Book Review: The Biblical View of Self Esteem by Jay Adams

This is a book review of the “The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image” by Jay E. Adams. This is a good book for Christians, academic scholars in religion and the philosophy of religion, as well as for some people in other religions.

KEYWORDS: book review, Jay Adams, philosophy of religion, psychology, religion, self-development, self-esteem, self-help, self-image, self-improvement, self-love, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem.

PART 1: THE BOOK

In this book review I am reviewing my (second-hand) copy of the The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, by Jay E. Adams.

This book is published by Harvest House Publishers in Eugene, Oregon. And it was placed in the genre of “Christian Living”, as shown here in the lower right of the back cover (click image to enlarge):

Figure 1. Front and back covers of The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image by Jay E. Adams (Harvest House Publishers, 1986).

This book was originally published in 1986, as noted on the copyright page. And to my knowledge there never appeared any revised second edition of this book. So this is presumably the only edition available.

Another interesting fact about this book is that it was originally in the library of Redcliffe College (a UK Christian cross-cultural mission college, originally founded in 1892), as seen from the images below (click image to enlarge):

Figure 2. The Redcliffe College due date stamps on the inside cover of my copy of The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, by Jay E. Adams.

As we can see from the image on the left, it was only checked out three times: in December 2007, in November 2008, and in March 2011.

But it is difficult to calculate the real statistics in terms of its use by the students. For it is unclear when this book was acquired by the library, since there is no stamp or note when it was added to the collections; and there is also no date when it was withdrawn.

In any case, whether it was acquired in 2006, or in 1996, or in 1986, it was not checked out more frequently than once a year. So presumably it was not a very popular title, even at a Christian missionary college such as Redcliffe.

About the Book

The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image is not a self-help type of book, at least not in the usual sense of the word. The back cover hints at its focus:

“But has our search for answers led us too far in the wrong direction: away from our true position in Christ and toward a dangerous emphasis on self?”

So the primary audience for this book is Christians who might need to “protect” their religious faith against the “onslaught” of the self-help movement, with its emphasis on self-esteem, self-development, and self-image, etc.

Therefore, this is not really a book for individuals with low self-esteem who are searching for more self-esteem, or for a high self-esteem. Rather, it is mostly for Christians who want to stay devoted to the Bible, or to their Church, or to their community, etc.

This is a semi-academic book, and it has lots of references in each chapter. There are four pages of illustrations. There is no author index, and no general index.

The Parts of the Book

The book is divided into three main parts: the front matter (6 pages); the core text (130 pages); and the back matter (7 pages). So all in all, 143 pages.

The front matter consists of a title page, a copyright page, and a Preface, followed by a one-page Contents.

The core text of the book is divided into twelve chapters, and I am describing these below.

The back matter consists of a two-page Epilogue, and five pages of notes.

The Twelve Chapters

The twelve chapters in this book contain the following basic ideas, as I have understood them:

Chapter 1: What’s Going On? The self-esteem movement is spreading everywhere, and cannot be ignored. And even Christian writers are claiming that we need to improve our self-esteem (pp. 7-15).

Chapter 2: A Demand for Change. The self-esteem advocates say that parents should train their children differently. And some Christians propose that the teachings in our churches also must change accordingly (pp. 17-25).

Chapter 3: What Brought This On? The self-esteem movement’s way into the Christian church has basically originated with Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow’s teachings (pp. 27-40).

Chapter 4: Let’s Test It Biblically. When we look at Biblical passages, we discover that there is no “need” for any self-esteem, etc. (pp. 41-50).

Chapter 5: More About “Need”. The word “need” is just another label for “desire” and “sin” (pp. 51-61).

Chapter 6: Love…As Yourself? If we truly love God and our neighbors, we need not to address separately the idea of loving ourselves (pp. 63-73).

Chapter 7: Of Infinite Worth? Some passages in the Bible that are used (by the self-love advocates) to support the idea of self-worth do not actually have to do with self-image (pp. 75-85).

Chapter 8: Worthy of Salvation? Many self-love advocates claim that God saved man because man was valuable. But that is, according to the Bible, wrong: God redeemed man not because man was valuable, but out of pure love and grace (pp. 87-94).

Chapter 9: Passages Often Overlooked. The scriptures talk about God’s greatness, not man’s. According to Psalm 62, man is worth nothing (pp. 95-101).

Chapter 10: What Does the Bible Teach? When you are willing to lose yourself for God, then you save your life (pp. 103-112).

Chapter 11: An Accurate Self-Image. Christians should not concern themselves with trying to improve their self-image. Instead they should train themselves to behave in a way that pleases God (and the Church), which then practically demonstrates that they are worthy (pp. 113-119).

Chapter 12: Real Life. As a Christian, you must choose to completely reject the self-esteem movement (pp. 121-135).

The Author

According to the text on the back cover of this book, Jay E. Adams is the director of Advanced Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, as well as the Dean of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at the Christian Counseling and Educational Center. He is a frequent lecturer and the author of more than 50 books.

PART 2: THE REVIEW

Physical Format

My copy of the 1986 paperback edition is approximately 5.5 x 8.25 inches (13.8 x 21.0 cm). And it’s approximately 0.30 inches (0.9 cm) thick.

Although the book, in my view, is a little too wide, that is compensated for by its very reasonable weight (it’s just 143 pages).

So although The Biblical View of Self-Esteem is not as compact as a typical mass market pocket book such as Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics, or as light as a more refined production such as Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, it’s still quite nice to handle.

Note that this title is nowadays also available in Kindle format in America, Canada, India, and Australia, but apparently not in the UK (yet). I have not seen it available in any audio format yet.

Paper, Printing, and Binding Quality

The type of paper in this book is not “mass market pocket book” paper quality, but something a little better. So when I write with my LAMY fountain pen, it does not bleed a lot, just a little.

The printing quality is very good, and the binding too. The text is crisp and clear, and the binding is still tight after 35 years of use.

Layout, Design, and Typography

There is little to be said about the design aspects of this book.

Both the front cover and the back cover are reasonably well done, and the design fits well with the type of message that the book stands for.

As for the design of the pages in the core text (pages 1-143), there is little to complain about. The font size is big enough for most readers, and the leading is adequate.

Basic Content

The “selling text” on the back cover is, in my opinion, not clear enough as to what this book really contains. Sure, there is a “hint”, as seen in the quoted passage above. But I still think that its central message should have been more clear, so that the reader would know more about what to expect from this book. That is why I estimate its “promise-to-delivery” value to only 70%.

Of course, from the publisher’s viewpoint, the idea was probably that by keeping the back cover blurb (“marketing text”) a little unclear, the potential buyer would be intrigued: Does this book allow self-esteem and self-image improvements after all? Or does this book just propose the usual orthodox recipe where we have to dismiss any thoughts of self-esteem and self-love improvements altogether?

In terms of “value for money”, I would say that it is good, especially for those who guessed which way Jay Adams would go. But for those who thought that Adams would accept the self-esteem movement (in some way, shape, or form), it might of course be just the opposite. But most buyers of the book probably guessed that Adams would not be very positive to any type of focus on self-esteem or self-love improvement.

Now, Adams really does discuss the pros and the cons in regard to the whole self-esteem issue. And he does propose a “suitable” and “Godly” way to handle the issue, as seen from an orthodox Christian perspective.

Writing Style

The book is nicely written. He writes in a reasonably simple and clear style, although he sometimes adapts an “authoritarian” or “archaic” type of writing style or choice of words (e.g., “heretofore”, p. 17), seemingly for rhetorical reasons (after all, he seems to be a frequent lecturer and “preacher”).

This book is written in a strong tone that is hard to miss. There is no uncertainty on his part, in terms of the conclusion that he is building up throughout the book.

Perhaps this “bulldozer style” of doing things is a good strategy. For if we are to believe the many quotes in the book, many Christians have (very) low self-esteem; and if that is the case, then they probably need a “strong hand” to stay Christians (if that’s what they want).

The text has stylistic components that typically are used by authors who seem to think that their arguments themselves may not be enough to persuade the reader. So we see various pseudo-exclamations and rhetorical questions inserted in the text, supposedly for dramatic effect.

Thus, after a quote where another author talks about the idea that many Christians have a very low self-esteem and also wonder how God can love them, Adam says (p. 91):

“I am still amazed, aren’t you? I am not at all ready to rip Amazing Grace from my hymnbook!”

Argumentation

There are many arguments presented in this book. Some of the arguments are well argued, others are not. Let’s have a look at some such problems.

Argumentation: Source Language

One problem with the arguments that use Bible quotes is that those arguments are not really solid.

This is because the Bible wasn’t written in English, but in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Koine Greek (New Testament).

So anyone who wants to discuss the kind of questions that are discussed in this book must really look at the source texts themselves, and not just use the English translation that serves one’s purpose best (whether it’s Cambridge Univerisity’s “Authorized King James Version”, or some other version).

Thus, the real questions that have to be posed are: What are the different possible interpretations of that sentence in Hebrew or Greek, etc.? What could it mean, in that particular context, and what could it not mean?

This requires, naturally, very thorough knowledge of these ancient languages. And this knowledge has not been demonstrated by Adams.

Argumentation: Authenticity

Another general problem in Christian argumentation that is seldom addressed is the authenticity of the texts themselves. For if it was openly discussed in church, many people would probably not be so enthusiastic Christians anymore.

An excellent academic book describing the authenticity problem of the Bible is Bart D. Ehrman’s scholarly Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Ehrman knows his Greek, and concludes that even minor textual differences in a manuscript can alter the meaning of a text. And that there are an incredible amount of small changes that have been made over the centuries when scribes have manually copied the manuscripts.

So not only must a person who wants to argue about, say, the New Testament, know his Greek. He must also be able to inspect different manuscripts (or know in which books these manuscripts have been published) to figure out what the text really is, or was; and if there is no clear “winner”, then he or she must naturally repeat the same questions for each of the possible texts on the table: What possible interpretations could text A (from manuscript X) have? And what possible interpretations could text B (from manuscript Y) have? Etc.

Thus, it is basically a “textual criticism” problem. And it has not been addressed by Adams.

Argumentation: Self-Denial

As I have said elsewhere (e.g. in my post What is the Purpose of My Life Here On Planet Earth?), it is astounding to me that anyone can argue against one’s own self-love and self-interest, and sacrifice one’s own personal hopes, dreams, and desires for the sake of “surrendering to God”, or even for the sake of “surrendering to a Higher Cause”, or some such variant.

So when Jay Adams presents the question “What is man?”, the correct answer, according to Adams, is (p. 101):

“In Psalm 62 we have the answer: nothing; less than nothing. It is not because of man’s great value to God that He cares for him, but in spite of his lowliness.”

My question is therefore: Who, other than people with extremely low self-esteem, would accept this kind of view of themselves, whether God exists or not? Who would agree that they themselves are worth “nothing” or even “less than nothing”?

Usefulness

I think this book can be useful for many people, especially those who are (orthodox) Christians, or those who are considering becoming Christians. It can help in two fundamentally different ways.

First, it can either do its (author-intended) job and “protect” the reader from the “evil” self-esteem movement. Or, it can make the reader (rightly, in my opinion) realize that the Christian teachings are so contradictory and non-loving that the reader instead will want to abandon Christianity, in order to be able to adopt a more loving attitude to life and to themselves.

I also think that this book (as an apologetic work) might be useful for other religious people, who are interested in arguments to “protect” their own orthodox faith. So even though many of Adam’s arguments from the Bible may not be directly applicable to other religions, it might still be interesting to see what Adams’s general strategy is, in terms of “managing” or “fending off” the self-esteem and self-love movement.

Another audience is naturally university professors in religion and in the philosophy of religion and neighboring areas, who want to understand the philosophical arguments and the possible alternatives.

RATINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

This is a good book for Christians with low self-esteem. They may either decide to stay Christians, or decide to abandon Christianity altogether, to look for more love and self-esteem elsewhere.

This book may also be of interest to people in other religions and to professors and researchers in the areas of religion and philosophy of religion.

Note that this is not a book for “ordinary” people who want to improve their self-esteem and self-love. For that audience, a practical “hands-on” book such as the Self Esteem Bible by Gael Lindenfield would be a much better fit.

Chris Bocay

EDITION DETAILS

Title: The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image
Author: Jay E. Adams
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (Eugene, Oregon 97402)
Year (stated on copyright page): “1986”
Edition: First
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 143
ISBN-10 (a): 0-89081-553-4
ISBN-10 (b): 0890815534
ISBN-13 (a): 978-0890815533
ISBN-13 (b): 9780890815533

Links to This Edition:


Copyright © 2022 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

First published: Thu 28 Apr 2022
Last revised: Sun 7 Aug 2022

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