The Bible has very little to say in praise of men.
The methods most often employed in Scripture for the development of character are discipline, toil, and trials (1 Peter 2:19). Jesus himself had to learn “obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8 ASV) and this suffering made him the perfect offering for humanity. In a like manner, Christians are exhorted to have the “same mind” as Christ, who suffered “in the flesh” that they too may “[suffer] in the flesh [and cease] from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). For this reason, believers are to “despise not…the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when…rebuked” (Hebrews 12:5 KJV).
Similarly, the book of James admonishes believers to count it all “joy” when they fall into trials because adversity brings about patience and perfection of character (James 1:2–4). Instead of praising men, making them feel better about themselves, or fostering self-worth, the primary role of Scripture and the Holy Spirit are to teach, reprove, correct (1 Timothy 3:16–17), while convicting the world of righteousness, judgment, and sin (John 16:7–11).
To be fair, the Bible does offer words of comfort to the broken-hearted, the mournful, the poor in spirit, the sick, the persecuted and suffering (Matthew 5:3–4, 10–11; Luke 4:16–21; Isaiah 40:1–2), but this must be distinguished from praise for which the Bible says very little. Nowhere in sacred writ are men praised into spiritual maturity. Mankind is not to be praised into a higher state of morality. The Bible testifies against the deceitful nature of praise even in contrast to the sober experience of rebuke (Proverbs 9:8; 27:1–2, 5–6; 28:23). However, this is not true within the realms of psychology.
Praise, which allegedly increases feelings of self-esteem, is the currency of psychology. Self-esteem, as a psychological concept, has existed for over 150 years being popularized by psychologists in the 1960s. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow theorized that mankind could be “self-actualized”—perfected—through improving self-esteem via praise. Thus, if man felt affirmed, confident, and loved, then he could reach the zenith. According to Maslow, psychology is the means and self-esteem the capital for this new salvation. He wrote:
I am also very definitely interested and concerned with man’s fate…I hope to help teach him how to be brotherly, cooperative, peaceful, courageous, and just…I consider psychology most important to this end. Indeed, I sometimes think that the world will either be saved by psychologists—in the very broadest sense—or else it will not be saved at all.[i]
Maslow’s theories and psychology are not some distant philosophy reserved for esoteric intellectuals sitting in ivory towers. It is a secular religion which competes with the moral fabric of Christianity. A psychiatrist observed this trend, noting: “His aim was to displace moral philosophy and religion with a science of man.”[ii] He believed that the way of finding this new moral philosophy and salvation was to unlock the greatness from within.[iii] The path of this inner “salvation” is mediated by self-esteem.
While not all in the mental health field follow Maslow, most believe that meeting self-esteem needs is necessary for advanced psychological development.[iv] Self-esteem is commonly thought of as the positive regard one holds for himself. The theory is that those who have high positive self-regard, lofty feelings of acceptance, and a strong self-concept are more likely to be happy, succeed, and make better life choices.[v]
Unfortunately for the pro self-esteem movement, the evidence is lacking. High self-esteem has no predictive value on good performance, just as low self-esteem has no predictive value on poor performance. In a large international study on the predictive value of self-esteem, investigators compared student’s mathematics scores with their self-esteem inventory. They found that countries with the highest self-esteem rankings—i.e. the United States—had the lowest math scores. Nations with the lowest self-esteem rankings—i.e. South Korea—achieved the highest math scores.[vi]
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University found no connection between high self-esteem and “academic achievement, interpersonal relationships, or healthy lifestyles.”[vii] Despite evidence to the contrary, self-esteem is held with sacred regard by the American education system. Obsessed with this philosophy, the educational system blames poor academic performance, teen pregnancy, drug use, and suicide on low self-esteem.[viii] Instead of focusing on reading, writing, and arithmetic, they have made it their mission to nurture and protect self-esteem. And what has been the result? Sensitivity panels, stress-free zones, emotional intelligence, grief counselors, safe-space spaces, the end of dodge ball, and a war on common sense.
For this reason teachers are taught not to tell students they are wrong when answering a question incorrectly.[ix] The idea of suffering the disappointment of being wrong, the sting of accountability, or the agony of failure would be allegedly too much for the fragile psyche of American students. At one time college campuses were forums for debate, bantering of controversial ideas, and challenging entrenched beliefs, but are currently the forefront of emotional coddling and “safe spaces.” Now, students upset at the results of a presidential election are offered free counseling sessions.[x] In February of 2016, officials at Rutgers University held an emotional round table to help students cope after a politically conservative speaker lectured on campus a few days prior. The mere listening to ideas challenging one’s worldview caused students to report feeling “scared, hurt and discriminated against.”[xi] Recently, students at Berkley violently rioted assaulting attendees who wanted to listen to speeches from a politically conservative journalist.[xii] There is almost a totalitarian urge within education to protect students from negative experiences. Yet, these disappointing life events, according to history and Scripture, are that which forge robust character.
Through the lens of this trending new insight, history and its pivotal figures suddenly seem an inexplicable contrast. Abraham Lincoln could not have survived the political and emotional turmoil of the Civil War had he not endured numerous failures, privation, hardship, and disappointment throughout his life. Comparably, Martin Luther endured threats, assaults, and a price on his head, while he opposed both emperor and pope. He did not have the luxury to seek out an emotional safe place; rather he sought protection from above. But today children need to be protected from the vexations of Physical Education (PE) class.
PE designed to make children strong and ruddy, now must be constrained over emotional concerns. Neil Williams, professor of physical education at Eastern Connecticut State College, attacked games like “red rover,” relay races, and “musical chairs,” because they harm self-esteem, focusing on removing the “weakest link,” which could undercut a child’s “emotional development.”[xiii] As an alternative, professionals suggest activities like unicycling, pogo-sticking, manipulating wheel chairs, and juggling. However, one expert noted that juggling should be done with silken scarves rather than “uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. ‘Scarves,’ he told the Los Angeles Times, are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly.” Moreover, “juggling scarves lessens performance anxiety and boosts self-esteem.”[xiv] Even games like “tag” are considered emotionally disturbing because someone is invariably OUT or IT.[xv]
Sensitivity panels now exist to psychoanalyze test questions which may “trigger” or cause psychological trauma undermining self-esteem. Diane Ravitch, a professor of education appointed by former Presidents Clinton and Bush to work with the Department of Education, experienced first-hand the absurdity of the self-esteem police. Ravitch was commissioned to write standardized test questions assessing math, English, and history. She submitted questions based on three main themes: Spanish conquest of South America, peanuts, and George Washington Carver. All themes were rejected.[xvi] The South American conquest was rejected for fear that children with Native American heritage might feel slighted over this history. The peanut theme was rejected too, because some children might be allergic to peanuts and could get upset. George Washington Carver questions were rejected because his slave heritage could cause some uneasiness with African-American students.
This statist paternalism protecting the offended does not end on school campus either. In the UK, a pastor was “was charged with causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’” and put in jail, “after a homosexual police community support officer (PCSO) overheard him reciting a number of ‘sins’” including homosexuality from the Bible.[xvii] In the United States—within the state of Kentucky—the Department of Juvenile Justice has enacted a policy preventing youth pastors from condemning homosexuality to inmates in their facilities.
Social Justice Warriors (Whiners)
Wanting to coddle the public from hurt feelings and wounded self-esteem has created a new class of activists: the social justice warrior (SJW). SJWs police the internet under the guise of being offended to shut down free speech, attack those they don’t agree with, and shame those who violate politically-correct norms. Their outrage cost the Boston Museum of Fine Arts “Kimono Wednesdays” because it was considered racist and insulting.[xix] Apparently, non-Japanese patrons have no right to dress up in kimonos as they appreciate ornate historical examples of them in the museum. To avoid being challenged altogether, SJWs broke the law by pulling a fire alarm at California State University of Los Angeles in order to prevent a conservative guest speaker from sharing his remarks with students and faculty.[xx] SJWs also prevented Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate, from speaking at the Johns Hopkins University—the very University he served as director of pediatric neurosurgery—because he made some comments which upset the gay/transgender community.[xxi] Members of the student body would not tolerate one of the best surgeons in the world because a few of his comments were deemed harmful to the sensibilities of some students! Time and space fail to permit a list of all the egregious SJW crusades in the name of hurt feelings.
Unfortunately, the self-esteem movement is not limited to academia or the world, it has also infected the church. Not wanting to displease the worldly or lukewarm, ministers avoid topics like judgment, sin, Christian perfection, and sinless living. Indeed, these topics are maligned as unloving, judgmental, and harmful. One such example is “last generation theology.” Once a hallmark of Adventist teaching, it is no longer taught by church institutions. Popularized by theologian M. L. Andreasen in his book The Sanctuary Service, this doctrine posits that the final generation just before the close of probation would perfectly reflect the character of Christ to a lost world.[xxii] Perhaps because of the high standard it sets before believers (or because any notion of Christian perfection is bound to induce in Christians feelings of disgust) it was sacrificed on the altar of good feelings. One psychologist even labeled this theology as a “devastating” influence upon the “Adventist soul.”[xxiii]
The gospel of self-esteem has taken over. Now the goal of preaching is to make Christians feel loved, accepted, embraced, and forgiven.[xxiv] Thus, the marketing words of Christianity are “grace, mercy, and love.”[xxv] While each of these words hold a special place in the Bible, they cannot supplant the whole testimony of scripture. It is precisely because of sin, judgment, indignation, and seven last plagues that those three words have meaning. However, when “grace, mercy and love” are used to comfort the worldly, sin-loving, and unrepentant, God is not pleased. It is written: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah,” (Proverbs 17:15 ASV), or as the New Living Translation renders the last part: “both are detestable to the Lord.” Ezekiel faced this quandary as he preached judgment when false prophets peddled a soothing message of hope. However, God declared to the false prophets: “You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins” (Ezekiel 13:22 NLT).
Ministers are not to make people feel comfortable or boost self-esteem. Their job is to tell the truth. When John the Baptist called men to repentance, they invariably replied: “What must I do to be saved?”—this is the goal! Christians cannot use the theology of grace, mercy, and love to make the worldly, lukewarm, and unrepentant comfortable. Over 80 years ago, Dietrich Bonehoffer observed this trend in Christianity and sardonically labeled such teachings as “cheap grace.” For Bonehoffer, cheap grace is grace without contrition, and without transformation; it saves the Christian from sin, but not from being a sinner.[xxvi] And this is the very grace sold to the world today to make men feel at ease.
The Bible has little to say in praise of men. Praise directed toward men in the scriptures is generally negative and deceitful (Proverbs 6; 27:2; 29:5; 31:30). Even the flattering tongue is detestable to the Lord (Psalm 12:2–3). Nowhere do we find men praised into spiritual perfection or the need to coddle self-centered feelings from stiff rebuke or unvarnished truth.
There are no safe spaces in the lake of fire. The holy law of God sitting underneath His throne will not change because you are offended. The standards of righteousness and the means of salvation through repentance cannot be altered because they are deemed harmful to the psychological well-being. Those who are saved will not spend eternity praising themselves, but praising the Lord and casting their crowns at His feet. If Christians do not reject this coddling culture of self-esteem, safe spaces, and psychological virtue signaling, they will be greatly disappointed to find heaven—and the culture thereof—diametrically opposed to their beliefs.
Timothy R Perenich MA, DC
[i] Abraham Maslow in Edward Hoffman, The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988), 206.
[ii] Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel M.D., One Nation Under Therapy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005), 60.
[iv] James S. Nairne, Psychology: The Adaptive Mind, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006), 414.
[v] Wayne Weiten, Margaret A. Lloyd, Dana S. Dunn, and Elizabeth Yost Hammer, Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in 21st Century, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage, 2009), 148–50.
[vi] Martin L. Gross, The Conspiracy of Ignorance (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1999), 1–3.
[vii] Sommers and Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, 31. (It must be noted that in the original study the author Roy Baumeister determined that high self-esteem was related to happiness and low self-esteem related to depression, but admitted that neither correlations could be accurately measured.)
[viii] Martin L. Gross, The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2000), 13, 17. (See also: Paul C. Vitz, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994), 20.
[ix] Sommers and Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, 18.
[x] Valerie Strauss, “School districts offer counseling support after Trump victory as officials try to calm fears,” The Washington Post, last modified November 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/09/school-districts-offer-counseling-support-after-trump-victory-as-officials-try-to-calm-fears/?utm_term=.2dad3c792d1c.
[xi] Noa Halff, “Groups at Rutgers hold a forum in solidarity after speaker’s visit,” The Daily Targum, last modified February 18, 2016, http://www.dailytargum.com/article/2016/02/groups-at-rutgers-hold-forum-in-solidarity-after-speakers-visit.
[xii] Madison Park and Kyung Lah, “Berkeley protests of Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 in damage,” CNN, last modified February 2, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/us/milo-yiannopoulos-berkeley/.
[xiii] Sommers and Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, 13.
[xv] Ibid., 14.
[xvi] Ibid., 16–17.
[xvii] Heidi Blake, “Christian preacher arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin,” The Telegraph, last modified May 2, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7668448/Christian-preacher-arrested-for-saying-homosexuality-is-a-sin.html.
[xviii] Bob Urnuh, “State Forbids Pastors Calling Homosexuality ‘Sinful,’” World Net Daily, last modified July 24, 2015, http://www.wnd.com/2015/07/state-forbids-pastors-calling-homosexuality-sinful/.
[xix] “MFA cancels Kimono Wednesdays after protesters called it racist,” fox25boston.com, last modified July 8, 2015, http://www.fox25boston.com/news/mfa-cancels-kimono-wednesdays-after-protesters-called-it-racist-1/8981115.
[xx] Sid Garcia and Tim Rearden, “Ben Shapiro Escorted by Police from CSULA Due To Angry Protesters,” abc7.com, last modified February 25, 2016, http://abc7.com/news/ben-shapiro-escorted-from-csula-due-to-angry-protesters/1219358/.
[xxi] John Fund, “Dr. Carson Banned from a Commencement Speech?,” National Review, last modified March 29, 2013, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/344291/dr-carson-banned-commencement-speech-john-fund.
[xxii] M. L. Andreasen, The Sanctuary Service (Haggerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing, 2006), 299–321.
[xxiii] Carlos Fayard, Barbara Couden Hernandez, Bruce Anderson, and George T. Harding IV, A Christian Worldview & Mental Health: A Seventh-day Adventist Perspective (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2011), 14.
[xxiv] Mark Goulston, “God Esteem vs. Self-Esteem,” Psychology Today, last modified November 12, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/just-listen/201411/god-esteem-vs-self-esteem.
[xxv] Stephen Mattson, “Go Ahead Christians, Despite Fundamentalism, Promote God’s Love and Grace,” Red Letter Christians, last modified March 30, 2014, https://www.redletterchristians.org/go-ahead-christians-despite-fundamentalism-promote-gods-love-grace/.
[xxvi] Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier, 1959), 45–46.