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I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   142
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.1" Width: 5.4" Height: 0.5"
Weight:   0.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 1, 2009
Publisher   Eerdmans Pub Co
ISBN  0802864112  
EAN  9780802864116  

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Item Description...
Think you've ever deceived yourself? Then this book is for you. Think you've never deceived yourself? Then this book is really for you. Scripture is peppered with talk of self-deception and its poisonous effects on the pursuit of holy living. Christians in the past thought long and hard about the ways we deceive ourselves. They called on self-deception to explain a wide range of problems in Christian experience. Strangely, though, self-deception has all but disappeared from our consciousness today. We rarely admit to the possibility of deceiving ourselves in any area of our lives. In I Told Me So Gregg Ten Elshof reintroduces readers to self-deception and offers an explanation for its recent neglect in Christian thought. He describes conditions that tempt us to deceive ourselves and points out where they exist in contemporary Christian life. He explains the most successful strategies we use in self-deception and offers practical advice on how to confront and eliminate them. But readers will be surprised to discover that self-deception isn't always such a bad thing. Ten Elshof shows how sometimes it can even be a useful, God-given gift. Honest and incisive, consistently wise and frequently funny, I Told Me So offers fresh insights on how we deceive ourselves and smart strategies to combat the deceiver in all of us.

Publishers Description
Think youve ever deceived yourself? Then this book is for you. / Think youve never deceived yourself? Then this book is really for you. / Socrates famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living. But Gregg Ten Elshof shows us that we make all sorts of little deals with ourselves every day in order to stave off examination and remain happily self-deceived. Most provocatively, he suggests this is not all bad While naming its temptations, Ten Elshof also offers a strange celebration of self-deception as a gracious gift. In the tradition of Dallas Willard, I Told Me So is a wonderful example of philosophy serving spiritual discipline. A marvelous, accessible and, above all, wise book. James K. A. Smith / Calvin College / author of The Devil Reads Derrida / In this wise, well-crafted work Ten Elshof helps us to identify, evaluate, and respond to our own self-deceptive strategies, as he probes with occasional self-deprecation and unavoidable humor the bottomless mysteries of the human heart. His reflections on interpersonal self-deception and groupthink are especially helpful. To tell me the truth, Im glad I read this book. You will be too I promise. David Naugle / Dallas Baptist University / author of Reordered Love, Reordered Lives / Ten Elshofs discussions are erudite, biblical, searching, and laced with soul-restoring wisdom. All of this together means that this book is solidly pastoral. What it brings to us is appropriate to individuals, but it especially belongs in the context of small groups and local congregations. Dallas Willard (from the foreword)

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More About Gregg A. Ten Elshof

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Gregg A. Ten Elshof is professor of philosophy at Biola University, La Mirada, California. His book"I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life"won the"Christianity Today"2009 Book Award in the Christian Living category."

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Ironically Very, Very Helpful!  Apr 19, 2010
I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life is a book about me. With words like "self" and "I" in the title, I might expect such. But it's also a book about you and about everyone you know. In fact, it's a book about the human spirit and its ability to utilize some clever mechanisms for constructing a layer of deception in our lives. Ironically, Gregg A. Ten Elshof shows these same mechanisms to deceive ourselves can also be used for healthy psychological growth and spiritual maturity. It's perhaps one of the most insightful and helpful books I've read in a very long time. It moves to the top of my recommended resources for discipleship and Christian spirituality (on which see also my collection of studies The Spiritual Disciplines). Every believer and every pastor should take up and read this important contribution into the human psyche. The wisdom gained will serve both leader and lay with practical insights that are biblically solid.

Negatively Speaking

Chapters 1 and 2 lay out the framework in which self-deception operates. He offers reasons why we value deception stating "a fair bit of our felt well-being is dependent on our beliefs." And, since "the beliefs I have about myself and others do not need to be true to bring me satisfaction...I only need to believe them" (pp. 3-4), it follows that it's far easier concocting and committing to false notions or partial truths about myself than actually doing the work of self-improvement. Moreover, Ten Elshof shows there is an interesting dynamic associated with vice and deception. For instance, when certain vices are promoted on the taxonomy of vices within a society, then it becomes more difficult admitting that I actually have a problem with this vice. For example, today racism is viewed as far worse than telling a "white lie" (before the civil rights movement of the 60s, racism was not viewed so severely by some). Thus, by promoting racism as a serious vice, "the temptation to be self-decieved about the fact that one exhibits that vice increases" (p. 11).

The notion of deception is not as transparent as some might imagine. In fact, "overt lying is not essential for deception." Instead, "if I believe that I'm leading you to the truth with what I'm saying, I'm not deceiving you--even if I am causing you to have a false belief. In acts of deception, the deceiver typically acts for the sake of leading the deceived away from what he, the deceiver takes to be the truth" (p. 23). In self-deception, I become both the deceiver and the deceived by "managing my beliefs with no regard for the truth. I'm trying to manage my beliefs, but I'm not trying to move myself along toward true belief" (p. 25). And, the more passion I attach to a belief, the more likely I am to be self-deceived about that belief, since rational standards are not top on the list for adherence. In other words, for self-deception to operate efficiently, the truth of my beliefs is not necessary; only my intense emotional attachment to the belief is what matters most.

In chapters 3 and 4 Ten Elshof highlights 5 tools we have perfected in deceiving ourselves. They are 1) Attention Management, 2) Procrastination, 3) Perspective Switching, 4) Rationalization, and 5) Ressentiment. What surprised me is that I was not surprised to learn that I employ all of these tools to ground behaviors I know are not psychologically healthy or biblically faithful, but engage in anyway (I'll spare readers the details; I'm sure you have your own!). The value I found in this book is that it brought these things to surface, giving me a vivid look into weaknesses that no longer can be ignored if I am to grow up in my faith.

Attention management involves controlling what comes into my mind that involves belief formation. If I can turn my attention away from those things that do not support my beliefs, then I can succeed in retaining those beliefs I hold dear and avoid any change to my beliefs. For example, in forming beliefs about the truth of Christianity, I can

conduct my inquiry in such a way as to systematically attend to evidence likely to support Christian belief and assiduously avoid evidence in the other direction. Over time, if I'm only or even primarily exposed to the evidence as presented by those with Christian sympathies, I may well find myself believing that Christianity is true, or I may find it easier to retain my belief if I'm already a Christian. One strategy, then, for acquiring and retaining beliefs that contribute to your own felt well-being is to attend exclusively or primarily to the evidence as presented by those sympathetic with the desired belief.

This could explain the sad findings of Gina Welch, an atheist who went undercover into a major evangelical church, saying evangelicals can offer arguments for Christianity but not for God.

Procrastination, of course, is putting off acting on our beliefs. The dangers are more than apparent, with Ten Elshof observing "often our strongest moral beliefs (beliefs to the effect that we ought to do this or ought not do that) will diminish or even disappear if we procrastinate acting on them" (p. 45). When attention management and procrastination join forces, they provide the perfect storm for believers in Christ to miss important growth opportunities.

Using David's "excursion" with Bathsheba, the dangers of perspective switching are highlighted. Creating the illusion (perspective) that Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) had legitimately died in battle, David now has a means of justifying his affair with Bathsheba who, after properly mourning her loss, becomes the mother of their illegitimate son. Of course, the prophet Nathan steps in offering a fictitious story to get David to see his own plight from the proper perspective.

Since "no single perspective consistently delivers the view of things that we prefer" (p. 53), perspective switching is especially accessible for facilitating self-deception. We can easily adopt the perspective of others by way of feigning empathy. Those in public ministry are considerably vulnerable to the use and abuse of this tool by waving the flag of "transparency," but only just enough to leave out the requisite details for full accountability. If a pastor or leader can enjoy the perspective that his parishioners have of him ( "My pastor is transparent and authentic."), then he can avoid his own perspective which includes the sordid details he wishes to avoid and thus continue in self-deception. "We typically adopt the perspective that best accommodates a positive self-view."

Rationalization is the mental exercise of morally or psychologically justifying our behavior. This tool is usually employed post hoc or as an afterthought in order to ground the convictions we already hold in our "gut." But sometimes our "gut" can hold true beliefs without all the reasons. As Pascal said "The heart has its reasons of which Reason knows nothing." Consider this illustration. If you were asked to guess (not solve) the right answer when factoring the equation x2 - 3x - 10 and you replied "(x - 5) (x + 2)," you would be correct, even though you may not know how to solve it by the mathematical process. The truth of your answer remains, though you do not know how to derive that answer.

Yet, we are told that unless our beliefs have sound arguments behind them, they are irrational. So we seek to gain reasons for (rationalize) our beliefs as if they cannot be true without all the arguments behind them. Yet beliefs don't require evidence and arguments for them to be true. I can hold a true belief without knowing why that belief is true. This is not to say that solid arguments are of no value. Nevertheless, we buy into the myth that rationalization is necessary and so deceive ourselves into believing that I must know the arguments to support my beliefs before I can know they are true.

Ressentiment is a "re-ordering of the sentiments. We adjust our affections, sentiments, and value judgments in order to avoid severe disappointment of self-censure" (p. 66). Ressentiment takes on a subtle form when we share with another person our "concern" about someone who has angered us, but are merely cloaking our true feelings in a facade of care. It is also a way of downplaying the accomplishments or successes of others when we've been removed from the limelight. [Sadly, I see this alot in academic circles!]. By devaluing others' achievements we minimize our own perceived misfortune. Contrary to the tool of rationalization, ressentiment, says Ten Elshof, is particularly manifest in the anti-intellectualism of the church, where faith is given priority over reason. Matters of the "heart" are esteemed more than matters of the "head." It's a form of "super-valuing" the one over the other, when both should be equally esteemed. Instead, we adjust the value of one over the other.

Chapter 5 is all about "getting help when it's not working" (the chapter's title) or the phenomenon of "groupthink" and how it aides self-deception. The rules are simple:

Rule A: Don't.
Rule A.1: Rule A doesn't exist.
Rule A.2: Do not discuss the existence of nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2.

Nowhere is this tool more easily identified than many of the affluent churches in America. Despite homelessness and poverty in the major cities of our country, churchgoers drive their BMWs and live in their spacious houses enjoying their backyard BBQ steaks with their fine wine never hearing a charge from the pulpit to take up their cross and truly sacrifice for the sake of others. Instead "we surround ourselves with those willing to ignore the questions with respect to our particular standard of living."

Sadly, groupthink is deployed in many facets of Christianity where homosexuality, war, liberal democrats, women in ministry, etc. are topics never broached or opponents are never engaged resulting in one group vilifying or even demonizing the other. We can always depend upon the group for "getting help when [deception is] not working."

Positively Speaking

Having laid out the framework and mechanisms that show the dangers of self-deception, chapters 6-8 provide wise counsel for helping us avoid the pitfalls of deception by adopting a balanced perspective toward the mechanisms that accommodate self-deception. In fact, Ten Elshof shows that these mechanisms we employ for deception are actually God-given and are a means to help us grow. For example, in chapter 6, he claims that though the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32), it may also kill us (Exodus 33:18). "Knowing the truth is, in general, extremely is not all-important" (p. 97), since "God has graciously arranged for us to be kept in the dark with respect to truths that would harm or destroy us" (p. 99). This, of course, does not make God a deceiver, but it does serve to show that not all that can be known is valuable to always know. He proffers "there's nothing at all wrong with encouraging the cancer patient's belief that she'll be healed." Even though the evidence may send us in the other direction, "God created us in such a way that we are not slaves to rational standards for considering evidence" (p. 99).

Moreover, the ability to switch perspectives makes forgiveness possible leading us to empathize with an offender. He writes:

If I can see the world from your point of view, however distorted it may be, I may see that your behavior toward me is motivated by deep fear or hurt that has nothing to do with me at all. If I were incapable of adoption any perspective but the true one, I would be incapable of seeing me from your (distorted) point of view. And it is precisely the ability to see myself from your pint of view that creates space in my heart to forgive you for your behavior towards me (p. 101).

Attention management gives me the ability to focus on those items that I deem crucial for the most basic tasks of life. Procrastination, along with keeping me from impulsive behaviors, allows me the opportunity to prioritize tasks, making first things first. A wise and balanced appropriation of the tools we use for deception actually helps us ease into life and mature emotionally and spiritually.

Finally, the author sets forth 3 "good ideas" for moving forward and 3 warnings about remaining immature. Good idea number 1) Sin must die, 2) groups are helpful but groupthink is harmful, and 3) true fellowship with God's Spirit is key to all growth. Three things to avoid are 1) hyper-authenticity, 2) undue suspicion of self-deception in others, and 3) undue self-doubt. He unpacks each of these with sensitivity and a sharp acuity that penetrates us all. I found my name on every page.


As I read through this fine book, Psalm 139:23-24 kept coming to mind. I could not shake David's meditative entreaty after reflecting on the majesty of God's character compared to the fragility and dependency of the human soul. He pleads:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

This was my meditation throughout I Told Me So: Self-deception and the Christian Life. I pray it will also be yours.
Beliefs and what we do in living them: Our secrets unveiled  Oct 25, 2009
If readers are to "...walk as children of the light" (Ephesians 5, quoted in Dallas Willard's Foreword), then they should benefit from reading Ten Elshof's book. The author discusses obtuse and sinewy paths of self-deception. Despite persistent introspection, false beliefs at the core self-deception may remain intransigent to contradiction. Why is this?

First, Ten Elshof assumes a universal capability to spot hypocrisy in self by conscience. Second, he proposes ways that rank-and-file human beings obscure or ignore what the conscience says. Included in the author's suggested processes to conceal deception are inattentiveness, procrastination, switching perspective, rationalization, and ressentiment.

The trouble caused by deception would be bad enough if it were perpetrated by an individual alone. But adding group-think to the mix compounds distortions associated with false perceptions. Group-think can supply an individual with authoritative nostrums to encapsulate deception, thus making the gulf separating belief and action too perilous to cross.

One such nostrum for the author is 'authenticity as virtue.' Aggravated by contemporaries elevating 'authenticity' to a rank congruent with virtue, the author spots how fast self-deception reached the top of the vice list in contemporary evangelical Christian circles. He proposes that by knocking authenticity from the virtues list self-deception will fall among vices, as well.

Group-think reinforces individuals in a collective conceit by ascribing malice to anyone exposing deception, particularly when group members perceive that exposing self-deception undermines group authority. Case exemplars and references to fictional characters from classic novels, who are caught in their own webs, intensify an effect that not one of us gets off clean.

A similar lens in text gauges self-deception across occasional narratives from Hebrew Scriptures and varied anecdotes from the author's experience. These references illustrate rationales for why even righteous protagonists, such as King David, failed to see their own lies until tragedy struck or another deal obviated further investigation.

Ten Elshof, an associate professor of philosophy at Biola University (LaMiranda, CA., USA), continues his study of introspection according to a perceptual-observational model, established in a prior monograph. However, this book is a hybrid text of philosophy, Christian anthropology, biblical hermeneutics, and autobiographical introspection. Composed in words and images that should appeal to readers with no formal philosophical training, 'I Told Me So' will summon a wider audience than academic philosophers of mind and science, psychologists, cultural historians and theologians.

Some individuals will actually read this monograph and package its contents for secondary audiences, the latter which become infected by ideas in the book that readers recount. For example, pastors and spiritual directors might read the book, and use its ideas to sharpen their attention at work. The author succeeds in reaching his aim with self-effacing humor while providing efficient clues to his own philosophy of person, virtue, and society.
short review  Jul 11, 2009
I loved this book.
I was a student of Dr. Ten Elshof's found it amazing that he could explain philosophy so that I could understand it. This book about a much more accessible topic than the classes that I took. Even here his clear, concise, effective teaching style [now writing style, I guess] makes the subject understandable and poignant.
I found it to be a quick read, but also quite deep. I found myself reading several passages aloud to my wife, underlining several parts, and stowing passages away mentally for future reflection.
i plan on buying copies for friends, then reading it again with them, so that we can all work together to mutually apply the truths presented.
A Skilled Exposition of The Dangers and Grace of Self-Deception  Jul 6, 2009
There are books and then there are books!

Some books are praised for their ability to lucidly explain previous old concepts.

Other books are praised not due it its readability (think about Kant's works) but for its originality and breathtaking insight.

This book is the best of two worlds: readable and originality

It is not that there are no books available on self-deception, but that there are very few Christian books that deal with this topic. If it was not for a chapter written in "Beyond Opinion" by Danielle Durant, I would not have realized the extent and the benefits of it in the Christian life.

But what Durant could only touch on, Elshof has brought to completion. One of the best features of this book is its readability! I found myself captivated as he lucidly explained how we tend to deceive ourselves in various scenarios. He uses illustrations upon illustrations that are humorous, but yet profound.

It was so good in fact that, when i took the book with me as I went shopping, I found myself, reading the book, instead of carrying out my goal of shopping. Also there were so many insights that i found myself, constantly sharing them friends and rethinking some of personal behaviors in the past and wondering if I has deceived myself or seeing how deception helped me cope in the past.

So if you are wondering if it is worth money, its worth five times the price - just about every page has something underlined or highlighted. And seeing that I have a large collection of books and only came upon this topic, about twice, for most individuals it will be a message challenging us to see self-deception in both a positive and negative light.

Why would we deceive ourselves?
He gives this example as to why someone might deceive themselves into thinking they were a better than average college professor:

"But suppose you could have that same experience of satisfaction without all the hard work of becoming (and continuing to be) a genuinely better than average college professor? If you could convince yourself that you were better than average, you could enjoy all the benefits of theft over honest toil. The one catch is that you'd have to do all of this convincing without catching yourself in the act. If you caught yourself in the lie, you'd miss out on the satisfaction that comes from believing, really believing, that you're doing a better-than-average job."

Here are some highlights from the book:

The ways we deceive ourselves include:
1. Attention Management
2. Procrastination
3. Perspective Switching
4. Rationalization
5. Ressentiment

After talking about the above methods, how we on our own deceive ourselves, he then examine how we deceive ourselves with the help of others. He argues that some deception, can only work if others are complicit in it. For example we can deceive ourselves into thinking that is not that bad not to assist the needy or poor, if everyone in our group is not doing it. He then switches focus and then shows how healthy groups can serve as a corrective to this.

Next he talks about the "grace" of self-deception. He points out the fact that God has made us, so that we are able to deceive ourselves. He then proceeds to ask, Why? One of the reasons he proposes is because we cannot handle the truth at certain moments in our lives and thus need to be self-deluded for a while until the proper moment in which we can deal with the truth.

He gives this example: "Suppose I learn that your sixteen-year-old has been smoking pot. I pick up the phone to call you and break the news. I don't want to. But I love you and I love your son. So I'm going to tell you this hard thing, and we're going to walk through this thing together as best as we can. You pick up the phone in tears, hardly table to talk. Before I can even broach the topic of your son, you tell me that you're in utter despair, that you've been drinking, and that you've unlocked the gun cabinet. You just can't think of a single reason to go on living. Clearly this is no time to carry on with my plan to break the news about your son. Someday you'll need to come to grips with the truth about your son. But not today. Not now. I certainly won't bring up the subject of your son."

This applies with our faith in a similar way, God allows many individuals to deceive themselves in thinking that sin against Him thing is "frivolous" thing. Just make sure you say, "God please forgive me" at the end of the day - is the attitude of some. God might have allowed this deception because if they were to truly see the gravitas of their sin they would be utterly crushed by that truth.

(An example of the above is Isaiah, who said : Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!")

He then talks about 3 strategies in dealing with Self-Deception
1. Die
2. Groups without Group Think
3. The Community of the Holy Spirit

And finally concludes with 3 warnings:
1.Beware of Hyper-Authenticity
2.Beware of Undue Suspicion of Self-Deception in others
3.Beware of Undue Self-Doubt

In the end he concludes by pointing out that "we do battle with self-deception, in part, by eliminating those aspects of our lives that require it." (and gives steps to deal with it!)

The book receives the highest of recommendations! It is one of the best books that I have ever read! Buy multiple copies for friends!
1. Lets Make a Deal
2. What? Why? Where?
3. Ho-To, Part 1: Attention Management, Rationalization and Ressentiment
4. Getting Help When It's Not Working
6. How-Not-To, Part 1: Giving Self-Deception a Demotion
7. How-Not-To, Part 2: Three Good Ideas
8. Three Warnings

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