Is General Baptist Ministries Going Toward Contemplative?

Is the General Baptist Ministries (General Association of General Baptists) going toward contemplative spirituality? The General Baptist denomination has been around since the late 1800s, with presently over 800 churches and over 70,000 members. Their Statement of Faith lays out a biblical plan of salvation and the Christian faith. But the movement appears to be leaning toward contemplative spirituality.

On the organization’s main website, it reads:

General Baptists are moving forward under the theme of “No Church Left Behind.” To leave no church behind, our efforts will be centered in “Gaining Agenda Harmony” and “Building Movement Loyalty.” We will be actively involved in the assignment given the church to take the planet for Christ.

One of the people they will be turning to to help with this vision is Jennifer Kennedy Dean, the author of Heart’s Cry: Principles of Prayer. In her book, Kennedy Dean says:

God calls us to silence, inner as well as outer. He invites us to listening prayer [contemplative prayer] … in the inner sanctuary of our souls…. Listening prayer is the ground from which spoken prayer grows. Spoken prayer will not reach its fullness unless it is born in listening prayer” (p. 127).

This listening prayer, Kennedy Dean says brings about a “place of His presence,” in which “You will find Him.” She adds:

God has things to tell you…. Something you didn’t know before?…. When we learn the art of silence, then we create the setting in which God can reveal to us His secrets…. We are not programmed for silence. It does not come naturally to sit quietly in God’s presence without words. Listening to God is a learned discipline” (pp. 128-129).

Kennedy Dean tells readers they will find this “center” as they “visualize the presence of God, visualize yourself in that presence …. In His presence, I feel the need to empty myself. I visualize placing things on His altar” (p. 129).

In the back of Dean’s book, she recommends two other books she wrote for more information on “listening prayer.” In one of those books, Riches Stored in Secret Places, Dean references panentheist Thomas Kelly. It is Kelly, a panentheist, who said that within every human being is a divine center, a holy sanctuary (from A Testament of Devotion). Dean quotes Kelly from his chapter called “The Light Within,” in which Dean refers to the “secret sanctuary” (p. 43). This “secret sanctuary” Kelly is speaking of is what Kelly calls “abiding Light behind all changing [life] forms.” Kelly says: “In that Current we must bathe. In that abiding yet energizing Center we are all made one” (p. 38).” In referring to this “secret sanctuary,” which Kelly says is in all of life, Dean tells readers to use “the meditative exercises” in her book. Some of the techniques Dean refers to are lectio divina and visualization (though she does not call them this, but she describes them).

Kennedy Dean will be a speaker at the Women’s Conference during the General Baptist Mission & Ministry Summit (July 28-30) this year. In addition, Larry McKain will also be speaking. 1 McKain is the founder and Executive Director of New Church Specialties, which coaches and mentors pastors and leaders through the New Church University. The University is using books by an array of contemplative and or/ emerging authors to train these leaders. Some of these are: Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Steven Covey, leadership guru John Maxwell, mystic proponent Jim Collins, contemplative/emerging proponent Rick Warren, and New Age meditation proponent Ken Blanchard.

In addition to the upcoming conference where McKain will be speaking, GBM is working closely with McKain’s organization. On the GBM website, under Congregational Ministries, congregations are encouraged to seek after “church renewal and refocus through New Church University training.” This means that General Baptist congregations everywhere could potentially be introduced to Leonard Sweet, Ken Blanchard, and the others whom the University points to and recommends.

Lighthouse Trails spoke with General Baptist Ministries director, Dr. Steven Gray, and we asked him to describe the relationship between New Church Specialties and GBM. He told us that a “partnership” between the two organizations had been formed. He did state that even though the New Church University is using McLaren and Sweet’s books, the General Baptist Ministries is not. But he did acknowledge that GBM is recommending books by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard.

Not surprisingly, the General Baptist Small Groups manual tells small group leaders to train their groups to practice Solitude and Silence. As Chuck Swindoll does in his book, So You Want to Be Like Christ: Eight Essential Disciplines to Get You There, the manual differentiates between an outer quietness, Solitude (removing tv, radio, sitting by a stream), and Silence. This is important to understand. While all believers should spend quiet time in prayer, study, and contemplating and thinking about God’s Word and His attributes, we are never instructed in Scripture to enter a mental silence where the mind is put in a type of neutral state. For those who may wonder if this is what the General Baptist Ministry is really alluding to, one only needs to look at who they are recommending in the manual: Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Larry Crabb, Dan Allender, and Bill Hybels.

The General Baptist Summit is sponsored in part by Oakland City University (Indiana). The General Baptist school is also pointing to contemplative/emerging authors. For instance, in Worship Leadership 305, the instructor uses textbooks by emerging leader, the late Robert Webber. In RS 101 (Church Life) and T 505, the professors are using a textbook by the late emerging church friend and mentor, Stanley Grenz. Other authors being used that would be in a similar camp are Steve Sjogren, Rick Warren, Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, Buddhist sympathizer Peter Senge, and Philip Yancey.

The General Baptist Ministries are not the only ones turning to McKain’s organization for training of leaders. A list on the GBM website includes 21 denominations using the materials and instruction from the New Church Specialties. A few of those are: Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, Free Methodists, and Independent Bible Churches. One thing that Lighthouse Trails finds troubling is an endorsement for McKain’s University by Nazarene General Superintendent Dr. Jim Diehl 2. When A Time of Departing first was released in 2002, Jim Diehl read that book and contacted Lighthouse Trails to say that he wholeheartedly agreed with its message. At that time, we warned him that contemplative was coming fast into his denomination, largely at that time through the Nazarene seminaries.

While GBM may not currently be using the recommended teachings of Leonard Sweet in their training, the General Baptist partnership with McKain and the University gives a green light to GBM churches to explore Sweet’s and Blanchard’s materials. It is Leonard Sweet who has stated that “the power of small groups is in their ability to develop the discipline to get people ‘in-phase’ with the Christ consciousness and connected with one another.” P. 147 So one can only wonder, is this christ consciousness what some General Baptists will ultimately find? If they turn to Sweet, the answer is yes. We pray and hope that General Baptist Ministries will reconsider their partnership with New Church Specialties and also their affinity with Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and other contemplatives. Otherwise they may end up with a kind of thinking that brought Ken Blanchard to say: “Buddha points to the path and invites us to begin our journey to enlightenment. I … invite you to begin your journey to enlightened work.” (from What Would Buddha Do At Work) or Richard Foster to say, “We should all without shame enroll in the school of contemplative prayer” (COD, p. 13).

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