A NEW REFORMATION? THE FAULTY GOSPEL OF ...
Written by: Gudel, Joseph P. Posted on: 04/24/2003
Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics
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Volume 8 Number 1 Spring 1985
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A NEW REFORMATION?
THE FAULTY GOSPEL OF ROBERT SCHULLER
By Joseph P. Gudel
Taken From The Magazine - "FORWARD" Spring 1985
`Why would any Christian write an article criticizing Dr.
Schuller? Isn't this being negative? Isn't this being unloving?'
These and similar questions are raised automatically by many people
whenever one Christian criticizes another Christian; especially
when the one criticized is as notable and well-liked as Dr. Robert
I believe the first question raised above will be answered as
we examine the content of Dr. Schuller's theology. To test or
criticize someone whose teachings are aberrational is not being
negative; in fact the Bible commands us to do this. When the
Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, he told them to
"test all things; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
The question still remains: "Is this unloving?" The most unloving
thing that we could do would be to close our eyes and turn our backs as
untold numbers of people are being led astray by false teaching. To
critique a Christian who has erred from the truth is the most loving
thing we could do for him. The Apostle James wrote: "My
brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him
back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his
way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins"
DR. SCHULLER'S THEOLOGY
Dr. Schuller has stated many times throughout his many years
of ministry that his one goal, his main desire, is to reach the
masses of unchurched people. When he and his wife first arrived in
California, they wondered how they could build a church from scratch.
"Who would come to our church?...Looking at some statistics, it was
very plain that half the people in the U.S. had no religious
affiliation. Our answer then came quickly and clearly. The
unchurched thousands - this was our opportunity. We would have to
impress and win the people who, for one reason or another, had never
before been interested in organized religion." 
So Dr. Schuller believes that his calling is that of a missionary.
"My ministry has, for over thirty years, been a mission to the
unbelievers."  And as we are about to see, he does not believe that
the way to reach them is by proclaiming the gospel.
How does Dr. Schuller believe we can reach the nonbelievers most
effectively? The most important thing is to find out what they want!
He did this for several years at the beginning of his California
ministry. And what did he discover? He found out that nonbelievers
wanted to have their emotional needs met: they did not want to hear
about the Bible or about their need for forgiveness of sins and
"As a missionary, I find the hope of respectful contact is based on
a `human-need' approach rather than a theological attack....The non-
churched who have no vital belief in a relationship with God will
spurn, reject, or simply ignore the theologian, church spokesperson,
preacher, or missionary who approaches with Bible in hand, theology on
the brain and the lips, and expects nonreligious persons to suspend
their doubts and swallow the theocentric assertions as fact." 
POSSIBILITY THINKING VS. NEGATIVE THINKING
Since Dr. Schuller will not preach the gospel from the pulpit,
nor teach from the Bible, what then is the message he propagates? Los
Angeles Times staff writer Bella Stumbo, after an extended interview
with Dr. Schuller, wrote: "In short, Robert Schuller believes that
God placed him on this Earth to preach possibility thinking." 
Anyone who is familiar with Dr. Schuller's writing or who has listened
to him speak will realize that this is not an exaggeration.
Throughout his ministry Dr. Schuller has been outspoken in warning
his listeners about the dangers of negative thinking. He asks his
audience to consider "that dirty ten-letter-word `impossible.' When
uttered aloud, this word is devastating in its effect. Thinking
stops. Progress is halted."  Elsewhere he states: "Whatever you do,
never verbalize a negative emotion." 
The gospel that he wants to share with his unchurched audience is
that they can do anything that they want to, that everything is
possible for a "possibility thinker"
There is no problem or situation that cannot be solved. 
...success awaits the man who will "never say never." 
...this is what I think our ministry is all about. Helping people
realize they can become more than they ever thought they could be! 
To underscore just how vitally important this message is, Dr.
Schuller once wrote: "I believe in positive thinking. It is almost as
important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  In addition, the
titles to some of his books are revealing" Move Ahead With Possibility
Thinking, You Can Become the Person You Want to Be, It's Possible, and
Become a Possibility Thinker Now.
THE GOSPEL OF SUCCESS
Closely connected with his emphasis on "possibility thinking" is
his teaching concerning success. Dr. Schuller believes that God wants
us to succeed in whatever we do.
"God's will for you is clear....God wants you to succeed. He
has promised to "crown your efforts with success!" (Prov. 3:6).  Who
owns the cattle on a thousand hills, mines of ore that have never been
discovered, and is waiting to make millionaires out of simple farm boys?
Take Christ as your Partner and give Him a chance to work the miracle He
"I am come that you might have life - and have it more abundantly."
If you fail, you do so because you choose to fail! 
Although in recent years Dr. Schuller has somewhat tempered
this teaching, it is still one of his major tenets.
SELF-ESTEEM: A NEW REFORMATION
The prime focus of Dr. Schuller's ministry today concerns
the self-esteem of the individual. This was reflected in most of his
earlier books, but was never specifically formulated until 1982,
when he wrote SELF-ESTEEM: THE NEW REFORMATION. Dr. Schuller believes
that virtually every problem a person has, every ill that plagues
society, all sin and evil in the world, is a result of people
having low self-esteem. Therefore, our greatest need is to have our
"Self-esteem then, or "pride in being a human being," is the
single greatest need facing the human race today.  I strongly
suggest that self-love is the ultimate will of man - that what you
really want more than anything else in the world is the awareness that
you are a worthy person.  Do not fear pride: the easiest
job God has is to humble us. God's almost impossible task is to keep us
believing every hour of every day how great we are as his sons and
daughters on planet earth." 
According to Schuller, in order to reach the multitudes of
nonbelievers today, a new reformation is needed, a reformation based on
building up their self-esteem. This reformation must be
anthropocentric, that is, man-centered, not theocentric, or God-
centered. Indeed, Dr. Schuller believes that classical theology
seriously errs in insisting that all theology be centered around God
instead of around man. 
One might legitimately ask why Dr. Schuller believes classical
theology errs so gravely. His answer: Luther and Calvin were
listening to the wrong person! He asks the following rhetorical
"Luther and Calvin, we know, looked to the Book of Romans in the
Bible for their primary inspiration. Were they, unknowingly, possessed
more by the spirit of St. Paul than by the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Are
we not on safer grounds if we look to our Lord's words to launch our
The implication is that what Jesus said in the gospels
overrides everything else in the Bible. For Schuller then, some parts
of the Bible (i.e., what Jesus said as recorded in the gospels) have
more authority than other areas of the Bible. In other parts of SELF-
ESTEEM: THE NEW REFORMATION, Dr. Schuller is more explicit.
"But can anything be above the Scriptures? Yes, the Eternal
Word transcends the written Word. Christ is the Word made flesh.
Christ is the Lord over the Scriptures; the Scriptures are not
Lord over Christ...The Bible must not compete with the Lord for the
seat of glory.
We are "saved by the blood," not "by the Book." We believe in the
holy Trinity, not a holy Quadrangle. 
Christ must be, at all times, Lord over the Scriptures." 
SIN AND MAN'S NATURE
For Dr. Schuller sin, a subject he does not like to discuss, has a
definition very different from the one most Christians give. "I am
convinced that the deepest of all human needs is salvation from sin and
hell....We come now to the problem of semantics. What do I mean by
sin? Answer: Any human condition or act that robs God of glory by
stripping one of his children of their right to divine dignity. I could
offer another complementing answer, "Sin is that deep lack of trust that
separates me from God and leaves me with a sense of shame and
unworthiness." I can offer still another answer: "Sin is any act or
thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-
esteem."  Any analysis of `sin' or `evil'...that fails to see the
lack of self-dignity as the core of the problem will prove to be too
shallow.  Classical Reformed Theology declares that we are conceived
and born rebellious sinners.
But that answer is too shallow. It ignores the tough question: Why
should love-needing persons resist, rebel against, and reject
beautiful love? The answer? We are born non-trusting. Deep down we
feel we are not good enough to approach a holy God. 
By implication then, man is basically good according to Dr.
Schuller. His only problem is that he was born with a disability:
this disability, or original sin, is a low self-esteem or lack of trust.
"If only we could love ourselves enough to dare approach God....But
we feel too unworthy. So one layer of negative behavior is laid upon
another until we emerge as rebellious sinners. But our rebellion is a
reaction, not our nature. By nature we are fearful, not bad.
Original sin is not a mean streak; it is a non-trusting
inclination....do not say that the central core of the human soul is
wickedness. If this were so, then truly, the human being is
totally depraved. But positive Christianity does not hold to human
depravity, but to human inability." 
Dr. Schuller does not believe or teach that we are
ultimately responsible for our sins. He attempts to distinguish
between what he calls "Adam's Sin" and "Original Sin." Adam, created
sinless, knew better. Only he deserved a sermon on sin, because he
alone had a choice. Adam "...made a choice, he chose. He knew
better. His children, however, were born with a disadvantage. They
didn't have that choice." 
Because we are basically fearful, but not bad, and because we need
to have our self-esteem lifted, Jesus never criticized people or called
them sinners, according to Dr. Schuller. Instead, he always tried to
"He never did call them `sinners.' He saw great possibilities in
each of these men. How He tried to give them the sense of self-worth
and dignity that they deserved! After all, they were human beings,
descendants of God.  Christ always tried to give man's self-image a
boost. When he met immoral people He never them sinners. Never!
 He believed in the dignity of the individual. So He never called
a person a sinner. He always saw the individual as a saint." 
So Dr. Schuller believes that if Jesus never called people
sinners, then he won't either.
MAN AND GLORY
The end result that Dr. Schuller hopes to accomplish is to
show everyone that they are all children of God because they are all
made in His image. "The Father-hood of God is built into our
subconscious,"  all we really need is enough self-esteem to
accept this fact. But it does not stop there. Because "we were created
to be princes and princesses,"  we have an innate "thirst for
glory." Dr. Schuller believes that "what we need is a theology of
salvation that begins and ends with a recognition of every person's
hunger for glory."  Dr. Schuller believes that "what we need is a
theology of salvation that begins and ends with a recognition of every
person's hunger for glory." 
"The Christian faith and life is a gospel designed to glorify
human beings for the greater glory of God."  The final goal is that
"we can pray, `Our Father in heaven, honorable is our name.'" 
SALVATION AND THE GOSPEL
In concluding our examination of Dr. Schuller's theology we must
see what he has to say about salvation and the gospel. First of
all, he stresses that people will not respond to the gospel until they
recognize that they are worthy of God. "The unsaved person cannot
perceive himself as worthy of `divine grace' and hence rejects it." 
In fact, Dr. Schuller believes that the ultimate sin is in
feeling unworthy about yourself: "The most serious sin is the one that
causes me to say, `I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine
sonship if you examine me at my worst.'" 
Dr. Schuller believes, then, that God wants to build up
man's self-esteem and restore the lost glory that is our inherent
right as children of God, as people "created to be princes and
princesses."  "God's ultimate objective is to turn you and me into
self-confident persons." 
In accord with this, Dr. Schuller believes that any proclamation of
the gospel that puts "a person down before it attempts to lift him
up" is dangerous.  He goes on to state that "you are not
preaching the Gospel unless you make people happy, because the Gospel
is good news." 
Finally, what is salvation in Schuller's opinion? What does it mean
to be "born again"?
"What does it mean to be saved? It means to be permanently lifted
from sin (psychological self-abuse with all of its consesquences as
seen above) and shame to self-esteem and its God-glorifying
human need-meeting, constructive, and creative consequences. 
Salvation is defined as rescue from shame to glory.  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." 
And what is the real effect of being saved? "Glory restored is the
real fruit of salvation." 
A BIBLICAL CRITIQUE
A FAULTY FOUNDATION
A building is only as strong as its foundation, and every
argument stands or falls on its premise(s). In Dr. Schuller's case we
can readily see that his entire ministry is based upon a defective
premise. What is it? He has knowingly based and structured his
theology on what people wanted to hear! It began with him going from
door to door, asking people what type of church they would like to
attend.  It has continued to this day, albeit more sophisticatedly,
with Dr. Schuller hiring firms like the Gallup Poll to conduct surveys
on such pertinent topics as self-esteem of the American people. 
Instead of asking himself what the people needed, he asked what they
Sometimes these two are in agreement, but more often they are not.
Instead of listening to the people, or even to himself, he
should have asked God what the people needed and how he could help them
Imagine someone like the prophet Jonah going to Nineveh and telling
the people only the good things that they wanted to hear. After all, he
could have reasoned, thay would never listen to some foreigner
preaching negative sermons. Why, none of the Ninevites even believed
in the Jewish Scriptures. The result of this type of approach would
have meant the destruction of Nineveh and all of its inhabitants.
A theology based upon opinion polls rather than upon God's Word is
a direct fulfillment of what the Apostle Paul warned against:
2 Tim. 4:3
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine,
but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears,
they will heap up for themselves teachers in accordance to their own
The teaching advanced by Dr. Schuller is clear. You can be
whatever you want to be, all you have to do is believe in yourself.
Any and every problem you encounter can be overcome, just never quit.
"Set your goal, define your role, and pay your toll."  "What
you can conceive, you can achieve."  And above all, never verbalize
a negative thought or admit that something is impossible.
As we have seen, the teaching of "possibility thinking" is
a cornerstone of Dr. Schuller's theology. And in and of itself, there
is nothing wrong with this. After all, there are many biblical verses
which affirm this. For example:
"For with God nothing will be impossible"
Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to
him who believes."
There are several problems, however, with how Dr. Schuller
presents this. First of all, his emphasis is virtually
indistinguishable from the same type of teachings given in secular
circles (e.g., Dale Carnegie's HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE
PEOPLE). The only difference is the fact that the biblical promises of
God's help apply only to those people who have a living
relationship with God; that is, people who have accepted Jesus Christ
as their Lord and Savior. But Dr. Schuller admits that the main group
of people he is trying to reach are non-Christians! Therefore, his
"possibility thinking" teachings from the Bible really would not apply
Second, in teaching that we can do anything that we can dream of,
Dr. Schuller totally ignores the fact that we do have limitations.
All of us are limited by our own natural abilities and by outside
influences over which we have no control.
A final flaw in this type of teaching is that there are times when
we must say unpleasant things or "verbalize negative emotions."
According to Dr. Schuller, the Apostle Peter would probably be one
of the world's greatest possibility thinkers. Why? Remember when Jesus
began to tell His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer
many things and be killed (cf. Matt. 16:21)? What was Peter's
reaction? He took Jesus aside and lectured Him on the dangers of
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be
it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to you!"
We all know the rest of the story. Jesus rebuked Peter for not
setting his "mind on God's interests, but man's." Elsewhere, Jesus
actually commands us, under certain conditions, to verbalize negative
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you,
rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him."
The danger of Dr. Schuller's teaching on "possibility thinking"
is that he only shows one side of the coin and thus distorts God's
THE GOSPEL OF SUCCESS
In attempting to marshal together biblical evidence to back his
claims that God wants us to succeed in whatever we do, Dr. Schuller has
taken one verse after another out of context. For example: "God's
will for you is clear....God wants you to succeed. He has promised to
`crown your efforts with success!'" (Prov. 3:6). 
It is no accident that Dr. Schuller quotes Proverbs 3:6 from The
Living Bible, which is a paraphrase, not a translation. Proverbs 3:6,
according to the Hebrew Masoretic text, reads: "In all thy ways
acknowledge Him. And He will direct thy paths."  The Hebrew word
for "direct" is "yashar," meaning "To go straight or direct in
the way" or "to make (a way) straight."  Thus God is promising to
guide us as we walk with Him, not to make us succeed in everything we
Many examples could be cited to show Dr. Schuller's frequent
distortion of scriptural passages in order to justify his theological
positions. For instance, what does Dr. Schuller say Jesus really meant
when He taught His disciples to pray for their "daily bread" (Matt.
"`Give us our daily bread.' What does the word bread mean? Bread
refers to life's basic needs. God doesn't promise that we will
have the crust....What is the crust that God offers? We call it
possibility thinking.  `Give us this day our daily bread.' God will
give us what we need. And what is that? It is creative, inspiring,
possibility-pregnant ideas." 
Dr. Schuller is guilty of even more blatant distortion when he
equates the "rivers of living water" Jesus referred to in John
7:38 with self-esteem.
"And I can feel the self-esteem rising all around me and within
me, `Rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of
anyone who believes in me' (John 7:38, TLB). I'll really feel good
about myself." 
Did Jesus really equate "rivers of living water" with "self-
esteem"? The Apostle John (who I think was in a better position to
tell us what Jesus meant than Dr. Schuller is) tells us exactly what
Jesus was saying:
But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in
Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because
Jesus was not yet glorified.
More examples could be cited showing how Dr. Schuller takes verses
out of context and/or distorts their meaning, but these will suffice.
One of the most lamentable aspects of Dr. Schuller's "Gospel of
Success" is in the effect it can have on people who genuinely try but
fail. For people like this I cannot think of anything more pernicious
than to tell them that "if you fail, you do so because you choose to
fail."  William Kirk Kilpatrick, associate professor of
educational psychology at Boston College, makes the following
"If you lead people to believe that by the power of their mind they
can become rich and change their life, and if in fact that doesn't
happen, not only are they going to feel frustration but also more guilt
for not having enough faith." 
Christians may oftentimes be successful in their earthly endeavors,
but God has not promised this to us. In fact, many of the greatest men
and women of faith were total failures
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