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).

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