A former student sent me a link to a video about self-esteem last week. She asked for my comments. I finally made time to watch it today. Here’s the video:


Matt Walsh is certainly correct here. Confidence, defined essentially as known competence in the face of difficulty is superior to self-esteem (see note below). 

But I was asked, why I do not know, for my thoughts. William James defined self-esteem with this equation:

Self-esteem, in this sense, is inevitable. It is impossible to be void of self-reflection to the point that you never compare your level of success to your pretensions. For James self-esteem is your pretension (an ideal vision of yourself) compared to your attainment. Spiritually speaking, this is most fully explained in Romans 7, but Galatians 6:4 puts it most concisely (and more positively):

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. (Galatians 6:3-4)

For the Christian there are two challenges when it comes to self-esteem:

  1. Determining whether our ideal self is a realistic portrayal of our potential based on our understanding of Jesus Christ and our personality, circumstances, and calling.
  2. Making the wise choices necessary to make progress toward our ideal self.

If you confront those challenges and always recall your admiration of Christ and your confidence in his ability to accomplish what he says he will, then I suspect you’ll be in good shape:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

So, “do good things, and you’ll have all the esteem you need.”

Note: What I don’t like about Walsh’s video is that Walsh criticizes a theoretical construct (self-esteem) with a colloquial one (confidence). Note Albert Bandura’s distinction between confidence as a general term (the word Matt uses) with self-efficacy, the definition of which, Matt uses for confidence:

Jung and God

In Man and His Symbols, Jung attempts to tackle the topic of religious experience:

Christians often ask why God does not speak to them, as he is believed to have done in former days. When I hear such questions, it always makes me think of the rabbi who was asked how it could be that God often showed himself to people in the olden days while nowadays nobody ever sees him. The rabbi replied: “Nowadays there is no longer anybody who can bow low enough.”

This answer hits the nail on the head. We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. The Buddhist discards the world of unconscious fantasies as useless illusions; the Christian puts his Church and his Bible between himself and his unconscious; and the rational intellectual does not yet know that his consciousness is not his total psyche. This ignorance persists today in spite of the fact that for more than 70 years the unconscious has been a basic scientific concept that is indispensable to any serious psychological investigation. (92) 

As interesting as Jung’s interpretation of the rabbi’s quote is, I find the quote itself more interesting. Why don’t we have direct experiences of God? There is no longer anybody who can bow low enough

The New Testament says this:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6b)

And, interestingly, so does the Old:

And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
(Numbers 12:6-8)

But Moses’ experiences with God are not even mediated through dreams and riddles, but through a direct conversational experience that the Bible says is unparalleled (Exodus 33:11)

But the nature of our experience of God is not what concerns me (we cannot decide how God will communicate with us). What concerns me is the mode by which we receive communication from God, and the rabbi said to humble ourselves. And over all, I think that this is right.

Now, of course, we’ve got to humble ourselves before God in the way in which God has revealed himself, but the facts of God’s revelation (Scripture, the resurrection of Jesus, the church in history, etc) are not self-evident to all. But I would suggest that whether you’re a Christian or just somebody who really wants to understand the core of reality, the first personal step is to humble yourself


Jung is right. Christians can use the Bible as a barrier between themselves and God. Jesus warned the Pharisees of this exact danger:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
(John 5:39-40)

You can rely so thoroughly on the faith experience of the characters and writers of Scripture that you never place your faith in God or practice the teachings of Christ. 

But he’s not totally right. Scripture does provide truths about God which register on the moral, logical, and mythological levels and it is meant to do this. The Bible itself is clear that God doesn’t need the Bible to communicate to us. But history has shown that when the Bible is interpreted as a witness to Jesus Christ, it provides a sure guide to God. 


The only word for this: heh

Here is what happens when you believe that ultimate reality is class conflict between men and women:

You have to subvert truth to believe that worldview because it is observably true that cooperation between the sexes makes new humans.

You have to subvert goodness to believe that worldview because one must assume that any apparent good is a tool of oppression.

You have to subvert beauty to believe that worldview because while beauty transcends sexuality, it is utterly inseparable from it. If sexual dimorphism is a good, then beauty supports that good, which is really a non-good, because the truth is that the sexes necessarily in conflict rather than harmony.

In other words, believe in modern egalitarianism long enough and all art will look this way. As Camille Paglia said, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts. (Sexual Personae, 38)” What she’s getting at is that there is some conflict that is part of the relationship between men and women, but civilization is the result of working together. She’s criticizing the unreasonable rejection of the patriarchy by people who stand under the waterfall of benefits it bestows.

It reminds me of the story of Noah and his sons:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis 9:20-25 ESV)

Ham makes a mockery of his father’s apparent flaw despite having not only his biological origin from him, but also his salvation from the catastrophic evil of fallen humanity and God’s destruction thereof with the waters of chaos. Feminists, it would seem, have so thoroughly done the same that they cannot even discern, let alone create beauty.

A similar pattern has occurred in Baptist church culture.  Baptists have so critiqued the “father” of church tradition that they’ve been rejected as a competent voice within Christianity and they have very little stable culture within which to help people follow Jesus from one town to the next. They frequently exist within the same chaos of Ham’s descendants, except without all the explicit idolatry.


Sex Laws: Do They Pass the Reality Test?

If you know me, you know I’ve got an anti-authoritarian side. This is temperamental first and only then morphs into ideology. I noticed this about myself in my late teens. Because of that, I typically found myself siding w/libertarian in most areas of political theory. But I knew, even in high school, that pure anarchy wasn’t reasonable because even at the level of neighborhoods, people with short time preferences or low IQs would just live in chaos in a society bereft of deep organizing mythology as is our own. But I’ve never been sure just how far a modern society can or should go with respect to regulating individual morality outside of contracts and violence.

I’ve recently gained insight as I’ve revisiting Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: The Works of God and reading Camille Paglia’s Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. Paglia is a libertarian, Jenson is a social realist of the sort that, if he tweeted, would be banned from Twitter (I mean, it’s difficult to describe how much “bad talk” Jenson makes…Paglia too, but from a different angle entirely).

Both of books were published around 2000. Here is a quote from each, exemplifying their points of view with respect to sexual law-making:

My libertarian position is that, in the absence of physical violence, sexual conduct cannot and must not be legislated from above, that all intrusion by authority figures into sex is totalitarian. (No Law in the Arena, Paglia)


We may get at the matter so: sexuality is the reality test of the law…Where law fails its reality test, it is indeed but a product of dominance…A sexually anarchic society cannot be a free society. For no society can endure mere shapelessness; when the objective foundation of community is systematically violated the society must and will hold itself together by arbitrary force. Nor is this analysis an exercise in theoretical reasoning; it merely points out what is visibly happening in late-twentieth-century Western Societies. (The Works of God, Jenson)

Two authors of above average intelligence see the opposite modes of legal reasoning as necessarily totalitarian!

Interestingly, Paglia revels in the “objective foundation of community” insofar as she sees the masculine and feminine archetypes as the result of evolution and necessary. She even chides the political left for failing to realize that the Christian right is concerned to preserve the inviolability of reproduction as the locus of argument in sexual ethics. She even says that the nuclear family will work (as an enforced social unit) “in a pioneer situation” where everybody is preoccupied w/survival and passing on wisdom to children.

Every emotional fiber of my being tends toward Paglia’s idea as I just prefer to leave people alone and let them do what they will and to be left alone in turn. But the fact of the matter is that the laws on the books tend to have a the psychological effect of translating into assumed moral norms (I suspect that most of OT case law functioned this way in practice). And so having unenforced laws in favor of the traditional family unit, even from a utilitarian, evolutionary standpoint makes sense.

The idea that laws and the philosophical justification behind them need a reality test is absolutely the case and a law that accommodates, promotes, and is based on the reproductive necessities of the species is about as real as it gets.

Brief Reflection on Christianity and Politics

I can think of two main errors made about the relationship between the gospel and politics. Each of them has multiple instantiations:

Over-Absolutizing Politics

In this case, Christians see that the gospel has specific political implications and then associate those implications with the gospel itself. 

Over-Relativizing Politics

In this case, Christians see that the gospel is central and supreme and therefore ignore domains, ideas, and policies not central to the gospel.

Both of these happen on the theological and political right and left. 

I think the relative importance of politics, in comparison to the gospel, does make non-participation necessary for some people (like some had to sell all their possessions in the gospels). Similarly, I think that the fact that there are right and wrong political positions, or at least right or wrong political aims means that Christians, generally, ought to care about politics to love their neighbor and see to the well-being of their children and grandchildren. 

But I think that it is wrong to elevate politics (particularly as understood in American civic life) to the center as a primary matter of discipleship. For instance, one can be a Christian with little to no understanding of what the Old Testament is for (see Romans 14). Understanding one’s local political system and how best to maneuver it for maximal flourishing and minimal corruption is a labyrinth far more complicated and far less central to the life of the individual Christian. 

Conserving a theory of human nature

The conservatives in the Anglican church have run into trouble conserving a basic distinction fundamental to the Biblical narrative, having a family, the continuing of the church as a community in history, and the building and maintenance of civilization. The BBC reports that:

The Church of England’s governing body has voted to look into special services for transgender people.

Now, they haven’t voted, as far as I know, to have those services. But they’ve voted to look into it and this is how conservatives end up defending the values of the liberals of twenty years prior every. single. time.

The services, I predict, will be approved. Then they will be used as an excuse to move toward marriage between people with gender dysphoria. After that, sexual libertinism will be the norm. In fact, I predict that the only sexual sin in many mainline Christian churches in 20 years will be the sin of calling divorce a sin.

Carl Trueman rightly complains that:

If human identity is merely a psychological conviction, a social construct, or a personal choice, then those theologies and philosophies and social arrangements predicated upon human nature vanish as the morning mist. Yes, the Church needs to handle with pastoral care and wisdom the victims of the confusion generated by the identity anarchy raging around us. But that does not mean sanctifying the status quo or providing palliative care. To do so is to concede that “human nature” is a mere combination of an adjective and a noun—a couple of words that, one might say, have proved full of sound and fury, but ultimately signify nothing.

The fact of the matter is that human beings have a sexually dimorphic nature that, at the very least, can be discerned by looking at their DNA. In a strange confluence of ideologies, I also predict that it will be the evo-psych scholars and the conservative theologians who will be tasked with ensuring that people even know how sexual reproduction works over the next several decades.

Christianese: Don’t think about it, just let God tell you what to say

The Christianese

Some Christians are unjustifiably skeptical of putting deep thought into their faith. This stems from misunderstanding key Bible passages, in this case, we’ll look at Matthew 10:16-20. I’ve written a lot about  this passage, but with regard to being wise like serpents.

The Passage

Let’s read the passage:

16 Behold, I am sending you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. 17 Now, beware of people. For they will hand you over to the Sanhedrin, and in their synagogues they will flog you; 18 then they will bring you before rulers and kings because of me in order to be a testimony to them and the nations. 19 Now, when they hand you over, do not be anxious over how you will speak or what you will say; for what you will say in that hour will be given to you. 20 For you are not the ones speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaks by you. (Matthew 10:16-20) [1]

A Course Correction

I’ve heard this passage interpreted to mean that “the Holy Spirit will give you what to say and not to think about what to say when you share the gospel” several times.

But here are some points from the passage and elsewhere in the Bible that give us a more well-rounded point of view:

  1. In Matthew 10:18, the disciples will be a testimony. In the New Testament, that word is typically used to mean testimony to the facts of the case regarding Jesus. In other words, Jesus expects his disciples to communicate his message to these people.
  2. Jesus says, “do not be anxious over how you will speak or what you will say.” This is not the same thing as saying, “do not think.” Do not be anxious means, do not obsess over it to the point of not making any decision to speak (see how Matthew 6 shows that Jesus’ teaching on anxiety about tomorrow assumes that his disciples will be working and planning for tomorrow).
  3. Finally, in John’s gospel, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of everything which I said to you. (John 14:26)”

In context, it appears that Jesus can tell his apostles this precisely because they have been putting thought into how they will speak the whole time they’ve been with him. Not only so, but elsewhere, the Holy Spirit is said to help remind Christians of Jesus’ teachings. So in that sense, the disciples time with Jesus preparing. I’m not trying to say that there isn’t a prophetic element in the passage, but as I pointed out in #2 above, Jesus’ pattern for overcoming anxiety starts with observing the birds and comparing how they have food despite not sowing, reaping, and storing to our own circumstances. If we are doing what we ought, there is no reason to be anxious. Similarly, if Jesus’ disciples are doing as they ought, and memorizing, internalizing, interpreting, discussing, and synthesizing his teachings, they won’t need to prepare lengthy court defenses when asked questions like, “What are you doing/saying/teaching? Explain yourself for contradicting Torah. Why don’t you do the Sabbath? etc.”

Any interpretation of Scripture which claims that reflection about your life or about the gospel should be viewed with skepticism. Frequently, I think, the incorrect interpretation of Matthew 10:19 is used as a spiritual cloak for intellectual laziness, but I hope I’m wrong.


[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 10:16–20. “16 Ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων· γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί. 17 Προσέχετε δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων· παραδώσουσιν γὰρ ὑμᾶς εἰς συνέδρια καὶ ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν μαστιγώσουσιν ὑμᾶς· 18 καὶ ἐπὶ ἡγεμόνας δὲ καὶ βασιλεῖς ἀχθήσεσθε ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς καὶ τοῖς ἔθνεσιν. 19 ὅταν δὲ παραδῶσιν ὑμᾶς, μὴ μεριμνήσητε πῶς ἢ τί λαλήσητε· δοθήσεται γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τί λαλήσητε· 20 οὐ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ λαλοῦντες ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τὸ λαλοῦν ἐν ὑμῖν.”

Why I am no longer a Calvinist

I used to be a Calvinist. I’ve since slowly drifted away from that point of view.

A few years ago I wrote about why.

Below I’ve simplified/clarified those reasons.

I know how complicated these debates get, and we see through a glass darkly. Our understanding of time, determinism, human will and consciousness, moral goodness, the Bible, and our own limits are but a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of other constraints upon our knowledge of God.

Below, I’m defining Calvinism as “belief in the five points of Calvinism as articulated in the canons of the Synod of Dordcht.”

  1. Limited Atonement

    While the Bible clearly teaches that God’s salvation is only acquired by some, it also says he is the savior of all humanity (1 Timothy 4:10). It also says the same in 1 John 2:1-2. Jesus (not just his death) is the atonement for all humanity. I think the implicit logic in both passages is that the believer can be confident of God’s salvation to those who believe precisely because it is God’s intent for all humanity. This leads to the psychological issue.

  2. Psychological Problem of Calvinism

    In Calvinistic teaching the chief cause of salvation is unconditional election. What this ultimately implies is that your perseverance until the end is determined by God’s unchangeable decrees of history. Therefore, you don’t know if you’re saved or deceived about your salvation while ultimately being destined to apostasize. It’s a serious epistemological problem which makes for an even more serious motivational one. In this viewpoint, assurance of salvation is, as far as I can tell, a chimera and only incidentally correct. If assurance of salvation is instead knowable based on what 1 John 2:3, Matthew 7:14-27, and  Romans 8:28 say (conscious allegiance to Christ), then you may be saved with or without assurance of salvation but any deception is self-deception, not a feature of the wheels of history.

  3. Romans 9-11

    Romans 9, does say why God rejected Esau, also says why God rejected the religious leadership in Jerusalem: Romans 9:30-33. I think this section of Scripture is about the death of Christ (see Romans 11:11-15) and the subsequent difficulty of sharing the gospel in Israel, especially Jerusalem. It is not, I submit, Paul’s total philosophy of every person’s salvation history. Israel’s rejection of Jesus and of Paul’s gospel about Jesus have resulted in riches for all the nations of the earth and will result in salvation for Israel as well. The big proof that Paul is not teaching that God picks some for salvation without regard for their life history can be found in Romans 11:17-24. Paul makes clear that those whose hearts were hardened can repent and those who were shown mercy can reject that mercy.

  4. The Calvinist Notion of Sovereignty is Incoherent

    In most Calvinist preaching I’ve heard, God’s sovereignty is not about his authority as the king of the universe or even the king of his people. Rather, the word signifies his algorithmic oversight of every discrete event in the cosmos. In the Bible, God’s kingship is a metaphor about the relationship between God and his people that implied a two-way street of care, protection, and legal enforcement on the one hand and loyalty, admiration, and obedience on the other. In Calvinist rhetoric and theology, sovereignty is precisely the opposite. It’s a doctrine of one-way causal management. It is in no way political or reciprocal.

  5. The Bible Doesn’t Seem Designed To Explain God’s Exact Relationship to Time

    The New Testament tells us that the Old Testament is inspired to prepare the world for Christ, to train us in righteousness, to rebuke the lawless, and to be fulfilled by Christ. It isn’t clear to me that we need to know how God relates to time to be righteous or understand the gospel. What is clear to me is that many people who hardly give the issues of Calvinism a second thought, whether they belong to Calvinist churches or not, live righteously. So this issues, while perhaps open to human scrutiny are not necessary for Christian discipleship or personal development.

  6. The Warnings of Apostasy

    While this is a bit controversial, if somebody can reject the gospel after having believed it genuinely, then a wrench is thrown in the gears of the idea that grace is irresistible, and that divine election guarantees perseverance of the saints. Teaching the Bible over the years has lead me to have to let passages like those below have their full force as warnings to the effect that the gospel promises are only for the faithful. That faith may be weak, even the size of a mustard seed. But it must persist for somebody expect God’s salvation. God can show mercy to whomever he wants, of course, but he promises to show mercy to the faithful. Which means that the apostasy passages are warnings to believers lest they die faithless and in their sins. Paul said that he needed spiritual disciplines lest he abandon his faith (1 Corinthians 9:27) and that believing gentiles could reject the gospel (Romans 11:21-24). Jesus told parables to the effect that those who believe the gospel should be careful how they hear it, lest circumstances lead them to reject the gospel (Matthew 13:3-9). And Peter warned that false teachers who used to believe will be worse off than those who had never believed (2 Peter 2:1 and 2 Peter 2:18-22). This isn’t the same as saying that one can “lose their salvation” by sinning. Instead, it’s saying that through intentional definitive rejection or habitual disuse, one can reject one’s faith in Christ. If this is true, and I think it is, then Calvinism, as I held it, is not.


Anyway, there’s that.


John Piper Doesn’t Understand Strength Training

In the essay compilation Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper quizzically wrote:

Consider what is lost when women attempt to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive. It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club. But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying. The image of a masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine needs. Mature masculinity will not be reduced to raw desire in sexual relations. It remains alert to the deeper personal needs of a woman and mingles strength and tenderness to make her joy complete. (RECOVERING BIBLICAL MANHOOD & WOMANHOOD, 40-41)

A lot could be said. Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot from John Piper through the years and when you write that much you’re bound to say strange things (I revel in saying strange things) but this is just weird.

Briefly, I know many women who lift weights. None of them are attempting to be more masculine (I’m sure there’s some of that in Crossfit circles). Most of them are staving off ageing, death, injury, weakness, and so-on. They’re also adding a degree of controllable trauma to their lives in order to avoid an overly plush life.

I obviously agree with some elements in Piper’s book, as I think sex differences are real and those differences matter for happiness in marriage, work, politics, and friendship. But it’s hard to imagine that finishing it would be worthwhile.

On the fundamental problem of socialist thinking

Socialism has a problem:

Bernie Sanders

What? Sanders? He’s a nice guy. What problem? It’s a totalitarianism problem.

Over at CapX (an obviously biased website), this observation was made:

Obviously, not everyone feels that dictatorship and mass murder are too high a price to pay for equality. Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian, for example, was once asked whether, if Communism had achieved its aims, but at the cost of, say, 15 to 20 million people – as opposed to the 100 million it actually killed in Russia and China – would he have supported it? His answer was a single word: Yes. Even today, many people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among them, fawn over Cuban dictatorship, because of its delivery of supposedly free health and education to the masses.

It is true that left-wing authoritarianism is a major problem on the level of social harm caused. This can be seen in the current state of eastern European countries and the association of communist ideology and authoritarianism despite the negative results of that worldview within living memory:

The aim of this article was twofold. First we aimed to contribute to the ongoing discussion on left-wing authoritarianism. Using representative samples the relationship between authoritarianism and political preferences was examined in 13 ex-communist Eastern European countries. Employing six different indicators of left-wing/communist political orientations made clear that, despite cross-national differences, left-wing  authoritarianism is definitely not a myth in Eastern Europe. Secondly, it was aimed to survey whether authoritarian individuals in Eastern European countries might be a possible threat to transition to democratic political systems. It was demonstrated that in general the Eastern European population seems to hold a positive opinion on democracy. It becomes also clear however that the authoritarian persons in the ex-communist countries do not hold a positive perspective on the democratic political system (305).

My thought is that western liberalism (Classical Liberalism) in its left and right wing instantiations leads to two negative results in the absence of Christian theology and Christian symbolic representations in the mind:

  1. Rejecting the image of God in man leads people to not mind the death of individual human beings, particularly if those human beings do not agree with them.
  2. Rejecting the existence of God while still believing in the logical consequences of belief in being made in God’s image leads to totalitarianism(this Charlton article is really good). Why? Because one still thinks of oneself as having all the trappings of being in God’s image: innate goodness, rationality, authority over the earth, the capacity for virtue, free will, etc. But on the other hand there is no actual God (who functions psychologically as a hyper pinnacle in the human dominance hierarchy) to judge you, so your positions, moral attitudes, etc all take the role of God in the mind. So your belief system becomes total and therefore must be imposed.