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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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 amazon.com 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 amazon.com 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 amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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 amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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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 TheGoodBook.com and ThinkIVP.

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

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