Norman Vincent Peale:  How We Have Thrown The Baby Out With The Bath Water

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, October 20, 2015 0 comments

by Bill Seng

“Greatness is revealed not in vast miraculous actions, but daily positive attitudes.” ~Chuck Swindoll

Not long ago I read a hit piece on one of the top GOP candidates fighting for his party’s nomination to run for President of the United States of America (I will let you speculate regarding the identity of the candidate). The criticism directed at this candidate stemmed from his relationship to a pastor by the name of Norman Vincent Peale. Peale is the author of a controversial book titled The Power of Positive Thinking. The book itself rightfully faced heavy criticism, to my understanding, because it has exaggerated the effects of both positive and negative thinking, and for being a religious book based on Christian principles, it promotes the power stored in man more so than the power of God. Having said that, because of how profoundly he has exaggerated the teachings in his book there has been a horrible plague of Christian pessimism.

I have never read Peale’s book, nor do I care to waste my time reading about his feel good theology and fudged science, but he is right to say that we should have a positive attitude. The main point of his book seems to be that one ought to maintain a positive attitude in all circumstances no matter what, and that everything will work out for the best. Granted the fudginess of his book, it is still somewhat disturbing to see how many Christians think that it is some sort of a sin to be positive all of the time. In a class I took with Dr. Gwen Ebner at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, she asserted that we should believe in ourselves, because God believes in us. His belief in us is rooted in the fact that he created us.

I do not intend to misrepresent Peale and make it sound like this was what he was trying to get across. More or less, my understanding of Peale’s teachings is rooted in name-it claim-it theology. In other words, if you want something, name what it is and then claim it is yours even before you obtain it, in faith that God will make it yours in due time. This starkly contrasts with my professor’s teaching, which dealt with the spread of the Gospel. Her point was that we should have confidence in God that he has equipped us to minister effectively in our given circumstances. And in the areas where we lack sufficient gifting, then God assures us that when we are weak, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Has not God gifted us in ways that make us stand out from the rest of the world for the sake of his glory?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We have all said at some point in time, “I can’t stand so-and-so because nobody can be that happy, all of the time.” We are all guilty of that. You would think that people who are always positive are some sort of horrible criminals. Come to think of it, I was once of being accused of “being too nice”. I found it odd that I was accused of such an atrocity, but then wondered why the person who said this was so concerned over my kind demeanor.

Anyway, are we not commanded to have confidence in Christ? Is not our confidence in him made manifest in this world? Are we not told to rejoice in all circumstances? Paul added to this command, “Again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Is rejoicing gloomy and negative? No! The apostles annoyed their captors by rejoicing for suffering for the sake of Christ. Most Christians that I have encountered seem to think we ought to have some sort of cynical realist perspective on the world (I consider myself a realist, by the way). The apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ.

To clarify, I am not endorsing Peale or his teachings. In context, I think many of his teachings are dangerous. When we place our confidence in the One who is in control of all things, we can have confidence that our lives will bring him glory. This is mistakenly called health and wealth Gospel. I think that we have forgotten the joy of knowing Jesus and can’t stand those who always have a reason to rejoice. I would prefer that they honor Jesus appropriately. In the words of Chuck Swindoll, “When your attitude is right you reveal the grace of God.”

(I realize I have not directly quoted Peale at all in this post. If you want some quick hits of Peale’s teachings, check out this page.)

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.