self-esteem, self-forgetfulness

I am in the happy position of having a 19 year old son recommending a Tim Keller book to me. 
I'm blessed and I know it (ah yes, that reminds me of a song - but we won't go there). 

On Joseph’s recommendation, I ordered and read Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It is a sermon written down – from 1 Corinthians 3.21-4.7. While that may not sound exhilarating, it does mean that the entire book can be read in little more than 30 minutes. And it is Tim Keller afterall. He is always worth reading, as I have tried to demonstrate here and here and here.

Once upon a time it was considered that having too high a view of yourself was the problem with the world – but now it is having too low a view of yourself that is the issue. Keller wades into this transition and as he does so, he lifts the lid on the problem of ‘self-esteem’.

I have always had difficulty with the phrase ‘self-esteem’. It is not a biblical construct. It is not really in the non-Western vocabulary. That combo makes me so suspicious. Furthermore I have never been convinced that a high self-esteem, or even a healthy self-esteem, is a guarantee of anything. Nor have I ever been sure whether that desirable ‘healthy self-esteem’ is the issue. Shouldn't the focus be on humility and pride - and ego, as Keller calls it? And the clincher for me? I smell our culture’s deep problems with narcissism in there somewhere.

I am not denying that the issues are real. How could I? It is certainly part of my story which has frustrated those with whom I live and work from time to time. But there are things far worse than low self-esteem (like high self-esteem, for starters). Plus because I am uncomfortable with the standard analysis of the problem out there, I tend not to like the standard solution either. I go looking elsewhere...

I don’t want to steal Keller’s thunder. But as was the case when the McGraths waded into this subject and then when John Stott had a chapter on 'self-understanding' in The Cross of Christ, there is nothing quite like having a theologian get their hands on the topic. They have helped me so much over the years. So it is with Keller. The key statement in the book for me? “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (32). Just read that sentence again to make sure you got it :). The little refrain in the book which keeps popping up is ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think’. It is about self-forgetfulness and this makes sense because of the Cross.

I have just ordered 20 copies of the book. Because the issues are so real and because Keller's book is so helpful, I’d love to give it as a gift to any reader of this post - if you can meet three criteria:
(a) You will read it prayerfully and openly, in one sitting, at a time of the day when you are at your best; 
(b) Your own story, or someone you love, has involved a real battle in this area; 
(c) You are resident in New Zealand (unless you make a special plea!).

Please send me your address by email ( and I will post the book out to you. First come first served.

nice chatting



binksie said…
Lovely post again Paul.
“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less”

So hard for so many to get to grips with this. It is not about me........
Anonymous said…
Great post Paul...I am definitely a fan of Keller, so i know this little book will be well worth a read. This whole area is such a minefield to deal with, what with "heirs of God" at one end and lowly worm at the other. Throw in our own insecurities and image problems and all of a sudden preaching "fearfully and wonderfully made" isn't at all straight-forward! I find it hard to strike a balance between teaching who we are in Christ and most peoples current perception of themselves. no matter what you preach it seems like human nature to place ourselves at either end of the spectrum. I guess, to put a scriptural spin on it, that it is as John the baptist said, we must decrease so that He will increase.
Yet that seems so simplistic...stopping now to go and download Keller's book, where I am sure to find some well reasoned answers.
thanks again.
Paul Windsor said…
Thanks for sharing, Shannon - I find your comment about 'no matter what you preach, it seems like human nature to place ourselves at either end of the spectrum' to be very discerning.

Maybe it is a bit like the way the understanding of worldview has been shifting - away from merely a cognitive reality, to being much more inclusive of the affective as well. For there to be change we need to think right thoughts and feel right felts! ... and while I'd still advocate trickle-down from thoughts to felts, we do need to reckon with the affective dimension in behavioural change far more.

By the way - the Keller books arrive any day now and I think I have about five more to give away ... so be in. Don't be bashful :)

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the offer Paul - i am privileged to have a book allowance so i will have to admit to downloading it from Kindle already.
totally concur with your thoughts regards an affective approach - I think it seems easier to treat behavioural change in a cognitive sense because as preachers/teachers we have more control than relying on how people 'feel' about something.And we wouldn't want to be accused of preaching 'wishy-washy' pop psychology sermons : )
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Anonymous said…
I always enjoyed Timothy Keller's work until I heard his views on women in ministry. What are your thoughts on his position?
Paul Windsor said…
I have not read/heard Keller on his view of women, but I suspect it is in line with the Gospel Coalition's statement on which I made a brief comment towards the end of a post last year:

So yes, 'anonymous'(!) - I am probably more with you here.

However, for myself, I do find it unwise to remove someone from my reading list on the basis of disagreement on a single issue. If I follow that approach I'll just keep hearing the reassuring echoes of what I already believe. I don't think that is much of a strategy for growth and change and maturity. So I do urge you to keep reading Keller :).

Best wishes - Paul
I would like to share some info about Spiral2grow Self Esteem NYC they also provide anger management service.

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