Self-Esteem as Human Flourishing: The Anthropologic Telos of Robert H. Schuller

In 1955, a twenty-nine-year-old preacher from Iowa arrived in Garden Grove, California, with a mission and a dream: produce positive people. From that desire, Robert H. Schuller planted what would become the Crystal Cathedral with its theological positivism and possibility-thinking message. Drawing from his experience as a poor farmer’s son in Newkirk and his college and seminary education, Schuller believed that the fundamental message people needed centered on dignity, self-worth, self-respect, and self-esteem. While remembered for his messages and books on positive thinking that promoted this basic message of positivity and possibility, what has often been misunderstood or gone unnoticed is the anthropological aim behind Schuller’s message.

This paper argues that Schuller promoted a theological anthropology that he believed would change lives. By analyzing Schuller’s early influences and examining his socioeconomic context, this project mines the theological anthropology of this often overlooked and influential figure within the twentieth-century church. It argues that, beyond self-help, Schuller was promoting a theological anthropology that would result in a happy, hopeful, and flourishing humanity. As such, this paper contributes to the current scholarly understanding of Schuller as a preacher and evangelist and contributes to how one understands Schuller’s impact more broadly as a positive theologian.

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