Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is in my opinion a theory of human communication patterns that has the potential to develop into an exact science.

What I find excellent in Neuro-Linguistic Programming is the concise way they are looking at human communication. One of the reasons I like NLP is that in contrast to other psychological techniques this one respects the integrity of people instead of trying to force them into a particular mould. Some of the founders were motivated by love and not by pride. NLP is compatible with the idea that people who are most unlovely are most in need of love if it is understood not just as a technique for personal success but as a technique for improving our ability to love and understand.


A word of caution...

I am a Christian, and 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 expess 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 theater 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. God forbids magical practices of those who want to be blameless before the Lord:

``Do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no-one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord ... You must be blameless before the Lord our God.''
(Deut. 18:9-13)

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.


In my essay Testing NLP, I made some remarks on what would be needed to discern fact from fiction in NLP. As in the other sciences, it would be a very healthy step if a science of NLP would be clearly separated from magical NLP practices.
See also www.neurosemantics.com, a NLP-based site run by dedicated Christians.


On Christianity
My Views on the Christian Way of Life
my home page (http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~neum)

Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)