Cornerstone University Update: Recommends Brian McLaren and Other Emergent Mystics & President Promotes Contemplative Spirituality

Today we received a phone call from a Lighthouse Trails reader asking what the recent status on Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan is. In 2006, we placed the Christian university on our Contemplative Colleges list and posted the following (we replaced any broken links we could find):

Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan states that they have “a rich heritage of equipping students with biblical truths to make an impact in the world for Christ.”1 We first learned about Cornerstone when we posted a link last year to an excellent article written by the president of the university, Dr. Rex Rogers. Recently, we discovered that the link to the article was no longer working. In checking the University site, we did not find the article but what we did find was that the university now has a Spiritual Formation program that is promoting contemplative and the emerging church. On the Spiritual Formation resources page, resources include many from the contemplative and emerging camps. When students read these “excellent books that cover important elements of discipleship” from authors such as Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, Richard Foster, Lauren Winner, Jim Wallis,John Burke and John Ortberg, they are going to be introduced to panentheism, interspirituality and Eastern style meditation.

In addition to this, on Cornerstone’s recommended reading list (also part of their Spiritual Formation program), they have books by contemplatives and emergent leaders: Brennan Manning, Brian McLaren, Mike Yaconelli, Robert Webber, Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Furthermore, a search on Cornerstone’s search engine brings up 17 documents with Brian McLaren and 19 with Leonard Sweet. Incidentally, Brian McLaren was a chapel speaker last fall. (Those two messages can be listened to via the Internet. – link removed.) The university is also introducing lectio divina through the Spiritual Formation program.

Once again, young people, many from loving and devoted Christian homes, are being subjected to false teachings, and most likely nbeknownst to their trusting parents.

2013 Update:

Same Guys as 2006: While some of the links from the 2006 article above are no longer working at Cornerstone University, there is every evidence to believe that the school is still promoting contemplative spirituality and emerging church leaders such as Brian McLaren. On the current Spiritual Formation resources page, you will still find Brian McLaren, Dallas Willard, Mike Yaconelli, Brennan Manning, Robert Webber, Richard Foster, Jim Wallis and other contemplative/emerging figures. This list filled with some of the most prolific and influential leaders in the New Spirituality “Christianity” today. Here are a few examples:

Terra Firma for Freshman: This is a program designed for Freshman to “helping you build a firm foundation in your first year at Cornerstone.” There are four books listed as “Required Materials.” We’d like to draw your attention to two of the four:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – Miller is part of the emerging church. (see our research and this: Blue Like Jazz Movie Hits Theaters – A Word About Blue Like Jazz, the Book )

What Can I Do? by David Livermore – This 2011 book has a forward by mysticism/New Age advocate Rob Bell. What more need we say on that? Except we’ll throw in this, Livermore quotes from Rob Bell’s book Drops Like Stars, and we have an interesting review of that book. Just more documentation to show the direction Cornerstone University has gone in. Of all the books in the Christian world available, Cornerstone picks a book that emergent activist Rob Bell writes a foreword to for incoming Freshman. That is quite remarkable (in a negative sense)!

New President Since 2006: In 2008, Cornerstone University received a new president, Joseph M. Stowell, who had before that been the president of Moody Bible Institute. Stowell is an advocate of contemplative spirituality as can been seen in his various writings such as on this blog he writes:, where he talks about contemplative books he likes such as Leighton Ford’s very contemplative book, The Attentive Life.  On his blog, he also favorably talks about Philip Yancey, lectio divina, and has a favorable book review of Will Sampson’s book, Justice in the Burbs, saying “It may even expand your theology.” But Sampson, who was a contributing writer to the emerging church primer, The Emergent Manifesto, is part of the emerging church. Roger Oakland writes a section about Sampson in Faith Undone showing where Sampson minimizes the value of the authority of the Word of God. On Stowell’s blog, Stowell says, “Being contemplative is remembering the end game.” It is apparent that Stowell does not understand what the true “end game” of contemplative is: panentheism and interspirituality (the antitheses of the Gospel).

At this point, we feel it would be worthwhile to post a section of Gary Gilley’s review of Leighton Ford’s book, The Attentive Life. We believe it will help to show why we are so adamant in warning about contemplative spirituality. The fact that Stowell, the president of a large Christian university(ies), is recommending Ford’s book and finds it a “good read” illustrates how terribly lacking in discernment today’s Christian leaders are. Incidentally, Stowell works alongside Mart DeHaan at Radio Bible Class, which has been promoting contemplative authors for some time. We are not sure who influenced who here, but for sure, Stowell is part of RBC’s move toward contemplative. And now a portion of Gilley’s review:.

[Ford] equates his attentive practices with centering prayer as explained by Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Keating, “We wait quietly in God’s presence, perhaps repeating a ‘sacred word,’ [mantra] and let go of our thoughts….  Centering prayer is not so much an exercise of attention as intention” (p. 179; cp pp. 11-13, 24, 129, 176, 190).

Secondly, the methods recommended for the attentive life come primarily from Roman Catholic mysticism:  the Benedictine Prayer Hours, monasticism (p. 21), labyrinths (pp. 51-52), lectio divina (pp. 65, 93-96), use of spiritual directors (p. 66), praying the Jesus Prayer (p. 77), centering prayer (pp. 129, 176, 179), the examen (p. 197), Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (p. 197), with a dose of Quakerism (p. 26, 124) and Celtic “thin places and prayers,” thrown in (pp. 159, 211).

Finally, virtually all of Ford’s spiritual heroes are mystic: Douglas Steere (a Quaker), G.K. Chesterton, Julian of Norwich, Henri Nouwen, Simone Weil, Gregory Nazianzus, Vincent Donovan,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Eugene Peterson, St. Fursey, Lesslie Newbigin, Dallas Willard, Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, Anthony Bloom, Kierkegaard, fourth century monk John Cassian, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, Alice Fryling, St. Francis, Hilary of Tours, Marcus Loane (Archbishop of Sydney, Australia), Carlo Carletto, David Steindl-Rast, Bishop A. Jack Dain, Quaker Thomas Kelly, Hwee Hwee Tan and Catherine of Siena.

In addition, Ford makes strange statements that border on pantheism (p. 91), describes God as “pure energy” (p. 177) rather than Spirit and talks about being able to see Christ in our faces (pp. 194-196).

To say all of this is disturbing is an understatement.  What little value might be contained in The Attentive Life is completely negated by the unbiblical practices and teachings found throughout this book.  It is astounding that a man who once preached the gospel of Christ could have drifted so far. (source)

Cornerstone University was heading into contemplative long before Joseph Stowell became president, but with his contemplative propensities, Cornerstone won’t be stopping its contemplative focus anytime in the near future.

August 2013 Update: A 2013 textbook list that has come to our attention on the Cornerstone website shows a number of contemplative/emerging promoting books.

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