Archive for the ‘Contemplative Organizations’ Category

Erwin McManus, Moody, Liberty, Cedarville, and Biola Help Pave the Emergent/Social Justice/Progressive Future with Barefoot Tribe

Lighthouse Trails has been warning readers for several years about the emergent church. In those warnings, we’ve addressed the spiritual leanings of Erwin McManus.1 We also challenged David Jeremiah because he told his church that he wanted to use McManus’ book The Barbarian Way to help bring about a “major paradigm shift” in his church.2 Well, there’s no question about it, the evangelical church has gone through a major paradigm shift. This week we received some information from a Lighthouse Trails reader about an event called Barefoot Tribe Gathering, which is another example of where emergent leaders are taking the church, in particular young evangelicals, who by the way are being encouraged not to even call themselves evangelicals or Christians anymore. They see themselves on a much higher ground than that. It’s a ground that incorporates all religions, all people, and all beliefs and practices.

This emergent progressive church (which they tried to make us believe was a thing of the past) is the new “Christianity” for millions of young people. Under the disguise of helping the poor, taking care of the environment, and loving everyone (except their critics), is a growing body of people with a New Age/New Spirituality mindset that embraces all spiritual views and believes God exists in everyone. The Cross (or atonement) doesn’t mean the place where Jesus Christ took our place and died for our sins but rather means at-one-ment (that is, we are all one and connected together with a “God” energy that flows through all things and all people). This at-one-ment rejects the idea that God would actually send His Son to a violent death to pay for OUR sins; rather this emergent view of atonement means that Jesus was a good example of someone who laid down His life and we should follow that example. That’s as far as this “new church” will go with the Cross. To say He paid the penalty for our sins is to say that man is sinful and is not God. The new social justice, emergent, progressive “Christianity” cannot do that because it doesn’t believe that.

According to the Barefoot Tribe’s website, Erwin McManus was one of the speakers in the 2014 Barefoot Tribe Gathering (and by the way, the emergent church has made a lot of progress since then with the help of “evangelical” names such as McManus). We also noticed that Palmer Chinchen, who heads up Barefoot Tribe,  has been bringing the Barefoot Tribe message to various Christian colleges including Cornerstone University, Biola, Moody, Cedarville, and Liberty. What better place to change the face of Christianity than at the Christian universities. While parents keep their heads in the sand and pay huge dollars to have their children educated at “nice safe Christian colleges,” right under their noses, their kids’ spirituality is being turned upside down, and in many, if not most, cases will never be restored to biblical Christianity. Other colleges Barefoot Tribe has spoken at are:

Lest some think that Barefoot Tribe is simply an outreach to the poor and needy in the world, Palmer Chinchen’s books, including Barefoot Tribe, are packed with quotes by, references to, and inspirations from some of the leading emergent writers today (Sweet, Ortberg, N.T. Wright, Nouwen, Brueggemann, Morgan Cron, Campolo, etc.). Satan has an agenda to deceive the whole world, and most proclaiming Christians and church goers have no idea it is  happening right in their own backyards.

The information sent from our reader:

The Barefoot Tribe Gathering 2014 and 2017
We are on the crest of an epic shift in humanity. This generation views the world as an extended family – increasingly interconnected through technology – and living with a deep moral obligation to care for one another.
The Barefoot Tribe GATHERING will promote conversation, collaboration, and help network a generation of Christ-followers to respond to the plight of desperate people in broken places.”
http://www.palmerchinchen.com/gathering
– Palmer Chinchen is organizer

2014 Speakers
(1)  Bob Goff:  author of Love Does – http://bobgoff.com/
(2)  Dr. John M. Perkinshttps://spu.edu/depts/perkins/john-perkins/
(3)  Caitlyn Crosby:  Oprah pick for Super Soul 100 list  as a “Soul Giver”:  http://www.supersoul.tv/supersoul-100/soul-givers/caitlin-crosby
More on Caitlyn:  https://www.thegivingkeys.com/pages/our-founder-caitlin-crosby
(4)  Erwin McManushttp://awakengroup.com/?ag_team=erwin-raphael-mcmanus

Barefoot Tribe:  http://www.palmerchinchen.com/barefoot-tribe
-video

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Letter to the Editor: Ministry Ventures Brings Contemplative Influence to Pregnancy Pro-Life Center

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

I work at my local pregnancy help center as Client Services Director. I have been following you for years and am thankful for your warnings. When I first started reading your material I would have never thought I would need the information to guard my own spiritual life. Sadly I had to leave a church because leaders were involved in Mystic Catholicism. Friends have read and praised Jesus Calling and The Circle Maker.

Then mysticism began to creep in at the life-affirming ministry where I work. The pro-life ministry is indeed in a spiritual battle. Where else would Satan rather be but in the mist of something as horrific as abortion? First, some months ago, one of the major supporting organizations for pregnancy help centers suggested in an e-mail we read The Circle Maker for spiritual growth and encouragement. I immediately sent an e-mail back warning against such a suggestion. The writer actually called me the very next day to apologize. She stated she would be more careful in the future, but ended by defending the author of The Circle Maker.

More recently something more disturbing to me has occurred.

An organization called Ministry Ventures has introduced silent retreats for ministry executive directors and board members.  In an audio interview, Boyd Baily mentions Henri Nouwen, praising his writings. He describes bowing down before an old monk during a silent retreat although he is not Catholic.

This breaks my heart. We in the pro-life ministry need to depend on God for victory. However, it seems, we are now pleasing the Devil.

Please can you address this issue to help me warn others in the ministry? Ministry Ventures can be found on Facebook where there are links to their writings and audios. Here is a link to the audio I spoke of.

https://ministryventures.org/view/channels/prayer

Thank you for your help.

Darcy (not real name)

LTRP Comments: In this audio session (see link above), Ministry Ventures co-founder, Boyd Bailey, says he was introduced to Fil Anderson several years ago (8:10 min mark) while at a “silent retreat” at a monastery. Fil Anderson is the author of Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers. Lighthouse Trails wrote about Anderson’s contemplative persuasions and his being trained at the panentheistic Shalem Institute in our 2013 article “Shalem-Trained Contemplative Fil Anderson Member of Samaritan’s Purse “Spiritual Care Team.”

On the Ministry Ventures website, it lists dozens of Christians ministries which are receiving guidance and training from Ministry Ventures. MV states: “Since 1999 Ministry Ventures has been partnering with faith-based nonprofit ministries to help them go Further, Faster!” Unfortunately, if Ministry Ventures is being influenced by contemplatives, it will no doubt pass this influence onto the ministries who come to them for help. A few of these ministries listed are Baptist Medical & Dental Mission, a number of pregnancy centers, Child Evangelism Fellowship of Hawaii, Chinese Pastors Fellowship, Christian Grandparenting Network, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, (FCA), Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers, andTeen Challenge of South Florida.

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A History of AWANA’s Contemplative Track Record and the Implications of Their New CEO

For over a decade  now, Lighthouse Trails editors have been concerned about the direction that the AWANA children’s club is heading. Today, in this report, we want to first give an overview of our past decade of reporting on AWANA, and then we want to share some new information that should concern every parent and grandparent who has a child or grandchild in AWANA.

It was just over ten years ago, in Feb of 2006, that we posted our first article about AWANA after having contacted them about our concerns. That article talked about connections AWANA had with Willow Creek (for documentation on Willow Creek, see links at the end of this article). In that article, we stated:

Awana Clubs has been a respected and trusted Christian organization for many years. Countless children have been Cubbies and Sparkies and have memorized Scripture through the program.

With so much of the church heading into the contemplative/emergent camp, also known as the spiritual formation movement, what a tragedy it would be to see Awana being sucked into this also. Few things are stable these days … is Awana the next to cave in?

As 2006 moved forward, our concerns heightened as AWANA continued promoting contemplative materials and the Spiritual Formation movement and showed no signs of breaking away from Willow Creek.

In 2007 and 2008, we posted a number of other articles documenting the organization’s move into the “new” emerging spirituality. Two phone calls from us and sending printed materials had no apparent effect. And as one of our articles stated, “Today, we received another email [from AWANA] backing up their insistence that nothing is amiss.”1In one article we wrote in 2007, we explained:

Awana is showing signs that it is becoming a full-blown contemplative organization. First of all, through Awana’s prison project, the organization is incorporating New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard’s Lead Like Jesus Encounter program. On July 13th, we spoke with Lyndon Azcuna, Awana Cross Cultural Ministries director, who told us he was a Lead Like Jesus facilitator. Azcuna works in the main headquarters office of Awana. He said that the project was using Ken Blanchard’s materials. When we explained to him that Blanchard promoted the New Age and mystical meditation, he said that the program did not have these elements.

However, the Lead Like Jesus Encounter is largely based on Blanchard’s book, Lead Like Jesus, and that book does include contemplative elements. For instance, in the chapter called “The Habits of a Servant Leader” a palms-up, palms-down exercise is described (something Richard Foster has encouraged)(p. 158). The book gives a typical instruction on contemplative:

“Before we send people off for their period of solitude, we have them recite with us Psalm 46:10 in this way: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be…. When people return from their time of solitude, they have big smiles on their faces. While many of them found it difficult to quiet their mind, they say it was a powerful experience. The reality is most of us spend little if any time in solitude. Yet if we don’t, how can God have a chance to talk with us?”

For Awana to include Ken Blanchard’s teachings into its organization, shows that the situation is quite serious.

In that same article in 2007, we announced the release of a book, partly authored by two AWANA leades (at that time), called Children’s Perspectives on  Spiritual Formation. We stated:

[T]here is something even more disquieting with regard to Awana and their slide into contemplative – a book that is recommended by Awana and also carried by the Awana store: Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation. A description of the book is as follows:

“In childrens ministry, models, methods, and materials abound. How do you decide what direction you want your ministry to children to take? Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation allows you to examine the four prominent points-of-view in the church today. You will then be able to make a more informed decision on the way in which your ministry should take.”

The book offers four different views on how to transform children. One author, Scottie May, a professor at Wheaton, writes the section titled, “Contemplative-Reflective Model.” May gives a hearty promotion of centering prayer, the Jesus prayer, Christ candles, the Catholic Eucharist and an strong endorsement for contemplative spirituality ala Thomas Merton, whom she favorably quotes in the book. Two Awana staff writers respond in the book to May’s contemplative approach and give it a thumbs up with only minor cautions. But overall they believe that contemplative is a valid approach for all Christians, including children. Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation is giving a green light to Awana leaders around the world to practice contemplative prayer.

In 2007, we wrote an article titled “Awana Revisited: Is it or is it not promoting contemplative spirituality?” that examined in more detail the book (Children’s Perspectives on  Spiritual Formation) that was still being promoted by AWANA. Here are a couple quotes from that book written by the two AWANA leaders:

Page 82: “In his excellent overview, Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster outlines six different spiritual traditions that present within the Christian faith. They are the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the incarnational tradition. Each of these has played an important part in the larger history of the Christian church…. Each of these traditions has made significant contributions to Christian spirituality and each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions. (bold added)

P. 83-84: “While we believe that the Contemplative-Reflective Model highlights some significant needs in children’s spiritual formation, we should see it as an addition to the base provided for us in the Scriptures….We share agreement with the Contemplative-Reflective Model in a number of areas … we have much to learn from the Contemplative-Reflective Model. Many of our children’s programs are far from reverential, and the constant barrage of impulses does not seem to help in developing this interior life [this is the mystical contemplative life that Teresa of Avila practiced].” (bold added)

Our response in 2007 to these and other comments from the book was:

If the Awana writers in this book are trying to persuade readers that they do not promote contemplative spirituality, they have done a terrible job in expressing this. On the contrary, they have given minor cautions and major affirmations. They conclude with: “Given this framework, the Contemplative-Reflective Model becomes, at best, an important tool in helping provide a balanced development of the Christian spiritual life” (p. 87). While Carson and Crupper [the two AWANA leaders] point out some of the flaws in the Contemplative-Reflective Model, they make it clear that there is much good in it. Their response to contemplative spirituality leaves one message to readers: contemplative has some problems but if incorporated with other spiritual traditions, it has great value. And it is this attitude that is going to take Awana down a slippery slope of deception, unless they truly come to understand the underlying dangers of contemplative and then make every effort to rid Awana of its influence. (bold added)

In 2012, we contacted the publisher of Children’s Perspectives in Spiritual Formation and learned that the book was still in active print. Sadly, AWANA leadership had decided that the contemplative approach was valid.

In November of 2015, we posted a letter to the editor titled “Concerns By Awana Leader About Awana Linking Hands with the Emerging Church.” The letter from one of our readers who was a former AWANA leader, stated:

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

My family has been involved with the Awana ministry for almost 20 years both as “clubbers” and leaders.

Awana came out with new junior high curriculum. I reviewed one of the books and was not happy. The high school level curriculum too is in the process of being re-written with the help of a man named Josh Griffin. Josh Griffin is the high school pastor for Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Griffin is associated with Doug Fields who was a speaker for Youth Specialties, then went on to be a youth pastor for Saddleback before returning back to work for Youth Specialties. Both Fields and Griffin have written books together and share a blog.

In September, Awana sent out an e-mail invitation to the 2015 National Youth Convention put on by Youth Specialties. Awana had a booth there.

A link on the e-mail connects to a promotional video where you see many people including Tony Campolo. Also Mark Matlock, the director of Youth Specialties tells his audience, “Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church.”

This is chilling considering that the words co-creators and conspirators are words associated with the New Age.

Speakers of the conference included such emerging church personalities as Doug Fields, Dan Kimball, Tony Campolo, Mike King, Jim Burns, and Alan Hirsch. Josh Griffin was the M.C. for the worship sessions.

The convention also offered spiritual directors for one-on-one sessions.

It is truly sad to see Awana linking hands with the emerging church movement.

This brings us to the present, 2016. On March 9th of this year, a press release came out announcing the retirement of long-time AWANA president Jack Eggar who was being replaced by an interim president and CEO, Valerie Bell. Bell is a member of Willow Creek (and her husband is a Vice President of Willow Creek Association). The fact alone that AWANA has selected someone from Willow Creek to lead AWANA should be enough to show that AWANA has at least in part absorbed the spirituality of Willow Creek, which is the spirituality of the emerging church (and that is NOT guilt by association). But the selection of Valerie Bell has even deeper roots in the “new” spirituality.

Valerie Bell

While Bell has some disconcerting resource links on her website, the one that stands out the most is Hungry Souls, the website of David and Karen Mains.  For a number of years, the Mains have had affinity with New Age concepts and teachings as has been brought out by a number of different discernment ministries (you can do a search on the Internet and see this for yourself). For example, a 2005 article by pastor, researcher, and author Gary Gilley reveals that in a book written by Mains, Lonely No More, Mains “chronicled her journey into Jungian psychology, visualization and the occult.” Gilley stated, “The spiritual path that Karen Mains describes in Lonely No More can easily be found in most occult spiritual transformation books.” That book, Lonely No More remains available today on Amazon as a Kindle book.

In a more recent book of Mains, The God Hunt, in a Further Reading section in the back, a number of contemplative/new spirituality authors are listed including Tilden Edwards (co-founder of the panentheistic Shalem Prayer Institute in Washington, DC), emerging church leader, the late Phyllis Tickle, and contemplatives Esther de Waal and Kathleen Norris.

Furthermore, on Karen Mains’ site in an article titled “The Practice of Silence,” she says, “I became convinced that no deep spiritual growth could occur in my life without the practice of silence that allows us to develop the capacity of holy listening.” This “holy listening” and the “practice of silence,” of course, is contemplative prayer.

There is no question that Bell and Mains share a spiritual affinity. In 2008, they traveled to France together and lead a group in a 10-day “pilgrimage.” Promotional advertising for the trip said:

We will teach you how to “read” great art and then how to use those same viewing exercises to develop a contemplative prayer practice for the soul.

Among various teachings and practices included in the trip was instruction in the contemplative practice, Lectio Divina.

In addition to promoting David and Karen Mains, Valerie Bell shares her own views on contemplative spirituality on her website. On a page with the subtitle Soul Care (another way of saying contemplative), it says:

Valerie has a strong interest in soul-care as a way to find spiritual well-being and relationship with a loving God. Her approach invites people to learn spiritual practices that can sustain them through the most difficult life challenges. Her book, A Well-Tended Soul, describes the nuances of that inner journey and is a core resource to her spiritual formation seminars. (bold added)

There is no question that AWANA  is becoming a whole-hearted emerging/contemplative organization, and children in the program will eventually feel the effects. Unfortunately, deception can often be slow and subtle so parents may not realize their AWANA Cubbies and Sparkies are being influenced, a little more week after week through the AWANA curriculum. While we still believe there are AWANA local teachers who love the Lord and are trying to present a biblical view, the handwriting has been on the wall for over a decade, and it’s getting easier to read all the time.

Lighthouse Trails Articles on Willow Creek:

Calvary Chapel, Bill Hybels, and Jesuit Mysticism

Lynne Hybels’ “God”

“Christian Palestinianism” & Emergents Lynn Hybels and Jim Wallis Come to Multnomah University For “Justice” Conference

No Repentance from Willow Creek – Only a Mystical Paradigm Shift

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Letter to the Editor: Inspired by LT’s Reaching Out to Christian Leaders – Wants to do the Same

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

Wow, so glad to hear about your efforts to reach out to Christian Leaders to warn them about Jesus Calling.  Whether they heed the warnings or not, thank you for doing this!!

While I don’t have any names to add to your list, (you covered most of the major leaders), the idea inspired me, because I’ve been wanting to reach out to pastors to warn them about Contemplative Prayer.

My wife and I left a church a year ago because we started hearing names like Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning etc. and things have only escalated since we’ve left.

There’s about 40-50 churches in the conference our previous church is in that I’d like to send some tracts to, addressed to the pastors and also send to the bishops in the different conferences until I can afford to send to all churches in every conference.

We have some good friends in the _____ yet, and we’d like to try to reach these pastors (although it might fall on deaf ears) who are following and recommending these contemplative practices. The tracts that I thought I was most interested in sending are:

1.) Serious Look at Richard Foster’s School of Contemplative Prayer

2.) Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” and their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticism

3.) 5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer – 2015 updated edition

4.) So You Want to Practice “Good” Contemplative Prayer

5.) Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation?

Wasn’t sure if you had any recommendations on the one that might be best to send (would love to send the whole bunch to each one, but would have to do that over a period of time since I don’t have that money to spend right now ), I did see the multi-pack, but would be better I think to buy the individual tracts if I’m buying 40 or 50.

Thanks for all the information, materials and resources you provide.  With all that’s coming into the church these days it’s a bit like watching the dam about ready to burst every which way you turn.

Blessings in Christ,

_______________

Dear ___________:

Thank you for your e-mail. We find it very encouraging. Your idea of reaching out to pastors and leaders within your own group is a great idea. The 5 booklets you mentioned above would all be good choices. You might consider starting with Warren Smith’s booklet 10 Scriptural Reasons Why Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book.  If you do, you are welcome to include the letter we wrote with what you send. Please feel free to copy that letter from our article from February 25th.   In two months, we plan to send out a second booklet to this list of leaders (which now has over 125 names on it). That one will be by Ray Yungen, dealing with contemplative prayer. God willing, we will send out a different booklet every two to three months to these people. As we stated in our 2/25 article, we have a sense of desperation to reach these men and women who are influencing and leading millions of people.

Sincerely,

Editors at Lighthouse Trails

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What Christian Leaders Need to Know – The Final Outcome of Practicing Contemplative Prayer: Interspirituality

LTRP Note: With more than 90% of the Christian colleges and seminaries now bringing in contemplative spirituality via Spiritual Formation programs, and with Christian leaders such as Rick Warren and Beth Moore endorsing the movement, and with countless pastors giving it a thumbs up to their congregations, isn’t it time professors, pastors, and leaders understand what the final outcome of contemplative prayer is? Isn’t it time they understand that leading Christians and church goers down this path is leading them away from the Cross, not toward it. At Lighthouse Trails, we believe it is beyond time for this understanding to occur.

One candle and Candles on old wooden background

Photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission.

By Ray Yungen

The final outcome of contemplative prayer is interspirituality. If you have truly grasped the portrait I have tried to paint in my book and articles, you have begun to see what this term signifies. The focus of my criticism of mystical prayer must be understood in the light of interspirituality.

Just what exactly is interspirituality? The premise behind interspirituality is that divinity (God) is in all things, and the presence of God is in all religions; there is a connecting together of all things, and through mysticism (i.e., meditation) this state of divinity can be recognized. Consequently, this is a premise that is based on and upheld by an experience that occurs during a self-hypnotic trance linking one to an unseen world rather than to the sound doctrine of the Bible.

It is important to understand that interspirituality is a uniting of the world’s religions through the common thread of mysticism. Wayne Teasdale, a lay monk who coined the term interspirituality, says that interspirituality is “the spiritual common ground which exists among the world’s religions.”1 Teasdale, in talking about this universal church also states:

She [the church] also has a responsibility in our age to be a bridge for reconciling the human family . . . the Spirit is inspiring her through the signs of the times to open to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Taoists, Confucians, and indigenous peoples. As matrix [a binding substance], the Church would no longer see members of other traditions as outside her life. She would promote the study of these traditions, seek common ground and parallel insights.2 (emphasis mine)

An article in my local newspaper revealed just how well received interspirituality has become in certain circles. One Presbyterian elder who was described as a “Spiritual Director” made it clear when she said:

I also have a strong interest in Buddhism and do a sitting meditation in Portland [Oregon] as often as I can. I considered myself ecumenical not only in the Christian tradition, but with all religions.3 (emphasis mine)

There is a profound and imminent danger taking place within the walls of Christianity. Doctrine has become less important than feeling, and this has led to a mystical paradigm shift. Sound doctrine must be central to this debate because New Ageism has a very idealistic side to it, offering a mystical approach to solve human problems. Everyone would like to have his or her problems solved. Right? That is the practical aspect I wrote about in the last chapter—a seemingly direct route to a happy and fulfilled life. However, one can promote the attributes of God without actually having God.

People who promote a presumably godly form of spirituality can indeed come against the truth of Christ. Then how can you be assured what you believe and practice is of God?

The Christian message has been clear from the beginning—God has sent a Savior. If man only had to practice some kind of mystical prayer to gain access to God then the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fruitless, hollow endeavor.

Sound Christian doctrine comes from the understanding that mankind is sinful, fallen, and separated from God. Man needs a saving work by God! A teaching like panentheism (God is in everybody) cannot be reconciled to the finished work of Christ. How could Jesus be our Savior then? New Age constituents will say He is a model for Christ consciousness, but the Bible teaches He is the Savior of mankind. Therefore, panentheism cannot be a true doctrine.

The problem is that many well-intentioned people embrace the teachings of panentheism because it sounds so good. It appears less bigoted on God’s part. No one is left out—all are connected to God. There is a great appeal in this message. Nevertheless, the Bible does not teach a universal salvation for man. In contrast, Jesus said:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Christ’s message is the polar opposite of these universalist teachings. Many people (even Christians) today think only a few really bad people will be sent to hell. But in Matthew, the words of Jesus make it clear that this just is not so.

While God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the world, He did not say all would be saved. His words are clear that many would reject the salvation He provided. But those who are saved have been given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) making an appeal to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3). The Christian message is not samadhi, Zen, kundalini, or the contemplative silence. It is the power of the Cross!

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Yes, perishing, and not just unaware of their true self.

In an opinion poll, the startling results describe how Americans actually view God. Spirituality and Health magazine hired a reputable pollster organization to gauge the spiritual beliefs of the American public. This national poll revealed that 84 percent of those questioned believed God to be “everywhere and in everything” rather than “someone somewhere.”4 This means panentheism is now the more popular view of God. If true, then a high percentage of evangelical Christians in America already lean towards a panentheistic view of God. Perhaps many of these Christians are fuzzy about the true nature of God.

How could this mystical revolution have come about? How could this perspective have become so widespread? The answer is that over the last thirty or forty years a number of authors have struck a deep chord with millions of readers and seekers within Christendom. These writers have presented and promoted the contemplative view to the extent that many now see it as the only way to “go deeper” in the Christian life. They are the ones who prompt men and women to plunge into contemplative practice. It is their message that leads people to experience the “lights” and the “inner adviser!”

Endnotes:

1.  Wayne Teasdale, “Mysticism as the Crossing of Ultimate Boundaries: A Theological Reflection” (The Golden String newsletter, http://clarusbooks.com/Teasdale.html, accessed 10/2009).
2. Wayne Teasdale, A Monk in the World (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002), p. 64.
3. Jan Alsever quoted in Statesman Journal, January 27th, 1996, Religion Section.
4. Katherine Kurs, “Are You Religious or Are You Spiritual?” (Spirituality & Health Magazine, Spring 2001), p. 28.

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Letter to the Editor: Concerns By Awana Leader About Awana Linking Hands with the Emerging Church

LTRP Note: Lighthouse Trails has had concerns about the direction Awana may be heading for a number of years. This letter (of which we substantiated the contents -see added links) below gives further reason to continue those concerns. Below this letter, you can see links to a few articles we have previously posted about Awana. Are we saying that everything in Awana is bad now and all children should be removed? No, but we are saying that parents need to be watching closely what their children are being taught at Awana; and Awana leaders need to use discernment as well. Unfortunately, as with most organizations we have researched, false teaching comes in through top leadership and does eventually affect an entire organization and its members (in this case children).

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

My family has been involved with the Awana ministry for almost 20 years both as “clubbers” and leaders.

Awana came out with new junior high curriculum. I reviewed one of the books and was not happy. The high school level curriculum too is in the process of being re-written with the help of a man named Josh Griffin. Josh Griffin is the high school pastor for Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Griffin is associated with Doug Fields who was a speaker for Youth Specialties, then went on to be a youth pastor for Saddleback before returning back to work for Youth Specialties. Both Fields and Griffin have written books together and share a blog.

In September, Awana sent out an e-mail invitation to the 2015 National Youth Convention put on by Youth Specialties. Awana had a booth there.

A link on the e-mail connects to a promotional video where you see many people including Tony Campolo. Also Mark Matlock, the director of Youth Specialties tells his audience, “Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church.”

This is chilling considering that the words co-creators and conspirators are words associated with the New Age.

Speakers of the conference included such emerging church personalities as Doug Fields, Dan Kimball, Tony Campolo, Mike King, Jim Burns, and Alan Hirsch. Josh Griffin was the M.C. for the worship sessions.

The convention also offered spiritual directors for one-on-one sessions.

It is truly sad to see Awana linking hands with the emerging church movement.

Sincerely,

F.L.

Lighthouse Trails Research articles on Awana:

(2012)Revisting Awana’s Move Toward Contemplative – And Another Look at “Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation

The Dangers of Spiritual Formation?—And Some Ways it is Influencing Your Children

(2006) Awana Club Now Featuring Book by Youth Specialties Speaker

(2007) Comments on the AWANA Summit Conference

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Letter to the Editor From a Former Young Life Leader: Watered-Down Gospel, Contemplative Authors, & Emergent Leanings

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photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission; digitally altered by Lighthouse Trails.

In 2012, Lighthouse Trails posted an article titled “Young Life’s History of Embracing Contemplative Authors Continues,” showing that the Christian youth organization, Young Life, was introducing Young Life leaders and kids to contemplative/emergent authors and speakers. The article we wrote talked about a meeting we had in 2002 with the Young Life director of training in Oregon, hoping to persuade him of the dangers of the contemplative prayer movement and hoping he would pass along the information to the leaders at the Young Life headquarters in Colorado, which he promised to do. As you can see in our 2012 article, as well as the letter below written by a former Young Life leader, Young Life has not discontinued its promotion of contemplative/emerging. The letter below is just one leader’s experience, but we believe it contains valuable insight into how an organization, which started with a sincere desire to help young people, can get off track by minimizing its focus on the Gospel and the Word of God in order to “reach kids.” As we have so often said, so many leaders in the church have set aside the true lasting power of the Gospel for limited powerless substitutes.

Dear Editors of Lighthouse Trails:

I have benefited greatly from the research on your website, helping me to understand the origins of false gospel movements in the Christian community.

It has been nearly five years since I resigned from working for a popular, global youth ministry. Because of its popularity, it has been difficult for me to discuss my experience and found few who want to hear the reality. I want to share my story in hope of helping someone else who might be struggling, as I did.

My husband and I discovered Young Life in our late twenties when we moved to a smaller town. After going through the “40 Days of Purpose” book with our church, we were determined to find a place of service where our gifts could be used for God. I had a college degree in public health with an emphasis in adolescence and had worked in several youth organizations to prevent kids from using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. I sincerely thought that as a Christian, if I were serious about helping kids, with Jesus as the only real solution instead of a band-aid fix from a state program, then I should go all-in. I would forsake my public health career to serve the Lord in ministry.

My husband jumped in to volunteer as a leader, and I took a part-time job as an office administrator for the local Young Life chapter. We quickly became absorbed into the culture of this ministry of warm and generous Christians.

“Incarnational Evangelism” is the term I began reading and learning about as I immersed myself into the culture. It’s difficult to describe the fast-paced, messy, impulsive, do-whatever-it-takes-to-love-kids by serving them to Christ environment I dove into. Every week at club, we would try to lure the kids with a media-rich, party atmosphere and then a short gospel message, attempting to convince them that Jesus was what they needed. There was also great pressure to get them to camp at the end of the year because surely their eyes would be opened if we prayed hard enough and loved hard enough too. There at camp, away from hometown distractions, they would hear the gospel a little every night followed up by a cabin discussion. Through our example of loving them, the hope was that the Holy Spirit would work on hearts, and they would see Christ and realize He is “better than beer” and would fulfill them, giving them an abundant life. And, if they rejected the gospel, that was okay, because we would love them anyway. We did not realize we had created in our selves a kind of pseudo-martyr philosophy.

It wasn’t long into my time there before I thought I would make this my career. I eventually moved up from office administrator and volunteer leader to part-time, career, middle-school program director.  I remember adopting this different perspective of serving Christ and sharing the gospel without ever having to talk about hell, God’s judgement, or that no one is righteous by his own works. Despite Young Life’s Statement of Faith in which I agreed and signed onto, it was the philosophy of incarnational evangelism and its focus on love and grace that became more dominant (largely due to the books and spiritual formation training I was given).  I actually started to believe that I could reject the notion I had from reading the Bible, that I’d really have to suffer rejection like Jesus did in order to share the gospel.  I remember thinking, this mighty, positive, well-funded, popular, contagiously exciting and loving community of people, adventure, and rewards, would be my new avenue to a lifetime of serving God! This was a pseudo-servant attitude of sacrifice that I was developing; later it would come crashing down.

In my town, Young Life had a very positive image with many leaders in the community who personally supported it monthly. The director of the program was hard working, charismatic, and seemed to know everyone and was liked by everyone. Later, I realized what a conflict of interest this was as the pressure to maintain your program funding sources required you to cultivate a sterling image in the community. This came at the cost of sharing the true gospel, which proclaims that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and salvation found in the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Rejecting that puts you in violation of the Law and under eternal judgment. The social pressure to draw wealthy supporters causes directors to keep the message warm and fuzzy but frighteningly devoid of the truth and meat of the gospel. Our focus was off-center from the truth of the whole gospel. Instead, the focus became serving our community by reaching out to lost kids and helping them get through this difficult time in their life by loving them and spending time with them. I became another program builder, promoter, fundraiser, and half-truth teller in a branded YL shirt with a smiley face.

Frantically running from one activity to the next, all the while praying and wanting people to come to Christ but with very little lasting fruit, I became disturbed. In the schools, I would do what is known as “contact work.” I spent time volunteering in various ways, often as mundane as crowd control at lunch time, for example. This would permit you to visit with students, making contact so that eventually the kids would see you as a friendly face. Then, in time and through word of mouth, kids would come to club where a snippet of the gospel was mingled with exhilarating games, crazy stunts or skits so that kids were entertained and able to listen to you tell the most important part of why we get together: Jesus.

We bent over backward to serve kids to Christ. Feeding, entertaining, listening, and driving them to and fro, leading them by fun experiences and hopefully meaningful conversations that would discuss Christ, but honestly it didn’t come up as often as I would like. Often, kids learned that they could just smile and tell us what we wanted to hear in order to get what they wanted or needed that day. Some would want to meet and study the Bible, but the truths from Scripture just never seemed to take effect in their lives. I’ll never forget one encounter with some girls who were regular attenders and classic examples of shallow soil. They told me they knew that every question asked in small group discussion could be easily answered. All you had to say was either, “Pray more, or read the bible more.”

Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely loved and prayed for the kids I ministered to, but I was so ineffective at leading them to Christ, I felt like a poser. I wanted them to know the Lord like I did, but I was cut off from sharing the gospel or talking about it at school where I was spending my time. Kids would ask me, “Why are you here?” I couldn’t tell them it was to share Jesus because I would get thrown out of that public school because the understanding we had made with the administrators was, that we were there to assist them and be a positive adult role models, not evangelizing kids in the hallways. As a program leader, I walked a fine line not wanting to upset relationships in the community that took a long time to build.  I just had to say, “It’s because I care about kids, and that’s why I’m here.” Kids who had been to camp before with me would say, “This is the lady that took me to camp.” I became just a gateway to a cool summer camp that was like a resort for exclusive young people who got into the “club.” Not just anyone can go to a Young Life camp, you have to come with a leader from a Young Life area group.

The founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn, taught that if you can “win the right to be heard” in a kid’s life, then they will automatically want to hear the gospel and likely want Christ to change their life too. In addition, if you are as compelling in Christ, like Jim Rayburn was purported to be, then flocks of kids will come to hear the gospel. He taught that when they know that you care, they’ll listen to whatever you have to say because that’s all that a kid these days is looking for.

This was the illusion of what has become modern youth ministry. It was productive in activities, busyness, and massive effort while producing metric data of campers and club attendees. You show this to your donor list of business leaders, and they are proud to support it. But on the other side of the same coin, it was absolutely fruitless in converting hearts to Christ and saving lives from a slavery of sin. So afraid of losing our hip, entertaining youth haven with the community, we often missed the opportunity to share the whole gospel truth. This is where I started noticing that I was not being faithful to Christ. We were not teaching of God’s righteousness or need to repent of sin in accordance with God’s Word. I was promoting another gospel of love and grace, and I was living a lie to these kids.

At camp, there was a ceremony at the end of the week for kids who made commitments to Christ. These commitments were by way of a leader so they could be corroborated. Some were legitimate, some were merely caught up in the emotion of the week or trying to garner favor from leaders or other campers, perhaps. The ceremony entailed throwing a rock in the pond symbolizing their old life, then putting another rock on a pile symbolizing their new life.  From that moment on, they were supposed to enjoy reading the free Bible they were given, remembering they were new creations in Christ; you were forgiven and free. In reality, these kids were exhausted, sunburned and barely understood their emotions, thoughts or what they had actually committed to. The ceremony was as good as it got when it came to follow up. The kids were being released into the wild soon and with that, the rush of emotions from their time “on the mountain” would end. Often, so would their new found faith as well.

I tried so hard in following up with kids when we got home. Often kids went from their “camp high” back to life, and didn’t want to get together and study the Bible with me. And honestly, why would they?! There is a saying that I heard later, that “What you lead them by, you lead them to.” We were leading the kids to Jesus by fun, emotional attachment to leaders, experiences, but not by the Word of God. I was convicted when I read scripture teaching “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). In my time at Young Life, the scripture “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7), was not something we truly esteemed. We did not use it to lead kids to Christ, clearly and from the beginning. It was as if I was ashamed of the gospel.

After praying and trying to work out a time to connect with kids upon returning from camp, it was time for the hectic cycle to begin again. Time to get back to club/camp promotion (there were short Fall and Winter camps also), fundraising golf tournaments, the annual auction, and of course, contact work to get a new crop of kids to the next fun activity where they just might hear about Jesus.  When I would become depleted during these times, questioning whether this was really working, I would look at the smiley face postcards of myself and other leaders with kids that we would send to donors. Maybe watch an inspirational video from the Young Life national office to pump me up about how faithful we were to Christ. All this to assuage my disturbed conscience as I gradually understood how far from the gospel we were. We also attended mandatory, regional Young Life staff meetings and trainings, which also helped numb the conscience and wrestling of my mind with the Holy Spirit’s convictions that something was not right.

However, the spiritual food we received at these trainings was a heavy dose of flattery, “understanding youth culture,” and spiritual formation teaching. I was given free gifts of books by contemplative and emerging church authors, Young Life-branded clothing, and my very own Message/NIV parallel Bible. We were led through lectio-divina exercises, silence, fasting, prayer, coupled with great food and fun play times with other staff. To help us feel valued these often took place at the beach or a donor’s nice home. I loved these times of get away and retreat; they made me feel special and important, but they didn’t answer some of the nagging problems with the fruitlessness I was seeing as a result of our great efforts to win kids to Christ. We were not trained in how to share the gospel, basic apologetics, like refuting arguments of evolution or inerrancy of Scripture. The intern training program and staff trainings I went to did not handle that information, but it was reserved for those who went to seminary classes through Young life. It wasn’t until after I left Young Life that I realized the reasons for that lack of training were likely due to how controversial these issues had become in the church. As many differing and more liberal interpretations of Scripture were being taught, we seemed to shrink away from specific views on doctrine. What I learned instead through the staff training was that it was better to keep a “good vibe going” through self-help focused spirituality and experiencing “God’s love” through the staff community.

I was conflicted and really dying on the inside, surely grieving the Holy Spirit. After several episodes of spiritual abuse with my direct supervisor that led me to seek a counselor for anxiety, I realized something was very wrong. I believed the Word of God to be my source of strength and clarity. Yet I was so confused how to reconcile what I was reading with what I was doing in ministry. The two seemed worlds apart, and no one else involved in the ministry seemed to see it. I was getting depressed and barely able to keep going in my work. In one of many prayer times with the Lord, at the end of my rope, I cried out to the Lord. My heart truly wanted to bring Him glory with my life. I repented of seeking a group of people promoting another Jesus, another gospel instead of being true to His word. God woke me up and revealed once again to me through Scripture how dangerously involved I had become in promoting a false gospel. I had been listening to false teaching and in love with the group experience instead of in love with Him and His Word. I learned that you cannot separate God from His Word.

Through my time in Young Life, I was exposed to the teachings of: The Message and Eugene Peterson, Brother Lawrence, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, Richard Foster, Tony Campolo, Rob Bell, Jesus Calling and Sarah Young, Henry Nouwen, William P. Young, Upper Room Book’s “Guide To Prayer,”  John Piper, Phillip Yancey, Chris Lowney (Jesuit Leadership), Stephen Covey, Donald Miller, Peter Scazzero and more. After five years of ministry, I resigned from Young Life, and the Lord has been very good to me and my family. I don’t doubt that other leaders may have had a better and more honest-to-Scripture experience in this ministry, but this was mine and why I had to leave.

Jennifer Roberts (pen name to protect her privacy and her family)

Related Information:

For resources from Lighthouse Trails that deal with protecting children and youth people, click here.

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