Question: "Is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) compatible with the Christian faith?"
Answer: Neuro-linguistic programming is most often characterized as a form of psychotherapy that can be used to modify behavior patterns and treat problems such as phobias, depression, learning disorders, and the like. It has also been classified as a quasi-religion belonging to the New Age or Human Potential Movements. However, NLP can also be covert, and it is the hidden nature of this technique that leads to disquieting applications.
Specifically, NLP is a form of vocal and gestural hypnotism that is used by some public speakers—politicians, for example. In such a context, NLP is used to psychologically manipulate the listener without his or her knowledge. Most likely, some form of neuro-linguistic programming has been used on people throughout history. NLP leverages factors such as tone of voice, vocal modulation, pacing, leading, and anchoring to implant a suggestion directly into the subconscious, bypassing the critical thinking factors of the conscious mind. Some speakers use a teleprompter rather than written notes or memorization, because such technology can help cue the user’s speech patterns, timing, hand gestures, etc., in addition to the content.
The “effectiveness” and “success” of NLP comes from the practitioner’s ability to implant suggestions directly into the recipient’s subconscious mind. The subconscious does not make value or truth-claim judgments on its own; it relies upon the critical and logical thought of the conscious mind to reject false or inappropriate ideas or suggestions. A person will believe the ideas thus passed into the subconscious so strongly that he or she will experience cognitive dissonance if the ideas are questioned, causing anger, fear, or even violence.
This type of hypnosis, covert or not, is incompatible with the Christian faith. We don’t need hypnosis or any kind of pseudoscientific behavioral modifications. Our behavior is modified progressively as we become sanctified in Christ. In addition, Christians ought to carefully compare the things we hear and see with the truth of God’s Word. We are told in 2 Corinthians 10:4–5, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Our thoughts are thus seen as something we need to conquer with spiritual weapons.
At all times, Christians ought to protect themselves by thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . . .” (Philippians 4:8). Believers are to rely upon God for all things, including behavioral modification.