Archive for the ‘Contemplative Spirituality’ Category
Letter to the Editor: Brennan Manning Book Review by John Caddock Saved Me From Years of Wandering in the Wilderness
LTRP Note: This week, we received the following letter to the editor referring to a book review about Brennan Manning’s book, The Signature of Jesus. The review was written by John Caddock and was the first piece we ever read on the Internet refuting contemplative prayer shortly after we met Ray Yungen and read his then-unpublished manuscript A Time of Departing over fifteen years ago. This book review by Caddock has opened the eyes of many people and is still doing so today as this letter reveals. Below the letter is the full review. As with all our blog articles, you can print it freely. It is also available in booklet format for those needing that.
Dear John Caddock,
I am 65 year old Christian man who has run ahead of Jesus most of my Christian experience. Hence I feel the lack of instruction that my years should show.
I have a good friend who I can talk to about anything. He is a believer but has always seemed to have strange ideas about God. Long story short, after watching Brennan Manning and starting to run ahead of Jesus again, the Lord led me to your never-ending review [about Brennan Manning]
Thank you very much for this review; you saved me from who knows how many years of wandering in the wilderness.
I really can’t thank you enough.
God bless you and yours,
Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” & Their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticism
A review of The Signature of Jesus
By John Caddock
The Never-Ending Review
Little did I know when I began to read The Signature of Jesus, the time and effort that would be involved in understanding it. I am not a theologian by training. My background is in technical management in electronic component manufacturing. However, I stumbled onto something that I became convinced was very dangerous and little understood.
One reading was not enough for me to understand The Signature of Jesus. I found it was like reading a book in a foreign language. I read many new expressions like contemplative prayer, centering prayer, centering down, paschal spirituality, the discipline of the secret, contemplative spirituality, celebrating the darkness, practicing the presence, the interior life, inner integration, yielding to the Center, notional knowledge, spiritual masters, masters of the interior life, false self, and the Abba experience.1
I also encountered many writers I had never read before, including Kasemann, Burghardt, Merton, Van Breemen, Brueggemann, Moltmann, Nouwen, Küng, Steindl-Rast, Rahner, Kierkegaard, and Camus.
I had to read the book three separate times before I was confident that I understood what Manning was saying. I even read it a fourth time for good measure.
Reading this book led me to read a number of other books and articles by and about leading mystics/contemplatives. I learned about the heart of Manning’s message—centering prayer.
Ultimately, I felt I had to meet the man. I attended one conference he conducted. In addition, I purchased the tapes of another conference he conducted and pored over them. Manning conducted many speaking engagements for many years. He died in April 2013 at the age of 79.
Altogether, I spent hundreds of hours trying to understand what Manning was saying. Why did I do this? Well, I began this study because three Christian leaders whom I know endorsed Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. These men are bright, well educated, experienced in ministry, and heads of major works. Yet, I had read a cautionary review of that book,2 and I wanted to read Manning for myself.
I continued the study because what I found frightened me and because I felt others needed to be warned. I came to the conclusion that the teachings of Brennan Manning are very dangerous.
There is a seductive quality to his writings. He reports grappling with and overcoming fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties, including alcoholism. He gives the impression that he had a very intimate relationship with God and that he had insight to a superspirituality. He regularly meditated and reports having many visions and encounters with God. He was an extremely gifted writer who was able to tug at the emotions of the reader while at the same time introducing ideas that the reader would immediately reject if they were not cloaked under this emotional blanket.
He promises his readers that if they apply his teaching, they too will gain this same intimacy with God as well as freedom from fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties. This is very attractive. Manning’s prescription to achieve this is not by traditional prayer and the reading and application of the Bible. Rather, the means to this end is a mixture of Eastern mysticism, psychology, the New Age movement, liberation theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism. This mixture will not deliver intimacy with God. It no doubt will lead to special feelings and experiences. Those practicing Manning’s methods will likely feel closer to God. Ironically, in the process they will actually move away from Him as a result of a counterfeit spirituality.
Ordained a Franciscan priest, Manning earned degrees in philosophy and theology. He had training with a monastic order, which included seven months of isolation in a desert cave. Years later, after a collapse into alcoholism, he shifted direction and focused on writing and speaking. He became persona non grata among the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a result of his marriage in 1982. He began writing and speaking mainly to Protestant audiences.
What Is Contemplative Spirituality?
The Signature of Jesus is actually a primer on what Manning calls paschal spirituality, which is supposedly, but not actually, spirituality centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Another name for this, a more accurate one, is contemplative spirituality. Indeed, one entire chapter is a call to “Celebrate the Darkness,”3 and another teaches about centering prayer, an Eastern religion, mind-emptying meditation technique.4
Manning indicates that The Signature of Jesus is about radical discipleship and authentic faith. Radical discipleship sounds good. So does authentic faith. Unfortunately, the book isn’t about following Jesus Christ or having faith in Him. It is about following “the masters of the interior life.”5
In Manning’s view, many Christians have been raised in a devotional spirituality, which focuses “more on behavior than on consciousness; more on doing God’s will and performing the devotional acts that pleased Him than on experiencing God as God truly is.”6 Contemplative spirituality, on the other hand, “emphasize[s] the need for a change in consciousness, a new way of seeing God, others, self, and the world,”7 which leads to a deeper knowledge of God.
Thus, Manning sets up a battle between two views of the Christian life. One he paints as traditional, cold, intellectual, ritualistic, unemotional, unloving, uncaring, insensitive, unattractive, and obsessive. The other he presents as new, warm, free, emotional, loving, caring, sensitive, attractive, and liberating. While he acknowledges there is a place for Bible study and corporate worship, he argues that the key is “practicing the presence” through a special form of prayer we will discuss more fully later, centering prayer. Manning writes:
Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ’s communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed his vision of reality, enabling him to perceive God’s love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work, especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. (You may wish to try it right now. Lower the book, center down, and offer yourself to the indwelling Spirit of God.)8
Daily devotions consisting of Bible study, meditation, memorization, and traditional prayers are of limited importance in the contemplative spirituality of Manning. His substitute—a type of prayer derived from Eastern mysticism, is what is really important—Practice the presence—Center down—What is really needed is freeing the mind and having an existential experience with God.
The Origins of Contemplative Spirituality
This movement began in the Roman Catholic Church, where there has been an important shift over the last few decades. Devotional spirituality is a pejorative term coined by some within Roman Catholicism who reacted against the prewar, pre-Vatican II Church, with a devotion to saints, doctrine, frequent reception of the sacraments, and approved devotional practices.
Some Roman Catholics began to advocate the “new theology,”9 which Francis Schaeffer warned of in his classic The God Who is There. Schaeffer pointed to Hans Küng and Karl Rahner (both influential in shaping Manning’s views) and Teilhard de Chardin as the leading progressive thinkers who were following in the path of Heidegger, the existentialist philosopher. To the new theology or new spirituality, language is always a matter of personal interpretation, and therefore the language of the Bible can be used as a vehicle for continuous existential experiences. A given verse has thousands of different interpretations as each person has an encounter with God. Scripture now becomes a triggering device for mystical experiences rather than a source of sound doctrine.
Schaeffer warned that if the “progressives” consolidated their position within the Roman Catholic Church, they would have both its organization and linguistic continuity at their disposal. They would then be in the position of supplying society with an endless series of religiously motivated “arbitrary absolutes” applying any sociological or psychological theory at their discretion.
Schaeffer predicted that the new theology would lead to mysticism. Karl Rahner showed the truth in Schaeffer’s prediction when Rahner wrote, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all.”10
The New Monks
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning quotes Catholic saints, medieval mystics, and monks, including Charles de Foucauld, Francis De Sales, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena. The most frequently cited sources are part of the community of Roman Catholic clergy who are instrumental in promoting modern contemplative spirituality: Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, William Shannon, Henri Nouwen, Peter Van Breemen, William Reiser, David Steindl-Rast, and Basil Pennington. Although the word contemplation brings to mind a monastic life dedicated to pence and cloistered within the walls of the monastery, not so with these New Monks.11
The New Monks critique the current state of Christianity by arguing that since God is holy and is a “wholly other,” He cannot be defined by systems of doctrine. They maintain that western rationalism has crushed the knowledge of God and that we must return to a more intuitively received knowledge. We must move beyond the intellect, beyond doctrine, and beyond words to a deeper union with God. Their writings contain rather complex discussions on the nature of being and share common themes of universality, mystical union with God through contemplation (wordless “prayer”), social justice, and non-violence.
The New Monks maintain that all religions should immerse themselves in the myths of their tradition because there is power in the “collective unconscious”12 of the tradition to shape the experience of its followers. So, for the New Monk, the use of biblical language has great power within the Christian tradition. For example, the call to salvation13 is actually a call to a transformation of consciousness to be psychologically awakened to the unity and oneness of all creation. For the New Monks, all religions at their deepest mystical level use myth and symbol to say the same thing.
The New Monks believe we are born into a duality between self (the ego) and oneness (being). The ego is driven by fear of death and alienation and is the source of all suffering and woundedness. The fall, a mythical story, has a deeper more “universal truth,” which is intended to shed light on present human experience. We have fallen from oneness and harmony of paradise into alienation and a sense of separation. We must simply realize that the gulf that appears to separate “sinful” humanity from a righteous God has never existed; we are and always have been one with God. For the New Monks, this is God’s unconditional love and grace.
Thomas Merton, who is frequently cited by Manning, is the forerunner of the New Monks. Having accepted so much of the new theology, Merton remained involved in the Roman Catholic Church only by a thin affirmation of a God in Nature and a reverence for tradition. He popularized Jungian Psychotherapy in his writings about spiritual healing, agreeing with Jung’s mythic perspective of biblical doctrines.
Merton traveled to Asia on a quest to redefine what being a monk entailed and found it in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. There he discovered great similarities between monastic contemplation and Eastern meditation and determined that they were both in touch with the same mystical source. He felt the emphasis on experience and inner transformation rather than doctrine would be the ecumenical meeting place between East and West.
Merton advocated moving the practice of contemplation from its marginal state of use by only the Catholic monks behind the cloistered walls to a broader use by the common man. Dedicated to civil rights, antiwar, and liberationist activism, he came to call his fellow activists “true monks.” In The Signature of Jesus, Manning precisely echoes the themes of contemplative spirituality. It appears his intention was to bring to Protestants what Thomas Merton brought to many Roman Catholics.
Contemplative Spirituality Promotes Universalism
Both the new theology and contemplative spirituality emphasize ecumenism. Hans Küng (whose book On Being Christian, Manning says is “the most powerful book other than Scripture that I have ever read,”)14 is the author of the document, “Declaration of a Global Ethic,” which personifies the push toward religious pluralism among progressives. The document, intended to be an agreement among the world’s religions, does not contain the word God, Küng explains “because including it would exclude all Buddhist and many faith groups with different views of God and the divine.”15 Most evangelicals are familiar with ecumenism within Christianity only. However, those who hold to the new theology and more explicitly those who hold to contemplative spirituality believe in an ecumenism that includes non-Christian religions and all “faith groups.” This is a logical step for those who divorce themselves from the Gospel of Scripture and who adopt the view that all are saved (universalism).
Since universalism has traditionally not appealed to many evangelicals, and Manning is attempting to reach them, he does not make blatant statements advocating it. He shows, however, that he is indeed a universalist in two ways.
First, the people whom Manning approvingly cites believe in universalism. David Steindl-Rast is a Roman Catholic priest who promotes contemplative theology. In a 1992 article, he said, “Envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle. At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphasis.”16 Manning cites him approvingly twice in The Signature of Jesus.17
The New Monks frequently use the term “unconditional love” to express universality. Their push to a beyond-words, beyond-thoughts meditation experience in order to fully experience a loving deity misses entirely that apart from faith in Christ for eternal life, there can be no adequate discussion of experiencing God’s love.
Matthew Fox, cited approvingly in Manning’s books Lion and Lamb18 and A Stranger to Self-Hatred,19 is an excommunicated Catholic priest and a contemplative. He gives us another example of the universalism of the contemplatives Manning cites:
God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells—many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom. All of us have to go down a well today; we all have to do spiritual practice to find divinity. But whether your well be Buddhist, or Christian or Sufi or Jewish, when you do your work, you will come to the same source of wisdom.20
Merton says one can work within the Christian traditions but view universalism as the broader truth:
[The contemplative] has a unified vision and experience of the one truth shining out in all its various manifestations . . . He does not set these partial views up in opposition to each other, but unites them in a dialectic or an insight of complementarity.21
Second, Manning makes statements that imply universalism. For example, he says that contemplative spirituality “looks upon human nature as fallen but redeemed—flawed but, in essence, good.”22 For Manning, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that all are redeemed. There is nothing to be done to gain the life of God. Everyone already has it:
He has a single, relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace.23
Manning says that God loves “all.” He is not speaking here merely of the compassion God has for the world, which moved Him to send His Son to die for us (John 3:16). He is saying that God has already restored all people to a right relationship with Him. Notice that he first says “he loves us” and then “he loves all.” Clearly “us,” the first person plural pronoun, in this context includes everyone. Then, in the same context Manning goes on to say that “we have been restored to a right relationship with God.” “We” mentioned here is the same group as the “all” mentioned earlier. All have been restored to a right relationship with God. Manning wants us to overcome our psychological fog so that we can realize it. The Good News is that everyone is already saved. The biblical view that all are lost and that only when a person trusts Jesus Christ as Savior does he pass from death to life (John 5:24) is foreign to Manning and contemplatives.
The last chapter of The Signature of Jesus is all about a revelation, which Manning supposedly received from God about final judgment. The illustration mentions by name some of the most vile men of all time, including Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein, and implies that all of them, indeed all who have ever lived, will get into heaven.24
It should be noted, however, that there are statements in The Signature of Jesus and in the writings of other contemplatives that can be easily misconstrued to imply that there is salvation only for those who believe in Jesus. For example, Manning writes, “In any other great world religion it is unthinkable to address almighty God as ‘Abba.’” He then supports this point by approvingly quoting Peter Van Breemen:
Many devout Moslems, Buddhists, and Hinduists are generous and sincere in their search for God. Many have had profound mystical experiences. Yet in spite of their immeasurable spiritual depth, they seldom or never come to know God as their Father. Indeed, intimacy with Abba is one of the greatest treasures Jesus has brought us.25
It is important to realize that when contemplatives speak of knowing God as Father or Abba, they are not referring to regeneration. They are referring to achieving a level of intimacy with God, “intimacy with Abba.” They view all people as heaven bound. The issue for them is becoming a mystic whose experience of God transforms the life and hence the world. Their ultimate aim is to usher in a new world.
There are statements in The Signature of Jesus which could be misconstrued as well. He denounces “cheap grace”26 and says:
In the last analysis, faith is not the sum of our beliefs or a way of speaking or a way of thinking; it is a way of living and can be articulated adequately only in a living practice. To acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord is meaningful insofar as we try to live as he lived and to order our lives according to his values. We do not need to theorize about Jesus; we need to make him present in our time, our culture, and our circumstances. Only a true practice of our Christian faith can verify what we believe .27
However, Manning is not talking about salvation from Hell. He is speaking of deliverance from fear and shame. He is speaking here of coming into an intimate knowledge of God in one’s experience, not of how we gain eternal life through biblical salvation.
As mentioned above, the key to spirituality, according to Manning, is a special type of prayer, which he calls “contemplative prayer” or “centering prayer.” For the uninitiated, this may not seem ominous. It may sound like what God calls us to do in His Word. It is not. It is ominous. It is a practice derived from Eastern mysticism.
Manning writes, “The task of contemplative prayer is to help me achieve the conscious awareness of the unconditionally loving God dwelling within me.”28 He also says, “What masters of the interior life recommend is the discipline of ‘centering down’ throughout the day.”29
Manning attempts to head off the charge that centering prayer comes from Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement by saying:
A simple method of contemplative prayer (often called “centering prayer” in our time and anchored in the Western Christian tradition of John Cassian and the desert fathers, and not, as some think, in Eastern mysticism or New age philosophy) has four steps.30
He instructs the reader in the practice of centering prayer, which is a type of contemplative wordless “prayer” a technique that involves breathing exercises and the chanting of a sacred word or phrase. Manning begins “the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer”!31 What biblical support is there for this idea?
The second step, according to Manning, is to “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.”32 Once again, where is the biblical support for this practice? None is cited, because none exists.
The third step concerns what to do when inevitable distractions come. The answer is to “simply return to listening to your sacred word . . . gently return to your sacred word.”33
Finally, “after a twenty-minute period of prayer [which Manning recommends twice daily] conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, a favorite psalm, or some spontaneous words of praise and thanks.”34 While he doesn’t say how long this concluding recitation or spontaneous words might last, it seems he only expects this to be a minute or two, since the Lord’s Prayer and most of the Psalms are short and easy to read in a minute or so. This concluding recitation seems to be an afterthought, something put in to make the “prayer” seem Christian. Yet even this fourth part is biblically suspect. Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7). Any routine prayer repeated each prayer session will soon fall into the category of “vain repetition,” even if it is Scripture. The Lord’s Prayer is a sample of the way we should pray that Jesus gave when He said “use not vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7).
The instruction utilizes odd jargon such as the “false self” and “crucifixion of the ego” and a curious mix of spiritual and psychological terms. To understand his language, one would need to have a more candid overview of centering prayer.35
Chapter seven is titled “Celebrate the Darkness” (a title that is decidedly not only unbiblical, but even anti-biblical; darkness is always presented negatively in Scripture (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:8, 11; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5-10). Manning, quoting atonement rejector, Alan Jones, writes “the ego has to break; and this breaking is like entering into a great darkness. Without such a struggle and affliction, there can be no movement in love.”36 He goes on:
With the ego purged and the heart purified through the trials of the dark night, the interior life of an authentic disciple is a hidden, invisible affair. Today it appears that God is calling many ordinary Christians into this rhythm of loss and gain. The hunger I encounter across the land for silence, solitude, and centering prayer is the Spirit of Christ calling us from the shallows to the deep.37
In centering prayer, the word sin becomes a religious word attached to a method of psychological therapy, and the biblical presentation of true moral guilt is omitted.38 It is a system completely open to the manipulation of the inventors who feel the liberty to use the biblical language any way they see fit. Manning attempts to give it the validity of tradition by saying that it has been rooted in Catholic monastic practices since the 5th century.
The result of this mystical practice is that the practitioner becomes less interested in objective spiritual knowledge found in the Bible and more interested in the subjective experience, which is found through centering prayer. This may account for the antagonistic attitude toward traditional forms of faith. Manning speaks of “several local churches [he has] visited, [in which] religiosity has pushed Jesus to the margins of real life and plunged people into preoccupation with their own personal salvation.”39 Of course, centering prayer requires no interest whatsoever in one’s own personal salvation since it presupposes that all are already saved. That is what we discover when we “center down.” Manning’s attitude toward the Bible seems to be markedly different from anyone who has a high regard for it as the very Word of God:
I am deeply distressed by what I can only call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word—bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.40
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning rarely cites Scripture. Why should he, when the truly important knowledge of God comes from his experience of centering down and not from the Bible? Remember “God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book.” While Manning would acknowledge that some elementary truths of God can be found by reading the Bible, intimate knowledge of God only comes through centering prayer.41
Manning speaks much of God’s grace and love but these precious biblical concepts are actually replaced by vague notions of wholeness through an eastern religious meditation technique, Centering Prayer. Many contemplatives assert that this constitutes the spiritual journey and is the same process as integrating the conscious with the unconscious as described by Jungian psychotherapy. Manning has reinterpreted some of the most crucial biblical truths such as sin and forgiveness. The irony is that a clear biblical Gospel, if believed to be true, will produce assurance that has truly profound psychological benefits. There is no place for centering prayer in discipleship. Meditation is to be on God’s Word, not on nothingness.
Contemplative spirituality is dangerous. Christian leaders should warn their people about it. Those who are interested in a comprehensive biblical understanding of true biblical spirituality and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be warned that Brennan Manning traveled on a wholly other path and took countless people with him.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
1. Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996 edition). See pp. 209-27, 218, 94, 115-36, 185-96, 216, 137-58, 58-59, 58, 94, 94, 170, 102, 111, 112, 30, 29, 219, 94, 224, 224, 231, 65, and 168 respectively.
2 Reviewed by Robert N. Wilkin in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1994, pp. 74-75.
3. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 131-150. Manning tells of literally sitting in a dark room with one solitary spotlight shining on a crucifix (p. 46): “Prostrate on the floor, I whisper, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ over and over.”
4. Ibid., pp. 195-212
5. Ibid., p. 89.
6. Ibid., p. 201.
8. Ibid., p. 90.
9. Schaeffer seems to have used the term broadly to avoid clumsiness in his discussion of how modern shifts in philosophies have effected theology. The expression “new theology,” as Schaeffer uses it, encompasses neo-orthodoxy, strongly rationalistic liberal theology, theologies following Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and theologies following in the footsteps of the religious existentialism of Heidegger. Since Manning and the contemplatives drink from all of these fountains, I have used this expression.
10. John B. Healey, “The Journey Within” (America, February 19, 1994).
11. I coined this term since these priests promote mysticism for the common man through the use of their interpretation of monastic ideas and meditation. For them every man should be a mystic and every man should be a true monk. A “true monk” is a social activist.
12. This term is from Carl Jung, whose teaching is highly influential to the New Monks. Manning also favorably cites him in The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173 (2005 ed.) and Abba’s Child, p. 44 (2002 ed.). Jung, a psychologist who was a disciple of Freud, believed one could become whole by integrating the unconscious with the conscious; however, this process requires embracing the darkness of the unconscious. Jung was known to even use occultic techniques to facilitate this.
13. A further example of how biblical language and themes are distorted by the New Monks is found in the writings of Alan Jones (who calls the doctrine of the atonement a vile doctrine in his book Reimagining Christianity), favorably cited by Manning in The Signature of Jesus, pp. 14, 132, 141, 184 and in Abba’s Child, p. 55.
14. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 153.
15. John R. Coyne, Jr., “Ultimate Reality in Chicago” (National Review, October 4, 1993).
16. David Steindl-Rast, “Heroic Virtue” (Gnosis, Summer, 1992).
17. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 196, 199.
18. Lion and Lamb (p. 135).
19. A Stranger to Self-Hatred (pp. 113, 124).
20. Matthew Fox, “In honor of Dr. Howard Thurman” (Creation Spirituality, Spring 1997, http://creationspiritualitymag.org/wp-content/uploads/1997/02/vol-13-howard-thurman.pdf). (Fox believes that the “second coming” of the Cosmic Christ, an awakening to mysticism, will usher in a global renaissance that can heal Mother Earth and save her by changing human hearts and ways.)
21. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965), pp. 207-208.
22. The Signature of Jesus op. cit., p. 118 (this is italicized in original).
23. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2005 ed.), p. 20. See also his approving citation on the previous page of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s suggestion that God will accept into heaven sinners of every stripe (drunkards, weaklings, vile beings), including those who have taken the mark of the beast. The latter is a direct contradiction of Revelation 14:9-11. The former is only true of those who have been washed in the blood of Christ by faith. Yet Dostoevsky and Manning put no qualifier on which sinners get into heaven. All go to heaven.
24. In a 1995 sermon given at Greenbelt Seminars in Sheffield, England, titled “In Bed with God” (what kind of title is this!), Manning says, “Do you see why the revelation of Jesus on the nature of God is so revolutionary? [Do you see] why no Christian can ever say one form of prayer is not as good as another or one religion is not as good as another?” If all religions are equally good, then universalism must be true.
25. The Signature of Jesus, p. 158. Manning indicates that our “mission” is “building the new heavens and the new earth under the signature of Jesus” (p. 180). While this is a startling claim for those who know the biblical promise that it is God who will introduce the new heavens and the new earth (e.g., Rev 21:1ff.), it is consistent with the emphasis of contemplatives.
26. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 112, 121, 134, 172.
27. Ibid., p. 33.
28. Ibid., p. 197.
29. Ibid., p. 89.
30. Ibid., p. 203.
31. Ibid., p. 198.
32. Ibid., p. 204.
35. To understand how the contemplatives view these terms, read Cynthia Bourgeault’s article “From Woundedness to Union” (Gnosis, Winter 1995, pp. 41-45).
36. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 139.
37. Ibid., p. 142.
38. Manning gives us better insight into the contemplatives’ view of sin in his book Abba’s Child (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002 ed.), pp. 153-154.
39. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 178.
40. Ibid., p. 174.
41. In his first chapters of an earlier book, Gentle Revolutionaries, Manning indicates that we all have seven “centers,” three bad (security, sensation, and power) and four good (love, acceptance, self awareness, and unitive). The unitive center is the “highest level of consciousness” (p. 104). None of this, of course, is found in the Bible. It is all consistent with centering prayer and contemplative spirituality, neither of which depends on being anchored in the Word.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
LTRP Note: This short article might be disturbing to read, but what is being described here is happening now in the church. Please take heed and pray for discernment as you listen to Christian speakers and read their books. The links below this article are to articles that substantiate what Lynn Lusby Pratt is saying.
By Lynn Lusby Pratt
About a decade ago, I became aware of the new wave of false teaching entering the church. One aspect of that teaching hinted that our experience with Jesus was (should be?) sexual. (Christians who use a mantra, as in contemplative prayer, and go into an altered state of consciousness sometimes have erotic experiences, which they mistakenly believe to be “union” with God/Jesus.) There was new interest in/promotion of the “bridal mysticism” of medieval nuns like Teresa of Avila: “Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain . . . and a spell of strangulation . . . swoon-like weakness . . .” There were quotes in Christian books, like Tony Campolo saying, “There is nothing wrong . . . with eroticism in worship.” And Ann Voskamp: “Mystical union. . . . God as Husband in sacred wedlock, bound together, body and soul. . . . To know him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin . . .” [One Thousand Gifts, p. 217]. Ken Wilson: “I was having feelings of connection with the divine . . . [that] reminded me very much of the amorous feelings I have for my wife” [Mystically Wired, p. 27].
You may not have connected the dots, but go back to the Old Testament (and general history) as a reminder that pagan religions typically include sexual ritual. And when believers in God step away from God’s path, it inevitably trends toward an “anything goes” sexual culture. There are loads of Scripture warnings against following pagan practices (ex: Deuteronomy 12:30-32)—not to mention any number of explanations of failures to obey those warnings (ex: 1 Kings 14:22-24). And 2 Kings 23:7 says that the quarters of shrine prostitutes were actually “in the temple of the Lord”!
Well, those people were idiots, right? We in the church would never be tricked into that sort of thing.
But see, you and/or your small group are almost surely using books written by people who are on that path, or who at least are being influenced by such people. (You can partly discern a writer’s spiritual family tree by looking at who is quoted in the endnotes.) The average Christian probably reads quotes like those above and brushes them aside with, “Oh, surely it doesn’t mean THAT!” But people engaged in mystical practice DO mean that.
And so we come to the next level, with such ideas now being even more openly promoted. There’s a new book coming out called Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity. (Tantrism is sex magic. Look it up.) The sales pitch is that this “wisdom” of Jesus resonates with the “tantric yogas of India and Tibet.” This thing is so blasphemous against the Lord, I can’t even bring myself to give a sample quotation. The U.S. secular culture is already far along the “anything goes” sexual path. The church will follow a la the Jewish religious leaders of the OT—that’s how it works—unless we have the savvy to recognize that “What’s next—temple prostitutes?” could become more than just a wisecrack.
What to do? We must examine, with discernment, the teachings of the spiritual mentors we’re following. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them,” Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:16) who was working in Ephesus, the HQ of the sometimes-erotic worship of the goddess Artemis. Let’s read the Old Testament and take a hard look at what happens when believers don’t stay on alert. Then we’ll be equipped to expose false teaching when we find it, instead of overlooking/endorsing it.
Evangelical Universities & Seminaries Offering Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation – Going into the Deeper Waters of Contemplative Spirituality
Over the past decade, while most evangelical colleges, seminaries, and universities have allowed the influence of the Spiritual Formation movement into their schools to one degree or another, not all of them had gone so far as to create a Master’s Degree program in Spiritual Formation. In fact, ten years ago, there weren’t that many schools that had Spiritual Formation degree programs. But things are changing rapidly. Today, a large number of the evangelical seminaries and universities have such degree programs.
These schools that offer such a degree have taken the plunge into the deeper waters of contemplative spirituality. And while there is currently an effort by some of these schools to convince the church that there is a “good” Spiritual Formation, the fact is, where there is Spiritual Formation, there is always a trail that leads to the mystics as Lighthouse Trails has pointed out for many years.
Below is a partial list of Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries that offer Masters Degrees in Spiritual Formation. Some of these are Spiritual Formation specializations or concentrations tacked onto Master of Divinity or Master of Arts degrees. In other cases, Spiritual Formation programs are tucked inside Christian Leadership degrees and Christian Formation and/or Soul Care degrees.
These seminaries and universities are where the church’s next generation of pastors and leaders are coming from. The church has been hijacked and is being held hostage to spiritual deception, but few seem to care. The only thing we are learning from Christian leaders today is “Simon Says” and “Follow the Leader” because most will not speak up on this vital issue. On the contrary, they promote it.
Baylor University – Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Barclay College – Master of Arts: Spiritual Formation
Biola University – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
Carey Theological College (BC) – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation
Corban University – Master of Arts in Christian Leadership
Dallas Theological Seminary – Spiritual Formation Cohort (under the DMin degree)
Denver Seminary – MA in Christian Formation & Soul Care
George Fox University – Spiritual Formation and Discipleship Specialization
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Evangelism
Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (ie., Cornerstone University) – The Master of Arts in Christian Formation
Johnson University – Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Formation & Leadership
Lincoln Christian University (IL) – MA in Spiritual Formation
Logsdon Seminary (TX) – Master of Arts (Religion) Spiritual Formation
MidAmerica Nazarene Unversity – The Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Christian Counseling
Moody Bible College – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Multnomah University – The Master of Arts in Christian Leadership with a Spiritual Formation Emphasis
Nazarene Theological Seminary – Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Discipleship Degree
North Greenville University (NC) – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Northwest Nazarene University – Master of Arts: Spiritual Formation
Pepperdine University – Spiritual Formation and the Christian Mission
Phoenix Seminary – MDiv in Spiritual Formation
Richmont Graduate School – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Direction
Seattle Pacific University – Master of Arts in Christian Leadership
Southeastern University – Master of Arts in Ministerial Leaders
Spring Arbor University – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Leadership
Western Seminary – M.A. in Ministry and Leadership (Concentration in Spiritual Formation)
To Lighthouse Trails:
I have been going to a non-denominational church for years, and last year I noticed the term “Spiritual Formation” being used in the website of the Bible camp this church sponsors. I brought it to their attention, only to be met with indifference and the impression that I was somehow “over the top” to even suggest that Spiritual Formation was in fact Roman Catholic mysticism. They say they are doing a “good” Spiritual Formation yet have teachers at this camp who are from all sorts of New Age churches. Most of these teachers are linked with Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and a host of other contemplative teachers. The church I have been going to actually originated at this Bible camp over 50 years ago and was for many years very biblical and evangelistic. Now it’s united with different denominations and a overload of New Age ideas.
So last year, because no one was listening to me, my wife and I left this assembly, and to this day, no one there seems none the wiser about SF having set up roots in this Bible camp. Nor do they care; no one even calls us, though we were dedicated in doing our part in this assembly for years and years.
Other than Lighthouse Trails and few other online ministries, why is it that no one seems to see this danger, and why are they so indifferent about even talking about this deception? Most of the folks in this assembly, I believe are true born-again believers, yet have blinders on.
This Bible camp offers credits to colleges locally, and these colleges also teach Spiritual Formation with the likes of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I actually wrote to these colleges and asked them if they teach SF that embraces the “silence,” repetition of words, Lectio Divina etc. etc., and they proudly admitted to teaching such!
So where have all the Christians gone, and why are the majority of them not even willing to understand this RC deception? I just don’t it.
“Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality with millions of copies sold since its original publication in 1978.”—Publisher description
LTRP Note: Keep in mind three things as you read this article: 1) a strong link exists between Thomas Merton and the evangelical church, and that link is Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline); 2) Richard Foster once said Thomas Merton “stands as one of the greatest twentieth-century embodiments of spiritual life as a journey”(1); 3) the current “Spiritual Formation” movement within Christianity was spawned by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, and both men were ignited by Thomas Merton.
As you read this account of Thomas Merton, know that this same spiritual outlook that is described below has entered the church in no small way. Maybe it’s time you ask your pastor, “What do you think about Richard Foster and Celebration of Discipline?”
By Ray Yungen
What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to, and popular with, the masses. I personally have been researching Thomas Merton and the contemplative prayer movement for over 20 years, and for me, hands down, Thomas Merton has influenced the Christian mystical movement more than any person of recent decades.
Merton penned one of the most classic descriptions of contemplative spirituality I have ever come across. He explained:
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. 2 (emphasis mine)
This panentheistic (i.e., God in everyone) view is similar to the occultic definition of the higher self.
In order to understand Merton’s connection to mystical occultism, we need first to understand a sect of the Muslim world—the Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam. They chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances, and experience God in everything. A prominent Catholic audiotape company promotes a series of cassettes Merton did on Sufism. It explains:
Merton loved and shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam. Here he shares their profound spirituality.3
To further show Merton’s “spiritual kinship” with Sufism, in a letter to a Sufi Master, Merton disclosed, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana.”4 So what is fana? The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult defines it as “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness”5 (meaning all is one and all is God).
Merton saw the Sufi concept of fana as being a catalyst for Muslim unity with Christianity despite the obvious doctrinal differences. In a dialogue with a Sufi leader, Merton asked about the Muslim concept of salvation. The master wrote back stating:
Islam inculcates individual responsibility for one’s actions and does not subscribe to the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption.6 (emphasis added)
To Merton, of course, this meant little because he believed that fana and contemplation were the same thing. He responded:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs [the atonement]differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas . . . in words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution. . . . But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam.7 (emphasis mine)
Merton himself underlined that point when he told a group of contemplative women:
I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism.8
And he elaborated elsewhere:
Asia, Zen, Islam, etc., all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk.9 (emphasis mine)
When we evaluate Merton’s mystical worldview, it clearly resonates with what technically would be considered traditional New Age thought. This is an inescapable fact!
Merton’s mystical experiences ultimately made him a kindred spirit and co-mystic with those in Eastern religions because his insights were identical to their insights. At an interfaith conference in Thailand, he stated:
I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions.10
Please understand that contemplative prayer alone was the catalyst for such theological views. One of Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East.11
This was the ripe fruit of the Desert Fathers, the ancient monks who borrowed mystical methods from Eastern religion, which altered their understanding of God. This is what one gets from contemplative prayer. There is no other way to put it. It does not take being a scholar to see the logic in this.
(This is an excerpt from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing.)
1. Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 84.
2. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
3. Credence Cassettes magazine, Winter/Lent, 1998, p. 24.
4. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), p. 115, citing from The Hidden Ground of Love), pp. 63-64.
5. Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 85.
6. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 109.
7. Ibid., p. 110.
8. Ibid., p. 69.
9. Ibid., p. 41.
10. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
11. Ibid., p. 281.
Silence: Movie Promotes Contemplative Spirituality and Sanctions Apostasy But Gets Backing By Christian Groups
By Cedric Fisher
Silence is the latest movie by Martin Scorsese, who also produced The Last Temptation of Christ. I have read several reviews by professing Christians who are recommending it without reservations. Additionally, the Dove Foundation awarded the movie 4 out of 5 doves. Charisma News asks, “Is Martin Scorsese’s Silence Prophetic?” CBN also presented a rave review. Christianity Today titled its review, “Scorsese’s Silence Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus.”
Another review in CT is titled, “Silence Review: Hollywood’s Gift To The Church That Might Just Save Your Faith.” And what is the message of Silence that might save your life? The message of the movie is antithetical to true faith.
The title of Lumindeo’s review of the movie is “Silence—A Christian’s Contemplative Guide.”1 In the “About” section of the Lumindeo website, it is described as “a network created by and for passionate followers of Jesus Christ.” If Lumindeo consists of passionate followers of Jesus Christ, why don’t they know that Christianity never grew in apostasy, but always in persecution and martyrdom?
Crosswalk likewise implies that it is a Christian-themed film with the statement, “Theologians, look no further: this movie is jam-packed with spiritual themes.”2 Spiritual themes, perhaps, but Christian themes? Not by any stretch. Crosswalk reveals a misunderstanding of true Christianity in the following statement. Click here for footnotes and to continue reading.
Emergent IF: Gathering Conference Coming to a Town Near You (Coming For Your Daughters and Granddaughters)!
[God] will take this hell on earth and someday show us how hell was building heaven.—Jennie Allen (founder of IF: Gathering)
Have you heard of the IF: Gathering? If you haven’t, you most likely will soon enough. The women’s movement started just a few years ago but is already making some big inroads into the evangelical scene. On the outer appearance, this looks like a legitimate Christian movement – the women who lead and speak at IF: Gathering are young and vibrant; they talk about Jesus, they go to church; some of them homeschool their kids—it all looks so Christian. But underneath this outer thin Christian layer lies an emergent atmosphere . . . and the target is your young evangelical daughters and granddaughters.
In a few days (February 2-3), IF: Gathering will be presenting their annual conference in Austin, Texas. The conference, called IF:2017 will also be live-streamed to many churches throughout America and Canada (and in some other countries as well). Lighthouse Trails has received a number of phone calls and e-mails by concerned parents and grandparents whose daughters and granddaughters are attending the conference, either in Austin or one of the sponsoring churches. Here is a link to the list of churches that will be holding the IF:2017 conference next week via live-stream. According to the IF website, there are over 2000 live-streamed events for this year’s event. If you multiply that by even just 150, that is nearly 300,000 women! When you go to the list, type in your zip code, see if there is a conference being held in your city or town, and if there is, start alerting those you know. Your friends may have daughters who are attending.
This year’s event will apparently not include IF speaker Jen Hatmaker who, we have learned, dropped out of IF last year for undisclosed reasons (recently she came out promoting gay marriage, and this got her into trouble with LifeWay Resources who dropped her books at that point). Speakers for this year’s event include Jennie Allen (IF’s founder), Ann VosKamp (author of One Thousand Gifts – see section in Cedric Fisher’s article below), Lysa Terkeurst, Jennie Yang, Jeanne Stevens (Co-Pastor with Husband of Soul City Church – http://jeannestevens.com/about/) – former staff member of Willow Creek and associated with Erwin McManus: ), and Jo Saxton. You may not be familiar with these names, but we encourage you to do your research and please read Cedric’s article so you might come to understand the underlying agenda of IF. As Cedric says, we don’t question the sincerity of these women, but we do question the direction they are heading spiritually. While her name doesn’t appear in this year’s line up, Melissa Greene is involved with IF as well (please see article below to learn about Greene’s beliefs and this video of her). Greene, a pastor, resonates with emergent leader Brian McLaren, and her church made headlines when it came out promoting same-sex marriage.
In May of 2015, Lighthouse Trails author, Cedric Fisher, wrote a booklet titled “ IF it is of God—Answering the questions of IF:Gathering.” We are posting that booklet in its entirety below. If you scroll to the bottom of his article and hit the green Print button, it will format a nice PDF copy for you (you can buy it in booklet format too, but you’ll have to print it in order to have it in time before the conference). If you know a woman who is planning to attend the IF:Gathering conference next week, please print this article and give her a copy to read. Because the emergent “theology” is deceptive and spiritually dangerous, these young women need to be given a heads up.
Lest some say that Jennie Allen has cleaned up IF by not having Jen Hatmaker and Melissa Greene at this year’s event, keep in mind that Jennie Allen knew what these two friends believed when she invited them to be part of IF just a few years ago. How can we trust our daughters and granddaughters to someone who shows no discernment and who very likely will continue connecting with and inviting speakers who are of a similar emergent mindset.1 For example, Shauna Niequist (Bill and Lynn Hybels daughter) is involved with IF (they sell her book on their site, she contributes on the blog, and she is one of the speakers at IF:2017) and recently she gave her “blessing” to Jen Hatmaker’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and endorses Jesus Calling.
Once you read Cedric’s article below, we believe you will understand why we are so concerned about this movement. Writing this article reminds us of another article we wrote a number of years ago in 2008. It was titled “Brian McLaren’s Hope for the Future – The Minds of Your Grandchildren.” Since then, the emergent church has continued growing and indeed grabbing the minds of countless young people, many of them from Christian homes. We hope and pray parents and grandparents will do all they can to keep their own young people from going down that same path, this time via IF.
Don’t forget to check the list of places IF:2017 will be livestreaming to see if your town or city is hosting an IF conference.
IF IT IS OF GOD—Answering the questions of IF:Gathering
By Cedric H. Fisher
IF:Gathering came in like a storm, one of those winter events that seem to appear out of nowhere. No one saw it coming. A team of highly popular women—authors, bloggers, and speakers coming together—what a great idea. But it wasn’t novel. Professing Christians have been making pilgrimages for decades to high-energy conferences with a star list of speakers and singers. As with so many of these other conferences, IF purported to do the work of God. However, IF was unique in that it was mostly a digital event. It was greatly effective.
The IF:Gathering held its second event in February of 2015 and involved 1200 women at the physical location, with a possible 100,000 or more watching by 40,000 live links in more than 120 countries. The ongoing influence of IF after the conference has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of women all while flying under the radar of pastors and church leaders who may be accepting IF:Gathering at face value, not knowing anything about this group of high energy talented women leaders.
After reading the list of IF speakers and researching information about them, I have become convinced that IF poses a significant risk to Christian women, who unwittingly are submitting themselves to IF’s speakers and teachers. The danger? It comes in the form of emergent ideology, spiritual formation, and contemplative spirituality (contemplative prayer is a mantra-like “prayer” practice that vitalizes the “progressive” “new” Christianity (i.e., the emerging church). Thus, I am compelled to report on my findings regarding IF.
How did IF:Gathering come about and is it ordained by God? These are questions every responsible Christian needs to ask concerning anything claiming to be a new move or revelation from God. Those questions are especially important during such a time as this, a time when the church is suffering from great deception and apostasy. Is IF influencing women to draw nearer to God or rather leading them onto a spiritually dangerous path to heresy?
IF’s Beginning—A Whisper from the Sky
The 2015 IF:Gathering did not end when the conference was over. It continues to function through the network established before the conference occurred. Its influence continues through local churches and individuals who hosted the event, through social media, available videos of the event, and the “IF:Table,”* all of which have the potential to reach countless more women and evolve into a major women’s movement. If that occurs, it will help set the agenda of how the future generation perceives and implements Christianity.
The first statement on their website under “Who We Are” is:
We exist to gather, equip and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose.1
The founder of IF:Gathering, Jennie Allen, is a bright and energetic, best-selling author, blogger, and popular speaker. She appears sincere and dedicated to ministering to people. She and her husband have been involved in ministry for a number of years. However, since she is the founder, we must consider her activity, her influences, and her statements about the birth of IF:Gathering.
Allen is a Bible teacher who had been teaching groups of girls and young women since high school. She studied at the University of Arkansas for three years, completed her B.S. in Communications at Carson Newman College in Tennessee, and graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master’s in Biblical Studies in 2005. It would be two years after her graduation from DTS when she had an experience that birthed IF: Gathering.
Allen signed a multi-project contract in 2011 with Thomas Nelson, which included a series of seven DVD-based Bible studies and two trade books. Her first study released in 2011, followed by another one released in 2012. Her first trade book was also released in 2012. Allen’s book Restless: Because You Were Made for More and the Restless video-based Bible study were released simultaneously in January 2014, a month before the first IF:Gathering.
Allen was also one of the speakers in the neo-emergent Nines Conference in 2014, which hosted a speaker lineup that included some of the main influences in the New Christianity movement.
How did the IF:Gathering originate? There are different and conflicting explanations given by Allen. The first account was presented by Allen in the initial IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas, 2014:
About 7 years ago, a voice from the sky—that doesn’t often speak to me—but that day there was this whisper. It was the middle of the night, actually. And it was “Gather and equip your generation.” And this was ridiculous, because honestly, I was a stay at home Mom, I didn’t know anybody that could help me with that job. And it was a completely ridiculous statement. So ridiculous that I just, for two days my bones hurt, and I didn’t know what to do with it. My bones hurt, for two days.
I thought, Okay God, what do you want me to do? Wisely my friend said, “Jennie, if it’s God,” cause it may not be. All voices from the sky are not always God, FYI. But, “if it’s God, then He’s going to give you everything you need to accomplish His purposes. So just wait.” And so I waited, and that was seven years ago, guys.2
Allen eventually came to believe it was God who whispered. She would wait several years for Him to put IF: Gathering together. However, a year after the account of IF’s birth that she gave in the 2014 conference, she posted another account on her blog:
Truth is, IF:Gathering began as more of a hunch than a vision.3
A month later, and one year after her first account, Allen gave another account of how the IF came about during the IF: Gathering February, 2015:
I mean, 7 years ago, 8 years ago now, I heard a voice that . . . well, okay, I didn’t. This is like all different theologies right now. Okay, just give me grace. I don’t know, but I’m just telling you, in the night I woke up, and I was overcome with these words, “Disciple a generation.”
But I sat on it. I put it in my back pocket and said, “Okay God, if you want to do something crazy like that, you’re gonna have to make it happen.”4
I read Allen’s book, Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked my God and My Soul, written a couple of years after her experience with the sky whisperer. In her book, Allen describes deep intimacy with God and willingness to obey Him completely. However, she does not mention anything about Sky Whisperer or his commission to organize the IF: Gathering. I find that puzzling. What better place to introduce and expound on such a life-changing intimate experience and surrender than in a book describing full surrender?
I’m willing to concede that there could be a good reason for the inconsistencies of her accounts as to how IF came about. But an individual whom God supernaturally calls to accomplish a significant work should give a credible and unambiguous account of that call. One could say, “I saw a need and did my best to meet it.” However, when one says, “I heard a voice from God,” a different standard is involved. The reason is because something that has a supernatural event as an origin will have a much greater weight of influence. It presents the individual as a special agent of God, just as any of the figures in the Bible whom God used to accomplish unprecedented purposes. It almost immunizes the revelation and the individual from critical examination.
Therefore, I believe it is proper and reasonable to examine Jennie Allen’s statements concerning the origin of the IF: Gathering. The questions are: “Is Allen’s explanations of the origin of IF:Gathering convincing and does she provide viable and credible information that concludes IF: Gathering originated from God? One should prayerfully consider those questions and ultimately should ask: if it’s origin is in question and if it’s founder is involved in emergent conferences, can IF:Gathering produce good fruit? The next section concerning the speakers in IF:Gathering may help answer that last question.
For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. (Luke 6:43-44)
IF, The Speakers: Ambassadors of God or Emergent Collaborators
If Jeannie Allen did indeed hear supernaturally from God, and if God supernaturally equipped her to organize the IF:Gathering, we would expect good fruit from the conference and the speakers. We would not expect people who are influenced by emergent, New Age, and other aberrant authors and teachers. It is logical to expect that the speakers would be stellar Christian examples.
Space does not permit me to deal with all the conference speakers, so I have chosen several whom I believe need to be examined. They are listed in alphabetical order.
After reading portions of her book, Jesus Feminist, I get the impression Sarah Bessey believes that Christianity is stuck with the Woman Suffrage movement somewhere in the 1920s. She references radical feminist, social activist, and journalist Dorothy Day in her book and seems to draw from secular feminism. From that concept, she tries to invent a need for radical feminism in Christianity, presenting bizarre commentary on the Scriptures to back up her position. The following quote illustrates her view:
Many of the seminal social issues of our time—poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse—can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes, and character of God.5
In the back of Jesus Feminist under “Further Reading,” Bessey offers a book titled How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, which includes essays from emerging church authors Tony Campolo, John Ortberg, and Bill and Lynne Hybels. Jesus Feminist also has endorsements in the book by Brian McLaren and Tony Jones. On her blog, she lists among her favorites A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren and Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.6 She also promotes The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen.7 There’s no question that Bessey resonates with the views of these men.
With such emergent and contemplative influences, how can good fruit be produced by this speaker?
Christine Caine claims Joyce Meyer as her “spiritual mother” and lists Word of Faith preacher Sheryl Brady as a dear friend calling her “flat out the best chick preacher of the word.”8 Caine has “preached” in seeker/emergent Steven Furtick’s mega church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The following is transcribed from Caine’s opening statement in Furtick’s church:
This place is a little bit like God, take this in context, in that like you are omnipresent. You are here. You are across the room. You are down the street. You are all over the worldwide web. It is like wherever you look, here we are and it is my honor and privilege to be here, I couldn’t wait.9
Caine also declared that her heart was “knitted” to Furtick. One whose heart is surrendered to God could not possibly be knitted to an individual such as Furtick. Journalist and researcher Jim Fletcher says this about Furtick:
Steven Furtick . . . mentored as he is by evangelical bigwigs like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, felt bold enough to post a YouTube video in which he sneeringly challenged what I’d call traditional Christians to basically get out of the way, because their time is past. Presumably, to Furtick, it’s the “new generation’s” time now, so step aside with your stodgy hymns and expositional preaching style. . . . Masked a bit by a pious nod toward humanitarian causes, the leadership of this group is quite nasty, albeit in subtle ways.10
Further, according to the itinerary on Christine Caine’s website, she will be speaking at NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) leader Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church in Redding, California in August 2015 in the Bethel Women’s Conference. Why does this matter? It shows a pattern of being willing to associate with people and “minister” in churches that are teaching and promoting false and dangerous teachings.11
Melissa Greene is the pastor of worship and arts at GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee. The church made national headlines in January of 2015 as senior pastor, Stan Mitchell, declared his church now accepts homosexual marriage.12
When I pull up Greene’s website, I immediately notice the picture of her sitting in a Yoga position. In a May 25th, 2014 message on her website titled “Worth,” Greene admits to reading emerging church pioneer Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy (and McLaren spoke at GracePointe in the fall of 2014). Greene favorably quotes other prolific New Spirituality names: Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, Frederick Buechner, Rob Bell, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Thomas Merton, Peter Gomes, Aldous Huxley—a list that reads like a veritable who’s who in emergent and contemplative heresy.
In “Worth,” Greene declares that, “Christianity is broad and diverse.”13 Considering that many of her influences accept all religions as being of God, there is no doubt to what she means when she states this. Greene also made the audacious statement: “The most devastating fear in people’s lives is the fear of God.”14 She attempts to validate her statement by taking verses out of context and misapplying them. What does God’s word declare?
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
For thousands of young Christian-professing women to submit to someone like Melissa Greene could have a detrimental effect.
In Jen Hatmaker’s book, Interrupted: When Jesus Wreck Your Comfortable Christianity, she makes it clear that she is influenced by a number of New Age/New Spirituality individuals. She quotes Catholic priest and contemplative activist Richard Rohr and emergent leader Shane Claiborne. On her blog, she promotes the book, The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson, a book that encourages readers to draw circles around specific things in order to have more answered prayers. Batterson was inspired with this idea by an ancient sage.
In Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, she reveals that her family takes part in a Roman Catholic ritual with mystical origins, the “Seven Sacred Pauses.”15 Hatmaker got her inspiration from Seven Sacred Pauses, a book by Macrina Wiederkehr who is a spiritual director in the contemplative prayer movement. In Wiederkehr’s retreats, seekers are guided through experiences of silence, contemplation and lectio divina (a contemplative practice where words and phrases from the Bible are repeated in mantra-like fashion). The “seven sacred pauses” are seven times a day to pause and pray, which Wiederkehr describes as “breathing spells for the soul.”
Consider Hatmaker’s statement concerning the preaching of God’s Word:
I have spent half my life listening to someone else talk about God. Because of this history, I’ve developed something of an immunity to sermons.16
This is eerily similar to the sentiment of Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Secret Life of Bees), who once, as a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, expressed her dissatisfaction (and eventual rejection) of the preaching of God’s Word. That led Monk Kidd down a path away from the Christian faith and straight into the New Age. Today, she worships the goddess Sophia.
This disgruntlement of God’s Word is so prevalent among leaders of the emerging New Spirituality church. If not preaching, then what? Is it emotionally charged conventions and books with flowering, poetic phrases that open up to spit out a toxic drop of heresy? If Hatmaker is immune to preaching, she has rejected God’s method in favor of her own.
Ann VosKamp’s highly popular book, One Thousand Gifts, is peppered with favorable references to and quotes by various mystics, pantheists, and universalists. The following is a list of some of those influences:
Sarah Ban Breathnach, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Evelyn Underhill, Brennan Manning, Annie Dillard, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Kreeft, Walter Brueggemann, Francis de Sales, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Nouwen, and Jean-Pierre de Caussade. She also quotes mystic Catholic nun Kathleen Norris on her blog.17
You may not have heard of all these names, but in my research, I have found that they all embrace a panentheistic mystical-based spirituality. For VosKamp to quote and reference so many authors in this category shows she is embracing and absorbing the spirituality of these figures.
In the last chapter of One Thousand Gifts, “The Joy of Intimacy,” Voskamp writes:
Mystical union. This, the highest degree of importance. God as Husband in sacred wedlock, bound together, body and soul, fed by His body, quenched by His blood . . . God, He has blessed—caressed. I could bless God—caress with thanks. It’s our making love. God makes love with grace upon grace, every moment a making of His love for us . . . couldn’t I make love to God, making every moment love for Him? To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin . . . The intercourse of soul with God is the very climax of joy . . . To enter into Christ and Christ enter into us—to cohabit.18
This is what contemplatives consider “intimacy” with God, as if God is more a lover or a boyfriend than the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings, and our beloved Savior. This is what millions of young Christian women are being introduced to.
The question is, are Sarah Bessey, Christine Cane, Melissa Greene, Jen Hatmaker, and Ann VosKamp really called from God as they profess to be? While I won’t question their sincerity, I must ask the questions: How can the IF:Gathering be ordained by God? How can Jennie Allen have supernaturally heard from God concerning her conference? And how could righteous God Almighty have sanctioned a movement that is so influenced by diabolical sources?
The IF:Gatherings promise great solutions, but in practice, they covertly chip away at biblical concepts of God, the Holy Spirit, and biblical Christianity. They are based on flawed concepts masked by alluring phrases. Like all other emerging church “coaches” and mentors, the IF leaders intend to solve the problem of what they insist is failed Christianity. They believe a replacement—New Christianity—is the solution.
Considering the influences of the speakers, the IF:Gatherings will lead to dangerous, alternate spirituality. The Conference overwhelms susceptible women with music, visuals, and emotional camaraderie. When their hearts are prepped and open, provocative questions are presented, and answers that conflict with God’s word are offered.
IF the Fruit is Good
When I was a worldling, I visited the notorious Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Fresh from the Oklahoma hills, I had never witnessed anything remotely like it. One thing that fascinated me most were the barkers. The barkers were men who stood outside of the many establishments attempting to coax passersby to enter them. They were so convincing. Their skills had been honed by trial and error. Bending to the persuasive and captivating power of their words, I entered one of those establishments. Once inside, I was shocked at the total absences of morals. Although it made my cheeks blush, and my moral upbringing urged me to leave, I was with a couple of friends and didn’t want to be considered a prude. So I stayed. The longer I stayed, the more I got used to the immorality. The more I got used to it, the more I wanted of it.
The speakers at the IF:Gathering are barkers. They are luring many professing Christian women with persuasive and captivating words. A repetitive error I noticed in the Conference was that a speaker would set up a straw man, and then mix the answer to it with Scripture. She would then insist that the conclusion was a valid point. An example was when Jen Hatmaker argued that we cannot possibly know all of God. She quoted a Scripture from Romans 11:33. Her conclusion was that because we cannot know God fully, it is not detrimental to faith to have doubt. However, faith does not depend on knowledge, but trust. Lack of knowledge should not make us doubt, but rather a lack of trust. This was a prevailing theme at IF.
Hatmaker also insisted that God set us free simply to set us free; that He set us free for us. Again, this does not agree with God’s Word:
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
We were created for God’s purpose, to worship and serve Him. He set us free so we could belong to Him to honor and serve Him with all our hearts, mind, bodies, and spirits.
One constant thing that made me cringe was the cavalier attitude that some of the speakers, especially Jennie Allen, exhibited toward God. At one point, Allen, says, “Darn it, darn it,” and goes off on a rant implying that God is stupid, mean, and that His plan is absurd. The rant came only minutes after she declared she was nearly overcome with reverential fear of God.19
In Melissa Greene’s “Worth” sermon, one comes away with the following conclusions:
Certainty is bad; Questions (and no answers) is good.
The old-fashioned faith of our parents and grandparents is outdated and irrelevant.
References to numerous mystics and emergents
The “text” (the Bible) is OK, but there is so much more to be grasped.
In the end, everyone is saved.20
As I mentioned earlier, Greene admits to reading Brian McLaren, and from the content of the “Worth” video, McLaren’s spirituality has become her own. The IF leaders hope to lead as many women as possible into the same direction as Jennie Allen declares:
While I wish I were a more confident, rebellious pioneer, God had to nearly force me to the wild, new path He had for IF. I am however compelled to call as many of you as possible to the roads less traveled because there are many wandering who may never make it up to the highway.21
[God] will take this hell on earth and someday show us how hell was building heaven.22—Jennie Allen
The IF conferences are full of emotional manipulation with videos of heartbreaking stories and impassioned pleas to do something; draw near to God, have more faith, win the lost, help the less fortunate, etc. At various points in the 2015 conference, a speaker would burst out in an impassioned plea to do something about the plight of humanity as if it were the fallback position when passion was otherwise lacking.
IF’s leaders insist that biblical Christianity has failed as a viable work of God and that God and they are bringing forth a cure—New Christianity.
I fear that IF’s excellent adventure is advertisement for a mass departure from God’s Word. Rather than having their faith built up, participants are encouraged to question “traditional” Christianity. And those who are giving the answers—the IF women—are unfortunately getting their information from emergents and mystics who present a different gospel and another Jesus.
It is addictive, this linguistic confection. The mind is overcome with giddiness. But is it of God? Or is it rather a “beautiful” seduction? I believe the latter is true.
To order copies of IF it is of God—Answering the questions of IF:Gathering, click here.
* IF:Table is a dinner hosted by one person on the second Sunday of each month. It is described as six women, four questions, two hours (https://ifgathering.com/new-to-the-table/)
1. IF:Gathering website, “Who We Are”: https://ifgathering.com/who-we-are.
2. Jennie Allen, 2014 IF:Gathering: https://ifgathering.com/if-gathering-2014.
3. Jennie Allen’s blog, “How to Leave Normal”: https://ifgathering.com/2015/01/how-to-leave-normal, January 21, 2015.
4. Jennie Allen, IF: Gathering: https://ifgathering.com/2014/09/ifgathering-2015, February 2015.
5. Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (New York, NY: Howard Books), p. 169.
6. Sarah Bessey’s blog: http://sarahbessey.com, December 30, 2008.
7. Ibid., July 17, 2008.
9. Christine Caine, Elevation Church, Code Orange Revival 2012, http://elevationchurch.org/sermons/codeorangerevival (some of her sermon can be watched at: http://www.god.tv/code-orange-revival/night-4-anything-is-possible-with-god).
10. Jim Fletcher, “‘Hip’ church gives biblical Christians new label: ‘Hater’” (WorldNetDaily, http://mobile.wnd.com/2014/12/hip-church-gives-biblical-christians-new-label-hater/#JEfipOHtSOZJfZeD.99).
11. Read John Lanagan’s article/booklet titled The New Age Implications of Bethel Church’s Bill Johnson where it discusses Johnson’s propensity toward “quantum spirituality” (the belief that God is in everyone).
12. Elizabeth Dias, “Nashville Evangelical Church Comes Out for Marriage Equality” (Time Magazine, January 29, 2015; http://time.com/3687368/gracepointe-church-nashville-marriage-equality).
13. Melissa Greene, “Worth” (http://melissagreenemusic.com/tag/worth, May 25, 2014, watch video at: https://vimeo.com/97252399, 22:40 minutes to 22:47 minutes).
14. Ibid, 24:18 minutes to 24:25 minutes.
15. Jen Hatmaker, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2012, Digital Edition), Kindle location 3266.
16. Ibid., Kindle location 435.
17. Ann VosKamp, (http://www.aholyexperience.com/2006/11/memorizing-word).
18. Ann VosKamp, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), pp. 213, 216-217.
19. Jennie Allen, IF:Gathering; Session 1- 03.
20. Melissa Greene, “Worth,” op. cit.
21. Jennie Allen, “How to Leave Normal,” op. cit.
22. Jennie Allen, Restless: Because You Were Made for More (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2013), p. 74.
To order copies of IF it is of God—Answering the questions of IF:Gathering, click here.
As a professional musician, singer, and recording artist, Cedric Fisher was deeply immersed in the darkness of the secular music business and its trappings. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol. There was no thought of God in his life, but he dabbled in I Ching, Transcendental Meditation, believed strongly in reincarnation, witches and wizards, gods, and experienced demonic activities, including levitation and apparitions. In 1978, while playing a gig in Lubbock, Texas, he decided to purchase a Bible. Early in the morning after the gig, he started reading it. Not wanting to read such a large book without knowing whether it would be interesting, he began reading the last chapter. After reading Revelation 3:20, he kneeled by the bed and prayed. He was gloriously saved and instantly delivered of addiction and the torment that had driven him to it!
Today Cedric is an ordained minister and the director of Truthkeepers, a web-based ministry warning about spiritual deception in the church. He and his wife, Cheryl, live on the East Coast where he pastors a small house church that he pioneered. His past experience helps him to identify diabolical darkness that masquerades as Christianity today. Cedric believes God has called him to not only prepare believers to be equipped to avoid deception and apostasy but also to expose the heresies that have inundated modern Christianity.