God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking,by Carol V. R. George (Oxford, 269 pp.; $23, hardcover). Reviewed by Tim Stafford
“I have been accused of belonging to both branches [fundamentalist and modernist],” Norman Vincent Peale said in a sermon preached in the early sixties, “and that is a fact, I do.” That might sound like political squishiness, trying to please everybody at once. But as historian Carol George shows in her thoughtful and scholarly biography, Peale’s claim was true.
Peale has belonged to both and neither party, because he represented something genuinely new: the first example of nondenominational, entrepreneurial, communications-savvy, pragmatic, populist religion that rose out of the fundamentalist-modernist split.
Conservative Protestants have suspected him because his “power of positive thinking” was human-centered and biblically vague. Liberals have liked him even less, for he has been politically incorrect, sentimental, and unscholarly—and most of all, because he has challenged the highbrow, institutional religion they stood for. Today Peale and his “power of positive thinking” may seem tame and grandfatherly, but in his heyday he was a lightning rod for controversy. Peale broke ground for major changes in American religious life—changes we are still working out.
Also reviewed in this section: Me, Myself, & I, by Archibald D. Hart; The Dilemma of Self-Esteem, by Joanna and Alister McGrath; A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, by Mark A. Noll; Our Journey Home, by Gary Bauer
The first entrepreneur
Born in the nineteenth century, Peale grew up the son of a Methodist pastor who loved Dwight L. Moody’s old-time gospel. The small-town Ohio ...1
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