Dr. Robert Harold Schuller, the host of “Hour of Power” – a weekly worldwide television show with over 20 millions viewers – came to Hong Kong this November for the program "Don’t throw away tomorrow!"
The following is an excerpt from a conversation with Dr. Schuller on October 25, 2006.
Schuller: In classical theology, sin is defined as sin of commission – where you commit sins such as stealing, lying, and killing. Those are the sins of commission. Then sin is defined as sin of omission. You sin if you do not read the scripture, or do good to those who are hurting, or if you do not help people to become an enthusiastic Christian.
Most of the sin of omission means that your life is not glorifying God. What I am doing is that I am preaching against sin every Sunday, but I am preaching against sin of omission. What would you do if you have more faith in Jesus Christ? With that question, I am preaching about the sin of omission. Let me help tell you what you can do for God, That’s when your life begins to glorify God.
What is repentance? Repentance is not saying how bad I am. But, in the Greek word "metanoya" means turning around and doing what you should do, and stop doing what you are not doing. I preach against that if I give people confidence to believe in faith and to believe in the ideas that God is giving to them. We pray, “Dear Lord please help me to do your will.” To do your will is not just “not committing adultery or stealing,” but it is finding your dream in your life and doing it.
In that kind of preaching against sin, I do not even need to use the word sin. If I am trying to reach people who are not believers and they are sinners, commission or omission, how do you teach people about sin without insulting them? I found out from people that when you preach about sins of commission, when you are preacher, people down there think that you do not commit sin and you are better than they or better than you.
The positive preaching about sin is to preach faith. In America, there is green grass for lawns. Everybody tries to get rid of the weeds in the lawn. The weeds always grow and come back. There is grass called the Tundra. It has such thick roots that weeds don’t grow. That’s how I preach against sin. If I preach Christ in their life, then Christ chokes the other tempting sins from taking over. It is unique approach from this man who is talking to you. I think I will be noted in history as always having the positive approach and guide in positive thinking.
GH: It is a very good introduction. Many Christians are interested to know about this. Now, can you tell us your plan in Hong Kong?
Schuller: Well, what brings me to Hong Kong is something connected with the board. I have ministry in China and abroad in Hong Kong. We are on televised church service in Hong Kong every Sunday morning from 9am to 10am. We are getting stronger responses, so I have board meeting with them. While I am here, I hope that I can meet with some of the Christian publishers and get some free press. I need to let others know about this. Christianity is started by sinful people.
When you go back a long time, there was Saint Augustine. He made big deal about sin of commission. He was sinning in commission. It was sexual for him. Sin gets highly connected to doing some bad, and it was heavily connected to sex. He had himself castrated, so he would not commit these sins of sex. That is where he was coming from. Strong emphasis on sin is what you should not do and this has swept into the Roman Catholic Church.
When the reformation came through, Calvin and Luther didn’t check for the doctrine of sin. It was negative and not positive. When they are asking to repent, they are asking to think about all the bad things that you did and say “I’m sorry, forgive me Lord.” They are not asking you to think all the things you could have done. But you were afraid to, or would not dare to, or [felt you] did not have money to give God a chance to do a miracle. That’s what the Schuller emphasis has been. That is sweeping American Evangelicals.
Rick Warren, a great book for instance, was very positive. He was turned around when he went to my school, the Schuller Institute, for successful church leadership. His wife said in Christianity Today that when he went to my school, he was turned around.
Now, his emphasis is on doing, being and fulfilling the purpose driven life. The purpose driven life is not trying to get rid of every little sin in you, but it is to believe in the dream that God has given you. Would it be great if I do this! Or would it be great if our magazine went here and there! That is a positive rather than a negative approach.
Bill Hybel was also turned around in my school. Every time he speaks at our church, he said there would be no Willow Creek Church if it had not been for Schuller. We are teaching the positive. Only when you get into positive will Christians do or be what God wants them to be. What does it mean to be saved? From the negative approach will you go to heaven or will you go to Hell. It is true. It does not motivate you to do what is positive.
You are changed when you are saved. It is to become a person, neither a puppet repeating what you were taught in Catechism nor a computer. To become a person means that you can be intelligent, dream dreams, ask questions. Therefore, to be saved means to become a person – to become the person that God planned for you to become.
You see this is kind of different from what is taught about church history. I am a theologian. I am not a liberal theologian, but I am a very biblical theologian because I am teaching that sin is lack of faith. How do I lead people to repentance? If sin is lack of faith, then repentance is daring to do and be what God has called you to be.
For the Bible, the bottom line is not about when you drink too much wine or some other things that we might be called sin. But it is whether you are reflecting love of Jesus. If we are emphasizing sins of omission for the past 1000 years, we have a lot more people not looking at “do not do this,” but “do this.”
Am I being really biblical? You bet I am. I am doing things so positively that the negative-thinking fundamentalists Christians do not even recognize it. They are not coming from there because they have probably been taught by preachers that were themselves feeling pretty guilty.
In Hebrews 11:6, it says without faith, it is impossible to please God. How is that a definition of sin? Isn’t that great? I am preaching about sin every time he talks about faith in Jesus Christ.
GH: One of the messages that you talk about is possibility thinking. How did you receive this revelation?
Schuller: I got it because first of all I belong to the Old Dutch church in America. It is the oldest protestant denomination in the United States – when America was founded and settled as a new country. Of course, [Chinese history] is thousands of years old, so we’re [United States] still a rather young country.
In 1628, Holland wanted a colony because the English just established a colony in English Town. So, the queen of Holland sent 58 colonists to get on board and buy some land to get a Dutch colony there. They were all members of the Reformed Church. They bought Manhattan Island from the Indians. They did not just grab it like lot of people did. It was the age of imperialistic colonization where the big country of Europe is going into other parts of the world and grabbing property. They [the Dutch] owned it. It is terrible [what English did]. We never did that and we bought it [land] from the Indians.
A few people started a church [in modern times], and it became the Marble Collegiate church of New York. The pastor of that [church] was Norman Vincent Peel. He was a friend of mine. He wanted a church in the west coast and he asked me if I would go start one, but I could not find an empty hall to rent. All I could get was a piece of ground. You cannot preach with a piece of ground really well. There were drive-in theatres. So, I would have to talk to people in their cars. That is how it got started. One of the first Sundays that I preached, I preached in my text. What is my text? I was born on 1926. What is the first book in the New Testament? The first book is the New Testament.
Let’s find out what Matthew 19:26 is? That is the year that I was born in. You know lot of new-age people believe that you are born under a sign of a planet or something. I don’t believe that. I’m not [a part of] new-age. God had me born on Matthew 19:26, because he wanted me to live under that Bible verse. “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Isn’t that great?
How did I get it? People said that even if you can’t get a building and start preaching, you can’t preach in a drive-in theatre. I believe that in God all things are possible. Twenty years later when I needed a large building, I didn’t want to look at the plaster of the building, but I want to see the birds fly and the sky. That was the church I preached in for the first five years. If you want to build a building to the glory of God, then don’t put a bunch of walls where you can’t see anything. See flying birds and the sky, and feel the warmth of the sun. That gave rise to the Crystal Cathedral, which all of the church people and Christians criticize me for [besides] the positive theology.
Two years ago, the Times publisher published [an article about] the most glorious and inspiring buildings in the world. It started with the pyramids, and then the pantheons in Greece. They only included seven Christian buildings. Number six is the Holy See in Rome. Number seven is the Crystal Cathedral in [the city of] Garden Grove, California.
Not long ago, History Channel did a two-hour special on how Christianity affected architecture. They picked the five most beautiful buildings built by Christians in the past two thousand years. Number four was Michelangelo’s Saint Peters [Cathedral] in Rome. Number five was the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. I’m proud of that because that is witness to Jesus Christ. Christians build it.
GH: You are very well-known for your program “Hour of Power,” which is very not just televised in the United States but also around the world. How did this program begin?
Schuller: It began when we had church services every week. When we built the church, we had walls where we can open up and people in their cars can see me. As they were in their cars, the handicapped can also see me.
Billy Graham came to Anaheim to have a crusade. He and I were really old friends. We were friends before he was an evangelist. I was a singer in the college. We definitely provided music for him in his campaigns. He asked me to be the vice chairman of the campaign that he was having in Anaheim. And, I accepted this because we were old friends. He said he wanted to show me something. Come outdoors. He showed me this television truck. We’re going to televise these Crusades. Then we’ll put them on television. He said, “Bob you should do this for your church. Televise where there is no televised church service.”
God led Billy Graham and me to believe that we should do it, which scared me stiff because it was so expensive. I did not have money. We got guidance that we should try and we did. That is how it started. People believed in it and you can see that it is true. You can find lots of faults in Schuller, but you can’t fault me in my integrity or my theology unless you want it to be negative theology. I’m not [negative] and I won’t go there [in my sermons]. I’m trying to lead the whole world of Christians to turn from our two thousand years of emphasis on the negative, “don’t, don’t, don’t, you are bad.” From that, God planned a life, gave you brains and a heart, and gave you a Savior named Jesus. And he gave you spiritual power called the Holy Spirit. All of that is from God. Go with it and make it great. That’s my legacy.
Dr. Robert Schuller founded the Garden Grove Community Church in Garden Grove, California in 1955. With his wife, Arvella, serving a organist, and possessing $500 in assets, he rented the Orange Drive-in Theater and conducted Sunday services from the roof of the snack bar. The congregation's growth over the years dictated the decision to build the internationally-acclaimed Crystal Cathedral.
He was ordained by the Reformed Church of America after receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hope College and a Master of Divinity Degree from Western Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than 30 books – five of which have appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list.