Dear Readers,


A Biblical Critique of the Teachings of Modern Psychology (II)

Abraham Maslow Evaluated

Abraham Maslow was born on April 1, 1908, to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York. He is known as the father of humanistic psychology. His life work as a psychologist is to focus on what constitutes positive mental health. He strongly believes that all humans possess the strength and resource to overcome their inadequacy and thus achieve growth and healing. It is this belief that forms the cornerstone of his brand of humanistic psychology.

Abraham Maslow had an optimistic view of human nature. He believed that man’s inner nature “is rather good or neutral, rather than bad.” (Toward a Psychology of Being) On the other hand, the evil committed by man is a response and reaction to his surrounding environment. The solution to this is psychotherapy that brings out the inner good of man. He insists that a lack of understanding of psychopathology will result in much talk about original sin and intrinsic evil, and the foolish conclusion that man can only be saved by “extra-human forces” (Ibid.)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is perhaps the culmination of his life’s work. Maslow’s contention was that every human was driven by a set of needs. He then developed a five-step model that reflects five basic needs of man.



Maslow believes that man’s needs are slowly fulfilled as he moves up the pyramid. Level 1 (physical needs) are the most basic in a man’s life. Once this is fulfilled, man needs will move up the pyramid until he reaches the top level which is self-actualisation.

A significant portion of Maslow’s work focuses on the need of self-esteem and self-actualisation. Maslow claims that if a person ends up feeling inferior, he may end up neurotic. Unless all the needs of a person is satisfied, we will continue to remain discontented. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation . . . the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” (A Theory of Motivation)

This hierarchy of needs was further expanded by the followers of Maslow and developed into an eight-stage model as follows:



This hierarchy of needs is frequently adopted especially in the arena of education and human resource. Teachers and trainers are often encouraged to consider the hierarchy of needs as they seek to develop human potential in others. The belief is often that the self-actualised and self-fulfilled man will be the one who will maximise the potential that is found in himself. Those who help others to fulfil their potential will be on the highest level – transcendence. Some examples of those who may find themselves at the top of the pyramid are teachers and psychotherapists for they are those who bring out the capabilities in the individual.

The teachings of Maslow simply do not square with the Holy Scriptures:

First, the Scriptures teaches that man is born in sin.

“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5

This doctrine of original sin is also the major tenet of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5.

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin;
and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”
Romans 5:12

Second, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs fail to acknowledge that man’s chief need is actually God and the solution to the problem of sin. Maslow propounds that man’s basic need is bread, and thus live by bread alone on the basic level. But the Scriptures emphatically declare, “. . . It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) The Scriptures further declare, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” (John 6:27)

Third, the claim that our desires are morally neutral contradicts the teaching of the Scriptures. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Moreover, the Scriptures teaches us that a pursuit of our evil desires and needs does not result in utopia like what Maslow purports but rather death. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15) This is the great danger and error of self-actualisation. Rather, the Scriptures teach us that a man can only find true fulfilment in God and His only begotten Son the Lord Jesus Christ. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1) “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:” (Colossians 2:10) The way to know God and find comfort is through His Word. Rev. Timothy Tow, founding pastor of the Bible-Presbyterian Church in Singapore used to exhort those in trouble to read the Psalms for it is “a Psalm balm”. God’s Word is the solution, and not self-actualisation.

Fourth, the Scripture does not teach us self-esteem but Christ-esteem. John the Baptist proclaims,

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

A man ought to have the lowest view of himself but the highest view of Christ.

In conclusion, Maslow’s psychological model presents the human as a thirsty animal always searching for his wants and desires to be fulfilled. The reason behinds man’s bad behaviour is his unfulfilled needs. The failure of this model is its refusal to admit the truth of original sin, choosing to blame the environment rather than the individual. Sadly, the teachings of Maslow has found its way into many educational theories and human development models. The concept of the hierarchy of needs has pervaded into our lives. It is closer than we think. Christians, beware!

Preacher Clement Chew