Gary Smalley

General Teachings/Activities*

-  Smalley is a so-called Christian psychologist who seeks to integrate the presuppositions of psychology with those of Scripture and equate the same level of authority to both of them. Smalley worked with Bill Gothard for ten years, and now conducts family seminars through his own company, Today's Family. (Smalley has one seminar version for Christian audiences and another version for secular audiences.) Today's Family is located in Branson, Missouri.

Smalley began his career working for Bill Gothard teaching a spiritual "chain of command" theology, which was very authoritarian and encouraged women to be compliant to and dependent on their husbands. When Smalley's own marriage failed, he evidently made a disastrous revision of this theology by assigning an even greater burden of marital responsibility to the husband, while stripping him of the authority necessary to carry it out. He reduced women to inculpable "responders" to their husbands, congenital victims of gender with little of the strength of will or character shown by Abigail with Nabal, for example. In a strange twist, the wife may then presume to be the family's spiritual conscience and her husband's worst critic (Gen. 3:16). Disciplinary separations are encouraged until the husband conforms to her expectations of "godly" behavior. [Paul Stevens (author of Married for Good) says overcoming the problems with Gothard and Smalley's theology accounts for at least half his time as a marriage counselor. He says the problem is not bad marriages, but bad theology.] (Source: Stephen Smyth.)

-  Smalley is a strong proponent of right-brain/left-brain theory, which postulates that men use the left side of their brains, while women use the right side of theirs. Thus, according to Smalley, women are "more in touch" with their feelings. On the basis of this theory, he approaches the marriage relationship from a selfish wife's point of view, and concentrates on how the wife can get the husband to meet all of her so-called needs, rather than how she can be a loving help-mate to him. Smalley, therefore, actually promotes a form of female dominance in the marriage relationship. His techniques for "bonding" in the family and his counsel to wives on how to change their husbands are shallow, selfish, and manipulative.

-  Smalley is the "church's" leading proponent of right-brain/left-brain pseudoscience. This right-brain/left-brain myth, which claims to describe personality types by brain hemisphere dominance, as well as give insights to male/female communication effectiveness, has been thoroughly discredited by secular neuroscientists, to say nothing of the fact that it has no support in Scripture.

The popularization of right-brain/left-brain has been largely due to the book, The Language of Love, co-authored by Smalley and fellow psychologist, John Trent. (Both worked together in Phoenix, Arizona from 1984-1993. Both also have theological degrees, but apparently believe that the Bible alone is insufficient to handle people's problems of living.) The Language of Love was published and promoted by James Dobson's Focus on the Family Publishing, and Smalley and Trent have been frequent guests on Dobson's radio program (as has pop psychologist, Dr. Donald Joy, credited by Smalley and Trent as being the source of their right-/left-brain information). The book touts "emotional word pictures" as the means of "activating" the "right brain," alleged to be essential for a wife to communicate with her husband. (In a rare reference to Scripture, Smalley and Trent assert that the prophet Nathan activated the right side of king David's brain with "an emotional word picture that would change the course of a kingdom.") [In the second edition of The Language of Love, due largely to the discrediting of the right-brain/left-brain silliness, all references to such were removed. "Unfortunately, this 'revision' was only cosmetic. The delusion that 'emotional word pictures' are the key to relationships and spiritual growth remains the false message of this deceptive book" (1/92, CIB Bulletin).]

[One writer described Smalley's 1988 Christian Broadcasters Convention speech as "humanistic nonsense," and that, "His entire talk was based upon today's popular left-brain/right-brain myth spawned by pop psychology -- a myth which brain researchers call "whole-brain/half-wittedness." (Source: 2/89, CIB Bulletin). In 1988, even Psychology Today ridiculed the concept with an article titled "Left-Brain/Right-Brain/Broccoli-Brain."]

-  In Winning the War Within, Smalley and Trent endorse an even more widely accepted myth, that of low self-esteem as being the cause of most of our problems. For example, they say: "The degree of self-control you have in your life is in direct proportion to the degree of acceptance you have for yourself. Put another way, if you don't value yourself, you won't 'pull in the reins' on actions and attitudes that will affect you for the worst" (p. 44). They go on to say that addictions, guilt, pride and apathy are all caused by a distorted view of ourselves as a result of the damage caused to us by others. So, if our sins (which is what addictions, pride, etc. are) are caused by low self-esteem, we would expect to find that Christ has come, at least in part, to save us from our own bad self-image (see Beyond Promises, p. 79) Bill McCartney seems to believe this when he says in Trent and Smalley's book that he came to Christ in order to "Gain some real satisfaction," since he "wasn't feeling good" about himself (p. 11).

Of course, the Scriptures do not sanction the low self-esteem theory -- it is thoroughly out of sync with the whole message of the Bible. "The problem of the natural man is not that he fails to esteem or love himself enough; it is that he loves himself too much" -- is the true message of Scripture. What makes a critique of Gary Smalley's teachings on self-esteem so vital is that Smalley, like Robert Schuller, has not only distorted the Biblical teachings on sanctification, but he has also distorted the message of the Gospel. The self-esteem gospel minimizes sin, points us inward instead of to Christ, ignores the true purpose of the cross, and presents Christianity as a feel-good, self-oriented religion, instead of a call to deny self and follow Christ. Are those who respond to the gospel of self-esteem truly Christians, or have they been deceived? Paul's attitude toward those who preached a false gospel was to condemn them (Galatians 1:6-9), not to join them!

What Gary Smalley and all his "self-esteem" cult followers mean when they say "self love" is so far from the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself that it isn't rational to try making a comparison. What Smalley is saying when he talks of "self-love" is that there is an intrinsic virtue or power within man whereby if he were to activate it or act on it he would be able to solve his "low self-image" and effect a change that is needed within his nature. It is a theology of humanism which exalts man and all that he is above everything else. It is a belief-system which Smalley and his fellow humanists believe, which regards the essential nature of man as "good" and that man is able to effect a change in his nature and consequently his behavior. (Adapted from the June/July 1997, Think on These Things.)

-  Browsing the "book table" at my local Sam's Club in October of 1996, I stumbled upon Gary Smalley's latest half-witted, pop-psychology contribution to the "Christian" book market, Making Love Last Forever (1996:Word). I gleaned a few pages to learn that Smalley now has a "love guarantee" for every married couple -- for just $11.95 (discounted 60% at Sam's Club), you too can be blessed as Gary "reveals the secrets behind his love guarantee." It's all typical Gary Smalley "matriarchal manipulation," all within his well-worn psychoheretical framework. The endorsers on the back cover of the book are of interest. Not only has Smalley bagged the endorsements of such "Christian" stalwarts as Connie Sellecca and John Tesh, Kathie Lee Gifford, and John Gray (author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus), but DTS president Chuck Swindoll has signed on once again. (Swindoll endorsed Smalley's Language of Love in 1989.) [Swindoll says, "If you're looking for an encouragement transfusion, Gary Smalley can't be beat." "Can't be beat"!? I thought it's the Word of God that gives encouragement? John Gray, a monk for nine years and former secretary to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, prides himself on bedding one woman per day for a year after leaving monkhood. That apparently gave him the "qualifications" for writing on the topic of the sexes. He's a New Ager to boot! Why would Smalley seek such a man for a book endorsement?]

Promise Keepers is the gigantic new (1991) "men's movement" among professing evangelical Christians. Its roots are Catholic and charismatic to the core. PK's contradictory stand on homosexuality; its promotion of secular psychology; its unscriptural feminizing of men; its depiction of Jesus as a "phallic messiah" tempted to perform homosexual acts; and its ecumenical and unbiblical teachings should dissuade any true Christian from participating. Promise Keepers is proving to be one of the most ungodly and misleading movements in the annals of Christian history. Nevertheless, Smalley is a promoter of this ecumenical, charismatic, psychologized men's movement. He speaks frequently at PK's conferences and contributes his writings to its publications (e.g., the 1994 book Seven Promises of A Promise Keeper).

-  Smalley endorsed so-called Christian psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb's 1991 book, Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference [Crabb's model of counseling is primarily a psychological system of unconscious needs motivating behavior, which is derived from Freudian (the unconscious being a hidden reservoir of the mind with drives and impulses which govern a person's thinking and behavior) and humanistic psychology (with its hierarchy of needs, with great emphasis on so-called emotional needs).]: 

"You know Larry Crabb's latest book is a winner when you want your entire staff to read it and then schedule a weekend retreat to discuss and apply it."

* Must reading for anyone desiring a fuller understanding of Smalley's teachings would be pp. 211-223 of Prophets of PsychoHeresy II: Critiquing Dr. James C. Dobson (reissued as James Dobson's Gospel of Self-Esteem & Psychology), Martin and Deidre Bobgan, EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1990, 310 pages; and "Gary Smalley: The Psychology of Matriarchy," Media Spotlight Special Report, Albert Dager, 1989, 4 pages. Some of the material in this report was excerpted and/or adapted from these sources.

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 8/97