Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The heart of The Power of Positive Thinking deals with how to eliminate the handicap of self-doubt and how to reduce worry, stress, and resentment. Included are prayerful exercises that readers can use daily to reinforce the habit of eliminating negative thoughts. The book is spiritual in that it advocates a fuller life in Christ. The dominant theme is that negative thoughts prevent people from achieving happiness and success, but the power of positive thinking will result in a positive change in an individual’s life. There is no fear-based theology in the book. Peale does, however, invoke positive biblical passages throughout, such as “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) and “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). In fact, Peale often told people to recite the passage from Philippians to enhance their belief in themselves.

One of Peale’s biographers, Carol George, called his theology “eclectic, synthetic, obviously uncreedal, and unsystematic.” She went on to say that his theological blend of “evangelical Protestantism, metaphysical spirituality, and the American dream” was perfectly suited to the cultural currents of the 1950’s. Based on the book’s continuing sales, that blend is also apparently well suited to the cultural currents and modern sensibilities of decades since. Essentially, Peale’s message combines hope, faith, and Christian symbols with an individualized program in self-help and healing. The book has remained a classic for more than half a century because it speaks of simple faith as the most powerful thing in the universe. Peale framed his religious experiences within the world of which he was a part. Just as Christ spoke and taught in a simple manner with parables, so does Norman Vincent Peale. Peale’s book enabled him to comfort and offer personal direction to the lives of millions.

Peale wrote several sequels to The Power of Positive Thinking, which share the original’s theme and continue to promote sales of the original volume. Peale’s work was also the inspiration for books by Dr. Robert H. Schuller, who preaches a concept known as “possibility thinking.”