Posts Tagged ‘awanas’

Letter to the Editor: AWANA Now Teaching Children to Hear the Voice of God

LTRP Note: Today, the church is “reaping the fruit” of nearly 40 years of Spiritual Formation influence (since Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline was released in 1978). Lighthouse Trails has warned its readers on a number of occasions about the direction AWANA children’s club is going with regard to contemplative spirituality (i.e., Spiritual Formation) (see links below). In the letter to the editor (below our note), you can see that AWANA is now teaching children to “listen to God” (the goal in contemplative prayer).

We thought AWANA clubs purpose was to teach children the Word of God through memorization. Since when did they take it upon themselves to teach children to listen to God’s voice in two-way conversations during prayer? Is this not a gateway into Christian mysticism?

Regardless of what one believes about hearing God’s voice outside of Scripture, how is it AWANA’s place to teach children to engage in possibly dangerous “conversations”? Will they also be teaching children about discerning of spirits (that is, testing the spirits – 1 John 4:1-6) and that there are demonic spirits that are “speaking” to people? We hope so. AWANA is supposed to be teaching children the Word of God, helping children to store up God’s Word in their hearts. They now want to teach them how to take part in subjective mystical experiences. Remember, this is coming from an organization that has been promoting Spiritual Formation for several years. How can we trust them to teach children this? Will it not surely be slanted by proponents of contemplative spirituality?

Those who disagree with our posting this about AWANA are certainly entitled to that. But we have been researching AWANA for several years, and we believe this “listening to God” theme is just another stepping stone into dangerous mystical spirituality. Are we saying we do not believe in the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life? No. But we do not believe that there is some kind of taught art (i.e., technique, method, system) in listening to God’s voice as so many in the church are promoting today, just as we do not believe that Christians are supposed to go into a silent state of mind so they can really hear God. If these “practices” were so important to God and so essential to us, why aren’t they taught in the Bible? When the disciples wrote the New Testament, there is nothing to indicate that they sat in stillness entering some sort of sacred space and then began a kind of channeled writing. No. Rather, God inspired them through His Holy Spirit and led them to write the things they did.

Obviously, the parent who contacted us and wrote the letter to the editor is very concerned. And we are too. If you have children or grandchildren who participate in AWANA, we strongly urge you to examine all AWANA literature and teaching tools carefully as well as discuss your concerns with your children’s AWANA leaders, and make sure they understand the dangers of contemplative spirituality.

The big emphasis in today’s church is, “Hear God’s Voice!” It’s all about feel-good and mystical experiences. It is a great tragedy that the focus isn’t on “Know God’s Word” and allow the Lord through His Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
Dear Lighthouse Trails:

Thanks for warning us about AWANA.  I have been keeping an eye on their materials thanks to you.  AWANA’s new T&T book Mission: Evidence of Grace is coming out in July 2017.  Here are some quotes from “Section 4.2: Prayer” in the Student Handbook.

“Ask your friend to have a conversation, but keep talking and don’t let the other person speak … Ask how it felt when you wouldn’t stop talking.”

“Ask a parent or guardian: “Have you ever been friends with someone who did all the talking when you were together?  How did you feel when this happend [sic]?”

“God wants us to have a relationship with Him.  One way this relationship grows is when we talk to God and listen to God.  This is called prayer.”  (Emphasis added.)

“To have a relationship with another person, you have to communicate—to talk with each other.  The same is true of your relationship with God.”

“It is important to remember that a conversation involves two people talking.  We need to make sure that we are taking time to listen to God speak to us too.” (Emphasis added.)

“When you pray do you listen, as well as talk to God?”

You can download the sample at

http://awanatt.org/assets/files/EOG_Handbook-Sample_ESV.pdf

–Tammy

Related Information:

If you want to understand contemplative prayer and Spiritual Formation, read the following booklets: 5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer  and  Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why It Shouldn’t)

2007 – Special Alert: Awana Embraces Contemplative

2012 – Revisting Awana’s Move Toward Contemplative – And Another Look at “Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation

2016 – A History of AWANA’s Contemplative Track Record and the Implications of Their New CEO

 

A History of AWANA’s Contemplative Track Record and the Implications of Their New CEO

For over a decade  now, Lighthouse Trails editors have been concerned about the direction that the AWANA children’s club is heading. Today, in this report, we want to first give an overview of our past decade of reporting on AWANA, and then we want to share some new information that should concern every parent and grandparent who has a child or grandchild in AWANA.

It was just over ten years ago, in Feb of 2006, that we posted our first article about AWANA after having contacted them about our concerns. That article talked about connections AWANA had with Willow Creek (for documentation on Willow Creek, see links at the end of this article). In that article, we stated:

Awana Clubs has been a respected and trusted Christian organization for many years. Countless children have been Cubbies and Sparkies and have memorized Scripture through the program.

With so much of the church heading into the contemplative/emergent camp, also known as the spiritual formation movement, what a tragedy it would be to see Awana being sucked into this also. Few things are stable these days … is Awana the next to cave in?

As 2006 moved forward, our concerns heightened as AWANA continued promoting contemplative materials and the Spiritual Formation movement and showed no signs of breaking away from Willow Creek.

In 2007 and 2008, we posted a number of other articles documenting the organization’s move into the “new” emerging spirituality. Two phone calls from us and sending printed materials had no apparent effect. And as one of our articles stated, “Today, we received another email [from AWANA] backing up their insistence that nothing is amiss.”1In one article we wrote in 2007, we explained:

Awana is showing signs that it is becoming a full-blown contemplative organization. First of all, through Awana’s prison project, the organization is incorporating New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard’s Lead Like Jesus Encounter program. On July 13th, we spoke with Lyndon Azcuna, Awana Cross Cultural Ministries director, who told us he was a Lead Like Jesus facilitator. Azcuna works in the main headquarters office of Awana. He said that the project was using Ken Blanchard’s materials. When we explained to him that Blanchard promoted the New Age and mystical meditation, he said that the program did not have these elements.

However, the Lead Like Jesus Encounter is largely based on Blanchard’s book, Lead Like Jesus, and that book does include contemplative elements. For instance, in the chapter called “The Habits of a Servant Leader” a palms-up, palms-down exercise is described (something Richard Foster has encouraged)(p. 158). The book gives a typical instruction on contemplative:

“Before we send people off for their period of solitude, we have them recite with us Psalm 46:10 in this way: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be…. When people return from their time of solitude, they have big smiles on their faces. While many of them found it difficult to quiet their mind, they say it was a powerful experience. The reality is most of us spend little if any time in solitude. Yet if we don’t, how can God have a chance to talk with us?”

For Awana to include Ken Blanchard’s teachings into its organization, shows that the situation is quite serious.

In that same article in 2007, we announced the release of a book, partly authored by two AWANA leades (at that time), called Children’s Perspectives on  Spiritual Formation. We stated:

[T]here is something even more disquieting with regard to Awana and their slide into contemplative – a book that is recommended by Awana and also carried by the Awana store: Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation. A description of the book is as follows:

“In childrens ministry, models, methods, and materials abound. How do you decide what direction you want your ministry to children to take? Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation allows you to examine the four prominent points-of-view in the church today. You will then be able to make a more informed decision on the way in which your ministry should take.”

The book offers four different views on how to transform children. One author, Scottie May, a professor at Wheaton, writes the section titled, “Contemplative-Reflective Model.” May gives a hearty promotion of centering prayer, the Jesus prayer, Christ candles, the Catholic Eucharist and an strong endorsement for contemplative spirituality ala Thomas Merton, whom she favorably quotes in the book. Two Awana staff writers respond in the book to May’s contemplative approach and give it a thumbs up with only minor cautions. But overall they believe that contemplative is a valid approach for all Christians, including children. Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation is giving a green light to Awana leaders around the world to practice contemplative prayer.

In 2007, we wrote an article titled “Awana Revisited: Is it or is it not promoting contemplative spirituality?” that examined in more detail the book (Children’s Perspectives on  Spiritual Formation) that was still being promoted by AWANA. Here are a couple quotes from that book written by the two AWANA leaders:

Page 82: “In his excellent overview, Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster outlines six different spiritual traditions that present within the Christian faith. They are the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the incarnational tradition. Each of these has played an important part in the larger history of the Christian church…. Each of these traditions has made significant contributions to Christian spirituality and each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions. (bold added)

P. 83-84: “While we believe that the Contemplative-Reflective Model highlights some significant needs in children’s spiritual formation, we should see it as an addition to the base provided for us in the Scriptures….We share agreement with the Contemplative-Reflective Model in a number of areas … we have much to learn from the Contemplative-Reflective Model. Many of our children’s programs are far from reverential, and the constant barrage of impulses does not seem to help in developing this interior life [this is the mystical contemplative life that Teresa of Avila practiced].” (bold added)

Our response in 2007 to these and other comments from the book was:

If the Awana writers in this book are trying to persuade readers that they do not promote contemplative spirituality, they have done a terrible job in expressing this. On the contrary, they have given minor cautions and major affirmations. They conclude with: “Given this framework, the Contemplative-Reflective Model becomes, at best, an important tool in helping provide a balanced development of the Christian spiritual life” (p. 87). While Carson and Crupper [the two AWANA leaders] point out some of the flaws in the Contemplative-Reflective Model, they make it clear that there is much good in it. Their response to contemplative spirituality leaves one message to readers: contemplative has some problems but if incorporated with other spiritual traditions, it has great value. And it is this attitude that is going to take Awana down a slippery slope of deception, unless they truly come to understand the underlying dangers of contemplative and then make every effort to rid Awana of its influence. (bold added)

In 2012, we contacted the publisher of Children’s Perspectives in Spiritual Formation and learned that the book was still in active print. Sadly, AWANA leadership had decided that the contemplative approach was valid.

In November of 2015, we posted a letter to the editor titled “Concerns By Awana Leader About Awana Linking Hands with the Emerging Church.” The letter from one of our readers who was a former AWANA leader, stated:

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

My family has been involved with the Awana ministry for almost 20 years both as “clubbers” and leaders.

Awana came out with new junior high curriculum. I reviewed one of the books and was not happy. The high school level curriculum too is in the process of being re-written with the help of a man named Josh Griffin. Josh Griffin is the high school pastor for Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Griffin is associated with Doug Fields who was a speaker for Youth Specialties, then went on to be a youth pastor for Saddleback before returning back to work for Youth Specialties. Both Fields and Griffin have written books together and share a blog.

In September, Awana sent out an e-mail invitation to the 2015 National Youth Convention put on by Youth Specialties. Awana had a booth there.

A link on the e-mail connects to a promotional video where you see many people including Tony Campolo. Also Mark Matlock, the director of Youth Specialties tells his audience, “Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church.”

This is chilling considering that the words co-creators and conspirators are words associated with the New Age.

Speakers of the conference included such emerging church personalities as Doug Fields, Dan Kimball, Tony Campolo, Mike King, Jim Burns, and Alan Hirsch. Josh Griffin was the M.C. for the worship sessions.

The convention also offered spiritual directors for one-on-one sessions.

It is truly sad to see Awana linking hands with the emerging church movement.

This brings us to the present, 2016. On March 9th of this year, a press release came out announcing the retirement of long-time AWANA president Jack Eggar who was being replaced by an interim president and CEO, Valerie Bell. Bell is a member of Willow Creek (and her husband is a Vice President of Willow Creek Association). The fact alone that AWANA has selected someone from Willow Creek to lead AWANA should be enough to show that AWANA has at least in part absorbed the spirituality of Willow Creek, which is the spirituality of the emerging church (and that is NOT guilt by association). But the selection of Valerie Bell has even deeper roots in the “new” spirituality.

Valerie Bell

While Bell has some disconcerting resource links on her website, the one that stands out the most is Hungry Souls, the website of David and Karen Mains.  For a number of years, the Mains have had affinity with New Age concepts and teachings as has been brought out by a number of different discernment ministries (you can do a search on the Internet and see this for yourself). For example, a 2005 article by pastor, researcher, and author Gary Gilley reveals that in a book written by Mains, Lonely No More, Mains “chronicled her journey into Jungian psychology, visualization and the occult.” Gilley stated, “The spiritual path that Karen Mains describes in Lonely No More can easily be found in most occult spiritual transformation books.” That book, Lonely No More remains available today on Amazon as a Kindle book.

In a more recent book of Mains, The God Hunt, in a Further Reading section in the back, a number of contemplative/new spirituality authors are listed including Tilden Edwards (co-founder of the panentheistic Shalem Prayer Institute in Washington, DC), emerging church leader, the late Phyllis Tickle, and contemplatives Esther de Waal and Kathleen Norris.

Furthermore, on Karen Mains’ site in an article titled “The Practice of Silence,” she says, “I became convinced that no deep spiritual growth could occur in my life without the practice of silence that allows us to develop the capacity of holy listening.” This “holy listening” and the “practice of silence,” of course, is contemplative prayer.

There is no question that Bell and Mains share a spiritual affinity. In 2008, they traveled to France together and lead a group in a 10-day “pilgrimage.” Promotional advertising for the trip said:

We will teach you how to “read” great art and then how to use those same viewing exercises to develop a contemplative prayer practice for the soul.

Among various teachings and practices included in the trip was instruction in the contemplative practice, Lectio Divina.

In addition to promoting David and Karen Mains, Valerie Bell shares her own views on contemplative spirituality on her website. On a page with the subtitle Soul Care (another way of saying contemplative), it says:

Valerie has a strong interest in soul-care as a way to find spiritual well-being and relationship with a loving God. Her approach invites people to learn spiritual practices that can sustain them through the most difficult life challenges. Her book, A Well-Tended Soul, describes the nuances of that inner journey and is a core resource to her spiritual formation seminars. (bold added)

There is no question that AWANA  is becoming a whole-hearted emerging/contemplative organization, and children in the program will eventually feel the effects. Unfortunately, deception can often be slow and subtle so parents may not realize their AWANA Cubbies and Sparkies are being influenced, a little more week after week through the AWANA curriculum. While we still believe there are AWANA local teachers who love the Lord and are trying to present a biblical view, the handwriting has been on the wall for over a decade, and it’s getting easier to read all the time.

Lighthouse Trails Articles on Willow Creek:

Calvary Chapel, Bill Hybels, and Jesuit Mysticism

Lynne Hybels’ “God”

“Christian Palestinianism” & Emergents Lynn Hybels and Jim Wallis Come to Multnomah University For “Justice” Conference

No Repentance from Willow Creek – Only a Mystical Paradigm Shift

Letter to the Editor: Concerns By Awana Leader About Awana Linking Hands with the Emerging Church

LTRP Note: Lighthouse Trails has had concerns about the direction Awana may be heading for a number of years. This letter (of which we substantiated the contents -see added links) below gives further reason to continue those concerns. Below this letter, you can see links to a few articles we have previously posted about Awana. Are we saying that everything in Awana is bad now and all children should be removed? No, but we are saying that parents need to be watching closely what their children are being taught at Awana; and Awana leaders need to use discernment as well. Unfortunately, as with most organizations we have researched, false teaching comes in through top leadership and does eventually affect an entire organization and its members (in this case children).

Dear Lighthouse Trails:

My family has been involved with the Awana ministry for almost 20 years both as “clubbers” and leaders.

Awana came out with new junior high curriculum. I reviewed one of the books and was not happy. The high school level curriculum too is in the process of being re-written with the help of a man named Josh Griffin. Josh Griffin is the high school pastor for Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. Griffin is associated with Doug Fields who was a speaker for Youth Specialties, then went on to be a youth pastor for Saddleback before returning back to work for Youth Specialties. Both Fields and Griffin have written books together and share a blog.

In September, Awana sent out an e-mail invitation to the 2015 National Youth Convention put on by Youth Specialties. Awana had a booth there.

A link on the e-mail connects to a promotional video where you see many people including Tony Campolo. Also Mark Matlock, the director of Youth Specialties tells his audience, “Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church.”

This is chilling considering that the words co-creators and conspirators are words associated with the New Age.

Speakers of the conference included such emerging church personalities as Doug Fields, Dan Kimball, Tony Campolo, Mike King, Jim Burns, and Alan Hirsch. Josh Griffin was the M.C. for the worship sessions.

The convention also offered spiritual directors for one-on-one sessions.

It is truly sad to see Awana linking hands with the emerging church movement.

Sincerely,

F.L.

Lighthouse Trails Research articles on Awana:

(2012)Revisting Awana’s Move Toward Contemplative – And Another Look at “Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation

The Dangers of Spiritual Formation?—And Some Ways it is Influencing Your Children

(2006) Awana Club Now Featuring Book by Youth Specialties Speaker

(2007) Comments on the AWANA Summit Conference

The Dangers of Spiritual Formation?—And Some Ways it is Influencing Your Children

By Berit Kjos
(author of How to Protect Your Child From the New Age and Spiritual Deception)

The Spiritual Formation movement is widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the greatest way to become a spiritual leader. It teaches people that this is how they can become more intimate with God and truly hear His voice. Even Christian leaders with longstanding reputations of teaching God’s word seem to be succumbing.1—Roger Oakland

Spiritual Formation has become a widely used term that was introduced to the evangelical church in the 1970s, primarily through a Thomas Merton disciple named Richard Foster and his longstanding, best-selling book, Celebration of Discipline. Today, there are few venues in the church that have not been influenced by the Merton/Foster model of Spiritual Formation.

While at first glance, the Spiritual Formation movement seems profitable and spiritual at best, harmless and benign at worst, that is only because it has been disguised with Christian language and out-of-context Scriptures all the while making grandiose claims that through Spiritual Formation, you can really know God.

In a nutshell, Spiritual Formation teaches that in order for someone to have an intimate relationship with God, he or she needs to practice certain “spiritual disciplines” that will help one to become more Christ-like. Sounds good so far, right?

What many people don’t really know, however, is that the driving force behind the Spiritual Formation movement is a mystical prayer technique called contemplative or centering prayer. The Spiritual Formation leaders, such as Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning, have told their followers for years that we must get rid of distractions in our minds or else we cannot hear the voice of God.

In order to reach a state of silence or stillness (where the mind is basically put into neutral), a word or phrase is repeated (or the breath is focused on) and a meditative (altered) state can then be achieved. But while contemplative advocates insist that this is not the same thing as Eastern-style meditation because their intent is different (they repeat Jesus Jesus, not om om), the results are the same as practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) and demonic realms are experienced in this silence. One meditation writer explains:

The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics; it is no accident that both traditions use the same word for the highest reaches of their respective activities: contemplation [samadhi in yoga].2

That’s a little background of the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement. Although the dangers of this mystical spirituality should be obvious to most Christians, it appears this is not the case, and children have not been exempt from the impact. Evangelical youth groups, children’s organizations, Sunday School curriculum, books, and so forth are introducing contemplative spirituality (i.e., Spiritual Formation) to children.

For instance, in a book titled, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation, Greg Carlson and John Crupper (executive leaders of the Awana’s children organization at the time the book was written) praise Richard Foster’s contemplative-promoting book Streams of Living Water. Carlson and Crupper also say that the contemplative “tradition” is an important contribution to Christians:

In his excellent overview, Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster outlines six different spiritual traditions that are present within the Christian faith. They are the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the incarnational tradition. Each of these has played an important part in the larger history of the Christian church. . . . Each of these traditions has made significant contributions to Christian spirituality and each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions.3

When Carlson and Crupper say “weaknesses,” they mean they don’t have a problem with contemplative as long as it is used in conjunction with other spiritual practices or “traditions.” They say that each of these models can learn from the other.4 Clearly, this gives the green light on contemplative. Carlson and Crupper add:

[W]e would see many of the techniques [from the Contemplative-Model] of teaching as valuable tools for learning . . . the ideas of repetition and routine . . . are important; and we affirm them.5

Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation identifies some of these “techniques” and “tools” as lectio divina, centering prayer, labyrinths, the Jesus Prayer, and breath prayers, all of which are part of contemplative spirituality.

Incidentally, in one section of the book, it favorably references the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, who once said that he “intend[ed] to become as good a Buddhist”6 as he could and that he “was impregnated with Sufism.”7 Merton never hid his admiration for Eastern-style meditation or his panentheistic beliefs (that God was in all humanity). For Awana leadership to co-author a book that speaks highly of Thomas Merton shows little discernment or understanding.

Even though Carlson and Crupper are no longer in executive leadership roles with Awana, the book is still on the market today. Plus, Awana is referred to several times in the book so someone reading it would believe that Awana itself has given an OK to contemplative.

While it is troubling to see this kind of pass on contemplative spirituality by Awana leadership, calling it a “significant contribution” that has “played an important part” in the church, I believe there are many local Awana leaders who are not compromising their teachings and are staying true to God’s Word. Perhaps they will be the ones to help Awana stay on the right path.

bigstockphoto_Yoga_359739One Christian group that has pushed contemplative spirituality onto children is NavPress. In one issue of their PrayKids! publication, an article titled, “Contemplative Prayer” states:

Contemplative prayer is a form of meditative prayer that focuses on communing with God. Although sometimes confused with its Eastern (and non-Christian) counterpart, true Christian meditation has been practiced since Bible times.

This issue of PrayKids! helps kids learn to slow down their fast-paced lives long enough to experience a meaningful relational encounter with their Heavenly Father.8

In one feature article in Pray!, “Empowering Kids to Pray,” Brad Jersak is referenced in relation to kids and prayer. Jersak’s book, Stricken by God (endorsed by emergent church figure Brian McLaren) is a compilation of essays by various authors including Eastern-style meditation proponents Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg. Borg rejects basic foundational tenets of Christian doctrine (such as the virgin birth of Christ and the atonement),9 and Rohr is a panentheistic Catholic priest who embraces interspirituality and mysticism.

Considering that NavPress, the publishing arm of the Navigators, has a publication for children specifically to teach children contemplative prayer illustrates how integrated the New Spirituality has become within Christianity.  Children in the church are being targeted. This is tragic—church is supposed to be one of the safest places for our children.

And it doesn’t get better as they get older. Unaware parents who are anticipating their children attending “good” Christian colleges when they are old enough may be very surprised and rudely awakened to find that Spiritual Formation has now entered almost every accredited Christian college, seminary, and university. My publisher, Lighthouse Trails, has been following this trend for over 12 years now and has discovered that some of the top accreditation associations for Christian schools are requiring Spiritual Formation programs to be implemented in schools now before they can be accredited!10 Students in Christian colleges are now being required to study the works of Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster and to take practicum courses in contemplative and centering prayer where they may be required to practice contemplative prayer for a passing grade.

Pray for discernment and guidance, and use the ideas on how to protect your children from spiritual deception that I have laid out in my book to make sure your child is equipped and “armored” to face what is now so prevalent in evangelical/Protestant Christianity.

Endnotes:

1. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007), p. 91.
2. Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), p. 7.
3. Michael Anthony, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), p. 82, quoting Carlson and Crupper.
4. Ibid., p. 83.
5. Ibid., p. 85.
6. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
7. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 69.
8. “Contemplative Prayer” (PrayKids, NavPress, issue #25).
9. Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew (New York, NY: HarperCollins, First HarperCollins Paperback Edition, 1998), p. 25.
10. “An Epidemic of Apostasy—Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate ‘Spiritual Formation’ to Become Accredited” (Lighthouse Trails Special Report, November 2011, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=7733).

Revisting Awana’s Move Toward Contemplative – And Another Look at “Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation

Update April 2012: Because Awana’s book, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation is circulating the market, and because we hear from Lighthouse Trails readers who ask about Awana and their promotion of Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative), we are reposting this information about this book. Prior to posting this revisit article, we contacted Broadman and Holman, the publishers of the book, and learned that the book is still in active print.


Is Awana naive about contemplative spirituality? If so, then we beseech them to educate themselves and request a recall on their book, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation.

In the February 2008 edition of The Berean Call newsletter, a question was asked about Awana:

I’ve heard that Awana is drifting toward mysticism in the way they are ministering to children. What do you know about that?

The Berean Call gave an excellent answer, stating that the issue arose from a book titled, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation. Two leaders in the Awana organization are contributors of the book, and comments they made promoting the contemplative approach have caused concern for the direction Awana may be heading. In the Berean Call answer, it was suggested that perhaps Awana is naive when it comes to contemplative, and this is why they made the comments they did. In other words, when they spoke favorably about Richard Foster and other elements of contemplative, maybe they didn’t know what they were talking about.

This naivete presents a problem, however. And for Christian leaders, naivete is not an acceptable excuse, because people (and in this case, children) can be misled and spiritually hurt. So what can Awana do about this? If their comments in the book (that they offer in their store and use in their Rorheim Institute) are based on their naivete of contemplative spirituality, and if they truly do not want to take Awana in the mystical direction, then two things need to happen.

First, they must educate Awana leaders who are under their tutelage about the true nature of contemplative spirituality. Secondly, they will need to request a recall of the present edition of Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation and revise it so statements like the following are no longer in the book. These comments are made by Greg Carlson and John Crupper, executives of Awana. A comment of explanation by Lighthouse Trails follows each of their statements:

Page 82: “In his excellent overview, Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster outlines six different spiritual traditions that present within the Christian faith. They are the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the incarnational tradition. Each of these has played an important part in the larger history of the Christian church…. Each of these traditions has made significant contributions to Christian spirituality and each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions.” (emphasis added)

Our Comment: It is in Streams of Living Water that Foster quotes panentheist Thomas Kelly as saying “within all” there is a “Divine Center” (p. 23). Foster also talks about a “kingdom of heaven” and a “vision of an all-inclusive people” (p.12). He later in the book reveals his “I see a people” essay, which is a description of this all-inclusive kingdom (p. 273). This “great gathering of the people of God” includes evangelical pastors, Catholic priests, and contemplative monks.

What Carlson and Crupper seem to have a problem with when it comes to contemplative, isn’t contemplative itself but rather that it should not be isolated but should be included in Christian spirituality. That is why they said each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions. Thus they give the green light to contemplative as long as it is combined with other “traditions.” They say: Each of these models can learn from the other (p. 83).

Page 83-84: “While we believe that the Contemplative-Reflective Model highlights some significant needs in children’s spiritual formation, we should see it as an addition to the base provided for us in the Scriptures….We share agreement with the Contemplative-Reflective Model in a number of areas … we have much to learn from the Contemplative-Reflective Model. Many of our children’s programs are far from reverential, and the constant barrage of impulses does not seem to help in developing this interior life.”

Our Comment: This “interior life” of getting rid of distractions is classic contemplative spirituality. Contemplative mystic Henri Nouwen stated: “to empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God” (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

Page 85: [W]e would see many of the techniques [from the Contemplative-Model] of teaching as valuable tools for learning … the ideas of repetition and routine … are important; and we affirm them.

Our Comment: If the Awana writers in this book are trying to persuade readers that they do not promote contemplative spirituality, they have done a terrible job in expressing this. On the contrary, they have given minor cautions and major affirmations. They conclude with: “Given this framework, the Contemplative-Reflective Model becomes, at best, an important tool in helping provide a balanced development of the Christian spiritual life” (p. 87). While Carlson and Crupper point out some of the flaws in the Contemplative-Reflective Model, they make it clear that there is much good in it. Their response to contemplative spirituality leaves one message to readers: contemplative has some problems but if incorporated with other spiritual traditions, it has great value. This will take Awana in the same direction as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

Page 88: [Carlson and Crupper] “appreciate the Contemplative-Reflective Model’s commitment to the development of the child’s spiritual life. We are not in disagreement about the necessity of this. Nor would we disagree with the validity of the model to build upon the foundation that is laid by knowing Scriptures. Further, we would acknowledge that the commitments that drive this model provide a necessary balance within the larger scheme of things.”

Our Comment: Perhaps Carlson and Crupper do not realize that the “commitments that drive” the contemplative model are based on the spirituality of Thomas Merton as the book points out, and they are aligned with panentheism that states all humans have God within.

The comments made in Perspectives in Children’s Spiritual Formation are not the only indications that Awana is being heavily influenced by contemplative spirituality. For instance, through Awana’s prison project, the organization has partnered with New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard’s Lead Like Jesus Encounter program. On July 13th 2007, we spoke with Lyndon Azcuna, Awana Cross Cultural Ministries director, who told us he was a Lead Like Jesus facilitator. Azcuna works in the main headquarters office of Awana. He said that the project was using Ken Blanchard’s materials. When we explained to him that Blanchard promoted the New Age and mystical meditation, he said that the program did not have these elements. And in the 1999-2009 Ten Years and Counting report by Lead Like Jesus, reference to this partnership with Awana is made several times (on pages 16, 20,  23).

Update April 2012: On of the steps that the Ten Years and Counting report gives to “Lead Like Jesus” is:

“By engaging the habits of solitude, prayer, and study of the Scriptures, I seek to align my Servant Leadership efforts with what Jesus modeled, and to constantly seek ways to be a servant first and a leader second with the people I encounter in my leadership responsibilities.”

What Ken Blanchard means by “solitude” and “Servant Leadership” is not what it may sound like. Blanchard, who wrote the foreword to a book called What Would Buddha Do at Work?, has consistently promoted New Age mysticism books for over twenty years. And the term Servant Leadership suggests that Jesus is more of model whom we can follow as opposed to a Lord and Savior. While Blanchard says that Jesus is his Savior, he continues to promote the New Age. To this day, he still sits on the advisory council of the Hoffman Institute, an ultra New Age think tank and resource center for New Agers.  We do not believe Ken Blanchard’s Lead Like Jesus program is a good fit for Awana, that is supposed to be ministering biblical truth to children.

The Lead Like Jesus Encounter is largely based on Blanchard’s book, Lead Like Jesus, and that book does include contemplative elements. For instance, in the chapter called “The Habits of a Servant Leader” a palms-up, palms-down exercise is described (something Richard Foster has encouraged)(p. 158). The book gives a typical instruction on contemplative:

Before we send people off for their period of solitude, we have them recite with us Psalm 46:10 in this way: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be…. When people return from their time of solitude, they have big smiles on their faces. While many of them found it difficult to quiet their mind, they say it was a powerful experience. The reality is most of us spend little if any time in solitude. Yet if we don’t, how can God have a chance to talk with us?

Blanchard participated in the Hoffman Process and said it made his spirituality come alive. We believe this experience he had through Hoffman is similar to what Blanchard refers to in his Lead Like Jesus book, when he says people who “quiet their mind[s]” during the Lead Like Jesus Encounter have “powerful experience[s].” This means that now children and families in Awana could possibly wind up with the same experience.

Blanchard, who has been a professing Christian since the 1980s, wrote the foreword for a 2001 book titled What Would Buddha Do at Work?. In the book, Blanchard said:

“Buddha points to the path and invites us to begin our journey to enlightenment. I … invite you to begin your journey to enlightened work.”

Blanchard has made numerous other similar statements about other books. After a 2005 report by Lighthouse Trails exposed his connection with Rick Warren, Blanchard placed a statement on a page of his website for a short time that said some of his previous endorsements had been wrong. However, since that time, the endorsements have continued, including his connection with the Hoffman Institute. One example of his continued endorsement of meditation practices is his back-cover statement on Jon Gordon’s 2006 book, 10-Minute Energy Solution, in which Gordon makes several favorable references to eastern-style meditators and the practice itself (see ATOD, pp. 164-165). Another example is Blanchard’s June 2006 endorsement of Thom Crum’s book, Three Deep Breaths.

Amazingly, in the book that inspired the Lead Like Jesus Encounter that Awana is using, Blanchard acknowledges Norman Vincent Peale’s role in his spiritual walk. According to Ray Yungen (For Many Shall Come in My Name – p. 47), Peale had strong New Thought connections. This could partly explain Blanchard’s leanings toward the New Age.

In the past, we have written other articles about Awana. One was showing their promotion of Youth Specialties. The other was pointing to their affiliation with Willow Creek. Affiliation with these two organizations could explain how Awana has been drifting toward contemplative.[Both Youth Specialties and Willow Creek are on our 50 top Contemplative organizations list.]

Ken Blanchard, Norman Vincent Peale, Richard Foster, Youth Specialties, and Willow Creek – these cannot help Awana lead children in a direction pleasing to the Lord.

While some may say our strength in this article is inappropriate – after all, look at all the good that Awana has done – it is done with the utmost love and concern for the children being taught through Awana. Strong yes, hateful no. We beseech Awana leaders to consider these requests to both educate their leaders and have Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation recalled and end their partnership with Lead Like Jesus. Without these two things taking place, it will be difficult to alleviate grave concerns over the future welfare of Awana.

Note: Awana has removed the Youth Specialties link from their 24-7 Ministries site. However, they have now formed a partnership with Student Leadership University. SLU, which encourages students to take a “20 year quantum leap,”  is an organization that uses the materials of Ken Blanchard and Ron Luce (Teen Mania – see our article, “Teen Mania Goes Contemplative“).

 

Like We Said, Brian McLaren Wants the Minds of Your Children and Grandchildren

Three years ago, we wrote an article titled Brian McLaren’s Hope for the Future – The Minds of Your Grandchildren.   In that article, we stated:

[I]n [Brian] McLaren’s book [Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices] . . . he gives a detailed analysis of how the emerging church is God’s answer to a stifled, fearful Christian church. He explains that this merging church must infiltrate the “institutions that rejected it,” adding that “conservative Protestants have repeated their Catholic sibling’s earlier mistakes (referring to the Catholic church’s one time rejection of Galileo). Then he says: “But over time, what they reject will find or create safe space outside their borders and become a resource so that many if not most of the grandchildren of today’s fundamentalists will learn and grow and move on from the misguided battles of their forebears [biblical believers]” (p. 133). You see, McLaren and his emerging church fellows (Pagitt, Sweet, Warren, et.al) want to change the minds of our children and grandchildren.

On May 7-10 2012, in Washington, DC, Brian McLaren will be a speaker at the Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity event. He will be joining other emergent leaders – Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Samir Selmanovic and other “progressives.” In the video below (a promotional for the event) McLaren tells viewers that they are holding the conference so they can figure out how to get their message into children’s curriculum. And, no doubt, they will do it. After all, virtually all of the large Christian publishers are now publishing emerging/contemplative material.

So look out dear Christian parent and grandparent. They are after the minds of your children and grandchildren. And they will find them – in the colleges, seminaries, Christian high schools, AWANA programs, youth groups, Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, missionary societies, and in your churches.

Oh, and just in case you don’t think there is an underlying political agenda in this conference, please note that Barak Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr is also one of the speakers, not to mention Jim Wallis who is another political cheerleader for re-election of our present president.

 Related Stories:

“They Hate Christianity But Love (Another) Jesus” – How Conservative Christians Are Being Manipulated and Ridiculed, Especially During Election Years

 

Summer is Coming: Use Caution When Choosing Kids Camp or Vacation Bible School

If you are planning on sending your child(ren) to kid’s summer camp or Vacation Bible School this summer, please use caution and discernment. Find out if the program you are looking at is going to be including a spiritual formation program and if so, you should avoid such programs. Also be careful about receiving advice or recommendations regarding kid’s summer camps or Vacation Bible School from contemplative-promoting organizations, such as Awanas. In their book, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation, one of the authors (Trisha Graves, p. 178) talks favorably about “Vacation Bible School” at Mariners Church in Irvine California, saying that “the gospel is presented” during Vacation Bible School at Mariners. But Mariners is a church with contemplative/emerging propensities. One example of this is the upcoming Mariner’s evening with contemplative proponent John Eldredge. And last year, in July of 2008, Mariners Church hosted an evening with the New Age sympathizing book The Shack author William Paul Young. 1 In addition, Mariners Church is tied in with Metamorpha. Mariners Julie Barios is part of the Student Ministries Department doing pastoral care and spiritual direction at Mariners and is one of Metamorpha’s “Spiritual Directors.” 2 Metamorpha was the subject of a Lighthouse Trails article because the organization, run by Lee Strobel’s son, is very pro-contemplative touting Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and other mystics and emerging figures.3 This is just one example of why parents must use care when choosing a camp or Vacation Bible School this summer.


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