Archive for the ‘Contemplative Denominations’ Category
Is your church involved in a Spiritual Formation program? If so, you might want to ask the question, what does Spiritual Formation look like? It’s a fair question, and one, that if not asked, could end up surprising you when your church changes in ways you never imagined.
In a 2002 Christianity Today article, it stated: “Spiritual Formation is in.” The article reveals who is largely responsible for starting the movement:
Now many evangelical seminaries offer programs in spiritual formation. Renovare, which Richard Foster and others founded in 1989 to cultivate spiritual formation (especially among evangelicals), today offers retreats and resources worldwide.
Foster began his organization Renovare in 1989, but 11 years earlier (1978) his book Celebration of Discipline first came out, and that has been a Spiritual Formation primer ever since.
The Christianity Today article defines Spiritual Formation as:
Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.
Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place, and who is eligible to participate in such a process.
The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, mainly through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through mantra meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will hear from God, and He will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist — anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ).
According to Rick Warren, the Spiritual Formation movement is a “wake up call” and a “valid message” to the body of Christ. 1He acknowledges that Richard Foster is a key player in the movement. Brian McLaren, a leader in the emerging church movement, names Richard Foster as one of the “key mentors for the emerging church.”2It is noteworthy that McLaren and Warren (two of the most influential figures today3) each recognize Foster’s role and contribution. Two and two do add up here. McLaren sees Foster’s mystical affinities, and that’s why he says Foster is a key mentor – mysticism is the energy behind the emerging church movement. Without it, there would be no emerging church. Rick Warren considers Foster’s spirituality important because Warren too adheres to the mystical. Thus, these two heavy-weight “evangelicals” see mysticism as crucial for their agendas.
So just what does Spiritual Formation look like? That’s easy. Richard Foster has the answer to that. When he told Ray Yungen several years ago that Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people, what he meant was that Thomas Merton saw one element missing within Christianity – the mystical element. Merton had learned from a Hindu swami named Dr. Bramachari that Merton could obtain mystical properties from Christians like the Desert Fathers – he didn’t need to leave his own tradition.
But Merton realized that most Christians didn’t know about this. So, he set out to bring mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer) to the Christian world. However, Merton died an early death in 1968 and was unable to accomplish his goal. But somewhere between 1968 and 1978, Richard Foster picked up the mantle of Thomas Merton and carried it forward. Now today, tens of thousands of churches, maybe even yours, are going forth with Thomas Merton’s message of Spiritual Formation. But in essence they are going forth with the Hindu message of: God is in all things (panentheism), and God is all things (pantheism). Such a message contradicts the Gospel message of Jesus Christ – that man is sinful, he is heading for eternal destruction because of sin, and he needs a Savior, and that Savior is God (i.e., Jesus Christ) who paid the price for us with His shed blood.
Just remember, when you find out that your church is going to do a Spiritual Formation program, think about these words by Thomas Merton:
The most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation . . . Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind. (cited in A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 129)
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158).
This “Spirit of contemplation” is what fuels the Spiritual Formation movement. Merton believed that God dwelled in all people – Richard Foster believes this too. The question you must ask yourself is, do you believe that also? If not, then Spiritual Formation does not belong in your church or in your family’s spiritual structure.
For more information on Spiritual Formation:
For documentation of the quotes in this article and for further information on contemplative spirituality, read A Time of Departing
By Ray Yungen
Why are the mainstream denominations so open to meditative and holistic practices? A professor of theology at a United Methodist college gave this explanation:
A spiritual vacuum exists in organized religion that might be filled by theologies that draw—for better or worse—from what is called parapsychology, paranormal studies, psychic phenomena and, somewhat pejoratively, the “New Age” movement.1
New Agers have become very much aware of this “spiritual vacuum” and have directed their efforts toward filling it. Metaphysical leader James Fadiman makes the following observation:
The traditional religious world is just beginning to make changes, but it’s a slow process—denomination by denomination. When religious institutions begin to lose members year after year, they eventually become aware that they’re not meeting people’s needs. Before long they’re scurrying around looking for innovative programs and improvements.2
Even atheists have observed this trend. Science-fiction writer Richard E. Geis comments in his personal journal that:
The mainstream Christians are lip-service religions in the main, convenience religions, social religions, and they are the ones most subject to erosion and defections and infiltration and subversion. A large and successful effort seems to have been made by the occultists’ New Age planners to dilute and alter the message of most of the mainstream Christian religions.3
This is made evident by a quote which appeared in a newspaper interview with the owner of a New Age bookstore. She reveals:
A lot of people come in who are very Christian. They are looking, by whatever means, to move closer to God on an individual basis.4
This shows that a great number of people who consider themselves to be Christians have a rather dull and dreary attitude toward their faith. They are looking for something to fill the void.
One of the foremost individuals who has attempted to fill this void with the New Age is Marcus Borg, professor and author of many widely read books. In one of them, The God We Never Knew, he lays out very concisely how he went from being a traditional Christian to a “mature” Christian. He relates:
I learned from my professors and the readings they assigned that Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world. . . . By the time I was thirty, like Humpty Dumpty, my childhood faith had fallen into pieces. My life since has led to a quite different understanding of what the Christian tradition says about God.5
Like multitudes of liberal or nominal Christians who believe as he does, Borg turned to mysticism to fill the spiritual vacuum that his way of thinking inevitably leads to. Borg reveals:
I learned about the use of mantras as a means of giving the mind something to focus and refocus on as it sinks into silence.6
This is a recurring theme in all his books, including his very influential book, The Heart of Christianity. Even though Marcus Borg would certainly not call himself a New Ager, his practices and views on God would be in line with traditional New Age thought (i.e., God is in everything and each person is a receptacle of the Divine, which is accessed through meditation).
Borg is not some Hindu guru or counter-culture type personality. He represents the mainstream for millions of people in liberal churches. But his spiritual platform is pure New Age as he makes clear when he expounds:
The sacred is not “somewhere else” spatially distant from us. Rather, we live within God . . . God has always been in relationship to us, journeying with us, and yearning to be known by us. Yet we commonly do not know this or experience this. . . . We commonly do not perceive the world of Spirit. (emphasis mine)7
This perception is, of course, as I have shown in other articles, the outcome of mantra-induced silence.
The following is another barometer of Christian tolerance to New Age ideas. The late psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote a phenomenal best seller on psychology and spiritual growth titled The Road Less Traveled. The book contains insights and suggestions for dealing with life’s problems, which is why it has generated the interest it has. But the book also incorporates the central theme of the Ancient Wisdom:
God wants us to become himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination. This is what we mean when we say that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.. . .
It is one thing to believe in a nice old God who will take good care of us from a lofty position of power which we ourselves could never begin to attain. It is quite another to believe in a God who has it in mind for us precisely that we should attain His position, His power, His wisdom, His identity.8
Madame Blavatsky and Alice Bailey could not have said it any better. Peck revealed where he was coming from when he said, “But [The Road] is a sound New Age book, not a flaky one.”9 This book, which was on the New York Times best seller list for over 400 weeks, has been incredibly popular in Christian circles for years. Peck himself said the book sells best in the Bible Belt.
1. David R. Griffen, San Francisco Sunday Punch, March 8, 1987.
2. James Fadiman (Science of Mind, June 1988), p. 77.
3. Richard E. Geis’ personal journal, “The Naked Id.”
4. “New Age Isn’t New to Salem” (Statesman Journal newspaper article, Salem, Oregon, March 9, 1991), p. 2-A.
5. Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew (New York, NY: Harper Collins, First HarperCollins Paperback edition, 1998), pp. 25, 29.
8. M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1978), p. 270.
9. Charles Leerhsen, “Peck’s Path to Inner Peace” (Newsweek, November 18, 1985), p.79.
Does the Evangelical Free [EFCA] lean toward contemplative. I don’t hear it, but [Rick] Warren is one of our pastor’s favorite authors and . . . I don’t mean to imply that liking Warren will necessarily lead to the contemplative movement but, in my experience, favorite “whatevers” have a tendency to influence. Thanks for your time and patience.
It has been a number of years since we wrote about the EFCA’s move toward contemplative. You can read that 2008 article here. Current research indicates that the Evangelical Free Church has continued on this path. One example is the EFCA’s connection with an emerging-type organization called Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). EFCA is listed on the CCDA as a sponsor (and on their own website as a “partner”). CCDA is an ecumenical, interfaith think-tank that promotes the emerging view of social justice inline with change agents like Jim Wallis of SoJourners (also a sponsor for CCDA).
In addition, on the EFCA website, one can find references to contemplative practices such as lectio divina and quotes by contemplative’s such as Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and several resources for “Spiritual Formation.” The official magazine for the EFCA, EFCA Today, shows how contemplative spirituality is being accepted at the leadership level of the denomination. For example, the Summer 2010 issue has under “Book Recommendations authors Eugene Peterson, Timothy Keller (both contemplative advocates) and the late emergent author, Robert Webber.
As with other evangelical denominations that are promoting contemplative spirituality, this does not mean that every church within the EFCA is doing so. It would have to be looked at on a church by church basis.
Another Letter From Assemblies of God Pastor: Many AOG Ministers Concerned About Contemplative Issue
I have never responded to you before, but I do wish for you to know that I have been following your series of articles concerning Ruth Barton speaking at the AoG GC with extreme interest. You see, I am a credentialed AoG minister. I, along with many other ministers and lay people inside the AoG are extremely concerned with what has been taking place within our fellowship over the past few years. In fact, there are several conservative factions inside of the AoG that have actually been able to bond over the common cause of bringing a halt to the contemplative prayer movement that has been lurking around in our fellowship. I just wished to thank you personally for all that you do for the gospel. I would also like you to know that many of your Ruth Barton articles are being used in AoG Theology discussion forums on Facebook. It may amuse you to know that many of the older line AoG ministers, who would not even look at a Lighthouse Trails article before, have come to respect your writers, and how well they research their articles. I would just like to ask that you pray for us as we go through this time of testing in our fellowship. It seems bad now, but I am hoping and praying that it will lead to a Reformation within the AoG. Again, thank you so much for your great articles and your research. It has really been a bigger help than you will ever know.
In His service,
More Evidence and a Final Plea as Assemblies of God Conference with Ruth Haley Barton Begins August 5th
On August 5th-9th, the Assemblies of God will be holding their 2013 General Council conference titled Believe. Lighthouse Trails has written a number of times about the upcoming conference since April of this year. At the end of this report, we have listed the links to those past reports. Basically, our concern has focused on the fact that contemplative pioneer Ruth Haley Barton is one of the speakers at this year’s AOG event. We have given ample evidence to show why there is cause for concern, and we have explained the serious implications of the Barton invitation. Today, we are issuing one final plea to AOG leadership regarding this matter. The information in today’s report is vital.
Before we begin, no one should think that this is the first time AOG leadership has promoted a contemplative/emerging author. This has been an ongoing problem for sometime (although the Barton invitation is probably the most pronounced). For example, there are several instances within the Assemblies of God seminary that show an affinity toward contemplative spirituality and the emerging church. And the Gospel Publishing House (the publishing arm of AOG) website sells a number of books from authors in the emerging/contemplative camp.
Incidentally, on the Network for Women in Ministry website (that’s the AOG women’s group responsible for inviting Ruth Barton to this year’s General Council conference), a ”Suggested List for Further Reading” offers Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (where he says “we should all, without shame, enroll in the school of contemplative prayer”), Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Foster (his primer on contemplative prayer), a book by Henri Nouwen, and a book called The Contemporaries Meet the Classics on Prayer, which includes writings by many contemplative proponents: Nouwen, Foster, Marjorie Thompson, Brother Lawrence, Calvin Miller, Dallas Willard, Mother Teresa, Evelyn Underhill, and Thomas Merton.
Now, onto the information we are compelled to share in this report. It may seem trivial to some at first, but if you read through this report, we think you will see the significance.
In Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Solitude and Silence (the book where Barton acknowledges Thomas Keating’s influence in her life), Barton quotes the late Catholic priest William Shannon from his book Silence on Fire (the biography of Thomas Merton). Shannon states:
Wordless prayer … is humble, simple, lowly, prayer in which we experience our total dependence on God and our awareness that we are in God. Wordless prayer is not an effort to “get anywhere, ” for we are already there (in God’s presence). It is just that we are not sufficiently conscious of our being there.1 (emphasis added)
Shannon’s comment here is the typical statement by mystics of all religious backgrounds, i.e., that God is already inside each one of us (all mankind), and we just need to become aware of it. It is a panentheistic view. We can illustrate this further when Shannon says:
The contemplative experience is neither a union of separate identities nor a fusion of them; on the contrary, separate identities disappear in the All Who is God.2
Shannon, founder of the International Thomas Merton Society, did not believe in the biblical view of God as we will show below. When he speaks of “separate identities disappear[ing],” he means that there is only one identity - God and that God and man are mutually the same. This is classic Buddhism or Hinduism. In A Time of Departing, Ray Yungen addresses Shannon’s panentheistic beliefs:
[In William Shannon's book, Silence on Fire], he relates the account of a theological discussion he once had with an atheist groom for whom he was performing a wedding ceremony. He told the skeptical young man:
“You will never find God by looking outside yourself. You will only find God within. It will only be when you have come to experience God in your own heart and let God into the corridors of your heart (or rather found God there) that you will be able to ‘know’ that there is indeed a God and that you are not separate from God.”
This advice is no different from what any New Age teacher would impart to someone who held an atheistic point of view. You want God? Meditate! God is just waiting for you to open up. Based on Shannon’s own mystical beliefs, he knew this was the right approach. He alluded to this by explaining that the young man would find enlightenment if he would look in the right place or use the right method.3
In Shannon’s book, Seeds of Peace, he reiterates this same view:
This forgetfulness, of our oneness with God, is not just a personal experience, it is the corporate experience of humanity. Indeed, this is one way to understanding original sin. We are in God, but we don’t seem to know it. We are in paradise, but we don’t realize it.4 (emphasis added)
You will find this mindset in contemplative teachers across the board. This being in God has nothing to do with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith. Shannon isn’t saying this to born-again Christians. This union with God is a blanket declaration for all of mankind, with or without a Savior. We are all in God.
Shannon contrasts the spirituality of devotion (placating God with good works) with “contemplative spirituality,” the latter where God is identified as “the ground of all being”5 and the core of everything there is (man is naturally connected with God). Contemplative mystics, such as Shannon and Merton, teach that all you have to do to find this union with God is use the mystical technology which connects you with your “true self” (i.e, your own divinity). Bernard of Clairvaux, contemplative mystic from ages past, said that God is “the stone in the stones and tree in the trees.”6 In other words, God exists in everything and is the essence of what we see – there is no distinction between God and His creation. We know from Scripture, however, that this untrue. Isaiah 42:8 declares, ”I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” Yungen points out, “Creation can reflect God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3), but it can never possess God’s glory. For that to happen would mean God was indeed giving His glory to another.”7 Paul, the apostle, solidifies the distinction between God and creation when he warns of those who worship the creature (creation) rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).
What this boils down to is this: In the writings of these mystics – the ones Ruth Haley Barton admires, quotes, and gleans from – there is nothing promoting the Gospel or the message of the Cross. Rather, a cosmic “Christ,” which revolves around a panentheistic, interspiritual outlook, is uplifted and glorified. There is nothing truly Christian about the teachings of Merton, Keating, Shannon, and Tilden Edwards. And let us make something clear – these mystics don’t hide their propensities. It isn’t in some secret code or subtle message. On the contrary, they are forthright and bold about their stance.
If these mystics whom Barton admires are so open about their views, how is it she is drawn to them so consistently in her own spiritual walk? No doubt, she has read their books, so she must know what they really stand for. A lover of God’s Word would not be drawn to those who reject the message of the Cross. That’s right, reject. In Silence on Fire, the very book from which Barton quotes William Shannon, Shannon says:
This [the traditional biblical view] is a typical patriarchal notion of God. He is the God of Noah who sees people deep in sin, repents that He made them and resolves to destroy them. He is the God of the desert who sends snakes to bite His people because they murmured against Him. He is the God of David who practically decimates a people. . . . He is the God who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son, so that His just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased. This God whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger. This God does not exist.8 (emphasis added)
You see, overall, the contemplatives reject the notion that God sent His Son to a violent death as a penalty for OUR sins. While they may say that Jesus was a good example of servanthood, they reject His death as an atonement for others. This anti-atonement view is pervasive among the mystics.9 That is because you cannot have it both ways: you cannot have a Gospel of salvation through the death of a Savior for man’s sins and also say that God exists in all things and that man is divine. It just won’t work. The mystics and New Agers know that – but how ironic – the Christian leaders don’t!
Listen to another man who trained Barton – Tilden Edwards, co-founder of the Shalem Prayer Institute:
It is such an innocent, intuitively discerning mind that helps make the Eastern guru and the Desert Abba “master” [the intuitively discerning mind is the contemplative state]. Where intimate Source [inner divinity] radiates among non-Christians then surely we must be dealing with the “other sheep” (Matthew 10:16) manifesting the cosmic Christ.10
In other words, in this contemplative state, the East and the West meet. The word “cosmic” often carries with it a silly childish connotation (remember, baby boomers who grew up with Buck Rogers and his cosmic ray gun). But here the word cosmic or cosmos carries a deeper meaning where the “cosmic Christ” is not an individual – it is a consciousness, and it can only be grasped in the meditative state.
We’ll leave you with this question: Is it not utterly amazing (and almost unbelievable) that Ruth Haley Barton has gained access to the hierarchy of the Assemblies of God denomination, where the General Superintendent, Dr. George Wood, insinuated that those under him should not consider the evidence that Lighthouse Trails provided. But, just because someone tells others not to listen doesn’t change the facts. Either they are true, or they aren’t true; and ignoring the facts doesn’t make them go away.
[B]e not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2 – emphasis added)
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, p 39.
2. William Shannon, quoted in The Message of Thomas Merton, p. 200.
3. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, pp. 31-32, quoting William Shannon in Silence on Fire, p. 99.
4. William Shannon, Seeds of Peace, p. 66.
5. Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 570.
6. Joseph Chu-Cong, The Contemplative Experience, Joseph Chu-Cong, p. 3.
7. Yungen, A Time of Departing, p. 31.
8. (Shannon, Silence on Fire, pp. 109-110.
9. See Roger Oakland’s chapter, “Slaughterhouse Religion” in Faith Undone. You can read the PDF for free here.
10. Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Friend, p. 169.
Our past reports on the Barton/AOG issue:
Castles in the Sand by Carolyn A. Greene is a story based on true facts and addresses the fast growing contemplative prayer movement within the evangelical/Protestant church. The story is about a 21st century Christian college girl who is introduced to the writings of a 15th century mystic girl, Teresa of Avila in her Spiritual Formation class. Teresa of Avila is one of the ancient mystics to whom modern day contemplatives turn. For example, Richard Foster includes her in Devotional Classics, Sanctuary of the Soul, and Longing for God. We think when you read this chapter of Castles in the Sand, you will see how the spiritual practices of Teresa of Avila line up with the occult but not with biblical Christianity. If you didn’t get a chance to read chapter one when we posted it, here it is again: (chapter one). Below is an excerpt to chapter two with a link to the entire chapter.
Castles in the Sand
Spain, circa 1533
The pale, shivering girl was vaguely aware of being lifted onto a clean sheet and covered with a dry blanket. When she opened her eyes, a blurry face hovered above her. The girl’s head was pounding, and nausea swept over her in waves. Slowly, she pulled herself upright on the narrow straw mattress. Suddenly, she cried out with alarm as her big brown eyes continued to stare vacantly.
“Run, Rodrigo! He’s found us! Run!”
“Sister Juana, she’s burning up with the malaria,” Teresa heard a young nun say as she was gently laid back down. Someone was dabbing her forehead with a cool, wet cloth. As if from afar, she recognized the voices of the two nuns who stood at the foot of her bed, praying their rosaries.
Her pulse faint, her breath shallow, the feverish girl closed her eyes, as her memory drifted back to her past, beginning with when she was just seven years old . . .
Holding her little brother’s hand, she ran with him as fast as their little legs could carry them, and they made it past the city gate. Suddenly, she felt a large, strong hand grabbing her by the shoulder, abruptly ending their flight. Her uncle had caught up with them.
“Come now, little Teresa, it’s time to go home. Your mother is anxious!” he said gently, as he dragged her and Rodrigo back home to their worried parents.
Safely home and tucked into her bed later that evening, she overheard the family members and servants talk late into the night.
“Whoever heard of a noble family having to send a search party into the streets for two precocious children–because of their vivid imaginations!”
“Who would put these foolish ideas into Teresa’s head?”
“What could possibly have inspired a seven-year-old girl to run away with her little brother, and to Morocco of all places?!”
“And to face certain martyrdom by beheading at the hands of the Moors!” blustered her irate uncle loudly.
“That is what she desired,” sighed another family member. “What do you expect of a child who reads too much?”
As Teresa grew older, only her father understood her love for books and the effect they had on her active imagination. She had inherited her passion for literature from her mother, who had spent many hours of the day in bed reading romance stories. She is so like her mother, her father frequently thought, smiling to himself. He often found Teresa alone on the roof of the villa, reading books rather than watching over her younger sisters and brothers in the courtyard below. How she loved those fascinating stories of saints and martyrs.
Twelve-year-old Teresa was profoundly impacted by her mother’s tragic death. Her passing had left the young girl feeling emotionally raw and empty. Finally, in quiet desperation one evening, Teresa threw herself on the floor before an image of the Virgin Mary and pleaded with her, “Be my new mother.”
Her father kept a watchful eye on his daughter as her extreme devotion to the Mother Mary and her good intentions to live a devoted life eventually gave way to an interest in fashion, perfumes, and hairstyles. Before long, her passion for reading and writing romances was rekindled as her imagination and beauty blossomed. Concerned that Teresa had no mother to guard her virtue, Father sent her away to boarding school at the Augustinian convent. After all, his lovely daughter was attracting the attention of far too many young men.
The first week at the convent was most dreadful for a girl accustomed to the fineries of life. But she soon decided that the harsh conditions served some practical use. At least she was being provided with an education, which was certainly preferable to looking after siblings, she reasoned. Click here to read the rest of chapter 2.
2013 Update on FGBC (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches) – Is FGBC Still Promoting Contemplative Spirituality and the Emerging Church?
June 2013 Update: In 2008, Lighthouse Trails wrote an article about the contemplative propensities of the FGBC (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches). We have posted that article below this update. Please note that many of the FGBC links on the 2008 article have been removed by FGBC and CE National.
This update will discuss two items. First, this past week, we were contacted by a FGBC person to comment on our 2008 article. We have posted information on that comment below in the 2008 article. Secondly, in doing some research to see where FGBC is at today, we are sad to report that the denomination appears to be continuing down the contemplative/emerging road.
For instance, Grace College & Theological Seminary website (an FGBC school) is packed with references to “Spiritual Formation,” the vehicle through which contemplative spirituality flows. In addition, one of the men mentioned in our 2008 article is Robert Kellemen. His book, Spiritual Friends (see information below on the book) is still being published and sold by BMH Books (the publishing arm for FGBC): http://bmhbooks.com/shop/spiritual-friends/. What’s more, in a 2013 class that Kellemen is teaching at Capital Bible Seminary, he recommends students read his book Spiritual Friends. So his views he shared in that book must still resonate with him today, and though the book is a very contemplative/emerging book, FGBC is still publishing it.
Another example is if you look at a 2010 entry by FGBC’s Bob Hetzler (who is addressed below), http://cebobsblog.blogspot.com, you will see where he is strongly promoting a book titled Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken. We reviewed this book in the past in our article “Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken – When “Cool” Isn’t Cool and Is Ashamed of the Gospel” and found it very pro-emerging, pro-contemplative. Some of the figures McCracken favors in his book are Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Jay Baaker, and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz). Hetzler has had a prominent role within FGBC in youth training and leadership. This is just another indicator that FGBC has not moved away from contemplative/emerging but rather has moved further down that road.
In a 2013 Grace Connect ana FGBC publication) article, ”It Takes a Community,” the spiritual disciplines, the silence, and the spiritual formation movement are discussed in a most favorable way. The article is written by Dr. Christy Hill, who is the Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Women’s Ministries at Grace College and Theological Seminary. According to an interview with Hill, she lists Dallas Willard, John Eldredge, Larry Crabb, and Ken Gire (all contemplative advocates) as authors who have influenced her. For those not familiar with Ken Gire, in his book Seeing What is Sacred, Gire resonates with mystics like Sue Monk Kidd, Morton Kelsey, Henri Nouwen, and Jean Pierre de Caussade. And speaking of FGBC women, in a 2010 FGBC conference for women, “Much of the discussion is based on the book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership — Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton.” Barton is a key leader in the contemplative/spiritual formation movement within the evangelical church. We discuss her spirituality in depth in a series of recent articles regarding Barton’s role with the Assemblies of God.
Finally, we’d like to draw your attention to the FGBC annual conference. This year it is called Vision 2020, happening in July in Atlanta, Georgia. If you examine some of the descriptions of the sessions, we think you will be concerned (hold your cursor over a session box to read pop up window’s description of that particular session). To give a couple examples, 1) under the session titled Model Church, which is fascilitated by CE National (see below), it is recommended that one read emerging church pastor Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (a fitting title for a seeker-friendly, church-growth movement, that’s for sure), before coming to the conference for preparation; 2) in the session titled Expand Your Religious World View, attendees will visit three Hindu temples and converse with “devotees.” That session, as well as others, is put on by Encompass World Partners, which is an organization that partners with Catalyst, a yearly event that always features contemplative and emerging speakers (this year emerging author Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts - is one of the Catalyst speakers). Other sessions will include trips to an Islamic Mosque and a Buddhist monastery.
The last session of Vision 2020 we want to draw your attention to is Jesus and the Quran. The description reads:
Becoming conversant about faith with Muslim people has its roots in the model of Jesus and his early followers. Building friendships, studying the Bible and the Qur’an together, and asking God to help us answer the all-important question: “Who is Jesus and what does He have to do with entering the Kingdom of God?” We hope to equip participants to have these kinds of conversation in a fruitful, honoring way. We focus on three major topics: (1) The Kingdom of God in the Bible, (2) Our identity within the Kingdom, and (3) Islam and the Kingdom. Although historically the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often highlighted the differences between our faiths, we are confident that through prayer and patient study both can come to a robust understanding of the Jesus of the Bible (emphasis added – note that even the Christian will come to a new understanding of Jesus).
These sessions are part of what we call the “new” missiology. To understand this, read Roger Oakland’s article/booklet The New Missiology: Doing Missions Without the Gospel.
The information above is just a sampling of how the FGBC is heading in the wrong direction, away from the purity of the Gospel and toward a spirituality that is rooted in panentheism and interspirituality – the antithesis of the message of the Cross.
In a 2012 article in Grace Connect, it says that “a fresh wind is blowing in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC).” We fear this wind may be the winds of deception if FGBC does not heed the warning that LT and others have tried to issue.
* Note: Remember, many of the FGBC links no longer work. We fixed the ones we could but we were not able to find working replacements for some.
The FGBC (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches) is an association of 260 North American churches of the Grace Brethren movement, which has an historical heritage dating back to the 18th century. Currently, there are over 2000 [over 3000 as of June 2013] churches and around 750,000 Grace Brethren members. According to the main FGBC website, FGBC churches are autonomous (self-governed), and FGBC believes that the Bible is their authority. Thus, it is most unfortunate to report that FGBC is heading into the contemplative/emerging camp through several various avenues.
The CE National is a ministry arm of FGBC that provides “ministries and resources” to educate and lead FGBC children, youth, and adults. One of the programs, 412 Commission (based on 1 Timothy 4:12), is “designed to nurture young leaders in an effective discipling environment.” Last December, the Commission exposed students to emerging church leader and New Age-practice proponent Rob Bell. 1 In view of Bell’s resonance with the Sisters of Marywood (recently featured in Reiki News for their “success” with the occultic practice, Reiki) and his emphasis on New Age mystic Ken Wilber, introducing FGBC kids to Bell is alarming. Of the meeting with Bell, an FGBC writer states: “[O]ur view of God was blown out of the box we had it in.” [2013 update: In June of 2013, a person from the FGBC contacted us to tell us that in 2007-2008, there were two 412 Commission groups. The group from Florida, he said, did not go to Rob Bell's Church but did watch Bell's Noomas to critique them. The other group, from Ohio, did apparently attend Rob Bell's church although those links have now been removed from the Internet].
On a FGBC blog by one of CE National’s leaders, Bob Hetzler (CE National’s YouthNet Commission and director of Fusion, the young adult division of FGBC’s Momentum youth conference), Hetzler states that Rob Bell’s Nooma videos (a Trojan Horse for Bell’s non-biblical spirituality), have been a best-selling resource for youth. 2
Sadly, just about one month ago, Hetzler recommended people read Brian McLaren and other pro-emerging books to get help in understanding the emerging church movement. This will certainly give students the perspective from an emerging point of view, but Hetzler’s resources do not alert to the serious and dangerous mystical affinities of the emerging church or of its promotion of the Kingdom Now theology or its interspiritual and universalistic beliefs. It is disappointing that Hetzler didn’t point to a book like Faith Undone, in which Roger Oakland precisely and accurately shows the true nature of the emerging church.
Incidentally, on Hetzler’s blog, he has links to Dallas Willard, Relevant magazine, Leadership Network, and the Ooze, all of which are some of the most influential promoters of the emerging church, and all of which have a propensity toward the mystical. Because Hetzler is instrumental in working with FGBC churches, his promotion of contemplative and emerging resources cannot be underestimated.
The CE National “lending library” is filled with contemplative and emerging related books and authors: Under Youth Ministry, they recommend Mark Oestreicher (from Youth Specialties who calls Christianity “an Eastern religion”), Rick Warren (a major promoter of both contemplative and emerging), Duffy Robbins, Doug Fields (Saddleback), Wayne Rice (Youth Specialties co-founder), Tony Campolo, Mike Yaconelli, and Tony Jones. Other various categories include New Ager Jack Canfield, mystic proponent Richard Foster, Larry Crabb, John Eldredge, Robert Webber, Tony Campolo, and many others with similar spiritual proclivities.
BMH Books is a publishing arm of FGBC. A new release of theirs titled Spiritual Friends is written by Robert Kellemen. The book was originally published by RPM Books. In that 2004 edition, Kellemen quotes atonement denier Alan Jones from his book Exploring Spiritual Direction. This makes sense that Kellemen would turn to Jones because Kellemen’s book is about spiritual direction, which is a philosophy that Jones believes in also. Some may be thinking, “What is wrong with spiritual direction?” But the kind of spiritual direction that is being promoted here is contemplative spiritual direction. In other words, spiritual direction (through trained spiritual directors) is needed to help people develop their spiritual formation through contemplative prayer practices. For those who may doubt that this is what Kellemen is referring to, all one needs to do is look to the Acknowlegments in his book, where he thanks Larry Crabb who “contributed” to his own theories on spiritual direction. Crabb is a psychologist who turned to spiritual direction (i.e., contemplative spirituality). This is documented in a Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?.” In that article it states: [N]ow he [Crabb] believes that in today’s church, therapy should be replaced by another, more ancient practice–”spiritual direction.” Today, Crabb promotes mystical practices, as can be seen in his various writings (such as The Papa Prayer, where he encourages the use of centering prayer.
In Kellemen’s book, he also looks to other mystical-type prayer proponents for guidance: Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Aquinas, Dallas Willard, John Eldredge, Dan Allender, Ignatius Loyola, Tilden Edwards (who said in his book, Spiritual Friend, that contemplative is the bridge between Eastern religion and Christianity – see A Time of Departing), Richard Foster, David Benner, and Marjorie Thompson (from her book Soul Feast ).
Marjorie Thompson does not hide her draw to eastern-style mysticism. She states, “The practice of contemplative prayer might give a Christian ground for constructive dialogue with a meditating Buddhist” (from Preface). In essence, Thompson resonates with New Age philosophy as she indicates in her book by often favorably referencing and/or promoting people like Matthew Fox, Thomas Keating, and others with panentheistic views (God is in all). Of Keating and eastern mysticism, she states:
A way of prayer closely related to this ancient form [the Jesus prayer] is now enjoying a revival among Christians of several traditions. It is called “centering prayer,” and is a good way to introduce the person in the pew to contemplation. Centering prayer is based on a fourteenth-century treatise titled The Cloud of Unknowing. In this way of prayer, you select a single word that sums up for you the nature and being of God. Single-minded focus on this prayer word in silent concentration becomes a vehicle into the mystery of divine presence and grace. The method bears a striking resemblance to Eastern meditation with mantras but has developed independently out of the mystical strands of Western Christianity.
If FGBC incorporates Kellemen’s spiritual orientation into their denomination, some day many of their churches may resemble the vision of Matthew Fox’s christ-consciousness or of Thomas Keating through mantric prayer.
Grace College/Seminary (FGBC representative college) is also allowing the contemplative influence into student’s lives. Last April (2007), at their chapel, they had Richard Twiss, and this April they had Shaine Claiborne (who was recently cancelled at Cedarville because of his emerging church spirituality). Also Kay Warren spoke in February. Warren promotes contemplative through her recommendation of Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, which states we need to move from the “moral to the mystical.”
The last avenue our report will point out is that FGBC is allowing contemplative/emerging influences through their youth events. Momentum, taking place this June, recommends several ministries such as Youth Specialties and CPYU. 3 At the 2008 Driven Conference, one of the speakers is Kary Oberbrunner, author of Called: Becoming Who You Were Born to be (also published by FGBC’s BMH Books). Oberbrunner, a graduate of Grace College and pastor of an FGBC church, quotes New Age leader Marianne Williamson on the first page of his book (and again on p. 143), calling her words “inspiring” and offering no warning about her but rather says they have inspired his own soul. Perhaps Oberbrunner does not know who Marianne Williamson is, but if that is the case, we hope he will now take the time to learn and remove her reference from his book. Pointing to Williamson is the same as pointing to Oprah, A Course in Miracles, and Eckhart Tolle, all of whom are strong opponents of biblical Christianity and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Kary Oberbrunner has announced that he is now in contract with Zondervan publishers. Given the fact that Zondervan is one of the main influencers for contemplative/emerging spirituality in evangelical Christianity, this probably isn’t a good sign that they resonate with him. In his book, Oberbrunner expounds on the kingdom teachings of emerging leaders Doug Pagitt and Robert Webber, and even references panentheist Basil Pennington. Pennington stated the following in a book he co-authored with Thomas Keating:
We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and capture it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible … Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices (see chapter 2, ATOD)
It is our prayer and hope that FGBC and its leaders will stop going in the contemplative direction and make a renewed commitment to biblical truth. Lighthouse Trails would like to offer a complimentary copy of A Time of Departing and Faith Undone to any of FGBC’s 12-member Fellowship Council Board of Directors. These 12 men help to lead FGBC and make decisions that affect the entire movement. We think if they would take the time to study these issues, they will find that contemplative spirituality and emerging philosophy are not biblical and not the direction in which FGBC founders, who were often persecuted for their defense of the faith, would have taken believers.