New book: Titus for You

Today sees the publication of my latest book, Titus For You. It’s the first volume in the Good Book Company’s God’s Word for You series not to have been written by Tim Keller. Published alongside it is a Good Book Guide on Titus  for group Bible studies. Here’s a video of me introducing the book …

 

Titus For You is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

The Good Book Guide to Titus is available here from amazon.com and The Good Book Company.

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The World We All Want – episode one

Here’s a taster of The World We All Want videos. Today is the day the DVD is published in the US.

As I’ve said in a previous postThe World We All Want is an evangelistic course that Steve Timmis and I wrote. It’s now available on DVD with a 10-minute talk for each session plus an animated summary. Here’s episode one …

The DVD and workbook are available in the US from The Good Book Company.

The DVD and workbook are available in the UK from ThinkIVP.

The World We All Want has a number of distinctives:

  • It starts with a strong point of connection - our common desire for a better world. This is the world promised in the Bible and glimpsed in the life of Jesus.
  • It traces the gospel through the Bible story as a whole. This is evangelism through biblical theology.
  • Having traced God’s promise of people who are his people, the invitation of the gospel is to become part of God’s people. So the church is not then an add on.

 

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Discovering Jesus through Asian Eyes

The Good Book Company and the UK Evangelical Alliance has recently launched some great resources for sharing Jesus with people from Asia:

They are available in the UK from ThinkIVP and in the US from TheGoodBook.com.

Here are some commendations …

“Discovering Jesus Through Asian Eyes addresses Asian-flavoured concerns about Christianity with depth and simplicity.”
Wien Fung - Pastoral Worker, Chinese Church in London

“I am really excited about this course as it gives Christians today appropriate and sensitive resources with which to engage with colleagues, friends and neighbours from South Asia.”
Pastor Ayo Adedoyin - Head of Community Action, Jesus House, London

“In recognising the diversity of the communities we are a part of, this course will enable us to effectively communicate the Gospel in a relevant way.”
Roy Crowne - Executive Director HOPE

“A powerful resource that provides useful responses to some of the key questions raised by peope from Asian faiths. I wholeheartedly recommend this course.”
Davidson Solanki - Co-founder of The Gujarati Christian Fellowship, UK

“This is a powerful tool to open up dialogue in a non-threatening way with seekers, providing answers to questions commonly asked by South Asians who are thinking through the Christian message.”
Steve Uppal - Senior Leader All Nations Christian Centre, Wolverhampton

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A biblical response to self-esteem

Guest blogger, Belinda Drummond, continues her posts on Glynn Harrison’s critique of the culture of self-esteem in his book, The Big Ego Trip, which is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

In The Big Ego Trip, Glynn Harrison traces the history of self-esteem’s current power within modern society. Self-esteem is a word that we all know and use. But what have been the effects on God’s people? And what should our response be?

Harrison describes how he has seen first-hand the effects of the self-esteem movement in the church. He describes a presentation he attended which related low church attendance figures to low self-esteem in the church (p. 16). Self-esteem ideology has gained acceptance with church leaders as legitimate and helpful. In fact, since the 1960s self-esteem has done as much to reshape Christian culture as it has secular culture (p. 18). The ‘baby boomers’ have moulded the Christian message to mirror their culture by creating a new spirituality centred on self. Christian lifestyle was no longer shaped around ‘an ethic of self-denial’ but instead on ‘an ethic of self-fulfilment’ (quoting Wade Clark Roof’s work, p.69). Due to the influence of self-esteem ideology pride is no longer a sin. Instead the real sin has now become not loving yourself enough (p. 16). Christian culture is now awash with self-help aids and merchandise with a Christian veneer. ‘Forget “we are weak but he is strong”; now you could get the T-shirt: “I may be little but to God I am big stuff!”’ (p. 68).

Harrison describes how the self-esteem movement has resulted in a church where we are all ‘checking our feelings, evaluating our image and comparing ourselves with others, rather than looking where we are going. As a result life is a roller-coaster of anxious self-absorption, experiencing prideful self-satisfaction when we match up, and woeful inadequacy and shame when we don’t.’ (p. 155) Harrison describes how this is a dangerous road. Indeed it is in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. In constantly attempting to rate and change our sense of worthiness, we are leaving behind the message that there is nothing intrinsic in us that leads God to love us. It is simply his amazing grace.

Harrison suggests some very helpful interventions to try and wean ourselves away from this self- obsession. Specifically he suggests that we stop rating ourselves. We should also stop transferring specific ratings (‘I’m a great footballer!’) to global ratings (‘Wow, then I am a great person!’). Instead we should accept our identity as a loved child of God and lift our eyes to serve only his glory. (p. 165)

Harrison suggests that in order to stop rating ourselves and to give ourselves a reality check we should try to seek out opportunities for critical feedback rather than avoiding them. And we should refuse to connect specific criticism (‘Your teaching was poor today’) to the global (‘You are a failure’). (p. 196)

Another helpful point that Harrison makes is that there is more than enough grace for everybody so we don’t need to rate and compare ourselves with others. Seeing others achieving or having importance in our church family does not mean we should be jealous or fight for more for ourselves. There is more than enough of God’s love and favour for all of us. ‘In the abundance of God’s grace there is not limited good.’ (p. 192)

We need to ensure that instead of being motivated by the pursuit of our own glory and attempting to flourish outside of Christ, we ‘live lives motivated by something greater’ (p. 191). Harrison describes how counter-intuitively we should celebrate the gifts that God has given us as we view ourselves in ‘sober judgement’: ‘Let God love you and take delight in your work!’ (p. 197).

There is danger in any ideology that moves the church away from the gospel and this can be seen with self-esteem. There is the sin of pride that comes when we are trying to achieve self-esteem, but also the gloom and shameful inadequacy when we don’t match up. The pursuit of self-esteem in our churches encourages a culture where it is all about ‘me’ and ‘self’. Instead, Harrison says, the gospel has a message that brings great freedom: ‘Life isn’t about you!’ (p. 12). We need to be reminding ourselves and our church families that ‘we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s not about you or me … God’s purpose is to bring glory to his Son.’ (p. 192) Harrison describes how combating the see-sawing feelings that come with a life motivated by self-esteem may take a lifetime of hard work. He describes a friend who struggles with an unhelpful need to find status and esteem in his professional life. Now, before any significant meeting or presentation, he sits and prays that only God receive the glory, and that he would ‘fit in’ not ‘stand out’ (p. 197).

Harrison’s work is an insightful mix of secular and biblical critique. The ideas that Harrison has to aid the church’s fight against the power of self-esteem are gospel-centred and practical. Self-esteem is something that we need explore more, particularly in relation its effects on specific issues (like exploring the impact of self-esteem ideologies to parenting).

I came away feeling convicted that the God’s people need to be encouraged to love sacrificially in contrast with a self-obsessed secular society. God’s call for his people to be other-centred is increasingly counter-cultural. Furthermore, I felt a missional challenge: society’s obsession with self-esteem could be a great missional opportunity. Harrison quotes Paul Vitz describing the self-esteem movement as ‘a religion’ through which society is struggling to find significance and self-worth through increasing self-esteem (p. 46). But, as we have seen, this ideology is a failure with self-esteem and narcissism delivering nothing but disappointment and sadness. What sweet relief the gospel could bring to our society!

The Big Ego Trip is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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The World We All Want

The World We All Want, the evangelistic course that Steve Timmis and I wrote, is now available on DVD with a 10-minute talk for each session plus an animated summary.

The World We All Want has a number of distinctives:

  • It starts with a strong point of connection - our common desire for a better world. This is the world promised in the Bible and glimpsed in the life of Jesus.
  • It traces the gospel through the Bible story as a whole. This is evangelism through biblical theology.
  • Having traced God’s promise of people who are his people, the invitation of the gospel is to become part of God’s people. So the church is not then an add on.

The DVD and workbook are available in the UK from ThinkIVP. Over this coming weekend The Good Book Company have a special offer of the workbook and DVD for £10.

The DVD will be available in the US from 1 June from The Good Book Company. Meanwhile the workbook is already available.

Here are a couple of commendations:

A biblically-faithful, gospel-rich, culturally-sensitive presentation of the good news. This approach by Chester and Timmis captures both the beauty of the story and the urgency of the invitation.
J.D. Greear, Author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary

One of the most frustrating things as we try to evangelize and disciple our friends is material to assist the journey. Steve and Tim have assisted us greatly with a resource that is biblical, practical and gospel-centered.
Pastor Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor of The Journey, St. Louis, MO, and author of For the City, and Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission

And here’s the summary animation …

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The problem of self-esteem

Guest blogger, Belinda Drummond, continues her posts on Glynn Harrison’s critique of the culture of self-esteem in his book, The Big Ego Trip, which is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

Harrison’s exploration of the world of self-esteem is comprehensive and helpful, and also alarming. He describes how, in fact there are many fundamental flaws in the concept of self-esteem and in the findings of research in its subject areas.

One of the most basic problems, Harrison describes, is that there is no single definition for self-esteem. Having a single definition for a research topic is a basic requirement in any scientific discipline. However, definitions of self-esteem have included several not necessarily compatible ideas, such as: how much an individual likes him or herself, how significant an individual feels, and how much an individual believes in him or herself. These ideas have all been placed under the umbrella of self-esteem. But they aren’t centred around any one idea as to what self-esteem actually is. ‘Millions of research dollars have been spent, thousands upon thousands of academic papers litter our libraries, the “compelling discoveries of modern psychology” have been rolled out in school-based self-esteem programmes across the US and Europe … and we still don’t have an agreed upon definition?!’ (pp. 117-118)

Harrison points out that the research sounds incredibly convincing and impressive, but the movement has made the classic mistake: correlation does not equal causation (p. 43). That two facts are linked does not mean there is any causal connection between them. Having low self-esteem does not cause an individual to be anxious or commit a crime or any number of other negative outcomes. There may be a statistical pattern between the two, but that is the only conclusion that can be made. The real cause of the link could be some other factor all together as yet undiscovered. Psychology’s fascination with self-esteem over the past fifty years is not in fact supported by any experimentally proved causation (p. 47).

Reviews looking at the outcomes of intervention programmes designed to boost self-esteem have found little evidence that they have done anything to help people. There are no positive findings in the field of education and in mental health interventions the results are actually negative (p. 19). Interventions designed to improve social adjustment and healthy relationships found no improvement from trying to boost individuals’ self-esteem. ‘There is no hard evidence that self-esteem is a major cause of the list of social and psychological problems as has been claimed, and no proof that boosting self-esteem has any benefit in addressing these issues.’ (p. 83).

More recently psychologists in the field have begun to lay the blame for many negative social trends ‘at the door of the self-esteem movement’ (p. 19). Beth Twenge, in a piece of work discussed by Harrison, suggests that ‘today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled – and more miserable than ever before’. She places the blame for this squarely at the door of the self-esteem movement (p. 61). Twenge argues that not only are Americans not better off following the unrolling of projects across society to improve self-esteem, ‘but in fact in mental health terms, they are actually worse off’ (p. 61). Twenge argues that instead of improving society, the movement has ‘built a generation of narcissists’ (p. 93) who feel superior to others, who court attention, and who ‘lack empathy to such a degree that they are genuinely shocked and dismayed when the admiration and praise they expect is not forthcoming’ (p. 92).

Harrison describes a piece of research carried out by the Prince’s Trust in 2008 that gave an insight into a generation of 16-25 year olds in the UK. ‘More than 1 in 10 (12%) said that life was meaningless; more than a quarter (27%) admitted they were “often” or “always” down or depressed … 1 in 5 felt like crying “often” or “always”’ (pp. 94-95). Harrison argues that individuals born since 1970 are raised to think they can have it all because they are worth it due to self-esteem interventions. Unfortunately this understanding of the world is not realistic, and routinely results in misery and disappointment as individuals fail to realise their dream. Harrison points out that William James himself would be alarmed by this outcome from his early ideas of self-esteem. James made the point that in fact our expectations must be brought in line with reality if they do not match up with our situation. He saw self-esteem as a true measurement, rather than something that can be inflated without substance.

All of these criticisms are alarming. But possibly the most alarming point that Harrison makes is that, even though the self-esteem movement reflected on these issues themselves as early as the mid 1980s, it didn’t seem to care that there was no real evidence for the concept or the interventions making any difference at all (p. 83). Harrison argues that this attempt to hush up problems and criticisms continues as the concept of self-esteem remains influential in psychology even though there is no research supporting the existence of causal links. So not only does Harrison question the validity of the concept of self-esteem, he also questions the value of the research programmes and their conclusions. In light of this, he questions the impact that self-esteem has had on society which recent research suggests has been not merely equivocal but actually damaging.

In the next blog post we will explore the dangers posed by self-esteem for the church.

The Big Ego Trip is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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The history of self-esteem

Guest blogger, Belinda Drummond, continues her posts on Glynn Harrison’s critique of the culture of self-esteem in his book, The Big Ego Trip, which is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

Glynn Harrison, in his book The Big Ego Trip, describes how the concept of self-esteem gained academic credibility across disciplines as diverse as sociology, psychology, biology, social policy and psychiatry since the emergence of the modern self-esteem movement in the 1960s. Most notably, however, it has become an influential and powerful research area within psychology, and has gained acceptance in government and wider society as something that needs to be monitored and improved to ensure health and well-being.

But how have we got here? One of the fascinating narratives Glynn Harrison traces through his book is the history of self-esteem as a concept.

Harrison suggests one of the main reasons self-esteem emerged as such a popular concept was society’s curiosity during the 1960s about what defined ‘self-hood’. Harrison describes how society was beginning to demand a new definition of self that threw off notions of prioritising others and the individual’s duties in the social structure. There had been a long history prior to the 1960s of personal austerity and others being prioritised over the wishes of the individual. The 1960s brought sexual revolution and an increasing sense that loving others before yourself was in some way undesirable and even unhealthy. So the emphasis shifted to encouraging people to love themselves before reaching out to others (p. 18). This became the dominant dynamic within society during the 1970s, and simply transformed as the century wore on from individualistic humanism to individualistic capitalism.

Another influence, and probably the main driving force in the rise of self esteem as a concept, was the rise of psychology as a scientific discipline. Psychology during the 1960s was just finding its feet and was trying to establish itself as a credible scientific discipline. Harrison describes how self-esteem seemed, during the 1960s and 1970s to be its ‘Holy Grail’ (p. 44). The concept of self-esteem seemed definable and measurable (with the new Rosenberg Scale) so that results could be compared and analysed. The self-esteem movement produced many research findings that could be rolled out into popular culture. This was just what psychology was looking for. Popular culture embraced the results of the studies that began to emerge, and in turn the field of psychology unearthed more and more evidence that low self-esteem was linked to a plethora of negative behaviours and emotions.

Many of the leading psychologists during the 1970s such as Abraham Maslow, Rollo May and Carl Rogers centred much of their writing around self-esteem. These were heady times as self-esteem became more than simply a concept. It became the default cultural mode. ‘Nothing could stop it now … [as] we arrived in the 1980s … self-esteem continued its work in popular culture, in our schools and colleges, in our law courts and our mental health services.’ (p. 51)

So the histories of psychology and self-esteem are closely linked. Psychology’s exploration of self-esteem ensured that it found acceptance within a society becoming obsessed with ‘self’, and psychology exploited the concept to gain status and recognition as a scientific discipline. Harrison argues that the self-esteem movement within psychology actually ended up wanting more than scientific recognition. It colonised the ‘big questions of significance and personal value.’ (pp. 17-18) Through the exploration of self-esteem over the past half century, psychology had placed itself in all of our lives. Harrison’s well-researched and well-documented history is helpful, especially as it includes much interesting background and thought from within secular psychology itself.

The intimate and circular relationship between society, psychology as a ‘science’ and self-esteem as a concept is convincingly demonstrated by Harrison. It has implications for self-esteem’s status as a scientific entity. Harrison argues that the concept of self-esteem, far from being empirical and evidence based, is simply a ‘new Romanticism … baptised with science’ (p. 49).

In the next blog post we will look at Harrison’s critique of the self-esteem movement.

The Big Ego Trip is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Our gatherings: participatory and accessible

I’ve been posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. This final post look at how we try to be both participatory and accessible. These might seem compatible principles, but in fact they can constitute a hard balance to strike.

Participatory and accessible

Worship is not a performance from the front, but a community act in which we all participate. We do not want the congregation merely to be passive observers. We want to encourage one another to give ourselves in worship.

We also want people of different ages, gender, social class and ethnicity to find our meetings accessible without feeling uncomfortable. We especially want unbelievers to feel welcome and be able to observe what we are doing.

These two principles of participation and accessibility can often be in conflict. Being urged to participate can make some people feel uncomfortable. We believe this can normally be avoided if participation is led from the front and the meeting is not focused on specific groups.

Participation takes the form of singing, liturgical prayers and open prayer. The leader may also attempt to give expression to people’s response to God’s word. And people are invited to talk or pray with others after the meeting. But we do not have times when people are encouraged to do things like pray with the person next to them because this may make unbelievers uncomfortable. When we have a time of open prayer we ask two or three people to lead the whole congregation so it is clear to visitors that they are not be required to pray. In other words, we include contributions from the congregation, but avoid small groups so that every contribution is experienced by everyone.

We also do not focus our gathering on specific groups. For example, we want children to feel part of everything that happens. But if we pitch things at a child’s level then it sounds patronizing to adults. So we avoid slots that are child-specific as these communicate that this is for children and not for adults, and that other parts of the meeting are for adults and not for children. We want children to feel part of everything that happens, but we also want middle-aged men to feel part of everything that happens. So avoid anything that will be cringy for adults like action songs. We want to be child-friendly without being child-focused. Many churches have fewer men than women. One reason is that men often find public worship off-putting. Whether we like it or not, worship geared at men will not put women off, but worship geared at women or children will put men off.

In the same way, we do not normally aim our activities at the gathering directly at unbelievers. Instead we invite them to observe Christians enjoying God and hearing from him. We do want to ensure our activities are accessible to unbelievers so from time to time we briefly explain what we are doing and why.

We try to watch our language and idioms so that people for whom English is not their first language can follow as much as possible. We also want to avoid in-jokes that visitors or new-comers will not get.

This commitment to congregational participation also shapes our music. We want our music to facilitate congregational worship rather than be a performance that replaces congregational worship. Our aim is music which is not so bad that it draws attention to itself and not so good that it draws attention to itself. Instead we want music to lift the hearts of the congregation in worship in which the attention is on Christ.

These aims sometimes exist in tension and we are realistic enough to accept that we will not always hit a perfect balance.

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