PSYCHOLOGY AND THE BIBLE: Some Theological Reflections (2) ：Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and the Bible
Many of us are Christians involved in some form of counseling work or ministry. As born-again Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, illumines us, and corrects our wrong understanding of the truth. The vast majority of us have very good motives to help people, and to reach out to society with the love of Christ. That is why we spend the time to attend seminars such as this one on “Psychology and the Bible.” We believe that the Holy Spirit led you to come to this seminar.
Our good intentions, and the Holy Spirit’s illumination in our lives, however, do not change the fact that most Christians entertain notions, concepts and “presuppositions” (worldviews) which are contrary to what Scripture teaches. Counselors need to study the doctrines (teachings) which Scripture proclaims – i.e., study sound, Bible-based theology, if we are going to be mature and effective. Thus, while we do not judge your motives and your goal to help people (and you certainly didn’t wake up one day and say, “I am going to become a follower of pagan, demonic religion”), we do challenge you to re-think your worldview.
If this were not a seminar on “Psychology and the Bible,” but a seminar for pastors on “Marketing and the Church Growth Movement,” we will point out to the pastors who come (who have every good intention to spread the gospel and bring people into the church) that, despite their good intentions, what they learn about church growth techniques from many seminaries (especially Doctor of Ministry programs) is nothing more than advertising and marketing techniques from the business world of capitalism. While we do not judge the pastors’ intentions, we would challenge their presuppositions!
The fact is, most Christian professors of counseling (with the exception of a small minority who belong to the “nouthetic (biblical) counseling movement”, teach from the theoretical perspective of secular psychology. “Integration of psychology and Christianity” is a failure; it is inevitable. We need the Holy Spirit’s illumination to cleanse us from these anti-Biblical, anti-God concepts. The best, most ideal situation is that we absorb Bible doctrine, and learn the principles of Biblical apologetics, during our secondary school years. Then we are prepared to filter wrong concepts when we study psychology at the university.
us take an example: What is man? How do major psychologists answer this
question? Sigmund Freud – man is a combination of contradicting desires
and drives (the drive for life: sex; and the drive for death: murder).
Freud fiercely opposes and despises Christianity. Carl Rogers – the self
is the sum total of our past experiences – Rogers does not believe that
the soul exists. B.F. Skinner (behaviorism) and contemporary studies on
the brain and the body – man is a body, just like an animal. New Age
philosophy/psychology – man is God.
Many psychologists and most New Age writers believe in the “power of the mind.” What you think affects what will happen to you – you can “think” the future into existence.
If “mind over matter” means that what we think can control the physical world (our bodies, our circumstances, etc.), then only God has that power. Only God – the God of the Bible – has that power rightfully and absolutely. When God thinks and says something, he brings things into existence. God says “Let there be light,” and there is light. God Word is the Word of the Lord; it is a sovereign, all-powerful Word. Only God has absolute power of “mind over matter” (Isaiah 55:10-11). God does all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:5, 9, 11).
God created man in his own image (Gen. 1:26-28). God is infinite, man is infinite, but man is God’s image. We do bear some resemblance to God’s character. Therefore, man’s mind and man’s thoughts are “analogical to” (an image of) God’s mind and God’s thoughts. Of course, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) – he is infinite, we are not; he is sovereign, we are not; he is sinless, we are not. So our minds do not “create” things into being (unless we are controlled by an evil spirit). We are to use our minds in submission to his revelation, in “covenant obedience.”
Any attempt to teach man to use his mind to control matter, is suspect of usurping the power that only God rightfully exercises. That is why God forbids sorcery and witchcraft (Deut. Chapter 18). New Age philosophy, in fact, believes that we ARE God, so we should think and act as if we ARE God. This is blasphemy!
should learn to “think God’s thoughts after God” – in other words, in
faith and in obedience to Scripture. (Cf. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of
the Knowledge of God; and the writings of Cornelius Van Til.)
Most psychological theorists are humanists. One of the most basic beliefs of “humanism” is that man is good. (Other beliefs: Man is wise and can attain wisdom without God’s help; man is free in an absolute sense; etc.) Is this Biblical?
God created man in his own image (Gen. 1:26-28), righteous, holy, and wise (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). This is the original condition of man (condition #1). But man fell after Adam sinned (Rom. 5:12-21). So man today has a heart which is exceedingly wicked and deceitful. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). This is condition #2. Only when the Holy Spirit regenerates us, will we become re-created according to God’s image, and are restored to be righteous, holy, and wise (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). This is condition #3. In condition #3 Christians still sin, sin is “another law” which still dwells in us (Rom. 7:14-25).
All the righteousness, holiness and wisdom which God gives us, He gives us in Christ. Because we are included in, incorporated in, and have a share in Christ, we have Christ’s righteousness counted (imputed) as ours. In ourselves there is no goodness, none whatsoever. But God graciously grants Christ’s righteousness, “charging it” into our account.
attempt to teach that man is basically good, and wise, without God’s
salvation and transformation in our lives, is a lie. We may have very
good intentions when we think this way: “Oh, my child has a good heart.
He just behaves badly in school….” – but this is opposite to what the
What is self-esteem? It is what we think about ourselves. Many psychologists teach that we must have a positive self-esteem; so do many New Age spiritual mediums. Christian counselors, under the leadership of Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), believe that without a good self-image, we cannot live healthy lives, perform well in school and at work, nor have good family relationships. “Self-image” is the cure-all, the source of all good; without it, we are open to all evils in life. What does the Bible say on the subject?
The Bible does teach us how we should think about ourselves. It teaches that we should esteem others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), for example. We should be humble, give thanks for the gifts God give us, and not become proud and arrogant. All of these thoughts which we think about ourselves come from our “heart” – or our “conscience.” We said in our first presentation that: we have a “will.” Therefore, everything we say and do, we do them “out of our heart.”
What is conscience? It is man’s reason making moral judgment. Conscience is talking to ourselves, judging ourselves. (This is the Puritan definition of conscience. Cf. J.I. Packer’s chapter on “The Puritan Conscience,” in A Quest for Godliness, Crossway Books.) A good conscience (a clean conscience, a conscience which operates normally) judges ourselves just like God judges us. When we do something wrong (when we sin), our conscience rebukes us. When we do something right (according to God’s Word), our conscience approves of it. A good conscience thinks, “God has forgiven my sins, I am justified before him; God continues to work in my life to make me holy, I continue to be sanctified.”
Our conscience is not all-knowing. Our conscience is not inerrant; it does make wrong judgments. Only God’s Word the Bible is inerrant. Therefore the Christian’s conscience must learn. Our conscience must follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, and learn from the Bible, the book which the Holy Spirit wrote for our benefit!
The California Self Esteem Task Force report and Scientific American (2005) show that people who have “positive self-esteem” tend to be promiscuous (lack of self-control), tend to be violent (lack of meekness), tend to be arrogant and prejudiced, etc. Good self-esteem is not related to better performance in school, at work, or in relationships! This is because we have taken a sinner’s self-centered “positive self-image” which comes from an autonomous mind and heart – without paying attention to our sin – as the right way of self-judgment. We have taken a lie for the truth. Therefore, our hearts have become hardened; our conscience – an entire society’s conscience – is seared.
Therefore, it is not an accident that New Age spiritual mediums teach self-esteem. Satan loves to teach the lie, to deceive us and to divert us from following God’s truth.
The church must return to the Bible and learn how to use our conscience to fear God, love him, obey him, worship him and live for him.
someone – such as Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim,
California – teaches that self-esteem is the Gospel, that it is the same
as salvation, then that message is simply not the Gospel. Robert
Schuller’s gospel is NOT Christianity. There may be many godly
Christians on his staff and in his congregation, but it does not change
the fact that what he writes in his books and preaches from his pulpit
is NOT the Bible’s message.
Should we pay any attention to what others think about us? Sometimes yes, but we should not be enslaved by fear of what others think of us. Many of us are enslaved by three thoughts: (a) others may see the real me; (b) others may not accept me, but reject me; (c) others may hurt me, emotionally, physically, sexually. (Cf. When People Are Big and God is Small, www.prpbooks.com, www.ccef.org.) The only way to become liberated from this three-fold fear and slavery, is to fear God first.
However, what other people think of us, may be very helpful and necessary. God has established several covenant-institutions when he created the world: marriage and family; work and government; and rest and worship (Gen. 1:26-2:3). Parents are to teach their children to fear and obey God (Deut. 6:4-9); teachers are to teach students wisdom and knowledge (“covenant obedience”); the government should reward those who do good, and punish those who do evil (Rom. 13). Therefore, these authority-figures which God has ordained, will make judgments of men, women and children. This is their duty!
Studies show that American students cannot tolerate being told that they have failed a course; U.S. students have better self-confidence about their math and science ability than Japanese students (when actually, Japanese students perform better than U.S. students). This shows that American society is so infiltrated with the lie of self-esteem, that we refuse to accept the truth. Society teaches us not to obey authority, and accept rebuke. This is why American society is bankrupt in morality and religion. (She is only strong in finance, military might and technology.) “Fools refuse wisdom and instruction.” God have mercy! God will judge.
Cornelius Van Til calls these relationships in life “the representational principle,” which is another name for “covenant.” The most fundamental fact in life is: We live our lives in the face of God (Psalm 139). All that we think, say and do, we do in God’s presence. God has made a covenant with all of us – he is our Creator and Lord. God has made a special covenant with believers (the covenant of grace) – he is our Redeemer and Lord (Gen. 17:7). Because we belong to God, we belong to each other as fellow believers. We “represent” one another. We covenant with God, and form the church. We covenant with each other, and form families, schools, churches, communities, and nations.
Within the covenant, God tells us who we are – our true identity comes from God (Romans chapter 8, Ephesians chapters 2-3). Our true identity comes from our understanding of death, and where we go after death (I Cor. Chapters 4-5). When the issue of our eternal destiny is settled, then we have our true identity – we have a “strong self-esteem.” We are joyful, we are thankful, because “this world is not my home” (Heb. 11:11-16). Our self-understanding is based on gratitude to God’s grace – all that we have, we owe to Christ.
Another way of putting this is: We
are to “deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ.” This is
our true identity.
A professor at Biola University (La Mirada, California) is quoted as saying that: sin is when our needs are not fulfilled, and when we do not realize our potential. Biola is home to the Rosemead School of Psychology. Like Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Psychology, Rosemead believes in the so-called “integration” of psychology with the Christian faith.
But can secular theories of psychology become truly “integrated” with the Bible’s teaching? This professor’s words have totally twisted what the Bible teaches about sin. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is the lack of conformity to, and transgression of, God’s law (Westminster Shorter Catechism). In other words: What God forbids us to do, we do; what God commands us to do, we fail to do. This is sin!
We often confuse our “needs” with “wants.” For example, when a waitress asks me in a restaurant, “Do you need whipped cream on top of your ice cream?” The whipped cream has nothing to do with what I need to exist, to live, to be healthy. It is purely “desire!” We must distinguish between needs and wants.
As for “realizing our potential,” we must measure it against Christ (Rom. 8:29). Our “potential” or “goal” in life, is to be like Christ.
is salvation? Not self-esteem! But forgiveness of sins, justification
through faith, being adopted as God’s child, being an heir of an eternal
inheritance, and submitting under the rule of the King, whose Kingdom
has come, and will come in fullness.
Examine your own values and beliefs. How do you answer these three questions? (a) What is man? (Is he an animal? Is he God? Is he a bunch of desires? Is he a bunch of experiences?) (b) Where do man’s problems come from? (c) Where do solutions to man’s problem come from?
Equip yourself with sound, Bible-based doctrine (theology). Counselors need theology! Counselors need a firm foundation in a system of Bible-based doctrine.
Equip yourself with Bible doctrine before you attempt to understand and learn secular theories of psychology and counseling.
Join the Biblical
counseling movement! Become truly competent to teach God’s Word, and to
counsel from Scripture.
For further information: Westminster theological Seminary www.wts.edu,
Master’s College MA program www.masters.edu, Christian Counseling and
Educational Foundation www.ccef.org, National Association of Nouthetic
Counselors www.nanc.org, Dr. Jay Adams’ publishing house
www.timelesstexts.org, Chinese-language resources
©Copyright 2008. All rights Reserved. Sam Ling.