David Powlison. Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
David Powlison is the executive director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, and he edits the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He has an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
As the title of the book indicates, Powlison addresses the topic of anger in Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness. Part of his agenda is to encourage people to use their anger in constructive ways, especially when that anger is directed towards injustice. Powlison talks about the importance of confronting people who have made us justly angry, in order to persuade them tactfully not to hurt others.
But Powlison also offers strategies on how to deal with anger that arises from things simply not going as we wish. For Powlison, recognizing and identifying the roots of our anger, placing our desires in a proper perspective, and appreciating God’s mercy, sovereignty, and benevolence are all strategies for alleviating anger. Powlison believes that prayer is significant in this process.
Another issue that is discussed in the book is whether anger at God is justified. Powlison criticizes ranting against God or forgiving God, for Powlison regards God as righteous, and human beings as flawed. Powlison disagrees with those who claim that the Psalms justify ranting against God, for he maintains that they indicate a desire for God’s righteous intervention and presence, not an anti-God attitude.
Powlison includes anecdotes in this book. He is honest about his own shortcomings and describes his own experiences with anger. He refers to people he has known who were angry: one story that comes to mind is the one about the lady who was angry about things that occurred a long time ago, and they were still fresh in her mind, as if they had occurred yesterday! Powlison also draws from books that he has read, both fiction and non-fiction.
The Bible looms large in Powlison’s book, as he finds helpful biblical insights about anger and how to deal with it.
In terms of the book’s positives, the author’s honesty gave his discussion credibility. Powlison is talking about an issue with which he has struggled, and he is offering insights for others who struggle. The anecdotes were helpful. And the book manifested an tone of acceptance towards where people were. Powlison encouraged readers to identify BWAs—-“But what about”s—-which are areas in which they disagreed with the author, or wondered if or how his discussion would address certain issues.
Powlison also offered a specific way to cope with anger in a scenario: you are caught up in unexpected traffic and will be late for your doctor’s appointment, your business meeting, or lunch with an estranged friend. How can you cope in that situation? Powlison provides questions to ask that deal with identifying insecurities and reflecting on the consequences of anger. Psalm 23 plays a significant role in his advice, as does showing concern for others.
As one who struggles socially, Powlison’s discussion about people who are angry because they lack social skills resonated with me: Powlison said that it is not a sin to lack wit! He encouraged people to care more about God’s opinion of them than their own or other people’s opinion. There may be wisdom to that. At the same time, there are people who can read the Bible and feel condemned by it. There are also Christians who accuse introverted people of lacking love, and that can negatively shape an introverted person’s view of what God thinks about him or her!
In terms of the book’s negatives, the book could have been more specific about how to do interpersonal confrontation. Powlison should have provided scenarios about how to confront someone in a tactful, humble manner. Powlison also appeared rather critical of attempting to insulate oneself from anger through distance, or by watching television. In my opinion, distraction can be a useful way to get one’s mind off of the things that make one angry! And, as far as Scripture was concerned, the book perhaps would have been better had it wrestled with Jesus’ statements about God not forgiving us if we do not forgive others.
Overall, though, the book offers wisdom. Powlison writes from a Christian perspective, but a lot of what he says reminds me of Buddhism, or the twelve steps of twelve-step groups. Like Buddhism, Powlison recognizes the role of our desires in making us unhappy. And the fourth step encourages those in recovery to make a list of people towards whom one is bitter, and to identify what exactly those people threatened: one’s self-esteem, livelihood, security, etc.? Many people have been helped by twelve step programs, and that is something that, in my mind, gives Powlison’s advice credence: that similar advice has worked.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.