On today's edition of The Mortal Coyle, we have a special guest post by the domestic harpy (and regular book reviewer both on her own blog and over at Schaeffer's Ghost).
By Alexis Neal
Confession: I have what you might call an anger problem. When circumstances don’t go the way I think they should, I have a tendency to fly off the handle and/or succumb to a fit of the sulks. One setback can ruin my whole day … to say nothing of the days of those who have to put up with me.
So when I was given a chance to read a new book called The Anger Workbook, I eagerly agreed. After all, I have anger. I could use help managing it. And the book is by no less a personage than Frank Minirth, M.D., whose other works were frequently consulted by my parents during my childhood (the book is also co-written by counselor Les Carter). Of course, it’s a workbook, not a regular book, which makes it a bit more challenging to review—not least because I’ve never really ‘gotten’ the appeal of workbooks. They always seem long on blank space and short on actual, substantive text. Me, I prefer real books. But this is a workbook, and I’ll do my best to review it on its own terms.
The workbook itself is fine, I guess, though it seems to be fairly obvious. Perhaps it would be helpful to those who’ve literally never given a moment’s thought to their anger and its causes; for those who are inclined to introspection, many of Minirth and Carter’s insights and suggestions will likely be things they figured out for themselves a long time ago. Beyond that, there’s the usual workbook stuff: lots of checklists to help you determine whether you struggle with various types of anger, questions about the circumstances that tend to trigger your anger, and lots and lots of anecdotes. All of which doesn’t leave a ton of room for substance (though given the rather troubling nature of that substance, perhaps that’s not a bad thing).
Minirth and Carter seem to have set their minds (and pens) to an incredibly difficult task: They are Christian counselors who claim to be giving biblically-based counsel, but it appears that the majority of their clients (and possibly the intended audience for this book) is not actually Christian. (Some of them may have been raised in the church and may consider themselves nominally Christian, merely because they are not Buddhist or Muslim or atheists. For some reason, these individuals sought help from Christian counselors, and now Minirth and Carter are stuck trying to convince them of the importance of ‘spiritual matters’ and ‘spiritual well-being.’)
The ‘Christian’ nature of the counsel Minirth and Carter provide is rather limited. The book is littered with bible references that support the principles Minirth and Carter advocate. And they’re sound enough principles, by and large: Be realistic about your own fallen nature and the fallen nature of those around you; don’t be surprised when bad things happen; treat others with respect; respond calmly to the anger of others; forgive those who wrong you, etc. Good stuff. But not unique to Christianity—not by a long shot. In fact, all of the 13 steps Minirth and Carter outline would likely be readily accepted by the majority of secular counselors. Which tells you right off that something may be hinky. After all, our belief in Christ and His atoning work on the cross should affect us across a broad spectrum—there should a fundamental difference between the way the world thinks about anger and the way we think about it. And Minirth and Carter’s way seems eerily similar to much of pop psychology.
This problem is compounded by the fact that Minirth and Carter present their biblical principles as, essentially, a list of dos and don’ts. A set of laws, if you will. God is mentioned, and Christ, but as a source of strength and a good example, respectively. The gospel, though occasionally (and obliquely) hinted at, is never clearly presented, nor is it used as the central spring from which godly behavior flows. Instead, religion is reduced to merely a ‘part’ of the whole man that must be adequately addressed to ensure wholeness. You won’t be well-rounded and healthy until you address the ‘spiritual’ side of your life, and the guidance provided by Scripture should be followed because it’s good advice.
So forgiveness is recommended not because Christ in His infinite mercy purchased forgiveness for us at great cost to himself, but because forgiving people makes us feel better (and withholding forgiveness is bad for our own development). Don’t get me wrong—forgiveness is better for us, but that’s not the ultimate reason why we are called to forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven, and nothing anyone can do to us could ever match the sin we’ve committed against a holy God.
But then, when Minirth and Carter talk about the sin nature and Adam’s fall, there is never any sense of the horror of sin—of anger as a sin against the very nature of God, something loathsome and reprehensible and deserving of wrath. Anger seems to be more of an ‘oopsie’, something we really should work on in order to improve ourselves and our relationship (again, partly true). So I guess it makes sense that their portrayal of forgiveness is so off-kilter. If all we’ve been forgiven is a character flaw, then that forgiveness can’t really motivate us to forgive the real and tangible wrongs we endure at the hands of others, and we need to look elsewhere for motivation.
Even as Minirth and Carter ostensibly try to inject some biblical principles into the arena of anger management, it seems that much of the secular psychological ideology has infected their thinking. There’s a lot of talk about ‘unmet needs’ and ‘inferiority’—appeals to pop psychology’s worship of self rather than biblical principles of self-denial and trust in a sovereign God. (In contrast, the book of James talks about ‘unmet needs’, but hardly in a flattering light.) Really, it just feels like Minirth and Carter took all the secular ideas about psychology and then hunted up bible verses to support them.
Again, there are kernels of truth hidden here, but the end result is something that seems to elevate humans (and human wisdom) and de-emphasize the One in whose image they are made. In light of the (possibly unintentional) legalistic presentation of biblical principles and the essentially secular worldview, I can’t really recommend this book. Do yourself a favor and read the vastly superior Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert D. Jones instead.
Alexis Neal is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., area. She regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com .**Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”**