by Fred W. Anson
A review of Andy Stanley’s
“Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You”
Andy Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church and son of Dr. Charles F. Stanley, who is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Andy is also the author of several books including “How Good Is Good Enough?” which I read several years ago and, I thought, a solid vernacular treatise on grace versus works. He has an engaging, approachable style and his theology is sound – which, I suppose it could be said, is hardly a surprise given his pedigree, training, and life experience.
“Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You” was published in 2011 so this review is admittedly late to the game. Never-the-less I found that prior reviews had missed an important – but blatant – weakness in this book that this reviewer felt worthy of consideration.
The four “enemies” are guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy which Stanley unpacks like this:
Guilt = “I owe you”
Anger = “You owe me”
Greed = “I owe myself”, and
Jealousy = “God owes me”
The book is short, concise, engaging, thought provoking, easy to read and practical. There’s much sage wisdom here grounded solidly in Biblical truth.
What’s missing – though it’s admittedly a minor irritation – is balance. While the author lightly, and it seemed to me somewhat grudgingly, acknowledges that transitive guilt, greed, and jealously in some contexts and in moderation can be good, even healthy, I could find no admission in the book that this is equally true of anger. Rather, the author seems to have bought into the false modern Christian doctrine that anger is always sin. If so, may I introduce you to Sinner #1, His name is God Almighty:
“God’s anger was kindled [against Balaam] because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary.”
— Numbers 22:22, ESV
“Then my [God’s] anger will be kindled against them in that day [that God’s people worship other gods], and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.”
— Deuteronomy 31:17, ESV
“They have made me [God] jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols.”
— Deuteronomy 32:21, ESV
“But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon”
— Ezra 5:12, ESV
“In the temple he [Christ] found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”’
— John 2:14-16, ESV
I will spare the reader any more proof texting but suffice to say the Bible is full of references to God’s anger. Simply put, God gets angry, yet doesn’t sin, and even speaks openly of His anger as if it’s a good, normal, and healthy thing.
Further, and some of you might want to sit down for this one, no where – again, no where – in the Bible is anger defined as sin. In fact, Ephesians 4:26-27 (which Stanley cites in the book) states plainly, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Did you catch that – the Apostle Paul states plainly “be angry”. That’s mind blowing stuff if you, like me, were raised to believe the false doctrine that anger is a sin. Think about it: If anger is in fact sin, then Paul is giving the Ephesians flawed, even reprobate, counsel.
Rather, the Bible is clear that anger, like guilt, greed, and jealousy can lead to sin if it’s not processed in a righteous manner. What God models for us in the Bible is that anger is normal and healthy when something of value is threatened or requires protection. That’s why we see God getting angry with Israel over their idol worship in the Old Testament and why we see God the Son getting angry over His holy temple being transformed from a sacred space into a common strip mall in the New Testament.
Put another way, would you be sinning for getting angry if a bully starts beating up your child on the playground for no reason? Or at a pickpocket trying to take your wallet? Or at a vandal spraying graffiti on the side of your house? Or at your spouse flirting with another person in front of you? Or, or, or . . . see my point?
So it’s clear that when expressed in healthy, transitive ways anger is normal, productive, and even godly. It’s only when it becomes chronic, permanent, or gets expressed in sinful ways that the problems begin.
I saw this first hand when I was a DivorceCare counselor at a local church. On one hand, many of the Christians there (including me, I confess) would have benefited greatly from this book because they were holding onto and expressing their anger in ways that were unproductive: Needlessly extending legal action out of spite, drawing their divorcing spouses into conflict, damaging community property, making a “scene” in public, using the children as weapons in their war with the other party, choosing to hate and distrust all men/women, etc., etc., etc. Their anger fueled sin was easy to see, easy to understand and easy to identify. Yet believe it or not, they were actually the easy ones to counsel to a place of balance.
Far harder were the Christians who had been told that anger was a sin and, as a result, they refused to fight for their marriage, their children, their property, or even their basic, inherent rights as a person created in the image of God. These poor souls would simply let their aggressive divorcing spouses roll over them like a steamroller and do nothing. In some cases they had marriages worth fighting for yet they wouldn’t fight! And no amount of logic, reason, or prayer would convince them that there is, “a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7&8, ESV) In their mind tearing was sin, speaking was sin, hate was sin, and war was sin because they all involved anger.
And this is the nuance that Andy Stanley “whiffs” on badly in this book. In his quest to make his point it seemed to me that the author got it right in three cases and struck out on one – normal, protective, transitive, even godly, anger. In fact, had he made this distinction I would have no complaints with the book.
Never-the-less, and regardless this flaw, this is a book that I heartily recommend with this suggestion: Whenever the author uses the words, “guilt”, “anger”, “greed” or “jealousy” simply insert the clarifying adjective “chronic” in front of each of them.