Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale are credited by most to be Christian ministers. Schuller is best known for his Crystal Cathedral and “The Hour of Power” television program. Norman Vincent Peale, now deceased, is one of the most widely read inspirational writers of all time. He was an ordained minister (he was also a Mason) and served as pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Without doubt they have influenced millions. Christians, of course, are among these millions. But, unfortunately, most Christians are unaware of the heretical teachings of these two men. This article will demonstrate that both Schuller and Peale, at the very least, command a most discerning eye and ear from Christians.
Schuller’s Gospel of Self-Esteem
Schuller rocked the Christian world with his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1982). “Self-esteem,” writes Schuller, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (p. 19). Even though he earlier stated that “the deepest of all human needs is salvation from sin and hell” (p. 14), he continues on this same page to offer redefinitions of sin and hell: “Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.” He then defines hell as “the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God,” and that “a person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem” (pp. 14-15).
Later on in the book Schuller redefines another most essential phrase: “To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image–from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust” (p. 68). It is then that we can pray, “Our Father in heaven, honorable is our name” (p. 69, emphasis original). This should come as no surprise to his readers, for earlier Schuller stated that “[w]here the sixteenth-century Reformation returned our focus to sacred Scriptures as the only infallible rule for faith and practice, the new reformation will return our focus to the sacred right of every person to self-esteem!” Finally, speaking of classical reformed theology and its insistence that we are rebellious sinners, he calls this “too shallow,” and states that “[i]t is precisely at this point that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be ‘God-centered,’ not ‘man-centered'” (pp. 63-64).
Schuller’s Possibility Thinking
Schuller’s concept of human success is grounded in what he calls “possibility thinking.” More recently Schuller has written a book titled, If It’s Going to Be, It’s Up to Me (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997). As the title suggests, what happens to us is grounded in what we think. Speaking of Matthew 7:13-14, wherein the Lord talks about the broad way leading to destruction, and the narrow way leading to life, Schuller corrupts the words of Jesus with this blasphemous interpretation: “What’s Jesus really saying? There are two tracks we can take. The Broad track, which leads to final futility, folly, and failure, is the track I call impossibility thinking…. Then there’s the narrow way…. I call it possibility thinking” (p. 16). In the following Schuller has again twisted the words of Christ to fit his paradigm, and in doing so rings of New Age thought: “He proclaimed these powerful words: ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21). This means there’s an Eternal Creative Force within you. Mind and matter are alive with an energy that can be tapped and channeled to joyful creativity” (p. 9).
Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking
Norman Vincent Peale’s spiritual package involves the self-esteem gospel as well as positive thinking to bring into existence things that one desires. The Power of Positive Thinking (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1956) states, “Go about your business on the assumption that what you have affirmed and visualized is true. Affirm it, visualize it, believe it, and it will actualize itself. The release of power which this procedure stimulates will astonish you” (p. 5). Peale describes this practice as “channeling spiritual powers through your thoughts” (introduction). This, however, is more akin to the “magical” practices of the Mind Science cults (practices that were later to be used by those in the Word-Faith Movement) than to the teaching of Scripture.
Peale’s Positive Imaging
A companion book to the above is Peale’s Positive Imaging (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1982). “Imaging,” says Peale, “is positive thinking carried one step further…. This releases powerful internal forces that can bring about astonishing changes in the life of the person who is doing the imaging” (pp. 1, 2). But these “forces” are not only “internal”: “If you consistently picture the best–not the worst–happening to you, powerful forces will work to bring about the thing you are visualizing…. Agnes Sanford, the famous healer, wrote in her book The Healing Light, ‘One way to understand a hitherto unexplored force of nature is to experiment with that force intelligently and with an open mind.’ Exactly so” (p. 186). Yet, Peale does not claim to be the first to teach this, Jesus was: “He was the first to teach the power of imaging. He told His disciples, quite plainly, that what they pictured with faith would come to pass” (p. 189).
Phil Donahue Interview
The May 12, 1997 issue of the Christian News carried an article on Peale. In it is contained a transcript of an interview of Peale by the famed talk-show host Phil Donahue. Peale’s answers to the pointed questions of Donahue reveal much. We start with a remark by Peale: “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine…. I’ve been to the Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere.” Donahue then rebutted, “But you’re a Christian minister; you’re supposed to tell me that Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life, aren’t you?” Peale countered, “Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere” (p. 11). I mentioned earlier in this article that Peale was a Mason. His remarks to Donahue are perfectly compatible with Masonic philosophy and theology.
A Warning to Christians
The apostle Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to “test all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). They were not to despise prophetic utterances (v. 20), but nonetheless were to be ever watchful and to weigh what was said. We may apply that practice to our situation today, seeing in it very wise counsel–TEST EVERYTHING! Just because someone claims to be a Christian and is ordained in a certain denomination does not guarantee that that person is setting forth solid Christian truth.
Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale have found a welcome reception for their gospels of self-esteem, from non-Christians and from Christians. Both of these men have cut the very legs out from under the Gospel of Christ, which is Good News because humanity is headed for hell, and humanity is sinful to the core, deserving the wrath of a holy and righteous God. Stay clear of–and warn others about–these different gospels, possibility thinking, positive thinking and positive imaging. They tickle the ears, but are not the truth.