Posting 20 THE NEED FOR SELF-ESTEEM p198p
Every person has a deep need for recognition from others and a hunger for self-esteem. This is not the invention of secular humanism or modern psychological theories. This need for recognition and self-esteem finds its roots in the fact that we have been created in the image of God who does all things “for his own glory.”
Satan was crafty enough to make an appeal to this hunger and need when he tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, telling them, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). If achievable, that would certainly provide “recognition from others” and “self-esteem.”
Satan appealed to something that was good and tempted our first parents to corrupt it. Recognition from others and hunger for self-esteem must have been good in themselves, otherwise Satan could not have made his appeal to them in God’s sinless creatures.
Corrupted self-esteem can be called negative self-esteem or sinful pride. One would be hard pressed to know of any evil that has been more pervasive and done more harm than sinful human pride. Few sins are as vehemently denounced in the Scriptures than human pride. Self-esteem (properly understood) has a great potential for good and therefore, when corrupted it has a great potential for evil. p199p
Proper self-esteem is not to be rejected. It must be restored to its God-given role according to the following biblical guidelines:
1. Proper self-esteem is a biblically defined view of oneself as a child of God. Fully that and never anything more than that.
2. It is only by a vital redemptive relationship to Jesus Christ that a person can have such a positive self-esteem.
3. Such a self-image is essential to everyone's spiritual and psychological well being.
4. Both within the church and in evangelistic outreach the gospel must be communicated so as to engender such a positive self-image in those who hear it.
Few evangelical Christians would quarrel with a gospel of self-esteem if it was understood as described in these four guidelines. The biblical call to such a view of ourselves is clear: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1). God wants his followers to respect themselves as equal children of God and to treat all other human beings with the same respect.
The need for self-esteem as taught by Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Robert Schuller, and others has been so stridently denounced by some of their critics that any defense of such a need is seen as a seduction of evangelical Christianity. These critics may be surprised to realize that the above four guidelines were gleaned from Schuller’s book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Word Books, 1982). p200p
This is not to say that Schuller has consistently stayed within these guidelines in applying this perception of self-esteem. Nevertheless, these biblical guidelines should alert overly zealous critics that they ought not to try to debunk everything that is said about a Christian view of self-esteem.
The insight about self-esteem came to Schuller as a result of his unflagging efforts to bring the gospel to the unchurched. Schuller calls it “God’s pathway to human dignity” and expressed it as follows:
What is our Lord’s greatest passion for his church today? I believe that he wants his followers to respect themselves as equal children of God and to treat all other human beings with the same respect (Self-Esteem, p. 47).
In his ministry and by his writings, Schuller has worked out many of the practical implications of the need for self-esteem. He provides extremely helpful insights regarding the relationship between lack of proper self-esteem and nearly every form of sin.
As seen in the sin of our first parents, the need for positive self-esteem can quickly turn into sinful pride. Therefore the biblical guidelines laid out above must be followed in developing a Christian view of self-esteem.
The best method to determine whether or not Schuller and others present Christian self-esteem in a legitimate way is to apply these guidelines to what they say about self-esteem. This is far more difficult and more productive than simply denouncing every form of self-esteem.
Schuller came to understand the need for self-esteem by discovering the deepest felt need in the hearts of the unchurched people he was trying to reach with the gospel. He found that sinners lack the assurance, comfort, trust, and positive attitude that comes from respecting ourselves as children of God. God often provides such insight for understanding an aspect of biblical truth through someone’s practical striving to live in obedience to the Word of God. Such an insight may be an authentic picture of God’s truth. p201p
It was not simply by reading his Bible that Martin Luther received the insight that he could not be right in God’s eyes by his deeds. He received his “authentic insight” by prayerfully striving for many years to be made right with God.
Once Luther received his “authentic insight,” the Bible read differently for him and for others with him. Through this process, certain truths were set before God’s people which now appear to be self-evident to us simply by reading the Bible. "For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law" (Rom. 3:20).
TESTING OUR INSIGHTS
The church at large must validate what individuals perceive to be an authentic insight. Our insights are neither intrinsically trustworthy nor are they to be accepted merely because they are joyfully received by many people. There are at least two tests for validating such insights.
There is the consideration of practical usefulness. Theological insights are not useful to God. If they do not help us give greater praise to God and to live more joyfully in his presence, we need have little to do with them. By the growth of his worldwide ministry, Schuller has convincingly demonstrated the usefulness of his insight. A positive and affirming approach is an effective means to use when trying to reach the unchurched with the gospel. Engendering a positive self-image also provides emotionally and spiritually healthy kingdom workers. Great indeed is the loss to those churches and individuals who fail to learn the need for self-esteem and how the gospel fills that need. p202p
A second test is to examine the Scriptures"to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11b, RSV). Our insights must be tested by the Scriptures to see whether they are of God and to know how they relate to the authentic insights that God gives to others. If notions about self-esteem are accepted without having a strong foundation firmly positioned on the truth of the Scriptures, they may prove to do more harm than good.
Schuller’s book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation was his attempt to provide the biblical basis for supplying a basic need that all sinners have—the need for self-esteem. He expected the evangelical community to join him in this venture to secure a firm biblical basis for his insight. Through the generosity of associates, Schuller’s book was distributed free of charge to nearly every religious leader in the United States and Canada. Schuller admits that even with this wide exposure there was not so much as one religious periodical that gave the book a positive review. This was very disconcerting for Schuller.
The evangelical community, by in large, did not think that Schuller had provided a biblical basis for what he considered to be an authentic insight. Very few evangelical leaders joined in the search. There is no public evidence that Schuller has continued the search for a biblical basis for his message of affirmation and acceptance.
Even without an explicit biblical basis, Schuller’s message grew in popularity. Who can deny that through this ministry great things were accomplished? With the total failure of his book to accomplish its intended purpose, Schuller appeared to have concluded that no such biblical basis is required. The sentiment has grown that all such theologizing is divisive and therefore ought not to be attempted. This assumes that our insights are self-authenticating and whatever God may have revealed in his Word about the matter is irrelevant or secondary at best. p203p
THE FAILURE OF TRADITIONAL THEOLOGY
The rejection that Schuller received in his attempt to provide a biblical basis for his gospel of affirmation and acceptance is not at all surprising when one considers the history of Christian theology. Ever since the time of Pelagius, nearly all theology has been done on the basis of premise A, that “All persons are outside of Christ (i.e. "lost," "condemned," "on the way to hell," "under law," "children of wrath") except those who the Bible expressly declares will be saved.
This traditional premise cannot provide a biblical warrant for announcing and declaring "good news" to all persons in general or to any person in particular unless there is prior evidence of God’s grace working in the sinner’s heart. Premise A, if consistently applied, provides a basis only for “bad news” coupled with a good suggestion. Therefore the burden of the church has been to “tell all persons that they are lost, condemned, on the way to hell, but if they believe they will be saved” (Chapter 9, above).
Schuller’s positive approach of affirmation and acceptance conflicts with the assumption upon which nearly all evangelical theology has been structured ever since the time of Pelagius (p. 61, above). Schuller failed to realize this. Schuller needed a biblical basis for declaring good news indiscriminately to all persons everywhere.
In his book, Schuller made claims that evangelical Christians did not and ought not to accept. Among the unacceptable claims that Schuller repeatedly makes in his book are the following:
1. By virtue of creation in God’s image, everyperson is a child of God and is worthy of and entitled to recognition from others and a senseof self-esteem. Everyone, he says, has an “estranged father-child relationship” with God and as such has infinite value. p204p
Even though commonly accepted and very popular among non-evangelicals, these concepts are not found in the Scriptures ( Posting 2, above). On the one hand, Schuller correctly acknowledges that it is only by means of an actual, vital, redemptive relationship to Christ that a person can have a positive self esteem. On the other hand, needing a basis to address everyone with good news, Schuller claims that every person has an “estranged father-child” relationship with God by virtue of their creation in the image of God.
God, according to Schuller, is everyone’s Father in the richest sense of that term. Anyone holding firmly to this concept will necessarily be led into Absolute Universalism (the belief that everyone will be finally saved, either in this life or in a future existence). God will not loose any of his children. Evangelical Christians recognized this error in Schuller’s book.
Schuler also claims that each one of these “children” of God has infinite value. If this is so, then God saved his elect not out of “sheer grace,” (goodness to the undeserving), but because sinners have an inherent value that is worthy of the sacrifice that Jesus made in their behalf.
Absolute Universalism would be the result of Schuller’s view because God, the ideal Father with unlimited resources, must necessarily see to it that all the “estranged” relationships with his children are eventually healed: "Can a mother . . . have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isa. 49:15). It necessarily follows that "If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).Absolute Universalism does provide a consistent (but not a biblical) basis for a positive gospel of acceptance and affirmation for all persons. p205p
2. Schuller also claims that the essence of original sin is “lack of trust.” At its core original sin is a weak self-esteem, according to Schuller,evidenced in a lack of trust.
He correctly observes that due to Adam’s sin everyone is born with a negative self-image that expresses itself in many diverse ways—anxiety, fear, anger, mean rebellion. At a very deep level sinners are afraid, non-trusting, insecure, and self-defensive.
What must be understood, however, is that a corrupted or weak self-image is a by-product of sin, not the essence of sin. In the same way, a positive self-image (recognizing oneself as a child of God for Christ’s sake) a by-product of salvation, not the essence of salvation.
As long as a weak self-image is viewed as the essence of original sin, and a positive self-image is understood to be the essence of salvation, no biblical basis can be found for self-esteem theology.
Schuller proclaimed his positive gospel of acceptance and affirmation on the basis of what all persons are by reason of their creation in the image of God. He also claimed that the sin in which all persons are born is essentially lack of trust. What is required, therefore, is that a person put their trust in a power that is outside and greater than themselves. It is not surprising therefore that some of Schuller’s critics accuse him of presenting a hope that is attainable apart from redemption in Christ.
When Schuller appealed to the power of a positive mental attitude, it is not apparent that the appeal was made within the constraints of the biblical principles he summarized in his book. Occasionally Schuller seemed to promote a positive mental attitude that is equally as effective for tearing down barns and building bigger ones as it is for seeking first the Kingdom of God.
A BIBLICAL BASIS p206p
Schuller’s insight is compatible with Dr. Charles Hodge’s observation that “All the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved” ( Posting 1, above). This is the perspective of Evangelical Inclusivism, or Premise B, that “All persons are elect in Christ except those who the Bible expressly declares will be finally lost.”
This biblically warranted assumption is all that we have and all that we need as a basis for a positive ministry of acceptance and affirmation that can be addressed to every person we meet ( Posting 7, above). There are only two other possible bases for addressing particular persons or groups of persons as being among those for whom Christ died. One is Absolute Universalism (all persons will be saved), which is not a biblical concept (Posting 19, above). The other is some objective, absolute, verifiable proof or certainty that this particular person or group actually is among those who have been reconciled to God through Christ. This kind of "proof" is never available to us, not even for professing Christians who are closest and dearest to us.
Evangelical Inclusivism provides the only basis we need for viewing ourselves and every person we meet as a child of God for whom Christ died, unless we have final and decisive evidence to the contrary. Such evidence to the contrary concerning any person or group of persons will not be given us until "the last day" (John 12: 47, 48). A ministry of affirmation and acceptance, structured on this biblically warranted assumption, engenders a positive self-image in those who proclaim it and in those who hear it.
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