Robert Schuller: We Should Have Seen It Coming

“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.”

-Martin Luther

                                                   Crystal Cathedral



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, 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


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 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."


Lydia's Corner: Genesis 35:1-36:43 Matthew 12:1-21 Psalm 15:1-5 Proverbs 3:21-26


Robert Schuller: We Should Have Seen It Coming — 21 Comments

  1. Ladies now you’re talking!

    TWW will expose the number of pastors who go by the name “Doctor” who do not have earned degrees.

    Dr Who is with ya on this one.

    And oh yeah, That list WILL be long, VERY LONG!

  2. Junkster

    Thanks for the article. I will include it tomorrow. Great insight about the cathedrals.I think you are right but i hope Jesus comes back before it happens. I’m planning on writing about the book you recommended next week.

  3. “I believe that today’s mega churches are the modern-day equivalent of the stately cathedrals of Europe, many, of which are today empty shells or museums. American mega-churches will one day go the same way, and Christianity will be the better for it”

    Amen. The Cathedrals are now tourist attractions because of the architecture but mega buildings do not even have that advantage. :o)

    Rick Warren was Schuller’s protege’. Warren used the exact same method to start Saddleback for a new generation. It was built huge on “felt needs”. A religion of “me”. Except Warren was smarter. he said it is NOT about you but then goes on to make it all about you.

  4. Lydia

    The beautiful Vatican was built on the backs of the peasants who were told by Cardinal Tetzel that their family members would be sprung from Purgatory if they contributed. This was evil. I was reading Tom’s site, FBCJAXWATCHDOG. He shows how Mac Brunson threatens and coerces people my misusing Scripture to give money to his “vatican.” It makes me nauseous.

    I also agree with you. Many of the buildings are ugly structures, meant for maximum crowd containment.So, we spend gazillions on structures and end up with monstrosities. There is a small church nearby that did a modest building campaign. They built a small sanctuary that is absolutely lovely.Even though it isn’t my church, I have attended several times just to sit in this room.

    Also, I agree with your observation. Over time I have begun to see Warren’s theology is all about “me.” Do you know if Warren had much contact with Schuller?

  5. Junkster,

    I have visited a number of cathedrals in Europe, and you are so right in describing them as empty shells. Some of them have been abandoned by their congregations and now serve as venues for concerts, meetings, etc.

    My daughters, who were members of a community choir while in high school, performed in some of those magnificent structures that are now owned by local municipalities or other organizations. The first time I traveled to Europe with this choir (2006), we were in Salzburg to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Choirs came from around the world to participate in this music festival. The combined choir rehearsed in one such cathedral and performed in another.

    Those huge stone structures, with their ornate carvings and detailed art work, were build primarily on the backs of Catholic peasants who were guilted into giving to the Lord’s work. This went on for hundreds of years before the Reformation. Martin Luther’s bold stand brought an end to these building projects. Is history repeating itself here in America, as evidenced by the Crystal Cathedral’s having to file for bankruptcy?

  6. I just wanted you to know that as I was reading today’s post, I found that my mouth was open, as my jaw had dropped as far as it could go!! OH MY! I knew that Schuller’s “theology” was not compatible with mine, but I had no idea that he disregarded portions of Scripture, specifically the ones that teach us about our doctrine! WOW is all I can say. Thanks for the eye-opening. This post helps me understand why the bankruptcy is such a big deal – I mean, if they are in bankruptcy, with all their positive-ness, what does that mean for their followers & members? Suddenly, being positive probably does not hold a lot of water with their folks.

    PS Wonder about those Eversons, if they all have earned their PhDs. Hmmmm 😛

  7. The Robert Schuller “mentorship,” for example, likely originated with a statement the Crystal Cathedral pastor made on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” he said. But Warren insisted he’s met Schuller only a couple of times and never had a one-on-one conversation with him.

    A waterfall splits the stairway leading to Saddleback’s massive worship center (WND photo)

    The claim, he said, was furthered by author George Mair in a biography called “A Life with Purpose” then spread like wildfire among Internet blogs.

    “In the first place, this guy is not even a Christian, never talked to me, never talked to any staff member, never talked to any member of my family, and in the book claimed that he did,” Warren said. “He flat-out lied.”

    Warren pointed out Mair is also the author of celebrity tomes such as “Paris Hilton: The Naked Truth” and “Oprah Winfrey: The Real Story.”

    “What he does is he finds, quote, celebrities, and churns out a quick book,” Warren said.

    The book was rife with errors from secondary sources, including the wrong number of children and wrong hometown, Warren argued.

    “He said my model was Norman Vincent Peale. I’ve never met Norman Vincent Peale. I’ve never even read a book written by Norman Vincent Peale,” said Warren.

    “A lot of Christians then took and read that stuff, reported it on a blog, blogs copy blogs copy blogs copy blogs. And it’s kind of like spreading a feather pillow, you can’t get all the feathers back.”

    Warren said he has discussed with Billy Graham how to handle criticism.

    “The general policy is, as much as possible, you don’t respond,” he said. “And so, I have to live with a lot of misconceptions about the thing with Schuller.”

  8. Hi Debbie!

    Thanks for sharing the information about Schuller.

    I read your post about why you have chosen to stop blogging, and I have been keeping you in my prayers. Hope you are on the mend!

    Please let Wade know that Dee and I really miss visiting his blog. He’s one of the reasons why we decided to start our faith watch blog. Yes, he’s truly a hero in our eyes. Wish we had a church and a pastor like yours in our area!

    Blessings to you, and please visit us whenever you can.

  9. Warren says lots of things. After being around Warren and Warrenites for many years, I have learned to disregard his words and watch his actions. He is a great chameleon

    One must simply learn to “interpret” Warren. Warren does not have to hang with Schuller to study and copy his early methods. But when one knows how Warren parses, one learns to ask pointed questions such as “have you ever attended Schullers pastors training course”.

    But lets look at this quote from Christianity Today from Kay Warren:

    During his last year in seminary, he and Kay drove west to visit Robert Schuller’s Institute for Church Growth. “We had a very stony ride out to the conference,” she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. “He had a profound influence on Rick,” Kay says. “We were captivated by his positive appeal to nonbelievers. I never looked back.” Imitating Schuller, Warren walked the (then unincorporated but fast-growing) town of Lake Forest, asking what kept people from going to church. He recruited a Bible study group that met at the Warrens’ condominium; its members helped stamp and address letters to 15,000 households. “At last!” the letter began. “A new church for those who’ve given up on traditional church services!” More than 200 people showed up for an Easter service at Laguna Hills High School. Watching them stream in, Warren marveled, “This is really going to work!”

  10. Words

    I invited Debbie to comment on our blog and even offered to let her post if she ever had something she wanted to say. She gave up blogging, not commenting.

  11. Words mean things,

    Yes, words DO mean things, and it’s important to quote what others say accurately.

    Here are Debbie Kaufman’s EXACT words in her last post:

    “This will be my last post. The blogging I have done, the things I have read are taking a toll on my health both physical and spiritual. My husband has seen this and has asked me to consider stopping. Since my husband never asks me to do anything unless he is deeply concerned, I have to take his request seriously. After a lot of thought and prayer, I have decided this will be my last post.”

    Where did you read: “This will be my last statement online ever”?

    And why the apparent hostility toward Debbie Kaufman?

    As Dee has explained, we have encouraged Debbie to comment here and even post an article. Why do you want Debbie’s blogging voice to be silenced?

  12. Words mean something: I did say that and was talking about that particular subject. So yes words mean something and so does context. Although I can see where you could misinterpret that statement.

  13. 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.

    From what I read when the son, Robert A. Schuller, parted ways with his father it was in part because his sermons were more Bible-based and exegetical while his dad preferred the “feel good” approach. I listened to Robert A. several times and never heard him exegete anything, but he seemed to be a little deeper than his dad.

    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.

    See the photo here:

    He may not have wanted to bring a Bible into the pulpit, but it didn’t seem to bother him to replace the pulpit with a toilet and plop his Bible on that.

  14. notastepfor

    Ed never misses an opportunity to get attention. It is all about Ed and I was tired with the message which seemed to have nothing to with the Bible. We were stuck there for a short time because we were coping with our daughters illness and had little energy to look elsewhere. Ed is a charismatic guy who is good at pretending he actually cares about people. But he is a consummate performer.I really enjoyed that blog. That author has awesome insights!!!!
    I recommend it on our blog roll.

  15. Schuller’s theology is (or was) even freakier than mentioned above, “3. Self esteem is an essential part of faith.” Schuller equates self-esteem with God Himself.

    In his 1982 book, “Self-esteem, the new reformation”, Schuller writes:‎
    “Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate” (p. 135)

    The statement above -“What is Schuller’s theology? It is based on popular pop psychology” is absolutely right. People like Schuller found fame and temporary fortune by taking pop psychology, throwing a little Jesus into it, and calling it a “Church” -complete with tax deductability the pop psychologists never got.

    I suspect, though, that this has gone on since the beginning of Christianity.

  16. “The statement above -”What is Schuller’s theology? It is based on popular pop psychology” is absolutely right. People like Schuller found fame and temporary fortune by taking pop psychology, throwing a little Jesus into it, and calling it a “Church” -complete with tax deductability the pop psychologists never got. ”

    Ken, I would say he helped to mainstream this into acceptance. now it is everywhere….we just do not recognize it as such because it is so pervasive it seems normal.

    Warren says PDL is NOT about you then the entire book is about….you. Beth Moore turns Hebrews 10 into “self” confidence. Instead of our confidence being in the blood of Jesus. I could give tons of examples. Even the ever present 3 pt sermons on morality and happy living are a variation of this theme of “self”. Not to mention all the sermons on sex from the likes of Driscoll to Ed Young.

    It is all about us.

  17. Speaking of Ed Young…anyone see the post at FBCJax Watchdog on Ed Young asking for bank routing numbers on tithing committment cards?

    After his being caught with private jets and condo’s in nice places, one wonders how he found the nerve for this. Is there no shame?