A Book Review of Humilitas by John Dickson.

by Donny Weimar

Dickson’s thesis is: The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility.”

Dickson presents arguments saying humility is a virtue requisite to better leadership. Humility does not mean humiliation. Instead, it is a voluntary humbleness. A person’s strengths are for the benefit of others. Such does not mean “being a doormat for others, having a low self-esteem or curbing your strengths and achievements” (p. 21). Western culture is a mixture of three ancient cultures – Hebrew, Greek and Roman; it is “a religious, an artistic and an organizing, administrative or scientific civilization. In all three languages, “the word used to describe humility means ‘low,’ as in low to the ground” (p. 23). Thus, to be humble means to lower yourself – willingly. To accomplish this one is to redirect one’s powers, whether physical, intellectual, financial, or structural, for the sake of others (p. 25).

Listen to a Sermon on Humility & Leadership by Donny Weimar HERE

Team Goals

The “art of inspiring others in a team to contribute their best toward a goal” is the core of leadership (p. 33). Leaders can move members of an organization towards a goal. Such people use abilities wherein they excel to make other all-stars on the team. Take them out of their natural zone of ability and they might not be the best leaders. In their element, they persuade others in the direction of a common goal. Finally, leaders set the right example. Herein is where true action resides. “Massive influence can be exerted with minimal structural authority as long as maximal persuasion and life example exist” (p. 44).

Common Sense

Humility is common sense. Competence innately demonstrates how incompetent we are, for the more we learn the more questions we have. “Knowing a lot in fact demonstrates how much I don’t know” (p. 53). It is of vital importance to humbly accept the central idea of this chapter: “none of us is an expert at everything, so a little humility is common sense” (p. 55). Furthermore, a studious person must acknowledge that which one cannot do or know surpasses what one can know and do. Only God is omnipotent and omniscient.


Arete is the classical Greek term for virtue. The ancients were not so far from moderns who look on outward splendor, physical prowess, or ethical beauty. Scripture teaches us the beauty God seeks is not on the outside, which fades with age. Rather, it is the inward person whose virtuosity allow true leaders blessings with good fortune in a spirit of humility (p. 72). We agree with the last sentence in summation of the chapter. “Humility is not an ornament to be worn; it is an ideal that will transform” (p. 81).

Honor & Pride or Humility – Which is the weakest?

Graeco-Roman antiquity loved the pursuit of honor and were haughty. They viewed humility as a weakness because lowering oneself leads to shame. The “chief good was the respect and praise that comes through these activities as the way they confirm the merit of the one so honored [sic]” (p. 85). Honor, as Aristotle explains, is a matter of “achieving the respect of people or having something of the worth that al, l or the general public, or the good, or the prudent desire” (p. 87) Such is in stark contrast to biblical humility where one draws attention away from self and towards others, especially Holy God.

The Lowest Place on Earth

History marks a pivotal turning point in Western culture. The God of the Bible is sympathetic towards the poor and downtrodden. Jesus told his disciples that his rabbinical yoke was easy but humble (p. 103). Death on the cross was the lowest place the Roman world could envisage (p. 105). Christians have taken the evidence of Jesus self-humiliation as proof of true greatness (p. 107). Because of Christianity’s dismantling haughty styled honor, the impact in Western culture is ubiquitous.

Humility is the Basis of the Scientific Method

Accomplished scientists find humility as the basis of the scientific method; testing everything. The thrust of this chapter is in its concluding remarks. “The humble place is the place of growth” (p. 130). Dickson’s logic is people who imagine they know mostly what is important are “hermetically sealed from learning new things and receiving constructive criticism” (p. 116). Inheriting the earth is for the meek (Matthew 5). This inheritance is of maturation on this side of eternity. When one is humble, he paradoxically is cable of achieving more and have a greater sense of self-worth.

Humble Servant Leaders

“The perceived character of the persuader is central to his powers of persuasion” (p. 139). The leader will see himself as a servant of the group, hearing the needs and voices of the group. A listening and gentle character is the controlling factor in effective communication. Aristotle taught such ethos in his system of rhetoric and won the world. We appropriately call this the sociology of knowledge, a belief in good hearted people.

Humble Leaders are “Normal”

Those who inspire us most in life are not necessarily they who are of high achievement and status alone. It is the people we meet and whom we encourage us to soar above mediocrity, because of the interest they have taken in us. The humble leader comes across as a “normal person” who puts the company ahead of herself. She is willing to chat with the employees and fosters loyalty towards herself and the team. By energizing others and giving credit to them she can motivate without drawing attention to self.

Humble Convictions vs. Absolute Tolerance

There is a difference between the call for tolerance in our world today and the larger need for humility. “Humility applied to convictions does not mean believing things any less; it means treating those who hold contrary beliefs with respect and friendship” (p. 166). Absolute tolerance is irrational.

Learning to Be Humbler

The author suggests six things to become humbler (1) We are shaped by what we love (p. 173); (2) Reflecting on the lives of people we see as humble (p. 175); (3) Conducting thought experiments to enhance humility (p. 177); (4) Act humbly – a cognitive-behavioral exercise (p. 178); (5) invite criticism from friends and colleagues (p. 179); (6) forget about being humble. The first step is really to realize that one is proud. It seems to me that if when one comes think himself to be humble, he is proud in his humility. Thus, not at all humble. Nobody can fully arrive.

Humilitas Agrees with Biblical Teaching On Humility

Humilitas presents a non-theological work that agrees with the biblical doctrine of humility. I find the book applicable to the Lord’s church. You do not have be an elder, deacon, preacher, or family minister to be a leader. You do not have to have any management authority in the body of Christ to make disciples. But you must have humility.

Humility Influences Souls

The ability to influence souls for the Master is exemplary indeed and doctrine. It takes persuasion but not coercion. Genuine soul winners will seek the best interest of the Lord’s converts to grow and train the followers of Jesus. Our utmost for His highest is the calling every Christian has for serving the Master. Responding to the Master takes the courage to lay our lives down, taking up our cross and following Him. By doing so we will become leaders from the front. We will be vessels through whom the Captain of souls will call others to follow Him. Humilitas was an excellent lead. So much so, that I preached a lesson using the outline of this review and using Philippians 2:3-11 as the Scripture text.


Dickson, John. 2011. Humilitas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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