Dan Merchant is the author of a new book titled Lord Save Us From Your Followers. Merchant’s book, published by Thomas Nelson, is similar in nature to Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church. The message in Merchant’s book is basically that since the world doesn’t like Christians, it must be the fault of Christians who spend too much time “preaching” the Gospel as opposed to just listening and befriending unbelievers without trying to convert them. The subtitle on Merchant’s book is Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?, suggesting that a “true” gospel message would not be dividing but rather uniting people.
Merchant is currently on tour, visiting Christian colleges while promoting his book and the film with the same title. One of those colleges that Merchant visited this year is Corban College of Salem, Oregon. Corban is one of the colleges that Lighthouse Trails lists as NOT promoting contemplative/emerging spirituality or spiritual formation. In Corban’s Winter 2008 magazine the following is stated: “Dr. Kent Kersey [Corban campus pastor] brought Dan Merchant and his documentary, ‘Lord Save Us From Your Followers,’ to campus as a conversation-starter. The film takes a critical look at American Christianity.” A Corban news article titled “‘Lord, Save Us From Your Followers’ gets ‘followers’ thinking” explains that Merchant spoke at Corban’s chapel service and later answered questions students had. “Campus Pastor Kent Kersey hoped the film would ’cause discussions.’ He deemed the event successful, therefore, because many classrooms have been abuzz since Merchant’s presentation, not to mention the informal conversations taking place.” The article said that Kersey believed “the message of the movie paralleled the maxim of St. Francis of Assisi, Preach the Gospel.” On Kersey’s blog, he says Merchant’s message is “compelling” and perhaps through it God is trying to say something to Christians.
However, the gospel Dan Merchant is promoting may be a “different gospel” and “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4) than that of the Bible. In the last chapter of Lord Save Us From Your Followers titled “The sea refuses NO RIVER,” Merchant refers to the people he interviewed over the course of the last few years. They represent many different religious, sexual, and political persuasions, including atheists and practicing homosexuals. Calling them “wonderful children of God,” he adds: “I know we’re both children of God. If they don’t know it shouldn’t change anything for me and I know it doesn’t change anything for God.”
Merchant’s book is strikingly similar to emerging church figure Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus But Not the Church, and also resembles Tony Campolo’s book, Speaking My Mind. Campolo is a contemplative advocate and one of the people interviewed by Merchant. It would be worthwhile to read the Lighthouse Trails review of Kimball’s book to better understand where Merchant and other like-minded authors are coming from. In addition to Kimball and Campolo, Merchant resonates with most other emergent leaders in his view of the Rapture theology (which is a rejection of it – p. 154). As a Baptist college, this would be quite conflicting with Corban’s traditional view.
Lighthouse Trails is not saying that Corban College is now a contemplative/emerging college. On the contrary. However, there is a slippery slope that is difficult to get off once a college begins to engage in the emergent/contemplative “conversation.” Last year, Lighthouse Trails expressed concern over an article in Corban magazine’s Summer 2007 issue. The article, titled “Understanding the Emerging Church Movement“ made several comments that would indicate some at Corban may not have a good understanding of the movement at all. One comment, made by Corban professor Sam Baker, echoed contemplative J.P. Moreland. Baker stated: “The extreme of rationalism is that we worship the Bible instead of the God of the Bible.” J.P. Moreland, in a Christianity Today article, says that Christians are too committed to the Bible: “In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ.” This is a very typical outlook by contemplative/emergent advocates. Contemplative figure Brennan Manning calls this over-commitment “bibliolatry”:
I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word–bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”–Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, pp. 188-189
Keep in mind that Manning rejects the idea that God the Father sent His son to die a violent death on the Cross for the sins of mankind. “[That God] does not exist,” Manning states in his book, Above All, actually copying verbatim Eastern mysticism proponent William Shannon (from Silence on Fire).
Interestingly, in the Corban article on the emerging church, a book titled Reclaiming the Center, of which J.P. Moreland was a contributor, is recommended by Corban. If Corban understood Moreland’s sympathies toward mystical practices, we don’t believe they would be recommending a book that includes a chapter by Moreland. But in that Corban article, Sam Baker suggests we must be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” when it comes to the emerging church. In regard to “mystical ancient rites,” Baker “points out that some people have found these practices to be beneficial to their faith.” He says that if the practices produce good results, then they have “merit.” However, as Lighthouse Trails has often pointed out, just because one’s intent is “good” does not legitimize practices that are clearly Hinduistic and New Age in nature. Baker says that the emerging church has “stirred believers’ interest in meditation.” But when one studies the emerging church movement carefully, he or she will see hands down that the kind of meditation the emerging church is driven by is Eastern-style meditation, the very kind that Baker warns against.
It is good that Corban does warn against New Age meditation, but by bringing in a chapel speaker who is sympathetic to emergent spirituality and recommending contemplative authors, they are contradicting their own warning. Recently, on a Corban website staff list of recommended books, authors included Brian McLaren, Henri Nouwen, and other contemplatives. The school has since removed the list, which is commendable and to their merit, but the question must be asked: does Corban really understand the serious and dangerous nature of emerging and contemplative? We believe some there definitely understand it, but others may not.
One Corban professor who has a solid grasp on emerging and contemplative is Dr. Robert Wright. In his article titled “The Emerging (Emergent) Church,” Dr. Wright says that the “philosophy, theology, and practices of the Emerging Church” will lead to the “demise of Christianity.” Wright identifies Dan Kimball as one in the emerging church. We feel quite confident that Dr. Wright would place Merchant in the same catagory as Kimball.
For those who are skeptical and may not see a problem with a Bible believing college inviting Dan Merchant to speak at a chapel service, consider this. At the back of Merchant’s book, he thanks New Age sympathizer Rob Bell and calls him an “Inspirator.” Yet, Rob Bell is a strong proponent of classic mystical practices, encouraging his followers to study the works of Ken Wilber, a New Age mystic who incorporates tantric sex and numerous other occultic practices into his spirituality. Bell, in his book Velvet Elvis, tells readers to study Wilber for three months for a “mind-blowing” experience. If Bell is an inspiration to Dan Merchant, surely this does not resonate with a college like Corban.