“Practicing Affirmation” by Sam Crabtree


Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). $14.99, 176 pages.

As my wife and I raise our toddler son, we notice that he responds better to affirmation than to correction. If we affirm his behavior as good and praise him for it, he increasingly behaves in the desired way. However, if he hears “No” too often, he tunes us out.

According to Sam Crabtree, “Affirmation is the purpose of the universe—specifically, affirmation of God.” But, he argues, we also should affirm “those who are not God.” The Bible teaches that God affirms us, whether believer or unbeliever, if we act in ways that reflect his image. And it further teaches us to do the same to others. When we affirm people, we praise the God in whose image they are made.

Affirmation is the “key to refreshing relationships.” According to Crabtree, it should be “detached from correction,” “steady,” “honest,” and “God-centered.” More than a compliment, an affirmation pays attention to “patterns of character that emerge from the work of God going on inside a person.”

Affirmation does not negate the need for correction. My wife and I cannot affirm every temper tantrum our son throws, for example. But affirmation—especially when it predominates in a relationship—provides the emotional space in which correction can be given and received.

Crabtree serves as executive pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where John Piper is senior pastor. The way Crabtree frames some of his remarks reflects Piper’s distinctive Calvinist theology, but Arminians can learn from the book too. Crabtree offers sound biblical advice on affirmation, a topic that should not be theologically controversial, but a practice that is sorely needed in our homes, our churches, and our communities.

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