Book Review: The Big Ego Trip

 

This book is a new publication from IVP, and the first I’ve read from someone I’ve been following with glee and gratitude on Twitter for a while, Glynn Harrison. “The Big Ego Trip” has been a joy to read, and I’m excited about reviewing and recommending it here today.

One of the most notable things about this superb book is the range of those evangelicals endorsing it. Without ruining it, we run the gamut here with an endorsement from someone who runs superb seminars for HTB/Soul Survivor-style evangelicals, and also from people of the Proclamation trust. The simple fact that this book can conjour up a broad stroke of endorsements is testament to its quality – and also its utility.

So what is it about? The peacock on the cover is some help, but it goes deeper than that. In ‘The Big Ego Trip’, Glynn Harrison (Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry from the University of Bristol) takes a metaphorical scalpel to one of the cornerstones of modern culture and psychology: self-esteem. As he asks on the back cover, “after decades of trying to feel good about ourselves, why do we still hunger for meaning and significance?“. Harrison is examining a key element of our culture through a professional lens – with the added bonus and wisdom of the Christian tradition. This combination allows him to really get to the crux of the issue, and to being to start formulating some responses and ways forward.

This is a book of broadly two halves.The first is perhaps the more sobering, as Harrison sketches out where the ideas of self-esteem and ‘boosterism’ have come from. The book is peppered with helpful illustrations – and we see the effects of self-esteem ideology in stark contrast to the way the world actually works. Having set the scene for secular culture, Harrison turns his pen (or keyboard) to the Church, in a hard-hitting short chapter entitled ‘To God You’re Big Stuff’. One particular sentence stuck out to me, and confirmed the wisdom of what Harrison is doing in this book;

All too often Christians appear to be limping along behind secular change, rather than setting the pace in distinctive counter-cultural thought, and our mindless piggy-backing onto the self-esteem movement remains one of the most potent examples of our intellectual vulnerability to the latest ‘thing’

Demonstrating his point from children’s songs, through Christian musicals, all the way to a brief mention of the prosperity Gospel, Harrison is extremely convincing in his analysis, right down to his observation that “we need a more open, honest and challenging debate about narcissism and the cult of self in modern church life, and pastors do us few favours by simply aping to our hearts desires“. Again, I think Harrison is dead on the money with his critique of how self-esteem ideology has, to be blunt, infected the Church.

Chapter 5 is the turning point for the second and much larger part of this book, as Harrison begins construction with the necessary question, “Does Boosterism work?“. From this point – and you may well be able to detect from my review his answer to this questions – the book starts to offer suggestions and solutions. We saunter and walk through the biblical understanding of human-hood (which as I noted elsewhere is often in crisis), examining the biblical tension between Imago Dei and Original Sin.

This comes to a wonderful meeting by the 10th Chapter, “Amazed by Grace“, where Harrison shifts the discussion of worth and identity to where it should be, grounded in a paradigm shift; “stop judging, ‘rating’ or scoring yourself… Stop trying to label yourself… Instead embrace and accept your biblical identity – how God in his grace no sees and understands you“. This is followed by a helpful and deeply practical chaper, “How to stop judging yourself“, which I found very helpful for my self. The closing chapter of this excellent book, “The Bigger-Than-Your-Ego Trip!” opens with the words of John the Baptist which are strangely absent from the self-understanding of many Christians; “He must become greater; I must become less“. In his closing push towards the heaven that the Bible speaks of, Harrison coins a phrase that resonated with me deeply, that we become “Guests of a greater reality“. Amen!

As you can probably tell from this review, I seriously enjoyed this book. As I’ve been working on prayer and spiritual disciplines, whilst reading and researching sexuality and identity, whilst personally studying the atonement, this book has reverberated helpfully through each of those areas. What the author has to say is incredibly powerful, deeply true, and seriously needed by Churches and individuals today. I have no hesitation in recommending this to pretty much everyone, especially those in positions of Church leadership, or involved in pastoral care. Excellent stuff.

 

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