Covey's Paradigm for Success

Timothy Oliver

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a book written by Stephen R. Covey, former Brigham Young University professor and founder of the Covey Leadership Center, has been a runaway best-seller for the last decade. A major premise of The Seven Habits has to do with one's paradigm on life-one's worldview, the basic set of assumptions about life that filter all one's perceptions of life, and color one's understanding of all of life.1 These assumptions are so basic to one's thinking that one seldom notices their existence, much less questions their accuracy. However, they may or may not correspond to reality. To the degree that one's paradigm on life errs, all one's perceptions of life and of others in one's life will be skewed, creating unnecessary misunderstandings, hurt, and possibly even danger to oneself and others. And the damage potential of the wrong paradigm on life extends all the way to eternity.

Covey's own most basic paradigm on life is Mormonism, what he calls the gospel. Though he is frank to admit this in his Mormon published works,2 not so in The Seven Habits.3 Christian readers of The Seven Habits who know Covey is a Mormon naturally want to know if the book is true to Covey's own paradigm as a Mormon. If one credits Covey with any integrity, then his book must at least assume basic Mormon teaching and may be expected to promote and even offer some of that teaching as true.

The most basic assumption in the paradigm of Mormonism is stated quite simply: Gods exist, and they are advanced humans; humans on earth are the same species, and are "Gods in embryo." They will become Gods if they live according to the proper paradigm for this life. As taught by Joseph Smith, crystallized by Lorenzo Snow, and quoted in hundreds of Mormon Church published books and manuals,4 "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be." It is a polytheistic system that denigrates God by humanizing Him, and exalts man by deifying him.

Covey says God is "the source" of the proper paradigm, the "correct principles" or "natural laws" that underlie the seven habits promoted in his book.5 But the God of this world, according to Mormonism, only "came to be God"6 by His own submission and obedience to these "natural laws" of the universe that existed independently of, and prior to, Himself. The only way in which He can be called the source of these correct principles is that having become obedient to them Himself, and organizing His own kingdom accordingly, he has passed them on to His progeny. Covey is urging that humans on this earth, as the literal spirit children of God, must follow the same course, or suffer the consequences.

Covey says, "When we value correct principles, we have truth-knowledge of things as they are."7 The seven habits urged in his book, says Covey, "are basic; they are primary. They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based."8 The process of adopting and adapting to these habits, he says, "produces happiness, 'the object and design of our existence.'"9 Unnoted is the fact that all these statements express other assumptions basic to the Mormon paradigm on life taught by Joseph Smith. Covey's unattributed quote, in fact, is from Joseph Smith:

Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received.10
Smith's statement is only explication of what he originally wrote in the Book of Mormon: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."11 Smith developed these thoughts even more fully in the Doctrine and Covenants. There he taught that a man cannot be saved in ignorance, that knowledge and intelligence gained in this life will provide an advantage in the next, and that all blessings from God are based on, and obtained by obedience to, law.12

Naturally enough then, the first of Covey's seven habits is to be proactive. "Proactive people," he says, "are driven by values-carefully thought about, selected and internalized values."13 Whether proactive people produce good or bad, of course, depends on whence their values-Messiah or Machiavelli, for example, Heaven or Hitler? Covey says, "Our basic nature is to act, and not be acted upon."14 Some of the world's worst villains have believed the same.

Covey says the blessings of living the first three habits will be,

...significantly increased self-confidence. You will come to know yourself in a deeper, more meaningful way-your nature, your deepest values and your unique contribution capacity. As you live your values, your sense of identity, integrity, control, and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace. You will define yourself from within... "Wrong" and "right" will have little to do with being found out-You'll find it easier and more desirable to change because there is something-some deep core within-that is essentially changeless.15
These promises assume and mirror Mormon beliefs about the nature of man; the eternal, autonomous selves that first became spirit-children of God, and now live as persons on earth.16 They also strikingly resemble the promises made by the serpent to Eve. The serpent's promise that Adam and Eve could be as God, knowing good and evil for themselves, was essentially the promise of autonomy and self-determination.

Covey acknowledges that "there are parts to human nature that cannot be reached by either legislation or education, but require the power of God to deal with." He says, "I believe that as human beings, we cannot perfect ourselves."17 But what he gives with his left hand he takes away with his right. Seeing human nature as divine nature,18 he adds, "To the degree that we align ourselves with correct principles, divine endowments will be released within our nature in enabling us to fulfill the measure of our creation"19 i.e., become Gods.

Covey quotes approvingly a statement by T. S. Eliot: "We must not cease from exploration and the end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.20 Covey has found the perfect quote from a non-Mormon to encapsulate and render familiar a world of Mormon doctrine. According to Mormonism all humans born on this earth once lived with God as His spirit children. Those who make it back to God, through Christ's atonement and their own faith, repentance, and good works, will finally truly understand the way God is...what it is like to be Him, and how He got to be that way. It is an understanding they could never have had without treading the same path He trod, without being just what He is.

Biblical Response

Is the Mormon paradigm within which, from which, and on account of which, Covey writes, a true, biblical paradigm on life and man? Is truth "knowledge of things as they are"? Is personal happiness the object of human existence? Does such happiness come through law-keeping, adherence to "correct principles"? Is the Christian gospel a message of self-determination through knowledge and self-effort?

The God of the Bible has not left it to man to "define himself from within," nor to know wrong and right independently. And unfortunately for the natural man (every human not born again), that "deep core within-that is essentially changeless" is not a divine nature, but a sin nature that is utterly dead, spiritually.21 It is not able to align itself with correct principles,22 but even if it could do so, no amount of learning and applying correct principles can bring it to life,23 much less to achieve Godhood.24
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."25 Thus, while propositional truths (correct principles) are very important and to be found in the Bible, ultimate Truth is a Person, the source and actual originator of all true principles. Knowledge of the truth is not merely cognizance of facts, but relational. Man was not made for himself, or for his own happiness, but for God.26 God, in His loving-kindness, has so made man that in living for God man does find fulfillment and enduring happiness.27

Such happiness is not found by law-keeping, however, but in a living relationship of the Spirit with God in Christ Jesus as revealed in His holy Word. That relationship is neither founded in, nor sustained by, one's own law-keeping.28 It is grounded in Christ's righteousness, death, and resurrection in behalf of, and in the place of, sinners. It is inaugurated individually when a person is "acted upon" by the Holy Spirit, who applies the Word of the Gospel with regenerative power to that person's heart,29 granting him repentance and faith,30 and it is sustained by the Spirit's ongoing work in the person's life.31 Christians thank God He has acted, and continues to act, upon them.

The Seven Habits undeniably contains some very useful tools for polishing the flesh, for burnishing the natural man. Less clear is whether those tools are truly useful or even needed by Christians walking in the Spirit. What truths it does present are available elsewhere, and, in Covey, are so skillfully interwoven and impregnated with the false gospel and paradigm of Mormonism that most Christians will lack the discernment necessary to sort the good from the bad, and to avoid its damaging influence. The Seven Habits book cannot be recommended as suitable material for Christian study groups in or outside Christian churches.

1 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989): 23.
2 See, e.g., Stephen R. Covey, The Divine Center (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982): 81, 176, 199, 246.
3 Covey almost appears to have deliberately covered his Mormon roots. None of his Mormon published books such as The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, and The Divine Center, appear in the "Also by Stephen R. Covey" list found in The Seven Habits. Rather large portions of text found in The Seven Habits were lifted directly from these other books with little or no change. Cf., e.g., Covey, Seven Habits, 3640, with idem., The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970): 6-10. Covey's operative principle is revealed in The Divine Center: "I have found in speaking to various non-LDS groups in different cultures that we can teach and testify of many gospel principles if we are careful in selecting words which convey our meaning but come from their experience and frame of mind." (240). Translated, the gospel is Mormonism, and Covey is saying, "We can teach people Mormonism if we hide the fact that it is Mormonism we are teaching." However much The Seven Habits makes of the virtue of integrity, its author apparently has no qualms over presenting Mormonism to the world by stealth.
4 See, e.g., James Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973): 430.
5 Covey, Seven Habits, 319.
6 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. (Salt Lake City:Deseret Book, 1976): 345.
7 This is a direct allusion to Mormon scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants (hereinafter, D&C) section 93, verse 24: "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;"
8 Covey, Seven Habits, 23.
9 Ibid., 48.
10 Smith, Teachings, 255-56.
11 2 Nephi 2:25.
12 D&C 131:6; 130:18-21.
13 Covey, Seven Habits, 72.
14 Ibid., 75. This statement is also based in Mormon scriptures: The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:14, 16; Alma 12:31; D&C 58:27-28; 93:30.
15 Covey, Seven Habits, 61. Emphasis added.
16 D&C 93:23, 29-30, 33; 131:7-8
17 Covey, Seven Habits, 319.
18 Covey, Spiritual Roots, 75. Smith, Teachings, 343.
19 Covey, Seven Habits, 319.
20 Ibid., 44, 319.
21 Ephesians 2:1.
22 Romans 8:7.
23 Galatians 2:16; 3:21-22.
24 Isaiah 43:10.
25 John 14:6.
26 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11.
27 Luke 17:33.
28 Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:8-9.
29 Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 1:23-25.
30 For repentance as a gift, see 2 Timothy 2:25; for faith as a gift, see Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29.
31 1 Peter 1:5.

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