Robert Schuller is not a new name in the realm of religion. Indeed, his glowing smile, striking appearance, and winning way have brought him a world-wide following through his "Hour of Power" television program and the familiar Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. (Schuller lost property tax exemption on the Cathedral due to its use for secular performers like Beverly Sills, Victor Borge, and members of the Lawrence Welk show [1/21/83 Christianity Today, p. 22].) But what is his message? Strip away the charisma and charm, separate the man from his message and try the spirits of this man's ministry. The best way to examine a man's doctrine is to have him put it in writing, to study his published work. This we have in Schuller's latest book, Self- Esteem the New Reformation (Word:1982). 1 John 2:19 states that those in apostasy "went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us," referring to their doctrinal departure from the faith which marks them for us to avoid. Is Schuller for the faith or against it? Is he a misguided brother or an enemy to the cause of Christ?
The Word or the World?
The primary area in which apostasy becomes evident is in its attack upon the Scripture, either by full-blown denial of it as the inspired Word of God or by a means such as declaring "degrees of inspiration" in it. How does Schuller stand on the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration? He states "can anything be above the Scriptures? Yes, the Eternal Word transcends the written Word. … Christ is Lord over the Scriptures; the Scriptures are not Lord over Christ" (p. 45).
This sounds pious enough until one realizes that apart from the Scriptures we would have no knowledge of Christ; His Word is the only revelation of Himself and is in complete agreement with the Incarnate Word (John 1:14; 17:17). Schuller has adopted the Neo-Orthodox method of separating the spiritual Word from the written Word, opening the door to spiritualizing or neglecting whatever he desires.
He states that "any creed, any biblical interpretation … that assaults and offends the self-esteem of persons is heretically failing to be truly Christian no matter how … undergirded it might be with biblical references" (pp. 135-136). He calls for the adoption of an "international, universal, transcreedal, transcultural, transracial standard" (p. 38). Note the conspicuous absence of the term "Biblical" or "Scriptural."
He also believes that Paul was not as inspired as the Gospel writers. God, however, says that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), including Paul's epistles (2 Pe. 3:15,16). When Schuller does use Scripture, which is seldom in 176 pages, he often uses it out of context. He uses part of Matthew 4:4 ("Man shall not live by bread alone") to say that the poor should not be manipulated by those who would feed them (p. 165). This totally ignores the true meaning and importance of the verse by leaving out the fact stated in the rest of the verse that many shall live "by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Such misapplications are numerous throughout the book. With such a disregard for the authority of Scripture, the foundation is laid for further departure from the faith.
The Dictionary of Schullerese
In order to remain within the good graces of as many people as possible, it becomes necessary to use terminology which is recognized, familiar, and accepted. The key to introducing error is to redefine those time-honored, Biblical terms so that the false teaching enveloped by the sugar-coat of orthodox wording will sound right and will be palatable to the unwary and undiscerning. This is one of Schuller's main techniques for selling his "theology." Note the following examples:
(a) Sin is no longer to be understood as lawlessness (1 Tim. 1:9), disobedience to God (Rom. 5:19), transgression(2 Jn. 3:4), or unrighteousness (1 Jn. 5:17). It is, rather, "Any human condition or act that robs God of glory by stripping one of his children of their right to divine dignity … that deep lack of trust that separates me from God and leaves me with a sense of shame and unworthiness … any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem" (p. 14). He states over and over again that the core of man's sin is not his depravity (Gen. 6:5), but a "lack of self-dignity" (p. 15), "self-esteem," or "trust" (p. 65). Imagine the Apostle Paul writing "Christ Jesus came into the world to save negative thinkers, those who lack self-esteem, of whom I am chief" (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15). But Schuller would have us believe that seeing sin as rebellion against God is shallow and lacking "in-depth analysis" (p. 67). Likewise "guilt" is redefined by Schuller as "loss of self-esteem" (p. 65), thus equating guilt with sin, a false assumption since guilt arises as a result of sin.
(b) Hell is no longer a literal place of eternal torment for unrepentant sinners (Matt. 25:41; Lk. 16:23), but is redefined as "the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God. … A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem" (pp. 14-15). According to Schuller, it would be hell if God were to show him all the opportunities to fulfill himself, to succeed, to do good that he could have done but did not (pp. 93-94). Further on he indicates that hell is "on earth" (p. 96). What a rude awakening awaits Schuller! In addition, according to Schuller, to be "delivered from evil" is to be delivered, not from the power of Satan and our sin nature, but from fear (p. 124).
(c) Salvation according to Schuller's theology is not rescue from sin, death, and hell (Eph. 2:1,5,6; Col. 1:13; Jn. 3:14); but is "rescue from shame to glory … guilt to pride … fear to love … distrust to faith … hypocrisy to honesty" (p. 151). It is to become a "possibility thinker" (p. 99), "to be permanently lifted from sin (psychological self-abuse …) and shame to self-esteem" (p. 99). Therefore, being "born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image-from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust" (p. 68).
(d) Repentance is no longer the change of mind from sin to faith in the finished work of Christ (1 Thes. 1:9; Acts 2:38). It is to be interpreted as a "positive, dynamic and highly-motivated redirection of life form a guilt-induced fear and its consequent withdrawal form the divine call to a caring, risky trust which promises the hope of glory, for yourself and your heavenly Father, through noble, human-need-filling achievements" (p. 104). To simplify this grandiose pronouncement into short "Schullerese," repentance is turning over a new leaf, from lack of self-esteem to self-esteem, from inferiority to good works. This is a far cry from the attitude of repentance seen in Scripture and so beautifully exemplified in the publican's prayer: "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13). There was no surge of self-esteem in the publican who would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven. On the other hand, it does not appear that there was a Schullerite theologian standing close by.
(e) Faith is redefined as "a commitment to an unprovable assumption" (p. 133). Had Schuller not already discounted the absolute authority of Scripture, he could have found a different description of faith in Hebrews 11. Observe the circumstances, events, and results in the lives of these heroes of the faith. As one example of the fallacy of the above definition, consider Moses (11:29). How unprovable an assumption was it that allowed Israel to pass through the Red Sea on dry ground? Indeed, our faith is by no means based on an "unprovable assumption;" it is no "leap in the dark" hope. We have an accurate historical record of God's past dealings with man. Fulfilled prophecies, events verified by extra-Biblical sources, and an empty tomb, are among the proofs of the surety of our faith. Beyond these is the present verifiable witness of our own salvation experience which seals personally the certainty of our faith.
Perhaps Schuller's "salvation experience" will shed light upon his lack of understanding about the nature of faith. He states that at some time after he took his position at the Garden Grove, he was overtaken by a fear of failure for about two years. Finally he prayed, "Dear Jesus Christ, if you're alive (emphasis mine), and I can't even prove you are, I pray that you'll reach into my mind and take out this horrible fear. Save me," after which he felt a pressure in his head, then release and peace (p. 130). This author will refrain from further comment concerning the pressure or lack thereof in Schuller's head, but the Bible does say that "he that cometh to God must believe that He is" (Heb. 11:6). This requirement seems to be lacking in Schuller's experience. One wonders how he lasted so long previous to this experience, while peddling the same sort of "positive thinking" doctrine, if he was then unsaved.
(f) Grace redefined is no longer the favor of God bestowed upon those who merit only God's disfavor (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:5-8). It is "divine self-esteem" (p. 95).
One tires quickly of the repetitious and redundant use of the term "self-esteem" found throughout Schuller's warped theology. Compounding the absurdity of this heretical hobby-horse is the merciless overuse of a cacophony of clichés and catch-phrases such as "nonjudgmental love," "the 'I am' determines the 'I can'," "the Cross sanctifies your ego trip," and others. Most of these he has picked up from other men such as Norman Vincent Peale and C.A. Seguin.
The Gospel According to Schuller
Incorporating the new meanings given to orthodox terminology, Schuller's view of the Gospel becomes evident. He rejects the depravity of man calling it an "error" (p. 162) and "too shallow" (p. 63), insisting that salvation should be man-centered [humanistic] rather than God-centered (p. 64). This is a devious way of saying that God's holiness and His hatred of and judgment upon sin are to be ignored and only His "nonjudgmental love" is to be recognized. Anything contrary to this is rejected as being too negative. Time and again he asserts that "Jesus never called anyone a sinner" (pp. 100,126,157), that He "never puts down another human being" (p. 48). But would the scribes and Pharisees, who Jesus "complimented" with such names as "hypocrites, white sepulchres, serpents, generation of vipers, fools" (Matt. 23) agree? Would Jesus have preached repentance to those who were not sinners (Mk. 1:15)? And did Jesus not acknowledge the woman taken in adultery as one guilty of sin (Jn. 8:11)?
The next liberal lie (and another of the clichés) in Schuller's scheme is the false doctrine of the Fatherhood of God. He reiterates this theme in a variety of ways, even renaming a chapter after the concept. Schuller claims that in order to create the kingdom of God here on earth we must all accentuate the positives, eliminate the negatives, fill up on self-esteem, get everyone else to do the same regardless of creed (meaning regardless of what anyone believes), join together, and all be God's children. As he says, "God is trying … to build a society of human beings who live out the golden rule" (p. 135). This is, of course, based on the presupposition that we are all God's children to begin with, whether in belief or if we simply make people aware of their divine parentage they will automatically begin acting accordingly, what with everybody being full of divine self-esteem and all. This, in a nutshell so to speak, is Schuller's "New Reformation" idea. But Jesus said that there is a different source for our spiritual parentage (Jn. 8:44-"ye are of your father, the devil"), and that salvation is the only way to become His child (Jn. 1:12).
Naturally, in a hodge-podge religious household such as the one Schuller advocates, everyone must be included. One of the main schisms to be reunited would be that between Protestantism, of which Schuller's Reformed Church is a part, and the huge harlot cult of Roman Catholicism. This explains the glowing commendation Schuller gives to the Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, calling him an "outstanding Christian" (p. 52), and the tribute paid to Mother Teresa as an example of Christian dedication (pp. 70,76), and various flattering references to the pontifex maximus himself, Pope John Paul II, to whom Schuller says he was "immediately attracted" (p. 17).
He calls for an embracing of the Social Gospel, calling it the "ministry that helps self-esteem-impoverished persons to discover their self-worth through salvation and subsequent social service in our Saviour's name" (p. 118). He believes that "self-esteem" will create a "theological bridge" to "bring together inter-connecting theologies" in order to "attack the world's ills" (p. 149). Inherent with this call to unite in service is the call to ecumenical dialogue, which he calls "construction" and which is to replace "confrontation" (pp. 116-117), that is, contending for the faith and exposing error. A decidedly antidoctrinal, antifundamentalist bias manifests itself as he speaks of those who are involved in the "casual practice of labeling" and who exercise "narrow authoritarianism in doctrines and practices and … [who sow] seeds of suspicion and dissension in the religious community" (p. 153). Apparently Paul's admonitions to Timothy no longer apply (2 Tim. 4:2).
The Blue-Plate Special at Schuller's Cafè
Schuller's manifesto reveals his true position and identity. He is not an original thinker, but has carefully picked through the theological garbage of other apostates and psychologists, arranged the resulting mess into an eye-catching order smothered in the sweet spice of "self-esteem," and has declared it the "blue-plate special" for today. He even goes so far as to declare that unless his theology is adopted, Christianity may not survive at all. Ironically, there is a very appropriate refutation of Schuller's work found in the book itself. In chapter two, he declares that "Any theological suggestion that self-esteem is to be the benchmark of our theology loses integrity, authenticity, and must be branded as counterfeit and contrived secular humanisms unless it is central to the concern of Christ" (p. 45: emphasis mine).
Well spoken for once, Mr. Schuller. How completely foreign these Schullerite concepts are to the central concern of Christ is easily seen from the Scriptures: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16); "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15); "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8); "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14); "… let each esteem each other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3).
The believer's duty is clear: "such are false prophets, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:13); "from such turn away" (2 Tim. 3:5).
* This material has been excerpted and/or adapted from a June, 1983, Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor insert report by Jack E. Stevens (Ohio Bible Fellowship, 3865 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43214).