In recent decades, popular psychology has sold the idea that man’s problem is that his self esteem is too low. And Christians have bought it. In fact, many Christians have made it their gospel.

But have we Fundamentalists over-reacted?

First, I think of Joe Zichterman’s statement when he left Fundamentalism that spiritually abused people should listen to Joel Osteen 24/7 for a week just to de-tox. While we can probably agree that this is overstatement (and Joe might even agree on that point), it does suggest that we need to do some self-examination on the matter.

Second, our first concern tends to be the gospel. We see how easily an emphasis on self-esteem can undermine the gospel. We’ve seen whole churches stop preaching the gospel because they’ve bought into the self-esteem model and we’re incensed. And rightly so.

A crucial distinction

There is a crucial distinction between “self esteem” as popular psychology has dubbed it and what I’ll call a biblical self image or self awareness. A distinction that we too easily miss. Because these terms are full of connotative nuance, I’ll try to paint a picture of the two concepts that I am referring to.

Self esteem Self image
Self esteem deals with me in relation to myself. Self image deals with me in relation to God.
The goal of self esteem is to make me feel good about myself. The goal of self image is to make me think rightly about myself.
Self esteem focuses on how I view myself. Self image focuses on what is true about myself.
Self esteem focuses on the rights I have based on who I am. Self image focuses on the responsibilities I have because of who I am.
Self esteem contradicts the depravity of man. Self image fits perfectly with the depravity of man.

A secular self image paradigm

Lots of animals were fighting with each other trying to survive and we human animals became so much smarter than the rest that we mastered the other animals. Morality is social. Immorality is anti-social. You deserve respect because you’re the strongest or the smartest and you’ll only get it when you demand it.

You’re an accident. So is everyone else. You deserve respect just as much as the next guy (or walrus) and who do they think they are not to give it?

You are loved because of what you have to offer. When you can no longer offer something worth “loving,” they will stop loving. You love others for the same reason. It’s mutually beneficial so it makes sense in a world where we’ve got to survive and be happy before you die and are no more. And if someone is not making you feel good, don’t stay around to get hurt. That’s stupid.

No wonder we’re looking for self esteem

With that kind of self image, no wonder people are trying to boost their self esteem. There’s not much of beauty or virtue in all of that. In fact, there’s not really such a thing as beauty and virtue in all of that.

People who live in that kind of a world would probably be insecure, self-protective, back-stabbing, and self-serving. In fact, there’s probably not much such people wouldn’t do if they felt it was necessary to get what they wanted out of this short existence.

In the beginning…

Can you see how a right self image is vitally important for every human? Next week, we’ll have a brief look at how self image is developed and what it should be.

this is part 1 of 3 in the series
Self Image

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. Alen 10 December, 2008 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Not that I am a scholar in this myself but I think the key issue is view of God. With the right view of self we may actually despair because we don’t have the right view of God. If we have the right view of God though, it should lead us to the right view of ourselves..

    Just a musing though..probably flaws in that :)

  2. Alen 10 December, 2008 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    By the way that video was awesome. The fin above water analogy was awesome. Totally hilarious.

  3. Jason Harris 10 December, 2008 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Yeah Alen. I think you’re getting at something that I’m hoping to look at next week, but just coming from a different angle than I had thought about before. Thanks for the thought.

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