Tom Gilson

The Secret Things of God: Interview with Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud’s DVD on The Secret Things of God has been available for just a few weeks now. It’s a teaching DVD, based on a book of the same name. It’s well worth viewing. It’s worthwhile on one important level, in that he’s an entertaining speaker–he has a sense of humor and a long list of great stories to tell. More importantly, he has unusual insight into what makes people tick.

I’ve worked with Dr. Cloud on many occasions. A Christian psychologist who has an outstanding grip on how to interpret modern psychology within a solid Biblical worldview framework, he has consulted with our mission agency regarding many team issues and personnel matters. He and John Townsend co-authored the multi-million selling Boundaries. Three of Cloud’s lesser-known books comprise a strong Biblical theology of personal growth character development, and leadership. They are, respectively, Changes That Heal, How People Grow (with John Townsend), and Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. Working with him, I had the opportunity to develop a leadership assessment based partly on the Changes That Heal model, which for a while was a part of his Ultimate Leadership workshops.

The Secret Things of God is a response to Rhonda Byrne’s New Age bestseller, The Secret. Byrne claims to have discovered a revolutionary new way for all of us to get just what we want out of life: “The Law of Attraction.”

“When you think about and feel those good things that you want, you have immediately tuned yourself to that frequency, which then causes the energy of all those things to vibrate to you, and they appear in your life. The law of attraction says that like attracts like. You are an energy magnet, so you electrically energize everything to you and electrically energize yourself to everything you want. Human beings manage their own magnetizing energy, because no one outside of them can think or feel for them, and it is thoughts and feelings that create our frequencies.”

I’ve already reviewed her book on this blog. Most of it is, to put it mildly, rampant nonsense; but that didn’t stop it from being a wild sales success. I had to wonder why so many people would go for it. When I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Cloud about it, that was the first question I asked him. (The interview was not taped, so his answers here are as I transcribed and later edited them.)

You would not be able to sell a book that says if you crack an egg on your head, you’ll become a happy person. There has to be enough truth, or viability to intersect with people’s experience so they don’t think it’s a total kook job. It’s a broadly documented position that how we think affects outcomes. We have research in performance, as in the sales industry, that Optimistic vs. Pessimistic thinking styles really make a difference. The dumb optimists blow the smart pessimists out of the water all the time.

In clinical syndromes, changing thinking is a huge part of overcoming even clinical problems. So we begin with why would people even be open to it? It begins with an idea people can resonate with, and it’s “Oh, it’s all in my head.”

But that begins to break down, in that we do not control external reality, as has been often documented. So how can you take a plausible, verifiable starting point and get them to buy into the whole package? That’s the question.

The book has two other “hooks:” everybody, at some time in their lives, has wondered is there something beyond the material world I can see, the transcendent metaphysical question. The Secret says it’s the Law of Attraction. It’s impersonal, it doesn’t ask anything of you, it leaves you alone, it does what it does–like gravity.

And then–this may be one of the strongest motivators–is the book promises to be able to render an effect in the areas of life you care most deeply about–relationships, feeling, success.

Other than it’s a New Age bestseller that you disagree with, what have you been seeing in people that led you to write The Secret Things of God?

There were a number of books immediately written to bash it, to show disagreements. That was not why I wrote my book. I was contacted by the publisher of The Secret (Simon and Schuster). They were originally thinking that it says a lot of the things that intersect with what the Bible says, and they asked me to write the Christian version of The Secret, and show where The Secret came from the Bible. I said there are some areas where The Secret comes from the Bible, but there are many areas where it diverges….

We have a culture like what Paul saw in Acts 17, a very spiritual culture. You don’t get much argument about, “is spirituality or metaphysics viable.” To me, it was just like when Paul went to Athens. They’re interested in spiritual matters. These books sell millions of copies. The Secret is like the monument to the unknown God. And Paul says this God can be known, he’s right around us, and not only that, there are laws and “secrets” in the Bible that govern how you feel, how you succeed. They’re built in by the Designer, and they’re not really secrets.

Regarding the DVD, after the book came out and did well, Fox said they wanted to distribute a DVD short film on it, and what I decided to do with that was not to take a particularly sectarian approach, but to communicate that these laws are transcendent, whether you believe in them or not, whether you believe in a designer or not.

So I went and interviewed experts in all walks of life who have experience in the validity of these principles, whether or not they’re Christians…. The research validates God’s ways. “If you don’t believe me, believe the works I do.” “If you hold to my teachings, you’ll know the truth and the truth will set me free.” My point in this was God has given us his ways, try these teachings, find out, and you’ll find out God’s ways are true and it’s not stuff a bunch of guys made up.

You cover a number of principles on the DVD for “unlocking the treasures reserved for us.” Is one of them more urgent than any other in today’s culture? If you had to limit your message to just one of the points, which would it be?

There actually is. The problem is, it’s paradoxical; so people do not experience it as the most urgent. What I talk about in the book is there’s a secret that unlocks the others, the meta-secret, which is trust. For life to be in concert with its design, and for you to grow and your life to enlarge, and for you to get better, you must open yourself up to power sources and information sources outside yourself. And no matter what anybody is doing, if they are living the closed-circle individualistic “I’m-going-to-do-it-my-own-way” kind of life, no matter what it ultimately implodes.

But that doesn’t give people the answer they want. For example, I knew a guy who was starting a new company in an industry where he had been very successful. He went to someone else who had started another company in the same industry. He asked for advice, and the answer he was given was, “I put together a group of very wise people who would support me, give me good feedback, hold me accountable; and you need a support system where you get truth spoken into your life first.” The first guy was upset. He wanted practical stuff, tactical advice. And he went off and started doing his plan basically wise unto himself. Within a couple years was bankrupt. He had made millions and millions when he had the right structure around him, but not when he went off to do things on his own.

God says you have to open up and trust Him and some other people first, and if you can get into those two relationships, that’s the meta-secret. Because from there you can find anything you need. But if you have a broken “trust muscle,” you’re like a baby who can’t take in the milk.

We tend to want to go for the results first. I tell my own story about how nothing worked until Matthew 6:33 hit me: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you.” Trust comes before the results, and we want the results first.

Just a brief reaction to this: among some Christian circles, psychology is very suspect. For Dr. Cloud to say there may be something of interest in The Secret is even more risky–in some circles. Note carefully what he has said though: not so much that the book has much by way of right answers, but that it has a good question: “Are there spiritual answers to how I can live a satisfying life?” Certainly much of the “secret” is pantheistic and wrong. There’s a kernel of truth, though, in its insistence that our thinking deeply affects our lives. Take that kernel to Scripture and you end up answering many people’s most urgently felt question.

Again, I strongly recommend Dr. Cloud to you, including this latest from him.

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7 thoughts on “The Secret Things of God: Interview with Henry Cloud

  1. It’s a broadly documented position that how we think affects outcomes. We have research in performance, as in the sales industry, that Optimistic vs. Pessimistic thinking styles really make a difference.

    Interesting. I haven’t paid any attention to “The Secret,” but it seems that what Dr. Cloud is saying also provides some validation for much (not all) of what Joel Osteen teaches. Not that this is the whole truth, or the Gospel; however, Paul gives similar advice in Phil. 4:8. Now, I know I will probably get flamed for even mentioning him, but I thought I’d ask what you think Cloud would say about Osteen?

  2. It’s obvious, you might even say objectively obvious (hi, DL!), that what we think affects outcomes. I don’t need Cloud, Osteen or the Bible text to tell me this fundamental truth.

    What I do need is an explanation for it and, in my opinion, nothing does a better job than the Christian explanation, which also happens to be the Jewish and Islamic explanation if you restrict ‘explanation’ to God created humans with this ability.

    I also need to know what, if anything, I ought to focus my thoughts on so that certain outcomes are likely to occur. Here again, the Christian message resonates with the collective human experience – pursue moral good and shun moral evil so that a particular outcome is acheived – even though we may argue about the details.

  3. Ahswan,

    I only have second-hand familiarity with Joel Osteen. Based on that, though, I would say that Cloud would agree with Osteen a lot more than he does with Byrne, but he would still have some significant differences with him. Cloud’s theology is clearly in line with historic Christianity, and from what I’ve heard, Osteen’s is not so much that way.

    That’s a vague answer but the best I can do with what I know.

  4. “God says you have to open up and trust Him and some other people first…”

    I know that God is within us all and that we are part of God….to trust God, we have to first trust ourselves….for many peole that is difficult because they are full of doubt….they doubt themselves, they doubt God.

    Also, it’s difficult to trust other people when they don’t trust themselves which means they don’t trust God….


  5. Anna,

    I appreciate your emphasis on trusting God. Thanks for that word. It leads to a crucial question: who is God? If you understand God to be something or someone such that “we are part of God,” this is not a Biblical understanding of God at all. The Biblical understanding is that God is both completely other than his creation (including us) and yet completely involved, especially with humans. We are not a part of God, though, any more than the Mona Lisa was a part of Leonardo.

    This may be something worth discussing in some depth–but before I dive into it, I’d like to hear your response to that much. Thanks.

  6. George Macdonald (the one who inspired C. S. Lewis to write fantasy) said that people often want everything explained before they will believe, but what they need to do first is to obey what they know about God—then understanding comes. Sounds a bit like ‘trust.’

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