Earlier this week news broke that Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy.  (H/T to Ichabod, The Glory Has Departed and photo credit to the His Scrivener blog.)

Robert Schuller came a bit after my time.  I was finishing university when his television show, Hour of Power, became a Sunday morning fixture.  I only watched part of it a couple of times and never in full.

Having grown up on the Revd Rex Humbard in the 1960s, Schuller appeared slick.  I couldn’t relate.  Not that I could to Mr Humbard, either, but I was at least used to the plainness of his studio.  Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was all a bit too much for me.  I also thought it was strange that he didn’t seem to cite the Bible, whereas Humbard was always quoting Scripture.  But, then, I was never a regular viewer of either, having last seen Humbard in 1979 and Schuller in the early 1980s.

All source documents for this post are listed at the end.

Calvinist beginnings

Born in Iowa, Robert Schuller, believe it or not, was raised in the Reformed Church of America; he grew up a Calvinist.  So did his mentor the Revd Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking.  Schuller earned his M.Div from the Western Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church of America.  The seminary is located in Holland, Michigan.

After beginning his ministry in the RCA in a church in Illinois, Schuller and his young family moved to Garden Grove, California.  He built his Garden Grove Community Church on the site of a disused drive-in cinema and established a chapel a few miles away.  He presided over services at each on Sundays.

Onward to the megachurch

By 1961 he had opened a new and expanded church — a walk-in, drive-in model — which served both congregations.  In 1968, he added a ‘Tower of Hope’, the tallest structure at that time in Orange County (‘OC’, to you younguns out there!).

The success of Schuller’s ministry prompted Billy Graham in 1969 to suggest that he begin broadcasting his services on television.  Meanwhile, Schuller purchased the walnut grove which bordered Garden Grove Community Church.  He later hired internationally-renowned architect Philip Johnson to design what would become the Crystal Cathedral.  The new church opened in 1980. And, thus, the megachurch was born.

His Hour of Power, filmed from the church (I refuse to call it a cathedral), became the most widely watched Christian worship service internationally.  The Crystal Cathedral had as many as 10,000 members at one time.

Rejecting Calvinism for error

Some smaller Christian cults and churches arose from breakaway Calvinists who didn’t like the doctrines of total depravity, eternal damnation and anything that seemed too difficult.  Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 19th century, didn’t like the idea of Hell.  He was a Presbyterian minister, as was his father.  They both left the Reformed tradition to create their own ‘church’.

Norman Vincent Peale transformed his Reformed Church of America ministry at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City from one based on Christian teachings to one that revolved around positive thinking. Peale didn’t like the doctrine of justification by faith and didn’t believe in Christ’s physical Resurrection.  He wasn’t too keen on the notion of sin, either.

Peale was a 33-degree Mason and served as a Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge in New York.  He read the writings of Ernest Holmes, whose ideas were the foundation for today’s New Age occultism.  Peale also liked Charles Fillmore, who came up with the notion of the power of ‘positive thinking’, which Peale took into the mainstream.

If you’re under 50, you probably have little idea of how influential Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking was in America.  Millions bought the book and watched Peale on television.  It was normal for friends and neighbours to cite the book in conversation and for television stars to credit Peale’s teachings for their success.  But, that is for another post.

Schuller’s seeker-friendly church

Meanwhile, Robert Schuller picked up on Peale’s writings and his success.  His son says that Schuller considered Peale his ‘mentor’.  Schuller cried at the pulpit when Peale died.

Like Peale and the Russells, Schuller rejected his Reformed upbringing and seminary training for ‘possibility thinking’.   Where Peale left off, Schuller picked up, attracting a new generation for a New Age.  The 1980s were all about finding the inner self, investing supernatural properties in objects such as crystals, embracing Eastern religions in a reverential way and demoting our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to a teacher no different from Buddha.  We were all one and could come to a psychic, one-world thinking through New Age philosophy.

Schuller has boasted that imams and rabbis from around the world have watched his television show and embraced his teachings.

So, how did he do it?  Initially, back in the old days, he went from door to door in and around Garden Grove asking people what sort of church they would like to attend.  Broadly speaking, the answer was, ‘Nothing too demanding’.  So, Schuller started the ball rolling by preaching a man-centred, positive message.  He distorted the Gospel to make his congregation feel good about themselves and put them — not the Cross or the Resurrection or sin — at the core of his preaching.

He believed that by bringing people into his church and saying positive things which would affirm them — tickle the itching ears — he would bring them to Christ and a relationship with God.

It is worth mentioning again that Rick Warren was a student of Schuller’s.  Think of his man-centred, secular message with a veneer of Christianity as well as his Church Growth Movement (CGM).  It’s all about the numbers for these men.

Robert Schuller says

What follows are excerpts from Robert Schuller’s teachings, which you can find in Let Us Reason Ministries’ ‘The Gospel According to Schuller’.  I don’t think I need to mention that all of what you read below is unbiblical, yet many ‘Christians’ and seekers have been drawn in by these errors, if not heresies:

God’s purpose:God is trying … to build a society of human beings who live out the golden rule’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 135)

Christianity is flawed: ‘I believe is it the failure to proclaim the gospel in a way that can satisfy every person’s deepest need – one’s spiritual hunger for glory. Rather than glorify God’s highest creation – the human being – Christian liturgies, hymns, prayers, and scriptural interpretations have often insensitively and destructively offended the dignity of the person…’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation , p. 31)

Schuller’s corrective: His book, A Course in Miracles, ‘teaches that “forgiveness” is simply recognizing that sin does not exist and therefore there is nothing to forgive’.

On faith: Schuller had this to say to Larry King in 1994, ‘Positive thinking says, ‘Hey. I am somebody. I can do it.’ Possibility thinking picks up on it and says, “Okay, how is it possible and how can we make it possible,” and power thinking says, “Okay. I am. I can. It’s possible. Okay, let’s you and me do it. Let’s just make it happen.”… I sum up this in a sentence. Faith plus focus plus follow through equals achievement, and many people fail because they just don’t have the faith in themselves, and others have the faith in themselves, but they don’t focus.

Self-esteem in the New Testament: 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). I’ll really feel good about myself’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 80)

On Jesus Christ: ‘Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate’ (p. 135, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation)

On sin and total depravity: ‘I contend that his unfulfilled need for self-esteem underlies every act …over and over again that the core of man’s sin is not his depravity but a “lack of self-dignity”, Self-esteem is … the single greatest need facing the human race today.’ (Self-Esteem: the New Reformation Word Books, 1982, p. 15)

Schuller refers to ‘divine self-esteem’ (p. 95). ‘If the gospel of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed as a theology of self-esteem, imagine the health this could generate in society!’ (Self-Esteem, the New Reformation Word Books, 1982 p. 47)

Dr Michael Horton interviews Schuller for the White Horse Inn

In 1992, Dr Michael Horton of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, interviewed Schuller for White Horse Inn radio.  The White Horse Inn is a Calvinist site with regular broadcasts and is known by its slogan, ‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’.  What follows are excerpts from the transcript where Horton attempts to find out how much Schuller believes.  From what I can recall, Schuller had earlier claimed he was still preaching in the Reformed tradition, hence the interview.  Emphases mine below.

Michael Horton: Would you be willing to address your congregation as a group as sinners?
Robert Schuller: No I don’t think I need to do that. First of all, my congregation is a very mixed audience.

MH: But our Lord’s audiences were mixed with disciples and unbelievers both.
RS: Oh yes, but I’ll tell you, the audience is quite different that I talk to than what the Lord spoke to. I speak every week to millions, not a million but millions of people in Russia on channel one. And I speaking to a couple of million people every Sunday.

MH: Are you saying that it is the size of the audience that matters?
RS: No it’s not the size of the audience, it’s where are they at at this time. My only concern is: I don’t want to drive them farther away than they are! And I listen to so many preachers on religious radio stations…and by golly, if I wasn’t a Christian, they’d drive me farther away. I am so afraid that I am going to drive them farther; I want to attract them, and so I use the strategy that Jesus used…


RS: If we want to win people to Jesus we have to understand where they are at.
MH: I agree absolutely. And they are in sin, that is where they are at.

RS: They are in the state of condition called sin which means they don’t trust. They are lacking faith.
MH: I guess the difference would be our definition of sin, because what I see in scripture is that we’re dead in sin and cannot respond to God even if we were trusting.

RS: We are not justified by faith.
MH: No, it is by grace through faith.

RS: By grace through faith, that’s right.
MH: But what I’m asking is this. Justified from what? The wrath of God?

RS: Oh! I’ll never use that language.
MH: But the Bible does.

RS: Yes, the Bible does, but the Bible is God’s book to believers primarily. Listen, and then call me a heretic if you want to, but I’m interested in attracting people, and not driving them farther away. There is language I can and will use and there are times, if we are wise, there is language we will not use…


MH: Well, on what texts would you base your definition of sin as “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.”
RS: Try some other questions because I think your question isn’t uh, isn’t…I don’t understand it.

MH: Okay. If the definition of sin is “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem,” then, first of all….
RS: Okay, okay, I can handle that. That’s a little piece. Any sinful act that arises out of the sinful condition, and I have to repeat, sin is a condition before it is an action.

MH: Absolutely. We would agree a hundred percent on that. But what is that condition?
RS: That condition is, you are separated from God, totally and completely. And therefore you don’t have the emotional and spiritual affirmation that only comes out of a relationship … And I’ll tell you what God thinks of you: if you were the only person that didn’t have this wonderful relationship with him, why he would take his son and crucify him as your saviour.

MH: But why would He have to do that Dr. Schuller if in fact the only problem that I have with God is that I am non trusting and lack self confidence?
RS: Wait, wait, wait, wait! The “only thing”! That’s everything! That’s Hell!…To be non-trusting is the ultimate sinful condition.


RS: I do let people know how great their sins and miseries are. How do I do that? I don’t do that by standing in a pulpit and telling them they’re sinners. I don’t do it that way. The way I do it is ask questions. Are you happy? Do you have problems, what are they? So then I come across as somebody who cares about them because every single human problem, if you look at it deeply enough, is rooted in the sinful condition. We agree on that. So the way I preach sin is by calling to attention what it does to them here and now, and their need for divine grace!

MH: But what about what it does for them in eternity?
RS: Listen, I believe in heaven. I believe in hell. But I don’t know what happens there. I don’t take it literally that it’s a fire that never stops burning.

MH: As Jesus said it was?
RS: Jesus was not literal. See, now this is where you have differences of interpretation. I went to a different theological school than you did


CALLER: Dr. Schuller, Paul called the gospel an offense. You seem to have a gospel that is a “kinder, gentler” kind of thing.
RS: Thank you. I try to make it that way.

CALLER: How do you reconcile that?
RS: Because I think it honors the name of Jesus.

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, what do we tell someone who says, “I’m already happy and fulfilled, so why do I need the gospel?”
RS: I don’t know…I can’t relate to that.

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, as a Calvinist with your belief in eternal election…how can anything we say drive a person away from being saved?
RS: That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer.

There is much more at the link. This is what happens when preachers forget their confessions of faith and distort Scripture to meet their own perspectives.

I have nothing more to say other than I hope that Schuller’s suppliers get paid and pray that he and his family come to a true understanding of the Bible.

For further reading:

‘Robert H. Schuller’Wikipedia

‘The Gospel According to Schuller’ Let Us Reason Ministries

‘Norman Vincent Peale’Let Us Reason Ministries

‘Michael Horton Interviews Robert Schuller’White Horse Inn

‘Crystal Cathedral megachurch files for bankruptcy’MSNBC

‘Cracked Crystal’Chicago Tribune

‘Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy amid mounting debts’LA Times Blogs