Self-Esteem and Unconditional Love
May 18, 2023 (first published May 24, 2011)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061

The following is an excerpt from our free e-book The God of End-Time Mysticism:

Two of the fundamental principles of modern psychology are self-esteem and unconditional love.

These are blatant denials of Bible Christianity and are a rejection of the God of the Bible and are thus a pursuit of a false god -- the very god of end-times apostasy.

The doctrine of self-esteem was developed by the fathers of the psychological counseling movement and has spread throughout that field and beyond to every level of modern society. 

According to the doctrine of self-esteem, man must pursue his own self-love or self-confidence for the sake of psychological wholeness, and anything that damages self-esteem is wrong. The mystical path to the development of self-esteem is psychological counseling. Since absolute rules produce guilt in those who don’t live up to them, the pursuit of self-esteem emphasizes the need for “new rules which will allow us more freedom of movement and encourage us to accept ourselves just as we are” (E.S. Williams, The Dark Side of Christian Counselling, p. 116). 

Atheist Abraham Maslow emphasized the need for self-esteem in books such as A Theory of Human Motivation (1943), Motivation and Personality (1954), and Toward a Psychology of Being (1955). He taught that a lack of self-esteem can lead to “neurotic trends.” Rejecting the doctrine of the Fall, he believed that man is basically good and there is “a positive, self-actualising force within each person that is struggling to assert itself” (Williams, The Dark Side, p. 114). If it is “permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy” (Motivation and Personality, 1970, p. 122).

Dr. Nathaniel Branden has had a massive influence in the promotion of self-esteem through books such as Psychology of Self-Esteem (1969), How to Raise Your Self-Esteem (1987), and the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1995). He treats self-esteem as a basic human need that is essential for mental health. He says, “The first love affair we must consummate successfully in this world is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship.” 

Douglas Groothuis identifies the self-esteem doctrine as New Age in character. 

“Maslow’s past-breaking efforts cleared the way for an exodus from the old psychological view of humanity toward a new human that is essentially good and has within himself unlimited potential for growth. A whole host of thinkers--Erich Fromm, Rollo May, Carl Rogers and others--sound this call. In humanistic psychology the self is seen as the radiant heart of health, and psychotherapy must strive to get the person in touch with that source of goodness. ... This is the message at the core of New Age teaching” (Unmasking the New Age, 1986, p. 78).

The pursuit of self-esteem puts one into contact with the god of end-times apostasy.  

The doctrine of self-esteem is at the heart of the “Christian” homosexual movement which claims that God accepts homosexuals as they are without the necessity of repentance. At the founding of the Metropolitan Community Churches in 1968, Troy Perry preached a message entitled “Be True to You,” from a line in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “This above all: To thine own self be true.”

The self-esteem doctrine, which was borrowed from humanistic God haters like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, has been promoted far and wide in Christian circles by a slew of Christian psychologists, with James Dobson leading the way. 

Dobson claims that “lack of self-esteem produces more symptoms of psychiatric disorders than any other factor yet identified” (Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Confident Healthy Families, 1987, pp. 73-74). His 1974 book Hide and Seek was designed “to formulate a well-defined philosophy--and approach to child rearing -- that will contribute to self-esteem from infancy onwards.” He says, “If I could write a prescription for the women of the world, I would provide each one of them with a healthy dose of self-esteem and personal worth (taken three times a day until the symptoms disappear). I have no doubt that this is their greatest need” (What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women, p. 35). He says, “... lack of self-esteem is a threat to the entire human family, affecting children, adolescents, the elderly, all socioeconomic levels of society, and each race and ethic culture” (What Wives Wish, p. 24). 

Dobson believes that lack of self-esteem is the cause of every social ill.

“Thus, whenever the keys to self-esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth-century America, then widespread mental illness, neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur. Personal worth is not something humans are free to take or leave. We must have it, and when it is unattainable, everybody suffers” (Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Confident, Healthy Families, p. 67).

To the contrary, the Bible lays the ills of society at the feet of fallen man and his rebellion against God. Jesus taught that murder, adultery, fornication, covetousness, deceit, theft, and such come from man’s wicked heart (Mark 7:21-23). 

David Seamands is another pioneer of the Christian self-esteem movement. His hugely popular books Healing for Damaged Emotions and Healing of Memories seek to heal the believer of “Satan’s most powerful psychological weapon” which is “low self-esteem.”  He aims to take the client back into the past to recover and heal memories of events that injured one’s self-esteem. 

Seamands has been widely recommended by evangelicals, including James Dobson and George Verwer (Youth With A Mission), who wrote the foreword to Healing for Damaged Emotions.

Seamands’ mystical path toward self-esteem is “healing of memories” through psychological counseling and New Age techniques. He promotes things as positive visualization, guided imagery, dream analysis, and venting of emotions. Through visualization, the individual is taught to imagine painful past events in perfect detail and to imagine Jesus entering the scenes to bring healing. This is not only vain fantasy; it is occultic and it is a recipe for communing with deceiving spirits masquerading as angels of light.

The self-esteem doctrine downplays and redefines sin. 

The very popular and influential Robert Schuller, who was a pioneer in the “Christian” self-esteem movement, defines sin as “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 14). He defined the new birth as “being changed from a negative to a positive self-image--from inferiority to self-esteem” (p. 68). He even said that Christ was “self-esteem incarnate” (p. 135). Schuller has been praised and promoted by a whose-who of evangelicalism, including Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, R.C. Sproul, Christianity Today, National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Promise Keepers, James Dobson, Tony Campolo, Bill Bright, Paul Yonggi Cho, Jack Hayford, Ralph Reed, Bill Hybels, Paul Crouch, John Wimber, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, Chuck Colson, and Rick Warren, to name a few. (See “Evangelicals and Heretic Robert Schuller” at the Way of Life web site.)

The self-esteem doctrine promotes an unscriptural view of the conscience. While acknowledging that the conscience (an “inner voice”) produces guilt and negative thoughts, the proposed solution is not the biblical path of regeneration through repentance and faith followed by a Christian walk of obedience and confession. The proposed solution, instead, is to lower the standards of morality. 

The atheist founders of the self-esteem doctrine hated the holy God of the Bible and His holy Law and sought to destroy His authority over men by denying His existence and teaching moral relativism and the pursuit of Self. Christian counsellors who have borrowed the self-esteem doctrine also tend to downplay the absoluteness of God’s Law, the necessity of strict obedience, and they replace the biblical means of soothing the conscience with psychological mumbo-jumbo. 

Crusade for World Revival (CWR), founded by Selwyn Hughes, says, “If our standards are so high as to be almost unobtainable we will put ourselves forward for failure.” 

Chris Leger and Wendy Bray say that “Bible verses which remind us of God’s command to be obedient may cause guilt to arise. ... We continually strive to please God, yet never feel that we have pleased him--our self-esteem tumbles down the ladder” (Insight into Self-Esteem, p. 57). Leger and Bray claim that God always accepts our best because His voice is always one of “grace, love and acceptance” (pp. 43, 44). 

Dr. E.S. Williams warns:

“In all that has been written and taught about self-esteem, both Christian and secular, there is never any suggestion that the root cause of man’s low self-esteem is God’s moral law which condemns sinful behaviour” (The Dark Side of Christian Counselling, p. 140). 

The self-esteem movement twists Scripture out of context. A major prooftext is Matthew 22:39, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is interpreted to mean that man needs to love himself just as he needs to love his neighbor, but Christ was not saying there is a need for self-love and He was not encouraging any sort of self-esteem program. He was saying that men already love themselves! Paul said the same thing in Ephesians 5:29, “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh...” The fallen man’s problem is not a lack of self-esteem but far too much of it and a gross lack of God-esteem! Fallen man is an idolater who worships himself in the place of the Almighty Creator. The very essence of sin is that we’ve “turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). 

The modern self-esteem doctrine is heresy and apostasy. The very first characteristic of end-times apostasy is that “men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Timothy 3:1-2).

The twisting of Scripture in the self-esteem movement reaches frightful heights for the simple fact that the doctrine of self-esteem is not taught in Scripture but is derived from modern psychology and is then forced upon Scripture. 

David Seamands claims that in the Parable of the Talents, the man with one talent was paralyzed by fear and lack of self-esteem! And the reason the Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land was low self-esteem! Seamands applies this as follows: “Where is the vision God put before you? What wrecked it? Your sins and transgressions and bad habits? I doubt it. Probably your dream has been delayed or destroyed because Satan tricked you into thinking of yourself as a grasshopper or a worm” (Healing for Damaged Emotions, p. 50). 

So man’s problem is not sin but lack of self-esteem. Man is not a sinner; he is a victim. He doesn’t need salvation and sanctification; he needs psychological counseling.

Unconditional Love

The doctrine of self-esteem is intimately associated with that of unconditional love. To have the highest self-esteem we must know that we are loved unconditionally, no strings attached. 

We must see God as a merciful Father who “accepts us totally, exactly as we are” (Chris Leger and Wendy Bray, Insight into Self-Esteem, 2006, p. 12). 

As Larry Crabb says, “I am completely acceptable to him regardless of my behavior” (Effective Biblical Counseling, 1977, p. 70).

Like the doctrine of self-esteem, unconditional love is promoted both by secular counselors and Christian. It is taught by Rick Warren, James Dobson, Philip Yancy, Joyce Meyer, Larry Crabb, Gary Smalley, Selwyn Hughes, David Seamands, Gary Chapman, Charles Stanley, and a host of other popular Christian leaders and authors. 

James Dobson said that his book Love for a Lifetime is designed to “sum up the importance of selfless, unconditional love” (“Loving Focus: Dr. James and Shirley Dobson,”, Sept. 12, 2008).

Dr. E.S. Williams observes: “While self-esteem attempts to make man feel good about his sin, unconditional love attempts to make sinful man feel that he will not face judgment or punishment” (Christ or Therapy? p. 71).

Like the doctrine of self-esteem, the doctrine of unconditional love was developed by the fathers of the psychological counseling movement and New Agers. Erik Fromm was the first to use the phrase “unconditional love,” while Carl Rogers coined the term “unconditional positive regard,” by which “he meant the granting of love and approval regardless of an individual’s behaviour” (E.S. Williams, Christ or Therapy? pp. 65, 66).

The doctrine of unconditional love is a major theme of New Age thought. The god of unconditional love puts no obligations on people and does not punish sin. Harold Becker says the human race is “becoming consciously aware of unconditional love” (Unconditional Love--An Unlimited Way of Being, 1007, p. 7). It is “an energy and power” that is “transforming the course of all humanity.” Roy Klienwachter says, “Unconditional love means unconditional freedom. ... Retribution is a lie, it was all made. ... Anyone who tells you different, is not coming from unconditional love” (Unconditional Love, 2008).

Unconditional love is a theme of the occult. Consider Aleister Crowley, who has had a massive influence on the rock & roll culture and whose photo appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper’s album. His system was based on two principles: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” and “Love is the law, love under will.” Crowley’s “love” was unconditional love with no obligations. The Voice of Lucifer website proclaims that “unconditional love is an unlimited way of being” and “as a way of changing our world for the better” and “the sole vehicle for our salvation.” 

Unconditional love is a theme of the “Christian” homosexual movement. God accepts them as they are. 

Unconditional love is also a fundamental principle of the emerging church. 

In An Emerging Church Primer Justin Taylor says we must proclaim “God’s message of unconditional love.” 

The God of unconditional love is not the God of Scripture. The love of the sovereign Creator God is unfathomable and unmerited, but not unconditional. God’s love is demonstrated in Christ and the Cross and to benefit from God’s love one must repent and receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. Consider the following statements by Jesus Christ himself: 

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). 

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). 

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). 

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). 

Repent or perish is not the message of unconditional love! 

The doctrine of unconditional love as typically defined denies the absolute holiness of God, the fall of man, the necessity of the atonement of Christ, the requirement of the new birth, God’s call to repentance and faith, the existence of eternal hell for those outside of Christ, and God’s call to holy living in the Christian life. 

The true grace of God leads men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12). The believer is to lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings (1 Peter 2:1). We are to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). We are to eschew evil and do good (1 Peter 3:11). We are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). That is the strictest, highest calling! And though the born again believer is accepted in Christ and eternally safe because of the perfect Atonement, he is subject to discipline in this present life and loss at the judgment seat of Christ if he walks in unrepentant carnality and disobedience. There is even a sin unto death (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:17). 

There are some who preach unconditional love that say that they believe the aforementioned Bible doctrines, but the message of unconditional love is contradictory to these truths and those who try to reconcile them are living in a fantasy world. 

The god of self-esteem and unconditional love is not the God of Scripture; he is the god of end-times apostasy. As Dr. E.S. Williams observes:

“The concept of unconditional love only exists in a mythological world in which there is no sin, no evil and no law, in which people are free to live as they like without fear of judgment and punishment. In the real world, unconditional love is no more and no less than licentiousness -- an attitude that denies the accepted rules and morals that govern human behaviour. It is an attitude that allows us to do what we want without sanction or control. It is the essential message of pagan morality and New Age salvation” (Christ or Therapy? p. 69). 

“The permissive god of ‘Christian’ self-esteem dogma longs to satisfy the needs and desires of the human heart. He delights in meeting our needs and likes to make us feel good about ourselves, no matter what. He is careful not to set standards too high or too difficult for us to meet. He is satisfied with our behaviour so long as we do our best. He is a god who is ‘mighty to save’ mankind from a lifetime cycle of low self-esteem. And if the truth were known, he does not really hate evil and sin all that much, for he accepts us totally, exactly as we are. He has commanded us to love ourselves and he loves everybody unconditionally no matter how they behave” (Williams, The Dark Side of Christian Counselling, p. 141).

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