June 2013 Update: In 2008, Lighthouse Trails wrote an article about the contemplative propensities of the FGBC (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches). We have posted that article below this update. Please note that many of the FGBC links on the 2008 article have been removed by FGBC and CE National.
This update will discuss two items. First, this past week, we were contacted by a FGBC person to comment on our 2008 article. We have posted information on that comment below in the 2008 article. Secondly, in doing some research to see where FGBC is at today, we are sad to report that the denomination appears to be continuing down the contemplative/emerging road.
For instance, Grace College & Theological Seminary website (an FGBC school) is packed with references to “Spiritual Formation,” the vehicle through which contemplative spirituality flows. In addition, one of the men mentioned in our 2008 article is Robert Kellemen. His book, Spiritual Friends (see information below on the book) is still being published and sold by BMH Books (the publishing arm for FGBC): http://bmhbooks.com/shop/spiritual-friends/. What’s more, in a 2013 class that Kellemen is teaching at Capital Bible Seminary, he recommends students read his book Spiritual Friends. So his views he shared in that book must still resonate with him today, and though the book is a very contemplative/emerging book, FGBC is still publishing it.
Another example is if you look at a 2010 entry by FGBC’s Bob Hetzler (who is addressed below), http://cebobsblog.blogspot.com, you will see where he is strongly promoting a book titled Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken. We reviewed this book in the past in our article “Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken – When “Cool” Isn’t Cool and Is Ashamed of the Gospel” and found it very pro-emerging, pro-contemplative. Some of the figures McCracken favors in his book are Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Jay Baaker, and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz). Hetzler has had a prominent role within FGBC in youth training and leadership. This is just another indicator that FGBC has not moved away from contemplative/emerging but rather has moved further down that road.
In a 2013 Grace Connect ana FGBC publication) article, “It Takes a Community,” the spiritual disciplines, the silence, and the spiritual formation movement are discussed in a most favorable way. The article is written by Dr. Christy Hill, who is the Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Women’s Ministries at Grace College and Theological Seminary. According to an interview with Hill, she lists Dallas Willard, John Eldredge, Larry Crabb, and Ken Gire (all contemplative advocates) as authors who have influenced her. For those not familiar with Ken Gire, in his book Seeing What is Sacred, Gire resonates with mystics like Sue Monk Kidd, Morton Kelsey, Henri Nouwen, and Jean Pierre de Caussade. And speaking of FGBC women, in a 2010 FGBC conference for women, “Much of the discussion is based on the book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership — Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton.” Barton is a key leader in the contemplative/spiritual formation movement within the evangelical church. We discuss her spirituality in depth in a series of recent articles regarding Barton’s role with the Assemblies of God.
Finally, we’d like to draw your attention to the FGBC annual conference. This year it is called Vision 2020, happening in July in Atlanta, Georgia. If you examine some of the descriptions of the sessions, we think you will be concerned (hold your cursor over a session box to read pop up window’s description of that particular session). To give a couple examples, 1) under the session titled Model Church, which is fascilitated by CE National (see below), it is recommended that one read emerging church pastor Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (a fitting title for a seeker-friendly, church-growth movement, that’s for sure), before coming to the conference for preparation; 2) in the session titled Expand Your Religious World View, attendees will visit three Hindu temples and converse with “devotees.” That session, as well as others, is put on by Encompass World Partners, which is an organization that partners with Catalyst, a yearly event that always features contemplative and emerging speakers (this year emerging author Ann Voskamp – One Thousand Gifts – is one of the Catalyst speakers). Other sessions will include trips to an Islamic Mosque and a Buddhist monastery.
The last session of Vision 2020 we want to draw your attention to is Jesus and the Quran. The description reads:
Becoming conversant about faith with Muslim people has its roots in the model of Jesus and his early followers. Building friendships, studying the Bible and the Qur’an together, and asking God to help us answer the all-important question: “Who is Jesus and what does He have to do with entering the Kingdom of God?” We hope to equip participants to have these kinds of conversation in a fruitful, honoring way. We focus on three major topics: (1) The Kingdom of God in the Bible, (2) Our identity within the Kingdom, and (3) Islam and the Kingdom. Although historically the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often highlighted the differences between our faiths, we are confident that through prayer and patient study both can come to a robust understanding of the Jesus of the Bible (emphasis added – note that even the Christian will come to a new understanding of Jesus).
These sessions are part of what we call the “new” missiology. To understand this, read Roger Oakland’s article/booklet The New Missiology: Doing Missions Without the Gospel.
The information above is just a sampling of how the FGBC is heading in the wrong direction, away from the purity of the Gospel and toward a spirituality that is rooted in panentheism and interspirituality – the antithesis of the message of the Cross.
In a 2012 article in Grace Connect, it says that “a fresh wind is blowing in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC).” We fear this wind may be the winds of deception if FGBC does not heed the warning that LT and others have tried to issue.
* Note: Remember, many of the FGBC links no longer work. We fixed the ones we could but we were not able to find working replacements for some.
The FGBC (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches) is an association of 260 North American churches of the Grace Brethren movement, which has an historical heritage dating back to the 18th century. Currently, there are over 2000 [over 3000 as of June 2013] churches and around 750,000 Grace Brethren members. According to the main FGBC website, FGBC churches are autonomous (self-governed), and FGBC believes that the Bible is their authority. Thus, it is most unfortunate to report that FGBC is heading into the contemplative/emerging camp through several various avenues.
The CE National is a ministry arm of FGBC that provides “ministries and resources” to educate and lead FGBC children, youth, and adults. One of the programs, 412 Commission (based on 1 Timothy 4:12), is “designed to nurture young leaders in an effective discipling environment.” Last December, the Commission exposed students to emerging church leader and New Age-practice proponent Rob Bell. 1 In view of Bell’s resonance with the Sisters of Marywood (recently featured in Reiki News for their “success” with the occultic practice, Reiki) and his emphasis on New Age mystic Ken Wilber, introducing FGBC kids to Bell is alarming. Of the meeting with Bell, an FGBC writer states: “[O]ur view of God was blown out of the box we had it in.” [2013 update: In June of 2013, a person from the FGBC contacted us to tell us that in 2007-2008, there were two 412 Commission groups. The group from Florida, he said, did not go to Rob Bell’s Church but did watch Bell’s Noomas to critique them. The other group, from Ohio, did apparently attend Rob Bell’s church although those links have now been removed from the Internet].
On a FGBC blog by one of CE National’s leaders, Bob Hetzler (CE National’s YouthNet Commission and director of Fusion, the young adult division of FGBC’s Momentum youth conference), Hetzler states that Rob Bell’s Nooma videos (a Trojan Horse for Bell’s non-biblical spirituality), have been a best-selling resource for youth. 2
Sadly, just about one month ago, Hetzler recommended people read Brian McLaren and other pro-emerging books to get help in understanding the emerging church movement. This will certainly give students the perspective from an emerging point of view, but Hetzler’s resources do not alert to the serious and dangerous mystical affinities of the emerging church or of its promotion of the Kingdom Now theology or its interspiritual and universalistic beliefs. It is disappointing that Hetzler didn’t point to a book like Faith Undone, in which Roger Oakland precisely and accurately shows the true nature of the emerging church.
Incidentally, on Hetzler’s blog, he has links to Dallas Willard, Relevant magazine, Leadership Network, and the Ooze, all of which are some of the most influential promoters of the emerging church, and all of which have a propensity toward the mystical. Because Hetzler is instrumental in working with FGBC churches, his promotion of contemplative and emerging resources cannot be underestimated.
The CE National “lending library” is filled with contemplative and emerging related books and authors: Under Youth Ministry, they recommend Mark Oestreicher (from Youth Specialties who calls Christianity “an Eastern religion”), Rick Warren (a major promoter of both contemplative and emerging), Duffy Robbins, Doug Fields (Saddleback), Wayne Rice (Youth Specialties co-founder), Tony Campolo, Mike Yaconelli, and Tony Jones. Other various categories include New Ager Jack Canfield, mystic proponent Richard Foster, Larry Crabb, John Eldredge, Robert Webber, Tony Campolo, and many others with similar spiritual proclivities.
BMH Books is a publishing arm of FGBC. A new release of theirs titled Spiritual Friends is written by Robert Kellemen. The book was originally published by RPM Books. In that 2004 edition, Kellemen quotes atonement denier Alan Jones from his book Exploring Spiritual Direction. This makes sense that Kellemen would turn to Jones because Kellemen’s book is about spiritual direction, which is a philosophy that Jones believes in also. Some may be thinking, “What is wrong with spiritual direction?” But the kind of spiritual direction that is being promoted here is contemplative spiritual direction. In other words, spiritual direction (through trained spiritual directors) is needed to help people develop their spiritual formation through contemplative prayer practices. For those who may doubt that this is what Kellemen is referring to, all one needs to do is look to the Acknowlegments in his book, where he thanks Larry Crabb who “contributed” to his own theories on spiritual direction. Crabb is a psychologist who turned to spiritual direction (i.e., contemplative spirituality). This is documented in a Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?.” In that article it states: [N]ow he [Crabb] believes that in today’s church, therapy should be replaced by another, more ancient practice–“spiritual direction.” Today, Crabb promotes mystical practices, as can be seen in his various writings (such as The Papa Prayer, where he encourages the use of centering prayer.
In Kellemen’s book, he also looks to other mystical-type prayer proponents for guidance: Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Aquinas, Dallas Willard, John Eldredge, Dan Allender, Ignatius Loyola, Tilden Edwards (who said in his book, Spiritual Friend, that contemplative is the bridge between Eastern religion and Christianity – see A Time of Departing), Richard Foster, David Benner, and Marjorie Thompson (from her book Soul Feast ).
Marjorie Thompson does not hide her draw to eastern-style mysticism. She states, “The practice of contemplative prayer might give a Christian ground for constructive dialogue with a meditating Buddhist” (from Preface). In essence, Thompson resonates with New Age philosophy as she indicates in her book by often favorably referencing and/or promoting people like Matthew Fox, Thomas Keating, and others with panentheistic views (God is in all). Of Keating and eastern mysticism, she states:
A way of prayer closely related to this ancient form [the Jesus prayer] is now enjoying a revival among Christians of several traditions. It is called “centering prayer,” and is a good way to introduce the person in the pew to contemplation. Centering prayer is based on a fourteenth-century treatise titled The Cloud of Unknowing. In this way of prayer, you select a single word that sums up for you the nature and being of God. Single-minded focus on this prayer word in silent concentration becomes a vehicle into the mystery of divine presence and grace. The method bears a striking resemblance to Eastern meditation with mantras but has developed independently out of the mystical strands of Western Christianity.
If FGBC incorporates Kellemen’s spiritual orientation into their denomination, some day many of their churches may resemble the vision of Matthew Fox’s christ-consciousness or of Thomas Keating through mantric prayer.
Grace College/Seminary (FGBC representative college) is also allowing the contemplative influence into student’s lives. Last April (2007), at their chapel, they had Richard Twiss, and this April they had Shaine Claiborne (who was recently cancelled at Cedarville because of his emerging church spirituality). Also Kay Warren spoke in February. Warren promotes contemplative through her recommendation of Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, which states we need to move from the “moral to the mystical.”
The last avenue our report will point out is that FGBC is allowing contemplative/emerging influences through their youth events. Momentum, taking place this June, recommends several ministries such as Youth Specialties and CPYU. 3 At the 2008 Driven Conference, one of the speakers is Kary Oberbrunner, author of Called: Becoming Who You Were Born to be (also published by FGBC’s BMH Books). Oberbrunner, a graduate of Grace College and pastor of an FGBC church, quotes New Age leader Marianne Williamson on the first page of his book (and again on p. 143), calling her words “inspiring” and offering no warning about her but rather says they have inspired his own soul. Perhaps Oberbrunner does not know who Marianne Williamson is, but if that is the case, we hope he will now take the time to learn and remove her reference from his book. Pointing to Williamson is the same as pointing to Oprah, A Course in Miracles, and Eckhart Tolle, all of whom are strong opponents of biblical Christianity and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Kary Oberbrunner has announced that he is now in contract with Zondervan publishers. Given the fact that Zondervan is one of the main influencers for contemplative/emerging spirituality in evangelical Christianity, this probably isn’t a good sign that they resonate with him. In his book, Oberbrunner expounds on the kingdom teachings of emerging leaders Doug Pagitt and Robert Webber, and even references panentheist Basil Pennington. Pennington stated the following in a book he co-authored with Thomas Keating:
We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and capture it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible … Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices (see chapter 2, ATOD)
It is our prayer and hope that FGBC and its leaders will stop going in the contemplative direction and make a renewed commitment to biblical truth. Lighthouse Trails would like to offer a complimentary copy of A Time of Departing and Faith Undone to any of FGBC’s 12-member Fellowship Council Board of Directors. These 12 men help to lead FGBC and make decisions that affect the entire movement. We think if they would take the time to study these issues, they will find that contemplative spirituality and emerging philosophy are not biblical and not the direction in which FGBC founders, who were often persecuted for their defense of the faith, would have taken believers.