In 2008, Lighthouse Trails wrote an article titled “Association of Christian Schools International Adds Spiritual Formation and Promotes Contemplative Authors.” The article challenged the ACSI because of its obvious contemplative propensities and how that was going to affect millions of students worldwide. You see, the ACSI claims to be the “largest Protestant educational organization in the world” with nearly 24,000 member schools and affecting over 5.5 million students throughout the world.1 By the way, those figures are substantially higher than the 2008 figures – 5,300 member schools and 1.2 million students. The question is, since ACSI’s challenge by Lighthouse Trails in 2008, what has the organization done with its contemplative leanings? The answer to that question can be found in an upcoming event that ACSI is holding.
In July of 2013, in Colorado Springs, ACSI will be presenting the ” 2013 ACSI Leadership Academy.” The theme at this year’s annual event is “Spiritual Formation: Christian Schools Matter”! The keynote speaker will be Dr. James C. Wilhoit, author of Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered (a copy of this book will be mailed to every registrant). Each registrant will also receive one semester hour of graduate credit from George Fox University (one of the most contemplative colleges out there today).
In our 2008 article, we suggested that ACSI “may be heading into the troubled waters of contemplative spirituality.” We stated this because listed under the ACSI “Spiritual Formation” section of their website were the names of contemplative books that ACSI was recommending. Our article focused mostly on Cultivating Christian Character by Michael Zigarelli. Zigarelli’s book, as we pointed out, contained the names of many contemplative figures. One in particular stood out, interspiritualist mystic David Steindl Rast. You can read our 2008 report to learn about our concerns over Zigarelli’s book and ACSI’s promotion of it.
That first article we wrote about ACSI was written in January of 2008. Later that year in March, we wrote “ACSI (Association of Christian Schools) Recommends Brian McLaren and Defends Mysticism.” We stated:
ACSI is telling attendees of the Early Education Conference on April 19, 2008 to read Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus for preparation for the conference.1 (p. 3) Now, we are sorry to report that ACSI is recommending to its 5300 member schools Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian (ACSI has since removed these links)
Our March 2008 article discussed then ACSI president Ken Smitherman and how he defended mysticism, referring to several mystic proponents in his defense statements. We explained:
In Smitherman’s March letter [his defense against our January letter], he tries to distinguish between what he calls “occult” mysticism and Christian mysticism. But by directing people to read Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Michael Zigarelli, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren, he is promoting the very thing he says is wrong.
Basically, as we showed in our March 2008 article, the president of ACSI was a contemplative advocate and wasn’t hiding the fact. By September of that year, we posted a third article, “ACSI (Association of Christian Schools) Searches for New President – Will This One Be a Contemplative?” Ken Smitherman was leaving ACSI, and a new president was going to take his place. There was hope, we thought. We could only speculate, but we could not help wonder if ACSI decided they didn’t want to go in the contemplative way. Our September article stated:
We hope that ACSI will put in the place of president someone who understands the dangers of the contemplative prayer and emerging church movements and someone who will seek to uphold the Word of God at all costs. This is an organization that works with and serves thousands of Christian schools worldwide representing 1.2 million students. If they present contemplative spirituality as an acceptable and beneficial belief system, the spiritual damage to countless students will be devastating.
The last article we posted about ACSI was in February 2009, “ACSI Chooses New President.” Dr. Brian Simmons, from Indiana Wesleyan University was chosen to be ACSI’s next president. In our 2/2009 article we stated:
The school where Simmons is currently working, Indiana Wesleyan University, is one of the schools listed on the Lighthouse Trails Contemplative Colleges page. In general, the Wesleyan denomination (as with many other denominations) has been influenced significantly by contemplative/emerging spirituality. . . As for Brian Simmons, time will tell what influences he will bring to ACSI. Let us pray that he does not share Ken Smitherman’s . . . affinity for contemplative spirituality.
Four years have passed since Brian Simmons took over the leadership of ACSI. (He actually resigned in 2012.) Dr. Daniel Egeler took over the role of President of ACSI. Lighthouse Trails has been occupied with many other stories, and ACSI drifted into the background. But on March 29th of this year, we received an e-mail stating:
Dear Lighthouse Trails:
I received a copy of an upcoming ACSI Leadership Academy that will be held this summer July 18-21. The title of the academy made my hair bristle: Spiritual Formation: Christian Schools Matter. The keynote speaker is none other than the infamous Dr. James C. Wilhoit. I have removed the flyer so no one will know about it. But I want to let my school administrator know that this is not something that would be beneficial, especially with the title of the conference.
Obviously, the person who wrote us is part of one of ACSI’s member schools. We commend this person for spotting danger and attempting to do something to protect his/her school.
Regarding James Wilhoit’s book, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered (the book that ACSI will be giving out to members), the book is packed with references of and quotes by some of today’s most staunch and influential contemplative names: Dallas Willard (who wrote the foreword), Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Ruth Haley Barton (trained at the interspiritual Shalem Institute), David Benner, Kenneth Boa, Richard Foster, Emilie Griffin, Brother Lawrence, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Pete Scazzero, Klaus Issler, and Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast). (Refer to our research site for information on these names.) The book is basically a primer on contemplative prayer and emerging spirituality and backs up the teachings of the names which it includes. Wilhoit is currently a professor of “Christian Formation” at Wheaton College. (update: 4/2/13 – sent from a LT reader after this article posted. James Wilhoit’s book on Lectio Divina: http://jimwilhoit.com/discovering-lectio-divina.html).
It is sad to say that ACSI’s current president, Daniel Egeler, is continuing on with Ken Smitherman’s role of taking ACSI down the contemplative path. If your children (including college age children) attend a Christian school, it would be a good idea if you found out if that school is an ACSI member school. If it is, please talk to that school’s administrator or president and alert them to the direction ACSI has gone.Lighthouse Trails will gladly send a complimentary copy of A Time of Departing to any ACSI administrator or president that is willing to read it. Just e-mail us at email@example.com if you know an ACSI member school administrator who says he or she would like a copy.
As you may recall, Lighthouse Trails did a special report a year and a half ago titled “An Epidemic of Apostasy – Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to Become Accredited.” In that report, we documented how Christian accreditation associations were requiring Christian schools to include Spiritual Formation programs/emphasis in their schools in order to receive accreditation. If you haven’t read that article, we encourage you to do so. It is one of the keys in understanding how our Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries have fallen into spiritual deception. As for ACSI, it offers member schools a certification program, which Christian schools now seek. Put two and two together, and you will end up with the same scenario that has happened with Christian accreditation as we explained in our Epidemic of Apostasy article. In other words: ACSI offers certification (e.g, teaching certification) + ACSI promotes contemplative spirituality = ACSI eventually requiring recipients of ACSI certification to include contemplative (i.e., Spiritual Formation) in their education. It’s really that simple, and it’s really that dreadful.
Click here to use the ACSI member school search tool to see if your own school is listed. With 24,000 member schools in ACSI, most likely it is. This includes all levels of education: elementary, high school, college, university, and seminary.