Review article: Glynn Harrison on Self-Esteem

A review of The Big Ego Trip: Finding True Significance in a Culture of Self-Esteem

Guest blogger: Belinda Drummond

‘The Big Ego Trip’ by Glynn Harrison traces the origins and history of self-esteem over the past century. Harrison is an experienced psychiatrist and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Bristol University. He applies this knowledge of secular psychology to critique research into self-esteem. The book also offers some insightful gospel-centred alternatives to how how we view ourselves. In a series of blog posts, Belinda Drummond will discuss some of Harrison’s helpful analyses and findings.

The Big Ego Trip is available here from and thinkivp.

Introducing self-esteem

William James was the first to use the term ‘self-esteem’ in his writings during the early twentieth century. James defined self-esteem as an individual’s assessment of himself or herself according to the ratio of achievement to expectation. The more achievements line up with dreams, the better people feel about themselves. Since the advent of the modern self-esteem movement in the 1960s various different definitions of self-esteem have been offered including: how much an individual likes him or herself, how significant an individual feels, and how much an individual believes in him or herself. Modern research programmes have agreed, however, that self-esteem is a define-able entity, that it is rate-able as ‘high’ or ‘low’, and that its level affects an individual’s everyday life.

The concept of self-esteem has become a powerful force in many disciplines, but most notably within psychology (the science of mind, thought and behaviour). In fact, since the term self-esteem was first explored within experimental psychology in the 1960s, over 23,000 academic publications on the topic have been written. Self-esteem is a popular research area, and is now among the top three most studied research topics in the whole of social psychology (p. 41). Findings of research in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that there was a link between low self-esteem and a myriad of negative outcomes: educational failure, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, anorexia, behavioural problems, poor social adjustment and poor relationship building. As a result of this research evidence, the US and UK governments commissioned programmes in schools, hospitals, mental health authorities and prisons to improve self-esteem. These programmes aimed to inoculate against, and even cure, the negative outcomes associated with low self-esteem by teaching strategies to increase it.

Glynn Harrison explores the trickle-down impact that the findings of self-esteem research has had on relational dynamics over the past half-century. Half a century ago, if someone complained about feeling down, a response would have been along the lines of: ‘Don’t think about yourself so much … think about other people … you’ll never get anywhere by contemplating your own navel.’ Today this has been replaced with lines like: ‘You need to believe in yourself more … stop thinking about others and love yourself more … build up your self-esteem’ (pp. 15-16). Harrison argues that people have changed the way they interact within relationships and the way they informally advise one another in conversations, and that this is because self-esteem is such a dominant concept. Society as a whole runs on the assumption that we need to massage one another’s self-esteem in order to keep each other happy and healthy.

Harrison’s conclusion is powerful: that self-esteem as a concept has great power over society both directly through the government’s interventions, and indirectly through societal pressures.

The next blog post will explore the history of self-esteem. In the meantime you can watch Glynn Harrison himself talk about The Big Ego Trip …

The Big Ego Trip is available here from and thinkivp.

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Review: Paul and Union with Christ

A review of Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study, Zondervan, 2012.

Paul and Union with Christ is available here from and

Constantine R. Campbell has provided a comprehensive survey of all the references to union with Christ in Paul’s writings. Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Greek and New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He concludes that en Christo (in Christ) and en auto (in him) can refer to instrumentality, association, agency and locality. Eis Christon (into Christ) is similar to en Christo but can also refer to Christ as the goal of our salvation. Sun Christo (with Christ) mostly refers to participation with Christ. We participate in, and benefit from, the life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus. His story, we might say, becomes our story. Dia Christou (through Christ) denotes instrumentality or agency – what Christ does for us as our mediator.

Campbell also surveys the metaphors that Paul uses to express our union with Christ: body, temple, building, marriage, clothing (putting on Christ). Campbell argues that Paul’s metaphorical language is his most potent for communicating our union with Christ. The body of Christ depicts the church as an organic being, interconnected through Christ. The temple and building imagery convey the corporate nature of the church, the temple imagery depicting the church as the dwelling place of God while the building imagery denotes a structure with Christ as its foundation. The marriage metaphor conveys the church’s personal and exclusive relationship to Christ. And the clothing imagery depicts the reality of conversion to Christ as well as its attendant ethical expectations.

A strength of Campbell’s treatment is the way explores union with Christ within a trinitarian horizon. Campbell says: ‘It is appropriate to regard union with Christ as dealing with more than just humanity and Christ; indeed, it may well be a significant mistake to do so. The Pauline theme of union with Christ is as much about the Father and the Spirit’s union with him as it about ours.’ (358) ‘We must appreciate that according to Paul’s language, union with Christ is not simply about our unity with him and the resulting relationship with the Father. It is also about the Father’s relationship to the Son and his “reaching” toward humanity through Christ.’ (360) ‘Christ is the instrumental mediator of the Father’s will toward humanity, and incorporation into Christ spells membership in Gods temple in which the Spirit dwells.’ (368)

Another strength is the way he unfolds the ethical implications of union with Christ and what it means to ‘live out the death and resurrection of Christ.’ Suffering is not simply an imitation of Christ. It is also a participation with Christ. (381)

On justification Campbell says, ‘Justification leads to right living … but right living is not part of what Paul means by justification; it is the eschatological-juridical declaration of God based on the work of Christ, in fulfilment with his covenant promises.’ (395) As for the link to union with Christ, he concludes, our justification ‘stems from [our] participation in the death and resurrection of Christ; his vindicating resurrection becomes the vindication and righteousness of those united to him.’ (405)

Before attempting to define union with Christ, Campbell ‘describes’ it under the following headings (408-412):

  1. Location – being within the realm of Christ.
  2. Identification – belonging to the identity of Christ instead of Adam.
  3. Participation – our participation within the events of Christ’s story.
  4. Incorporation – our ‘being in Christ’ together as a community.
  5. Instrumentality – the way that Christ achieves God’s will toward us and in us.
  6. Trinity – representing the other side of the mediatorial function of union with Christ as ‘God the Father acts towards humanity through the Son and by virtue of his union with him.’ (409)
  7. Union – union with Christ involves an actual spiritual union with him.
  8. Eschatology – to participate in Christ’s death is to partake in an eschatological event.
  9. Spiritual reality – our union with Christ is not metaphorical or allegorical, but is actual and real.

Campbell then argues that no single word or term can fully define it. So he suggests four terms: union, participation, identification and incorporation.

In conclusion Campbell rejects the idea that any one theme (like union with Christ) can be identified as ‘the centre’ of Paul’s thought. A more helpful way to conceive of Paul’s thinking, if one must, is as a web-shape: there is no central thought from which all else emanates, but a series of inter-connected concentric circles. Nevertheless union with Christ is clearly key to Paul’s theology. ‘I believe that the metaphor of a web helpfully accounts for the structure of Paul’s thought, and union with Christ is the webbing that holds it all together. It is not the centre of his thought, though possibly should be regarded as a key to rediscover the richness and vitality of Paul’s theology. Thus, union with Christ is indispensable but not the “great concern”. Ultimately, it is most likely that Paul’s great concern is the glory of God in Christ.’ (442)

I’m not generally a fan of theology-by-compiling-lists. The attempt to cover every reference to union with Christ in Paul means some of the treatment is somewhat thin. Nevertheless Campbell’s book is an important contribution to the growing resurgence of interest in our union with Christ.

Coming soon: Steve Timmis and Christopher de la Hoyde are publishing a book on the missiological implications of our union with Christ as part of the Porterbrook Network imprint with Christian Focus.

Paul and Union with Christ is available here from and

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Our gatherings: familiar and responsive

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The previous posts  I’ve looked at the aim and shape of our gatherings. Here I turn to one of the principles that guides how we select the content.

Familiar and responsive

We want the shape and much of the content of our meetings to be familiar to regular attenders. This is because we want people to focus on God and not on the service itself. We do not want people wondering about what is going to happen next. This is how C. S. Lewis puts it:

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And [people] don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance … The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping … A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste …

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Mariner Books, 2002, 4-5.)

For us this means two things.

  1. Our gatherings normally have the same shape as outlined above: (1) call: we come to worship, (2) confession: we confess our sin, (3) word: we hear God’s voice, and (4) response: we respond in faith.
  2. We choose from a fairly small stock of confessions and creeds so the wording becomes familiar to people. For other aspects of the meeting (such as the call to worship or response to the word) will draw widely on the words of Scriptures, either read or responsively, as appropriate for the themes of the meeting.

We also want our gatherings to be responsive. That is, we to gather with the expectation that God will speak to us and that we will respond. So our meetings are planned, but with response built in and with a commitment to adapt, especially after the sermon. We expect God to be at work during our gathering and we want our meetings to facilitate that work. As those leading the meeting sense the congregation responding with conviction of sin or joy in Christ or wonder at God’s glory or resolve for mission, we want to ‘steward the moment’ by allowing people to express their response or expressing it on their behalf.

Again the principles of familiarity and responsiveness may sometimes be in tension. But a familiar shape which includes time for response in familiar forms means that this tension need not normally be a problem. 

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Gospel-Centred Preaching

Gospel-Centred Preaching is the latest edition to our Gospel-Centred series. I’ve written it with my good friend Marcus Honeysett, the Director of Living Leadership.

It covers all your might expect – the goals, foundations and practicalities of preparing and delivering sermons. But here’s what I think is more distinctive about it …

  • An emphasis on capturing the affections of our hearts for Christ (rather than merely a process of education) along with an exploration of what this means in practice.
  • A focus on ensuring our preaching is always a Christ-centred proclamation of the gospel.
  • A focus on ‘letting the text do the work’ so that the text itself provide the colour and variety to your gospel proclamation.
  • A section of preparing the preacher as well as preparing the preaching.
  • A workbook format with short practical chapters that groups (like leadership teams or staff teams) can readily look at together.

The focus is on sermons, but there are also a couple of chapters on interactive Bible studies. The format is similar to other volumes in the Gospel-Centred series although Gospel-Centred Preaching is about twice as long.

You can get a good feel for the book with this glimpse inside.

And here’s a commendation:

Initial reaction: oh no, not another how-to on preaching! Reaction after reading: this is great! It is theologically informed, practical, real and God-honouring. But above all, it is really encouraging! It renewed in me both a vision and a passion for getting on with communicating God’s word.
- Mark Meynell, senior associate minister at All Souls Langham Place, London, UK.

Gospel-Centred Preaching is available from and ThinkIVP.

Other volumes in the Gospel-Centred series are available from  and ThinkIVP.

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Our gatherings: contemporary and traditional

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The previous posts  I’ve looked at the aim and shape of our gatherings. Here I turn to one of the principles that guides how we select the content.

Contemporary and traditional

We want our gatherings to feel contemporary and local. We recognize that this represents a challenge because there is no single local or homogenous culture. Instead there are many sub-cultures within our society. We have decided that our music should have folk or indie feel as this feels normal even by those with different personal preferences. Where do we adopt music from other cultures (for example, from the United States) we are adopting musical styles that the wider cultures also adopts so again this means this music feels normal.

At the same time, we want elements of our corporate worship to be traditional. That is, we want them to reflect a common heritage of Christian public worship as an expression of our belonging to the church across the world and across the years. In other words, some of the things we do have been done by Christians for centuries and by doing them we express our connection with them. The confessions and creeds we use are either derived from Scripture or employ wording that stretches back many centuries. Unbelievers typically expect tradition when they attend a church meeting so they rarely find these traditional elements as off-putting as we might imagine. They are more likely to be put off by innovation. Indeed usually whatever we do feels more contemporary than their expectations.

So we want to reflect the context in which we are placed and that context is both a local cultural context and the context of the worldwide church.

Clearly there may be some tension between these two aims – being contemporary and traditional. Often, though, we can resolve this by using biblical or traditional content in contemporary forms (by, for example, updating the words to modern usage or using contemporary tunes to traditional words).

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Inspector Smart and the Case of the Empty Tomb


I’ve had my first book for children published – Inspector Smart and the Case of the Empty Tomb: Case File.

The character of Inspector Smart was created by a member of our church, Michael Tinker. Michael has recorded a CD of related songs and created an accompanying stage show. My book is designed for 8-11 year-olds and there’s also a version for younger children. The CD and books are all published by The Good

Book Company and resources for a holiday Bible club will be available next year. There are already ten free colouring sheets.

The aim of the book is for children to explore the evidence for the resurrection with Inspector Smart. At the end they have to help Smart decide what really happened and what we must do in response.

The two Inspector Smart books and CD are available in the US from and in the UK from ThinkIVP.


Here’s the video introducing the Inspector Smart tour …


The shape of our gatherings

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The first post looked at how we view the aim of our Sunday gatherings and the principles behind how we shape our gatherings. Here’s how we put this together to create the ‘template’ for our meetings.  

1. Call: we come to worship

We begin with a call to worship or an affirmation of God’s glory. This may take the form of songs, prayer, short readings from the Bible, liturgical readings (reading words of Scripture together) or a creed. So our opening song or songs are often addressed not to God directly, but to one another (‘Come praise and glorify our God’). Or they may praise God for his power, beauty, holiness, love, glory and so on. We are calling one another away from the worship of created things or away from the distractions of this world and back to the worship to God. This is true of creeds. When we say a creed together we are affirming together the truth about God. This is a subversive act for in so doing we are refuting the lies of this world.

2. Confession: we confess our sin

As we come before a holy God we come aware of our sin and our need of his grace. So we confess our sins and receive the assurance of grace. This can be spoken or sung. It is not that Christians are out of favour with God until we have confessed our sin. We come to the gathering righteousness in God’s sight whatever kind of week we have had. But we confess our sins to restore our relationship with God, to reaffirm our commitment to holiness and to remind ourselves of God’s grace. This act of confession and assurance normally comes after the opening worship, but may instead come as part of the response to the word when that is more appropriate.

3. Word: we hear God’s voice

The centrepiece of our gathering is hearing God’s voice through his word. This involves hearing the Bible read aloud and hearing the preaching of the word. It may also be introduced by a song or prayer asking God to speak to us through his word. We want to use the language of ‘God speaking’ to us (rather than simply ‘reading the Bible’) to convey the idea that this is more than receiving information. God himself is speaking to us in this moment, both individually and corporately. The Holy Spirit has not only spoken in the past in the writing of the Scriptures, he also speaks in the present through the reading and preaching of the word. So we want to have a strong expectation that we will hear God’s voice as we gather together.

4. Response: we respond in faith

James 1:22 says: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ So we respond to God’s word. We may do this through song, led prayer, open prayer, confession of sin or reciting a creed. We also want a strong sense of being sent out in some form of dismissal to live the word in our everyday lives. Worship in the New Testament is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Our sacrifice of praise is both the fruit of our lips and the fruit of good lives (Hebrews 13:15-16). Coming together recalibrates our hearts to the worship of God. But then we go out to worship him in our lives by declaring his praises to a lost world.

Stages Potential Components
1. Call:
we come to worship
song, prayer, Scripture readings, liturgical readings, a creed
2. Confession:
we confess our sin
song, led prayer, liturgical prayer, Scripture readings
3. Word:
we hear God’s voice
Bible reading, preaching, introduced by prayer or song
4. Response:
we respond in faith
song, prayer, open prayer, confession, a creed, dismissal

To help plan our gatherings we have created a list of the songs we regularly sing and organised them according to these core components and according to common themes in God’s word:

Stages:            Call, confession, assurance, word, response and dismissal.

Themes:             Christ’s kingship and exaltation, church and community, creation, cross, fulfilment, hope, incarnation, mission and the nations, prayer and petition, refuge and suffering, satisfaction in God, and the Holy Spirit.

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An evangelical theology of religions

My good friend, Dan Strange, has published his long-awaited book on other religions under the title “Their Rock is Not as Our Rock”: An Evangelical Theology of Religions.

How do we make sense of the way other religions can at times seem to reflect something of the truth yet at other times be so opposed to the truth? How can they at times be forces for good and other times violently oppose the gospel? Are their noble attempts to pursue God that merely fall short of the truth revealled in Christ or are they product of demonic activity that only deceive humanity?

Dan draws upon Reformed missiology to offer an explanation that encompasses all these realities. He develops this under the heading of ‘subversive fulfilment’. I’ve posted on subversive fulfilment before as well as drawing on the concept in Unreached.

I’m sure it will become the standard evangelical work on the subject for years to come.

“Their Rock is Not as Our Rock” is available here from and thinkivp.

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