A Biographical Sketch: Norman Vincent Peale

By Daniel W. Petty

Norman Vincent Peale was born in 1898 in rural Bowersville, Ohio, the son of a Methodist preacher. After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio in 1920, Peale began working for a newspaper, his first interest being in journalism. In a year he had decided instead to pursue a career in the ministry. He attended Boston University from 1921 to 1924, where he received the bachelor of sacred theology and master of arts in social ethics degrees. He was ordained in the Methodist Church.

In 1927 Peale began preaching for the University Methodist Church in Syracuse, New York. He spent the next five years preaching in upstate New York, where his dynamic sermons began to attract attention. In 1932 Peale accepted the invitation to become the pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, thus changing his denominational affiliation to the Reformed Church in America (Dutch Reformed), a church known for its staunch Calvinism.

Peale enlisted the aid of a psychiatrist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, and eventually enlarged the staff into a religio-psychiatric clinic, the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. This combination of religion and psychiatry has been one of Peale’s unique emphases. His experience with psychiatric counseling convinced him that the key to happiness is the cultivation of a positive attitude. His philosophy and the general tone of his preaching is epitomized in The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), one of the all-time best selling inspirational books. It combines scriptural argument with the positive mental attitude philosophy, written in a popular, readable style. After WW 11, Peale began publishing Guideposts, a weekly four-page (later monthly) spiritual newsletter for businessmen. Peale was one of the first religious leaders to recognize the power of mass media. From 1952 to 1968, he and his wife appeared on a national TV show, “What’s Your Trouble? ” Peale also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “Confident Living,” and a bi-weekly question and answer page for Look. He has written numerous books, many of them best-sellers, including self-help books and biblical studies.

The standard biography on Peale is Norman Vincent Peale: Minister to Millions, by Arthur Gordon (Prentice-Hall, 1958).

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 12, p. 389
June 18, 1987