Thoughts to Ponder

Experiencing God

Review of the book Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee

All quotes are from Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee (revised and expanded) copyright Word Publishing 1998. Referred to hereafter as SfS.

You may notice that most of my quotes come from close to the front of the book. I did this on purpose, since the book's foundation is laid at the beginning everything after that builds on that foundation. Many of the things in the book are good and taken alone there is nothing wrong with much of it, however, since it is all based on the foundation set up at the beginning of the book it all has to be viewed in that context. The book promotes the idea of self-love, self-esteem and self-worth as being the driving force in all mankind's existence. I totally disagree with this from a biblical stand point. Our fallen nature does focus on self, but that is not what we should be striving for. We should crucify self daily, but this is a concept you will not find in this book. (Matthew 16:24 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

When Christ told His disciples, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32, KJV) He was referring not only to an intellectual assent to the truth but also to the application of truth in the most basic issues of life; our goals, our motives, and our sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, many of us give only lip service to the powerful truths of the Scriptures without allowing them to affect the basis of our self-esteem in a radical way. (SfS page xi) Here is the whole passage: (John 8:31-32 NIV) To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. {32} Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The truth Jesus is speaking of is His teachings. I refer back to His teaching that anyone who would follow Him must deny themself and take up their cross, which was an instrument of death. We romanticize the cross, but what He was saying in our vernacular is take up your electric chair and follow me. Hardly a way to promote self-esteem.

The principles and insights in this book have been gleaned from years of counseling experience and from the writings of many psychologist and Bible teachers. (SfS page xii) I would hope it would bother any Christian to see that the author does not credit the Bible for the principles and insights in this book. Instead he lists first psychologist. There is no such thing as Christian Psychology, there is merely psychology practiced by professing Christians. Psychology is all based on the work of godless men who denied Christian principles and the basic principles of scripture, such as the fact that all mankind is born sinful. Psychology teaches that man is basically good and is corrupted by his/her environment. This is clearly contradicted by scripture. (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Romans 3:22-23 NIV) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, {23} for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...

Many of us are hurt emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, but because we are unaware of the extent of our wounds, we don't take steps toward healing and health. (SfS page 2) This is another principle of psychology, we are all victims. If you don't think you are a victim it is because you are unaware of it. What we are is sinful and in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

An articulate pastor speaks powerfully about the unconditional love and grace of God, yet he is plagued by guilt. He is driven to succeed in his public ministry but is passive and withdrawn around his family. He has never understood how to apply his own teaching to his life and relationships. (SfS page 2) One of the things the author does is use a lot of personal accounts to make his point. The problem with that is that they are all very subjective. How do we know that this Pastor was even a born again believer? Notice how the author says he is driven to succeed in his public ministry. I would hope a Pastor is working in the field that God called him to and therefore is driven by the Spirit of God, not to succeed but to please God. It sounds like I am picking at small things, but how can a Pastor preach a gospel he does not understand? (Matthew 7:22-23 NIV) Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' {23} Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' I am not convinced this Pastor's problem was not understanding his self-worth.

It is difficult - if not impossible - to turn on the light of objectivity by ourselves. We need guidance from the Holy Spirit and usually the honesty, love, and encouragement of at least one other person who is willing to help us. Even then, we may become depressed as we begin to discover the effects of our wounds. Some of us have deep emotional and spiritual scares resulting from the neglect, abuse, and manipulation that often accompany living in a dysfunctional family (alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, absent father or mother, excessive anger, verbal and/or physical abuse, and so on), but all of us bear the effects of our own sinful nature and imperfections of others. (SfS page 3 emphases added) This bothers me because it shows that the author feels that God is not usually capable of handling our problems alone, or at least that is the impression I get from his statement. I will admit that God will often bring other believers to us when we need them, but the author does not even stress that this other person needs to be a believer. I feel like he is denying the power of the cross in a believer's life. Is Christ capable to heal us or not? I say He is.

At this point, simply ask the Lord to give you courage to be honest. Give Him permission to shine His Spirit's light on your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You may be surprised by additional pain as you realize the extent of your wounds, but our experience of healing can only be as deep as our awareness of the need for it. (SfS page 7) Two things bother me about this quote; first it always bothers me when people say we should give God permission to do anything. He does not need our permission. We should open ourselves to His leading or light or whatever, but giving Him permission implies we are in control not God. Second it bothers me because as I stated earlier the author seems to adhere to the psychological idea of everyone being wounded deeply but many people being unaware of those wounds. What we need courage for is to face our sinful natures and allow God to lead our lives. We need to learn to deny ourselves and follow Christ.

How do we know if something we want is really something we need? First, the simple answer is that when we are without something we need we find ourselves uncomfortable, sometimes even miserable, perhaps even at the point of death. Without water we become very thirsty; without sleep we stay very sleepy. When we find that we perceive our lives as having no value, purpose, or significance, we become miserable. Many have even killed themselves to avoid living a life such as this. I find it amazing to discover Christians who believe (at least intellectually) that value, purpose, and significance are unimportant to life. These individuals usually have deadened themselves to their own feelings to the point that they have many relational problems they do not even recognize. (SfS page 8) This is one way to silence your critics. They are just so misguided that they don't realize their own needs. This is also a case of overstating a point. I would agree that value and purpose and even significance play a part in a normal life; what I disagree with is that they are the most important things in a person's life. I also disagree with how we are to obtain them. The author promotes self-esteem as the way to obtain these things. I say that we need to deny ourselves and follow Christ. A person will never obtain true significance or value without first giving Christ total Lordship over their life. Look at Hollywood, these people have value, purpose and significance, yet they abuse drugs and commit suicide because it all means nothing without Christ. Look at sports figures, rock stars, etc... you see that they have all of the things the world has to offer but they are not happy or fulfilled and never will be by trying to gain more value, purpose or significance. Yet these people are the hardest to reach for Christ. Jesus explained it Himself: (Matthew 19:23-24 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. {24} Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

God tells us that we are so significant to Him that He always keeps an eye on us. He manages to be so sensitive to our situation that He even keeps track of the hairs on our head. There is obviously nothing more important to God then our welfare. (SfS page 8) This is the religion of self-esteem at its best. I must have missed something in my reading of the Bible, I thought what God cared about most was our obedience and His holiness and the honor of His Holy Name. He does love us and care about our welfare, but to place that as the most important thing in God's view is to twist the scripture. (Ezekiel 20:9 NIV) But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations they lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. Notice that God says He did what would keep His Name from being profaned among the nations. (Malachi 2:2 NIV) If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name," says the LORD Almighty, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.

From life's outset, we find ourselves on the prowl, searching to satisfy some inner, unexplained yearning. (SfS page 8) I could completely agree with this statement if I did not know that what the author thinks our inner need is for is self-esteem. Instead I believe that each human being has a deep need to know God personally. Having high self-esteem will not lead a person to God. Which is more important, being born again or thinking well of yourself? Until a person comes to the realization that he is a sinner and condemned to death by a just and Holy God (which by the way is a killer to self-esteem) he will never be ready to come in humble repentance to God.

Our desire to be loved and accepted is a symptom of a deeper need - the need that frequently governs our behavior and is the primary source of our emotional pain. Often unrecognized, this its our need for self-worth. (SfS page 9) This is what I was speaking about in the item above. McGee seems to think that the most important need for all humanity is for self-worth. I contend that our greatest need is to know God. We will never become what we were created to be until we get right with our Creator. Once a person has a personal relationship with God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, that person will have fulfillment and self-worth. However, we will not and should not come to know God out of a desire to obtain self-worth, rather out of realization that we are totally depraved and in need of a Savior. Now it could be argued that McGee is speaking about people who already know God personally, but I have a problem with that too. Is God so weak in a Christian's life that, after being in a relationship with Him, we still need to search for self-worth? (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! When God makes us a new creation He gives us a new nature, I don't believe He still needs our help for us to find self-worth.

The Scriptures warn us that we live within a warfare that can destroy our faith, lower our self-esteem, and lead us into depression. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul instructs us to put on the armor of God so that we can be equipped for spiritual battle. (SfS page 12) Here again the author puts everything in the context of our self-esteem. The Bible does tell us that we are in a battle and that we should put on the armor of God, but no where that I have seen does it say that we are to protect our self-esteem. Let's look at God's armor: (Ephesians 6:11-17 NIV) Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. {12} For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. {13} Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. {14} Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, {15} and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. {16} In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. {17} Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It appears to me that Paul is saying that we need God's armor so that we will finish our race and continue in our faith, not so that we can protect our self-esteem. First there is the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness; neither of which have anything directly to do with our self-esteem, but rather with the kind of life we should live. Next is having our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel. Again nothing to do with our self-esteem. Then the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. I still don't see any of this armor as protecting our self-esteem, they are all designed to help us live the kind of life God wants us to live so that we will continue to follow Him.

An accurate understanding of God's truth is the first step toward discovering our significance and worth. (SfS page 12) I contend that it is the first step in our realizing our depravity and sinful nature and our constant need for God's grace and guidance.

Whether labeled self-esteem or self-worth, the feeling of significance is crucial to man's emotional, spiritual, and social stability and is the driving element within the human spirit. Understanding this single need opens the door to understanding our actions and attitudes. (SfS page 12-13) This is pure psychology. Psychology is always looking to explain why people act the way they do. If you read your Bible you will see the answer for yourself: (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? It is a basic tenant of Christianity that we are all born into this world totally depraved and sinful. That is why we act the way we do. (James 1:13-15 NIV) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; {14} but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. {15} Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James says that we have evil desires. This is what will explain our actions and our attitudes.

What a waste to attempt to change behavior without truly understanding the driving needs that cause such behavior! (SfS page 13) I agree! The problem is that I think McGee is mistaken as to what the driving needs in each human being are. We are sinful and in need of help from God. How can we change behavior without God?

We must understand that this hunger for self-worth is God-given and can only be satisfied by Him. (SfS page 13) He never shows anywhere in scripture where we are to have a hunger for self-worth, yet he just assumes it as fact and then attributes it to God. (Matthew 16:24 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. I don't see Jesus telling people that He will satisfy their need for self-worth, I read it as just the opposite, He is telling us to put ourselves and our needs secondary to His Lordship in our lives.

In order to fully understand the provisions that God has made for our self-worth, we must look back to man's beginning, the first man and woman, and their search for significance. (SfS page 13) Am I wrong, or wasn't it Adam and Eve's search for significance that we call original sin? (Genesis 3:1-6 NIV) Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" {2} The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, {3} but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" {4} "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. {5} "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." {6} When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. What did the serpent offer Eve? Wasn't it the significance of being like God? Look where that got all of us.

Our self-esteem and view of God are usually a mirror of our parent's attitudes toward us. Those who are loved and affirmed by their parents tend to have a fairly healthy self-concept, and usually find it easy to believe God is loving and powerful. (SfS page 28) This again is psychology. It tends to make excuses for those who have had problems in this life. God gives no such excuses. (Ezekiel 18:20 NIV) The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. My other problem with this statement is that it takes away the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people to God. (John 6:44 NIV) "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." Of course we are all affected by our home lives, but don't discount the power of the Holy Spirit in a person's life, to draw them to God and to show them Who God really is. The next step in this kind of thinking (expressed in Search for Significance) is to believe that people who were abused or had bad parents are not as accountable for their actions as those who had loving families.

These patterns of thinking, feeling, and responding, learned over time, flow as naturally as the course of rainwater in a dry desert riverbed. Changing them requires time, the encouragement of others, the truth and application of God's Word, and the power of God's Spirit. (SfS page 29) In short it bothers me that God's Word and the power of God's Spirit are listed after time and the encouragement of others. This would not be a big deal if it were not that the whole book seems to do the same thing.

By imputing righteousness to us, God attributes Christ's worth to us. (SfS page 51) This is personal but I have a problem with putting our salvation in these terms. God gave us Christ's righteousness, but to say we have Christ's worth, I think is stepping over the line. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Does that sound as if we have the same worth as Christ? These may seem like minor points to you, but when you add them all up; our need for self-worth and self-esteem, that we have Christ's worth, I worry that the book is teaching the religion of self.

How should we respond when another fails? If the person who failed is a Christian, we need to affirm God's truth about him or her: He (or she) is deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted by God, and complete in Christ. This perspective can eventually change our condemning attitude to one of love an desire to help. By believing these truths, we will gradually be able to love this person just as God loves us (1 John 4:11), forgive him or her just as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32), and accept him or her just as God has accepted us (Rom. 15:7). This does not mean that we will continue to see them, but our response to them will change considerably over time, from condemnation to compassion. As we depend less on other people for our self-worth, their sins and mistakes will become less of a threat to us, and we will desire to help them instead of being compelled to punish them. (SfS page 90) I assume when McGee says the person fails, he is saying they fell into sin. If you notice this whole quote is about our attitude towards someone who is in sin. We should not condemn, but encourage and love. What about trying to bring the person back into relationship with God? (1 John 1:9 NIV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Where is our advise to the person that they should confess their sin to God? Let's look at what Paul said about such circumstances. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NIV) But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. {12} What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? {13} God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." I agree we should affirm to those who have failed that God still loves them, but we should not candy coat their behavior or be accepting of sin either.

Jesus dealt specifically with this issue [condemnation] when several men decided to stone a woman caught in adultery. He told them that the person without sin should throw the first stone. Beginning with the eldest, all the accusers walked away as they remembered their own sins (John 8:3-9). In light of their own sinfulness, they no longer saw fit to condemn the sins of another.

As this incident clearly illustrates, we should leave righteous condemnation and punishment in the hands of the one worthy of the responsibility. Our response should be love, affirmation, and possibly, compassionate correction. (SfS page 91-92) I believe that McGee has misrepresented this scripture. We are not to be hypocritical judges of others, but just as Paul said we should judge those who claim to be believers. But let's take a closer look at this incident. First the Law said that anyone caught in adultery was to be stoned. So was Jesus saying to ignore the Law? (Matthew 5:17-18 NIV) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. {18} I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." So what was going on? Well first look at what it says about the woman. She was caught in the act of adultery. Do you notice anything wrong? Adultery takes two people, yet they only brought the woman to Jesus. They were trying to trick Him, but He knew that and responded in a way that caused them to turn and walk away. Many scholars believe they set this woman up and that is why they did not bring the man. I disagree with the application McGee makes.

Many psychologist today adhere to a theory called Rational Emotive Therapy. This very helpful theory states that blame is the core of most emotional disturbances. The answer, they insist, is for each of us to stop blaming ourselves and others and learn to accept ourselves in spite of our imperfections. How right they are! Christ's death is the complete payment for sin, and we can claim His complete forgiveness and acceptance daily. (SfS page 94-95) This shows how deep ingrained in this book psychology is. He takes a godless theory and turns it around to show the idea of salvation. Rational Emotive Therapy was the brainchild of Albert Ellis, an avowed atheist who considers Christianity to be dangerous to a person's mental health. Should we really just learn to accept ourselves the way we are? Or should be continually strive to live righteous lives?

The following example provides insight in how we should approach failure and how we should help others. Frank told of a deep, bitter inner struggle he was having. He had found himself thinking about having sex with another man. At first it was just a fleeting thought, but now that thought seemed to rule his mind. I told him his first step was to agree with God about this thought activity. Even though he had never acted on his thoughts, what he was thinking was wrong. I instructed him to ask God to show him what excuse he had been using for thinking like this in the first place and to show him how destructive his receiving all this condemnation had been.

When we met again, he told me all that God had shown him. Frank's freedom was gained as he agreed with God on all that had been shown. He realized the excuses he used and how destructive this disobedience had been in his life. But equally important, God showed him that his accepting condemnation was coming from the same place as the homosexual thoughts. During the process, God also revealed how bitter Frank was because of having been mistreated by his father. It was this mistreatment and Frank's self-pity that had provided the basis for Frank to feel that he had a right to do what he wanted to do (or think what he wanted to think).

The final step was for Frank to dwell on how much he was forgiven until thankfulness overwhelmed him and he forgave his father. It was only living in the light of God's forgiveness that set Frank free. (SfS page 157) This really bothers me. It goes right along with the worship of self and victim hood. At the beginning it would appear that this Frank is struggling with temptation, which is not a sin. We are all tempted. McGee has him agree with God that the thoughts are wrong. Now is that confessing sin for harboring the thoughts? If these thoughts were unwanted temptations then there is no reason to confess anything, but rather to ask God for strength to deal with the temptation. If it was sin, then a stronger statement of confession would be warranted, then just agreeing with God that the thoughts were wrong. Notice too, that McGee tells Frank that he should ask God to show him how destructive his receiving all this condemnation had been. Well if it was deliberate sin then he should receive condemnation. But if you are preaching the religion of self then the idea of condemnation or guilt or anything which might lower your self-esteem is the greatest sin and to be guarded against at all costs.

We see in the next paragraph that poor Frank was accepting condemnation for the same reason he was having the homosexual thoughts, it was his father's fault! You will also notice now that the way it is stated has changed, now we see that Frank had thought all along that he a right to think or act any way he wanted. I call that willful sin. (Hebrews 10:26-27 NIV) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, {27} but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Boy, the author of Hebrews seems kind of condemning to people who do what Frank did. Finally McGee has Frank dwell on how much he has been forgiven, but I don't see anywhere where Frank was told to confess this as sin to God. In fact I see this as an attempt by McGee to say that Frank was not a sinner, but a victim of the hurt and self-pity caused by his father. This is straight out of the psychology handbook. All humans are basically good, we only do wrong when influenced adversely by some outside force.

I cannot recommend this book to anyone. It contains some very good material, but it is poisoned by all the bad theology and what I call religion of self. I am not trying to condemn Mr. McGee, nor can I know his heart, but I do feel he is mistaken in his views. I think the teaching of self-esteem which is throughout this book is dangerous.

How much poison is too much for a Christian to consume?

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

View responses to this review.

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