A Review of “Good & Angry” by David Powlison

good-and-angryFar too many Christians are reductionist in their assessment of emotions, and simplistic in their treatment of negative emotions. We say things like, “don’t live by your feelings.” We counsel people to “stop” feeling certain ways. We reduce negative emotions down to simply, “sin,” and assert that those experiencing them need to “repent.” David Powlison offers something far better in his new book on anger. Good & Angry offers readers a better understanding of anger than any other work I’ve read.

David Powlison has, for decades now, been one of the leading voices in the Biblical Counseling movement. His brilliance, nuance, and experience evidence themselves regularly in his various writings and teaching. Readers will find the same acumen in his newest book, which draws from the Scriptures as well as Powlison’s own experience (as both a counselor and a sinner). Books on anger abound, but, as is to be expected from this author, Good & Angry is unique in its presentation of redeemed anger.

The problem with far too many books on anger, is they treat it like a “bad habit.” But, says Powlison, “anger is not a problem to solve.” Instead it is a “human capacity – like sex, happiness, and sorrow” (2). As image bearers of God we are created with the same capacity for anger that He posses. In Scripture both God the Father and God the Son get angry, yet they never sin. So, we must see anger as more than a bad habit, it is a human capacity to respond to what is wrong in the world. In our broken world, however, anger can be perverted. We can sometimes do anger well and other times do it wrong. Powlison aims to help readers see the difference and deal more “fruitfully and honestly” with their anger (2).

The book is broken down into four sections. Part one seeks to put into words our “experience” of anger. These first three chapters set offer some self-evaluation that will help the reader make good application of change in the latter part of the book. Part two shifts to more precise understanding of anger. The six chapters that make up section two focus on defining anger correctly, identifying accurately its various forms and manifestations, and drawing distinctions between constructive and destructive anger. This section Powlison calls the “engine room of the book;” it is the longest of the four sections. Section three zeroes in on the process of change. Focusing our attention on Scripture and the response of God, Powlison aims to help us think through the practical steps to change, concluding with eight questions meant to help us evaluate and orient our anger towards godliness. Finally, section four highlights “hard cases” of anger. Here Powlison helps us to get more detailed in our addressing four particularly common and difficult examples of anger.

This will now be my go-to book on anger. Powlison’s ability to write both with remarkable insight and depth, and yet to write in a way that is accessible and compelling is a rare gift. He is able to speak to our experience, our rationalizations, and our frustration with keen insight. This is a book that reveals the breadth and depth of anger, points a finger at our own hearts, and yet always orients us towards the transforming grace of God. Above all he helps readers to see and understand anger Biblically and holistically. Anger is not a disease to be cured, but a human capacity in need of redemption. Thank God there is a redeemer.

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