Posts Tagged ‘renovare’

Luis Palau’s Son (President of the Luis Palau Association) Teams Up With Richard Foster’s Renovare

Richard Foster’s founding contemplative organization, Renovare, has announced their upcoming (June 2018) celebration of the 40th anniversary of Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. Kevin Palau, son of the world-wide known evangelist Luis Palau and president of the Luis Palau Association, is listed on the Renovare website as one of the speakers for the June 2018 event.

One question arises in seeing Renovare’s invitation of Palau (given the staunch stand that Renovare takes toward all things contemplative)—what is it about Palau that interests Foster and Renovare enough to include him in a big anniversary celebration of contemplative prayer? We believe it can be only one of two things: either, they want him because he resonates with them and can “enhance” their event with similar beliefs, or, they want him because including someone from a highly respected ministry will lend credibility to Renovare (after all, if people trust Luis Palau, as tens of thousands do, then they can trust his son, they reason, and therefore can trust anyone his son teams up with). And, of course, the answer to that question could be both of those elements.

Perhaps we do not know exactly why Renovare has been drawn to Kevin Palau, but we do have some facts that certainly would help explain why Kevin Palau would fit in with a Renovare conference.

Luis Palau

For instance, in our 2016 article titled “Dress Rehearsal for a False Revival? – Evangelical, Charismatic, Emerging Leaders, & Pope Francis Unite for ‘Together 2016’ in Washington, DC,” we pointed out that Luis Palau joined several other popular evangelical leaders at an event in Washington, DC called Together 2016 wherein Pope Francis was also one of the speakers. In 2013, in our article “Evangelical Leaders Luis Palau and Rick Warren Salute Pope Francis – What Are the Implications?,” we quoted Palau as saying, in reference to the then newly elected pope, “I think that’s the emphasis he [Pope Francis] is going to bring to the papacy: That the Gospel is primary, that we must emphasize it and especially with youth.”  Such a statement makes it clear that Luis Palau does not understand what the “Catholic” gospel is about, that it is not a gospel of biblical salvation. One journalist in our article stated: “Evangelist Luis Palau, who knows and has prayed together with Pope Francis on several occasions, called the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics a friend of evangelicals who is respectful of all sides of Christianity.” A 2010 article titled “TRAVESTY at LIFEST – PARENTS: Don’t Send Your Kids – Radical-Emergent/Liberal Jim Wallis to Speak at Lifest (What is Luis Palau Doing There?),” shows yet another  example of Luis Palau’s sharing platforms with unbiblical figures (see article on Jim Wallis).

Pointing out these affinities and associations of Kevin Palau’s father may not tell us where Kevin P. stands, but it does show us that his father has shown poor discernment in the past, and at the very least has passed on the habit of associating with biblically unscrupulous teachers to his son.

What can show us something of Kevin Palau’s propensities is his 2015 book Unlikely. The book is riddled with the emergent ideas of “ecumenism,” “unity” and “common ground” and a  foreword written by Portland, Oregon’s emergent pastor from Imago Dei Community. Palau makes it clear in his book that his view of biblical Christianity includes the Catholic Church and that to think any other way is anti-biblical. That is, to not be ecumenical and emphasize unity and common ground is unloving and un-Christ-like.

While the evangelistic ministries of Billy Graham and Luis Palau have undoubtedly helped to lead countless people to Christ, their ecumenical view toward the Catholic Church has helped to lead to our present state where most Christians cannot even see that the Catholic view of salvation is not the biblical view of salvation, and the two cannot be reconciled (see article on the two views).

The point of this article is not to discredit any fruit Luis Palau has had in the past in bringing people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But rather it is to warn that an organization with a significant international platform could lead tens of thousands right into the arms of full apostasy if it is going to enjoin itself with the likes of Renovare. The contemplative prayer movement (the signature belief system of Renovare) bypasses the Cross and brings practitioners into a mystical panentheistic spirituality, and we doubt Luis Palau wants that for the legacy he leaves behind when he is gone.

Christian University Graduate Agrees—Celebration of Discipline/Richard Foster Bypass the Cross—As CoD Soon Celebrates 40-Year Anniversary!

40th Anniversary edition of Celebration of Discipline to be released in 2018, which is the 40th anniversary of CoD.

Just as Lighthouse Trails was about to issue a post this week about Celebration of Discipline’s (by Richard Foster) 40-year anniversary announcement (that we received by e-mail this month), we received the following e-mail from a Christian university graduate:

Three years ago this past September, I began my studies at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario. Right away, for one class, we were asked to study one author in particular whom I had never heard of, Richard Foster and his book Celebration of Discipline. I went online to do research and came across your website, and found your analysis of Foster to be spot on. As I read Foster, I realized he had completely bypassed the role of the Cross in bringing man into relationship with God, and instead substituted what he calls the “spiritual disciplines.” This is of course heresy.

For nearly sixteen years, Lighthouse Trails has tirelessly tried to warn the church about contemplative spirituality and how it entered the church in the first place largely through Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.

The following is a repost of a prior article we wrote about Celebration of Discipline. It would be a good idea to ask your own pastor if he has ever read Celebration of Discipline and if he has, what does he think. And if he has not read the refutation A Time of Departing and is willing to do so, Lighthouse Trails will gladly send him a complimentary copy of it.

First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with mystical contemplative prayer and the New Age. Most likely, your pastor has a copy of this book sitting on his library shelves. He may even have it sitting on his desk for easy reach and reference. Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal), wrote the book, and even he may have had no idea the impact this book would have. But decades later, it is still being read, and in fact, Christian leaders and organizations continue promoting the book.

Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “contemplative prayer” is the eastern-style mantra meditation to which mystic monk Thomas Merton adhered. In fact, Richard Foster once told Ray Yungen (author of A Time of Departing) that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people” (at a conference in Salem, OR in the 90s).

Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “become as good a Buddhist” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing—mysticism, and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 17) And yet, Thomas Merton once told New Age Episcopal priest Matthew Fox that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the mystical (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. (Interview) We couldn’t agree with him more. Both altered states are the same, but we differ from Merton and Foster in conclusions outcome—we know neither leads to God.

Listed under “excellent books on spirituality,” in some editions of Celebration of Discipline, Foster says of panentheist Tilden Edwards’ book Spiritual Friend that it helps “clear away the confusion and invites us to see that we do not have to live the spiritual life in isolation.” And yet, Tilden Edwards, founder of the “Christian”/Buddhist Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, said that contemplative spirituality was the “Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”(Spiritual Friend, p. 18). On the Shalem Institute website you can find numerous quotes, references, articles, and recommendations to panentheism, universalism, interspirituality, New Age, and Eastern thought.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us “we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation” (COD, p.13.) He goes on to say that the “masters of meditation beckon us.” Just prior to that remark, he quotes Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.

Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people. The late Henri Nouwen, a popular contemplative who also followed the teachings of Thomas Merton, made a telling statement towards the end of his life:

I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God (emphasis added – Sabbatical Journey, p. 51).

Essentially, the fruit of years of practicing mysticism by Nouwen was a departure from believing the Cross was the only way to salvation. This is the fruit of contemplative spirituality.

Today, countless ministers and ministries are promoting and endorsing Celebration of Discipline. If they really knew what Foster’s “celebration” was all about, we think many of them would race away from the teachings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster and back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Note: If your pastor or someone you know has a copy of Celebration of Discipline or quotes Richard Foster, be sure and give him a copy of Ray Yungen’s new booklet A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer. Also, want to know what Spiritual Formation is (and its dangers), read this: Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t

Quotes by Richard Foster:

“Spend some time this week listening to contemplative music designed to quiet you, settle you, deepen you. (Compact discs and tapes from the Taize community, John Michael Talbot, and the Monks of Weston Priory are especially helpful).” Renovare’s Perspective Newsletter

“We now come to the ultimate stage of Christian experience. Divine Union…. Contemplatives sometimes speak of their union with God by the analogy of a log in a fire: the glowing log is so united with the fire that it is fire.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 159)

“Christians . . .  have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first . . .  is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer. . . . Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 122) [LT Note: Remember, Rick Warren promoted breath prayers in The Purpose Driven Life.]

A Public Letter From Renovare Reveals Troubling Connection with YWAM

This past summer, a Lighthouse Trails reader sent us this e-mail letter she received from Renovare (Richard Foster’s contemplative outreach organization). Our reader is on the Renovare mailing list as she has grave concerns about friends who are involved with contemplative spirituality, and she monitors this group. The letter reveals the tight connection that YWAM (Youth With a Mission) has with the contemplative prayer movement.

Dear __________,

I want to offer a short vignette of how the ministry of Renovaré continues to ripple around the world. For the past 20 years I have taught a class called “Foundations of Christian Spirituality” at Eastern University. Assigned readings from the class are Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Devotional Classics, edited by Richard Foster and Jim Smith, and The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, written by John Ortberg. As you know, all these books are written by authors deeply committed to the vision and outreach of Renovaré.

“Foundations” is basically a Renovaré course on the basics of spiritual formation.  For the past ten years the class has continued to grow in attendance, growing to around 200 students. How encouraging! Students long to learn how to live ever more wisely and fully as “Christ’s apprentices,” as Dallas would put it. Even more encouraging, five years ago a generous donor had “Foundations” filmed by Gorilla Films, well-known for its films of the gorilla population of Rwanda.The class is now available on-line to people world-wide.

More recently, I was with a group of YWAM (Youth with a Ministry) leaders in Burtingny, Switzerland, gifted people who are earning an MA in Spiritual Formation from the University of the Nations. I was surprised and pleased to learn that these leaders of discipleship training ministries around the world had been watching the filmed version of “Foundations.” Not only so, but they shared with me that this course—with Renovaré at its core—was presently being viewed by “thousands” of people in China, India, Scandinavia, and Brazil.  In fact, two of these students—very courageous women—are showing clips of “Foundations” in small villages in India. Renovaré’s effect through the power of the Holy Spirit is profound and widespread.

Grace and peace,
Chris Hall
Renovaré Board Member

 LTRP NOTE: If you are not familiar with the teachings of Richard Foster or the contemplative prayer (i.e, Spiritual Formation) movement, please read some of our research material. Do not underestimate the overwhelming impact that Richard Foster and Renovare have and are having on Christians across the globe. Because of the dangerous anti-biblical roots of the contemplative prayer movement, this should cause great concern to Bible-believing Christians. And remember, if you have a loved one in a Christian college or seminary, most likely he or she is being introduced to the Spiritual Formation movement.  We estimate (after 12 years of research) that over 90% of these schools have now begun to integrate Spiritual Formation into their schools.

NEW BOOKLET: Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why It Shouldn’t)

Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t)  by  the editors at Lighthouse Trails is our newest Lighthouse Trails Print Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 16 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklet Tracts are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use.  Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t), click here.

Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t)

Is your church involved in a Spiritual Formation program? If so, you might want to ask the question, what exactly is Spiritual Formation? It’s a fair question, and one that, if not asked, could end up surprising you when your church changes in ways you never imagined.

A Christianity Today article states: “Spiritual Formation is in.” The article defines Spiritual Formation in this way:

Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.1

Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place and who is eligible to participate in such a process.

The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, primarily through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through a mantra-like meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will eliminate distractions (thoughts) and be able to hear God’s voice. He in turn will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Spiritual Formation pioneer Richard Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist—anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ?).

Richard Foster, the “Father” of the Evangelical Spiritual Formation Movement

Now many evangelical seminaries offer programs in spiritual formation. Renovare, which Richard Foster and others founded in 1989 to cultivate spiritual formation (especially among evangelicals), today offers retreats and resources worldwide.2

In 1989, Richard Foster began an organization called Renovare, but eleven years earlier (1978) his book Celebration of Discipline first came out, and that has been a Spiritual Formation primer ever since. The following quote by Foster, written in a “pastoral letter” sheds light on the roots of Spiritual Formation (the Catholic Church) as well as how prolific it is today:

When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction.3

Countless evangelical leaders have gotten on Foster’s Spiritual Formation bandwagon. One example is Rick Warren who considers the Spiritual Formation movement to be a worthy wake-up call to the evangelical church:

From time to time God has raised up a parachurch movement to reemphasize a neglected purpose of the church. . . . [the] Spiritual Formation Movement. A reemphasis on developing believers to full maturity has been the focus . . . authors such as . . . Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have underscored the importance of building up Christians and establishing personal spiritual disciplines. . . . [this] movement has a valid message for the church . . . [it] has given the body a wake-up call.4

There are some who are deeply concerned about this movement. Author and missionary Roger Oakland expresses concern about this supposedly “valid message” and says Spiritual Formation came upon the church like an unsuspecting avalanche:

A move away from the truth of God’s Word to a mystical form of Christianity has infiltrated, to some degree, nearly all evangelical denominations. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, most do not realize it has even happened.5

Oakland explains how this paradigm shift has come about:

As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise in mystical experiences escalates, and these experiences are presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling, and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for fostering Spiritual Formation. This term suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God and to emulate him.6

So exactly what is Spiritual Formation, and what is its premise? In this booklet, we hope to answer these questions.

The Merton Effect
When Richard Foster told research analyst and author Ray Yungen that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people,”7 what he meant was that Thomas Merton saw one element missing within Christianity—the mystical element. Merton had learned from a Hindu swami named Dr. Bramachari that one could obtain mystical properties from Catholic mystics like the Desert Fathers and didn’t need to leave one’s own tradition to do it.8 But Merton realized that most Christians didn’t know about this. So, he set out to bring mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer) to the Catholic and Christian world. However, Merton died a sudden early death in 1968 and was unable to accomplish his goal. But somewhere between 1968 and 1978, Richard Foster picked up the mantle of Thomas Merton and carried it forward.* Now today, untold numbers of churches (and millions of people) are going forth with Thomas Merton’s (and Richard Foster’s) message of Spiritual Formation. To understand the true nature of Spiritual Formation, consider the following quotes by Thomas Merton, Richard Foster’s mentor:

I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.9

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.10 (emphasis mine)

I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions.11

The most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation . . . Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind.12

This “Spirit of contemplation” is what fuels the Spiritual Formation movement. Merton believed that God dwelled in all people and that we are, in fact, all a part of God. Richard Foster has done much to carry forward Merton’s message through the Spiritual Formation movement. The question you must ask yourself is, do you believe what Merton said? If not, then Spiritual Formation does not belong in your church or in your family’s spiritual structure.

In essence, Spiritual Formation is carrying on the Hindu message of: God is in all things (panentheism), and God is all things (pantheism). If such a message is true, then the Gospel message of Jesus Christ—that man is sinful, that he is heading for eternal destruction because of sin, and that he needs a Savior—would become null and void.

Richard Foster’s Meditative Prayer
For more insight into the backbone of Spiritual Formation, let us turn to a small book Richard Foster wrote called Meditative Prayer. Foster says that the purpose of meditative prayer is to create a “spiritual space” or “inner sanctuary” through “specific meditation exercises”13 Foster references several mystics in the book who can point the way to these exercises: Madame Guyon, Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton. Foster breaks the contemplative process down into three steps. He says:

The first step [into meditative prayer] is sometimes called “centering down.” Others have used the term re-collection; that is, a re-collecting of ourselves until we are unified or whole. The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly centered, until we are truly present where we are.14

Foster suggests that practicing visualization methods helps us center down. In the second step of meditation, Foster suggests that mystic Richard Rolle experienced “physical sensations”15 (kundalini) during meditation which perhaps we may or may not experience as well.16 Step three of meditation, Foster says, is that of “listening” to God. Once the meditative exercises have been implemented and the “spiritual ecstasy” is reached, this entered realm is where the voice of God can be heard.17 However, as any New Age meditator knows, this ecstatic state is an altered state of consciousness where everything is supposed to be unified and one with God. Foster acknowledges the interspiritual attribute linked to contemplative prayer when he states: “[Jesus] showed us God’s yearning for the gathering of an all-inclusive community of loving persons.”18 Foster defines more of what he means by “all-inclusive” in his book Streams of Living Water when he says this “all-inclusive community” includes everything from a “Catholic monk” to a “Baptist evangelist.”19

Two Spiritual Formation Practices:
Lectio Divina
Oftentimes, Richard Foster has made favorable reference to the practice of lectio divina, which is being heralded in many Christian settings as a Christian, biblical practice. People are persuaded to believe that repeating words and short phrases of Scripture over and over again is a deeper way to know God. They believe that since it is Scripture being repeated (and not just any words), then this validates the practice and that this sacred reading is sacred because it is the Bible being used. But Foster himself proves that it has nothing to do with Scripture. It’s the repetition that is effective, not the words. He states:

[L]ectio divina includes more than the Bible. There are the lives of the saints and the writings which have proceeded from their profound [mystical] experiences.21

Foster obliterates the supposed premise of lectio divina by saying this. That is because as a meditation proponent, he knows that meditation has nothing to do with which words are repeated over and over; it is the repetition itself that puts one into an altered state. Thus whether you say “Jesus,” “Abba,” “Buddha,” or “OM,” it produces exactly the same effect.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are named after the founder of the Catholic Jesuit Order and have typically been used by Catholics. However, according to one source, “[b]eginning in the 1980s, Protestants have had a growing interest in the Spiritual Exercises. There are adaptations that are specific to Protestants which emphasize the exercises as a school of contemplative prayer.”22 Traditionally, Ignatian Spirituality is practiced in a retreat center setting usually with the assistance of a spiritual director. As with other Spiritual Formation exercises, it is believed that if the Ignatian exercises are practiced, the practitioner can conquer self and become more Christ-like (this is why Ignatian Spirituality is often included in Spiritual Formation programs).

When the Catholic church elected their new pope (Pope Francis), a statement was issued from the AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) reaffirming the pope’s “Ignatian spirituality,” stating that:

All Jesuits share the experience of a rigorous spiritual formation process marked by a transformative experience with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.23

Spiritual Formation—A Dangerous Substitute For the Life of Christ

Sometimes we think of spiritual formation as formation by the Holy Spirit. Once again. That’s essential. . . . But now I have to say something that may be challenging for you to think about: Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit. . . . We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake . . .There has to be method.24—Dallas Willard

Aside from the fact that Spiritual Formation incorporates mystical practices into its infrastructure (remove the contemplative aspect and you don’t have “Spiritual Formation” anymore), Spiritual Formation is a works-based substitute for biblical Christianity. Let us explain.

When one becomes born again (“that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9-10), having given his or her life and heart over to Christ as Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ says He will come in and live in that surrendered heart:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27)

[I]f the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11; emphasis added)

When God, through Jesus Christ, is living in us, He begins to do a transforming work in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18). Not only does He change us, He also communes with us. In other words, we have fellowship with Him, and He promises never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

This life of God in the believer’s heart is not something we need to conjure up through meditative practices. But if a person does not have this relationship with the Lord, he may seek out ways to feel close to God. This is where Spiritual Formation comes into play. Rather than a surrendered life to Christ, the seeking person begins practicing the spiritual disciplines (e.g., prayer, fasting, good works, etc.) with the promise that if he practices these disciplines, he will become more Christ-like.

But merely doing these acts fails to make one feel close to God—something is still missing. And thus, he begins practicing the discipline of silence (or solitude), and now in these altered states of silence, he finally feels connected to God. He now feels complete. What he does not understand is that he has substituted the indwelling of Christ in his heart for a works-based methodology that endangers his spiritual life. Dangerous because these mystical experiences he now engages in appear to be good because they make him feel close to God, but in reality he is being drawn into demonic realms no different than what happens to someone who is practicing transcendental meditation or eastern meditation. Even mystics themselves acknowledge that the contemplative realm is no different than the realm reached by occultists. To understand this more fully, please read Ray Yungen’s book A Time of Departing.

Bottom line, it is not possible to be truly Christ-like without having Christ inside of us because it is He who is able to change our hearts—we cannot do it without Him.

It is interesting to note that virtually every contemplative teacher has a common theme—they feel dry and empty and want to go “deeper” with God or “become more intimate” with God. But if we have Christ living in us, how can we go any deeper than that? How can we become more intimate than that? And if going deeper and becoming intimate were so important, why is it that none of the disciples or Jesus Himself ever told us to do this? As Larry DeBruyn states:

Why are Christians seeking a divine presence that Jesus promised would abundantly flow in them? . . . Why do they need another voice, another visitation, or another vision? Why are some people unthankfully desirous of “something more” than what God has already given to us? Why is it that some Christians, in the depth of their souls, are not seemingly at rest?25

Dallas Willard and the “Fruit” of Spiritual Formation
As we mentioned earlier, Rick Warren identified Dallas Willard as a key player in the Spiritual Formation movement. Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines has become a classic within the movement. The book is filled with references to and quotes by numerous contemplative mystic figures including universalists and interspiritualists (e.g., Nouwen, Merton, Meister Eckhart, George Fox) as well as some names that would fall in the New Age/New Spirituality camp (e.g., Agnes Sanford and M. Scott Peck). And in the bibliography, there is The Cloud of Unknowing, (an ancient primer on contemplative prayer), the Desert Fathers, atonement denier Harry Fosdick, Ignatius of Loyola, Carl Jung, the mystic philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Evelyn Underhill, and Teresa of Avila. All of these names are in Willard’s book for one reason only—because he resonates with their spiritual viewpoints. And while The Spirit of the Disciplines was released back in the late 80s, Willard maintained his affinity with most of these figures. On his website, many of these names are recommended as viable resources for spiritual growth.

A Lighthouse Trails article titled “The ‘New’ Emerging Theology Breeds Atheism in a Generation of Young People” tells about a young man who after sitting under Dallas Willard for four years at university declared himself an atheist. We asked the question, how could a young man raised in a solid Christian home change his views so drastically? It happened, and it is happening to countless young people who are sitting under the feet of bridgers—people like Dallas Willard who point their protégées to panentheists, universalists, and mystics. Another young man, whom we came across who was looking for answers, found them by turning to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Listen to what he found:

I bumped into the classic spiritual disciplines while taking a course called “Dynamics of Christian Life” in my second year of Bible school. One of our textbooks was The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. The course and textbook only touched on the actual disciplines, but the concept captivated me. The following spring, I found a copy of Richard Foster’s spiritual classic Celebration of Discipline in a used bookstore. Opening it and discovering each discipline [including the contemplative] detailed chapter by chapter, I felt a profound sense of joy and excitement. I’d found a real treasure.26

Later, this young man became a free-lance writer for the emergent organization, Youth Specialties. Listen to where the spirituality of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster led him:

I built myself a prayer room—a tiny sanctuary in a basement closet filled with books on spiritual disciplines, contemplative prayer, and Christian mysticism. In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating.27

For those not familiar with what the “alpha brain patterns” are, here are two descriptions:

Mystical states of consciousness happen in the alpha state . . . The Alpha State also occurs voluntarily during light hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, day dreaming, hypnogogic and hypnapompic states.28

Alpha is the springboard for all psychic and magical workings. It is the heart of witchcraft.29

And from Richard Foster himself:

If you feel we live in a purely physical universe, you will view meditation as a good way to obtain a consistent alpha brain wave pattern.30

What happened to Perschon and others like him is tragic. And we just cannot fathom the idea that not only will Willard’s influence continue on long after he has been gone from this planet (he died in 2013), but Christian leaders who should understand the dynamics of this movement will continue promoting him.

Is There a “Good” Spiritual Formation?
One of the most common arguments we hear defending Spiritual Formation is that there is a “good” Spiritual Formation done without contemplative prayer. To that we say, we have never yet seen a Spiritual Formation program in a school or a church that doesn’t in some way point people to the contemplative mystics. It might be indirectly, but in every case, if you follow the trail, it will lead you right into the arms of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and other contemplative teachers.

Think about this common scenario: A Christian college decides to begin a Spiritual Formation course. The instructor has heard some negative things about Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning, and he figures he will teach the class good Spiritual Formation and leave those teachers completely out. But he’s going to need a textbook. He turns to a respected institution, Dallas Theological Seminary, and finds a book written by Paul Pettit, Professor in Pastoral and Education Ministries. The book is titled Foundations of Spiritual Formation. The instructor who has found this book to use in his own class may never mention Richard Foster or Dallas Willard, but the textbook he is using does. Within the pages of Pettit’s book is Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Thomas Aquinas, Lectio Divina, Ayn Rand, Parker Palmer, Eugene Peterson, J.P. Moreland, Klaus Issler, Bruce Dermerst, Jim Burns, Kenneth Boa and Brother Lawrence’s “practicing God’s presence.” You may not have heard of all these names, but they are all associated with the contemplative prayer movement and the emerging church.

Another example of this is Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Whitney is Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While his book does not promote contemplative mysticism, he says that Richard Foster has “done much good”31 in the area of Christian spirituality.

Our point is that even if there is a sincere attempt to teach Spiritual Formation and stay away from the mystical side, we contend that it cannot be successfully accomplished because it will always lead back to the ones who have brought it to the church in the first place.

Spiritual Direction with Spiritual Directors
Basically, the term “spiritual direction” is part of the contemplative prayer movement (i.e., Spiritual Formation movement). Contemplative teachers say that one must have a “spiritual director” to “teach” or guide him or her how to enter into the silence of contemplative prayer. The spiritual director will provide books and resources by contemplative authors and direct his or her student on how to implement these authors’ spiritual practices. Ruth Haley Barton, a contemplative advocate who teaches thousands of pastors and Christian leaders about Spiritual Formation said this about her own spiritual director:

I sought out a spiritual director, someone well versed in the ways of the soul . . . eventually this wise woman said to me . . . “What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” . . . I decided to accept this invitation to move beyond my addiction to words.32

A Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?,”33 confirms two things, one that spiritual direction is contemplative, and two that it is on its way to becoming an integral part of evangelical Christianity. The article explains that popular Christian author Larry Crabb changed his views. Once a believer in psychology, he switched to spiritual direction. He is just one of many who have done this.

The article credits contemplatives (mystics) such as John Cassian and Ignatius of Loyola for getting spiritual direction into the church and suggests that we can learn more about it from Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard.
In Ruth Haley Barton’s* book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Barton admits that panentheist Catholic priest Thomas Keating helped her to understand the contemplative idea of “the true self” (man’s divinity):

The concept of the true self and the false self is a consistent theme not only in Scripture but also in the writings of the church fathers and mothers. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen (particularly Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart) and Father Thomas Keating are contemporary authors who have shaped my understanding of this aspect of the spiritual life.34

Merton, Nouwen, and Keating believe that man can attain to his “true self” (perfect self) through mystical practices. This is actually the crux of the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement, that man realizes his divinity through mystical experiences.

Conclusion
Spiritual formation is sweeping quickly throughout Christianity today. It’s no wonder when the majority of Christian leaders have either endorsed the movement or given it a silent pass. For instance, in Chuck Swindoll’s book So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get Your There, Swindoll favorably quotes Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Swindoll calls Celebration of Discipline a “meaningful work”35 and Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines “excellent work.”36 In chapter three,”Silence and Solitude,” Swindoll talks about “digging for secrets . . . that will deepen our intimacy with God.”37 Quoting the contemplative poster-verse Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” Swindoll says the verse is a call to the “discipline of silence.”38 As other contemplative proponents have done, he has taken this verse very much out of context.

Roger Oakland sums it up:

The Spiritual Formation movement . . . 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. . . .

We are reconciled to God only through his “death” (the atonement for sin), and we are presented “holy and unblameable and unreproveable” when we belong to Him through rebirth. It has nothing to do with works, rituals, or mystical experiences. It is Christ’s life in the converted believer that transforms him.39

What Christians need is not a method or program or ritual or practice  that will supposedly connect them to God. What we need is to be “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:30) and Christ in us. And He has promised His Spirit “will guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).

In Colossians 1:9, the apostle Paul tells the saints that he was praying for them that they “might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” He was praying that they would have discernment (“spiritual understanding”). He said that God, the Father, has made us “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (vs 12) and had “delivered us from the power of darkness [i.e., power of deception]” (vs. 13). But what was the key to having this wisdom and spiritual understanding and being delivered from the power of darkness? Paul tells us in that same chapter. He calls it “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (vs. 26). What is that mystery? Verse 27 says: “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

For those wanting to get involved with the Spiritual Formation movement (i.e., contemplative, spiritual direction), consider the “direction” you will actually be going.

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2: 8-10)

To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t), click here.

Endnotes:
1. Even Howard, Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation (Christianity Today, 12/9/2002)
2. Ibid.
3. Richard Foster, “Heart to Heart: On Christian Spiritual Formation” (Renovare, May 2003, http://blog.renovare.org/2003/05/20/heart-to-heart-on-christian-spiritual-formation).
4. Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), p. 126.
5. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2007), pp. 90-92.
6. Ibid.
7. Richard Foster to Ray Yungen at a seminar in Salem, Oregon in the 1990s.
8. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2006, 2nd ed., 5th and later printings), p. 199.
9. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
10. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
11. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
12. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York, NY: Image Books, Doubleday Pub., 1989), pp. 115-116. (These 4 Merton quotes are originally cited by Ray Yungen in A Time of Departing).
13. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1983), p. 9.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., p. 17.
16. Ibid., p. 18.
17. Ibid., p. 23.
18. Ibid., p. 5.
19. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water ( (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1st HarperCollins Paperback ed., 2001), p. 12.
20. Berit Kjos, How to Protect Your Child From the New Age & Spiritual Deception (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 1st Lighthouse Trails ed., 2013), p. 267.
21. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer, op. cit., p. 25.
22. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Exercises_of_Ignatius_of_Loyola.
23. http://www.ajcunet.edu/News-detail?TN=NEWS-20130314084452.
24. Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation: What it is, and How it is Done” (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=58).
25. Larry DeBruyn, “The Practice of His Presence” (http://herescope.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-present-of-his-presence.html).
26. Mike Perschon, “Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life” (http://web.archive.org/web/20070206150740/http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/topics/spirituality/desert.php).
27. Ibid.
28. Dr. Andre Eggelletion, as told by Dr. Lee Warren, B.A., D.D.
29. Laurie Cabot, Power Of The Witch, (New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1989), p. 183.
30. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1998 ed.), p. 22.
31. Donald Whitney, “Doctrine and Devotion: A Reunion Devoutly to be Desired” (http://web.archive.org/web/20080828052145/http://biblicalspirituality.org/devotion.html).
32. Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words” (Discipleship Journal, Issue #113, September/October, 1999, http://www. navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.113.13.html), p. 35.
33. Chris Armstrong and Steven Gertz, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?” (Christianity Today, April 1, 2003, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/aprilweb-only/4-28-51.0.html).
34. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downer Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004), p. 160.
35. Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get You There (Nashville, TN:W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 15.
36. Ibid., p. 13.
37. Ibid., p. 55.
38. Ibid.
39. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, op. cit., pp. 91-92.

To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t), click here.

To better understand the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer movement, read A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.

Larry Crabb to Join Richard Foster’s Renovare Contemplative Conference – Christian Leaders Continue to Promote Crabb

I’ve practiced centering prayer. I’ve contemplatively prayed. I’ve prayed liturgically . . . I’ve benefited from each, and I still do. In ways you’ll see, elements of each style are still with me.Larry Crabb in The Papa Prayer, p.9

I’m glad that as a conservative evangelical who still believes in biblical inerrancy and penal substitution, I’ve gotten over my Catholic phobia, and I’ve been studying contemplative prayer, practicing lectio divina, valuing monastic retreats, and worshipping through ancient liturgy. I appreciate Bernard of Clairvaux’s provocative insights. I’m drawn to Brother Lawrence’s profoundly simple ways to practice God’s presence. I’m intrigued and enticed by Julian of Norwich’s mysterious appearings of Jesus.—Larry Crabb, Real Church, p. 41

I generally read books to stimulate my mind, but I read this one [The Papa Prayer] for my soul, and it has left an imprint that I believe will be with me for the rest of my life. In these pages you will be introduced to a new way of praying that will, I guarantee, change the way you think about prayer; and, best of all, you will actually be motivated to pray continually, joyfully, and purposefully. This is a book for all of us who want to pray more but don’t; for all of us who have been discouraged because our prayers have not been answered, and for those of us whose priorities in praying need to be redirected. It is also for those who have read many books on prayer and think they need not read another one! Read these pages and let God change your perspective and your heart.—Erwin Lutzer, from The Papa Prayer endorsement pages

On April 3rd, Richard Foster’s Renovare organization will be presenting the Formation for Whole Life conference in Houston, Texas.

According to several sources, including Rick Warren,1 Christianity Today,2 and Lighthouse Trails, Richard Foster is a key player in the contemplative prayer movement (aka: Spiritual Formation movement). Speakers at this year’s Renovare conference include contemplative figures Ruth Haley Barton,3 Mark Scandrette,4 Richard Foster, and Kyle Strobel.5 Joining the team of speakers will be Larry Crabb, a popular evangelical author and speaker, who years ago switched from a psychology focus to a focus on Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer).6

While it is not surprising to see Larry Crabb sharing a platform with other contemplatives, what is troubling is that Crabb continues to receive acceptance by Christian leaders. In 2011, Crabb spoke to the student body at  Liberty University. In 2012 and 2013, he spoke at the Billy Graham Training Center. In 2012, he was invited to Moody Church (the church once pastored by Harry Ironside and D.L. Moody, now pastored by Erwin Lutzer)—7 (click here to see video of that Sunday).

During that 2012 “sermon” by Larry Crabb at Moody Church, Crabb introduced Jesus as more of an example or model to us (one that we can be like) than a Savior to us. This is the crux of the contemplative/emerging message. This is where Spiritual Formation comes in. Since to be truly Christ-like is not possible without Christ in us (born-again), the contemplatives turn to the disciplines (with the emphasis on the mystical), and this gives them the illusion of being close to God (the mystical experience produces this euphoric feeling). Crabb’s conclusion was that we need to search for our own “center[s].” His psychology-filled, Scripture-starving sermon at Moody did not point to Jesus Christ and His magnificence but rather pointed to how the attributes of God can make us a great community having great relationships. This is the focus of the emergent church where personal salvation is set aside for great relationships and community social justice.

Lighthouse Trails editors spoke with Erwin Lutzer a number of years ago expressing concern about his endorsement in Larry Crabb’s book, The Papa Prayer, where Crabb praised the role that “centering prayer” (i.e., mantra-type meditation) had in his life. In that phone conversation, Lutzer asked us to please remember to love all the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. He felt this was more important than criticizing others and naming names, and he said that we (Lighthouse Trails) may not really be qualified to identify spiritual deception within the church.8

In a 2012 article Lighthouse Trails wrote regarding Larry Crabb’s spiritual affinities, we stated:

Perhaps one of the most sure-tell indicators of where Larry Crabb’s spiritual sympathies lie and why he’s not a good match for Dwight L. Moody’s church can be found in a book Crabb wrote the foreword to. The book, Sacred Companions (written by David Benner), heartily recommends a plethora of contemplative mystics: Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington, Richard Foster, John of the Cross, Gerald May, John Main, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Alan Jones and several others. Many of these are panentheistic (God is in all), universalist (all are saved), and interspiritual (all paths lead to God). Ray Yungen talked about Benner’s book in the first edition of A Time of Departing. Yungen stated:

“[C]ontemplative prayer stands on the threshold of exploding worldwide. Dr. Larry Crabb . . . has written the foreword to a book [Spiritual Companions] that expounds on the future of spiritual direction in the evangelical church. . . . It is safe to assume then that we are looking at a contemplative approach. With that in mind, Dr. Crabb predicted [in Sacred Companions]: ‘The spiritual climate is ripe. Jesus seekers across the world are being prepared to abandon the old way of the written code for the new way of the Spirit.’” (ATOD, 1st ed., p. 137)

As Lighthouse Trails has often said, when Christian pastors and leaders endorse or share platforms with those who are teaching serious heresy (contemplative negates the Gospel itself with panentheistic/universalisitic/interspiritual roots),9 this not only sends a confusing message to the body of Christ, it actually puts many in harm’s way. Isn’t it time for Christian leaders who name the name of Jesus Christ to stop promoting contemplative advocates?

renovare-2014-crabbEndnotes:

1. In The Purpose Driven Church (pp. 126-126), Rick Warren calls the Spiritual Formation movement a “valid message for the church” that has “given the body of Christ a wake-up call.” He identifies Richard Foster and Dallas Willard as key players in the SF movement.See chapter 8 of A Time of Departing for this documentation: http://www.lighthousetrails.com/atodch8.pdf.

2. In a 2008 Christianity Today article titled  “The Future Lies in the Past,” Richard Foster is credited with the “birth of the ancient-future movement” (i.e, contemplative/Spiritual Formation movement): http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/february/22.22.html.

3. http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=11607.

4. Mark Scandrette is addressed in Faith Undone by Roger Oakland: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=1614.

5. http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=6403.

6. Christianity Today, “A Shrink Gets Stretched.”

7. “The Moody Church of Chicago Welcomes Contemplative Advocate Larry Crabb As Guest Speaker”

8. “Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!”

Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation?

Is your church involved in a Spiritual Formation program? If so, you might want to ask the question, what does Spiritual Formation look like? It’s a fair question, and one, that if not asked, could end up surprising you when your church changes in ways you never imagined.

In a 2002 Christianity Today article, it stated: “Spiritual Formation is in.” The article reveals who is largely responsible for starting the movement:

Now many evangelical seminaries offer programs in spiritual formation. Renovare, which Richard Foster and others founded in 1989 to cultivate spiritual formation (especially among evangelicals), today offers retreats and resources worldwide.

Foster began his organization Renovare in 1989, but 11 years earlier (1978) his book Celebration of Discipline first came out, and that has been a Spiritual Formation primer ever since.

The Christianity Today article defines Spiritual Formation as:

Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.

Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place, and who is eligible to participate in such a process.

The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, mainly through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through mantra meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will hear from God, and He will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist — anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ).

According to Rick Warren, the Spiritual Formation movement is a “wake up call” and a “valid message” to the body of Christ. 1He acknowledges that Richard Foster is a key player in the movement. Brian McLaren, a leader in the emerging church movement, names Richard Foster as one of the “key mentors for the emerging church.”2It is noteworthy that McLaren and Warren (two of the most influential figures today3) each recognize Foster’s role and contribution. Two and two do add up here. McLaren sees Foster’s mystical affinities, and that’s why he says Foster is a key mentor – mysticism is the energy behind the emerging church movement. Without it, there would be no emerging church. Rick Warren considers Foster’s spirituality important because Warren too adheres to the mystical.  Thus, these two heavy-weight “evangelicals” see mysticism as crucial for their agendas.

So just what does Spiritual Formation look like? That’s easy. Richard Foster has the answer to that. When he told Ray Yungen several years ago that Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people, what he meant was that Thomas Merton saw one element missing within Christianity – the mystical element. Merton had learned from a Hindu swami named Dr. Bramachari that Merton could obtain mystical properties from Christians like the Desert Fathers – he didn’t need to leave his own tradition.

merton_dali

Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama

But Merton realized that most Christians didn’t know about this. So, he set out to bring mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer) to the Christian world. However, Merton died an early death in 1968 and was unable to accomplish his goal. But somewhere between 1968 and 1978, Richard Foster picked up the mantle of Thomas Merton and carried it forward. Now today, tens of thousands of churches, maybe even yours, are going forth with Thomas Merton’s message of Spiritual Formation. But in essence they are going forth with the Hindu message of: God is in all things (panentheism), and God is all things (pantheism). Such a message contradicts the Gospel message of Jesus Christ – that man is sinful, he is heading for eternal destruction because of sin, and he needs a Savior, and that Savior is God (i.e., Jesus Christ) who paid the price for us with His shed blood.

Just remember, when you find out that your church is going to do a Spiritual Formation program, think about these words by Thomas Merton:

The most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation . . .  Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind. (cited in A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 129)

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race,  . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158).

This “Spirit of contemplation” is what fuels the Spiritual Formation movement. Merton believed that God dwelled in all people – Richard Foster believes this too. The question you must ask yourself is, do you believe that also? If not, then Spiritual Formation does not belong in your church or in your family’s spiritual structure.

For more information on Spiritual Formation:

Spiritual Formation research

For documentation of the quotes in this article and for further information on contemplative spirituality, read A Time of Departing

Letter to the Editor: Concerns About Home Church Using Book by Renovare’s James Bryan Smith

To Lighthouse Trails:

Recently my home church added a new pastor as the leader of Small Groups/Spiritual Formation. I am very concerned.

Soon after taking this position he introduced a book by James Bryan Smith titled The Good and Beautiful God.  This book is to be studied at each of our church’s small groups in addition to a 9 week Sunday evening class.

My first introduction to this book was in our adult Sunday school class when our teacher referred to lectio divina found in chapter 5. Immediately red flags went up in my mind. I had never heard of lectio divina nor contemplative spirituality before but I new something was very wrong.

Later, when I got a hold of the book, I saw that on the front cover is a quote and endorsement by Dallas Willard. I have searched your website but have not found a review of this book. Could you please review and report on this book?

I have yet to discuss my concerns with my senior pastor but when I do I pray it will be with discernment and double honor. I would just like a little more knowledge on this book and spiritual formation before I share my concerns and feats for my church. Any information will be a great help.

You are doing a wonderful work.

Blessings, _______________

OUR RESPONSE:

You are very correct in your concerns about James Bryan Smith’s book. Lighthouse Trails has known about this author for a number of years because of his very close connection with Richard Foster. An Amazon.com Author Page description of Smith states the following:

James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School, D.Min., Fuller Seminary) is a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, KS and a writer and speaker in the area of Christian spiritual formation. He also serves as the director of the Christian Spiritual Formation Institute at Friends University.

A founding member of Richard J. Foster’s spiritual renewal ministry, Renovaré, Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches. Smith is also the author of A Spiritual Formation Workbook, Devotional Classics (with Richard Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven and Room of Marvels.

Of course, just the fact that Smith helped to found Renovare is evidence enough that he is a major contemplative advocate. Renovare is one of the longest standing vehicles through which contemplative spirituality (i.e., Spiritual Formation) has entered the evangelical church. And traditionally, as a whole, the Friends denomination/movement embraces contemplative mysticism as well. But let’s take a look at this particular book, The Good and Beautiful God. This is actually the first in a series by Smith called The Apprentice Series. There is also The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community.

In The Good and Beautiful God (the one your group will be using), there are a number of things we would like to point out:

1.  Dallas Willard’s endorsement sits on the front cover (he also wrote the foreword to the book: “The best practice I have seen in Christian spiritual formation.” 

2. On the dedication page of the book, it reads: “For my teachers Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster.”

3. In the introduction of the book, Smith gives an interesting chronicle of how he came to meet Foster, become a chosen student of Foster’s, and from there delved into the world of Spiritual Formation, being introduced to the writings (and even meeting in person) Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, and Brennan Manning. Smith states:

 The influence of all of these people—Richard, Henri, Rich [Mullins], Brennan and Dallas—on me is so strong that I am not sure I have any ideas that were not shaped by theirs. (p. 12)

4. In the Acknowledgements, Smith says:

This book—and all of the books in The Apprentice Series—would not exist were it not for Dallas Willard, a living example of a true apprentice of Jesus, who has inspired me in countless ways. Dallas’s outline of a “curriculum for Christlikeness” is the framework of these books. It is difficult to measure the impact of his life and writings on my soul. (p. 227)

Willard’s “curriculum for Christlikeness” is based on the teachings of numerous mystics, as we have documented in previous Lighthouse Trails articles.

5. Endnotes in the book reveal who Smith turns to for “wisdom” and “spiritual understanding.”. Of course, there is Willard, Foster, Nouwen, and Manning. As Smith’s introduction describes, these are his mentors and heroes. In addition, there are names like the mystic Catholic nun, Kathleen Norris, emergent church favorites Karl Barth and H. Richard Niebuhr, contemplative teacher Jan Johnson and contemplative/emerging musician David Crowder.  Then there is the Benedictine Handbook and The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation (Upper Room is an organization whose primary purpose is to promote Spiritual Formation. They are the creators of the Walk to Emmaus).

6. One of the contemplative practices that Smith teaches on and references throughout his book is lectio divina. He gives instruction on page 108 on how to use lectio divina to find your special word or phrase to repeat in contemplative meditation. Our article, “LECTIO DIVINA-What it is, What it is not, and Should Christians Practice it?,” is a worthwhile read to understand lectio divina.

With regard to the other two books in the Good and Beautiful series by Smith, with a quick perusal in The Good and Beautiful Life, we can see Smith includes Thomas Merton and Rob Bell in his line of spiritual references, talks frequently about being in the silence, and again, recommends repeating a special word or phrase during contemplative meditation. There is also a reference to contemplative and Catholic sympathizer J.P. Moreland. The Good and Beautiful Community, the third in the series, continues in the same vein and includes references for Shane Claiborne, N.T. Wright, Tony Campolo, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson (all part of the emerging church).

If James Bryan Smith’s books are used in a group setting, they are going to introduce participants to contemplative spirituality and to the most influential names (Foster, Willard, Nouwen, and Manning) who have carried the torch from the halls of the Catholic monasteries of Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington to the pews of the evangelical church. Smith’s message lines up with the community/social justice/emergent “theology” that says spiritual transformation comes through practicing the “spiritual disciplines,” especially the silence, and the kingdom of God is built when unity at all costs is upheld (removing the barriers of doctrine).

 


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