The Great Courses

He Lived in a Glass House

Apr 2, 2015 at 12:43 PM

"Hour of Power" preacher Robert Schuller has died at the age of 88.

Robert Schuller preaching

I grew up watching Schuller on television (we were forced to watch Sunday services on TV if we didn't attend a local service...ugh). His grand, theatrical gestures and "power of positive thinking" messages (which, curiously, didn't involve much scripture) were part of the potpourri of religious messages blaring through my Sunday morning television, and they were definitely a "style over substance" experience.

I don't celebrate his death, nor do I wish to lampoon him as his children grieve the loss of a father. But I do feel inclined to examine Schuller's life and death through the eyes of a skeptic. And my examination has led to a few questions:

1) Did Schuller truly believe it was God's will that money that might have fed starving children or funded homeless shelters should instead fund the construction of an $18 million Crystal Cathedral, an ornate, gaudy structure comprised of over 10,000 pieces of glass? (Yes, you can insert a "glass houses" reference if you feel so inclined.)

crystal cathedral

2) Does it make sense that a man who created a $40 million "International Center for Possibility Thinking" would be navigating a disastrous church leadership transition, personal lawsuits and the ministry's declaration of bankruptcy?

3) How did the "Power of Possibility" play into Schuller's removal of his own son from the pastorate over clashes of vision? A clearly-heard message from God about the possibilities can certainly be communicated from father to son (in both the spiritual and physical sense).

4) While his death certainly shouldn't be celebrated, why are many so quick to celebrate his life? What - beyond happy talk, book sales and an offering plate - did Reverend Schuller bring to the table?

schuller close up

"He made me feel good" might be the epitaph written by his millions of fans and followers, but for my part, I lament the misspent energy and money that Schuller spent on his crystal palace and his own lofty lifestyle in the name of God, and it's my hope that his rise and fall might provide a cautionary tale for those who seek to follow his example.

-Seth Andrews

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