LifeWay Stores Drops “Warning” Labels on Emergent Books – Says Not Relevant Anymore

According to a Christianity Today article, LifeWay Christian Stores (resource department for Southern Baptist Convention) has decided to end their “Read with Discernment” labels program that began in 2007.1 Books that LifeWay was carrying at that time by emerging church authors such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren were suppose to receive labels telling potential readers that they should used discernment when reading the books as the books “may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.” But, says Christianity Today, LifeWay has decided to end the warning program. Chris Rodgers, LifeWay’s director of product standards and customer relations, said: “We have been thinking about doing away with them for some time . . . They have kind of become irrelevant.”

It was in August 2006 that Lighthouse Trails wrote its first report about LifeWay Christian Stores. Our article titled “Does Southern Baptist Lifeway Stores Promote Contemplative Spirituality & the Emerging Church” showed that LifeWay was carrying many titles by emerging, mysticism-promoting authors such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and Ken Blanchard, to name a few. In addition, our report showed that LifeWay was in an “alliance partnership” with Leadership Network, the launchpad for the modern day emergent movement (and an organization that still today promotes emerging figures).

In October of 2006, Lighthouse Trails issued another report titled “Lifeway Stores Says OK to New Age Sympathizing Authors,where we showed a letter written by Jim Shull of LifeWay Christian Stores defending their selling books by Nouwen, Keating, and other mystics. The following day we posted “The Spirituality of Thomas Keating” to show why Keating did not fall in line with biblical Christianity.

One day after our Keating article, we posted “Can LifeWay Stores Really Change Direction?”   That article stated:

The question many may be asking right now is, “Now that this has been brought to LifeWay’s attention, can they and will they once and for all stop calling the books in question “Christian” when they actually promote Eastern mysticism, panentheism and other New Age spiritualities?” While we believe that LifeWay may indeed remove some of the titles, as they did recently with 14 titles on Yoga and Buddhism, it will take more than removing books to break the ties with contemplative and the emerging church (both of which have New Age premises).

It seemed by January of 2007 that the situation at LifeWay Christian Stores wasn’t getting any better.  Lighthouse Trails featured an article   by Ethics Daily titled Gay-Friendly Authors Populate SBC’s LifeWay Site, which showed that the Southern Baptist Convention book outlet was carrying books by Homosexual/Lesbian/ Transgendered/Pro-gay authors. According to the Ethics Daily article, there were several books by William Stringfellow (1929-1985) on LifeWay’s site – Stringfellow was described as a gay, lay theologian, social activist and mentor to Sojourners and Walter Wink. (also see Paul Proctor’s 6/10/08 article on this.

In February of 2007, Associated Baptist Press reported “LifeWay removes ‘questionable’ online titles; seeks to improve filtering process.”   The article stated: “LifeWay Christian Resources has removed a number of pro-gay titles from its online store, LifeWaystores.com, after staffers became aware of the books’ availability.”

While LifeWay’s obvious efforts to clean up their store were admirable, Lighthouse Trails issued a concern at that time:

While it is commendable that LifeWay is making serious efforts to improve the content of their online bookstore, there are still countless books on the LifeWay bookstore website that promote contemplative spirituality, some of which are blatantly promoting the New Age. Some of the authors on their site who promote/teach contemplative (i.e., mantra meditation) are: Leonard Sweet, Gary Thomas, Alan Jones, Richard Foster, and Brennan Manning, along with many others.

In July of that same year, Lighthouse Trails posted a book review on Marjorie Thompson’s very contemplative, New Age-sympathizing book, Soul Feast. We reported concerns that so many Christian venues were using or carrying her book. LifeWay was named among those that did. A brief look here at Thompson’s book will  help readers to understand the concern Lighthouse Trails had about LifeWay’s selections. In Soul Feast, Thompson states:

Some Christians find that “mindfulness meditation,” a traditional Buddhist practice, helps them live their Christian discipleship more faithfully. . . .

The practice of contemplative prayer might give a Christian ground for constructive dialogue with a meditating Buddhist. (pp ix-x)

At the time we wrote the book review, Thompson was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA and  a director for The Pathways Center (part of the Upper Room Ministries). Upper Room is a religious organization that promotes Eastern style meditation and is the creator of the popular, meditation tool Walk to Emmaus.

In Soul Feast, Thompson’s “Annotated Bibliography” (books she favors) is a who’s who of pantheistic contemplatives including: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Anthony de Mello, Tilden Edwards, Edward Hays, Morton Kelsey, and Parker Palmer. Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello, author of Sadhana: A Way To God, says this of meditation:

A Jesuit friend once told me that he approached a Hindu guru for initiation in the art of prayer. The guru said to him, “Concentrate on your breathing.” My friend proceeded to do just that for about five minutes. Then the guru said, “The air you breathe is God. You are breathing God in and out. Become aware of that, and stay with that awareness.” (FMSCN, p. 119)

Soul Feast is peppered with quotes by and references to staunch New Agers like Matthew Fox (The Coming of the Cosmic Christ), Gerald May, and M. Scott Peck. Others in the book are Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Brother Lawrence (see our research site for detailed information on these names). All of these named have one thing in common – they believe in the silent altered state that is induced through contemplative prayer, which has led to most of them  to embrace a panentheistic universalistic view of “God.”

By 2008, the warning had been issued to LifeWay; Lighthouse Trails moved on with other issues with the hope that LifeWay would truly embrace  their said mission statement supporting biblical Christianity rather than mystical, emerging contemplative spirituality. It was disheartening to learn two years later that while LifeWay still had many contemplative authors, there was one group of authors they did not embrace – the authors of Lighthouse Trails. An April 2009 Lighthouse Trails article, “LifeWay Stores Erroneously Tells Customers Lighthouse Trails Books “Out of Print,” revealed that not only was LifeWay not carrying any Lighthouse Trails books, but in many cases (which we verified) they were telling customers who were looking for our books that our books were “out of print.” We stated:

An office administrator at LifeWay corporate office told Lighthouse Trails that store managers should be telling customers that the books are in print but that LifeWay will not order them or make them available for their customers. (LifeWay has placed a “D” status – for discontinued – on all Lighthouse Trails books.) Lighthouse Trails informed the office administrator at LifeWay that we did not expect LifeWay to carry our books because of our differing views on mysticism (i.e. contemplative spirituality) . . .

In our conversation with the LifeWay office administrator, Lighthouse Trails explained that it seemed unethical and dishonest for a Christian organization (Southern Baptist Convention) of its size, income, and influence to mislead customers in this manner toward a small Christian publisher. The LifeWay administrator said that instructions might be issued to the stores that customers should be told accurate information about books that LifeWay does not offer but that are still in print and available through other normal distribution channels (Ingram, SpringArbor, CBD, Amazon, etc.).

LifeWay was carrying The Shack at that time and still does today, but apparently, according to the Christianity Today article, the warning label for discernment will be removed from the book.2

While the online LifeWay Christian Stores website appears to be  no longer carrying books by Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, or Brian McLaren, according to the Christianity Today article, LifeWay walk in stores may still be carrying some emerging church authors. CT states:

At the LifeWay store in Franklin, Tennessee, the shelf featuring Young’s The Shack had a warning label, while [Donald] Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years had a bookmark in it telling buyers to ask for more information at the checkout desk. . . .

Shaun Groves, a Christian musician and speaker . . . got so annoyed by the warning he found on [Donald] Miller’s book in a LifeWay store that he walked out . . .

Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, does not show up on the LifeWay website but if Christianity Today’s article is true, his books are in at least some of the walk-in stores. Miller, an emerging author, shares the same spiritual outlook as other emerging leaders (even in Blue Like Jazz, which has sold over a million copies and has gained enormous influence in the evangelical church). That is why atonement-denier Brian McLaren said there is “no better book than Blue Like Jazz to introduce Christian spirituality.” McLaren said this about Miller because he recognizes Miller as a soul mate of emerging spirituality. When McLaren says “Christian spirituality,” he is referring to mysticism.

The following quote by Miller (in Blue Like Jazz) reveals much about his spiritual outlook:

For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained (p. 115).

This sounds a lot like Erwin McManus, who admits that his book, The Barbarian Way, has at its core, mysticism and in an interview stated: “My goal is to destroy Christianity as a world religion and be a recatalyst for the movement of Jesus Christ . . . Some people are upset with me because it sounds like I’m anti-Christian. I think they might be right” (Christian Examiner, 3/05/2009, “Pastor, noted author takes uncivil approach in new offering”). By the way, LifeWay presently carries many products by McManus.

While the “emerging” authors cannot be found on LifeWay’s website right now, a number of contemplative-promoting authors can be found: Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Gary Thomas, Kenneth Boa, Leonard Sweet, Max Lucado, Larry Crabb, John Ortberg, and Phillip Yancey to name a few  (you can type in any of these names in our search engine to learn about the contemplative propensities of these authors).

The Christianity Today article states that “Only a handful of titles [at LifeWay] received the [discernment] warning labels.” Clearly, LifeWay does not understand or accept that contemplative spirituality is just as dangerous and deceptive as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell’s emerging theologies. So in a way, it may have actually caused more harm than good by having labels on just a few titles when in fact countless titles should have had warning labels. Having the labels could have given the false impression that as long as you were using discernment with the few, you could rest assured with the rest.

How ironic that Beth Moore, one of LifeWay’s main authors,  exalts Brennan Manning in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, but LifeWay has removed Manning’s books from their website. There are actually 21 different products on the website relating to that book by Moore. In Moore’s book, she quotes Manning from his book Ragamuffin Gospel calling the book “one of the most remarkable books” (p. 290) she has ever read. But it is this very book that reveals Manning’s true affinity with contemplative spirituality. In the back of the book, Manning makes reference to Basil Pennington (remember our quote above) saying that Pennington’s methods will provide us with “a way of praying that leads to a deep living relationship with God.” However, Pennington’s “way of praying” draws from Eastern religions. In his book, Finding Grace at the Center, Pennington says:

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices. (pp. 5-6, from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p.64)

Manning also cites Carl Jung in Ragamuffin Gospel as well as interspiritualists and contemplatives, Anthony De Mello, Marcus Borg, Morton Kelsey, Gerald May, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, atonement-rejector Alan Jones, Eugene Peterson, and Sue Monk Kidd.

Beth Moore speaks of Brennan Manning several times throughout her book, including on page 72 where she suggests that his contribution to “our generation of believers may be a gift without parallel” (p. 72). For Moore to consider Ragamuffin Gospel “one of the most remarkable” books she has read and to say Brennan Manning’s contribution to this generation of believers is “a gift without parallel” leads one to conclude that Beth Moore has absorbed Manning’s spirituality. So while readers at LifeWay cannot get Brennan Manning directly, they will get him indirectly from Beth Moore.

And the same goes for other LifeWay authors – customers can’t get Matthew Fox, Willis Harman, M. Scott Peck, or Thomas Merton, but they get Leonard Sweet, who calls these men his “New Light heroes.” Customers can’t get Richard Foster or Henri Nouwen on the LifeWay website, but they can get Rick Warren who has promoted both Foster and Nouwen. They can’t get books by gay authors anymore, but they get Dan Kimball and his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church where he belittles Christians who think homosexuality is wrong by saying “the church is homophobic.” They can’t get tantric sex advocate Mary Anne McPherson Oliver, but they get Gary Thomas who references or quotes her about a dozen times in his book Sacred Marriage (carried on the LifeWay website).

Over the years, we have beseeched LifeWay’s managers to read A Time of Departing and Faith Undone. We sent the books to some of them because they are well documented, non-vitriolic, and correct in their assessments as to what is happening in the church today. We realize that for them to remove all contemplative aspects of their store, their shelves might be sparsely filled unless they turned to biblical publishers. The problem with much of organized Christianity today is the cost is too high and the loss financially too great to make these changes. But the eternal cost of NOT doing what is right is far greater, and the implications could be staggering.

 To learn more:

Read A Time of Departing and Faith Undone

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