“Poverty hath slain a thousand, but riches have slain ten thousand. They are very uncertain, they promise that which they cannot perform, neither can they afford a contented mind.”
I once took a church history class in which the teacher made a strong point that the culture today is merely a reflection of the culture that came before. For example, he discussed how the rebellion of the 1960s came on the heels of the culture of the 1950s in which Ozzie and Harriet were the prototype for the perfect family. The culture wanted to reflect the good, churchgoing family with two perfect kids in an upper middle class home. Everyone got along and everything was “nice.”
However, for many, this was a sham. Alcoholism, bad marriages, affairs, fathers ignoring their families while off pursuing the American dream and unhappy housewives simmered just below the surface. Then, James Dean, the anti status quo bad boy who, everyone secretly admired, became a cultural folk hero. He was the harbinger of things to come. No more pretending. And so the 1960s dawned with total rejection of the standard family who were living lives of quiet desperation.
The more that I pondered this idea, the more that I saw how it played out in societies over long periods of time. The Renaissance was the beginning of today’s secular humanism. The French Revolution had its roots in humanism. Said revolution influenced some of the ideas that continue to permeate our culture.
TWW has consistently railed against the seeming adoption, by the church in America, of the cultural mores of our society. Rich pastors and wealthy, huge churches dominate the scene, leaving many of us to scratch our heads and wonder where the beautiful, simple faith of our Lord has gone. In today’s churches, success is measured by the numbers of people who attend a particular church, the amenities of the church building, and the demand for the church’s pastor at conferences outside of the church. If the pastor is popular, I guess the people feel they are popular-you know, reflected glory.
Pastors have incorporated these values in various ways. In the coming weeks, TWW will expose the number of pastors who go by the name “Doctor” who do not have earned degrees. We have highlighted pastors such as Mac Brunson of FBC Jacksonville and Ed Young Jr. of Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas who lead extravagant lifestyles off the tithes and offerings of their church members.
We have poked fun at sermon series such as “Have Sex for a Week” and other Bible Lite topics. We have documented polls which indicate that the average churchgoer has very little understanding about the doctrines of the faith. We wonder how some Christian ,including Joel Osteen, have come to believe that Mormonism has the same belief system as orthodox Christianity. And we are perplexed how a Joel Osteen is accepted, by many, as “America’s pastor.”
TWW contends that Robert Schuller is the granddaddy of today’s Americanized mega-churches as well as one of the forefathers in the "feel good" gospel.Today we will examine his past and tomorrow we will expose the lavish expenditures that led his church, the Crystal Cathedral, to declare bankruptcy.
Robert Schuller was born in 1926 in Iowa. He felt called to be a pastor as a young boy. He studied at Hope College and received a Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary in 1950. He was ordained as a minister in the Reformed Church in America. Although he is frequently referred to as Dr. Schuller, he does not have an earned PhD.
He was eventually sent to Garden Grove, California to start a church. Schuller had a vision to reach out to people who rarely went to church. In fact, one could say that he was one of the first “seeker driven” pastors. He came up with a novel idea. There he opened the Garden Grove Community Church in 1955 in a former drive-in movie theater. He also built a new 300-seat chapel about four miles (6 km) from the drive-in theater. Schuller conducted a service in the chapel at 9.30 Sunday mornings and then drove his organ to the drive-in to conduct a second service there. Come to think of it, does seeker driven mean seekers who sit in cars during a service? Hmmm
From an article at equip.org, we learn a significant fact.
“During these first two years, Rev. Schuller went from door to door inviting people to come to his church, and asking them what type of church they would like to attend.
According to his intimate friend Michael Nason,
To his surprise he found that most people didn't even know the difference between the Old and New Testaments and couldn't care less …. That's when he realized that giving Bible studies on Sunday morning during a worship service would turn off most of the unchurched people entirely… Then he asked the people what sort of a church they would want to attend. They wanted light, beauty, tranquility, beautiful music, friendly people, programs that suited their needs, sermons that weren't boring, better yet, sermons that weren't even sermons! They wanted a place where they could feel comfortable. He decided at that point that he would never again use his pulpit as a teaching platform.”
Here is where I feel Robert Schuller made his most important error. Note that he responded to the fact that people didn’t care what they knew about the Bible, that they wanted a nice place to go to church, and they didn’t particularly like sermons. So, Schuller decided to give them what they wanted. Here is a question. However, did he give them Christ? That is a question that continues to plague the ministry of Schuller. TWW believes that this sort of thinking has infected today’s churches. When I attended Ed Young Jr.’s church 20 years ago, Ed would not bring a Bible into the pulpit. His reason? The sight of a Bible would turn off seekers.
As the numbers of people attending the church grew, Schuller hired an internationally known architect, Richard Neutra, design a "walk-in, drive-in" church serving both congregations. Ground was broken September 10, 1958, for construction of the new church designed by international architect Richard Neutra. The church was completed in 1961 at a cost of $3,000,000, a fairly significant sum in those days.
The design of the new church building enabled Schuller to preach his sermons to worshipers in 500 cars as well as to members of the congregation inside the church. Schuller found that many people liked sitting in their cars instead of coming into the church..
From the previously quoted article from equip .org we learn
“In July of 1966 construction began, on a 14-story “tower of hope” which was completed the following year. A 90-foot high cross that would light up at night was placed at the top of the 162-foot tower.
In 1970 Dr. Schuller began what has become the most widely watched televised church service in the nation, Hour of Power. In 1975 construction began on a new sanctuary, which cost 20 million dollars. In 1980 famous Crystal Cathedral was officially opened for worship.”In addition
“Hour of Power at its peak was seen in over 175 cities with an audience of two to four million people. He used to received between thirty and forty thousand letters a week and had a mailing list of over one million people. He authored 19 books, several of them national best sellers. Since 1970 more than twenty thousand church leaders have attended Dr. Schuller's “Institute for Successful Church Leadership.”
What is Schuller’s theology? It is based on popular pop psychology. In a nutshell here are some highlights. All quotes are taken from an article at Equip.org
1. It is a theology based on the wants of the seeker.
(Schuller) "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."
2. He believes that positive thinking is the key to success and is almost as important as the Resurrection of Jesus! Shades of Joel Osteen! Here are some quotes.
“There is no problem or situation that cannot be solved.”
“Success awaits the man who will “never say never.” This is what I think our ministry is all about. Helping people realize they can become more than they ever thought they could be.”
“I believe in positive thinking. It is almost as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ”
3. Self esteem is an essential part of faith.
“Self-esteem then, or “pride in being a human being,” is the single greatest need facing the human race today.” Dr. Schuller believes that classical theology seriously errs in insisting that all theology be centered around God instead of around man.”
4. Schuller holds parts of the Bible in higher esteem than others.
” 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.”
5. He holds to an odd view of sin.
“Original sin is not a mean streak; it is a nontrusting inclination …. do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness. If this were so, then truly, the human being is totally depraved. But positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability.
“He (Jesus) believed in the dignity of the individual. So He never called a person a sinner. He always saw the individual as a saint.”
6.The ultimate goal of faith is to honor ourselves.
Dr. Schuller believes that “what we need is a theology of salvation that begins and ends with a recognition of every person’s hunger for glory.” “The Christian faith and life is a gospel designed to glorify human beings for the greater glory of God.” The final goal is that “we can pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, honorable is our name.”
7. Salvation is redefined.
“What does it mean to be saved? 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.”
As most of our readers will see, there is a remarkable similarity of Schuller’s theology to today’s health and wealth Gospel. In fact, Schuller’s incredible success in building a ministry based on this dubious theology is a lesson for us all. As long as things are going well, this theology will bring in the crowds and the money. Schuller is telling people what they want to hear. "You’re OK and don’t dwell on anything negative. Don’t worry about sin. It is just a lack of trust in God. God loves you and everything will be fine." Until it isn’t .
Tomorrow we will explore the fall of this “positive” ministry. Schuller’s ministry is now bankrupt. How could such a thing happen in Schuller’s theology?
We leave you with a tale that Equip.org ended their analysis of Schuller’s theology.
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."