Is the book Outwitting the Devil Biblical or Christian? Here’s my Outwitting the Devil review from a Biblical perspective. Napoleon Hill’s late-published book, written in 1938 but only released in 2011, has excited the self-help and “Law of Attraction” crowd (from YouTube testimonials and other reviews I’ve seen), but how does it comport with the Bible and Christian doctrine?
Many of you may be familiar with Napoleon Hill’s classic success books: Think and Grow Rich and The Laws of Success, which espouse his idea, among others, that people should have a Major Definite Purpose for their lives.
This new book wasn’t published till long after Hill’s death because of its “controversial content.” In it, Hill tells of his battle with depression and a breakthrough of faith he experienced after having published his first book, Think and Grow Rich. After his breakthrough, he gets into a Q&A interview with the Devil, whether real or imagined, and “forces” him to confess his strategies. Before I critique a number of problems I have with it from a Biblical perspective, I would like to start with a number of things I like about it.
What is helpful is the premise that there is a world of spiritual warfare, an unseen world of the demonic that attacks, lies, suggests, and distracts us from the truth of God’s plan or the purpose of our lives. These lies and distractions need to be both recognized and battled with truth and focus. Hill also describes powerful experiences of faith and the presence of an “Other Self,” which guided him in the fulfillment of his strongly held purpose or “prayers.” I would like to think that this “Other Self” is the Holy Spirit himself. Unfortunately, he shows up at the beginning of the book, then sort of disappears. Hill refers to God as the “Infinite Intelligence”, but does not identify Him as the God of the Bible, which could make the book more accessible. So far, nothing completely heretical.
The most highlighted strategy of the Devil, according to Hill, is to get people into drifting, not being settled on a major definite purpose for their life, which causes them to be ineffective. And here, I agree that many of the Devil’s strategies seem to distract and discourage us from living out our true purpose.
The idea of “drifting” is a powerful and helpful metaphor that contrasts against faith if we define faith as of focus on achieving a definite major purpose. Hill also incorporates principles of morality and sin around this idea:
- Fear and failure facilitate the Devil’s work because “failure breaks down one’s morale, destroys self-confidence, subdues enthusiasm, dulls imagination, and drives away definiteness of purpose” (p. 104)
- “It is a sin to permit one’s mind to be dominated by negative thoughts of envy, greed, fear, hatred, intolerance, vanity, self-pity, or discouragement because these states of mind lead to the habit of drifting.
With these points, I do agree. But ultimately, Hill and his devil distract us about how we achieve this with technique and determination instead of identity and faith in Jesus Christ and being led by the Holy Spirit. While there are some helpful ideas in the book, my biggest gripe is his claim about what “salvation” is or how it is “achieved.”
The book was said not to have been published until recently, 70 years past its writing, because of its “controversial nature.” The alleged controversy is that schools and the church teach fear, e.g., fear of Hell or judgment, to both children and adults, and this fear moves them into “drifting.”
But “Outwitting the Devil is not, nor would it have been so controversial because of its challenges to church doctrines, for example of “fearing God” or judgment, but because it is heretical in Hill’s doctrine of salvation. Hill and his “devil” state that only “drifters” are headed to Hell, and only “non-drifers” or those who focused individuals that “think for themselves” and have a major definite purpose are headed toward salvation.
The Bible states that those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are saved. Now perhaps that means their major definite purpose is to serve God and become more like Christ and not drift from Him, but Hill seems to think any definite purpose will do. But certainly, there are very focused, high-achieving millionaires who are not saved. So on this all-important eternal issue, the book might be better titled, “Outwitting Napoleon Hill” (and his readers).
Unfortunately, like so many books and resources in the motivational and “self-help” world, one can apply the principles to two underlying motivations: Self or God. This book implies as long as you have a definite major purpose and don’t fear or go into “drifting” by means of faith and focus, you will be spared from judgment and hell. That is clearly unbiblical. So while there is some truth here about not allowing yourself to be “a drifter,” the Devil may be Outwitting Napoleon Hill and his readers as there are at least three classes of people, not just two:
1) Drifters (98% of people) (many may be unsaved)
2) Major Definite Purpose of Serving Self (unsaved)
3) Major Definite Purpose of Serving God (saved)
A Christian should know what their calling is, both in a general and a specific sense. Whether it’s to be a missionary or own a successful business, the underlying motive should be to serve and love God and others. I agree that drifting is a waste of our lives and that having a major definite purpose or goal is certainly a key to avoiding drifting. The salvation issue is not about “staying focused” or performance but in an abiding trust in the finished work of Christ, first and foremost. Can a Christian have focused goals or a “definite purpose” that is not in ministry? Of course, it is important to check your motives and make sure it is not a “salvation” or an idol to you. Without God, a self-serving major definite purpose can be a road to hell.
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:2-3 NIV
So, we need to be focused (and not drift) on the “why” first and the “what” second. So if Christ (the “why”) is your primary or major definite purpose, your “secondary definite purpose” (the “what”) should be motivated to serve God and people and to become more like Christ Himself. This scripture puts goals and faith into the right perspective:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17 NIV
Outwitting the Devil raises many other questions that are circumspect:
1) Did Napoleon Hill really speak with the devil? Can we do so, Biblically speaking? Jesus had conversations with the devil, so it’s not out of the pale. But in this case, I think not.
Just as Hill did not have actual conversations with the members of his “Inner Circle” of successful people of yesteryear, it follows that this was mostly an imagined conversation that took over Hill’s typewriter. Also, it’s uncanny how “The Devil’s” opinions were so much in line with what Hill had already espoused in his book Think and Grow Rich such as having a major definite purpose.
2) What “secret code” forced this so-called devil to confess? I’d like to think it was the name of Jesus, which has authority. For without it, I don’t see how such a confession could have been made. If the devil were conversing with him, it is probably more likely that he outwitted Hill. Hill does not give us any convincing reason why or how he has compelled the Father of Lies to tell the truth.
3) How do we know that the Devil is not outwitting us? Can we be prideful enough not to consider this book can get us off of our rest and identity in Christ and toward self-striving toward selfish ambitions and goals?
4) Is avoiding “groupthink” and having accurate, independent thinking really the path to freedom? Sure, we need not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but we also are mindful that sin has sometimes been described as an acronym, S.I.N. for Selfish Independent Nature.
5) Is Fear, such as of judgment or of Hell, always a “negative” and a gateway to the enemy’s mind control and something that should be now avoided? The Bible teaches that the Fear of God is the beginning of all Wisdom. God also teaches us to be Bold and Courageous and not be afraid.
6) Are the demons really conducting warfare on every soul, even those who are not believers or likely to become believers in God’s true plan of salvation? Many Christians believe that the devil leaves us alone until someone tries to get us saved or we become saved.
7) Isn’t it a bit strange that Hill cedes to the Devil’s conditional demand that He calls him “Your Majesty”? Is he allowing the Devil to be his king?
8) Is Positive thinking really the key to Godliness? Probably not in those terms, but having FAITH is! Just what is the object of your faith? If it’s only faith in yourself, then you have a problem.
Jesus told a parable of those who mastered faith but did not have a love relationship with the Father.
They asked, “did not we do miracles in your name? He said, be gone, these things were not authorized, for I never knew you.”
See, it’s not enough that “the law of attraction” or faith can work for you, get you out of debt or poverty, or even help people. From a salvation and eternal standpoint, it must be used in a connected love relationship with God.
So that is my Outwitting the Devil review. If you liked this, please subscribe or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.