The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, known for rousing sermons broadcast around the world on The Hour of Power from the iconic glass Crystal Cathedral in Southern California, has died. He was 88.
Schuller began his ministry, part of the Reformed Church in America, in 1955 at a drive-in movie theater. He soared to fame as a megachurch pastor and televangelist during the next few decades. But his empire came crashing down amid family strife and a dwindling congregation in the mid 2000s. The ministry filed for bankruptcy and sold the Crystal Cathedral to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011.
But Schuller’s legacy continues with his grandson, Bobby, who has taken over The Hour of Power and pastors at least some of his grandfather’s congregants in a new church.
“Everybody thinks the Crystal Cathedral is the greatest thing my grandparents built, but it wasn’t,” Bobby Schuller recently told WORLD. “It was The Hour of Power. The huge reach of that ministry is amazing. The fact that God kept it intact is such a great thing.”
The family patriarch quickly moved his ministry from its drive-in pulpit to a brick-and-mortar location in 1961. The Hour of Power began broadcasting in 1970. At the height of its popularity in the 1990s, the program drew 20 million viewers from 180 countries. The ministry built the Crystal Cathedral in 1980.
Schuller’s theology was a mixture of biblical teaching and the “positive thinking” philosophy made popular by Norman Vincent Peale and his book The Power of Positive Thinking. He stood out from other televangelists for his lack of fiery rhetoric and calls for repentance. Contrary to the biblically orthodox understanding of man as naturally sinful, Schuller elevated man’s capacity for good.
“The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person,” he wrote in his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. “Rather, we have started from the ‘unworthiness of the sinner,’ and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology.”
That popular message won him legions of fans, including Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He was one of the first American preachers to be broadcast on Russian television.
The ministry’s rapid decline began in 2006 when Schuller’s only son, Robert A. Schuller, took over the reins in a carefully orchestrated handover of power. But viewership and church attendance quickly declined, and Schuller removed his successor from the broadcast in 2008. Robert A. Schuller quit the ministry a few weeks later.
Although one of Schuller’s daughters, Sheila Schuller Coleman, tried to keep the ministry going, she eventually left as well. According to bankruptcy filings, the ministry had more than $43 million in debt and was paying significant tax-exempt housing allowances to members of the Schuller family and other church leaders. Although legal, the payments raised the ire of creditors who had gone unpaid.
Schuller and his wife quit the ministry’s board in 2012. He was diagnosed with a tumor in his esophagus in 2013. He died Thursday at a care facility in Artesia, Calif.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock
Publication date: April 6, 2015