from the onset. John Dickson is a man of many talents according to the dust jacket of the book; he is a PhD in history, he was a musician, and he is also a pastor at a church in Australia where he is from. As stated before this is not an extremely large book it comes in under 200 pages of material.
With his background in history it is no wonder that the majority of this book is committed to the historical background of humility and the role it has played in different societies. There is a shift not only in history, but also in the book that takes place with Christ. Before Christ most cultures were based on the shame-honor system, even things in his own Jewish community were set up that way. It is in the context of this society that Christ’s new teaching made him a radical. One aspect of the book that helped to drive home the point Dickson was attempting to make was his use of stories actually depicting acts of humility; in particular the story of Joe Louis. In short this book can be broken up into three sections, the history of humility before Christ, after Jesus, and application.
Dickson’s book as a whole was okay, it was not something that I was blown away by, nor was it something that felt like a complete waste of time. Throughout the book you will find some nuggets of value such as, “One of the keys to developing humility is spending more time with friends who speak plainly.”There was not much I took away from chapter one, however in the next chapter on leadership I did manage to glean more. He makes a good point in distinguishing art from science when he says, “Leadership is more of an art than a science. This is why there are as many leadership styles, books and courses as there are forms of art.” He goes on to make several other important observations about leadership and how being a good performer will not make you a good leader, while a good leader always did well in some aspect of the work before becoming a leader.There is one thing I was not crazy about when dealing with this chapter it felt disjointed being in a book on humility, because it seemed like it took forever to get to the topic and then covered it poorly.
In his next chapter subtitled common sense he has a superb point that is often over looked not only in the corporate setting but in other areas such as the home and church. He says, “Humbly acknowledging limitations and refusing to engage in competency extrapolation are not signs of weakness. The demonstrate realism and are therefore strengths.” In chapter four he points out that in some cultures that humility was not a virtue, it was so ill received that on a list of over 147 virtues it did even make the list.It was thought of so lowly that, “humility was the stuff of slaves, not respected rabbis.”
He makes the point about respect making a huge difference on how we receive things said by people. For instance, “The same words my be used by both of us; the same evidence may be presented; but, somehow, the words of the trusted friend are much more compelling.”Some would say that by holding to a solid set of convictions and being unwilling to yield makes us intolerant and unable to be humble. Dickson suggest, “Humility applied to convictions does not mean believing things any less; it means treating those who hold contrary beliefs with respect and friendship.” In building humility we should keep examples worth following before us, “if we are shaped by what we admire, finding admirable examples and studying them will go a long way toward forming humility in us.”
It would be hard for me to recommend this book to anyone, unless they were looking for a historical perspective of humility. While this book is used in class on preventing ministry failure I saw very little in this book that was an encouragement. From what I have read there is a book of similar size by C.J. Mahaney entitled Humility that would be far more appropriate on the topic. Dickson’s work is a good historical approach, but as far as practical it misses the mark.
I would like to have seen more of a biblical perspective on the topic of humility. He gives us a brief understanding of the humility of Christ, and it stops short. From the vantage point of a pastor or elder in the church there is not much here to take away from this book to be of any benefit to the body, it could very well be applied to the secular context and you would not be able to make any major distinguishing comments between who the intended recipients are supposed to be. Was this book written for the body of Christ or the rest of the world? While it is published by Zondervan a prominent name in Christian publishing, its listing is under business and economics proving that it is not truly set for Christian ministry or living. In my opinion it is still miscategorized and should be under history. So in the end I would not recommend this work for use in the body in any capacity.
<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>Dickson, John. Humilitas: A lost key to life, love, and leadership. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.