What is NLP?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of what works in human psychology and communication. It is all about how we think, feel and behave and the effective techniques for enhancing human ability, which includes resolving problems in therapy. NLP originated at the University of Santa Cruz in the early to mid 1970’s and incorporates insights from various other disciplines such as hypnotherapy, linguistics and anthropology.

Some Principles of NLP

Like many other ‘methods’ in psychology everything about NLP is not wrong and there is no question that its overall aim is to help people. However, our main concern here is whether it is in conflict with the beliefs of evangelical Christianity and the living of a Christian Life.

First, we list some of the principles of NLP and if these are taken to their natural conclusion then, we believe, it does bring us into conflict with an all powerful Creator God who loves and cares for us.

• All experiences are subjective – we respond to our internal representation of events, not to the events themselves.

• Everyone has all the resources they need for success – there are no ‘unresourceful’ people, only ‘unresourceful’ states.

• Everyone makes the best choice available to them at the time.

• Behind every behaviour is a positive intention.

• There is no failure, only feedback.

• I am in charge of my mind, and therefore my results.

Such statements leave out the problem, as the Bible shows, that man is not basically good but has been affected by sin and is incapable in himself of fully solving the problems he has.

NLP teaches that “man can do it”, he has all the resources he needs to solve life’s problems. The Bible would say the opposite and so we can see where conflict could arise in the life of a committed Christian.

One Christian (a Professor in Austria) puts it like this on his website.

“NLP practitioners generally have a poor opinion of Christians, Christian morality, etc., – considering Christians deluded, at best. However, this does not imply anything about the truth in many of their insights on communication. Scientist generally have precisely the same opinion about Christians, but most of the scientific work they do is reliable. The reasons for viewing Christians in one way or another are usually unrelated to the intrinsic scientific standards and truths.

“There is also an overestimation of and pride in the power of self in NLP, things that can take us away from our knowledge of our dependence on God. This is a problem with all successful human enterprises, including science, art, technology, and most of what our culture values.

“Whenever God hands us over a key for understanding or control, we become successful if we utilize the key. But then we tend to forget that it is his grace that is responsible for our continued capacity for understanding or control (cf. Dan. 4:28-37).

“As Christians, the apostle Paul advises us not to throw away the means that the world provides to increase our abilities, but to use them as gifts of God to His honor, without being ruled by them (1 Cor. 7:30-31). If God gives us these things, they are not just free gifts; they are also His means to test for what we value more, success or God. We have a free (but costly) choice; many choose success, but this is not what God intends us to do…

“The actual practice of NLP has two aspects – the technical side that teaches you to develop and utilize attention and communication skills, and a philosophical side that embeds the techniques into a broader outlook, usually of a spiritual nature.

“The technical part makes things work and is common to all NLP practitioners. The philosophical part depends on the person teaching, using, or writing about NLP, but is dominantly a New Age type all-round spirituality that has little to do with Christianity, and is in some ways antagonistic to it.

“There is a lot of superstition around NLP, including magical and sometimes demonic practices. Much of NLP practice is embedded in an environment of `New Age’ spirituality. The techniques work whether they are phrased in terms of `spiritual’ or `New Age’ imagery (that appeal to many people searching for magical power) or in simple factual terms (that appeal to agnostics). They express properties of our brains, our perception, and our culture in terms of recipes that are (in their best versions) independent of a spiritual position in the same way as a theatre works the same way independent of the contents of the plays performed.

“Difficulties arise since often the recipes are coupled with magical invocation of some sort or other. The relation between the magical and the scientific part in NLP is as between astrology and astronomy, or alchemy and chemistry. They were completely entangled in their initial stages, before strict scientific standards became common practice in astronomy and chemistry. Since then, magic and science are clearly separated, and one can profit from the scientific truth without being haunted by the demons conjured by magical practices.

“Unfortunately, NLP is still in such an entangled state; thus learning and using NLP requires discrimination on the part of those who want to serve God.”

Anthony Robbins

The principles of NLP are spreading into other ‘named practices’ and other personalities. However, when we look at just this one example we see where the roots of NLP can take you.

Anthony Robbins was a leader in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) but in 1988 he set up his own methodology which he calls Neuro-Associative Conditioning (NAC).

He claims to have sold millions of books and tapes and has been consultant to many leading figures including some in the world of sport and politics. He claims to receive consultancy fees of $1 million per annum and commands $160,000 per speaking engagement.

One advertisement for his Date with Destiny seminar stated:

At Date With Destiny, Anthony Robbins will lead you and international delegates through an intense, four and one-half day journey. Date With Destiny is not just a “seminar”: It’s a course in literally transforming the foundations of your everyday experience.

At your Date With Destiny, you will discover the exact beliefs and values that control virtually every decision you make, every moment you’re alive -from what you put on your dinner plate to how you interact in your relationships – the decisions that shape your career moves and, ultimately, your destiny.

Apart from the amounts of money he is charging, which some people can ill afford. In summary the problems with this teaching, I believe are,

1. The conflict created because a man psychologically affects the lives of others while ignoring God who alone can actually achieve some of the things claimed.

2. It also brings into sharp relief the moral issue of manipulation of other people for your ends.

For further information, on Anthony Robbins and NLP in general, check out this website – this is one of the best critiques on this issue I have found.