Friday, April 11, 2014

"Be Happy You Are Loved" by Robert Schuller: A Review

Be Happy You Are Loved - Large Print Book Club EditionLove.  The word is everywhere.  Movies.  Music.  Poems.  Books.  T-Shirts.  Billboards.  TV.  Video Games. Stories. Religions.  Everywhere.  From a Christian perspective, this shouldn't surprise us, but unfortunately, like everything else that originates with God, many in the culture (and many in the church) simply miss the mark.  Close they may get to what real love is, but still far from what it truly means and is.  This is why we confuse love with mere infatuation and a temporary feeling that ends with broken hearts and broken marriages.

This week our church continues its ongoing series on the attributes of God and this week we finally get to the one that everyone believes and affirms:  God is love.  That is a huge statement and like everything else regarding love I believe we simply miss it.  Jesus was clear; the two most important commandments in all the Bible are:  Love God; Love others.  But how that has been interpreted has been problematic for many over the centuries.

Recently I sat down and read through Dr. Robert Schuller's book Be Happy You Are Loved.  Anybody that knows Dr. Schuller and his famous positive thinking theology will not find anything surprising or disappointing here.  Though this is not his best-selling book, it certainly does reflect the same tone and theology of his entire ministry and publication career. The title says it all. Be Happy because You are loved.

The first part really sums up Schullers approach.  In order to have true happiness there are three "train stations" we must accept and the way I read it, in this order:  (1)  Love Yourself; (2) Love God (3) Love Others.

I must say that this strikes me immediately as off based.  The first priority is to love ourselves; to have a positive outlook on life and on ourselves; to have a high self-esteem and self-image of ourselves.  Really?  This is what the Bible asserts and the gospel demands?  Where in Scripture do we find self-esteem?  And how did it sneak in front of loving God first?

I knew this was coming before reading the book.  This is Schuller's theology in a nutshell.  What Joel Osteen is today, Robert Schuller was yesterday.  Positive thinking and self-esteem is the new reformation (see his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation).  I find such theology preposterous.  The gospel reveals to us a holy God who cannot approve of sin and we are sinners, by conception.  So instead of thinking happy thoughts, the gospel moves us to think repentant thoughts.  Shame, guilt, and conviction are imperative if the gospel is to be believed in.  Humility and selflessness is rooted a right understanding of the gospel and Schuller's gospel is far from it.

Simply put, positive thinking is antithetical to the gospel and it simply does not work.  Practically speaking, studies have showed that Americans students are performing terribly in math internationally, however are pleased with their work.  In other words, though we're performing poorly, we feel good about ourselves.  That is a remedy for disaster.

This is reflected in this entire book.  Even when Schuller moves to loving God and loving others it remains shallow and under the positive thinking mentality.  A right view of God humbles us and thus we appreciates the love of God more because we know we do not deserve it at all.  But when we rob God of His holiness, we diminish His great love and mercy.

So overall I would caution the reader not to buy into this "New Reformation" thinking because it is no Great Reformation but a curse - a cancer that we need to eradicate.  "God's love is not a pampering love; its a perfecting love" (James MacDonald).  If you want to understand the meaning of love and the love of God, look elsewhere and don't bother with this one.
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