Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that involves analyzing people’s thought patterns, language, and behavior to influence their subconscious minds and achieve desired outcomes. Some key techniques of NLP include mirroring body language, using metaphor and storytelling, and reframing negative thoughts. While some aspects of NLP may seem harmless, a deeper look at its core philosophies reveals significant conflicts with biblical Christianity.
A Brief Overview of NLP
NLP was developed in the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who believed psychology focused too much on treating mental illness instead of achieving excellence. They studied therapists like Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir to identify effective communication and behavioral patterns. NLP aims to “reprogram” the brain by breaking negative thought habits and replacing them with positive, empowering beliefs.
NLP draws heavily from the concept of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways with repeated thoughts and behaviors. Advocates believe NLP techniques can “rewire” the brain to replace limiting beliefs with enabling ones. This is often attempted through visualization exercises, anchoring emotions to physical cues, and adopting the body language of confident role models.
While NLP has been widely used in psychotherapy, coaching, and corporate training, it remains controversial. Mainstream science has not found evidence to support many of NLP’s central ideas. Critics also say NLP relies too much on anecdotes instead of controlled research studies.
NLP’s View of the Mind and World
To understand NLP’s compatibility with Christianity, it helps to examine some of its core philosophical assumptions:
- Subjectivism – NLP sees truth and reality as subjective constructions of one’s mind, rather than objectively existing outside the mind.
- Relativism – There are no absolute moral codes or universal truths, as each person constructs their own model of the world.
- Pantheism – All of reality is interconnected energy, and divinity lies within each person rather than a transcendent God.
- Healthism – The greatest good is perfect physical, mental, and emotional health, and spiritual matters are downplayed.
- Humanistic Psychology – Human beings are inherently good, and psychological problems stem from limitations imposed by society.
These overlapping ideas assert that truth is defined internally by each person. The mind itself determines what is real and ethical based on one’s own constructed reality. God is either non-existent or equated with the universe itself. The highest goal in life is utilizing one’s hidden potential to become a maximally successful, healthy, and actualized person.
Conflicts Between NLP and Christian Theology
NLP’s philosophical underpinnings clash significantly with biblical Christianity in the following areas:
1. Source of Truth and Meaning
The Bible presents God as the eternal, objective source of truth, meaning, and morality. Meaning in life comes from relating to the infinite-personal Creator who formed humans in His image (Genesis 1:27). People can love and understand truth because God first loved us and revealed truth to us (1 John 4:19, John 14:6).
In contrast, NLP locates the source of meaning solely within the individual. The mind itself creates its own truth and ethics. NLP’s extreme subjectivism amounts to idolatry – worshipping one’s own mind instead of submitting to God’s eternal wisdom and commands.
2. Human Nature and Sin
The Bible declares all people inherit a sinful nature from Adam’s original rebellion against God (Romans 5:12). People’s natural tendency is toward selfishness, greed, lust, hatred, and other sins (Jeremiah 17:9). Only those reborn in Christ receive a new nature capable of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17).
NLP rejects the biblical view of human depravity. It assumes individuals are innately good and merely limited by negative programming. NLP aims to overcome sinful habits using psychological techniques alone. The cross of Christ is ruled out as the sole remedy for sins.
3. Concept of God
Orthodox Christianity holds that God is a transcendent, triune being separate from His creation (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons united in one divine essence (Matthew 28:19). God created people and the universe for His glory (Colossians 1:16).
NLP reflects a pantheistic view of God as an impersonal energy or consciousness within all things. This contradicts God’s self-revelation in Scripture as a personal moral agent who relates to human persons. Reducing God to an amoral force fails to account for attributes like love, justice, and purpose.
In Christianity, salvation refers to being spiritually lost in sin and separation from God but then rescued by God’s grace through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9). Believers are reconciled to God and transformed to become increasingly Christlike (2 Corinthians 3:18).
To NLP, salvation means using one’s inner potential to maximize health, success, and happiness. Change comes through retraining the mind, not divine redemption. NLP promises self-exaltation while Christianity offers self-denial and reliance on God (Luke 9:23). The concepts of grace and divine reconciliation are absent.
5. Approach to Healing
Christian counseling approaches psychological problems through confession, repentance, renewing the mind with Scripture, prayer, loving community, and the Holy Spirit’s power (Galatians 5:16-26). Lasting change comes through submitting every area of life to Christ’s lordship.
NLP aims to “reprogram” thought patterns using visualizations, anchoring techniques, and modeling successful people. It seeks to change outward habits and feelings apart from inner repentance. But Christ taught that healing requires moral transformation from the inside out (Matthew 23:25-26).
Evaluating NLP Interventions
When specific NLP techniques are evaluated against Scripture, some may be deemed morally neutral while others seem incompatible:
- Mirroring someone’s body posture to build rapport is morally neutral in itself.
- Using metaphor and storytelling is a natural part of communication and not inherently good or bad.
- Visualizing success can be questionable if motivated by selfish ambition versus faithfulness (Matthew 6:33).
- Trying to “anchor” certain emotions or states to physical cues seems to lack any biblical support.
- Seeking to “manifest” things through mental visualization contradicts living by faith in God’s provision.
- “Fake it till you make it” in body language or speech contradicts speaking truthfully.
Christians can thoughtfully evaluate each NLP technique against the Bible’s moral principles. Any method that depends on unbiblical philosophies or promises empowerment apart from Christ should raise caution.
The Bottom Line: Handling NLP Carefully
While some NLP practices may be harmless, Christians should approach it with discernment given the worldview conflicts. Seeking to “reprogram” the mind using psychological theories alone represents a secular humanist approach to inner change.
Lasting growth comes through truthful self-examination, genuine repentance, renewing the mind with Scripture, and humbly relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to transform from within. Techniques to manipulate emotions or create individual “truths” should be rejected. Wise Christians will filter NLP through the lens of God’s Word.
The Bible exhorts believers to take every thought captive to the Lordship of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus must be life’s ultimate source of meaning, ethics, and identity. Techniques that attempt to bypass Him or promise inner change apart from Him cross the line into dangerous idolatry.
In summary, while certain NLP practices may be morally neutral, Christians should reject any methods or philosophies rooted in its underlying principles that prove incompatible with biblical truths.