Norman Vincent Peale, Apostle of Self-Esteem
Norman Vincent Peale died on Christmas Eve, 1993, at the age of 95. He was one of the most popular preachers of the twentieth century. His famous book The Power of Positive Thinking has sold almost 20 million copies in 41 languages. It was on the United States best-seller list for a full year following its publication in 1952 and has been in print continuously ever since. Peale pastored the Marble Collegiate Church, a Reformed Church in America congregation in New York City, from 1932 until 1984. At the time of his retirement the church had 5,000 members, and tourists lined up around the block to hear Peale preach. For 54 years Peale’s weekly radio program, The Art of Living, was broadcast on NBC. His sermons were mailed to 750,000 people a month. His popular Guidepost magazine has a circulation of more than 4.5 million, the largest for any religious publication. His life was the subject of a 1964 movie, One Man’s Way.
THE FATHER OF POSITIVE-THINKING SELF-ESTEEMISM
Peale the father of the positive-thinking, self-esteem gospel, an unholy mixture of humanistic psychology, eastern religion, and the Bible that has almost taken over the Christian world and has even made deep inroads into fundamentalist churches.
In 1937 Peale and psychiatrist Smiley Blanton established a counseling clinic in the basement of the Marble Collegiate Church. Blanton had undergone extended analysis by Freud in Vienna in 1929, 1935, 1936, and 1937. The clinic was described as having “a theoretical base that was Jungian, with strong evidence of neo- and post-Freudianism” (Carol V.R. George, God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking, Oxford, 1993, p. 90).
In 1951 the clinic became known as the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry, and in 1972 it merged with the Academy of Religion and Mental Health to form the Institutes of Religion and Health (IRH). Peale remained affiliated with the IRH as president of the board and chief fund raiser.
In 1952 Peale published his famous book on positive thinking, becoming the father of a wretched syncretistic doctrine that has flooded Christianity. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California, has patterned his ministry after Peale and has been called “the Norman Vincent Peale of the West.” Schuller is also in the Reformed Church in America.
Peale also was a promoter of the idea of “positive imaging” which has become popular in many charismatic circles. Peale’s latter years were dedicated particularly to giving motivational talks to secular businesses. He was paid fees of $5,000 to $10,000 by companies who were seeking his services to help them make more money by his positive confession methodologies.
For example, a group of Merrill Lynch real estate associates gave Peale a standing ovation after he told them this:
“There is a deep tendency in human nature ultimately to become precisely what you visualize yourself as being. If you see yourself as tense and nervous and frustrated, if that is your image of yourself, that assuredly is what you will be. If you see yourself as inferior in any way, and you hold that image in your conscious mind, it will presently by the process of intellectual osmosis sink into the unconscious, and you will be what you visualize.
“If, on the contrary, you see yourself as organized, controlled, studious, a thinker, a worker, believing in your talent and ability and yourself, over a period of time, that is what you will become.
“Now, you may believe that this is all theoretical. But I believe, and I’ve tested it out in so many cases that I’m sure of its validity, that if a person has a business and images that business at a certain level and fights off his doubts ... it will come out that way--all because of the power of the positive image” (Jeanne Pugh, “The Eternal Optimist,” St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, Religion Section, June 8, 1985).
This is a New Age doctrine and practice. Man, allegedly, has the power within himself, or the ability to tap into a higher power within himself, to accomplish whatever he desires by learning how to visualize it into reality.
In his 1987 book Positive Imaging, Peale said:
“Imaging consists of vividly picturing in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where IT RELEASES GREAT, UNTAPPED ENERGIES” (p. 7).
“There is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature that is capable of bringing about dramatic improvement in our lives. It is a kind of mental engineering... So powerful is the imaging effect on thought and performance that a long-held visualization of an objective or goal can become determinative. ...In imaging, one does not merely think about a hoped-for goal; one ‘sees’ or visualizes it with tremendous intensity, reinforced by prayer. Imaging is a kind of LASER BEAM OF THE IMAGINATION, A SHAFT OF MENTAL ENERGY in which the desired goal of outcome is pictured so vividly by the conscious mind that the unconscious mind accepts it and is activated by it. THIS RELEASES POWERFUL INTERNAL FORCES that can bring about astonishing changes...” (pp. 9, 10).
Peale gives dozens of testimonies of people who used positive imaging and visualization to heal diseases, build large corporations, obtain business promotions, improve marriages, pay off debts, create a more healthy personality, build large churches, you name it. Peale describes how that he used imaging techniques in his second church when the attendance was low:
“I visualized that pew full, and all the other pews full, and the church filled to capacity. I held that image in my mind. ... And the day came when the image became a reality” (p. 25).
He tells of a woman who went to a pastor distraught about her husband. He was irritable, full of tension, unable to progress in his business, sleepless. The pastor, John Ellis Large, author of God is Able and a man that Peale describes as “a former colleague of mine,” asked her what time of the night her husband slept the most soundly. She replied that “by five o’clock in the morning he is in deep sleep.” He then gave her the following advice:
“At five o’clock every morning you get up and sit by your husband and pray for him. Believe that God is there by your husband’s side, actually present with you and with him. IMAGE YOUR HUSBAND AS A WHOLE MAN--happy, controlled, organized and well. Hold that thought intensely. Think of your prayers as reaching his unconscious mind. At that time in the morning his conscious mind is not resisting and YOU CAN GET AN IDEA INTO HIS UNCONSCIOUS. Visualize him as kindly, cooperative, happy, creative and enthusiastic” (p. 37).
You guessed it. After practicing this visualization technique for several weeks the man’s personality allegedly changed and he got a promotion!
This is not biblical praying. It is occultic. To pray to God and ask Him to do something is one thing, but to try to create something by visualizing it and “speaking into” another person’s unconscious mind and forcing it into reality through “holding the image,” is occultic and is entertaining demons unawares. The God of Norman Vincent Peale was a God that was available to empower me to live out my own dream.
Peale advised the members of his congregation:
“When you leave the church, visualize Him walking out with you, strong, compassionate, protective, understanding” (p. 38).
Observe that the God that Peale taught people to imagine is not holy and is not to be feared.
THE POWER OF GOD WITHIN ALL MEN
Peale taught people that they could tap into the power of God within, and he said this indiscriminately to everyone and made no important distinction between the saved and the lost. I have never read a clear statement in Peale’s books of how to be born again in a biblical fashion, yet Jesus Christ solemnly said: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
In the introduction to the book Discovering the Power of Positive Thinking, Peale’s daughter, Ruth Stafford, says:
“[My father’s] faith led him to the conviction that GOD HAD PLACED A PORTION OF HIS POWER IN ALL OF US. My father reasoned, if this was the case, then each of us was capable of doing great things. ... The overall message of Discovering the Power of Positive Thinking is simply this: If you believe that THE POWER OF GOD WITHIN YOU is equal to any of life’s difficulties, then a rewarding life will be yours. This belief inspired the bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking” (pp. 5, 6).
This is a universalistic view that man is not estranged from God and has God living within him. It is akin to the New Age doctrine of human divinity.
As could be expected, Peale’s own testimony of salvation was not clear. He claimed to have had a number of “conversion” experiences. When he was a boy, Peale’s father instructed him to pray for renewed faith and trust in God and “to get converted” once again. The doctrine of the once-for-all new birth was muddled by this type of teaching. Peale claimed to have had another conversion experience in England in 1934. He said he “prayed aloud, confessing his weaknesses and surrendering himself to the Lord,” and immediately he felt “warm all over” (George, p. 82). Peale also described conversions during a Graham crusade in 1957 and while watching Rex Humbard on television.
In an interview with religious news writer John Sherrill, Peale testified: “I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I mean that I believe my sins are forgiven by the atoning work of grace on the cross. ... Now I’ll tell you something else. ... I personally love and understand this way of stating the Christian gospel. But I am absolutely and thoroughly convinced that it is my mission never to use this language in trying to communicate with the audience that God has given me” (Christianity Today, June 21, 1993).
One problem with this testimony is that Peale had the habit of redefining biblical terms. What did he mean atoning work, by grace, by the cross?
Second, as we will see, Peale worshipped a false christ of his own imagination, and it is impossible to be saved by a false christ.
Third, the fact that Peale said God did not call him to express the gospel this way shows his rebellion to the Word of God. There are not multiple ways of stating the gospel! There is only one way, the Bible way. Any other way of stating the gospel is a false gospel and is cursed of God. The “atoning work of the grace of the cross” is exactly how the Bible describes salvation, and those are the types of terms we should use, as well.
We don’t know what Peale’s spiritual condition was when he died, and we hope that he was born again, but if Peale had been truly converted, we believe the Holy Spirit would have brought him to repentance for his modernistic, New Age thinking. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...” (Jn. 16:13).
INFLUENCED BY A LIBERAL EDUCATION
Peale was reared in a Methodist home, the son of a Methodist preacher. Though we do not know how sound his father’s faith was, we do know that his parents encouraged him to attend schools which were hotbeds of liberalism. Peale’s modernism was nurtured at liberal Methodist schools--Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. In a sympathetic biography, God’s Salesman, author Carol V.R. George devotes an entire chapter to “Learning the Lessons of Liberalism.” George describes Peale’s education:
“... he was guided by his professor of English literature, William E. Smyser, to works by Emerson and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius for a sympathetic unfolding of the power of the individual mind. ... Peale’s discovery of James and EMERSON, and to a lesser extent Marcus Aurelius, acquired in the atmosphere of romantic idealism that seemed to flourish on the Methodist campus, EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF HIS MENTAL EQUIPMENT AND THEN A LIFETIME FASCINATION. He would soon encounter the EMERSON OF TRANSCENDENTALISM again in seminary as a shaping force in liberal theology. ...
“Peale’s course of study at seminary was therefore a mixture of theology, philosophy, and social science, of THE MYSTICISM OF PERSONALISM and the activism and ethics of the social gospel. ... it became another means for nurturing A METAPHYSICAL SUBJECTIVISM that had been planted in his religious outlook in his earlier days....
“When he left seminary he described himself as a liberal ... in any conflict with fundamentalists his spontaneous reaction was to side with the modernists” (George, pp. 36-37, 49- 52).
These remarks are very telling. Peale’s faith was mystical and metaphysical. This is New Age. He was powerfully influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a Unitarian minister who fashioned a religious philosophy that attempted to synthesize pagan religions such as Hinduism, Confucianism, and Zoroastrianism, with Christianity. He held to such heresies and pagan doctrines as the fatherhood of God, the divinity of man, the unity of religions, and man is one with God and has no need of an atonement.
In his 1841 essay “The Over-Soul,” Emerson wrote: “... within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One. ... there is no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins” (Emerson, The Over-Soul). Thus, Emerson taught that man’s soul is God and God is man’s soul.
(e) In his message to the Phi Beta Kappa society at Harvard in 1837, entitled “The American Scholar,” Emerson exhorted scholars to free themselves of tradition (such as the Bible) and to maintain a “self-trust.”
This is pure New Age heresy.
Parents who send their children to liberal schools and who stay in denominations which allow room for modernists and who continue to support the denominational institutions by their tithes and offerings should not be surprised when their children become apostate or at least weakened in faith.
TICKLING THE EARS OF AN APOSTATE GENERATION
Peale’s first pastorate after graduation from seminary was at the King’s Highway Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York. His populistic, positive message gain instant acclaim: “In the three years he was at King’s Highway, between 1924 and 1927, the church experienced phenomenal growth, increasing from just over a hundred members when he arrived to nearly 900 when he left...” (George, p. 56).
Peale’s biographer notes, “His message was already assuming the contours it would retain; it was a theologically liberal, inspirational talk that emphasized the transforming result of a relationship with Jesus and with the church” (George, p. 57).
The problem was that Peale’s Jesus was the not the Jesus of the Bible, but the Jesus of his own creation. Peale’s Jesus was a Jesus that did not condemn sin; a Jesus that was not born of a virgin; a Jesus that was not the eternal God; a Jesus that did not die and shed His blood for man’s sin.
Peale used the fundamentalist’s vocabulary, but he used the modernist’s dictionary. This is why so many were deceived by the man. Peale’s god was not the God of the Bible, but the god of self. His faith was not faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible, but faith in faith. His gospel was not the gospel of repentance from sin and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, but a gospel of self-esteem, self-help, and self-recovery.
PEALE AND THE EVANGELICAL WORLD
In the 1950s Peale was labeled a heretic by the evangelical world. For example, an article in Christianity Today, November 11, 1957, said, “Peale speaks much of faith, but it is not faith in God, but ‘faith in faith,’ which means in your capacities. ... This is neither religion, moralism, or anything more than self-help baptized with a sprinkling of devout-plus-medical phrases. For those who believe in the God of Scripture, the reality of vitality of good and evil, and the grace of God unto salvation, there is nothing here but the frenzy of a guilty life and the misery of creeping death.”
The May 1, 1955, issue of United Evangelical Action, noted with wise and courageous insight:
“Unless one is deeply discerning it will not be noticed that Peale has caricatured God, ignored sin and its needed repentance. Norman Vincent Peale’s philosophy is so high-sounding, so full of secondary gospel truth, that millions of his patrons fail to see that the basic redemptive truth of the gospel is completely ignored. Unless one is deeply discerning it will not be noticed that Peale has caricatured God, ignored sin and its needed repentance. Peale presents a very convenient God who is a sort of ‘glorified bellboy.’”
As the years passed, Peale did not change but evangelicalism did. Peale remained the same heretic he always was, while evangelicalism became increasingly apostate and blind so that in recent decades Peale has been widely hailed as a man of God.
Billy Graham helped raise Peale’s status in the evangelical world by inviting him to give the benediction at a crusade in New York in 1956. At a National Council of Churches luncheon on December 6, 1966, Graham said, “I don’t know anyone who has done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale, or have meant any more in my life--the encouragement they have given me” (Hayes Minnick, Bible for Today publication #565, p. 28).
Peale’s wife, Ruth, was a member of the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society (ABS). Peale addressed the 171st annual meeting of the American Bible Society in New York on May 14, 1987. In the announcement for this event, the ABS described Peale as “an author who has inspired millions of his fellow human beings the world over to think ‘positively,’ an uplifting radio and TV personality, and for more than 60 years, a preacher of the Gospel of Christ truly filled with the Holy Spirit” (Christian News, Feb. 16, 1987).
In 1988, Eternity magazine, which has a stated goal of helping “believers in America and elsewhere develop a genuinely Christian mind-set,” was taken over by Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living. Well-known evangelical leader James M. Boice, editor of Eternity, wrote a glowing report of the merger which he entitled “An Exciting Milestone.” Boice gave no warning about Peale’s modernism. (By the end of that year, Eternity had ceased to exist.)
The National Religious Broadcasters presented Peale with an Award of Merit.
Eric Fellman, one-time editor of Moody Monthly, resigned in 1985 to become editor-in-chief of Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living, and Moody continued to print articles by Fellman.
Fuller Theological Seminary offers a Norman Vincent Peale Scholarship in recognition of the supposed “outstanding ministry” of this apostate (The Fundamentalist Digest, Sept.-Oct. 1992).
In a review of a biography on Peale, Christianity Today said this of the positive thinker. Observe how dramatically the thinking of Christianity Today had changed since 1957:
“Norman Vincent Peale is a devout Christian, who injected vitality into a church that was losing touch with ordinary Americans--with the salesmen and housewives and schoolteachers who found him so inspirational. Peale spoke their language, much as televangelists and megachurch pastors who followed him have done. But did he pay too high a price to connect?” (Christianity Today, June 21, 1993, pp. 35-36).
This is the typical new-evangelical hallmark of tiptoeing around the hard issues. Unwilling to come out negatively against heresy, Christianity Today merely throws out a mild question for its readers to answer themselves rather than make a plain statement that Peale was an apostate.
Many were deceived by Peale’s winsomeness and his use of Bible terminology. Guideposts magazine goes into the homes of many Bible-believing Christians who are unaware of Peale’s heresies and who do not have pastors brave enough or well-informed enough to warn plainly of heretics. None of the popular Christian publications are willing to lift a voice of clear warning today of the Peales and Schullers and Chos of our time.
PEALE’S THEOLOGICAL MODERNISM, RELIGIOUS SYNCRETISM, AND UNIVERSALISM
Though Peale rarely spoke in clear theological terms, he did on occasion openly deny the Christian faith. In an interview with Phil Donahue in 1984, Peale said: “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine. ... I’ve been to the Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere.” Donahue exclaimed, “But you’re a Christian minister; you’re supposed to tell me that Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life, aren’t you?” Peale replied, “Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.” Peale told Donahue that when he got to “the Pearly Gates”, “St. Peter” would say, “I like Phil Donahue; let him in!” Mr. Peale gave comfort to some in the audience who believed that “just so we think good thoughts” and “just so we do good, we believe we’ll get to heaven” (Hugh Pyle, Sword of the Lord, Dec. 14, 1984).
Peale was a Mason and served as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of New York City and Imperial Grand Chaplain of the Shrine. On September 30, 1991, he was inducted into the Scottish Rite Hall of Honor, and his oil portrait hangs in the House of the Washington D.C. Temple (The Berean Call, Oct. 1992).
In an article that appeared in the Masonic Scottish Rite Journal in February 1993, Peale said:
“My grandfather was a Mason for 50 years, my father for 50 years, and I have been a Mason for over 60 years. This means my tie with Freemasonry extends back to 1869 when my grandfather joined the Masons. ... Freemasonry does not promote any one religious creed. All Masons believe in the Deity without reservation. However, Masonry makes no demands as to how a member thinks of the Great Architect of the Universe. ... men of different religions meet in fellowship and brotherhood under the fatherhood of God.”
This is a true description of Masonry, of course, but it is strictly contrary to Christ’s exclusive claims as the only way to God and the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and flies in the face of such Bible demands as 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? ... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
In a July 22, 1983, interview with USA Today, Peale was asked, “Do you think herpes and AIDS is God’s punishment of homosexuals and the promiscuous?” Peale responded, “I don’t believe God spends his time revenging himself on people. These things come about because of scientific methodology. God is too big to spend his time in revenge.”
In the same interview Peale said, “The church should be in the forefront of everything that is related to human welfare because the church is supposed to be the spiritual home of mankind and it ought to take care of all of God’s children.”
In an interview with Modern Maturity magazine, December-January 1975-76, Peale was asked if people are inherently good or bad. He replied:
“They are inherently good--the bad reactions aren’t basic. Every human being is a child of God and has more good in him than evil--but circumstances and associates can step up the bad and reduce the good. I’ve got great faith in the essential fairness and decency--you may say goodness--of the human being.”
In the same interview Peale said regarding Christ, “I like to describe him as ... the nearest thing to God...”
In 1980 Peale attended a dinner honoring the 85th birthday of Spencer Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the Mormons.
Peale endorsed the use of New Age occultic automatic writing: Speaking of Jane Palzere and Anna Brown, co-authors of The Jesus Letters, which professes to be the product of automatic writing under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, Peale said: “What a wonderful gift to all of us from you is your book, The Jesus Letters ... You will bless many by this truly inspired book. ... It little matters if these writings come from Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus of Jane [Jane Palzere] they are all the same consciousness and that consciousness is God. I am a part of God, and Jane and Anna are part of that same God” (advertisement for The Jesus Letters and Your Healing Spirit).
The advertisement quoted above gives this information about the automatic writing recommended by Peale:
“Initial contact from the entity was made with Palzere on February 3, 1978, when she was sitting at her desk in Newington, Connecticut writing a philosophy of healing for a course she was taking. `My hand began to write “You will be the channel for the writing of a book,”‘ she explains. From then on, one message came each day. Palzere reports that `they would be preceded by a tremor in my hand, would come without hesitation and would end when the message was completed.’“
In this strange book the supposed Jesus channeled by Palzere and Brown says, “God does not see evil; He sees only souls at different levels of awareness.”
Of this unscriptural nonsense, Peale gave the following frightful testimony:
“I found myself fascinated, deeply moved and having the feeling that he [the ‘Jesus’ of The Jesus Letters] was also speaking to me as I read” (Ibid.).
Peale was deeply moved by the New Age teaching of a demon masquerading as Jesus.
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