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This article was put on The Christian BBS by permission from Christian

Research Institute-Canada, and was taken from:

"Forward" Now Called "Christian Research Journal"

Volume 8 Number 1 Spring 1985

You may obtain a yearly subscription by writing to:

Christian Research Institute

P.O. Box 500, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693-0500

U.S.A. (714)855-9926

or in Canada write to:

Christian Research Institute-Canada

P.O. Box 3216, Station B

Calgary, Alberta T2P 3C5

Canada (403)277-7702

Note: If you want to reproduce this article you must get in contact with

this organization and get permission as I have done. I do not hold to

the copywriting of Christian literature but it is the law and the

Christian attitude should be one of complying to the laws of the land as

much as is within our power to do so without comprising the Word of God.

If you do write to them be sure to mention where you got their info from

as I am sure that they would like to know that they are reaching people

through this board. Permission to reprint was obtained through the

Calgary branch.




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"

(James 5:19-20).


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." [1]

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." [2] 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." [3]


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." [4]

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." [5] Elsewhere he states: "Whatever you do,

never verbalize a negative emotion." [6]

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. [7]

...success awaits the man who will "never say never." [8]

...this is what I think our ministry is all about. Helping people

realize they can become more than they ever thought they could be! [9]

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." [10] 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.


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). [11] 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! [13]

Although in recent years Dr. Schuller has somewhat tempered

this teaching, it is still one of his major tenets.


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 increased.

"Self-esteem then, or "pride in being a human being," is the

single greatest need facing the human race today. [14] 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. [15] 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." [16]

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. [17]


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

reformation?" [18]

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. [19]

Christ must be, at all times, Lord over the Scriptures." [20]


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." [21] 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. [22] 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. [23]

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 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." [25]

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." [26]

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

uplift them.

"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. [27] Christ always tried to give man's self-image a

boost. When he met immoral people He never them sinners. Never!

[28] He believed in the dignity of the individual. So He never called

a person a sinner. He always saw the individual as a saint." [29]

So Dr. Schuller believes that if Jesus never called people

sinners, then he won't either.


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," [30] 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," [31] 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." [32] 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." [33]

"The Christian faith and life is a gospel designed to glorify

human beings for the greater glory of God." [34] The final goal is that

"we can pray, `Our Father in heaven, honorable is our name.'" [35]


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." [36]

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.'" [37]

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." [38] "God's ultimate objective is to turn you and me into

self-confident persons." [39]

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. [40] He goes on to state that "you are not

preaching the Gospel unless you make people happy, because the Gospel

is good news." [41]

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. [42]

Salvation is defined as rescue from shame to glory. [43] 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." [44]

And what is the real effect of being saved? "Glory restored is the

real fruit of salvation." [45]



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. [46] 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. [47]

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

obtain it!

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." [48] "What

you can conceive, you can achieve." [49] 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:

Luke 1:37

"For with God nothing will be impossible"

Mark 9:23

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

to them.

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

negative thinking.

Matt. 16:22

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


Luke 17:3

"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



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). [50]

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." [51] The Hebrew word

for "direct" is "yashar," meaning "To go straight or direct in

the way" or "to make (a way) straight." [52] 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. [53] `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." [54]

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." [55]

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:

John 7:39

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." [56] 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." [57]

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 in the world's eyes (cf. Heb.

11:35-40). Worldly success may be a by-product of obedience to God, but

it should never be our primary goal.


We must first address the question, is it wrong to have

high self-esteem? The biblical answer is no! In the book of Genesis

we are told that man was created in God's own image (Gen. 1:26-27).

In other places the Scriptures state that "we are the temple of the

living God" (2 Cor. 6:16), and that we are "sons and daughters" of God

(2 Cor. 6:18). In Eph. 2:10 we are told that "we are His

workmanship." The word "workmanship" comes from the Greek word

"poiema," from which we get our English word "poem." Just as a poem is

an artistic expression of the poet, so we are artistic expressions of

God. How unique and special is each person? When a baby is

conceived, it will be a combination of the genetic content of one of

the mother's 400 ova with those of one of, say, 360 million

spermatozoa released at the same time. The child you conceived might

have been any one of about 144 billion distinct distinct human beings,

assuming that all of the spermatozoa really had an equal chance

to fertilize that ovum. The slightest difference in the timing of the

sex act would have tipped the odds in favor of a different

spermatozoon - and resulted in a different child. No other couple could

produce a child identical to yours. [58]

Truly King David was right when he proclaimed:

Ps. 139:14

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.

There must be a proper balance in our evaluation of man. We need

to see ourselves as God sees us. How does God view man? He sees

us as beings of tremendous value and worth. In John 3:16 the word "so"

is often overlooked: God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for

our sins, that we could be reconciled with Him.

Once again, however, there is a flip-side to the coin. God sees us

as His creations (not as His peers) who have willingly rebelled against

Him. Dr. Schuller rejects this fact in his evaluation. He believes

that the greatest need of man is having his self-esteem built up,

[59] therefore we should never say anything derogatory about man.

Man's main goal, he believes, should be seeking to have his self-

esteem built up high enough that he can respond to God's love. The

only reason people do not accept God is because they have a low self-

esteem and thus fear Him. [60]

The main question is, "Is Dr. Schuller's analysis of man's

problem correct?" We will consider the scriptural answer to this in the

following sections dealing with "Man's Nature" and "Jesus and Sinners."

Right now, though, I believe that simply by looking at the evidence

before us we can see that Dr. Schuller's logic is faulty.

Lewis Smedes, a professor at Fuller Seminary and the author of

Love Within Limits, makes the following cogent observation:

I have seen a hit man of the Mafia who says "I feel very good

about myself." I have talked to prostitutes who have felt very good

about themselves, and I'm not judging them, but I have talked to

saints who felt very badly about themselves. The crux in this whole

business is not whether we feel good about ourselves, though that is

important, but what is the truth about ourselves? [61]

If Dr. Schuller is correct, if the only reason we run from God

is because we have a low self-esteem and fear Him, then people who

have a high self-esteem should all become Christians and also

should not sin anymore! But we know from practical experience that this

is not the case.

William Kirk Kilpatrick states that a high self-esteem often

inhibits people from coming to God:

Like the rich man who will have such a hard time getting into

heaven, his riches protect him from the knowledge of how utterly

dependent on God he is. In the same way the man who is brimfull of

self-esteem is unable to see how utterly broken he is, how we all are.


It is both interesting and significant that recent psychological

studies have confirmed what the Bible has always taught: man's problem

is not low self-esteem but rather pride. While at times this is

expressed in low self-esteem it is also very often manifested as an

inflated self-image.

Dr. David Myers, a professor of psychology at Dr. Schuller's alma

mater, Hope College, comments on this in his article, "The Inflated


"What an intriguing irony it is that so many Christian writers

are now echoing the old prophets of humanistic psychology at the very

time that research psychologists are amassing new data concerning the

pervasiveness of pride. Indeed it is the orthodox theologians, not

the humanistic psychologists, who seem closest to the truth that is

glimpsed by social psychology." [63]

Church history also refutes Dr. Schuller's teaching on self-esteem.

He believes that we are entering a "new age of church growth" and

that the only way the Church can succeed is to build up people's

allegedly low self-esteem. [64] Dr. Schuller must answer a significant

question: why didn't the early Church preach a theology of self-

esteem? They were virtually surrounded by non-believers, people whose

greatest need, according to Dr. Schuller, was to have their self-

esteem lifted. However, the early Church followed the example of Paul,

and preached "Christ and Him crucified," not any gospel of self-esteem

(e.g., 1 Cor. 2:2; 1:18,23; Rom. 3:10-18). We find no examples in the

preaching of the apostles that man's basic problem was a low self-

esteem. Instead we find that it is a need for forgiveness of his sins.


As we have seen, Dr. Schuller believes that the Reformers

seriously erred in centering their theology around God instead of

around man. The verse people like Dr. Schuller usually cite to

support this teaching is Mark 12:31, "You shall love your neighbor as

yourself." Their argument is that we must first learn to love

ourselves, to have our own self-esteem built up, and only then can we

love others.

But what is the context of this verse? A scribe came up to Jesus

and asked Him what was the greatest commandment.

Mark 12:29-31

Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:

`Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. `And you shall

love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with

all your mind, and with all your strength.'" This is the first


"And the second, like it, is this: `You shall love your neighbor

as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Two things stand out from Jesus' words. The first is that,

according to Jesus, our theology must be primarily God-centered not

man-centered, because the first commandment was to love God with

everything we have.

The second thing that stands out is that we were not commanded

to love ourselves. We are commanded to love our neighbor just as

we love ourselves. This agrees with what the Apostle Paul wrote: "For

no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it" (Eph.


In truth, a theology that is centered around man inescapably

becomes a not-so-subtle attempt at self-worship. A theology that

is based on self-esteem is really only a new narcissism. In `Beyond

Personality', which was first published at the same time Dr.

Schuller was an undergraduate at Hope College, C.S. Lewis

succinctly critiqued and destroyed any attempt at a theology based on

man's self-esteem.

Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go

to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what

you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first

step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real,

new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is

His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come

when you are looking for Him....Look for yourself, and you will find

in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, and decay.

But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else

thrown in. [65]


Along with telling us that our greatest need is a high self-esteem

and that our theology must be man-centered, Dr. Schuller has also said

that we do not have to worry about pride.

Do not fear pride: the easiest job God has is to humble us. [66]

But the Bible warns believers against pride and exhorts Christians to

practice humility as a safeguard against pride:

PROV. 16:18

Pride goes before destrction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

1 PET. 5:5

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.

Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with

humility, for "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

In the book of Isaiah we find that Lucifer, the "star of the

morning," was cast down from his eminent position because of the great

pride that he possessed (Isa. 14:10-14). His end result was to be

"thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit" (v. 15).


One of the reasons Dr. Schuller has drawn so much criticism is that

his theology and teachings are not based on the Bible. In fact, as we

have just seen, they are oftentimes diametrically opposed to what

the Bible says in context. He believes that Jesus' words are the only

safe basis within which we can build any theological framework. [67]

In one place in SELF-ESTEEM: THE NEW REFORMATION he writes:

A simple and very wise man once said: "If you really want to know

to a person's deepest desire and most conscientious concern, study,

if you can, his unvarnished prayers. Stealthily approach him in his

intimate closet and try to overhear what he is really praying about

passionately." [68]

I think that this is excellent advice. To find out what our view

of the Bible should be, we will look at what Jesus said about Scripture,

and we will begin by looking at one of the most passionate prayers

Jesus ever uttered, His prayer to His Father just before His passion and


In John 17 Jesus is praying for His disciples, whom He will soon

be leaving. He asks His Father to: "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy

word is truth" (John 17:17).

Jesus evidently believed that all of God's word is truth, not just

part of it! Just before this, Jesus stated that he had guarded His

disciples and that none of them had perished except Judas, "the son

of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (verse 12). Again,

Jesus plainly believed that whatever the Scriptures said would take

place, would.

In John 10:35 Jesus stated that "the Scripture cannot be broken."

In Matt. 5:18 He said "until heaven and earth pass away, not the

smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is


Dr. Schuller's grave error is that he attempts to make a

dichotomy between Jesus' words and the rest of the Bible. He claims

to base his teachings and his hope for "new reformation" on what

Jesus said. In reality, he simply accepts the sayings of Jesus that he

agrees with and ignores the rest!


Perhaps the most insidious aspect of Dr. Schuller's teaching method

is the way he redefines biblical terms at will. A prime example of

this is how he redefines sin. According to Dr. Schuller, sin is

anything that robs us of our "divine dignity" - or, sin is a

"deep lack of trust." [69]

According to the Bible, though, sin is rebellion and lawlessness on

man's part.

...sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). All

unrighteousness is sin (1 John 5:17). Jesus gave another definition of

sin. He said that when the Holy Spirit came, He would convict the

world "concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me" (John

16:9). Thus sin is defined as any refusal to believe in Jesus.

Dr. Schuller believes that we should never discuss people's

sins, because to do so would be an insult to their dignity.

R.C. Sproul addresses this type of attitude in his book IN SEARCH OF

DIGNITY: There is a road to redemption where every human being has

dignity. Many reject this road because they think Christianity

destroys self-esteem, disparaging human value with woeful denunciations

of the evil of man. Preachers rail against corruption, calling

man a wretched sinner. Did not David cry out, "I am a worm and not a

man" and Job grovel in the dust moaning, "I hate myself"?

These grim statements make it seem that Christianity has a low view

of human dignity. But the point often overlooked is that the character

of sinfulness in no way diminishes the worth of persons. It is

because humanity is so valuable that God takes sin seriously...

By taking sin seriously we take man seriously. Evil may mar

the divine image and cloud its brilliance, but it can never be erased.

The most obscene symbol in human history is the cross; yet in its

ugliness it remains the most eloquent testimony to human dignity. [70]

If we Christians, especially the leaders who are shepherds in

the Church, are ever going to help anyone, we must start by being

honest. This means that we do not close our eyes to mankind's true

condition. We need to have the courage to speak "the truth in love"

(Eph. 4:15).


What is man's true condition? Dr. Schuller believes that man

is basically good. "By nature we are fearful, not bad." [71] What does

the Bible say?

Rom. 3:10-12

As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There

is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have

all gone out of the way; They have together become unprofitable; There

is none who does good, no, not one."

Rom. 7:18

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells;

for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do

not find.


Perhaps one of the most incredible statements Dr. Schuller has

ever made is that Jesus never called anyone a sinner. He reasons that

if Jesus never people sinners, then neither should he. This is a

perfect example of how Dr. Schuller picks and chooses from among

the words of Jesus, accepting only what he likes and leaving the rest.

Did Jesus ever call people sinners? Yes, many times.

John 8:24

"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you

do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."

John 8:7

He who is without sin sin among you, let him be the first to throw a

stone at her.

Mark 2:17

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no

need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call

the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

Jesus knew what type of a heart each person had (cf. John 2:24-


If they were genuinely repentant for their sins, He would forgive

them and then lift them up. But if they were hardhearted and

antagonistic, Jesus would speak very harshly to them. Dr. Schuller

does not believe this:

"Jesus, when he confronted secular unbelievers as well as

conspicuous sinners, still refrained from insulting or embarrassing

them. He left their dignity intact." [72]

Once again Dr. Schuller purposely ignores the parts of the Bible

that he finds distasteful.

John 8:44

"You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father

you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not

stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a

lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father

of it.

Matt. 23:16,27

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever swears by the temple,

it is nothing; but whoever swears be the gold of the temple, he is

obliged to perform it." "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,

hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear

beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all


Dr. Karl Menninger, a renowned psychiatrist and the head of the

Menninger Clinic, wrote a book over ten years ago entitled WHATEVER

BECAME OF SIN? His thesis was that the reason so many people are

confused and lost is because people no longer think of themselves as

sinners. He concluded that if we really want to help people, then we

should "tell it like it is," we should point out their sin to them so

they can turn from it and be healed.

"Some clergymen prefer pastoral counseling of individuals to the

pulpit function. But the later is a greater opportunity to both

heal and prevent. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,

indeed, and there is much prevention to be done for large numbers

of people who hunger and thirst after direction toward righteousness.

Clergymen have a golden opportunity to prevent some of the accumulated

misapprehensions, guilt, aggressive action, and other roots of later

mental suffering and mental disease.

How? Preach! Tell it like it is. Say it from the pulpit. Cry

it from the housetops." [73]

Man's greatest need is not to have his self-esteem built up or to

have his "lost glory" restored. His greatest need is to have his sins

forgiven and thus be reconciled to God! The joy of forgiveness and

of restored fellowship with our Creator is the greatest joy man can

experience. The person whose sins have been forgiven can then sing out

with King David:

Ps. 32:1-2

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is

covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute

iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

To avoid mentioning sin is to preach a distorted Gospel. R.C.

Sproul eloquently summarizes this as follows:

The preacher who smiles benignly from his pulpit, assuring us that

"God accepts you just the way you are" tells a monstrous lie. He

sugarcoats the gospel of love with saccharine grace. God does not

accept the arrogant; He turns His back to the impenitent. He

maintains love toward His fallen creatures, inviting them back to

restored fellowship, but strings are securely attached as we must come

on bended knee. [74]


Many times throughout his writings Dr. Schuller asserts that we are

all children of God. Is that what the Bible teaches? No, the Bible

teaches that we are God's creation, it does not state that we are His

children by nature. Because we have rebelled willingly against God, we

are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). Only by asking Jesus

into our lives do we become adopted children of God: "But as many as

received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even

to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12; also cf. Romans 8:15,23;

Galatians 4:5).

There are some Scriptures referring to the glory believers will

possess (e.g., Col. 3:4; Rom. 9:23; John 17:22). However, any "glory"

ascribed to believers is glory derived from Jesus Christ and is a

reflection of the divine glory.

Because of his misunderstanding of man's nature and man's

greatest need, Dr. Schuller has developed a doctrine that teaches the

glorification of the human being. Christianity with its doctrine of

salvation is a faith designed by God for the glory of the human being

for the greater glory of God. [75] Because of this we can pray, "O God,

I am great." [76]

It is no coincidence that Dr. Schuller rarely cites Scripture

passages to buttress his teachings. The reason is twofold: he does not

believe in the total authority of the Bible, and (as this article

demonstrates) the Bible often contradicts what he teaches! What do

the the Scriptures tell us about glory? Is it something we deserve

because "we were created to be princes and princesses?" [77] Or is it

something that only God deserves? The Bible is explicit on this.

Rom. 11:36

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be

glory forever. Amen.

Luke 2:14

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will

toward men!"

Isa. 42:8

I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give

to another, nor My praise to graven images. What can we boast of,

then? What can we glory in? The Bible tells us to "glory in Christ

Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3).

Elsewhere the Bible states "But he who boasts, let him boast in the

Lord" (2 Cor. 10:17; also cf. Gal. 6:14; Acts 12:23; Jer. 9:23-24).

It is at this point that Dr. Schuller crosses the line from

harmful teaching to blasphemy. He states: "And we can pray, `Our Father

in heaven, honourable is our name.'" [78] He has gone to the extreme.

He has attempted to lift man up to the level of God!

The highest pinnacle of pride and deception is to attempt to

deify oneself. This is what Lucifer did; he said "I will make myself

like the Most High" (Isa. 14:14). We cannot place ourselves on the

same level as the Creator of the universe. We can never place our

name on the same level as God's name!

This is not the only time Dr. Schuller has done this. At other

times he has attempted to lower God to man's level. He writes:

"God's need for glory compels Him to redeem his children from shame to

glory." [79]

God does not "need glory" as the Creator of the universe He

already possesses all glory! And God is not "compelled" to do anything.

Whatever He does it is because He has chosen to do it. As the God-

man, Jesus Christ is intrinsically worthy of all honor and glory

(Rev. 5:12). However, on the Phil Donahue show Dr. Schuller attempted

to portray Jesus as being an egotist.

But the cross sanctifies the ego trip. That's very

significant. In other words, Jesus had an ego. He said, "I, if I be

lifted up, will draw all men unto me." Wow, what an ego trip He was on.


This type of teaching is indefensible blasphemy. Jesus

"humbled Himself" by His Incarnation (Phil. 2:8). We are told that

"though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through

His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). To talk of Jesus, the

eternal God made flesh, as being on an ego trip is heresy!


Dr. Schuller teaches that nonbelievers do not respond to God

because they do not feel worthy of Him. His goal is to tell people

that they are worthy of God: "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.'" [81]

The truth of the matter is that even at our very best we are

still unworthy of God. Jesus said: "So likewise you, when you have

done all those things which you are commanded, say, `We are

unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" (Luke


A story from Jesus' life also illustrates this. A Roman

centurion came to Jesus and asked Him to heal his servant. Jesus agreed

to go with him and heal his servant, but the centurion replied:

"Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say

the word, and my servant will be healed" (Matt. 8:8).

What was Jesus' reaction? Did He say "Don't you know it's a sin

to feel unworthy? Why of course you're worthy of Me, after all you

were born to be a prince! Don't have such low self-esteem." No!

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in

Israel with such great faith" (Matt. 8:10).

God accepts us only because of one thing: what Jesus did on the

cross of Calvary (Rom. 5:9; 1 John 1:7). He does not accept us

because of our self-worth, or because of any works that we do (Eph. 2:8-

9; Isa. 64:6).


In proclaiming the Gospel, Dr. Schuller believes you must never

put another person down. "In fact, you are not preaching the Gospel

unless you make people happy, because the Gospel is good news." [82]

The mistake Dr. Schuller makes is assuming that everyone who hears

the Gospel has an open and receptive heart. If they do, then they will

likely respond to it happily. But many people have no desire at all

to change their lives.

What was the reaction when Peter and John preached the Gospel

before the Sanhedrin? The Jewish leaders were "cut to the heart"

(Acts 5:33). How did the Jewish leaders respond when Stephen

proclaimed the Gospel? Likewise, they were "cut to the heart" and

began "gnashing their teeth at him" (Acts 7:54). When Paul preached

the Gospel in Jerusalem, a riot broke out (Acts 22).

These responses were not because Peter and John and Stephen and

Paul were preaching "possibility thinking." The people were not were

not "cut to the heart" because they were told that they were children

of God and deserved to have their lost glory restored. Why were all

of these people offended? Because of the "offense of the cross" (Gal.


The Apostle Paul proclaimed: "For I determined to know nothing

among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). To

the Jews this was "a stumbling block." To the Gentiles it was

"foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23), and to Dr. Schuller it would be insulting

(if he is con-sistent with his own teachings) because it reminds

people of their sins!

There are many times when we have to point out something negative

to people before we can help them. Alcoholics Anonymous has had

tremendous success in helping alcoholics quit drinking because they

have used a biblical principle: before they can help an individual

quit drinking, he must first admit that he has a problem. Only after

he admits that he is an alcoholic can he be helped.

It is much the same with the Gospel: there are many negative aspects

to it. First of all, you are a sinner. Second, there is nothing that

you can do to help yourself. And finally, if you are not helped, you

are going to hell. If these things are not pointed out to the

nonbeliever, then the Gospel has not been presented.

But someone might ask, "What about the testimonies of people who

have been converted through Dr. Schuller's ministry?" It is true that

there are testimonies of people who have come to the Lord by reading his

books or hearing him on television. But it is also true that there are

many non-Christians who have felt better about themselves after

listening to Dr. Schuller, but were totally unaware of the fact that

they are lost sinners who are destined for hell unless they accept

Jesus Christ! Michael Nason, in his biography on Dr. Schuller, records

several such "testimonies":

Although I am of the Jewish faith, you have helped me to realize

that through God and love all things are possible. [83] "We're

Jewish," the gentleman said. "In fact, our son is a rabbi, but we love

to watch you, Dr. Schuller...." [84]

The terrible tragedy is that there are untold thousands of

nonbelievers who think they know what Christianity is all about because

they watch the "Hour of Power" or have read one or more of Dr.

Schuller's books, yet who never heard the true gospel.


As we have seen, Dr. Schuller believes that salvation is being

rescued "from shame to glory." [85] For him being "born again" means

to "be changed from a negative to a positive self-image -

from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to

trust." [86] Dr. Schuller's problem is that he has (as he often

does) confused an effect with its cause. Salvation, or being "born

again," gives us a basis for a high self-esteem and to have a

greater love and trust. However, salvation is not a synonym for self-

esteem. According to the Bible the new birth is a spiritual

phenomenon, not a psychological one (John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

What is the "real fruit" of salvation? It is not a restoration of

our pride and glory. Rather, it is a restoration of our fellowship

with God. It means that we now have a living relationship with our

Maker and have been saved from the punishment that we justly deserved.


A modern-day, adapted version of Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and

the Publican (Luke 18:10-14) will aptly conclude our study of

Robert Schuller's New Reformation."

Two men went up into the church to pray, one a possibility thinker,

the other a negative thinker. The possibility thinker stood and was

praying thus to himself, "God, I thank Thee that I am not like

other people: people with low self-esteem, people who think they are

unworthy of You, or even like this negative thinker. I think only

positive thoughts for I was created to be a prince, I am worthy of

glory, honorable is our name!"

But the negative thinker, standing some distance away, was

even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his

breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." I tell you, the

negative thinker went down to his house justified rather than the

other, for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who

humbles himself shall be exalted.


1] Robert H. Schuller, Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking (Old Tappan,

NJ: Spire Books, 1967), p.20.

2] Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco, TX: Word

Books, 1982), p.12.

3] Ibid.

4] Bella Stumbo, Schuller, "The Gospel of Success," Los Angeles Times,

29 May 1983, part 1, p.24.

5] Robert H. Schuller, You Can Become the Person You Want to Be (New

York: Pillar Books, 1973), p.65.

6] Ibid., p.39

7] Robert H. Schuller, It's Possible (New York: Fawcett Gold Medal,

1978), p.28.

8] Schuller, Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking, p.189.

9] Stumbo, "Schuller: The Gospel of Success, "loc. cit.

10] Michael Nason and Donna Nason, Robert Schuller: The Inside Story

(Waco: Word Books, 1983), p.152.

11] Robert H. Schuller, Daily Power Thoughts (Irvine, CA: Harvest House

Publishers, n.d.), p.May 29.

12] Schuller, Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking, p.112.

13] Schuller, It's Possible, p.29.

14] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19.

15] Robert H. Schuller, Self-Love: The Dynamic Force of Success (New

York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1969), p.21.

16] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.57.

17] Ibid., p.64.

18] Ibid., p.39.

19] Ibid., p.45.

20] Ibid., p.136.

21] Ibid., p.14.

22] Ibid., p.15.

23] Ibid., pp.63, 64.

24] Ibid., p.67.

25] Ibid., pp.66, 67.

26] "Self-Love: How Far? How Biblical? How Healthy?" Eternity,

February 1979, p.23. Also cf. Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New

Reformation, p.127.

27] Schuller, Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking, p.209.

28] Schuller, Self-Love: The Dynamic Force of Success, pp.87, 88.

29] Schuller, Daily Power Thoughts, p.March 23.

30] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, 54.

31] Ibid., p.52.

32] Ibid., p.39.

33] Ibid., pp.26, 27.

34] Ibid., p.140.

35] Ibid., p.69.

36] Ibid., p.16.

37] Ibid., p.98.

38] Ibid., p.52.

39] Ibid., p.80.

40. Ibid., p.127.

41] Robert H. Schuller, Your Future Is Your Friend (New Canaan, NJ:

Keats Publishing, Inc., 1964), p.18.

42] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.99.

43] Ibid., p.151.

44] Ibid., p.68.

45] Ibid., p.161.

46] Nason and Nason, Robert Schuller: The Inside Story, p.59.

47] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.17.

48] Nason and Nason, Robert Schuller: The Inside Story, p.171.

49] Stumbo, "Schuller: The Gospel of Success," loc. cit.

50] Schuller, Daily Power Thoughts, p.May 29.

51] The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text (Philadelphia:

The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955), p.987.

52] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke,

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: Vol.1 (Chicago: Moody

Press, 1980), p.417.

53] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.80.

54] Ibid., p.82.

55] Ibid., p.80.

56] Schuller, It's Possible, loc. cit.

57] Jon Trott and William Kirk Kilpatrick, "The Psychological

Connection," Cornerstone, Vol.12, Issue 68, p.18.

58] Roberts Rugh and Landrum B. Shettles, From Conception to Birth: The

Drama of Life's Beginnings (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), p.18.

59] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19.

60] Ibid., pp.15, 16.

61] "Self-Love: How Far? How Biblical? How Healthy?" loc. cit.

62] Trott and Kilpatrick, "The Psychological Connection," loc. cit.

63] David G. Myers, "The Inflated Self," The Christian Century, 1

December 1982, p.1226.

64] "Self-Love: How Far? How Biblical? How Healthy?" p.24.

65] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMilan Publishing Co.,

Inc., 1943), p.190.

66] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.57.

67] Ibid., p.39.

68] Ibid., p.46.

69] Ibid., p.14.

70] R.C. Sproul, In Search of Dignity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1983),


71] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.67.

72] Ibid., p.72.

73] Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? (New York: Hawthorn Books,

Inc., 1973), p.228.

74] Sproul, In Search of Dignity, pp.56, 57.

75] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.80.

76] Schuller, Daily Power Thoughts, p.January 24.

77] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.52.

78] Ibid., p.69.

79] Ibid., p.140.

80] Donahue Transcript #08120, 12 August 1980, p.10.

81] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.98.

82] Schuller, Your Future Is Your Friend, loc. cit.

83] Nason and Nason, Robert Schuller: The Inside Story, p.147.

84] Ibid., p.187.

85] Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.151.

86] Ibid., p.68.

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