Posts Tagged ‘spiritual formation’
It was ten years ago that Lighthouse Trails wrote its first article about Radio Bible Class ministries (now called Our Daily Bread Ministries). That article shocked many readers because Radio Bible Class is a ministry that has been around since 1938 when Dr. Martin DeHaan founded it in 1938. It has been considered a staple of Christianity with the highly popular Our Daily Bread booklets. According to one source, 10 millions copies of the booklets are published per issue in 37 languages. 1
Our Daily Bread Ministries also has two universities: Our Daily Bread Christian University and Christian University GlobalNet. There is also a publishing arm of Our Daily Bread Ministries, Discovery House, plus radio and television programs. If you add up the years, the printings, and the programs, it is safe to say that Radio Bible Class/Our Daily Bread has influenced hundreds of millions of people.
We’ll get to the point. When Dr. Martin DeHaan ran the ministry until 1965, there were no signs that things were amiss. When his son Richard DeHaan took over running it until 1985, things did begin to change. But the biggest change (from a negative point of view) began to take place when grandson Mart DeHaan began running the ministry. He was replaced by his brother Rick in 2011, but sadly the emergent/contemplative focus that came in during Mart’s watch has remained today as one of our readers reminded us this month.
You can read our previous articles here to get a recap on what has been taking place:
Today, Our Daily Bread, continues down the Spiritual Formation/emergent path. Yet, tens of millions of people are reading or watching material from this ministry, trusting them for biblical truth. Below are a few examples to show where Our Daily Bread is at today.
Our Daily Bread Christian University has a large focus on Spiritual Formation. Lest some reading this think that Our Daily Bread is teaching a “good” Spiritual Formation (of which none exists), take a look at two of the Spiritual Formation courses at their university: 1) Divine Encounters: Mapping Your Spiritual Life. In the course syllabus, you will find books being used by Thomas Merton, Richard Peace, and St. John of the Cross (using his book Dark Night of the Soul). 2) Discipleship in Community: Spiritual Formation in the Church. In that course, the professor is using textbooks by Dallas Willard, and under the heading Mysticism/Contemplative Spirituality, he is recommending four books on mysticism including one by Thomas Merton. He is also using a number of other contemplative authors including Richard Foster.
As you can see in this Our Daily Bread entry, contemplative proponent Philip Yancey is still a writer for the publication. Here is a list of Our Daily Bread’s other authors: https://odb.org/all-authors/. At least one of them, Joe Stowell, is another contemplative advocate.
Long-time contemplative advocate, Larry Crabb, is one of the professors at the Our Daily Bread Christian University.
If you know someone who is reading Our Daily Bread or taking one of their online classes at the University, please warn them to use discernment.
We have added Our Daily Bread Christian University to our list of contemplative-promoting colleges.
To understand the contemplative prayer/Spiritual Formation movement, we encourage you to read one of the resources Lighthouse Trails provides on this vital issue.
Evangelical Universities & Seminaries Offering Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation – Going into the Deeper Waters of Contemplative Spirituality
Over the past decade, while most evangelical colleges, seminaries, and universities have allowed the influence of the Spiritual Formation movement into their schools to one degree or another, not all of them had gone so far as to create a Master’s Degree program in Spiritual Formation. In fact, ten years ago, there weren’t that many schools that had Spiritual Formation degree programs. But things are changing rapidly. Today, a large number of the evangelical seminaries and universities have such degree programs.
These schools that offer such a degree have taken the plunge into the deeper waters of contemplative spirituality. And while there is currently an effort by some of these schools to convince the church that there is a “good” Spiritual Formation, the fact is, where there is Spiritual Formation, there is always a trail that leads to the mystics as Lighthouse Trails has pointed out for many years.
Below is a partial list of Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries that offer Masters Degrees in Spiritual Formation. Some of these are Spiritual Formation specializations or concentrations tacked onto Master of Divinity or Master of Arts degrees. In other cases, Spiritual Formation programs are tucked inside Christian Leadership degrees and Christian Formation and/or Soul Care degrees.
These seminaries and universities are where the church’s next generation of pastors and leaders are coming from. The church has been hijacked and is being held hostage to spiritual deception, but few seem to care. The only thing we are learning from Christian leaders today is “Simon Says” and “Follow the Leader” because most will not speak up on this vital issue. On the contrary, they promote it.
Baylor University – Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Barclay College – Master of Arts: Spiritual Formation
Biola University – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
Carey Theological College (BC) – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation
Corban University – Master of Arts in Christian Leadership
Dallas Theological Seminary – Spiritual Formation Cohort (under the DMin degree)
Denver Seminary – MA in Christian Formation & Soul Care
George Fox University – Spiritual Formation and Discipleship Specialization
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Evangelism
Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (ie., Cornerstone University) – The Master of Arts in Christian Formation
Johnson University – Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Formation & Leadership
Lincoln Christian University (IL) – MA in Spiritual Formation
Logsdon Seminary (TX) – Master of Arts (Religion) Spiritual Formation
MidAmerica Nazarene Unversity – The Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Christian Counseling
Moody Bible College – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Multnomah University – The Master of Arts in Christian Leadership with a Spiritual Formation Emphasis
Nazarene Theological Seminary – Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Discipleship Degree
North Greenville University (NC) – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Northwest Nazarene University – Master of Arts: Spiritual Formation
Pepperdine University – Spiritual Formation and the Christian Mission
Phoenix Seminary – MDiv in Spiritual Formation
Richmont Graduate School – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Direction
Seattle Pacific University – Master of Arts in Christian Leadership
Southeastern University – Master of Arts in Ministerial Leaders
Spring Arbor University – Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Leadership
Western Seminary – M.A. in Ministry and Leadership (Concentration in Spiritual Formation)
To Lighthouse Trails:
I have been going to a non-denominational church for years, and last year I noticed the term “Spiritual Formation” being used in the website of the Bible camp this church sponsors. I brought it to their attention, only to be met with indifference and the impression that I was somehow “over the top” to even suggest that Spiritual Formation was in fact Roman Catholic mysticism. They say they are doing a “good” Spiritual Formation yet have teachers at this camp who are from all sorts of New Age churches. Most of these teachers are linked with Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and a host of other contemplative teachers. The church I have been going to actually originated at this Bible camp over 50 years ago and was for many years very biblical and evangelistic. Now it’s united with different denominations and a overload of New Age ideas.
So last year, because no one was listening to me, my wife and I left this assembly, and to this day, no one there seems none the wiser about SF having set up roots in this Bible camp. Nor do they care; no one even calls us, though we were dedicated in doing our part in this assembly for years and years.
Other than Lighthouse Trails and few other online ministries, why is it that no one seems to see this danger, and why are they so indifferent about even talking about this deception? Most of the folks in this assembly, I believe are true born-again believers, yet have blinders on.
This Bible camp offers credits to colleges locally, and these colleges also teach Spiritual Formation with the likes of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I actually wrote to these colleges and asked them if they teach SF that embraces the “silence,” repetition of words, Lectio Divina etc. etc., and they proudly admitted to teaching such!
So where have all the Christians gone, and why are the majority of them not even willing to understand this RC deception? I just don’t it.
“Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality with millions of copies sold since its original publication in 1978.”—Publisher description
LTRP Note: Keep in mind three things as you read this article: 1) a strong link exists between Thomas Merton and the evangelical church, and that link is Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline); 2) Richard Foster once said Thomas Merton “stands as one of the greatest twentieth-century embodiments of spiritual life as a journey”(1); 3) the current “Spiritual Formation” movement within Christianity was spawned by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, and both men were ignited by Thomas Merton.
As you read this account of Thomas Merton, know that this same spiritual outlook that is described below has entered the church in no small way. Maybe it’s time you ask your pastor, “What do you think about Richard Foster and Celebration of Discipline?”
By Ray Yungen
What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to, and popular with, the masses. I personally have been researching Thomas Merton and the contemplative prayer movement for over 20 years, and for me, hands down, Thomas Merton has influenced the Christian mystical movement more than any person of recent decades.
Merton penned one of the most classic descriptions of contemplative spirituality I have ever come across. He explained:
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. 2 (emphasis mine)
This panentheistic (i.e., God in everyone) view is similar to the occultic definition of the higher self.
In order to understand Merton’s connection to mystical occultism, we need first to understand a sect of the Muslim world—the Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam. They chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances, and experience God in everything. A prominent Catholic audiotape company promotes a series of cassettes Merton did on Sufism. It explains:
Merton loved and shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam. Here he shares their profound spirituality.3
To further show Merton’s “spiritual kinship” with Sufism, in a letter to a Sufi Master, Merton disclosed, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana.”4 So what is fana? The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult defines it as “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness”5 (meaning all is one and all is God).
Merton saw the Sufi concept of fana as being a catalyst for Muslim unity with Christianity despite the obvious doctrinal differences. In a dialogue with a Sufi leader, Merton asked about the Muslim concept of salvation. The master wrote back stating:
Islam inculcates individual responsibility for one’s actions and does not subscribe to the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption.6 (emphasis added)
To Merton, of course, this meant little because he believed that fana and contemplation were the same thing. He responded:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs [the atonement]differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas . . . in words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution. . . . But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam.7 (emphasis mine)
Merton himself underlined that point when he told a group of contemplative women:
I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism.8
And he elaborated elsewhere:
Asia, Zen, Islam, etc., all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk.9 (emphasis mine)
When we evaluate Merton’s mystical worldview, it clearly resonates with what technically would be considered traditional New Age thought. This is an inescapable fact!
Merton’s mystical experiences ultimately made him a kindred spirit and co-mystic with those in Eastern religions because his insights were identical to their insights. At an interfaith conference in Thailand, he stated:
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.10
Please understand that contemplative prayer alone was the catalyst for such theological views. One of Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
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.11
This was the ripe fruit of the Desert Fathers, the ancient monks who borrowed mystical methods from Eastern religion, which altered their understanding of God. This is what one gets from contemplative prayer. There is no other way to put it. It does not take being a scholar to see the logic in this.
(This is an excerpt from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing.)
1. Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 84.
2. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
3. Credence Cassettes magazine, Winter/Lent, 1998, p. 24.
4. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), p. 115, citing from The Hidden Ground of Love), pp. 63-64.
5. Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 85.
6. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 109.
7. Ibid., p. 110.
8. Ibid., p. 69.
9. Ibid., p. 41.
10. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
11. Ibid., p. 281.
Lighthouse Trails has now mailed out the third letter along with two booklets to about 130 Christian leaders in the U.S. As we reported earlier this year in our article titled “Lighthouse Trails Publishing to Make Contact with Over 100 Christian Leaders to Warn About Jesus Calling,” we prayerfully made the decision to start sending short letters and selected titles of our booklets to those who are considered major Christian leaders in America. Our list is currently at 130 names.
Our first mailing included a copy of Warren B. Smith’s booklet 10 Scriptural Reasons Jesus Calling is a Dangerous Book and was sent out in March of 2016. Our second letter was sent out in May of 2016 and included two booklets: Ray Yungen’s 5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer and Roger Oakland’s Rick Warren’s Dangerous Ecumenical Pathway to Rome.
In this third mailing, we sent the leaders two booklets: Setting Aside the Power of the Gospel for a Powerless Substitute by David Dombrowski (chief editor of Lighthouse Trails) and Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (And Important Reasons Why it Shouldn’t). The following is the contents of the third letter:
Dear Christian Leader:
We are sending you two booklets that we publish, which we hope you will find helpful in understanding some of the serious problems the Christian church is facing today.
Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation explains what the Spiritual Formation movement is, how it is tied in with the contemplative-prayer movement that originated with the Catholic Church, and how pervasive it has become in the evangelical and Protestant church today.
Setting Aside the Power of the Gospel for a Powerless Substitute is an exhortation for pastors and leaders to remember that the Bible says the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God. It is this very power that has the ability to change lives; but so many in today’s church have taken a hold of powerless substitutes and then wonder why Christians are not growing in maturity, strength, and wisdom.
We hope you will read and prayerfully consider the messages in these two booklets.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Editors at Lighthouse Trails
You may view the list of leaders we sent this letter and the booklets to by clicking here (although we have since added a few more names).
For many years now, Lighthouse Trails has been trying to warn the body of Christ about the book that first introduced contemplative spirituality into the evangelical/Protestant church. That book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, was released in 1978, and in that first edition, Foster said, “we should all without shame enroll in the school of contemplative prayer.” Since then, and largely because of the influence of that book, contemplative spirituality has saturated the church in no small way, and many Christians have truly “enroll[ed] in the school of contemplative prayer.” Through our research, we have determined that over 90% of the Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities (the places our future pastors are trained at) have, to one degree or another, accepted Richard Foster’s spirituality via their Spiritual Formation programs (which always use textbooks either by Foster or ones that point to him). What’s more, from years of research and correspondence from believers, we estimate that a copy of Celebration of Discipline sits on the bookshelves of the majority of Christian pastors and leaders today.
While we have dedicated ourselves day and night for 15 years to bringing this issue to the table of present-day Christianity, hoping to see Christian leaders at least acknowledge that there is an issue here, our message has, for the most part, been rejected or simply ignored by the evangelical leadership. And yet, one of the most prominent, well-known, and respected evangelical leaders has himself put into print that Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline promotes New Age practices. Here are Jeremiah’s own words from his book, The New Spirituality in the chapter titled “New Age Influence in the Church” (subtitled: In this lesson we see how the New Age movement is changing the church):
Sometimes false doctrine—and in the case of this present study, New Age ideology—gets into the church from within, and sometimes from without the body. Once it infects the church it can spread like an infection. . . .
Dr. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist, was attending one of the most respected, and largest Baptist churches in the country. He was astounded to hear the huge choir singing a song whose lyrics included: “I [meaning God] am the grass you walk in, I am the air you breathe, I am the water you swim in.” That is pure pantheism. God is not the grass, nor the air, nor the water. Those are all elements He created, and He is totally distinct from them. It is shocking that someone in the leadership either didn’t have the discernment to recognize what the lyrics were saying, was too busy with musical things to notice. But that’s how New Age influence enters the church—when no one is watching.
Dr. Geisler has also made some notes on the contents of one of the best-selling Christian books of our day, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Geisler noted some 15 different places in the book where New Age and Eastern practices were recommended for Christians—thing such as Transcendental Meditation, turning from “manyness” to “oneness,” meditating on the void (nothing), and others. (The New Spirituality, David Jeremiah, Turning Point, 2002, pp. 106-107; emphasis added)
David Jeremiah acknowledges that once New Age ideology “infects the church it can spread like an infection.” And surely, we have seen this take place.
Two things are sad and confusing: First, Christian leaders must not share David Jeremiah’s concerns about Celebration of Discipline because 14 years after Jeremiah stated wrote this, Foster’s influence has only escalated within the church and Christian colleges. Second, and this we find most confusing, one year after The New Spirituality was published, Jeremiah’s book Life Wide Open was released. In that book, as we have written about in the past on a number of occasions, Jeremiah says there are a handful of people who have learned the secret to living a passionate life (for God), and then he proceeds to name a number of these people which include New Age sympathizers, a Buddhist sympathizer who converted to Catholicism, ecumenist and contemplative advocate Rick Warren, and a Catholic contemplative mystic. You can read about this in our article “David Jeremiah’s Book Life Wide Open – Still Sold on His Website – Still Includes New Agers.”
While we cannot understand how David Jeremiah could favorably point to those with New Age persuasions shortly after warning about the New Age in The New Spirituality, nevertheless, a major player in today’s Christian church warned about Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and the practices that book endorses.
Perhaps not too many pastors and leaders read David Jeremiah’s book, The New Spirituality. Perhaps they have no idea what David Jeremiah (and Norm Geisler) think about Richard Foster’s book. If you have a pastor, and you think he might have a copy of Celebration of Discipline in his pastor’s library, you might consider printing this article and giving him a copy. Tell him, this time it isn’t Lighthouse Trails saying it but rather is a leader whom they most likely respect saying it.
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.1—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?2
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”3 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 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”4 and Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines “excellent work.”5 In chapter three,”Silence and Solitude,” Swindoll talks about “digging for secrets . . . that will deepen our intimacy with God.”6 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.”7 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.8
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 They Shouldn’t), click here.
1. Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation: What it is, and How it is Done” (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=58).
2. Larry DeBruyn, “The Practice of His Presence” (http://herescope.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-present-of-his-presence.html).
3. Donald Whitney, “Doctrine and Devotion: A Reunion Devoutly to be Desired” (http://web.archive.org/web/20080828052145/http://biblicalspirituality.org/devotion.html).
4. 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.
5. Ibid., p. 13.
6. Ibid., p. 55.
8. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, op. cit., pp. 91-92.
This has been an extract from our booklet Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t). To order this booklet, click here.