“Know Yourself That You May Know God”

The title of Peter Scazzero’s Chapter 2 of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality[1] is: “Know Yourself That You May Know God: Becoming Your Authentic Self.” Scazzero’s title is enticing with its promises and draws individuals into his system of trying to discover oneself through psychological means rather than from the Word of God. However, we can only know ourselves accurately through what God has revealed in His Word! Moreover, we don’t get to know God by knowing ourselves outside of Scripture! We only know Him through His own words of self-revelation. We are in grave error when we focus on ourselves and our own feelings in order to know ourselves or God. Any look at self needs to be through the lens of Scripture. In fact, Scazzero’s errors come through looking at Scripture through psychological systems devised by unbelievers, some of whom are enemies of Christianity.

In addition to the word “authentic,” Scazzero uses the terms “true self” (p. 56) and “false self” (p. 49). The word “authentic” is not in our Bible, and we cannot imagine any translation using the word “authentic” as an adjective before the word “self.” Furthermore, the designations “true self” and “false self” are not in the Bible as Scazzero is using them. These are psychological constructs regarding human nature. In contrast the Bible identifies humans in relation to their fallen nature and their need for salvation and new life in Christ by grace through faith (Romans 6-8).

Scazzero only brings confusion to any biblical understanding of the nature of humans by mixing in false psychological concepts of what a person is by nature. Is anyone born with a “true self” before being contaminated by parents and the world as erroneously claimed? Or are they blank or clean slates? No! The Bible declares that we are all descendants of Adam and therefore born in sin.

In Scazzero’s confusion of terms, one must examine one’s present behavior by looking for signs of it in parents, grandparents and other ancestors. His idea is that in finding the negative influences, we might discover what we might have been without such influences and what we might become by discovering them. In other words, if we exhibit lots of anger, we might find a parent or ancestor who was angry to help explain why we are angry and suppose that our “true self” was not an angry person and with that knowledge, reduce the amount of anger we are expressing. The idea is that the expression of anger must not truly be me, but a “false self” acting as me.

According to the Bible, all humans are under the conviction of sin. In fact, human depravity is a clear doctrine in Scripture. All but Jesus are by nature depraved. Scazzero avoids the word “depravity” throughout his book as he uses psychologically derived reasons why people behave sinfully. His technique is to eradicate each flaw or sinful behavior category through identifying it in one’s home environment or genealogy rather than in one’s own personal depravity. He evidently does not think people need to die to the old nature, the old self, but rather to keep what they like about themselves, which may indeed be the very worst of sins, that of pride.

Scazzero says that his way to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a painful process, which requires much hard work:

Looking to the past illumines the present. But make no mistake about it; it is painful. Because so few people do the hard work of going back in order to go forward, the symptoms of a disconnected spirituality are everywhere. The compartmentalization of our spirituality from the rest of our lives becomes necessary because there is so little integration. I know. I lived that way for years (p. 80).

Indeed, Scazzero’s tedious process takes time and effort away from intentionally following Christ. Think of the time it would take to go through all the effort of looking for signs of our behavior in other family members and, if not found in the parents or grandparents, then trying to find out if that particular negative behavior was seen in any ancestor no longer living. And it would be painful focusing on all the bad stuff in self and others.

Furthermore, just as the title of his chapter is just the reverse of what is true, so is his notion of “false self” and “true self” reversed in that his so-called “false self” is truly him and his “true self” a figment of his imagination. At any rate this system of finding out who we are is a false system, contrived from the imagination of mere humans, for which the apostle Paul’s warning could be applied:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8.)[2]

Scazzero’s system is both deceptive and false in that he tries to make it sound biblical, when it is not, and false in that it is not from the truth of Scripture, but from his own and other people’s fabrications.

All that Scazzero claims to be accomplishing spiritually can only be accomplished by grace through faith in what Christ already did with our sinful human self on the cross once and for all. Those for whom Christ died in their place are to count their entire old nature dead and themselves as raised in newness of life. By grace through faith, they identify with Christ’s death and with His life now living in them. This was a once and for all act on Christ’s part! At a moment in time by grace through faith believers not only receive Christ’s imputed righteousness; they receive His life in them to be worked outdaily by following Him. From that point on they are to live according to the new life, which must be given precedence over that which is to be reckoned dead.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom 12:1-2)

This is a daily walk of looking unto Christ and following Him. The transformation comes from renewing the mind through what God has revealed and taught and acted upon by faith. Christ does not call Christians to search their family backgrounds to be transformed into the image of Christ. Instead, the Scripture reveals how we become like Christ:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18.)

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2.)

In other words, believers are to be looking at Christ and following him, not looking at their parents in their attempt to not follow them. While believers are instructed to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, …it is God which worketh in [then] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Biblically based spiritual transformation is essentially a work that God does in believers as they respond by trusting and obeying Him. Adding psychological notions and techniques will only interfere rather than help. In fact, turning elsewhere for what God has already provided in His Word is essentially idolatry. In this case, the idol is not of wood or stone. The idol is self as god trying to transform itself through psychological theories and techniques.

The Great Commandment

In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, The Great Commandment is referred to “Commandment, The New” and states the following:

Although the law of Moses contained an abundance of commandments from God for Israel, it was everywhere understood that the supreme commandment was to love God, with the result that the Shema (Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21) was recited daily and posted on the doorpost of every home. A second command like it in importance was to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:39), as required in Leviticus 19:18. Jesus considered this second command to be of equal importance to the love of God and said, “There is no other greater commandment than these” (Mark 12:31).

Scazzero refers to the Great Commandment only three times. He says:

Jesus refused to separate the practice of the presence of God from the practice of the presence of people. When pushed to the wall to separate this unbreakable union, Jesus refused. He summarized the entire Bible for us: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40). (P. 171.)

In Appendix B Scazzero provides a diagram with the following sentence:

The greatest commandments, Jesus said, are that we love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul and that we love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). (P. 214.)

Earlier in the book, Scazzero says:

I truly believe the greatest gift we can give the world is our true self living in loving union with God. In fact, how can we affirm other people’s unique identities when we don’t affirm our own. Can we really love our neighbors well without loving ourselves? (Bold added, 67.)

Instead of Jesus’ two commandments, Scazzero has three commandments. His third strongly implied commandment is to be “loving ourselves.” Scripture does not teach self-love, either directly or implied.

There is no need for such a third commandment or even for encouragement to love self. The Bible reveals that humans already love themselves and that is the basis of comparison of how to love others. The apostle Paul wrote: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nouurisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” (Eph 5:29).

The Bible never encourages self-love! People may not like their life circumstances or the way they are or feel and may even say they hate themselves, but what they don’t like and/or hate are those things that make them feel uncomfortable and even miserable. People don’t need to love themselves more. They need to love God and others more. In fact, a sign of perilous times in 2 Tim 3:1-2 is that “men shall be loves of their own selves.” And this is exactly what is happening with the psychotherapeutic mentality that is promoted by Scazzero.

The Great Commission

In addition to The Great Commandment, Jesus gave The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

While it is called a “Commission,” it is also a commandment. We searched through EHS but did not find any reference to the Great Commission. We are not surprised that there is no reference to the Great Commission, because EHS is a psychologically self-oriented book that encourages readers to focus on self.

Scazzero is reaching the world with his psychologized self-centered transformation, which is not the commission Jesus gave to His disciples. EHS is such a psychologically oriented, false, pseudo-scientific, self-directed book and program that it neither encourages such sacrificial activity as reaching the lost for Christ, nor does it show the sacrificial way of the cross.

Role of Suffering

We have found, after 40 years of soul care ministry with individuals, couples, and families, that it is essential to develop a biblical understanding of the role of suffering as all believers will face obstacles on their way to becoming transformed into the image of Christ.

A central teaching in the “traditional” approach, which Scazzero replaces with his “transformative” approach, is the role of suffering in a believer’s life and how that suffering is related directly to Christ. Trials, tribulations, and suffering serve as fertile soil for knowing God experientially and growing spiritually. The Bible is clear about the value of suffering when a person turns to the Lord through it. The entire book of Job is about suffering, knowing God aright, and spiritual growth. The apostles knew God through suffering. Yet we did not see an emphasis on the suffering by using Bible passages anywhere in EHS to develop a solely biblical doctrine of suffering. In fact, very few of the Scriptures having to do with suffering were even mentioned. While trials, tribulations and suffering verses are not always needed, it seems axiomatic that with a wholesale change from the Traditional approach to the Transformative approach they would be mandatory.

Any grandiose scheme, such as promised in EHS, would need a biblicaldoctrine of suffering, which is central to becoming more like Jesus. The ideal place in EHS to reveal such a doctrine is in Scazzero’s Chapter 4, “Journey through the Wall: Letting Go of Power and Control.” Scazzero begins the chapter by saying:

Every follower of Jesus at some point will confront the Wall—or, as the ancients called it, “the dark night of the soul.” Emotionally healthy spirituality helps provide a (partial) roadmap of both how one goes through the Wall and what it means to begin living on the other side.

Failure to understand its nature results in great long-term pain and confusion. Receiving the gift of God in the Wall, however, transforms our lives forever. (P.97.)

He then introduces “The Christian Life as a Journey”:

The image of the Christian life as a journey captures our experience of following Christ like few others. Journeys involve movement, action, stops and starts, detours, delays, and trips into the unknown. (P. 97.)

Scazzero presents his version of the Christian journey through life, which is the ideal place to teach the biblical doctrine of the role of suffering. To find out what Scazzero teaches in his newly minted Transformative theology, we checked all the Bible verses used in Chapter 4, the Christian journey chapter, to see if Scazzero teaches such a doctrine. There are 15 Bible passages used in Chapter 4, but only one of them is useful in building a doctrine of the role of suffering. That is James 1:2-4:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

While Scazzero does use one valid Bible passage in building his doctrine of suffering, as usual he quotes favorably and gives more space to “John of the Cross,” which precedes the James verse. Who is John of the Cross? Britannica describes him as “one of the greatest Christian mystics” and “a patron saint of mystics and contemplatives” (bold added).[3]

In the “Introduction” Scazzero says:

The combination of emotional health and contemplative spirituality—the heart of the message found on these pages—will unleash a revolution into the deep places of your life. This revolution will, in turn, transform all your relationships. (P. 7.)

Indeed, Scazzero’s combination of man-made psychological notions and “contemplative spirituality” is the heart of his EHS message! However, his promise of a “revolution into the deep places of your life” will more likely increase the life of the old nature rather than conform a person to the image of Christ. And, while Scazzero quotes Scripture, he over-shadows it with psychotherapeutic theorists, mystics, and contemplatives.

Scazzero refers to Philippians 3:9-10, but only comments on verse 9.

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

However, he says nothing about verse 10:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.

Philippians 3:10 is a strong and essential verse regarding experiencing “the fellowship of his sufferings,” as a means of spiritual growth.

Psychology or the Bible?

EHS is obviously a psychologized gospel and Scazzero’s “gospel” is his use of psychology to justify what he wants to say about himself and others. In our book Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! (SCSM) we describe how America arrived at the “Age of Show and Tell” in Chapter 1, “The Public Undressing of Private Lives”:

There was a time in America during which private lives were private and public talk did not reveal the underbelly of human living. That time was prior to World War II. Since that time, counseling conversations, in which private lives are made semi-public (shared with a counselor who is to keep it all confidential), have been paralleled by the rising transparency of private lives becoming open to all, both personally and publicly. This public purging to purportedly purify a person was absent a little over sixty years ago and is not even found today in some segments of American society or in many other cultures. The therapeutic gospel was the catalyst that catapulted private lives into public display.

There is one important word that describes what psychotherapists strive to attain in their counselees, and that is “transparency.” Although he does not use the word transparency in his book, Scazzero learned transparency in counseling by being transparent with the counselor (p. 27). Psychological transparency is one of the major unbiblical techniques Scazzero promotes in EHS.

One of the basic assumptions of psychotherapy is that it is emotionally beneficial to be totally transparent and open. In other words, “let it all hang out,” meaning to be completely candid and straightforward, saying whatever you want and condemning whomever you wish, without any need to prove anything.

Scazzero wrote EHS with a psychological mindset which reeks of unrestricted transparent confession of his personal life just as he did in the psychotherapist’s office. This psychological counseling mindset releases a tirade of transparency and touchy-feely responses in which Scazzero became transformed into a new way of thinking, which he segued throughout his entire EHS.

People like Scazzero learn through transparency, taught by counselors who encourage them to say whatever comes to mind, that they can say what they want with no moral or biblical restrictions.[4] This is based on the wide-spread notion in counseling that speaking openly about others is necessary for the counselor to be able to understand and help them. This is a false assumption and a very destructive teaching. Such permission and encouragement are not in the Bible and can lead to serious violations of Scripture.

Scazzero and others who believe and follow the words of psychology over the words of the Bible do not realize that their very actions are a confession that they do not believe that the Bible has perfect words to assist believers for the same individual, couple, and family problems of living as psychotherapy treats. However, the difference is that the Bible is the true source while psychotherapy and its underlying theories are faulted, fleshly notions and imaginations, of fallen fellow human beings.

Before making another remark, we need to say that one of us qualified for the clinical psychologist, educational psychologist, and marriage and family therapist licenses in California, but never applied for one. Psychotherapy with its theories is a bankrupt system and is in direct conflict with the Bible, even when there seem to be some similarities. The words of psychology are from fallen humanity; the words of the Bible are from God. Both of us had the responsibility for a personal soul care ministry in our church in which we relied on what God has said rather than the theories and techniques we had learned from the world.

Scazzero, integrating psychological theories about the nature of humans and how to change them with the Bible, is trying to mix oil and water. This should never be done. It is a deceptive stumbling block. As Scazzero brings Scripture and psychology together, he is using psychology to interpret Scripture (erroneously), and misusing Scripture to justify his psychological notions. This ungodly mingling has been going on for too long now throughout much of the Church. In fact, one does not even have to be a psychologically trained individual to utilize psychological explanations regarding human nature and to misuse Scripture to support psychological counseling theories and practices. Scazzero is one example of this as he heavily relies on a person’s past to explain current feelings and behavior.

We repeat from Part One of this article that there is a huge difference between Paul’s “forgetting those things which are behind” and forward-looking trust in God and Scazzero’s penchant to trust psychology in his backward-looking theology.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13-14.)

The Bible reveals the truth about the soul. The Bible does not instruct Christians to revisit their childhood or their ancestral past to discover the source of what’s causing them to sin today. In fact, to do so puts Christians back into the very fleshly nature that they are to put off. The source for all ungodly thinking, feeling, and behaving is very clear: it is the old self or the flesh, our old nature, which we all inherited from our original parents. We all inherited the results of the fall so that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

The old nature is far too damaged by sin to be healed or fixed! It must be replaced! When Jesus died on the cross He became sin for us. He took the punishment for every sin we have committed. When He died in our place, He broke the power of sin, and, as we identify with His death, we recognize that “our old man [old nature, old self] is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6). Here is our freedom from the past, including “emotional wounds” and any sinful attitudes and behavior that Scazzero insists came from the faults and failures of parents, grandparents, and others. When we identify with Christ in His death and resurrection we are no longer under the domination of sin, “for he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). We are no longer under the curse of the law or any other curse, because Christ became a curse for us: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).

Believers are called to live according to the fullness of what Christ accomplished on the cross so that we can boldly declare with Paul, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8). Paul expressed this truth even more dramatically in his letter to the Galatians when he declared: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

What a deceitful and even disobedient waste of time and energy to go sniveling into the personal and generational past and to go through the saga of searching for everything possible in a vain effort to get rid of any residual effects or to break any so-called hold from one’s personal or generational past. Believers do not grow spiritually through such a fleshly activity. Followers of Christ cannot be walking according to the Spirit while ruminating on the past and blaming parents and ancestors. The Bible clearly tells us: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh…. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 24-25). Instead of “going back in order to go forward” (p. 71), believers are instructed to wage spiritual warfare:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. (Bold added, 2 Cor. 10:3-6.)

Believers need to be warned about false teachers like Scazzero who talk about early life determinism, generational sins, and all kinds of other psychological and/or contemplative spirituality ideas mixed in with Scripture. Scazzero’s world-wide popularity reveals that a plethora of Christians follow these erroneous teachings, not only in the midst of problems, but also in their quest to be “changed people” and thus “change the world” (p. 6). However, these psychologically-tainted, unbiblical teachings will lead them in the wrong direction, to focusing on self, blaming others, and nurturing the flesh, rather than remembering the cross, looking unto Jesus, and living their new life in Christ. Those who are saved have “put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9-10).

In the Introduction to Part One of this critique, we wrote:

Is Peter Scazzero with his “transformative” approach a modern-day Martin Luther dramatically transforming what he calls the traditional church or is he a Johnny-come lately leading a parade with The Emperor’s New Clothes?[5] Before we dub Scazzero a modern-day Luther, we need to examine his theology and, also, whether he meets the necessary scientific standards for the examples to which he appeals.[6]

As a result of our investigation, we conclude that Peter Scazzero is a false prophet and, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, leading his followers to possible spiritual destruction!

[1] Peter Scazzero. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, 2017. (Hereafter page references to this book appear in the text.)

[2] Peter Scazzero uses the New International Version (NIV)of the Bible throughout most of his book. We will be using the King James Version (KJV) in our response.

[3] “St. John of the Cross,” https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-of-the-Cross.

[4] Martin & Deidre Bobgan, “A Critical Review: Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Part Two, https://pamweb.org/book-reviews/a-critical-review-peter-scazzeros-emotionally-healthy-spirituality-part-two-2/.

[5] “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes, 02-05-2023.

[6] Martin & Deidre Bobgan, “A Critical Review: Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Part One,” https://pamweb.org/book-reviews/a-critical-review-peter-scazzeros-emotionally-healthy-spirituality-part-one/.