A Biographical Sketch: Robert Harold Schuller

By Daniel W. Petty

Robert Schuller was born in 1926 in northwestern Iowa, and belonged to the stock of Dutch immigrants who were attracted there in the late nineteenth century by the soil and by the opportunity to practice their Calvinistic faith without state interference. The Schuller family was part of the Reformed Church in America (Dutch Reformed), which holds to a staunchly orthodox interpretation of Calvinist theology, epitomized by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. The emphasis is strongly upon divine sovereignty and grace vs. human autonomy and efficacy.

Young Robert was nurtured on this doctrine, and in 1947, he graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, a school affiliated with the RCA. Upon graduation from Hope, he entered Western Theological Seminary, just across the street, and also a theologically conservative RCA school. His B. D. thesis was a 285-page scriptural and topical index to Calvin’s Institutes.

In 1955, Schuller accepted the task of organizing a new church in Garden Grove, California. The Garden Grove Community Church began as Schuller started preaching from the tar-paper roof of a drive-in theater snack bar. The “drive-in church” concept was never dropped, even when modern buildings were later erected. The first “great glass cathedral,” complete with drive-in parking and equipped with hi-fi speakers, was finished in 1961. In 1980, the new $20 million Crystal Cathedral was completed, with an interior seating capacity of 3000, plus many more from cars parked outside.

The services of Schuller’s church are broadcast on the “Hour of Power,” a TV program with an audience of more than 500,000 viewers. The program began in 1970, and is part of the Robert Schuller Televangelism Association, Inc. Schuller is the only major TV evangelist within mainline Protestantism.

His TV work has been inspired by Bishop Fulton Sheen, while his message has been at least partly inspired by Norman Vincent Peale, who was Schuller’s guest speaker on more than one occasion. Schuller emphasizes “possibility thinking” and “self-esteem” – messages intended to reach the unchurched. In Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, the Fall of Man and original sin are interpreted as the loss of self-esteem and a consequent inferiority complex. Redemption is preached as the restoration of self-esteem.

For further reading on Robert Schuller, a good biography has been written: Dennis Voskuil, Mountains Into Goldmines: Robert Schuller and the Gospel of Success (Eerdmans, 1983).

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 12, p. 376
June 18, 1987