Posts Tagged ‘richard rohr’
NEW BOOKLET TRACT: The “Spiritual” Truth Behind Alcoholics Anonymous—And Why Christians Should Think Twice About Joining A.A.
The “Spiritual” Truth Behind Alcoholics Anonymous written by John Lanagan is our newest Lighthouse Trails Print Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 18 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of The “Spiritual” Truth Behind Alcoholics Anonymous, click here.
By John Lanagan
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)
I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another. (Isaiah 42:8)
Christians in Alcoholics Anonymous may not see it this way, but in their participation of A.A., they are standing in agreement with a belief system that lifts up strange gods. In Alcoholics Anonymous, all gods are considered equal and are called “the higher power,” thus relegating Christ our King to commonality as if He were simply one nameless deity among many. Yet Scripture tells us:
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
In 1941, Jack Alexander of the Saturday Evening Post wrote the article that provided A.A. its first national publicity. Describing A.A.’s “higher power,” Alexander noted the following:
[The alcoholic] “may choose to think of his Inner Self, the miracle of growth, a tree, man’s wonderment at the physical universe, the structure of the atom, or mere mathematical infinity. Whatever form is visualized, the neophyte is taught that he must rely on it and, in his own way, to pray to the Power for strength.”1
Please note that Alexander’s article, with this A.A. definition of “god,” is distributed as official Alcoholics Anonymous literature.
“God” Without the Doctrine
Nearly eighty years later this salad-bar approach—design your own god—has seemingly become a cultural norm. “Spiritual” is in. “Religion” is out. Many Americans now refer to their god as a “higher power.” A.A.’s twelve-step program (along with cultural acceptance of anti-biblical meditative practices) has literally changed the spiritual direction of the country.
In The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, author Christine Wicker credits Alcoholics Anonymous with “hastening the fall of the evangelical church.”2 Wicker notes how A.A. “slowly exposed people to the notion they could get [a god] without the dogma, the doctrine, and the outdated rules. Without the church, in fact.”3
Since the twelve steps have nothing to do with Christ, neither sin nor biblical repentance is addressed. This, of course, is very appealing to the flesh. The Steps address “wrongs,” “making amends,” and “moral inventory,” but one inserts one’s own moral code within the context of these Steps. Because of these Steps, millions believe they are right with “god” and man.
Everything, it seems, has been turned upside down: Alcoholics Anonymous can supposedly help everyone, but experiencing Christ without the twelve steps can supposedly help no one. (Sobriety without A.A. will be addressed at the end of this booklet.)
When all is said and done, A.A. attendance serves to subtly condition Christians to worship with non-believers; perhaps this has been the point all along.
It is written:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? . . . Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, 17)
Obviously, we are not separating. Christians participate in A.A.’s Christ-less corporate prayers every day.
A Spiritual Program
For decades, A.A. has been referred to as a “spiritual program,” a harmless adjunct to one’s own religious belief system. Because of this misrepresentation, most Christians are sincerely unaware that A.A. is a subtrend of the New Age.
Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest and renowned advocate for New Age type meditation practices says this of A.A.:
The spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous will go down in history as the significant and authentic contribution to the history of spirituality. It is genuinely a spirituality.4
In A.A.’s twelve step program, anything and everything—from spirits to inner divinity—can be worshiped as “god.” One of A.A.’s Big Book teachings is that God can only be found within ourselves.5 A.A.’s belief system by no means requires dealing with sin—or the Savior.
In order to comprehend the hold A.A. exerts upon people, it must be understood that two key passages in the A.A. Big Book (essentially the A.A. “bible”) are interpreted from a literal, fundamentalist perspective. Here is what is read to alcoholics at the beginning of every single meeting:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.”6
The Big Book goes on to note, “We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not.”7
Despite the elasticity of the higher power, these two fundamentalist passages lock many into the A.A. system while also teaching contempt or distrust for alternative ways of gaining sobriety. Particularly opposed is the idea of getting help in “church.”
Irving Peter Gellman observes:
A member who suggests that A.A. is not as effective as maintained, and who implies that some improvement might be made, will be censured when broaching these ideas. The A.A. program is deemed infallible, whereas other methods are considered less than perfect.8
Christians in the program often adjust their theology. In a pastor’s office, an A.A. Christian told me straight faced that alcoholics were too angry and didn’t want to hear about Christ, so the “higher power” concept was necessary. This is simply one more repetition of what I have heard at many, many A.A. meetings.
A.A. has given us the confusion of recovery passing for sanctification, and twelve-step theology has some Christians in A.A. believing it is perfectly fine to encourage alcoholics to go ahead and make up a “god.” To help justify attendance in this non-biblical spirituality, the myth has been promulgated that most alcoholics with custom-designed higher powers will eventually come to Christ. This is simply not so. It is relatively rare but is presented as a common occurrence. This claim is one of the primary ways Christians justify A.A.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, most Christians experience a transference of faith. The twelve-step experience often becomes an idol. It is not uncommon to speak with Christians who are more concerned with “recovery” than sanctification and who demonstrate a preference for A.A. rather than the fellowship with the saints.
[A]nd them that worship and that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham. (Zephaniah 1:5)
Over the past couple of decades there have been numerous U.S. lower and higher court cases where it was determined that A.A. is a religious organization.* An A.A. meeting is essentially a devotional service. The “higher power” receives praise and worship; confession is heard; testimony is given; the group invokes the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. The 12th Step instructs A.A. members to go forth and Spread the Word.
Whether one calls it religious or spiritual, the bottom line is that millions have been taught to reach outside (or inside) of themselves and draw on a higher power to give them strength.
Lost in all this is the holiness of the God of the Bible—the God who absolutely does not want His people placing Him amongst false idols. Lost—ignored, really—is the Lord’s abhorrence of worship of false gods. Was Jeremiah mistaken? King Josiah? Do biblical passages such as 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 and Galatians 1:8-9 fail to address Alcoholics Anonymous?
A.A.’s “All-Inclusive” God
Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritual in origin; it was created to point unbelievers away from Christ and to dilute the theology of the Christians who do attend the meetings.
A simple perusal of the A.A. Big Book demonstrates how A.A. teaching opposes Christ. The A.A. Big Book states:
We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.”9 (emphasis added)
And yet, the Lord specifically warns against the broad way:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. (Matthew 7:13)
If the Lord warns against the broad way of spirituality, why do we think we know better? Why would we even want to participate in such a thing or give it credibility by approving of it?
Hurting alcoholics who do not know the Lord also learn, through meetings and the A.A. Big Book, that they do not need Christ in order to have a relationship with God. According to the Big Book:
[A]ll of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try.10
Speaking from personal experience, this is how it is presented to alcoholics in the meetings—that one can simply reach out to “god,” and there he/she/it will be. Thus have many been pointed away from the biblical God because of A.A. Without Christ, we can never have a relationship or spend eternity with God the Father.
Some Disturbing History of A.A.
How did this happen? How did Christians get so involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs? Unfortunately, writers such as pro-A.A. author Dick B. have been churning out books and articles about the alleged Christian roots of A.A. and the twelve steps for years. This has influenced many.
According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, “the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous can be traced to the Oxford Group,”11 an ecumenical movement of the 1930s. Oxford’s founder, Frank Buchman, said “he never touched any doctrine in any of his meetings, as he did not want to upset or offend anyone.”12
The great preacher Dr. H.A. Ironside warned that the Oxford Group:
. . . appeals to people who reject the inspiration of [the Bible] as well to those who profess to believe it; it appeals to people who deny the Deity of Christ as well as to those who acknowledge it; to those who deny the eternal punishment of sin as well as those who believe in it. Here in our city it is openly endorsed by the Swedenborgians and by leaders of the Unitarians, as well as by a number who belong to orthodox churches. But it is silent about the blood of Christ.13
Dr. Ironside also warned about the Oxford Group’s unholy meditation (emptying the mind) which often culminated in the practice of automatic writing:
Each one is urged in the morning to sit down quietly with the mind emptied of every thought, generally with a pencil in hand, waiting for God to say something to them. They wait and wait and wait. Sometimes they tell me nothing happens, at other times the most amazing things come. Tested by the Word of God many of these things are unscriptural. They lay themselves open for demons to communicate their blasphemous thoughts to them.14 (emphasis added)
This appears to have been the method A.A. co-founder (and former Oxford Group member) Bill Wilson used to receive the twelve steps. T.A. McMahon, chief editor at The Berean Call ministry, writes, “A.A.’s official biography indicates Bill Wilson received the details of the 12 Steps through spirit dictation.”15
While some insist A.A. has a Christian or biblical origin, Alcoholics Anonymous is like a pie. One can claim it is made with lemon meringue ingredients, but if tar, rat poison, and glass shards are also in the mix, is it ever really a lemon meringue pie? “[A] little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
The Spiritual Proclivities of A.A.’s Founders
Factors affecting A.A.’s formation must include: A.A. co-founders Bill Wilson’s and Dr. Bob Smith’s biblically forbidden spiritualism, Dr. Bob’s freemasonry, the meditative silence/spirit communication learned from the Oxford Group, and the anti-biblical teachings of William James and New Thought heretic Emmet Fox.
The A.A. co-founders attended the Oxford Group separately before they met and together during 1935, which is the official starting date of Alcoholics Anonymous. During this time, Smith and Wilson were delving deeply into biblically forbidden spiritualism, which Wilson continued to practice for decades.
Early A.A. member Tom Powers saw the A.A. co-founders firsthand as they engaged in spiritualistic practices the Lord detests. “Now, these people, Bill and Bob, believed vigorously and aggressively. They were working away at the spiritualism; it was not just a hobby.”16
There are a number of Bill Wilson’s spiritualistic experiences documented in his official A.A. biography. Wilson wrote:
The ouija board got moving in earnest. What followed was the fairly usual experience—it was a strange mélange of Aristotle, St. Francis, diverse archangels with odd names, deceased friends—some in purgatory and others doing nicely, thank you! There were malign and mischievous ones of all descriptions, telling of vices quite beyond my ken, even as former alcoholics. Then, the seemingly virtuous entities would elbow them out with messages of comfort, information, advice—and sometimes just sheer nonsense.17
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
A.A. and New Thought Emmet Fox
The co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were also admirers of Emmet Fox and his heretical New Thought/New Age book, The Sermon on the Mount. This book was used in early A.A. before A.A.’s own Big Book was published. As pro-AA author Dick B. acknowledges, “[Fox’s] writings were favored by [A.A. co-founders] Bill W. and Dr. Bob.”18
Why is this significant that A.A. founders resonated with Emmet Fox? In The Sermon on the Mount, Fox teaches:
The “Plan of Salvation” which figured so prominently in the evangelical sermons and divinity books of a past generation is as completely unknown to the Bible as the Koran. There never was any such an arrangement in the universe, and the Bible does not teach it at all.19
Fox’s book bristles with teachings that sincere Christians would not be able to embrace at all.
According to Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount:
[In] the Bible the term “Christ” is not identical with Jesus, the individual. It is a technical term which may be briefly defined as the Absolute Spiritual Truth about anything.20
The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatever.21
With regard to the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, Fox says it “was never intended by its author to be taken as history, but literal-minded people did so take it, with all sorts of absurd consequences.”22
Bob Smith has been portrayed for years as a biblical Christian. Yet, according to a woman quoted in A.A.’s official biography of Dr. Bob, “The first thing [Dr. Bob] did was get me Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount.”23 A Bible-believing Christian would never place such heresy in a hurting alcoholic’s hands.
Like the Gnostics, Emmet Fox was a purveyor of special secret knowledge. He writes:
Wonderful as the “outer” Bible is, it is far less than one percent of the “inner” Bible—the Bible that is hidden behind the symbols. If you have been reading the Bible without the spiritual interpretation, you have not found the real message of the Bible, for that lies below the surface.24
Fox’s influence should always be considered when one hears of references to the Bible in early AA. People assume, logically enough, that if the co-founders were mentioning the Word of God, this must mean they were Christians. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith probably viewed the Bible along the lines of Fox’s esoteric spiritual wisdom rather than believing it to be the literal Word of God. One cannot, after all, promote anti-biblical heresy and simultaneously believe and obey the Word of God.
As you can see, Alcoholics Anonymous has anything but a fundamental biblical or Christian origin. Spiritualism, New Thought, and contemplative prayer (meditation) are three factors that must be acknowledged.
Spiritually Deceptive Meditation Practices
As previously noted, A.A.’s twelve-step program (along with anti-biblical meditative practices) has literally changed the spiritual direction of the country.
What is meant by the term anti-biblical meditative practices? This refers to Eastern and New Age meditation but also to contemplative prayer, which is New Age meditation disguised with “Christianese” terminology.
In true biblical meditation, the mind remains active. We ponder, we consider, and think about the Scripture we have read. This can be a wonderful and profound time with the holy God.
This is not so with Eastern/New Age/contemplative. Here the object is to stop active thought, often by repeating a word or phrase over and over. When thought is stilled, the person enters what is known as the silence, and it is here that incredible spiritual deception can occur. This can affect and even determine one’s theology, a frightening thing considering all the “Christian contemplative” activity in churches these days.
These practices are rampant throughout our culture. The potential—and actuality—toward such spiritually deceptive meditation exists within A.A.’s Step 11:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
“Meditation is something that can always be further developed. It has no boundaries, either of width or height,” wrote A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson.25
The actual experience of meditation and prayer across the centuries is, of course, immense. The world’s libraries and places of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers.26
In other words, Wilson was open to meditative knowledge wherever it could be found—whether in Hinduism, Buddhism, distant libraries, the local Catholic church, or anywhere else.
This is an overall belief in twelve-step theology—there are absolutely no boundaries when it comes to defining the “higher power.”
This undefined “God” is meant, of course, to help. Tormented people, in the grasp of some overwhelming bondage, enter a twelve-step group and are told they must turn to a higher power. It doesn’t matter what you believe in, they are told, but it is crucial you believe in something.
So they do. They choose a spirit, perhaps, or a self-designed deity, or decide to worship the universe, or St. Jerome, or virtually anything else. But they surely reach out to something.
Then, when they reach Step 11, they seek through prayer and meditation even deeper communion with whatever idol–or entity–they have invited into their lives. As instructed, they ask for knowledge—what does the deity want them to do? They ask for power—and some enter the silence.
The revered Bill Wilson encouraged people to meditate. He stated, “Meditation is our step out into the sun.”27
Historically, around the world, much has been experienced in the meditative silence: bliss, spirit-guides, a higher self, oneness. And there have been false christs, wrapped in shining deception, communicating instructions and “wisdom” to some.
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
One God Among Many “Higher Powers”?
When it comes to A.A.’s “Christian” roots, God’s people have been—to use a technical term—snookered.
Scripture is clear. We were never meant to be part of an all-gods religion. It is not “legalism” to point out that the Lord will absolutely not be seen as one higher power among many. It is not “legalistic” to state that His people are absolutely to remain separate from non-Christian spirituality. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17, Galatians 1:8-9, Isaiah 42:8, 1 John 4:1-3, 2 John 9-11, Matthew 10:32-36, 1 John 2:23, John 14:6)
We should no more participate in A.A. because of alcohol addiction than we should attend the Mormon church to get help with family issues.
Bluntly stated, many Christians have ended up with more faith in the power of the twelve-step program than in Jesus Christ. We have disobeyed the Scriptures, and we are bearing the consequences.
If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
What, then, is a Christian to do? Bondage to alcohol is no light thing. It is important to understand that drunkards were set free in the early days of the church (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11). The power of Christ is just as available to us today.
A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson came to understand that many alcoholics—those who truly wanted to quit drinking—could not be helped by Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson spent many years looking for effective alternatives,28 but alcoholics in A.A. meetings are never informed about this.
An article in Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education notes the following:
Cochrane Database conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials evaluating the effectiveness of AA and other Twelve-Step programs (labeled Twelve Step Facilitation or TSF). Eight studies were included in the review, and, of these, three evaluated AA programs. The conclusions of this review were that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problem.” (Ferri, Amato, & Davoli, 2006)”29 (emphasis added)
People have the right to know A.A.’s success rate is limited. The body of Christ has the right to know that sending people into A.A. violates Scripture, points unbelievers away from Christ, and waters down essential theology of the Christian faith.
There are powerful Christian options such as Teen Challenge and the online ministry, Setting Captives Free. There is another totally biblical approach called The Most Excellent Way founded by a husband and wife who were alcoholics. They left A.A. and sought the Lord over how to help others.
Churches that allow the Holy Spirit to work in people’s lives will see people freed from addiction (bondage to sin). My church has fellowship once a week for those who are struggling. We already have the weapons to fight: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are born again into Jesus Christ, prayer, and His Word. In fact, the Bible tells us we have armor that we can wear when battling against the flesh, sin, and the works of darkness.
Therefore . . . let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, emphasis added)
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil . . . Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Ephesians 6:11, 16)
We look to the Bible to understand the sheer power of God: His holiness, His love, and His grace and mercy.
We do not downplay His hatred of sin. We rejoice in His faithfulness.
Nor do we overlook simple common sense—but we start first with His Word and go from there.
The Word of God will pierce even the hardest heart. It is time to stop relying on Alcoholics Anonymous and obscure “higher powers,” and on mystical meditative practices, and start depending—truly depending—on the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
. . . That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)
To order copies of The “Spiritual” Truth Behind Alcoholics Anonymous, click here.
The editors of Lighthouse Trails and John Lanagan are in no way minimizing the importance of those with addictive behaviors in getting help. But what we advocate and encourage is Christ-centered help (based on the Word of God). Two places that offer this (and there are others) are:
The Most Excellent Way—http://www.tmewcf.org.
* I have documented several of these cases on my website at: http://mywordlikefire.com/2014/06/12/alcoholics-anonymous-narcotics-anonymous-established-as-religious-in-court-cases.
1. Jack Alexander, “Alcoholics Anonymous: Freed Slaves of Drink, Now They Free Others” (Saturday Evening Post, March 1, 1941). According to the A.A. website, A.A. World Services publishes the article in pamphlet format and sells about 22,000 of them each year; http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=472.
2. Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (Harper-Collins Publishers, 2008) pp. 133-138.
5. Alcoholics Anonymous (nicknamed the Big Book) published by A.A. World Services, Inc., 1939), p. 55.
6. Ibid., p. 58.
7. Ibid., p. 58.
8. Irving Peter Gellman, The Sober Alcoholic (College and University Press, 1964), p. 121.
9. Alcoholics Anonymous, op. cit., pp. 46-47.
10. Ibid., p. 28.
12. William C. Irvine, Heresies Exposed (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1921), p. 54.
13. H.A. Ironside, The Oxford Group: Is It Scriptural? (New York: Loizeauz Brothers, Publishers,1943), http://web.archive.org/web/20110424094418/http://aabibliography.com/oxford_group_is_it_scriptural_ha_ironside.html.
15. T.A. McMahon, “Where’s Your Head . . . and Your Heart?” (The Berean Call newsletter, March 1, 2002), http://www.thebereancall.org/content/wheres-your-headand-your-heart.
16. Pass It On: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), p. 280.
17. Ibid., p. 278.
18. Alcoholics Anonymous History, Dick B.’s Early A.A. Resources, http://silkworth.net/dickb/earlyresources.html.
19. Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount (HarperCollins, 1934), pp. 4-5.
20. Ibid., p. 124.
21. Ibid., p. 3.
22. Ibid., p. 13.
23. Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.), p. 310.
24. Herman Wolhorn, Emmet Fox’s Golden Keys To Successful Living (Harper & Row, 1977), p. 59.
25. Bill Wilson, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1953), p. 101.
26. Ibid., p. 98.
28. Pass It On, op. cit., p. 370.
29. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, December 2010, http://www.questia.com/library/p572/journal-of-alcohol-drug-education.
John Lanagan is a researcher and writer whom the Lord has rescued from alcohol addiction. He resides with his wife in the Great Northwest and his primary subject is the anti-biblical origin and nature of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can visit him on the web at: http://mywordlikefire.com.
To order copies of The “Spiritual” Truth Behind Alcoholics Anonymous, click here.
Letter to the Editor: Evangelical Free Church Snowballing into Spiritual Deception Through Contemplative/Emerging
Greetings Lighthouse Trails:
I never thought I would be writing you, but I would like to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts, for few are those doing your type of ministry, certainly not in my experience, especially at the local level by church leadership! Let me get straight to the point of my writing—my wife and I have been attending an Evangelical Free Church for approximately five years now, but recently things are beginning to snowball in several areas.
One of those areas is that of Spiritual Formation and some other “mystical” directions such as an Emergent-type communion at our ladies retreat (darkened room, candles, veils, prayer stations, candlelight, ect.) along with the current teaching from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God in a Sunday School class. On the heels of this, there was a series begun in the regular preaching service based upon [contemplative author] John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, in which his book was used four weeks running right alongside the Bible in the pulpit! In the course of this (which was stopped due to the protests of a few), [mystic] Meister Eckhart was quoted in the Sunday bulletin. Over this, I’ve had several encounters with church leadership, all to no avail, and now unquestionably I’ve become a ‘marked man’ due to my protests.
All this to say that only recently I went to the National E-Free website only to find the following recommendations in their online magazine, seemingly one more organization lost to this movement. My primary motive in writing you is merely to inform you regarding this group as well since I haven’t read much, if anything about them in your writings [editor's note: We have written a few times about the EFCA, the most recent time here]. I am a former pastor and have a small e-mail list. Following is a portion of what I sent those on my list:
“FROM MY DESK: Periodically I like to peruse the website of the national E-free church just as a matter of seeing what might be going on. This particular site is generally not a fountainhead of information, often at least for me, leaving much unanswered and generally dealing only in the most general and accommodating ways with the subject matter. Much to my surprise this time I found the following recommended list of books and authors, all of which indicated to me that this national headquarters is, for lack of a better expression, “coming out of the closet” and recommending to all the member and affiliated people and churches contemplative spirituality!
None of the books were written by men like D.L. Moody or G. Campbell Morgan, or Hudson Taylor, or even George Muller, or any other of a plethora of men whose lives and teachings have been respected for many, many years. No, all of these authors are garnering their information from spiritual disciplines ‘outside’ the confines of Scripture and blending them, if you please, with their own twisted and manipulated version of biblical teachings. These authors draw from sources such as psychology in its many forms, Quakerism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Zen Buddhism, and many other so-called religious traditions. So the question becomes: how long will it take for these recommendations to begin having their effect in your local church?
Some of these names were unfamiliar to me, so I did my due diligence and to my utter astonishment–%100 of these authors are deeply involved in the Spiritual Transformation movement. Something else I picked up along the way was that the common mantra amongst them is becoming “can’t we all just get along.” I suppose this is intended to deflect any opposition to their introduction of a false spirituality into the churches. Keep in mind these books were recommended by participating E-Free pastors; what might this tell you?”
From the recommended resources of the Evangelical Free Church magazine website [most of these names can be found on the Lighthouse Trails Research site]:
Ruth Haley Barton. Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s transforming presence and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our lives for spiritual transformation
David G. Benner. Sacred Companions: The gift of spiritual friendship and direction and Desiring God’s Will: Aligning our hearts with the heart of God (available from Amazon.com)
– (His) life’s work has been directed toward the promotion of the well-being of the inner life of persons, focusing in particular on the interaction of psychological and spiritual dynamics. The underlying passion of his life has been the understanding and pursuit of transformation – not merely healing or even growth, but the unfolding of the self associated with a journey of awakening. This has been the focus of his more than three decades of work in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and his more recent work as a spiritual guide to those who seek awakening and transformation through spiritual openness and contemplative stillness in action.
– David is a faculty member of The Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation where he serves as a Master Teacher. He currently makes this the exclusive venue for his teaching because of the deep congruence between the Rohr Institute’s core principles and his own – specifically, his conviction that the understanding and facilitation of transformation cannot be restricted to the best contemporary psychological and spiritual insights but must be grounded in the perennial wisdom tradition.
– The Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation provides such a course of study grounded in the Christian mystical tradition. Cultivating a contemplative mind through teachings and practices, students deepen their awareness of our common union with Divine Reality and all beings.
The Rohr Institute’s Living School offers students exclusive access to learn directly from Fr. (Fr. =Father) Richard Rohr, other core faculty, and invited master teachers. Fr. Richard is a Franciscan of the New Mexico Province, and the Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Strongly influenced by the Franciscan (as in Catholic) Alternative Orthodoxy
Mark Buchanan. The Holy Wild: Trusting in the character of God and The Rest of God: Restoring your soul by restoring Sabbath
Bruce Demarest. Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the heart of Christian spirituality
Brennan Manning. Abba’s Child: The cry of the heart for intimate belonging
M. Robert Mulholland. Invitation to a Journey: A road map for spiritual formation
John Ortberg. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual disciplines for ordinary people
Peter Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A strategy for discipleship that actually changes lives and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a revolution in your life in Christ
Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives and Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the character of Christ
[This note is at the bottom of the EFCA page]: * These resources are recommended by Cedarly Pastors Retreat. While Cedarly does not necessarily endorse every position of every writer, each of the resources listed has important things to say about our relationship with the Lord Jesus and the growth and nurture of that relationship. [note from the LT reader: And each of them has its own brand of heresy!]
Letter to the Editor: Campus Crusade for Christ “Gospel Message” Includes Spiritual Formation/Contemplative Spirituality
I am a semi-retired pastor who has been growing more and more troubled by the trend in evangelical churches toward new age, emergent, and eastern mysticism. We were looking for some sound material to give to a Korean lady who is showing interest in Christianity. We went to Power to Change, __________ (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) to secure something useful for this purpose. We were sold a booklet titled “Knowing Jesus Personally.” It was looking good as we studied the content, until we came to the chapter on being empowered by the Holy Spirit. On page 53 of the booklet, we read:
If you find that you have retaken control of your life through sin – any definite act of disobedience – simply breathe spiritually (exhale the impure and inhale the pure). This important exercise will enable you to continue to experience Christ’s loving control in your life throughout each day.
a)Exhale-Confess your sin. (I John 1:9) . . . b) Inhale–Claim by faith the fullness of the Spirit in your life. (from Lesson Four: Power for Living, point 4 on Power to Change website)
We cannot conscientiously give this booklet to this lady. I don’t know if you have reported on the Spiritual Formation tendencies in Power to Change, so I thought I would apprise you of what we found. Our local Christian bookstore has nothing suitable for evangelism, nothing that simply presents the pure gospel of Christ. But we were told they could supply us with plenty of Spiritual Formation materials. Understandably we found this to be most upsetting.
Thanks for your faithfulness in true spiritual discernment, and you courage to post the faulty findings on your website.
In His grace,
DB ( B.C. Canada)
After receiving this letter to the editor from this Canadian pastor, we discovered that the same instructions on breath prayer are on the U.S. CRU (Campus Crusade’s new U.S. name) website in an article attributed to Dr. Bill Bright (CCC founder) (using virtually the same wordage).
In 2008, Lighthouse Trails had reported that Campus Crusade for Christ was promoting contemplative spirituality. On their main website at that time, we learned that the following concepts and/or practices were frequently referred to:
Spiritual Formation 126 Times
Lectio Divina 12 Times
Richard Foster 28 Times
Henri Nouwen 41 Times
Thomas Merton 45 Times
Contemplative 96 Times
Brian McLaren 5 Times
Brother Lawrence 28 Times
Desert Fathers 13 Times
Labyrinth Multiple Times
We stated back then: “On the current CCCI website, there are still indications that they are promoting contemplative/emerging spirituality. For instance, an audio they use for Campus Crusade Staff Training (CSU) and Big Break at Easter includes contemplative/emerging proponents: Rick Warren, John Eldredge, and Larry Crabb.” That resource is still sold on the CRU/CCCI webstore.
From every indication, CCCI (CRU) is continuing on the path of Spiritual Formation/contemplative spirituality. We’ll provide one compelling example: In October 2013, an article was posted on the CRU/CCCI website titled, “Sometimes You Just Need to Stop.” It tells the story of a young missionary couple, who upon returning from the mission field to the U.S., found themselves tired and worn out. During this time, the wife was reading a book titled Soul Custody (by Stephen Smith), and they attended a retreat center in Colorado, and from the time at that retreat center, they developed a list of things they could do in their lives, one of which is practicing lectio divina and another is to read Soul Custody, a book that is loaded with references to and teachings by contemplative mystics such as Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, Philip Yancey, Adele Calhoun, Dallas Willard, Richard Rohr, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Merton, and a number of others. One of the Merton books that is quoted from in Smith’s book is Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. As Ray Yungen points out in A Time of Departing, in that book, Merton made the quintessential panentheistic statement:
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. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 157-158)
The article on CCCI’s website about the two burnt out missionaries turning to a highly contemplative book and the practice of lectio divina is just one example that Campus Crusade is remaining on the contemplative prayer path. The breath-the-good-in/breath-the-bad-out exercise that our reader brought to our attention in his letter to us is another example.
If CCCI continues promoting contemplative spirituality, in time (if they haven’t already), they will absorb the panentheistic spirituality of Thomas Merton. We say that with confidence because panentheism and interspirituality are the “fruit” of contemplative prayer, which as Ray Yungen has often pointed out, is proof enough that contemplative prayer brings practitioners under the influence of familiar spirits and doctrines of devils.
A couple years ago Campus Crusade for Christ changed their 60-year-long name to CRU in order, they said, to reach more people for Christ. What they don’t realize is that the “Christ” of contemplative prayer is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible. The “Christ” of contemplative prayer will introduce adherents to Henri Nouwen, who stated near the end of his life after years of practicing contemplative mysticism:
Today 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. (Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p.51, 1998 Hardcover Edition)
Request for Help: Our Church is Becoming Involved with “Spiritual Direction” and Spiritual Director International
Dear Lighthouse Trails:
I am writing to you to in the hope you might be able to give me information about Spiritual Direction as our Church is becoming involved with it. As a Spiritual Director this person is a member of The Australian Network of Spiritual Directors (ANSD) and of Spiritual Directors International (SDI). After reading the brochure I am concerned about the direction it may lead us as it talks about contemplative reflection and interconnectedness of all things and also seeks to encourage ecumenism and inter faith dialogue etc.
Hoping you might be able to help me with this. Thank you for all the work you are doing in warning Christians about the many deceptions we can encounter. Keep up the good work that God has entrusted you to do. __________
Basically, the term “spiritual direction” is part of the contemplative prayer 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.1 (emphasis added)
As for Spiritual Directors International (SDI), we consider them the leading association for spiritual directors in the world. Ray Yungen discusses SDI in his book, A Time of Departing:
To underscore the scope and reach of the contemplative prayer movement let’s look at the numbers put out by an organization called Spiritual Directors International (SDI). On their website this group gives ample evidence of what their practices are. In one national conference, the following was presented:
“This workshop offers an opportunity to study and experience the [spiritual] director’s role in a person’s move into the beginning and early stages of contemplative prayer, silence, and openness to new sorts of praying.”
One of the objectives of SDI is “Tending the holy around the world and across traditions.” A 2008 membership list showed 652 Episcopalians, 239 Presbyterians, 239 Methodists, 175 Lutherans, and a whopping 2,386 Roman Catholics; counting another forty or so “traditions,” the total was 6648. To show the nature of just what they mean by “across traditions,” the list included Buddhist, Gnostic Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Siddha Yoga, and even Pagan/Wiccan.2 [Today, the figure is 10,000 spiritual directors.]
On the SDI website, it states the following:
[SDI] has become one of the most significant and forward looking ecumenical and multi-faith spiritual organizations in the world today. (emphasis added)
It’s important to understand that “muliti-faith” and spiritual direction (contemplative spirituality) go hand in hand. As we have stated in the past, the “fruit” of contemplative prayer is interspirituality.
A Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?,” confirmed 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. As Rick Warren stated in his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Foster and Willard are key players in the Spiritual Formation movement, but while Warren says that this movement is a “valid message for the church”3 that has “given the body of Christ a wake-up call,”4 we say it is a terrible seduction for the church.
Incidentally, SDI is listed in our “50 Top Organizations With a Significant Role in Bringing Contemplative Spirituality to the Church”; needless to say, we strongly recommend a church not become involved with it or with “spiritual direction” i.e., contemplative spirituality.
To further illustrate our concerns, SDI has a book titled Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across the Traditions. When it says “across the traditions,” it means across all the world’s religious traditions. The book is filled with quotes by and references to mystics from the world’s largest religions (e.g., Swami Muktananda, Swami Rama, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Sri Chinmoy, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). Thus “tending the holy” infers that the holy (or God) is in all the various religions (i.e., interspirituality), even ones that reject the preaching of the Cross.
For those wanting to get involved with the spiritual formation movement (i.e., contemplative, spiritual direction), consider the “direction” you will actually be going. Not toward biblical Christianity and the Jesus of the Bible but rather toward an ecumenical, interfaith spirituality that excludes salvation which comes solely through the sacrifice on the Cross made by Jesus Christ. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This SDI poster for an event taking place in 2014 says it all.
We are reminded of a June 2013 article we did titled “Concerns Grow as Moody Presses Forward Down Contemplative Path, ” where it reports how Moody’s radio host Anita Lustrea graduated with a 2-year degree in Spiritual Direction recently from the Christos Center for Spiritual Formation. One of the teachers for the Christos 2-year certificate program is Joann Nesser, who is a member of Spiritual Directors International and served on the SDI Coordinating Council for 6 of the early formative years. (source) In looking at the photos above of the interspiritual line up of speakers for the SDI 2014 conference, one cannot help wonder if these are the faces of the “new” Christianity that has surfaced and looks like it is here to stay.
1. 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.
2. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2nd ed. 2006), p. 41; information taken from the Spiritual Directors International website—”Demographics of our Learning Community.”
3. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), p. 127.
Lighthouse Trails has watched in dismay over the past few years as Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine has made the decision to promote contemplative/emergent names. When our editors picked up a copy of the August 2013 issue and saw a feature article written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, we decided to call In Touch Ministries to find out who was responsible for the content in the magazine. Sadly, the response we received from the editorial department at In Touch left us with a sinking feeling that the evangelical church has been seduced and there was no turning back.
We’ll talk about the phone call in a minute but first a look at Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
In June of 2011, Lighthouse Trails free lance writer Mike Stanwood wrote “Contemplative Spirituality Lands on Charles Stanley’s In Touch Magazine . . . Again.” In this article, it was revealed that in the January 2011 In Touch magazine issue, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was featured in an article written by In Touch Managing Editor Cameron Lawrence. That article, titled “The Craft of Stability: Discovering the Ancient Art of Staying Put,” highlighted the “ intentional Christian community” at the Rutba House (Wilson-Hartgrove’s home) and their “daily prayer routine.” The In Touch article stated that Rutba House is an evangelical community rooted in the Protestant tradition and that Wilson-Hartgrove is an ordained Baptist minister, yet it also reported that Rutba’s community principles are borrowed from Benedictine monks and that all of their efforts are based on St. Benedict’s “rule of life.”
In Stanwood’s article, he points out that Wilson-Hartgrove is part of the “New Monasticism” movement within the emerging church. To help you understand just how serious this situation is with Charles Stanley and his ministry, read this following section of Stanwood’s article:
Wilson-Hartgrove is most recently known for co-authoring Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals with new monastic activist Shane Claiborne. Other books he has authored may also fall into the emerging/contemplative category. For example, one such book called New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (1) has been endorsed by mystic proponents Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Campolo, and Catholic priest and centering prayer advocate Richard Rohr. The mystics resonate with the “new monasticism” – this is plain to see.
On the surface, the new monasticism may look OK with its many good works of helping the poor and the needy. But the underlying belief system does not line up with biblical doctrine; rather it is about establishing an all-inclusive kingdom of God on earth now where individual salvation is replaced with a community salvation for the whole world. Atonement has less emphasis on Jesus Christ as the only atonement for man’s sins and instead becomes an at-one-ment where all of creation is “being” saved by coming together as one (and yes, seeing the divinity of man). This is the kind of “atonement” that McLaren, Tickle, and Rohr would resonate with.
It is important to see that they don’t just resonate with the good works coming out of the new monasticism; born-again Christians have been performing good works by helping the poor and needy for centuries and continue to do so. While this new monasticism supposedly distinguishes itself by its good works, in reality it is mysticism and the foundational beliefs of mysticism (i.e., panentheism, kingdom now, etc) that distinguish it. And it is that element that Tickle, McLaren, and Rohr embrace.
Additional resources on Wilson-Hartgrove’s website include a DVD called Discovering Christian Classics: 5 Sessions in the Ancient Faith of Our Future, a five-week study with contemplative advocate Lauren F. Winner (Girl Meets God) for high school or adult “formation.” A description of this DVD states:
“You will discover the meaning of conversion and prayer from the Desert Fathers and Mothers; how to love from the sermons of St. John Chrysostom; St. Benedict’s Rule of Life and how it became one of the foundations of Western Christian spirituality; how to have an intimate relationship with God according to The Cloud of Unknowing; and what it means to ‘pick up your cross” in the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis.’”
Another book Wilson-Hartgrove has authored, called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, refers readers to the wisdom of Lao-tzu, the desert monastics, Thomas Merton, Benedictine spirituality, panentheist and interspiritualist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.
In a Beliefnet interview one year ago, Wilson-Hartgrove shared how “we need the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us.” This wisdom he is referring to comes not from the Bible, but from the contemplative “Benedictines (who) taught us to start the day with common prayer.”1
After seeing what is at the core of Wilson-Hartgrove’s spiritual wisdom, it is not surprising to learn that he recently made an appearance at the [very emergent] Wild Goose Festival .2 According to an article in the Christian Post, the Wild Goose Festival was a “four-day revival camp in North Carolina featuring music, yoga, liberal talk and embracing of gays and lesbians.”
The fact is, anyone who is drawn to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as Wilson-Hartgrove is, has got to be following a different spirit and another gospel or at the very least greatly deceived. Chardin, who is attributed to the term “cosmic Christ,” did not hide the fact in his writings that he believed, not in the Christ of the Bible, but a christ consciousness in every human being.
While we do not challenge Wilson-Hartgrove’s sincerity or concern for the poor and needy, we must challenge his consistent promotion of contemplative mystics and emergent leaders, and he certainly does not seem like a proper fit with In Touch Ministries, that is unless In Touch is going emerging. The reason we say this about Wilson-Hartgrove’s sincerity has to do with the phone call we had with two editors of the editorial staff of In Touch magazine on July 24, 2013. One of the editors we spoke with was Cameron Lawrence, the Editor in Chief (and also the one who wrote the 2011 In Touch article featuring Wilson-Hartgrove). Lawrence asked us if we had ever spoken with Wilson-Hartgrove personally, suggesting that he was a sincere man who lived out the Gospel by helping the needy. We answered him by stating that the issue at hand was not a private matter but rather a public issue because Wilson-Hartgrove is a public figure (books, conferences, articles, etc). We said that it did not matter what he might say in a private conversation, but it did matter what he was teaching others. And it mattered greatly that In Touch was promoting him.
When we spoke with Cameron Lawrence, we told him we wanted to know who was responsible for putting the article by Wilson-Hartgrove in the magazine to which he told us “the entire editorial staff” made the decision. We asked him if he would be interested in seeing some of our documentation to which he answered, “I have been on the Lighthouse Trails website, and I didn’t find it helpful.” The other editor we spoke with, who wished to remain anonymous, said it sounded like we were on a “witch hunt” to which we responded, “No, we are part of a Gospel-protection effort.”
At times like this, it is difficult not to become discouraged by the lack of interest in Christian intelligentsia and leadership regarding the contemplative/emerging issue. What more can we say to show them what seems so obvious to ourselves and many other Bible believing contenders of the faith? A number of years ago, when the Be Still DVD (a contemplative infomercial) came out and we saw Charles Stanley’s name in the credits as someone who supported the DVD, we contacted his ministry and spoke with a personal assistant. He accepted our offer for a free copy of A Time of Departing but said that Charles Stanley would be too busy to read it.
If the mystics whom Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove gravitates to are right, then Jesus’ words that He is the only Way to the Father are wrong. You can’t have it both ways. The opposite view – the contemplative – is that God is in all things, including all people. This is what all mystics believe, across the board. And if that were true, then the need for a Savior would vanish, and there wouldn’t be any need for “one way” to God because man is already indwelled with God and a part of God.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6
1. New Monasticism & The Emergent Church: FS Talks with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/2010/06/new-monasticism-the-emergent-church-fs-talks-with-jonathan-wilson-hartgrove.html.
2. Learn more about the Wild Goose Festival here: Left-Leaning ‘Wild Goose’ Festival Draws Ire of Evangelicals
SPECIAL REPORT: Assemblies of God “Believe” Conference Makes Bold Move – Brings in Contemplative Key Player Ruth Haley Barton
Update Note: For some articles written about this issue that came out after the article below, click here.
This August, in Orlando, Florida, the Assemblies of God USA will be presenting their General Council Conference, which takes place every two years. The title of this year’s event is “BELIEVE.” Scheduled to speak to “women in ministry” on one of the nights is Ruth Haley Barton. This is a bold move that the Assemblies of God is making because Barton is a major player in bringing contemplative mystical (i.e., mantra-based) prayer into the evangelical church.
The mission statement for the conference is “Believe we are on the cusp of an unparalleled Spiritual awakening.”1 On the conference website, it states:
GENERAL COUNCIL is the Assemblies of God’s largest gathering. It takes place every two years bringing church leaders together from all around the world.2
It also says that the event will inspire encounters with God, shape the Assemblies of God movement, and enhance [AOG leaders] “skills and be inspired to advance the kingdom of God.”
While the Assemblies of God denomination has been going in the contemplative direction for some time, especially within the AOG theological seminary, to bring a major contemplative player in as a speaker to the movement’s main leadership conference illustrates how much AOG has absorbed contemplative spirituality over the last few years especially.
As a little background, in 2005, Lighthouse Trails addressed the issue of contemplative coming into AOG when we discussed Professor Earl Creps, director of the Doctor of Ministry at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Creps is probably one of the earliest figures within the AOG movement to bring contemplative into AOG. In one document titled “Leading Others and Myself,” Creps lists a number of New Spirituality, emerging church and contemplative proponents as people he turns to.3 A 2006 LT article, “Assemblies of God: Committed to Spiritual Formation, Contemplative and Emerging,” stated:
If Assemblies of God Theological Seminary is any indication, then AOG is heading straight towards contemplative spirituality and the emerging church. Earl Creps . . . is a heavy proponent of both contemplative and emerging. In his course syllabi over the last five years, Creps has classes with titles such as “Leading the Emerging Church” and “Models of Ministry in the Emerging Church.” Syllabus reading materials include those from Henri Nouwen, Brian McLaren, Ken Blanchard, Dan Kimball, . . . and Leonard Sweet. A visit to Creps’ “Spiritual Adventures” blog gives a hearty helping of emergent discussion. In one blog, Creps tries to show how there might be a union between Pentecostalism and the emerging church [i.e. contemplative], saying the relationship is “gaining some traction.”
As in most cases now, contemplative starts coming into a denomination through seminaries, colleges, and universities, and in time reveals itself in the main body of that movement. That is now what is happening with AOG bringing in Ruth Haley Barton to the General Council event this year where AOG leaders from around the world will be participating.
For those who have followed Lighthouse Trails, you will know that Barton was trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, DC where she, according to her own words, was “under the guidance of Tilden Edwards, Rosemary Dougherty and Gerald May.” On Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Center website, she enthusiastically acknowledges being trained there, but the site gives a vague and almost oxymoronic disclaimer saying: “While she values all that she has gained from the teachers and institutions in which she has studied, this does not imply endorsement of everything taught in these environments.”4 (emphasis added)
We could talk about the beliefs of Tilden Edwards, Rosemary Dougherty, and Gerald May, but we have in other articles that can be looked up on our research site and read. Basically, these teachers are contemplative mystics who adhere to panentheism and universalism. It was Edwards who said that, “This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality (Spiritual Friend, p. 18). In other words, contemplative spirituality draws all religions together in unity under the common denominator of mysticism.
Who is Ruth Haley Barton?
After Barton finished her training at the Shalem Institute, she became the Associate Director of Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek Community Church and co-authored (with John Ortberg) a Spiritual Formation curriculum for Willow Creek. In time, Ortberg moved on to become pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian in California, and Barton left to found the Transforming Center, which claims to train thousands of pastors and leaders in the contemplative way. She has written a number of books – virtually all having the core message that you gain intimacy with God through the silence (that is her predominant message). Some of these books are: Invitation to Solitude and Silence (foreword by Dallas Willard), Sacred Rhythms, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, and one of her more recent ones Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.
So what is it exactly that Barton teaches? In a Christianity Today article titled “Drawing Closer to God,” Barton describes the practice of contemplative prayer, saying, “Ask for a simple prayer to express your willingness to meet God in the silence . . . a simple statement . . . such as ‘Here I am. . . . ’ Help yourself return to your original intent by repeating the prayer that you have chosen.”
In Barton’s popular book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, she goes into more depth:
• Identify your sacred space and time. Explore all the possibilities for a time and physical space in which you can be alone on a regular basis (p. 40).
• Begin with a modest goal, especially if silence is a new practice for you. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes of time spent in actual silence is realistic, depending on such factors as your personality, pace of life, reliance on words and activity (p. 41).
• Settle into a comfortable yet alert physical position (p. 41).
• Ask God to give you a simple prayer that expresses your openness and desire for God. Choose a prayer phrase that expresses your desire or need for God these days in the simplest terms possible. It is best if the prayer is not more than six to eight syllables so that it can be prayed very naturally in the rhythm of your breathing. Pray this prayer several times as an entry into silence and also as a way of dealing with distractions. Distractions are inevitable, so when they come, simply let them go by like clouds floating across the sky. Help yourself return to the prayerful intent by repeating the prayer you have chosen. Use your prayer phrase for as long as it captures what is most true about your heart’s desire for God, and link it with a body posture that also helps you express your spiritual desire (pp. 41-42).
In regard to Barton’s disclaimer on her website, she can say that she does not endorse everything she was taught at Shalem Institute, but the fact of the matter is what she just described above is the essence of what Shalem believes and teaches. Everything they teach stems from this mystical prayer. Perhaps she is implying that she does not adhere to their panentheistic (God in all) and universalist (all are saved) views, but that would be ironic because these are the things that are produced by practicing contemplative prayer. Ray Yungen calls them the “fruit” of contemplative prayer. In A Time of Departing, Yungen discusses Shalem and its role in Barton’s spiritual life. He includes a quote found on Shalem’s website to show the underlying roots of Shalem’s ultimate goal:
In Christianity and other traditions that understand God to be present everywhere, contemplation includes a reverence for the Divine Mystery, “finding God in all things,” [panentheism] or “being open to God’s presence, however it may appear. (5)
Yungen shares his concerns about Ruth Haley Barton:
“[Barton] echoes [goddess worshipper] Sue Monk Kidd in many ways, including the general malaise or condition of the human soul. Barton recounts:
A few years ago, I began to recognize an inner chaos in my soul . . . No matter how much I prayed, read the Bible, and listened to good teaching, I could not calm the internal roar created by questions with no answers. (“Beyond Words“)
“The following scenario Barton relates could be the wave of the future for the evangelical church if this movement continues to unfold in the manner it already has:
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 (“Beyond Words”)
“By ‘addiction to words’ [Barton] means normal ways of praying. She still uses words, but only three of them, ‘Here I am.’ This is nothing more than the Cloud of Unknowing or [Henri Nouwen's] prayer of the heart. Like Richard Foster, Barton argues that God cannot be reached adequately, if at all, without the silence. In referring to I Kings 19 when Elijah was hiding in a cave, Barton encourages:
“What Barton fails to mention here is that Elijah was a valiant defender of the belief in the one, unique God – Yahweh (as seen in his encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal), and he never went into an altered state of silence in his personal encounter with God.” (A Time of Departing, 2nd. ed., pp. 172-173)
Those reading this who are skeptical about what we are saying may be asking, “What’s so wrong about repeating a word or phrase and going into an altered state of silence?” To this we answer, this state of silence is the same state that occultists and Eastern meditation practitioners enter when practicing transcendental meditation (TM). We can prove this by the words of one of the men who trained Ruth Haley Barton – Gerald May (from Shalem Institute). May wrote the foreword to a book titled Zen for Christians. In that book, he says the following:
I began to explore Eastern religions . . . I was taking my spiritual business elsewhere. Or so I thought. What surprised me, eventually, was that my foray into Buddhism led me in a kind of circle, back to my Christian roots. Over time, Buddhist practices [meditation] somehow revealed to me the rich resources of Christian contemplative tradition that had been there all along . . . I was not alone in that experience. . . [Those on the contemplative road] in their searching, many turned toward the East and experienced exactly what I had – an eventual discovery of deep nourishment [Eastern enlightenment] within their own original traditions. The phenomenon happened so frequently that we gave it a name: “pilgrimage home.”
May was correct in stating that so-called “Christian” contemplative prayer is the same as Buddhist meditation. As one adherent admitted, “The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics” (Kirby, Mission of Mysticism, p. 7). Who are the “advanced mystics”? There are plenty of them, names you probably know: Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and to that list we add Ruth Haley Barton.
Consider this: On Barton’s website, she sells books by Catholic priest and contemplative activist Richard Rohr. In addition, she quotes him (in a prominent spot) in her recent book Pursuing God’s Will Together from his book, Everything Belongs. Typical of other contemplatives, such as Thomas Merton, Rohr believes that everything is connected together and that all is divine (thus, everybody belongs to the kingdom of God). In his 2011 book, Falling Upward, Rohr implies that we all are “immaculate conception[s]” (p. ix). If these things are true, then there was no need for Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for the sins of mankind. We would not need a Savior because we would already be divine ourselves. In truth, contemplative spirituality is the antithesis of the Gospel. That is why there are countless mystics who claim to know God (or Jesus) but will have nothing to do with the Cross.
In a YouTube teaching video by Barton, she tells viewers, “You have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain [if you follow her instructions],” but we say you have everything to lose and nothing to gain if you go down the contemplative path. Sadly, instead of being on the “cusp of an unparalleled Spiritual Awakening,” it appears that the Assemblies of God is going to be losing “a whole lot” in the days to come as they further open themselves to the contemplative “silence” and the spiritual deception that accompanies it. Our warning here is to be taken seriously. William Shannon, Thomas Merton’s biographer, validated our concern when he made the following observation:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East. (Silent Lamp, p. 281)
This is what Tilden Edwards meant by the bridge to Far Eastern spirituality. Merton didn’t become a Buddhist; rather he grasped the way that “is proper to the East.” That is how Merton, as a Catholic monk, could say, “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.”* In other words, while you don’t become a Buddhist, you absorb the Buddhist view into your Christianity. This is the underlying herald cry of the contemplative prayer movement, and it is something that can never be reconciled with the message of the Cross.
The ironic thing is that the Assemblies of God has traditionally held to the biblical view of the end times whereas contemplative spirituality lines up with a universal world religion, which will encompass all humanity and unite under the man of sin. There has never been anything on the scene before that would allow a universal religion that appeals to people on a broad scale. But first people have to hook up to the common factor and binding agent of this one-world religion, and that is contemplative prayer!
*David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).