Self-Esteem Revisited

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:26-40 (NASB)

Recently someone left a comment on a previous post I wrote on self-esteem:

Blog Reader said: "Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. High self-esteem is a good opinion of you and low self-esteem is a bad opinion of yourself. Self-esteem is crucial and is a cornerstone of a positive attitude towards living."

I thought I would revisit this topic because it is so very important for us to understand. In many Christian circles there is little difference between Christian psychology and the humanistic, man-centered psychology of Maslow. This can be seen in how Christian psychologists define self-esteem and write about it: “The Christian psychologist, H. Norman Wright, describes self-esteem as one's sense of personal worthiness, as the feeling of "I am good."

"...self-worth, the feeling of significance is crucial to man's emotional, spiritual, and social stability, and is the driving element within the human spirit. Understanding this single need opens the door to understanding our actions and attitudes" –Robert McGee. Rapha Hospitals

"People have one basic personal need which requires two kinds of input for its satisfaction. The most basic need is a sense of personal worth, an acceptance of oneself as a whole, real person."

"The essential factor in Maslow's theory is that people are not motivated to meet the 'higher' needs until the 'lower' or more basic ones are met."  "...the last need of self-actualization allows for a non-egocentric other-centered motivation to give rather than to get." "In order to be well-adjusted, you must reach the stage of self-actualization"  (--Larry Crabb. Effective Biblical Counseling, Zondervan, 1977,)

The drift into the humanistic gospel of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment should not surprise us as pragmatism drives the church growth movement.

Bill Hybels (Willow Creek) and Rick Warren (Saddleback) represent the tip of the spear that had morphed the gospel into preaching that meets “felt needs” and as we’ve seen the major “need” is for more self-esteem. This type of preaching “works” in that it appeals to our self-centered nature and people who lack discernment fall right into it. It fills up churches and it’s called evangelism.

In order to get away with this however, a church has to be willing to chuck doctrine and hermeneutics (how to interpret Scripture in a way that is faithful to what it meant to the original “hearers.).  In the seeker churches there is a near total absence of any substantive doctrinal teaching as well as an absence of a sound hermeneutic.  As a result, the theology of the lowest common denominator prevails and psychology becomes the substitute for sanctification.

The doctrine that has been sacrificed on the altar of church growth and pragmatism and had the self-esteem gospel substituted for it is the doctrine of Total Depravity.

The main commonality between secular psychology via Maslow and others and its Christian variants is the need for self-love. For the Christian to make this so-called need “biblical” a new hermeneutic had to be employed.

Jay Adams noted back in the 1980’s in his The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image, that Christians who propagate these teachings do make a feeble show at finding self-esteem principles and practices in the Bible.

The key point to remember here is that in doing so, the approach to Scripture is backwards. We’re supposed  to go to the Scriptures to draw out what they say about this or that. In Christian psychology’s attempt to justify their teachings they go back to the Scriptures and read into them their theories and then say, “see, it’s in there.” It is a dangerous method.  (see Jay E. Adams, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image)

 Any system that proposes to solve human problems apart from the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit is automatically condemned by Scripture itself.

Jesus plainly says the TWO greatest commandments are these; yet, psychologists like Trobisch add a third and give it precedence without so much as a bat of the eye.

There is no command in Scripture to love yourself! None.

Love God and love neighbor-two commands.

Christian psychology’s novel interpretation of Matt. 22:36-40 is based on accepting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as gospel truth. Lower level needs need to be met before higher level needs. So, self-esteem (self-love) needs have to be met before self-actualization.

Another Christian psychologist (Philip Captain) puts it simply: “Love for God is dependent on love for neighbor, which is in turn dependent on love for self.”

There is no dependent relationship set up between the two commandments.

More next time.

Adapted from Reigning Grace Counseling Center Track 5 Training Program copy write  Bruce Roeder and Julie Ganschow.