What Is Applied Christianity?
Can the use of the Bible’s sound psychological principles for health and success in business be termed “applied Christianity”? And how can we tell whether or not we are deceiving ourselves by our forms of godly devotion? For answers on these questions in the light of current facts and the Bible read this and the succeeding article.
“THIS book teaches applied Christianity.” That is the claim made for the book The Power of Positive Thinking, written by Dr. N. V. Peale, pastor of Marble Collegiate church of New York city. In the past two years more than 750,000 copies of this book have been sold, and it has been listed in the New York Times as a best seller for over two years.
The Power of Positive Thinking claims that by following its suggestions “you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ceasing flow of energy,” that “obstacles are simply not permitted to destroy your happiness and well-being,” and that “your relations with other people will improve. You will become a more popular, esteemed and well-liked individual.” To overcome your inferiority complex it prescribes: “Believe in yourself! Have faith in yourself!” If you think success, you will be successful. Apply to your personal problems such Bible texts as “If you have faith . . . nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
We are further told by Dr. Peale that peace of mind can be gained by repeating and trying to visualize words suggesting peace, such as “tranquillity,” and that “it is also helpful to use lines of poetry or passages from the Bible.” True, Bible reading and prayer may be good for the nerves, may cure insomnia, etc., but is that “applied Christianity” or merely applied psychology?
We are also assured that Bible reading will supply us with dynamic physical energy. Yes, “you don’t have to get tired. Get interested in something. Get enthralled in something. Throw yourself into it with abandon. Get out of yourself. Be somebody. Do something.” But what? Work for God or work for oneself?
“Prayer power is a manifestation of energy,” the chapter on prayer tells us, and there are scientific methods for the release of prayer power just as there are for the release of atomic energy. “The formula is: (1) Prayerize, (2) Picturize, (3) Actualize.” “Many competent and successful businessmen are finding that one of the greatest of all efficiency methods is prayer power.” But is God interested in “famous industrialists” getting their technical problems solved?
Successful men in many walks of life are quoted to show that all things are possible if we have faith. But are the world’s greatest successes those with the greatest faith? We are told that “If God be for me who can be against me?” and so I can make a success of selling vacuum cleaners. “Applied Christianity” makes the slumping sales executive a “ball of fire.” Faith can cure all manner of diseases, even malignant tumors, for “there is a sound message of health in Christianity,” the reader is further assured. Religion will improve your appearance, for “God runs a beauty parlor.” “Applied Christianity” will help you to live longer.
There is no question about the “power of positive thinking.” By taking a defeatist attitude, by worrying, by having inferiority feelings, by fuming and fretting, by being tense and by nursing grudges we do hamstring our efforts. Counseling against all such is good psychology and it can be found in the sayings of Lao-tse, ancient and modern philosophers and psychologists and other wise men of the world, all of whom are freely quoted. And since the Creator understands man perfectly it is to be expected that His Word should evince a remarkable understanding of what is best for man psychosomatically. By capitalizing on the Bible’s popularity and wisdom, Dr. Peale has produced a best seller. But his philosophy is not true Christianity.
To illustrate: Many of the laws of Moses had good physical effects; one day of rest in seven is good for man and beast; forbidding marriage of close relatives is good eugenics; forbidding of certain meats, good dietetics, etc., but the mere following of these rules because of the physical benefits received would not have made any nation God’s chosen people nor assured them of Jehovah’s protection against their enemies. Such physical benefits were merely incidental. So today, following certain Scriptural principles for psychological reasons is not Christianity and will not assure one of salvation, of everlasting life at God’s hands.
The apostle Paul spoke of some “men corrupted in mind and despoiled of the truth, thinking that godly devotion is a means of gain.” This exactly describes the philosophy of The Power of Positive Thinking, for it quotes with approval: “The maintenance of a sound spiritual life is important to enjoying energy and personality force.” All such reasoning is selfish to the core and the very opposite of true Christianity, which is the essence of unselfishness. Instead of making God our partner and making him work for us, as the book repeatedly suggests, His Word tells us that we are his slaves and that “we are God’s fellow workers.”—1 Tim. 6:5; 1 Cor. 3:9, NW.
The purpose of Christianity is not the enjoyment of energy and personality force. Pure worship of God as taught by Christ places its emphasis not on what we can get out of it but on the vindication of the name of Jehovah, doing what is right and showing love to one’s neighbor. As Jesus himself said, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35, NW.
All worldly religion, philosophy and psychology are primarily concerned with the immediate present, with that which seems desirable to the flesh, health, prosperity, success, popularity, etc. But true Christianity has its mind on higher things. Its prime concern is for God’s approval and so it seeks his kingdom and his righteousness, confident that all other necessary things will be added. Jesus did not hold out the rich young ruler as a symbol of success, but said: “How difficult a thing it will be for those with money to make their way into the kingdom of God!” And instead of showing us how to become rich in this world’s goods Jesus showed us how to become rich toward God.—Luke 18:24; 12:21, NW.
Rather than to gather riches on earth Christians are to lay up treasures in heaven. Said Jesus to his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it. For what benefit will it be to a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?”—Matt. 16:24-26, NW.
Those words of Jesus must have a strange ring to many professing to be Christians in view of their religious leaders’ teaching them just the opposite, namely, that by applying the principles of Christianity to one’s personal problems one can expect to realize the material good things of this life.
And finally, in view of the fact that Jesus’ great prophecy, recorded at Matthew, chapter 24, shows that we are living in the last days, comparable with Noah’s days, applied Christianity requires that we heed his instructions to flee with precipitous haste from this old system of things to the mountains, God’s new-born “land”; that we take refuge in the modern “ark,” the new system of things, and associate with its inmates, the New World society. What folly, therefore, for Christians to be concerned with popularity and success in a world doomed by God!