What exactly is humility and why does it matter to the Christian faith? While we might believe that everyone throughout history has viewed humility in the same way — a good character trait to have — Dr. Kent Dunnington says that’s far from the truth.

Dr. Dunnington teaches and writes in the areas of virtue ethics and theological ethics at Biola University. He helps us to better understand the virtue of humility by reviewing its historical roots.

“Before Judaism and before Jesus came on the scene humility was a derogatory term; a way of speaking about people who were not worthwhile, who had no hope of living the good life.”

“Jesus, and Christianity, radically revised that, but there have been a number of reversals including some of the major thinkers in the Enlightenment like David Hume. Hume said that humility was a monkish virtue and it should be transferred from the column of virtues into the column of vices.”

“So humility has this really fascinating history and it’s one of the best ways of tracking the influence that authentic Christianity has on a culture at any given time.”

Fast forward to the present day, how do we approach humility? Dr. Dunnington describes the two most prominent secular views of humility.

“One view is having a sort of low concern for yourself, but not no concern whatsoever. You need to be less concerned about yourself than you are about other important things, but you need to still have a strong sense of self-esteem. This view is just not thinking about yourself too often.”

“Another important view has to do with owning your limitations; speaking up when you’ve made a mistake, being aware of all your shortcomings and trying to do your best to deal with them. Both of those I think have a lot right, but they make no mention of God.”

As believers, Dr. Dunnington explains, our humility should be in the form of what he calls a “glad dependence” on God.

“I think that the heart of humility for Christians is what I call the embrace of dependence. It’s a glad dependence on God rather than a prideful independence. It’s a vertical virtue. It’s not primarily about relating to other people around us, but it’s about having the position of glad dependence on God.”

Humility is not just a good trait in the Christian walk, it is essential in our pursuit to become more like Jesus.


Kent Dunnington (PhD) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. He is the author of Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice. His new book, Humility, Pride, and Christian Virtue Theoryreleases in December 2018.

Understanding the virtue of humility

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