I realize this topic has been debated. Some Christian counselors won’t use the term self-esteem because of biblicism and a denial of common grace wisdom. Other Christian counselors take a secular point of view and wander into the realm of narcissism. This book by the McGraths lands right between the two extremes in a gospel-centered way. The first part of the book was written by Joanna McGrath, who has worked as a psychologist. She deals with the psychological aspect of self-esteem, discussing figures and movements like William James, Freud, Cognitive Psychology, and so forth. She also talks about depression, anxiety, and other such disorders.
The second part of the book (about 60% of it) was written by Alister McGrath. He writes as a theologian explaining a biblical understanding of self-esteem. This part of the book was my favorite. Alister explains what these biblical themes have to do with low self-esteem: sin, repentance, faith, grace, the cross, justification, adoption, contentment, and the role of a Christian church. Here are a few of my favorite quotes.
“The cross…establishes the objective basis of Christian self-esteem. It is here that God has established his relationship with us. Sin has been dealt with. Where secular psychological theories close their eyes to the reality, the seriousness, and the power of sin, the Gospel acknowledges them. But it also strongly affirms the reality, the seriousness, and the power of the cross of Christ to defeat sin. We may rest assured that all that is necessary for self-esteem has been done – and done extremely well! – by God through Christ on the cross” (p. 96).
“God knows that we are ill and has promised to heal us. And we must learn to value ourselves responsibly, by seeing beyond our sinful present to our redeemed future” (p. 102).
“In the death of Christ, we can see the overwhelming love of God for us. There was no limit to Christ’s self-giving for us. His death marks his total self-giving in that act of love that redeems us. That is how much he values us. He gives everything he has and everything he is for us. That thought must allow us to walk tall, secure in the fatherly love of God. Even though we are sinners, God loves us” (p. 116).
“…Our task is not to worry about what other people have been given [gifts/talents], but to discover what we have been given. To become preoccupied with the talents of others is to become vulnerable to envy and can perpetuate low self-esteem. Instead, we should concentrate upon what we have been given and what this might be telling us about what we ought to be doing in God’s service” (p. 128).
“Christian self-esteem is not based upon any national privilege, family entitlement, or personal accomplishment. It is based solely and totallly upon what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Our self-esteem is something that God achieves for us, not something that we achieve for ourselves apart from God…the cross of Christ alone is a secure rock to which we can anchor true valuation and esteem of ourselves and others” (p. 132).
McGrath makes many other excellent points that I don’t have the space to quote here. I especially appreciated his section on the church, where he talks about prayer, preaching, the sacraments, love, rebuke, and fellowship.
If you have this deep struggle with low self-esteem/worth, I highly recommend this book. If you are constantly beating yourself up, if you doubt how much God loves you, or if you cannot see why anyone would love you or care about you, you really need to read this book. It will help you fight against your doubts and sorrows. You won’t be disappointed: this book will bring you to the cross of Jesus Christ and the amazing love of God.
Finally, if you are a pastor, elder, or counselor who interacts with people struggling with low self-esteem, or if you simply have a Christian friend who has very low self-esteem, make sure you add this book to your library. It will help you help your beloved friend and point you both to the gospel.