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ss nucleus - summer 1995,  The Power of Positive Living

The Power of Positive Living

Norman Vincent Peale. Cedar 1991 £4.99 Pb.

Positive thinking appears on the surface very attractive and indeed in some ways seems Christian-especially if it is advocated by a noted Christian writer. However, looking deeper into the theology of this particular author (who is a good standard for any book on this subject), must make us realise that fundamentally such thinking is anti-Christian and indeed pagan in origin. However, I will start off with some of the positive points in the book, and then proceed to show why I believe such thinking is false and very dangerous.

There is an element of truth in saying that some people feel so negative about themselves that it affects their everyday living. Training such people to re-think can greatly improve their self-esteem. All of us at some time have 'pep talked' a friend or loved one who is despondent or feeling down, and often there is an improvement in their thinking process; instead of feeling negative they become positive. These things are good and make common sense, for we even see in the book of Job that his friends sought initially to comfort him with words. In this book there are two good accounts worth mentioning. The first is found on page 125-126 where the author talks about him preaching to soldiers about the Lord and the offer of eternal life; and the second on page 201 which describes a person's conversion.

However, the fundamental problem with the book is the 'man-centredness' of it. Its main thrust is that if you believe in yourself enough, you can get or become whatever you want-if only you have enough faith. I quote from page 20 which says:

'A would-be achiever must believe in himself or herself have confidence in his ability and goals...and all belief should be under-girded by a solid trust in the help of God.'

So why is this anti-Christian? The reason such thinking is contrary to the Gospel is because it teaches man to put his trust in man. The Scripture says: 'Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.' (Jeremiah 17:5) Man by nature is utterly weak and full of sin, and is unable to govern his course of life-since God himself controls all things. How can we put our faith in something so pathetic and weak. For the Christian, his (her) trust is in the Lord, and therefore God's strength is in fact our weakness: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness' (2 Corinthians 12:9). Never trust your human ability to succeed, because 'Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain' (Psalms 127:1).

The parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21 is about thinking we are in control of our lives, and putting our trust in our earthly successes. This leads me onto the next point. By using personal testimonies of people he has 'ministered' to, the author repeatedly conveys the message 'believe in yourself and have faith in God, and you will achieve whatever success you desire'. A Christian's desire must be solely for the Gospel and no other. If our desires are purely for great human success, it profits nothing. To direct one's energy towards achieving great wealth or fame is carnal and opposed to the teachings of Christ.

The author emphasises the fact that we must have a belief in God in order to achieve success, but he does not fully define which God. The Devil believes in the Lord Jesus Christ also! God seems to be a helpmate, the sort of chap who is very pleased to give you success - providing it's good for you and doesn't hurt anyone else. He doesn't mention repentance at all, or the need for salvation by Jesus Christ alone. I quote from page 46 which says:

'If you believe that Jesus Christ will help you, if you will give all of yourself to whatever you do, you will get along all right.'

I want to mention the health and wealth teaching which this book advocates. On page 48 a story is told of a woman called Maria Gibbs who found faith in God (and in so doing achieved fame and success) initially by watching a TV programme which talked about a church which preached that 'God wants only the best for us, and that if we pray, believing, he hears and will answer'. The best does not mean lots of earthly wealth, nor does it mean earthly success. Jeremiah the prophet preached repentance for 40 years to a rebellious Israel to no avail. He was despised and rejected by his people. Was Jeremiah given the best by God in terms of comforts, money or happiness? The Lord Jesus had no money, home, status, or comforts. Paul the Apostle suffered beyond measure for his faith. Christianity is not about believe in God and you will get what you want, but rather believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and you will suffer for his name's sake. Our kingdom in not on earth but in heaven. We need to seek therefore our treasure in heaven.

In summary, the only way we can ever have true joy and happiness is by being 'born again' in the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, we have all our sins transferred to the Lord himself, and he in turn imputes his righteousness and perfection to us; so that the Father sees us as being sinless. Our self confidence must never be in ourselves, but rather in Jesus Christ because he never fails, but we do. We are converted not for our benefit (although God in his mercy gives us many such as eternal life, peace, joy and the privilege of being his children), but for his glory.

In view of this, our desire must be to serve him. Earthly ambition comes second to spiritual ambition. God never promises us wealth and success on earth, but what he does promise us is that the Lord Jesus will one day return in great glory to take us home to heaven. This is the true hope and happiness for every Christian our salvation.

Are you ready for him?

Reviewed by Nicholas Herodotou, House Officer

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