Dear Lighthouse Trails:
I would be so appreciative if you could help me. Our church is planning on having every adult Sunday school class do the John Ortberg Fully Devoted book. I researched him and found that he is tied to the spiritual formation movement. I researched his seminary education, churches he has pastored, and checked out his current church. I went to the ________ director of our church with this information. [He] did listen, is aware of the emergent church, and is a very theologically conservative person. However, the pastor wants [him] picking “middle of the road” type materials despite his strong biblical stances in the pulpit as well. They have both read through this book and believe there is nothing harmful there, even after I pointed out the background of this man. They also believe “spiritual formation” is found in the Bible. I agree that maturing in Christ, being conformed to the image of Christ, and maturing in Christ are found in the Bible, but not “spiritual formation.” . . . I’m willing to stand corrected if I’m wrong in my understanding of Fully Devoted as I have not read the book. I don’t want to read John Ortberg as I believe from my research he is emergent.
I said all of that to ask of you, please help me be properly informed. Am I misinformed about John Ortberg, or is he emergent? Is Fully Devoted “harmless” and a good tool to get people acting on their faith, as that is what my pastor and ________ director believe. They are solid in their theology. Either I am really missing the boat, or they are being deceived. I want to be able to say I was wrong if I misinterpreted John Ortberg, or plead with them again with rock solid evidence that they are introducing poison into our body and making people comfortable with a wolf.
You are not mistaken in your concerns about the teachings of John Ortberg. As for his book, Fully Devoted, it is not harmless at all. For one, most of the people Ortberg quotes or references in the book are contemplative mystics and/or contemplative advocates: Henri Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline), and Ken Gire.
Two, the book encourages contemplative meditation. In this paragraph, you can see this:
Ultimately, the goal is not to get through the Scriptures, it’s to get the Scriptures through you. And that will require meditation. The act of meditation should not seem spooky; it simply involves the practice of sustained attention. Whatever your mind repeats, it retains. If you think about it, each of us daily gives sustained attention to something. It’s just a question of what that something is. (Kindle Locations 366-369)
Why do we say this is encouraging contemplative meditation? Even though he does not come right out and tell readers to repeat a word or phrase, he is clearly not talking about pondering on and thinking about the Scriptures when he says “the act of meditation.” One would never try to defend that activity by saying it shouldn’t “seem spooky.” The key here is when he says “the practice of sustained attention.” In other words, the practice of putting the mind in neutral, which, contemplative all agree is done through repeating a word or phrase or focusing on the breath. Skeptics may say that Ortberg isn’t referring to contemplative meditation, but in most of Ortberg’s books, he turns to the mystics for insight and inspiration.
In Ortberg’s more recent book, God is Closer Than You Think, Ortberg quotes favorably from contemplatives such as Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Gary Thomas (Sacred Pathways), Brother Lawrence (who danced violently like a mad man when he practiced), interspiritualists Tilden Edwards (Shalem Institute), Thomas Kelly (Divine Center in all), Jean Pierre de Caussade, Frederick Buechner, Meister Eckhart as well as Dallas Willard and Thomas Merton. If a church uses Fully Devoted for a study, participating church members may be inclined to pick up more material by Ortberg and could very well be led to the writings of these aforementioned authors.
One of the books Ortberg quotes from in Fully Devoted is Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. On the back cover of that book sits an endorsement by goddess worshiper Sue Monk Kidd and the title of her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It is in that book that Monk Kidd says God is in everything, even human waste!
Fully Devoted is basically a preparation or conditioner for contemplative prayer. Your pastor and _________ director may believe that Ortberg’s book is “a good tool to get people acting on their faith,” but we believe nothing could be further from the truth. The best tool to get people to act on their faith is to encourage them to stay in the Word of God and to make sure they have a personal and genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Reading the contemplative proponents may get people to practice the “spiritual disciplines” (e.g. silence, fasting, solitude. etc.), but it will not truly make them more Christ-like. That can only come from having Christ in us when we are born again and He is our Lord and Savior. It cannot come from performing certain works and disciplines. Spiritual Formation is a works-based belief system that leads people into a dangerous unbiblical spirituality because of the meditation practices that go along with it.
If you can get your pastor to agree to read A Time of Departing, we will be happy to send him a complimentary copy.
[Christ] in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:13)