Practicing Affirmation

August 9, 2011 — Leave a comment
  • Paperback: 176pgs
  • Publisher: Crossway (January 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433522438
  • Amazon ($10.08)
  • Westminster ($9.93)

Thanks to Crossway for providing this review copy!


Sam Crabtree is the lead pastor for life training at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, which if you’re not familiar is John Piper’s church. Piper does the preaching, Crabtree does the vision casting and is the executive pastor. This looks to be his first published book, but he has a very polished style of writing and communicating.


Crabtree takes a slightly different approach in presenting the material though, which I think makes this book unique. After the foreword by Piper, chapter one lays the foundation for an understanding of “God-centered” affirmation. As Crabtree describes it, “Good affirmations are God-centered, pointing to the image of God in a person” (p. 18). As he defines affirmation later, it is “truthfully declaring by complimentary word or action the goodness of something. Good affirmation attest, certifies, or confirms that which honors God, that which is morally upright” (p. 132). The balance of the first chapter basically sketches out the theological foundations of this view of affirmation, concluding that it is something every should practice and toward believers and non-believers alike.

Turning to chapter two, Crabtree introduces the metaphor of “affirmation as the key to relationships.” By “key” he pulls conceptually from the literal function of a key as being necessary to start a car or open a door. There may be other issues preventing your car from starting, but a car in good working order requires a key in the ignition to go anywhere. Similarly, our relationships need consistent affirmations to continue to grow. On this point, he introduces the metaphor or “relationships as bank accounts.” This I think is extremely helpful. The basic idea is that a relationship has a balance in its account. Correction and criticisms are withdrawals, while affirmations are deposits. If you are not consistently depositing more than you are withdrawing, your relationships will eventually go bankrupt. For those who have watched relationships disintegrate without a highly visible cause, it is likely that lack of affirmation was the key problem in the demise.

Continuing with the key metaphor, chapter three uncovers four characteristics of good affirmations (detached from correction, steady, honest, and God-centered) as well as nine reasons to affirm others:

  • Affirming others earns us the right standing from which to make suggestions
  • Affirmation lifts morale
  • Affirmation energizes people
  • Affirmation of others makes us easier to live with
  • Striving to affirm others puts us in the practice of looking at them positively
  • Affirmation constructively uses time that could have been wasted complaining
  • Affirmation showcases the character of God
  • Behaviors that are rewarded and celebrated are more likely to be repeated
  • When we commend God’s image in other people it brings glory to God

Interestingly, after this chapter, Crabtree interjects a short chapter (four) on five crucial assumptions underlying his view of affirmation, before moving to a chapter (five) detailing mistakes Crabtree himself has made in growing in the practice of affirming. The following chapter (six) is a helpful list of questions and answers that you can tell were posed to Crabtree throughout his time in ministry. They may be his anticipations of objections to some of what he has said so far, and if so, he is very good at heading off potential disagreements. He handles what, in some cases, read like testy questions raised against his views on affirmation. After settling some issues, chapter seven lists several Christlike qualities we can be on the lookout for in other people that we can then affirm before moving to a chapter (eight) that offers advice on mixing correction and affirmation.

The book ends with a chapter that contains 100 suggestions for those who feel stuck, before wrapping up completely with two appendices. These appendices shouldn’t be overlooked since the first is helpful for determining when an issue is worth entering a conflict over (hint: it is when the issue is extremely important, and when yoiu are fairly certain you have the right point of view), while the second is helpful for examining the tone of voice you use when you affirm (hint: sometimes you send mixed signals). Back to the suggestions though. I think this was a brilliant way to end since it gives you immediate practical ways to apply much of Crabtree has discussed.

All in all, this is a short book that gets right to the point and closes with a ton of practical suggestions. I think we can all agree that we each probably need to be more genuinely affirming of our friends and family. We probably even more need to make sure those affirmations are God-centered and are consciously directed to people who are themselves growing (or not growing) in varying degrees of Christlikeness. As Piper would be quick to warn us, no book besides the Bible is a “must read.” But this book provides very helpful advice for applying Scripture, and I would hope many of you would pick up a copy and let it change your relational habits.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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