Ernest R. Larkins
Reviewed by: Thomas S. Champness
Christian Character: Why It Matters, What It Looks Like, and How to Improve It, by Ernest R. Larkins. Resource Publications, 2022. Paperback, 320 pages, $36.27 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP minister Thomas S. Champness.
Dr. Larkins, a former OP member, has given us a practical guide for developing twenty-six Christian character traits. Far from being a mere self-help book, Larkins tells us (twenty-six times): ”Remember, the Lord’s help is vital to cultivating Christian character. Only his power can enable you to change.” This book is biblically informed, theologically astute, readily accessible, and highly applicable.
Each chapter begins with suggested introductory activities as a “warm up” for digging into a specific character quality. Each quality is succinctly defined and then elucidated by relevant Scripture passages. Examples from the lives of Bible characters are presented, enabling us to see the quality in action. This is followed by practical teaching on how to implement the character quality into our daily living with God’s help.
In the chapter on attentiveness, Larkins encourages us to give earnest and sincere attention both to God and to others. In our digital age we are unrelentingly bombarded with information. In this environment, for us to hear God speaking to us in Scripture and to heed the needs of those around us is no easy task. Larkins helpfully concludes each chapter with a suggested prayer. Here is a portion of his prayer from this chapter:
Great Father, how merciful that you fixed your attention on my sinful and lost condition, sending Jesus to bear my sin and save me. . . . Forgive me for not listening carefully to your words and not listening caringly to others. . . . Teach me to be like Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened with rapt attention.
Reading this chapter convicted this reviewer of his need to focus more intently and more undividedly on those whom God’s providence brings into his life.
Deference is defined as “the volitional yielding to another person’s opinion, judgment, need, wish, preference, or will.” This chapter references Hudson Taylor, the British missionary to China. “Unlike other missionaries of the day, he wore Chinese clothing, ate with chopsticks, shaved his forehead, and braided his remaining hair into a single pigtail or queue.” His deference to Chinese culture created opportunities for sharing the gospel during the fifty-one years he spent in China. When we show deference, we are considering others more important than ourselves. Abraham showed deference to Lot when he gave Lot first choice of land. Jesus showed deference when he surrendered his own will to save the elect. Church members show deference when they distinguish between what are matters of biblical principles in church life and what are personal preferences. The first should be like hardened steel and the second like melted butter. The proper use of deference fosters peace in the church.
Christian Character can be used for self-study or classes. At the end of the book is a helpful “Teaching and Learning Guide” (Appendix D), along with an offer of free PowerPoint slides that coordinate with the text.
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