Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley

Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control YouI was fortunate to receive this book prior to its release in exchange for reviewing it for WaterBrook Multnomah. It just released on Tuesday, and let me simply introduce it by saying that it's a book I recommend with confidence.

Who's It For: This book is definitely for Christians, as Stanley frequently quotes Scripture passages and explains what they mean to the Christian's heart. That said, the book's reach may be broad enough because it is clinical but comes across as "self-help from a biblical perspective."

What It's About: Enemies of the Heart is about four destructive emotions that control us and what to do about them. The emotions are guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy. If you're like me, I initially thought that only one or two of those applied. However, after reading this book I realized how incorrect my impressions were and how they could still apply to me - or anyone, for that matter - even if they weren't primary.

Stanley puts these emotions in a debt-to-debtor context, which really helped me understand and remember them more clearly. Guilt says "I owe you;" anger says "you owe me;" greed says "I owe me;" and jealousy says "God owes me." The premise is that whatever your situation, there is something that was (actually or perceived) taken and thus something owed (or believed to be owed). The solutions: confess, forgive, give, and celebrate, respectively.

Some Highlights: I really enjoyed this book, both for personal and professional reasons. As a professional counselor, I found myself agreeing with Stanley's assessments of the four enemies of the heart as well as how they tend to evidence themselves in people's lives. I especially appreciated that he made a point to say that a person's heart is where problems lie and how certain actions (or habits) will work to change the heart, from the inside out. Effectively, this seeks to treat the underlying cause of problems rather than simply symptoms.

Enemies is written in plain, easy-to-read language that both professionals and lay persons should be able to follow it very easily. I appreciated this. However, even though it's a quick read it's not without substance. There were often places in the book where I had to put it down and reflect for myself because Stanley's representation of the heart vices were so convicting. His approach genuinely encouraged me to desire change in areas that were illuminated as needing change.

There's also a study guide in the back, which is pretty straight forward and geared towards small group discussions. I always appreciate that option with books, because it makes them more appealing if readers choose to use it in that setting.

Some Lowlights: One criticism I have of Stanley is that he comes across as slightly self-righteous or sarcastic at times. Particularly when he's describing the destructive nature of one of the four enemies, it felt to me as though he toed the line between admonishing and insulting. Don't get me wrong, this was very slight and definitely not intentional - in fact, at times I could tell he was using humor to make a point, and it was often effective. That said, Stanley's heart was quick to come through and repair any accidental error - especially when he moved into how to confront the enemy of the heart.

A critique I have of the book is that it can be too general in places where some explanation or caution are needed. For example, when talking about forgiving in order to overcome anger, Stanley is completely silent about situations where abuse or unrepentance exist. Even if he had no intention of applying his concepts to these circumstances, I found myself wishing he'd at least made a statement to reflect as much. There are so many questions I wished he asked and answered, such as what to do once forgiveness has been given.

Summary: Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it. It's easy to read, applicable to probably anyone, biblically referenced, and a great tool to help Christians break free of these four enemies of the heart. Keep in mind that it's not intended as a complete resource nor should it replace professional therapy or pastoral guidance, though it would be an excellent supplement for these.


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