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Written by: Trott, Jon    Posted on: 05/01/2003

Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics

Source: CCN

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          Taken from an article in the magazine: "CORNERSTONE"

                            Vol. 12 Issue 68

                          Written by: JON TROTT

  An exterior shot:  a glass pyramid,  rising upward  to  pierce  heaven.  Man's  finger touching God's,  Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel portrait with the order reversed.  Interior shot:  a  slow  pan  from  the  hundreds  of ultra-modern  white  girders holding up the glass "ceiling" to a choir and gigantic organ which, on cue, begin singing and playing.  Close-up: Robert Schuller of Garden Grove,  California's Crystal Cathedral,  reaches toward the camera and encourages the watcher to become a possibility thinker,  "a somebody in a world of  too  many  nobodies,  a  success  in  a  crowd  of failures."   For  evangelical  and  charismatic believers Robert Schuller is a well- known personality.  Thousands attend his Crystal Cathedral, while millions view Hour of Power,  which according to the Nielson ratings,  reaches more people  than any comparable program.  Since 1970 more than twenty thousand pastors  have  attended  Schuller's  Institute  for  Successful  Church Leadership.  As has been said, success is its own best argument.    On  a  deeper  level,  however,  Robert Schuller's emphasis on personal success and self-esteem has caused  consternation  and  controversy  among Christian theologians and philosophers. 


  Robert Schuller's  possibility  thinking  message  makes  him  the most believable and likeable success evangelist in America:   "Here's how it works.  When a person begins to believe it just might be possible, somehow, someway, somewhere, someday - then in that magic moment of Possibility Thinking three  miracles  occur:  (1)  Opportunity-spotting brain  cells  activate!  (2)  Problem-solving brain cells come to life (3) Determination-energizing chemicals are released into the blood stream!"   Heady stuff, and Rev. Schuller  goes on to claim that God has fantastic dreams  for  each  one  of us,  but that impossibility thinking blocks our ability to make them realities.  So, "Stop running away from opportunities and possibilities!  Run toward fulfillment, actualization, and success!"   Success is inevitably big and visible.  "You  are  suddenly  catapulted into  the spotlight.  The attention is never on the comfortable spectator, but on the energetic chance-taker in the center ring.  And the bigger  the gamble,  the  bigger the crowd of onlookers.  It is the risk-running racer on the track,  not the hot-dog-eating  grandstand  sitter  that  gets  the attention, the applause, the encouragement, and finally, the prize."   Schuller's  own  successes via possibility thinking range from the gift of a new Lincoln luxury car to his various building projects  (the  newest of  which  is  a  scripture-studded  sidewalk around the Crystal Cathedral dubbed the "Walk of Faith.")   Adding to possibility thinking  Rev. Schuller  in  1969  wrote,  "Every negative thinker I have ever met distrusts himself, belittles himself, and downgrades  himself.  This  lack  of self-worth lies at the root of almost every one  of  our  personal  problems."  The  subject  of  self-love,  or self-esteem became "something greater than possibility thinking."   Setting  a  prelude  for  what  was  some  thirteen years later to be a theological showdown,  Rev. Schuller claimed,  "if your  job  is  to  save souls,  you  can  do  this  when  you  liberate  them  from  the  sin  of self-degradation and lift them to salvation and self-esteem.     Come  to  the  understanding  that  self-will  is  sin,  self-love  is salvation!"  Schuller continues, noting that  self-love or  self- esteem is in  fact  "the deeper  ultimate will"  of mankind,  worded in 1982 as "the deepest of all human needs."   In  that  year,  "after  32  years  of  thinking,  praying,  testing, retesting," Rev. Schuller published  his definitive theological statement, SELF ESTEEM: THE NEW REFORMATION.  Chapter one sets the tone:   "What the Church needs, more than anything else,  is a new reformation - nothing  less  will  do!  Without  a  new  theological reformation,  the Christian church as the authentic body of Christ may not survive...Martin Luther faced this haunting and recurring question: 

  `Am I alone right and all the rest of the church wrong?'"   At numerous points he labels the reformation led by Luther and Calvin a "reactionary movement," and observes "that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be `God-centered' not `man- centered.'"   Sin and salvation are redefined by  Schuller  to  fit  the  self- esteem model.  The classical definition of sin as "rebellion against God" is,  we are told,  "not so much incorrect as it is shallow and  insulting  to  the human  being."  The  problem  is  rooted  in  "the  failure  of historical theology" to differentiate between "Adam's sin" and "original sin."  While Adam  sinned knowingly,  constituting a sin of rebellion against God,  the children of Adam were born non-trusting.  "By nature we are  fearful,  not bad."   To  illustrate,  Schuller  utilizes  what  might  be  called  golf ball theology.  The outer coating of white,  hard  plastic  he  likens  to  the rebellious,  disobedient acts man performs, "the externality of sin."  The real core,  the small hard rubber ball,  is man's  "negative  self-image." Stretched  rubber  bands  wrapped  tightly  around  the  golf  ball's core represent  "negative  reactions"  or  "anxieties,  fears,  and  negative emotions"  which  finally  appear as outward acts of rebellion,  though in reality go back to non-trust.    What we need in light of this,  then,  according  to  Schuller,  "is  a theology  of  salvation  that  begins and ends with a recognition of every person's hunger for glory."   "What does it mean to be saved?"  Rev. Schuller  asks, then answers his own  question.  "It means to be permanently lifted from sin (psychological self-abuse with all of its  consequences  as  seen  above)  and  shame  to self-esteem and its God-glorifying human need- meeting,  constructive,  and creative consequences."   Or,  for another definition,  "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."

                      SELF-ESTEEM AND THE GOSPEL

  What  influences  have  shaped  Rev. Schuller's  theology?  To  gain  a well-rounded  view,  we  talked  with  four  prominent Christian thinkers: Norman Geisler,  author of numerous philosophical works,  and professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary;  Paul Vitz,  associate professor of psychology at New York University,  and author of  Psychology as  Religion: The  Cult of Self-Worship;  Elliot Miller,  senior  literary consultant  for  Christian  Research  Institute  (CRI),  an  organization dedicated  to  the critique of cults and new religious movements;  William Kirk Kilpatrick,  associate professor of educational psychology at  Boston College,  and  author  of  Psychological Seduction: The Failure of  Modern Psychology.    For  the one  man  who  has  most  influenced  Rev. Schuller  there  is unanimous  agreement.  Says  Elliot Miller,  "Schuller  recognizes  Norman Vincent Peale as a primary source of inspiration for his own  `possibility thinking'  ideas.  Peale  in  turn was influenced by the founders of Unity School  of  Christianity,  and  Ernest Holmes,  the  father  of  Religious Science.  On  the back cover of a biography  entitled,  Ernest Holmes: His Life and Times,  Peale wrote,  `Only those who knew me as a boy can  fully appreciate  what  Ernest Holmes  did  for me.  Why,  he made me a positive thinker.'" Miller concludes,  "What Schuller is preaching can historically be traced to the mind science movement."   On  the  other  hand,  Miller does not believe Schuller has a clear- cut panthestic theology such as Mary Baker Eddy's or the  Fillmores'  (Unity's founders).  "He does have those tendencies,  but I don't think he develops it into a full-blown metaphysic.  His main problem is that he's trying  to conform  the  Bible  to  a  positive  thinking approach to life instead of allowing his positive message to be shaped by the Bible.  If  you  take  a pre-established  approach and shape the Bible to it,  what you end up with is a really bad distortion.  That's what he's done."   At the  center  of  that  distortion,  according  to  Norm Geisler,  is Schuller's  concept  of  sin.  "When  Schuller  defines sin as the lack of self-esteem,  that's an existential definition  not  a  moral  definition.  He's  cast  the  gospel  in terms of psychology and philosophy rather than terms of morality.  Sin is a moral rebellion against a moral God,  and  to neglect  or  diminish that element of sin is not to preach the true gospel of the New Testament.    "Heidegger and Bultmann make statements like Schuller's `Man isn't bad, just fearful.' The whole sense of `angst,' or `dread,' an objectless fear, that's typical modern  existentialist  language.  The  existential  gospel says  man  is  finite  and  insecure  and needs cosmic help.  That's quite different than man is sinful and rebellious and needs moral deliverence."   Paul Vitz  points  out  the  peculiarly  American  strains  in  Rev.  Schuller's  ideas.  "American  existentialism  is optimistic,  European is pessimistic,  but the assumptions  are  the  same.  A  lot  of  Schuller's self-esteem  thought  has  come from American optimism about the self-made man.  Obviously,  if one of the important ways you're supposed to be  made is  to be saved,  you're the self-made man.  It appeals to our vanity,  or basically, our narcissism."   There is common agreement among all those interviewed that salvation is the bottom line.  "The way he defines the  new  bith,  it  sounds  like  a psychological  process,  not  a  supernatural  process,"  observes Miller.  "Naturally people love it because he doesn't preach about  sin,  judgment, or anything negative, just about your own possibilities.    "He's  reduced  Christianity to popular terminology and thereby reduced the offense of the gospel," says Geisler. "But to avoid the offense of the gospel you have to avoid the gospel.  If you're not a sinner, you can't be saved.  Going from a state of insecurity to a state of security,  even  if Christ  happens  to be your cosmic Linus blanket,  is not going to get you saved."   "The precondition for the Gospel is knowing you're in  moral  rebellion against  the  God who is there,  and therefore stand condemned before him.  Otherwise  the  cross  of  Christ  doesn't  make  any  sense  -  its  full significance  is robbed."  Elliot Miller adds, "The whole biblical idea of the glory of God being the primary  concern  is  missing  from  Schuller's theology."      None  of  those interviewed felt Rev. Schuller  was being intentionally aberrant in his theology.  "His motives  may  be  good,  and  his  efforts noble," notes Geisler.  "Sincerity's not a test for truth, however, and if people don't know more when they hear him,  its questionable whether  they will be able to come to the point of salvation.  I do know,  though, there are follow-up programs in his church,  where people get more  deeply  into the Scriptures."   One  lesson  is  well  articulated by Geisler.  "We need to examine any teaching we hear in light of the Scriptures as the Bereans did in Acts 16.  We should ask not `How sincere are the people?' or  `How  many  are  being reached  and  helped?'  but `What precisely is the gospel being preached?' It's one thing to cloak the moral gospel in psychological terms so  people can understand it, it's another thing to reduce it to these terms."   Paul Vitz finds a lesson tinged with positive aspects. "One of the main appeals  to  Schuller's  message which is legitimate but needs to be dealt with differently is that the result of being a Christian should be a  life of joy.  It's not the joy of self-salvation;  it's the joy of being saved.  It's the difference between the receipt of an  enormous,  undeserved,  and glorious  gift,  and  the  self-satisfaction that comes from having done a good job on your own, which is at the center of pride."

                          WHAT ARE WORDS FOR?

  Perhaps the great truth illustrated by  the problems in Rev. Schuller's theology  is  this:  When  words are stripped of their historical meaning, they lose all meaning.    A general example might be the scripture, "God is love."  When  someone mentions  that  God  is love,  the hearer may be emotionally blessed.  But what does "God" mean?  Jehovah or Maharaj Ji?  And what does "love"  mean?  Anything  from  Paul's  definitions  in 1 Corinthians 13 to Bob Guccione's definition in Penthouse magazine.  The end result?  Meaninglessness.    So it goes with Schuller's redefinition of sin, and his muddying of the historical meaning of salvation.  Christianity threatens to become nothing more than what Francis Schaeffer  called "God-words,"  terms  that  sound Christian but mean whatever the hearer wants them to.    It is important for us as believers to respect biblical authority,  and in its historical context.  At bottom this  is  the  reason  we  must  not accept  a  gospel emphasizing salvation without sovereignty,  taking words filled with power and vital  meaning  and  squeezing  them  into  whatever cultural  mold  lies  closest at hand.  The Bible reveals the only reality there is,  and though the two-edged sword sometimes cuts its wearer,  it's only  because we need the stinging healing God's Word brings.  If the Word is only words,  it has no edge.  The Gospel becomes a self-serving  gospel of shallow emotionalism.    Robert Schuller  has  sincerely  erred,  and  those  of us who might be filled with self-righteous indignation would do  well  to  remember  where righteousness  comes  from.  We  should  pray  and  write  Rev. Schuller, lovingly pointing out his errors  in  mixing  Scripture  with  psychology.  Finally,  we  should  look to ourselves that our faith is not corrupted by the  leavening  influence  of  secular  culture,  but  influenced  by  the unchanging Word of God. 

                              End of Text

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