A Christian Review of Napoleon Hill’s “Think & Grow Rich” by Jack Kettler
This book is challenging to review in light of the amalgamation of truth and error contained therein.
In this review, I will cover the biblical admonitions regarding the obtaining of wealth, a brief biological sketch of Napoleon Hill, followed by a survey of his ideas on business success. The reader will be amazed at some of Hill’s brilliant and at the same time, common sense ideas of obtaining wealth.
To begin this review, I would be negligent as a Christian, not to mention the Biblical admonitions against the “deceitfulness of riches” Matthew 13:22 and our Lord’s warning that “you cannot serve God and Mammon” Luke 16:13. As Christians, we are instructed to “seek first the Kingdom of God” Matthew 6:33. In case there is any confusion at this point, I do not equate money as being evil. The distinction I see is stated by the apostle Paul when he tells us, “For the Love of Money is the root of all evil” 1Timothy 6:10.
If the reader is to take anything away from this review, it should be how to approach the topic of gaining wealth and success and excellence in business by being fully aware of the personal motives behind this desire. Have you been influenced by the ways of this world? Consider this: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Mark 8:36.
As Christians, we should desire success and excellence in our endeavors not only to be a witness for Christ but also to bring glory to God. The Bible gives us instructions on life, if followed will not lead to poverty. Negatively, we are neither to be a “sluggard” Proverbs 20:4 nor “to love sleep” Proverbs 20:13. Positively: “…diligent hands bring wealth” Proverbs 10:4 “The plans of the diligent lead to profit…” Proverbs 21:5. Finally, from Proverbs 31:10-31, is the praise given to the noble or virtuous woman.
I see several positive guidelines for achieving success and excellence in business in Napoleon Hill’s book. Conversely, there are sections and material in Hill’s book that are antithetical to Christian beliefs and practice that the reader should be aware of.
First, I will offer the briefest biographical sketch and then a survey of some of the positive material in the book. In the concluding section, I will point out some of the biblically speaking problematic areas of Hill’s theories. This review is limited to Hill’s book “Think & Grow Rich” and not to his work in future years, although I will comment on it.
Napoleon Hill was born on Oct. 26, 1883 and died Nov. 8 1970. Hill is best known as the author of one of the best-selling books of all time called “Think & Grow Rich.” Napoleon Hill is the father of what can be described as personal success or motivational literature. Hill’s biographer, Michael J. Ritt, Jr., tells us that he was born in poverty in a one-room cabin in the town of Pound Virginia, a rural area. At the age of 13, he began writing for small-town newspapers. He used his earnings as a reporter to enter law school but had to drop out for monetary reasons.
The turning point in his career happened with his assignment, to write a series of articles about famous men and to interview the wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Hill learned that Carnegie believed the process of success could be explained in a simple formula that could be learned and put into practice by the average person. Carnegie was impressed with Hill and subsequently commissioned him and provided him with letters of reference so that he could interview over 500 successful men and women to discover and publish this formula for success. This project went on for 20 years and culminated in Hill becoming an advisor to Carnegie and the publication of “Think & Grow Rich.” The knowledge obtained from the interviews with the leaders of industry is where you find the value of Hill’s book.
It is impressive how many of Hill’s ideas are used as quotes for practical encouragement.
Some of the more common quotations of Napoleon Hill are:
· “Think and grow Rich”
· “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything”
· “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now”
· “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way”
· “A goal is a dream with a deadline”
· “Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life”
· “Perseverance: The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those that fail”
· “Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”
· “Thoughts mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and burning desires are powerful things”
· “The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail”
· “First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination”
· “If you're not learning while you're earning, you're cheating yourself out of the better portion of your compensation “
· “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed”
Much of Hill’s book is an analysis of how capitalism works. Hill believed that he had discovered a principle that allows the regular everyday people to achieve success. Hill called his success teachings “The Philosophy of Achievement” and he considered freedom, democracy, and capitalism, to be important causative factors in his discovery.
Hill’s ideas would not work in a Marxist or a centralized planned economy because the tyrannical regulation and taxation would destroy anyone’s ability to strive for success since the fruits of success would be given to others who would squander it since it had no intrinsic value to them. Hill believed in personal honesty and in not cheating your fellow man or employees. The cheat or dishonest person would eventually be seen for what he is. A leader has to be one of moral and ethical integrity.
Hill believed that you achieve success by doing superior quality work, treating your customers as number one at all times, and how anyone can become successful if they overcome their personal shortcomings. Hill also incorporates a lot of good, practical business advice, like finding new opportunities created by what we would call today as disruptive technologies.
Also, key, according to Hill, is having a written business plan and not deviating from it, along with not being afraid to make mistakes as long as you grow and learn from the mistakes. If you find your strategy to be in error, you must be able to reformulate your plans. Hill believed that most people never succeed simply because of a lack of ambition or self-discipline. Relating to discipline, Hill said, “If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.”
The beginning of Hill’s philosophy began first with a thought; hence the title “Think & Grow Rich.” To start, you formulate a plan mentally. It involves desire, belief, and passion, (absolutely essential for success) auto-suggestion, (a controversial area of his research) obtaining specialized knowledge, (very helpful) using the imagination, (parts of this are very controversial) organized planning, (very helpful) decision making, persistence, the mastermind group, (portions of this section is very helpful) the last three areas transmutation, the subconscious mind and finally the brain is also quite controversial and unproven. One thing is certain; ideas most certainly do have consequences. In this respect, business success beginning first with an idea is difficult to question.
As said, there are many positive ideas in “Think & Grow Rich” such as organized planning and finding a group of people who think like you and then turning those plans into reality. Hill was a believer in the fact that all successful people were successful because they are able to find like-minded people who think as they do and who could be recruited into a business venture with them. Then their abilities, talents, and passion could be utilized for the benefit of the business venture. Hill is saying, “Don’t hang around with people who don’t think as you do.” Stay away from negative people since their negativity will affect you. Our parents were correct in warning us against hanging around with the wrong crowd.
Hill’s business success ideas focused on goal setting and making sure that decisions are carried through with consistency. In the area of responsibility, it means that you are responsible for your outcomes, and it is important that failures are not something to become fixated. Everyone has failures, and we should learn from them, including figuring out what caused them to happen. Most failures involve a breakdown of vision, or a failure to plan to take advantage of a new situation that may have arisen. An individual that is focused on success should not fixate on failure. We can learn from our mistakes and grow. Mistakes can be turned into successes.
Hill’s ideas on leadership are well thought out. His eleven points on the attributes of leadership are excellent, and exactly the traits you would hope any business leader would have. Likewise, the ten major causes of the failure of leadership are also very perceptive. His 31 significant causes of failure are points that are surprisingly accurate reasons for every person who tries and fails in business. His 28 questions for self-analysis are helpful to avoid self-deception. However, his teaching on transmutation of sexual energy has probably offended or shocked many as sounding sexist. It is accurate, according to Hill, that sexual energy can be turned into creative energy and not simply wasted in vain physical affairs.
A recap of positive things from “Think & Grow Rich:”
· “Failing to plan is planning to fail”
· “Perseverance: The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those that fail”
· “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits”
· “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed”
· “The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.”
Hill’s philosophy of success in this book was grounded in the real world to a large extent, as can be seen by his statement that: “Riches do not respond to wishes. They respond only to definite plans, backed by definite desires, through constant persistence,” and “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.”
As the reader works their way through the book, they will see that much of Hill’s work boils down to setting goals, and making sure that important decisions are acted upon, thus ensuring your success. Hill is saying that you must put your plans into action. Hill was a believer that a group of people on the same wave-length and positively focused is substantially greater than a group of disorganized individuals.
Of all the successful leaders Hill interviewed, all of them attributed their success to being able to see opportunities, and most importantly, in finding people who can be delegated to help achieve success. It is not enough to work hard; one must also find like-minded people, and inspire them to work hard as a team on getting things done.
This idea of recruiting and inspiring individuals so that they be delegated various responsibilities reminds me of what J. Paul Getty once wrote, “I would much rather receive 1% of the efforts of 100 men than 100% of my own.” Much of the material in Hill’s book has been tremendously helpful for those individuals involved with network marketing. To illustrate this, Hill said, “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Those involved in the Network Marketing industry will understand and appreciate this concept.
In the first part of this review, thus far, I covered the biblical admonitions regarding the obtaining of wealth, a brief biological sketch of Napoleon Hill, followed by a survey of his ideas on business success. Now in this section of the review, I will cover the negative and outright dangers in Hill’s philosophy. In addition, I will provide two appendixes, which will answer an anticipated question plus documentation of Hill’s progression into increasingly non-biblical thought.
The Dangers found in Hill’s ideas:
Hill’s idea of auto-suggestion and visualization, especially in the area of steps to stimulate your subconscious mind into obtaining a certain amount of money, will strike many people as bizarre. It seems a little weird to visualize a stack of cash and repeating to yourself day and night that you are going to get it. It appears that this idea by Hill may have set the stage for the “name it and claim it” movement in charismatic circles. Hill, at least as of the writing of this book, did see not this visualization process as disconnected or separate from the real world of offering hard work and quality service in exchange for money. Therefore, unless you were willing to follow time-tested real-world business preparation, no amount of visualizing money, and saying you are going to get it will work.
We can say with certainty that the teaching of the Bible in this area could be stated as: you make plans to achieve a goal and then first start by placing them in God’s hand and asking for the fulfillment of these plans to happen according to His will. Hill’s auto-suggestion technique at this point in his life may be a device for mental discipline in the area of goal setting. If so, I would not have a problem with the concept if reformulated utilizing the teaching of Scripture on discipline and framed in biblical prayer rather than a rote mental exercise.
In the Bible, we are taught to discipline our minds and to be diligent. We are to bring our petitions before God on a daily basis. This would include asking God’s blessings on our business endeavors. In contradiction, Hill’s ideas on auto-suggestion, visualization, and his imaginary council meetings are where a number of dangerous errors started developing in his philosophy. In my opinion, these ideas are nothing short of spiritual blasphemy.
Along this line of thinking, as Hill’s ideas on auto-suggestion and visualization developed into increasingly unbiblical areas, which included contact with invisible spiritual beings, I have concluded that in the end, Hill was promoting outright idolatry by his technique of auto-suggestion and visualization. In Scripture, we are taught to set our affection upon the Lord God and Him only. As stated at the beginning of this review as Christians, we are instructed to “seek first the Kingdom of God” Matthew 6:33. It seems as though in Hill's work, he was promoting seek first material wealth!
One of the most demonstratively false and dangerous things in the book is Hill’s idea that:
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
This is a serious biblical error. In the Garden, the Serpent convinced Adam and Eve that they could become gods. No amount of conceiving and believing will ever make a finite person into a god. In fact, this lie of Satan is the chief lie that all human presuppositions start with. Since Hill was allegedly a Christian, it is unfortunate that he did not qualify many of his ideas with biblical limitations. Since he failed to do this, one has to question Hill's understanding of the Christian Faith
In addition, another problematic area for a Christian is where Hill moves into some really strange and unproven ideas. He talks about a universal type of energy and powers such as telepathy, which can be supposedly used to reach into higher consciousness, and getting in touch with the minds of the great leaders in history. Hill’s imaginary counsel of leaders during the evening is an area that is where I believe he let his imagination run completely wild. He claimed that these evening meetings were purely imaginary. Some researchers believe that this practice by Hill bordered on the occult. There is strong evidence that in his future writings, he did move into what can be called Spiritism or Occultism. From a Christian perspective, Hill’s time could have been much better spent in prayer, seeking that his desire for success would truly bring glory to God.
Hill was supposedly a Christian and said that his book was not a course on religion, nor meant to interfere with a person’s faith. In spite of his disclaimers, Hill’s use of the term infinite intelligence rather than God is evidence that he had parted from any belief he may have had in the Christian Faith. Even if he had used the term God, it would not be possible to fit the biblical concept of God into some of his thoughts on the subject of obtaining success. Hill seems to see this infinite intelligence as some force that permeates the cosmos and in which all great minds are connected. This seems strikingly similar to the philosophy of idealism, a concept or theory in which all reality is ultimately reduced to a universal mind.
As stated earlier, Hill is considered the father of the positive thinking movement. This movement has led to all manner of wild speculations and metaphysical assertions, which by their very nature, are often unproven and usually unbiblical. Some followers of Hill’s theories on auto-suggestion have developed this into what appears to be nothing more than magical secret incantations to obtain material wealth and developing relationships and following the guidance of your inner-self. Developing and following guidance from your inner-self is the door-way into occultism and spiritism or in another sense, a sign of a mental disorder.
In the closing section of his book, some of his views discussed in the Six Ghost of Fear are interesting and reflect reality for many people. However, Hill denigrates the biblical concept of divine justice in this section the fear of death, which was for me, was another tip-off that Hill’s belief system was far removed from the Christian Faith.
A section from Walter Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary has this to say that is relevant to a Christian analysis of positive thinking and thus to portions of Hill’s work:
“Theologically, positive thinking encourages a form of humanism that has often led to the development of heretical movements along the lines of New Though, Christian Science, and a variety of semi-Christian groups today. It overlooks biblical teachings about sin and the sovereignty of God to emphasize the essential goodness of humanity and the ability of people to solve their own problems through faith in their own abilities. In its Christianized form this self-faith is mediated through reference to Christian symbols, which upon closer examination are devoid of their original meaning.” (1)
The above quotation gets to the crux of the matter on the dangers inherent in the positive personal empowerment movement. We learn in Scripture that God is a sovereign God and any philosophy of personal empowerment or achievement that denigrates this has to be spoken against. If the vocation and calling you have is in business, you should strive for excellence and success all with the vision and goal of doing what is pleasing to God and for His Glory. We should always preface our plans in prayer asking first for God’s will to be done.
In fairness, Hill’s formula for business success in the book under review should not be understood simply as repeating some mantra about obtaining wealth. Hill does a fair job of guarding against this type of simplistic understanding by qualifying and stressing the necessity of planning, focusing on goals, obtaining specialized knowledge, surrounding yourself with like-minded business partners, and constant persistence and hard work. In reality, much of the book is about self-discipline, and how to prepare yourself for leadership is no easy task, yet this has been seen in all successful business leaders. This is where the value of the book for business leaders is found.
If you approach the book with some practical caution and especially biblical awareness, there are some good things you can learn from this book. On the other hand, there are certainly dangers involved with an uncritical acceptance of Hill’s philosophy of success. In this writer’s opinion, Hill should have cut about one-third of the speculative philosophy of success out of “Think & Grow Rich” and just dealt with what he learned from his interviews with successful business leaders.
A new edition needed:
It would be a good project if an abridged version of “Think & Grow Rich” could be edited and released which just contained the wisdom gleaned the 500 successful business leaders minus the unbiblical speculative philosophy. Because of the errors and the seeds of even more serious deviations from biblical truth, I can give only a very limited and qualified positive review of certain sections of “Think & Grow Rich.” Hill in my opinion was clearly a genius, yet in the end instead of glorifying God, he exalted his own finite mind. As in cases as Hill’s you have what can be described as genius run amok.
Appendix one covers documentation on how Hill moved into the occult, which seems to be the case as evidenced in his later works. It is a tragedy for someone such as Hill, who articulated so well what is involved in real-world business success to discredit himself with his involvement in occultism and spiritism ultimately. Hill, in his later books, claimed to be given information from spirit guides or ascended masters (in reality demons). Appendix two deals with my response to an anticipated question about this review.
As Christians, we are commanded by God to stay away from this type of communication. For example:
“And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people… A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:6, 27)
Material from The Christian Expositor (TCE) dialogue with one of their readers about where Hill taught things about his communication with the ascended spiritual masters.
“28th April, 2004 - TCE replies:
Thank you for your inquiry and we apologize for the delay in replying.
The answer to your questions can be found in the book in question: ''Grow Rich with Peace of Mind.''
Depending on the version read (probably between pages 158 to 162), you will find the following statements:
"Now and again I have had evidence that unseen friends hover about me, unknowable to ordinary senses. In my studies I discovered there is a group of strange beings who maintain a school of wisdom which must be ten thousand years old, but I did not connect them with myself. Now I have found there is a connection. I am not one of them! - but I have been watched by them. Here is how I found this out. I finished this book. I was alone in my study and all was very still. A voice spoke. I saw nobody. I cannot tell you whence the voice came. First it spoke a password known to few men that riveted my attention.".... "I have come," said the voice, "to give you one more section to include in your book.... I whispered; "Who are you?" In a softened voice, which sounded like chimes of great music, the unseen speaker replied: "I come from the Great School of the Masters. I am one of the Council of Thirty-Three who serve the Great School and its initiates on the physical plane.... The School has Masters who can disembody themselves and travel instantly to any place they choose .... Now I knew that one of these Masters had come across thousands of miles, through the night, into my study."
"You have earned the right to reveal a Supreme Secret to others," said the vibrant voice. "In the journey through life there is a Jungle of Life, a Black Forest through which every individual must pass alone. In the Black Forest he overcomes enemies and his own inner opposition and turmoil. ... And now I shall name the enemies who must be met and conquered in the journey... The foremost is fear." He went on to name intolerance, egotism, lust, anger and hatred and a total of 26 enemies. ..."Know that one who seeks earnestly to conquer these twenty-six lurking enemies becomes an Initiate of the Great School. We know him, and he has access to the mind of a Master.” The Master concluded after another pause in the deep silence, and said: "He will not only understand the true purpose of life, but also he will have at his command the power to fulfill that purpose without having to experience another incarnation on this earthly plane. And the Masters of the Great School, on this earthly plane and all other planes, will rejoice at his triumph and will bid him God speed toward his own mastership." ... The voice ended. I began to hear little sounds of the world around me, and I knew the Master had returned to the Great School of the Masters.
Hill made similar statements in chapter two of the book "The Master Key to Riches" when he unconditionally represents 'Eight Princes' as distinct entities and (page 28) "my friends who have done most for me in preparing my mind for the acceptance of riches. I call them the Eight Princes. They serve me when I am awake and they serve me while I sleep."
He further states on page 29, "My greatest asset consists in my good fortune in having recognized the existence of the Eight Princes...." Hill opens the chapter by saying that you can call them other names beside "princes" but he specifically gives them attributes of distinct beings that can impute knowledge and have powers to affect physical events. Hill states that Andrew Carnegie "was blessed with the services of the Eight Princes. The Prince of Overall Wisdom served him so well that he was inspired not only to give away all his material riches, but to provide the people with a complete philosophy of life through which they too might acquire riches." He communicated with these beings every day expressing gratitude to each one for the named function. The exact words he used in addressing these beings are given on pages 27 through 29.
Hill refers to his communication as a "ceremony" on page 30 where he states: "Observe that I ask for nothing from the Princes, but I devote the entire ceremony to an expression of gratitude for the riches they have already bestowed upon me." He gives further credit to theses beings: "The Princes know my needs and supply them!... Yes, they supply all of my needs in overabundance." While discussing the philosophy of life that the princes gave, he states: "It supports all religions yet it is a part of none!"
Hill has stated in other books that he rejected the religion of his youth and believes that he is not associated with any religion but has knowledge that "supports all religion". He states, in his early writings, that he never met these beings face to face. In other books, however, he describes how beings actually materialized in front of him and talked with him. He is clearly communicating with spiritual beings and pays some kind of homage to them, thus practicing a very old religion currently called by many "New Age" religion.
In about 1937 he wrote "Think and Grow Rich" and was communicating with an "imaginary cabinet" made up by himself of nine individuals who were long dead. He imagined them talking to himself. He claimed that knowledge came from them that he was not able to get from just thinking. He wrote (page 216) in 'Think and Grow Rich': "In these imaginary council meeting I call on my cabinet members for the knowledge I wished to contribute, addressing myself to each member in audible words. . . "
"The Master Key to Riches", was copyrighted in 1967 by Hill and he had now, apparently, stopped talking to an "imaginary cabinet" and was talking with actual unseen beings. So Hill's journey into communication with these spirits apparently began at least as early as his 1937 book and was continued into the creation of "Grow Rich With Peace of Mind".
Yours sincerely TCE”
This material by “TCE” is extremely damming to Hill, documenting thoroughly his descendent into spiritism after writing “Think & Grow Rich.”
I fully anticipate a question to rise along the lines of: how can I review and say anything positive about a book that contains serious errors and the seeds of even more error?
“This is a good and fair question. As Christians, we are to be conversant and to be able to speak accurately about the issues of our day. In doing this, we must be able to accurately state positions that we disagree. This requires reading and studying material; we may have substantial disagreements. As a Christian, I do not like to have my position misrepresented or misunderstood. We should be careful to extend the same courtesy to others. If there are truths stated in an author’s work, we should be able to thank and show appreciation for the things we see as true.
For example, in the area of philosophy, Christian apologists should read and be conversant in the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Plato and his student Aristotle were two of the most brilliant minds who have ever lived. Their philosophy was so persuasive that modern philosophers have never been able to escape the ideas of these original Greek thinkers fully.
Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies are false; they nevertheless, were formally correct at various points. Plato, in particular, was formally correct in beginning his reasoning process, starting from the world of eternal ideas and moving to and interpreting the temporal earthly forms in terms of the eternal. The Christian presuppositionalist argues in a similar process.
Returning to my anticipated question, can a Christian encourage people to read Plato and Aristotle? Of course, they can, as long as qualified, much like my review of Hill’s book. I trust this digression helps answer any questions that may be raised about my review of Hill’s book.”
As stated, this book has been difficult to review because of the mixture of truth and error. Like it or not, Hill’s book has been a classic book on starting and being successful in business and, therefore, cannot be dismissed out of hand. The book is a business classic. It is unfortunate that in Hill’s case, he promoted wildly speculative unbiblical ideas in portions of the book, thus creating controversy. As said, in this respect, Hill’s book is a challenging amalgamation of truth and error. His future books, as can be seen from the “TCE” letter, are biblically speaking, completely unusable, and spiritually dangerous.
1. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 863.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com