Lesson 8: The Power of Positive Thinking – Self Esteem

The fourth feature of a deficient modern lifestyle, the Power of Positive Thinking, also stands traditional Christianity on its head. Robert Schuller calls for a modern Reformation that updates Luther’s. However, he claims it should be based on the believer’s self-esteem rather than God’s grace. He constantly says everything depends on “believing,” but this is not Luther’s “faith alone.” Schuller means believing in yourself, not in God. In other words. He turns Luther upside down.

If Pentecostals and Fundamentalists react against science, Positive Thinking reacts against moralistic religion which labels as sin everything from Sunday movies to sexual thoughts. They believe most problems are self-imposed, caused by lack of confidence, vision, or ambition. Confession of sin is old fashioned. Of first importance is forgiving yourself for the mistakes you have made. Joel Osteen constantly urges people to say, ”I done good!” rather than examining their sins.

If you read Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, or Joel Osteen, you hear a lot of god language. Yet there is hardly any god content in their message. They come close to the Scientologists’ definition of God: “If it works for you, it works.” They will speak of God wanting you to be happy; they will claim God is in charge of all things; but in the end, God’s role is to support what you want. Osteen is basically a motivational speaker who just happens to be Christian.

Although positive thinking can be very helpful for reaching some of our goals, making it the foundational teaching of Christianity leads to a problematic lifestyle. 1) It is naïve about the real world. All things might be possible with God, but humans are still bound by the natural limitations of self and situation. It is hubris to think otherwise.

2) It is reductionist. It can avoid the negative only by ignoring the controversial. Osteen readily acknowledges he does not get into political issues or hot topics, because he believes it is more important to keep people operating in a positive manner. He simply does not deal with problems that leave far too many hungry, homeless, and oppressed.

3) Success is defined as the world defines it. Being successful might well mean becoming a part of the world’s oppressive power structure.

4) This develops into a “do your own thing” lifestyle whose ethic is simply “Do no harm”. Christianity deals only with the private, isolated individual. You pursue your own happiness as long as this does not interfere with others pursuing theirs. However, there is no standard for determining what to do when conflict does occur.

5) It is parochial, defining Christianity as a Western Civilization phenomenon. It works for some in free societies but not for the 2 million infants living with HIV in Africa.

6) Obviously ignoring negative thinking includes denying the need for God’s redemption of the creation, the central teaching of the Church. A good illustration is the removal of crosses from Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.

There is no doubt being positive is a healthy attitude and no doubt most of our
problems are self-imposed. We can all appreciate Peale’s “If life gives you lemons,
make lemonade”. However, it is next to useless in overcoming the oppressive powers
Jesus calls us to confront. So what is the role of self-esteem in Jesus’ message?

The four lifestyles I analyzed in Unit 2 truly do stand the traditional ones from Unit 1 on their heads. They 1) focus on the salvation of the isolated individual rather than the community participating with God in the salvation of the world. 2) look backward to preserve rather than forward to transform. 3) accept success defined by worldly rather than traditional Christian standards such as unconditional love, forgiveness, love of enemy, returning good for evil, and the elimination or at least restriction of violence
4) practice self-directed rather than other-directed love. Jesus serves as the Savior who enables us to get what we want but not the model for living according to God’s will.

This ends the second unit. I’ll take a week off to enable people to catch up. Unit 3 will try to draw up an appropriate Christian lifestyle for our time and place. That deserves some creative thought.

1. http://normanvincentpeale.wwwhubs.com/
Norman Vincent Peale’s thoughts

2. http://www.crystalcathedral.org/teaching/
Robert Schuller’s teachings

3. http://www.joelosteen.com/HopeForToday/ThoughtsOn/Pages/ThoughtsOn.aspx
Osteen’s thoughts on various topics

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