This past weekend Emergent Village held the Midwest Emergent Gathering. Speakers included the typical emerging church comrades: Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and an array of other emergents. One speaker though would not be considered a typical one – John Armstrong, a professor at Wheaton College and Christian author.
For people who are familiar with Armstrong, hearing him talk so favorably about the recent Midwest Emergent Gathering, will be disquieting to say the least. It certainly has been a surprise to us at Lighthouse Trails. And here is why: Emergent Village (the emerging church web presence) is immersed in mystical spirituality and the New Age (ancient wisdom). This is a fact that we have documented many times. Some may suggest that Armstrong is not aware of the dangers of mysticism (i.e., contemplative) or of New Age spirituality. But nearly seven years ago, before Lighthouse Trails existed, we had met Ray Yungen, author of A Time of Departing. At that time, he was carrying around an unpublished manuscript of his book. By happenstance, Armstrong was in Ray’s hometown (Salem, Oregon) and met one of the editors of the manuscript who handed Armstrong a copy of it. He promised to read it. A few weeks later, I received an email from Armstrong saying that if Ray would remove chapter 6 of the book (titled “The End of the Age”), he would ask Harvest House publishers to publish it. After prayerful consideration, Ray decided that chapter 6 must remain. But even though Armstrong was not going to help with the book at this point, he said that Yungen was right-on in his deductions of contemplative prayer, and he found the book to be exceptional. Shortly thereafter Lighthouse Trails was birthed and A Time of Departing was published.
In a blog posting for July 23rd written by Armstrong, he discusses his time at this past weekend’s gathering.1 He calls Tony Jones’ book, The Sacred Way, “excellent.” How Armstrong could call this book excellent is mind-boggling. Listen to Roger Oakland discuss The Sacred Way, and then decide for yourself if it is indeed “excellent.” Oakland states:
After growing up in a traditional Midwestern church-going family, Jones became disillusioned. He took a three-month sabbatical from his job to travel to Europe where he visited a prayer center for young people. Known as the Reading Boiler Room, the center hosted a 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week prayer vigil and called themselves a “Generation X monastery.” Jones also traveled to Dublin, Ireland, where he met with Catholic priest Alan McGuckian and the staff at the Jesuit Communication Center. He then spent time at Taize, a contemplative ecumenical community in southern France. Jones explains how this physical journey set him on a spiritual journey that revolutionized his thinking and spiritual beliefs:
I voraciously read authors and books they didn’t assign in seminary: St. John of the Cross, St Theresa of Avila, and Pilgrim’s Way. I met with other Protestants, with Roman Catholics, and with Eastern Orthodox Christians. I took a long hike in the Red Mountains of Utah with a shaman [a guru-type leader who practices altered states of consciousness].
According to Jones, this journey led him out of the darkness into the light. He now desires to be an evangelist for his new-found spirituality. He says, “there is incredible richness in the spiritual practices of ancient and modern Christian communities from around the world.”
Jones said he found new ways of praying and meditating. One of those ways is the Jesus Prayer. Jones explains how this is done:
[S]eated comfortably in a dimly lit room with the head bowed, attend to your breathing, and then begin the prayer in rhythm with your breathing. Breathe in: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God;” breathe out: “have mercy on me a sinner.” Guarding the mind against all distractions, the pray-er focuses during every repetition on the meaning of the words, praying them from the heart and in the heart… In order to keep track of my repetitions, I use a prayer rope.
Jones says that monasteries in Greece make these prayer ropes. Each one has one hundred knots in it, and each knot holds nine crosses. Another meditation practice Jones encourages is centering prayer. He states:
Like the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers… Unlike the Jesus Prayer, a repetitive prayer is not used. The pray-er is encouraged to choose a simple, monosyllabic word, like “love” or “God.”
When the mind is distracted, this word is used to bring the mind back to focus on God.
Tony Jones’ spiritual journey is typical of many others who are headed down the same road. Jones is convinced these mystical practices provide a way for him to get closer to God. He expresses his attraction to the mystical:
Maybe it’s that there’s something mystical and mysterious about these ancient rites, like we’re tapping into some pre-technological, pre-industrial treasury of the Spirit.
Such a pragmatic approach to spirituality is a recipe for spiritual deception. Jones, whether he realizes it or not, has become an evangelist for the ancient wisdom [occultism]. Going into altered states of consciousness through repetitive chants and focusing on the breath have become part of his gospel message (see Faith Undone, pp. 104-106 for citations).
In an article by Jones titled “On Sabbatical,” he reiterates some of these things Oakland discusses.
Tony Jones has also said:
Emergent doesn’t have a position on absolute truth, or on anything for that matter. Do you show up at a dinner party with your neighbors and ask, ‘What’s this dinner party’s position on absolute truth?’ No, you don’t, because it’s a non-sensical question.”
In John Armstrong’s post-convention article, he states that yoga-proponent Doug Pagitt “has a quick wit, an engaging style of speaking and a deep love for real ministry.”
Armstrong says: “I found a lot to like about Emergent.” He clearly was impressed with the friendliness and warmth the emergent leaders showed him this past weekend. But he is getting something very mixed up. It is possible that one could attend a New Age or Mormon meeting and be treated very warmly also – but this does not constitute that truth is being taught.
The emergent leaders, whether they all realize it or not, are promoting a pantheistic, interspiritual religion that negates the Cross and the Atonement (see our links below) and has a premise based on mystical, New Age philosophy. It is a sad state of affairs when a Christian leader misses this and gives credence to a movement that will only draw lost souls further away from the truth and the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Armstrong also mentions another emergent leader who left an impression on him, Will Sampson. Of Sampson, he states: “I met Will and enjoyed his imaginative gifts and kind spirit.” Armstrong refers to a book titled An Emergent Manifesto of Hope of which Sampson is a contributing author. In that book, Sampson condemns “sola scriptura,” the belief that the Word of God is the final authority and is absolutely true. Sampson says:
Sola scriptura also tends to downplay the role of God’s Spirit in shaping the direction of the church. Of greatest importance to this discussion is the fact that often people subscribing to sola scriptura do not take into account the subjectivity of human interpreters (p. 156).
Armstrong tells readers to pick up a copy of Sampson’s book, and he encourages them to read it. When he says that Sampson is “imaginative” and “kind,” he should have also warned that he believes the Bible might not be all that accurate. Sampson also finds that the “Protestant Reformation … caused large parts of the church to split off from what was the global unified church [the Catholic Church]” (p. 159). He suggests that it is better “being together” than “being right.” Essentially, Sampson has given a verbal slap in the face to those who were martyred for standing against the Catholic Church and standing for the faith, and by Armstrong’s pleasant reference to him and to the whole emergent movement, hasn’t Armstrong done the same? Armstrong is playing in the enemy’s camp and flirting with spiritual deception of the strongest kind. We hope he will reconsider the direction in which he apparently heading.
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