An overview of self-esteem dogma
Self esteem is a term used in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation of his or her own worth. 1
The origin of self esteem dates back to William James who created the use of the term and is generally seen as the father of modern psychology. In the late 19 century in his work ‘Principles of Psychology’ he viewed self-esteem as success divided by pretension (goals, purposes or aims.) According to James the more success we have and the lower our expectations then the higher our self-esteem. To raise self-esteem, therefore, we have two options: lower our expectations of ourselves or increase our achievements. 2
His work however was ignored for 75yrs due to world wars and economic depression. Psychology itself was dominated during this period by two main schools of thought Freudianism and Behaviourism which reduced man to a creature whose behaviour was determined by outside forces, either repressed desires or the conditioning produced by rewards and punishments.
These theories shared a common fundamental belief that individuals’ lives were determined by forces outside their control. However from the rise of humanistic psychology in the late fifties and early sixties humanists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow taught ‘Man is a self-conscious, responsible being, and able to control his own destiny.’
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, a theory of psychological health that assumes people are continually motivated by one or more needs, and given the right circumstances can reach a level of psychological health called self-actualization. 4
Carl Rogers was an exponent of the non directive client centred approach and as a Humanistic Psychologist agreed with much of what Maslow believed, that is, the promotion of self as the ultimate moral authority. This is also the key objective in Rogerian therapy. He believed that self-esteem, (positive self regard) is essential for psychological health.
Humanists also believe that developing a positive self-esteem will improve behaviour, emotions and future prospects. According to humanism our behaviour and emotional problems are the result of a low self-esteem created in us by those who have influenced our lives such as parents, teachers and the Christian church.
Dr ES Williams in “The Dark side of Christian Counselling,” describes the roots of self-esteem dogma. He also states, “A massive self-esteem industry has invaded virtually every aspect of life, including the arenas of education, health, religion and commerce and has been erected on the theoretical foundation of humanistic psychology. " 5
How has self-esteem teaching impacted on the church?
Since the Garden of Eden and Satan’s deception of Eve (hath God said?) and the subsequent fall of man, mans’ conscience has been marred by sin. At the time of the Fall, man’s conscience began to bear the responsibility of choosing good and rejecting evil. Genesis 3:6-7; "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make oneself wise, she took of the fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves."
Man’s conscience enables him to know what God justifies and what He condemns, what God loves and what He hates:
Rom. 2:13-15. "For not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified, for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the law are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."
Man darkened by passions, ceased to hear clearly the voice of his conscience and therefore the sinfulness of sin. However, the self-esteem doctrine tells us not to listen to our conscience as it will cause us to feel bad about ourselves and instill us with a low self-esteem. Self-esteem advocates would tell us that a positive self-esteem is the foundation of all virtuous behaviour and a happier life.
Proverbs 11:2 tells us that pride breeds quarrels and Psalm 36:1-4 states that self flattery stands in the way of confronting one’s personal sin. Yet many Believers have abandoned their faith in the sufficiency of God’s word for the pseudo-science of humanistic psychological counselling. This has had a very significant influence on the Church. Given this situation it should be an issue of great concern to all Believer's that the Word of God is their authority and is sufficient for “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2nd Peter: 1-3).
Humanistic Psychological counselling also denies what the Bible teaches about the nature of man and contradicts God’s solution for the Believer's mental, emotional, and behavioural problems. Humanistic theories teach that man is intrinsically good; The Bible says he is born with a sinful nature, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Romans 2:23.
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Romans 5:12
Psychological therapies (e.g. Freudian Psychotherapy etc) attack the sufficiency of God’s Word by seeking to address mans problems through promotion of self-esteem, also referred to in synonymous terms as self worth, self image and self- actualization.
In stark contrast the Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to deny themselves; "if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Matthew 16:24
Alan Cairns in ‘Dictionary of Theological Terms,’p339 states: "Christian psychologists have a problem with the idea of 'dying to self', limiting its meaning also to the idea of ceasing to live selfishly. The trouble with this professedly Christian use of self-esteem is that it fails to understand the nature of sin. Thus its therapeutic value is a mere surface treatment." 6
Christian Psychologists have sold the lie that without the insights of secular psychology, pastors and churches are simply inadequate to deal with the deepest hurts of modern man. Yet scripture shows that Paul counselled in his day using only God's word with wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit. "We proclaim him, admonishing [to confront as a friend] and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." Colossians 1:28
The integrating of the self-esteem concept into Christian Theology by Christian Counsellors has perverted the message of the Gospel and replaced it with ‘another gospel’ which incorporates modern Gnosticism. No great wonder then that those who propagate and support the so called 'Christian Counselling Movement' have moved away from the faith once delivered to the saints and changed the Word of God into a lie by privately interpreting the inspired Word of God to sheer up a false gospel."We have also a more sure word of prophecy; where onto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place , until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation." 2 Peter 1:19-20.
The integration of self-esteem teaching into Christianity is a doctrine of demons sent to deceive the church in these latter days and many Believers, who are desperate for spiritual and emotional help, have been greatly harmed by their distortion of Biblical truth.
The well documented history of men like Rogers and Maslow, who dabbled in the occult and mysticism, should alert Believers as to the dangers of self-esteem dogma. Men such as Robert Schuller, James Dobson, William Glasser, Larry Crabb, Rick Warren and Selwyn Hughes and others, have helped to integrate self-esteem dogma into the church and in doing so they have become partakers and propagators of ‘another gospel.’
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Word, is the all sufficient Balm of Gilead for a Believer's troubled spirit. We pray that those called to serve in the Church of Jesus Christ will regain the desire and the spiritual wisdom required to apply the Balm of Gilead, which is the only adequate means available to heal the many emotional and spiritual problems experienced by those within the Body of Christ.
How should Believer's esteem themselves?
We conclude with a quote from Dr ES William's book 'The Dark Side of Christian Counselling', which aptly provides the perfect example on how we ought to esteem ourselves. "God the Father has highly exalted the humble Christ, and given him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. So the Lord Jesus did not exalt himself, but was exalted by his Father. In the same way a humble disciple of Christ will never seek his own self-esteem, for he is, and he will be, exalted and esteemed in Jesus Christ his Lord. When Christ is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. This is true esteem in the eyes of God our Father.... "Christ in me, the hope of glory." (page 143) 7
2.Retrieved from http: // www. wisegeek.com
3.Retrieved from http:// McLeod, S. A. (2007).
5.Williams,E.S. (2009). The Dark side of Christian Counselling; ( The Wakeman Trust and Belmont Publishing) p.115
6.Cairns, DR. Alan. (1998) Dictionary of theological Terms; (Ambassador) p.339
7.Dr ES Williams (2009) The Dark side of Christian Counselling; (The Wakeman Trust and Belmont Publishing) p.143