Archive for the ‘pantheism & panentheism’ Category

Shack Author Says “ I Want to Be More Like Oprah”

By Warren B. Smith

Oprah Winfrey interviewed Shack author William Paul Young on July 9, 2017 on her Super Soul Sunday television program that was broadcast on her OWN network. Young and Oprah appeared to be like two peas in a New Age pod as they talked of child abuse, traded spiritual quips, and seemed to continually marvel at the other’s brilliant insights. At one point midway in their conversation, Young answered his own rhetorical question regarding where Jesus dwells—he stated that “Jesus dwells in our hearts.” His quick, authoritative response was consistent not only with Oprah’s longstanding New Age beliefs but also with The Shack’s “Jesus” who presented this same New Age heresy when he stated that God “dwells in, around, and through all things.” This false teaching is the foundational teaching of the New Age/New Spirituality/New World Religion. The Bible is very clear that God is not “in” everyone and everything.

As the show ended, Young leaned towards the world’s most influential New Age leader and exclaimed—“I so appreciate what you do! My goodness!” Later, in his personal blog, Young proudly titled his observations about the interview by writing—“I Want to Be More Like Oprah.” With Oprah  having done as much as any person in modern times to publicly push New Age occultism, Young’s gushing adulation of the New Age leader was extremely telling. While allegedly writing The Shack to teach his children what he believes and how he “thinks outside the box,” his interview with Oprah makes it very clear. Young doesn’t just think outside the box, he thinks outside the Bible. Wm. Paul Young—like Oprah Winfrey—is a proponent of a New Age “Christianity” that is not Christianity at all.

Related Articles and Research
Other Important Articles by Warren B. Smith on The Shack

William Paul Young’s Christless “Shack”

LTRP Note: Lighthouse Trails author Warren B. Smith wrote this article shortly before he had a heart attack a few weeks ago. The final editing of this article was obviously delayed. But with the growing interest in The Shack (book and movie), we are very grateful that Warren was able to finalize and submit this very important article to us a couple days ago. If you know people who are reading and being influenced by The Shack, please consider giving them some of the material Warren Smith has presented (see links below).

By Warren B. Smith

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)

The Holy Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the one and only Christ. He is the anointed one. He is the Messiah. He is the Savior. There is no other. This one and only Jesus Christ is referred to as Christ more than 500 times in the New Testament. In fact, the name Jesus Christ bookends the whole New Testament. The Bible’s Jesus is clearly identified as Christ in the first line of the first chapter of the Book of Matthew and in the last line of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation. But The Shack’s “Jesus” is never identified as Christ. In fact, the word “Christ” cannot be found anywhere in whole Shack story. William P. Young’s “Jesus” is not ever described—not even once—as the Jesus who has “a name which is above every name”—the full and complete name of Jesus Christ:

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 9-11)

A “Jesus” Who is Not Christ

Excluding the name of Christ from The Shack is pretty much what you would expect from a self-professed universalist like William P. Young.1 If Young had clearly identified The Shack’s “Jesus” as Christ, his universal “Jesus” would have lost his universal appeal. And that is because the “Jesus” of other religions and New Age teachings is “another Jesus” who is not Jesus Christ. In one example alone, Young’s “Jesus” proves himself to be “another Jesus” when he teaches Shack readers the New Age lie that God is “in” all things. Using The Shack’s “Jesus” as his mouthpiece, Young falsely teaches—“God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things.”2 But God is not in all things. This is pantheism. This is universalism. This is heresy. It totally contradicts the teachings of the true Jesus Christ.3 The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians—and all of us—to beware of men like William Paul Young who come preaching and teaching about “another Jesus” who is not Christ. Paul said we “might just go along with him—we “might well bear with him”:

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)

A Christ Who is Not Jesus
All of this is to say that when you don’t have a Jesus who is clearly identified as the Christ, you open the door to a “Christ” who is not Jesus. A perfect example of this type of anti-messiah “messiah” is the false Christ Maitreya. His alleged presence here on earth was announced in full page newspaper ads that ran in major cities across the world in 1982. All these many years later, he still claims to be the Christ and continues to wait for a troubled world to call him forth. As a prototype of Antichrist—one who comes in the name of Christ but actually opposes Christ—Maitreya steadfastly and defiantly declares that he is “the Christ.”4 One thing is for sure, whoever the prophesied Antichrist turns out to be, the true Jesus Christ warned that this false Christ would come in his own name—not in the name of Jesus Christ.

I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43)

Thus, to separate the name and title of “the Christ” from the full name of Jesus Christ is an important spiritual ploy. It helps to prepare the way for an Antichrist who will come in his own name—not in the name of Jesus Christ. Wittingly, or unwittingly, this is exactly what William P. Young has done in The Shack. There is no Jesus Christ in The Shack. Just a “Jesus” who attempts to teach Shack readers the pantheistic, universalist false doctrine that God is “in” all things.

The Shack’s Christless Doctrine
According to William P. Young, The Shack was written to help his “mostly grown children” understand his theology—what he believes.5 He describes what he wrote for them in The Shack as “theology wrapped in story.”6 But what kind of “theology wrapped in story” never names the name of Jesus Christ? What kind of Jesus is he presenting to his kids and to his millions of readers? The answer is that he is presenting “another Jesus” who is a pantheistic, universal, Christless “Jesus.” While the apostle Peter was commended by the Lord Jesus Christ for recognizing and openly acknowledging Him as “the” Christ, William P. Young would not receive that same commendation. People may love The Shack, but The Shack’s “Jesus,” is not Jesus Christ.

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1:9-11)

Endnotes
1. Wm. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God (New York: NY: Atria Books, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017), p. 118.
2. William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), p. 112.
3. Warren B. Smith, Be Still and Know That You Are Not God (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2015). Exhaustive booklet that explains and exposes the heretical teaching that God is in all things.
4. Warren B. Smith, False Christ Coming: Does Anybody Care? (Magalia, CA: Mountain Stream Press, 2011), Chapter 4; Warren B. Smith, Deceived on Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose Driven Church (Magalia, CA: Mountain Stream Press, 2004), Chapter 14.
5. C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited (New York: NY: FaithWord, Hachette Book Group, 2012), p. ix. (from the Foreword written by Wm. Paul Young).
6. Ibid., p. xi.

Other Articles About The Shack by Warren B. Smith

http://www.warrenbsmith.com/theshack.htm

 

What Your Church Needs to Know Before Doing a Priscilla Shirer Study

The repetition [of a word or phrase] can in fact be soothing and very freeing, helping us, as Nouwen says, “to empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.”—Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens, p. 93

Years ago, I got a chance to meet Jan Johnson. . . . I was encouraged and redirected in so many ways. As a young woman trying to navigate the ins and outs of my relationship with the Lord, Ms. Jan spoke wisdom into my life that was extremely pivotal in my life—personally and in ministry.—Priscilla Shirer (emphasis added; http://www.goingbeyond.com/blog/wisbits; quoted in 2010 and still up on Shirer’s website)

Priscilla Shirer

This week, our office received a call from a woman who was concerned that her church is going to be doing a study using material by Priscilla Shirer. Our caller wanted to get some information she can show her pastor as to why her church should not be doing a Priscilla Shirer study. Because Priscilla Shirer is a contemplative proponent, we concur with our caller’s concerns. In John Lanagan’s booklet,  Beth Moore & Priscilla Shirer – Their History of Contemplative Prayer,Lanagan shows how both Moore and Shirer have been advocates of contemplative spirituality for quite some time. In that booklet, and this is what we want to focus on in this article, Lanagan discusses a woman named Jan Johnson. Because Priscilla Shirer embraces and has gleaned spiritually from Johnson, we need to take a closer look at what Johnson believes.

We first heard about Jan Johnson in Ray Yungen’s book A Time of Departing where Yungen explains:

Spiritual director Jan Johnson, in her book When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, is a perfect example of an evangelical Christian who endorses and promotes this practice [contemplative prayer]. She leaves no doubt about what this type of prayer entails:

“Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.” [emphasis added]

Johnson’s explanation of the initial stages of contemplative prayer leaves no doubt that “stilling” your thoughts means only one thing; she explains:

“In the beginning, it is usual to feel nothing but a cloud of unknowing. . . . If you’re a person who has relied on yourself a great deal to know what’s going on, this unknowing will be unnerving. [emphasis added] (Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 82.)

When Johnson talks about stilling the mind in order to experience God’s presence and hear His voice, she is referring to something that is universal with mystics—putting the mind into a neutral, altered state where one is not aware of the distractions around him. This inner stillness can only be achieved through some type of meditative practice (see Johnson’s quote at top of this article), which in the case of “Christian” mystics is contemplative prayer. For those of you unfamiliar with contemplative jargon, the “cloud of unknowing” is taken from a small book of the same name, written by an anonymous monk several hundred years ago. The book is a primer on contemplative prayer and in it instructs:

Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two . . .  With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting. (The Cloud of Unknowing)

This is describing a mantra-style practice, no different than that used in eastern meditation. It is interesting that Jan Johnson says the effect of this type of prayer is “unnerving.” Webster’s Dictionary defines unnerving as “inspiring fear.” This reminds us of another contemplative teacher, Richard Foster, who suggested that people pray prayers of protection before practicing contemplative prayer in order to avoid an evil encounter. But where in Scripture is prayer to God described as inspiring fear or something that needs prayers of protection first? Nowhere. That’s not how God’s Word defines prayer.

Jan Johnson

In Jan Johnson’s book, Invitation to the Jesus Life: Experiments in Christlikeness, Johnson shows her resonance with a number of contemplative figures with quotes by and references to them.  One particular name that jumps out is New Age sympathizer Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Read a few quotes by Chardin and then ask yourself, why would a Christian author (Johnson) be drawn to someone with these views:

What I am proposing to do is to narrow that gap between pantheism and Christianity by bringing out what one might call the Christian soul of pantheism or the pantheist aspect of Christianity.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p. 56

Now I realize that, on the model of the incarnate God whom Christianity reveals to me, I can be saved only by becoming one with the universe. Thereby, too, my deepest ‘pantheist’ aspirations are satisfied.—Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p. 128.

I believe that the Messiah whom we await, whom we all without any doubt await, is the universal Christ; that is to say, the Christ of evolution.—Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p. 95.

Johnson’s 2016 book Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina leads readers in lectio divina meditations. Lectio Divina is used today as a gateway practice into contemplative mystical prayer. In her book, Johnson provides a section titled  “Relax and Refocus (silencio)”  which is instruction to readers on how to get rid of mental distractions when trying to practice lectio divina:

Each exercise begins with brief guidance to slow down, quiet your inner self and let go of distracting thoughts. . . . focusing on God. A way to interrupt this [mental] traffic is to focus on being present in the moment by breathing in and out deeply— even overbreathing. It also helps to relax our body parts one by one: bending the neck, letting the arms go limp, relaxing the legs and ankles. Loosen each part from the inside out. This doesn’t mean you’re setting aside your mind— you’re redirecting your mind away from the busyness that often consumes you. Being present in the moment prepares you to wait on the still, small voice of God. If you are distracted, you may want to try the palms up, palms down method. Rest your hands in your lap, placing your hands palms down as a symbol of turning over any concerns you have. If a nagging thought arises, turn your hands palms up as a “symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord.” [Foster] If you become distracted at any time during meditation, repeat the exercise. (Meeting God in Scripture, Kindle version, Kindle location 102)

To back up her teaching on practicing contemplative meditation and finding that inner stillness of the mind, Johnson turns to several contemplative teachers in Meeting God in Scripture. Sadly, God and Scripture are not the only things readers are going to meet when they read this book by Johnson. They will also meet Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, and David Benner. Other books Johnson has written have the same caliber.  A few of those titles are:  Spiritual Disciplines Companion: Bible Studies and Practices to Transform Your Soul, Enjoying the Presence of God: Discovering Intimacy with God in the Daily Rhythms of Life, Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace, and Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice: Experiments in Spiritual Transformation (Willard and Johnson). She has written several others books which carry the same message: you’ve got to have the inner mental silence to really know God (something Beth Moore has said too—in the Be Still DVD).

We could give several more examples of Johnson’s embracing contemplative spirituality. You won’t find much that she has written that doesn’t include this element. In one article on her website titled “What Is Solitude & Why Do I Need It? or . . . Turn Up the Quiet,” she quotes panentheist Thomas Merton from his book New Seeds of Contemplation. Why does Jan Johnson keep referring to contemplative mystics in her writings? There can only be one answer to that question—because she resonates with them.

Conclusion

As noted at the beginning of this article, Priscilla Shirer “was encouraged and redirected in so many ways” when she met Jan Johnson. She added that Johnson “spoke wisdom into [Priscilla’s] life that was extremely pivotal in [her] life—personally and in ministry.” Shirer said these words in 2010 and has left them up on her website to this day. Obviously, she still feels this way about Johnson. In Shirer’s popular book 2006/2012 Discerning the Voice of God, she favorably quotes Jan Johnson twice from When the Soul Listens. Shirer also quotes contemplatives Joyce Huggett and Phil Yancey in Discerning the Voice of God. Shirer clearly has been influenced by Jan Johnson as she admits herself.

We’ll close with this: On Priscilla Shirer’s website, where she talks about meeting Jan Johnson, she also includes an article by Johnson who is quoting panentheist Catholic priest Richard Rohr (founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation) from his book Everything Belongs (meaning everything and everyone is part of God). Rohr’s spirituality would be in the same camp as someone like Episcopalian panentheist Matthew Fox (author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ). Rohr wrote the foreword to a book called How Big is Your God? by Jesuit priest (from India) Paul Coutinho. In Coutinho’s book, he describes an interspiritual community where people of all religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity) worship the same God. For Rohr to write the foreword to such a book, he would have to agree with Coutinho’s views. On Rohr’s website, he has an article titled “Cosmic Christ.” One need not look too far into Rohr’s teachings and website to see he is indeed promoting the same Cosmic Christ as Matthew Fox – this is the “christ” whose being they say lives in every human—this, of course, would nullify the need for atonement by a savior. Lighthouse Trails has written numerous times about Rohr as he is aggressively pushing his panentheistic mystical spirituality into the evangelical church. If everything you have read in this article has not persuaded you to steer clear of Shirer’s studies, then this should do it, hands down. The fact that she keeps the post about Rohr on her website should alarm all Bible-believing Christians and illustrates the spiritual affinity Priscilla Shirer is drawn to.

Before your church does a Priscilla Shirer study, please keep in mind the things you have read in this article. Contemplative prayer has roots in panentheism  (God is in all) and interspirituality (all paths lead to God) as you can read in Ray Yungen’s article “The Final Outcome of Practicing Contemplative Prayer: Interspirituality.” Do you really want your church influenced in any way by a spirituality that is so against the Cross? Are we saying Priscilla Shirer is necessarily against the Cross? No, but for someone who wrote a book on how to discern the voice of God, she sure isn’t showing any discernment in the voices that she herself is listening to and being persuaded by.

NEW BOOKLET: ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross

NEW BOOKLET: ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross by Roger Oakland is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet.  The Booklet is 10 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklets are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet.  To order copies of  ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross, click here. 

ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross

By Roger Oakland

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The heart and core of the Christian faith is based upon Jesus Christ’s shed blood at Calvary as the only acceptable substitutionary atonement for mankind’s sins. The Gospel message requires this foundation. The Bible says the wages of sin is death—thus every person alive should receive the penalty of spiritual death because none of us is without sin. Satan hates the Gospel message. He understands what the Gospel means, and his agenda is to deceive mankind from understanding and believing so they can suffer eternally with him. While Scripture is very clear about the necessity of Christ’s death in order for us to be saved, some believe this would make God a blood-thirsty barbarian and that a loving God would never send His Son to a violent death. Embedded within the structure of the emerging church is just such a belief.

Precivilized Barbarity
Many in the emerging church movement (i.e., the “new” Christianity/New Spirituality) would vehemently object if someone told them that emerging church leaders don’t like the Cross. They would jump up and say, “Yes, they do. I’ve heard them talk about Jesus and His going to the Cross. They say they love the Cross.”

Some emerging church leaders do say they love the Cross, but an underlying theme has entered the church. It says that while Jesus’ going to the Cross was an example of sacrifice and servanthood that we should follow, the idea that God would send His Son to a violent death for the sins of mankind—well, that is not who God is. A loving God would never do that! Such a violent act would make Christianity a “slaughterhouse religion.”1

Liberal theologian and pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), believed that the doctrine of the atonement, where “Jesus suffered as a substitute for us” because of our sins, is a “precivilized barbarity.”2 In his book, The Modern Use of the Bible, Fosdick says that Jesus’ going to the Cross should be seen as an example of a life of service and sacrifice and not compared with “old animal sacrifices” and “made ‘a pious fraud’ played by God upon the devil.”3 In Fosdick’s book Dear Mr. Brown, he states:

Too many theories of the atonement assume that by one single high priestly act of self-sacrifice, Christ saved the world.4

Fosdick ends that statement with a pronounced—“No!” He insists, “These legalistic theories of the atonement are in my judgment a theological disgrace.”5 Fosdick considered the idea that God would actually send His Son to die on a Cross to take our place to be the basis for a violent and bloody religion. He rejected the biblical message of an atonement and substitutionary sacrifice.

Fosdick was the pastor of Riverside Church of New York City from 1925 to 1946. While he has been long gone, his ideologies have remained intact and have drifted right into the evangelical church through emergent leaders. In October 2006, Riverside Church held the 5th Fosdick Convocation in honor of their former pastor. Two of the emerging church’s most influential teachers were there as speakers in honor of Fosdick—Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo.6 As I will show you, McLaren resonates with Fosdick’s view of the Cross.

False Advertising for God
In an interview, Brian McLaren questioned the idea of God sending His Son to a violent death, calling it “false advertising for God”:

[O]ne of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.7 (emphasis added)

What an extraordinary example of faith under attack. If McLaren is right, all those who have ever lived and believed in Christ’s atonement have been misled and wrong. McLaren has taken the freedom to reconstruct what faith means by distorting the Scriptures, or worse yet, saying the very opposite of what the inspired Word of God says. This is blasphemy! McLaren also states:

And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. ‘Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.8

To further elaborate on McLaren’s rejection of the message of Christ’s atonement through His blood, we look to Episcopal priest Alan Jones. In his book Reimagining Christianity, Jones carries through with this idea that God never intended Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to be considered a payment for our sins:

The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.9

The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution [the Cross] was the name of this vile doctrine.10

Brian McLaren has endorsed Reimagining Christianity and says of the book:

Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.11

That God Does Not Exist
This idea of rejecting God’s judgment placed on Jesus Christ instead of us is integrated into the teachings of many others. William Shannon (biographer of Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton) said:

This 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.12 (emphasis added)

So in other words, according to Fosdick, McLaren, and Shannon, Jesus should be seen as a model of sacrifice to follow in our own lives, but to view God the Father as a judge against sin is not a proper view of God. Those who reject the atonement realize the greatest threat to their heretical views is those who take the Scriptures literally and seriously. Fosdick explains:

Were you to talk to that fundamentalist preacher, he doubtless would insist that you must believe in the “substitutionary” theory of atonement—namely, that Jesus suffered as a substitute for us the punishment due us for our sins. But can you imagine a modern courtroom in a civilized country where an innocent man would be deliberately punished for another man’s crime? . . . [S]ubstitutionary atonement . . . came a long way down in history in many a penal system. But now it is a precivilized barbarity; no secular court would tolerate the idea for a moment; only in certain belated theologies is it retained as an explanation of our Lord’s death . . . Christ’s sacrificial life and death are too sacred to be so misrepresented.13

This is a perfect example of how the emerging church turns doctrine it doesn’t understand (or accept) into a mockery against Scripture and God’s plan of salvation. God’s ways are not our ways and to expect them to line up with our own human reasoning is ludicrous:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The late Catholic contemplative author Brennan Manning (a favorite among many evangelicals) joined the ranks of those who rejected the substitutionary atonement. In his book Above All, Manning quotes William Shannon almost word for word, regarding the atonement:

[T]he god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger . . . the god who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.14 (emphasis added)

Dying for the Sins of the World
The late Marcus Borg (another favorite among evangelicals) was a lecturer and the author of several books, some of which are Jesus and Buddha, The God We Never Knew, and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time:

Taking the Bible Seriously But not Literally. His thinking greatly influenced the emerging church movement and its leaders. Brian McLaren had “high regard”15 for Borg, and the two of them participated in a seminar series at an interspiritual center in Portland, Oregon one summer.16 Rob Bell (a major influencer among young evangelicals) references and praises Borg in his still-popular book Velvet Elvis.17 Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary and one of the contributors to Richard Foster’s Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible, considers Borg an essential part of the “new” Christianity. Brueggemann states:

Marcus Borg is a key force in the emerging “new paradigm” of Christian faith.18

Borg explains in his book The God We Never Knew that his views on God, the Bible, and Christianity were transformed while he was in seminary:

I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God.. . . I realized that whatever “divine revelation” and the “inspiration of the Bible” meant (if they meant anything), they did not mean that the Bible was a divine product with divine authority.19

This attitude would certainly explain how Borg could say:

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.20

If what Borg is saying is true, then we would have to throw out John 3:16 which says God so loved the world He gave His only Son, and we would have to dismiss the theme of a blood offering that is prevalent throughout all of Scripture. In the Old Testament, it is clear:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)

But Borg rejects this emphasis:

To think that the central meaning of Easter [resurrection] depends upon something spectacular happening to Jesus’ corpse misses the point of the Easter message and risks trivializing the story. To link Easter primarily to our hope for an afterlife, as if our post-death existence depends upon God having transformed the corpse of Jesus, is to reduce the story to a politically-domesticated yearning for our survival beyond death.21

What is behind this mindset? Listen to one New Ager describe what underlies this line of thought:

Jesus was an historical person, a human becoming Christ, the Christos is an eternal transpersonal condition of being. Jesus did not say that this higher state of consciousness realized in him was his alone for all time. Nor did he call us to worship him. Rather, he called us to follow him, to follow in his steps, to learn from him, from his example.22

Fosdick would resonate with this. When he says, “Christ’s sacrificial life and death are too sacred to be so misrepresented,” he means that Christ is an example to be followed, not an innocent sacrifice for our guilt and thus worthy of praise and worship. Satan wants desperately to be worshiped and adored as God. He hates all that Jesus’ death stands for. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, purchased with His own blood the lives of those written in the Book of Life.

A very popular author today, William Paul Young (author of The Shack) also rejects the idea that Christ’s shed blood was needed to save man. He has come right out and said this openly.23 And yet, many Christian leaders promote both Young and The Shack without any qualms.

The Bible says, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22), and also, “He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Are we to reject these Scriptures and other ones as well that speak of the atonement because it doesn’t sound logical? Scripture tells us that the carnal mind is at enmity with God. We need to recognize that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is our final authority, and we must adhere to the truth of its teachings.

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.. . . And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4:10, 14)

Many in the emerging church may insist they do not hold to the distorted view on the atonement that this booklet has described. But it is important to understand that the underlying nature of this view of rejecting the atonement is panentheistic (God in all) and pantheistic (God is all), which is the “fruit” of practicing contemplative mysticism. To put it in plain terms, one of the key characteristics of the emerging church is engaging in mystical prayer practices (i.e., contemplative). This in turn produces a drastic change in spiritual outlook that over times takes on panentheistic views. And when that happens, a new perspective on the atonement always occurs because when one believes man is divine (god within), then he believes man does not need to have anyone make atonement for him. A substitutionary  death (taking a sinner’s place) on the Cross would not be necessary and in fact, would be an insult to man’s own divine nature.  It would be humiliating. Like Thomas Merton said, if we really knew what was in each one of us, we would fall down and worship one another.24 He and other contemplatives say that man’s biggest problem isn’t a sinful nature; no, it’s that he does not realize he is divine.

If Jesus’ going to the Cross and shedding blood was merely an act of service and sacrifice, an example for others to follow, and was not actually a substitutionary payment for the sins of humanity, then why celebrate the resurrection as so many churches do? It would make no sense. Churches that cling to contemplative/emergent ideologies and practices should consider this. While they cling to one (contemplative), they’re on the road to denying the other (the atonement) . . . even if they don’t realize it.

To order copies of  ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross, click here. 

Endnotes:
1. Beka Horton, Church History and Things to Come (Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Christian College, 1997 printing), p. 156.
2. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dear Mr. Brown (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961), p. 136.
3. Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Modern Use of the Bible (New York NY: The Macmillan Company, 1924), p. 230.
4. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dear Mr. Brown, op. cit., p. 135.
5. Ibid., p. 134-135.
6. Riverside City Church, New York City, http://www.the riversidechurchny.org/getinvolved/?fosdick-speakers.
7. Interview by Leif Hansen (The Bleeding Purple Podcast) with Brian McLaren, January 8th, 2006); Part 1: http://bleeding purple podcast.blog spot.com/2006/01/brian-mclaren-interview-part-i.html; Part II: http://bleedingpurplepodcast.blog spot.com/2006/01/interview-with-brian-mclaren-part-ii.html).
8. Ibid., part II.
9. Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons, 2005), p. 132.
10. Ibid., p. 168.
11. Ibid., Brian McLaren on back cover.
12. William Shannon, Silence on Fire (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995 edition), pp. 109-110.
13. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dear Mr. Brown, op. cit., p. 136.
14. Brennan Manning, Above All (Brentwood, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2003), pp. 58-59.
15. Statement by Brian McLaren on McLaren’s website: http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/000201.html, “What about other websites?”
16. The Center for Spiritual Development, 2006 Summer Seminar called “The Church in the 21st Century” where Brian McLaren and Marcus Borg were two of the speakers, http://www.center-for-spiritual-development.org/DVDCatalog.html.
17. Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 180, 184.
18. Walter Brueggemann cited on United Theological Seminary website: http://www.united.edu in reference to Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity.
19. Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew (New York, NY: HarperCollins, First HarperCollins Paperback Edition, 1998), p. 25.
20. Ibid.
21. Marcus Borg, “Easter About Life, Not Death” (Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” column, April 7, 2004, http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/marcus_borg/2007/04/easter_not_about_death_but_lif.html).
22. John White (Science of Mind, September 1981), p. 15.
23. This is documented on the Lighthouse Trails Research site: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=22246.
24. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1989 edition), pp. 157-158.

To order copies of  ATONEMENT REJECTED! How the Emerging Church Views Christ’s Death on the Cross, click here. 

Letter to the Editor: Former Pastor and Popular Author, Brian Zahnd, Becomes a Mystic

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

I read the story behind Lighthouse Trails a couple of times, and it hit me that we are going to reach only a fraction of evangelical believers because the movement has progressed so much farther into Contemplative Spirituality (CS) than I had realized. I became aware of CS five years ago, so when I read that Ray Yungen wrote his book (which I am re-reading currently) in 2002, it occurred to me that the battle is nearly won by the forces of evil. Out of all the people I have tried to reach, only two have been receptive to my warning. Of course, your ministry can reach many more than any one individual. Jesus told us we would see this apostasy in the end.

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd

I sent the link for your story of LHT to a friend, who said she had the very same reaction I had—that is, CS has infiltrated the Church more than she realized and that she felt it is too late. Neither she nor I will give up on trying to warn believers—if only a few have their eyes opened, we will have done what Jesus commands.

I do wish you would do some research on Pastor Brian Zahnd, my former pastor. His church went emergent, and he is deep into Contemplative Spirituality. He teaches seminars on Contemplative Prayer at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO. He is now taking his prayer school on the road. And like Roger Oakland says, he’s on the “road to Rome.” He is currently writing his sixth book. https://brianzahnd.com/books/

If you were to read his blog and his Twitter account, you’d see just how far he has gone into apostasy. https://twitter.com/BrianZahnd

He has said he is a friend of Eugene Peterson. He quotes Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and many other CS authors and “theologians” on Twitter. One tweet said: “The future of Christianity belongs to the Thomas Merton kind of Christian, not the heirs of Jerry Falwell.”

Recently he had a reply to one of his tweets from Ann Coulter, so he is not an unknown.

He has jettisoned the OT (though he says not, but then he says he’s not Emergent) and is against substitutionary atonement.

I sent my current pastor your booklet on Brennan Manning and got no response. So I guess I’ll be looking for a new church again.

May God bless you in your vital work.

Ruth

Lighthouse Trails Comments: As Ruth has perceived, Brian Zahnd is a mystic. If you asked him if he was, he would proudly tell you yes. He’s not ashamed of it. His book Water to Wine tells of his mystical experiences and the outcome of those experiences. It’s in that book that Zahnd made the Merton/Falwell quote. Here is a little more of that quote:

The way forward is far less political and far more mystical. A generation ago the great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner famously predicted, “The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’, one who has ‘experienced’ something, or he will cease to be anything at all.” The future of Christianity belongs to the Thomas Merton kind of Christian, not the heirs of Jerry Falwell. This should be seen as a welcome change. It is only our false hopes that are being disappointed in the death of Christendom. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 1606-1610). Spello Press. Kindle Edition)

Brian Zahnd

During the course of our author Ray Yungen’s adult life, he studied the New Age, occultism, and mysticism, their connection to each other, and their influence in the world and in the church. He frequently mentioned Karl Rahner’s quote that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will be nothing. That is how the mystics view their belief that a Christian must engage in mystical practices if he really wants to be spiritual. They believe these practices will produce esoteric experiences that if practiced by enough of mankind, the earth and the world can be saved. They believe that real love and a change of heart can only come from these experiences. The mystics believe that this mystical transformation can happen to anyone, of any belief, of any religion, or of no religion at all. That’s because it isn’t about Jesus Christ (though they may say they like him) and man realizing he is a sinner in great need of a Savior. It can’t be about that—that would take away from the mystic’s belief that divinity dwells in all people and in all things. Though a bit obscure in the following quote by Zahnd, he puts it this way:

Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 1897-1900). Spello Press. Kindle Edition, emphasis added)

As Ray Yungen often pointed out, the “fruit” of contemplative prayer (which Zahnd refers to over 40 times in the book) is interspirituality (all paths lead to God) and panentheism (God in all).  Zahnd explains in his book that when he moved from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical, he became interspiritual:

When I was converted from sectarian to eclectic [mystical], I obtained a passport that allowed me to travel freely throughout the whole body of Christ. In my theological travels I have discovered a Christianity that has both historical depth and ecumenical width. Now I can’t imagine not being able to access all the great contributors to contemporary Christian thought. Orthodox thinkers like Kallistos Ware and David Bentley Hart. Catholic thinkers like Richard Rohr and William Cavanaugh. Anglican thinkers like Rowen Williams and N.T. Wright. Mainline thinkers like Walter Brueggemann and Eugene Peterson. Without them my Christianity would be horribly impoverished. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 459-463). Spello Press. Kindle Edition)

Water to Wine is filled with interspiritual statements like the one above. Using words such as “tribalism,” he says we must get rid of this notion that traditional (biblical) Christianity is more true or right than other religious traditions.  Just prior to the statement above, Zahnd quoted Thomas Merton saying:

If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians… If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division [doctrine] upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ. (Kindle Locations 454-459, quoting Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Colorado Springs, CO: Image Books, 1968, 14).

You may recall when Thomas Merton spoke via letter with a Sufi master (an Islamic mystic) and told him that doctrinal differences needed to be laid aside, and we must turn to esoteric experiences as a common ground for unity and fellowship between all . He actually used the Cross as an example of one of those doctrines that had to be laid aside. (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999, p. 109)

While Zahnd’s book is filled with examples of his “new life” as a mystic, we’d like to bring out just one more point about Zahnd because it reveals some insight that affects a huge percentage of today’s Christian culture, and it is the person who initially pointed the way for Zahnd to become a mystic. You will know the name. Most likely, your own pastor has read at least one of his books. Read what Zahnd has to say:

On a summer afternoon I was at home browsing my bookshelves. I was deliberately looking for a book that would “give me a breakthrough.” I couldn’t settle on anything. So I prayed, “God, show me what to read.” And I sensed…nothing. I went downstairs feeling a bit agitated and slumped into a chair. Within a minute or two my wife, Peri, walked into the room, handed me a book and said, “I think you should read this.” She knew nothing of my moments ago prayer, but she had just handed me a book, and told me to read it. This was my Augustine-like “take and read” moment. It sent chills down my spine. Somehow I knew it was the answer to my prayer. The book was Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. The strange thing was Peri had not read this book and had no more idea who Dallas Willard was than I did. (As I said, I was embarrassingly ignorant of the good stuff.) Neither of us were sure how the book had even made its way into our house. But, oh my, was it ever an answer to prayer! The next day I was flying somewhere and I took out the book providentially given to me by an angel. I began to read. And my life changed forever. Hyperbole? No. Stone cold fact. Reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy was like having a door kicked open in my mind. It opened my eyes to the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is, well, everything! In his foreword to The Divine Conspiracy, Richard Foster writes: “The Divine Conspiracy is the book I have been searching for all my life. Like Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, it is a masterpiece and a wonder… I would place The Divine Conspiracy in rare company indeed: along-side the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wesley, John Calvin and Martin Luther, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, and perhaps even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. If the parousia tarries, this is a book for the next millennium.” That’s exactly what I needed! Augustine and Aquinas for the twenty-first century! Dallas Willard was my gateway to the good stuff. Directly or indirectly reading Willard led me to others: N.T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, René Girard, Miroslav Volf, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, David Bentley Hart, Wendell Berry, Scot McKnight, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and so many more. (Kindle Locations 116-133)

Sadly, the spirituality that Brian Zahnd found in those authors cannot save souls and does not point to the Cross of redemption through Jesus Christ. Like so many mystics before him, Zahnd has discarded the idea that Christianity is dualistic in that it is separate from all other belief systems (and that there is a right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, etc), and the doctrines that the mystics so readily dismiss are the very framework of our Christian faith. Within those rejected doctrines is the doctrine of the Cross that says man is not divine and he desperately needs a Savior who is just one Person, Jesus Christ who died a violent death on behalf of mankind. He took our place. To reject dualism (two sides) is to reject the Cross. The contemplative emergent Episcopal bishope Alan Jones illustrated this in his book Reimagining Christianity. In Roger Oakland’s book, Faith Undone, Oakland states:

[Alan] Jones carries through with this idea that God never intended Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to be considered a payment for our sins:

“The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.”

“The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution [the Cross] was the name of this vile doctrine.” (Faith Undone, Lighthouse Trails, 2007, p. 193, quoting Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons, 200, pp. 132, 168)

Jones calls the doctrine of the Cross a “vile doctrine,” similar to Brian McLaren who said the doctrine of the Cross and Hell are “false advertising” for God.* Brennan Manning did the same thing when he said that the God who exacted the last drop of his blood to appease His anger for our sins does not exist. (Above All, Manning, p. 58) Brian Zahnd says it this way:

Over time I began to see the cross in a much deeper way—not as a mere factor in an atonement theory equation, but as the moment in time and space where God reclaimed creation. I saw the cross as the place where Jesus refounded the world. Instead of being organized around an axis of power enforced by violence, at the cross the world was refounded around an axis of love expressed in forgiveness. (Water To Wine, Kindle Locations 305-308, emphasis added)

It’s a perfect ploy of Satan to get people to stop believing in that atonement. Remember, our adversary hates the atonement. And once a person begins down that road of mystical experiences, entering esoteric realms (really demonic realms), Satan will even allow that mystic to think he has become a fully evolved enlightened person who loves everyone and everything. All the while that person, who is being seduced by familiar spirits, is moving further and further away from the only path God has provided for salvation. And he will share this “mystical revolution” with as many people as he can. This is what happened with all the “great” mystics, and tragically, it appears to have happened to Brian Zahnd and who knows how many other evangelical pastors.

Extra Footnotes:
* Interview by Leif Hansen (The Bleeding Purple Podcast) with Brian McLaren, January 8th, 2006); Part 1: http://bleeding purple podcast .blog spot.com/2006/01/brian-mclaren-interview-part-i.html; Part II: http://bleeding purple pod cast. blog spot.com/2006/01/interview-with-brian-mclaren-part-ii.html).

William Paul Young (THE SHACK AUTHOR) & His Connection with Panentheist Richard Rohr

LTRP Note: The Shack movie is about to be released. Millions of Americans will go to theaters to watch the movie. Most likely, the majority of them will be church goers and proclaiming Christians since The Shack book is vetted as a Christian story. Recently, a church contacted Lighthouse Trails and ordered 300 copies of Warren B. Smith’s booklet The Shack and Its New Age Leaven. If you have family, church members, pastors, and friends who might be considering attending this movie, please pick up some copies of the booklet and pass them out. As you can see from the piece below by Lighthouse Trails author Lois Putnam, William Paul Young resonates with panentheists (God is IN all), and we know from our research that The Shack resonates with this concept too. Please do what you can to warn everyone you know. The false “Christ” of The Shack has big plans to deceive many. If you can’t afford to buy the booklet, you can print the content from our blog; but we believe this very inexpensive booklet is a better way to go (in a published bound format, it helps give credibility to the material and the source).

By Lois Putnam

Catholic priest and panentheist mystic Richard Rohr (along with co-author mystic emergent Mike Morrell) recently wrote the book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.  William Paul Young wrote its foreword.  Inside, its dedication says:  “From Richard Rohr: To all unsuspecting folks who do not know they are already within the ‘Divine Flow'” [i.e., panentheism].  In the foreword, Young says, “May we feel within us the eternal life of Jesus reaching through our hands–to heal, to hold, to hug–and celebrate the bread of our Humanity, the sanctity of the Ordinary, and Participation in the Trinity.”

Other endorsers include Rob Bell, Brian D. McLaren, and a host of others.  As Lighthouse Trails Research points out in “In Case You Still Aren’t Sure About the Shack and Its Author,” perhaps Young’s “Twenty Books Everyone Should Read” will convince you otherwise.  Click onto the article here: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=17684

And Young, continuing his close association with Rohr, will join him and Cynthia Bourgeault in April 6-8, 2017 to take part in a program titled: “Trinity: The Soul of Creation” in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Its online descriptive ad reads, “Rohr, Bourgeault, and Young believe the Trinity . . .  has the capacity to change everything.  We already participate within this dance whether we realize it or not [that God is in everyone].  But when we consciously engage in loving communion, we open ourselves to being transformed at the deepest levels.  Bring your heart, mind, and body to this . . .  conversation.  Join an ecumenical and inter-faith gathering, moving together through reflective experiences, including contemplative prayer, music, movement (Yoga, Tai Chi Chin, and walking meditation), group and individual processing. …” To read Lois Putnam’s entire article on The Shack, click here.  

Note: Cynthia Bourgeault is a name we know well at Lighthouse Trails. Ray Yungen spoke of her to us often. She is an Episcopal priest who is a devoted advocate for everything contemplative. Here is a list of some of her books to prove our point.

Related Articles:

Something to Think About – Richard Rohr, the New Age, and Young Evangelical Christians

IF: Gathering Leader/Pastor Melissa Greene—A Female Version of McLaren, Bell, Rohr, and Merton

Richard Foster’s Renovare Turns to Panentheist Mystic Richard Rohr and Emerging Darling Phyllis Tickle For New Book Project

Thomas Merton, Richard Foster, and a Sufi Master

“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.)

Endnotes:

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.


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