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
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.