Book Review: Enemies of the Heart

Enemies of the Heart
By Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley, one of the most effective church leaders today, writes another practical work: this one on emotions gone bad. Diving into the core of the matter, Andy digs deep enough to start the hard work on overcoming our fluctuating feelings.

Andy Stanley is like the cool uncle who dispenses the best advice over a cup of hot coffee on a rainy day. His voice feels like inviting an old friend in your home: safe, reassuring, almost “by-golly” at times, with just the right balance of zip and patience. It’s why Pastor Andy is one of the bestselling preachers and writers for every age range, walk of life, among different communities and races, for the erudite scholar or the everyday layman. He has a cozy, broad appeal.

Enemies of the Heart is no different, as Pastor Andy covers the four most aggressive emotions that threaten to hurt us: Guilt, Anger, Greed, and Jealousy. Turning each of these into “debts” — such as Guilt becoming “I Owe You” — Pastor Andy gets to work on the diagnoses and the cure. While some would accuse him of being soft on doctrine, Stanley actually does a great job incorporating the Gospel into each of these emotions, showing how Jesus came to rescue us daily from the power of sin.

Andy tosses in personal stories, great illustrations, and practical tips that combine for an incisive look into why we circle the drain of emotional woes. He digs rather deep in places, pulling out the real reasons behind the reasons, eventually getting us into a corner with no more rationalizations. While some writers are overly eager to do this quickly, Pastor Andy takes his time, growing his ideas until the end of each chapter when he unloads his “gotcha” moment, and the conviction naturally comes.

Where did that come from? It’s not enough to change some outward behaviors. Beneath our emotions is some kind of expectation that was never met, or was crushed, or was exaggerated. Pastor Andy is good at sifting through each of our motives and idols. I found myself nodding multiple times, highlighting even parts of sentences that rang true. It was not only an excellent resource for a sermon series, but personally convicting about my own inner-war.

Near the end of the book, one of his best chapters is about the future of our children. It’s profound and poignant without being preachy, challenging us to consider that our emotional health will — like genetic traits — pass onto our children. This sobering reminder was crucial: often we ask about our child’s day, what they did or didn’t do, what they’re about to do, and how they’re physically feeling, but rarely do we ask about the spiritual condition of our child’s heart. Such questions will emphasize what is most important to parents and what should (or shouldn’t) be important to children. This chapter is perfect in showing how we can so easily neglect spiritual health, just as much as we dislike going to the doctor’s office.

While this might have been outside the purview of Andy Stanley’s book, the most glaring flaw is that there is very little mention of the Holy Spirit. Many of his methods imply it, but mostly they feel pragmatic and self-motivated. While his solutions are certainly good, they’re not sustainable outside Spirit-Prayer-Scripture-dependence. Even a sentence or two would have been helpful, but there isn’t one mention of the Spirit, which is troubling.

So much psychology can also give the impression that our emotions are maladjusted thinking patterns, when Pastor Andy could have gone even deeper into sinful idolatry. Emotions gone bad are often just vehicles for our ego so that we can fulfill a particular desire through self-centered manipulation. It’s why anger leads to control or guilt leads to penance; greed leads to hoarding and jealousy leads to undermining. Since Pastor Andy doesn’t always make this connection, he leaves out tons of theology like Satan, temptation, spiritual warfare, worldliness, and indoctrinated secularism. But again, this is probably outside his thesis. He keeps it simple, which is both a strength and a pitfall.

Since the book was also originally released as It Came From Within, the last part of the book is an added revision which contains numerous typos. A missing word actually caused me to laugh out loud (you’ll know it when you see it).

Bottom Line:
Andy Stanley’s work on emotions is like a “starter kit” on the motives and madness behind our crazy emotions. Despite its incomplete theology — minus the Holy Spirit and spiritual warfare — it’s definitely worth reading and diagnosing the conflicted heart.

Choice Quotes:

God’s decision to forgive Peter required the death of his Son; Peter’s decision to forgive those who had offended him would cost him little more than his pride. The same is true for us.

In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another. Forgiveness is the gift that ensures my freedom from a prison of bitterness and resentment. (129)

My sermon series on Overcoming Emotions on the podcast.


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