William Farley's Gospel-Powered Humility (P&R, 2011) offers a gospel-centered description of the term-"the capacity to see myself in God's light, in the context of his holiness and my sinfulness"-and suggests that "humility is a prerequisite for conversion." We are saved by faith alone, but "the faith that saves immediately begins the humbling process."
Farley builds on insights offered by Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis. Augustine "suggested that humility is the soil from which all the virtues grow and pride the soil that produces the vices." Calvin argued that "unbelief is the source of pride, faith is the beginning and source of humility. ... Real, heartfelt faith in the gospel always humbles," because we realize that we are in trouble and cannot get ourselves out of it by trying harder.
Later, Edwards called humility "a great and most essential thing in true religion," and argued, "The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new covenant, and all God's dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect [humility] in the hearts of men." In this sense, it strikes me that the people we see as most miserable-dealing with a problem they cannot handle-are actually blessed, because they are more likely to rely on God than those who believe they have everything under control.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." Farley calls this "the great paradox: The proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. ... He aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn't think of himself as humble. The proud man is completely unaware of his pride. Of all men he is most convinced that he is humble."
Farley notes how pride has sapped institutions, including colleges, where founders emphasize knowledge and learning but "the third generation capitulates to the lust for intellectual responsibility." And that leads me to another book, D.A. Carson's The Intolerance of Tolerance (Eerdmans, 2012), which illuminates the subtle but massive change in the definition of "tolerance" adopted by many leaders in academia and media. "Tolerance" once meant recognizing the rights of others to have different views. Now it stipulates that no one can say some views are right and others are wrong.
Under the old definition, Carson notes, "tolerance is the virtue of a person with convictions who thinks that others should not be coerced to agree with his convictions." The new definition leads to exclusion in the name of inclusion. For example, some colleges are trying to coerce Christian groups into allowing practicing homosexuals to be officers, and banning the groups if they require allegiance to biblical precepts.
The logical contradiction of exclusionary inclusion is obvious: What happens to toleration of the view that we shouldn't agree with another view? The practical consequences are severe: The old tolerance lets evangelical churches meet in schools on Sunday mornings, unless atheists outbid them for the same space. The new tolerance excludes anyone considered intolerant.
Carson recommends that Christians admit intolerance of pedophilia, rape, and other evils, and push others to admit that they also are intolerant of such things. The debate then advances beyond one of tolerance vs. intolerance, and potentially proceeds to one of right and wrong. We can ask a pleader for the new tolerance: Do you think "the world would be a better place if all Jews were thrown into the ovens"? Do you agree that pedophilia is "a fine expression of love?" Is there "nothing morally objectionable about crushing the skull of a baby and sucking out its brains, when in the normal course of events it was only three weeks from birth"?
He concludes with an excellent 10-point program, including "Expose the New Tolerance's Moral and Epistemological Bankruptcy ... Expose the New Tolerance's Condescending Arrogance ... Distinguish between Empirical Diversity and the Inherent Goodness of All Diversity ... Challenge Secularism's Ostensible Neutrality and Superiority."
Or, in other words, work and pray for humility to replace pride.