Spring 2016 is almost here, which means parents will be diligently helping their college-age children search for Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities for enrollment for this coming fall. As many of you know, Lighthouse Trails has been researching Christian colleges for 14 years. Three years ago, we published a report called An Epidemic of Apostasy, which revealed that the majority of Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities had begun to incorporate contemplative spirituality (through Spiritual Formation programs) into their schools. The report showed how much of this was happening because accreditation associations were requiring schools to include Spiritual Formation in the lives of their students if they wanted to be accredited.
We are reposting our report below (which is also in booklet format). We include in the report a list of many of the Christian schools that are including Spiritual Formation in the lives of their students. This is not a complete list. Lighthouse Trails is adding new schools to this list as we learn of their contemplative propensities. To see updates to this list, visit: www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/Colleges.htm. We also have a small list of Christian schools that are not promoting Spiritual Formation at: www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/collegesgood.htm.
Before deciding on a Christian school, please check out the school carefully and ask God to give you wisdom and guidance. As we have shown in our report, there is an agenda taking place to incorporate a mystical spirituality into the very heart of Christian education. It can be subtle, but it always deceptive and dangerous.
Note: We first published this report in 2013. In this 2016 update, we have discovered that almost all the links we have provided in our endnote section below have been removed by the institutions we are discussing. We have been able to replace some of them with cache files, but some have gone into obscurity.
Spiritual Formation: A movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case, you will find contemplative spirituality and its “pioneers” such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation is based on “spiritual disciplines” that can be practiced by people of any faith to make them more “Christ-like.” Rebirth through Jesus Christ and regeneration through the Holy Spirit are not essential. Rather it is a works-based “theology” that has strong roots in Roman Catholicism and ancient paganism.1
Contemplative Spirituality: A belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology. The premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all). Common terms used for this movement are “spiritual formation,” “the silence,” “the stillness,” “ancient-wisdom,” “spiritual disciplines,” and many others.2
What do Abilene Christian University, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary, Biola Seminary, Briercrest College and Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Moody Theological Seminary & Graduate School, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Regent College, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and around 240 other seminaries and colleges throughout North America all have in common?3 They are all accredited or in the process of being accredited through the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).4
What do Cincinnati Christian University, Columbia International University, Briercrest College & Seminary, Hope International University, Moody Bible Institute, Prairie Bible College and about 90 other colleges and seminaries throughout North America all have in common? They are all accredited through the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).5
What do the two accreditation organizations—Association of Theological Seminaries and Association for Biblical Higher Education—have in common? Both associations require schools that wish to be accredited to include Spiritual Formation within the school’s infrastructure. Just what exactly does that mean for these 350 some seminaries and Bible colleges? Well, it means that if they want to receive and maintain their accreditation, they are going to have to incorporate Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative spirituality) into the lives of their students.
This would certainly answer, in large part, a question that Lighthouse Trails has had—how is it that contemplative spirituality has become so widespread so quickly within Christian colleges and seminaries over the past decade?
We were told, when we contacted ATS, that “Each school and tradition approaches this [Spiritual Formation] in a different way.” In other words, how one school defines “Spiritual Formation” may differ from how another school defines it, they say. Yet, both accreditation associations have made it very clear that they are speaking of contemplative spirituality when they are speaking of Spiritual Formation. That’s easy to prove. A look around their websites and in their handbooks shows clear signs of the contemplative emphasis.
Take the “Additional Resources for Seminary Presidents” 18-page handbook, for instance, from ATS.It recommends books by mysticism advocates Jim Collins (Good to Great), Daniel Goleman (author of The Meditative Mind), Peter Drucker, contemplative mystic Henri Nouwen, Buddhist sympathizer Peter Senge (recommending his book The Fifth Discipline (the 5th discipline meaning meditation), contemplative advocate Dorothy Bass, and Catholic nun and Buddhist zen practitioner Rose Mary Dougherty (part of the panentheistic Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, DC); and there are numerous other “Spiritual Formation/contemplative” advocates in the list of “Additional Resources for Seminary Presidents.”6
In the ATS Handbook under “Assessing Outcomes in the Master of Divinity Program,” where it talks about assessing students progress, it states:
The Master of Divinity degree program standard requires that students be educated in four areas: (1) Religious Heritage, (2) Cultural Context, (3) Personal and Spiritual Formation, and (4) A Guide for Evaluating Theological Learning Capacity for Ministerial and Public Leadership . . . The MDiv standard requires each school to address the four areas.7
The ATS is determined that Spiritual Formation is integrated through all four of these areas:
However, the standard indicates that achievement and formation in these four areas should be integrated: “Instruction in these areas shall be conducted so as to indicate their interdependence with each other and with other areas of the curriculum, and their significance for the exercise of pastoral leadership.”
Integrated outcomes result from an integrated curriculum and instructional strategies.8
The Spiritual Formation/contemplative focus at the Association for Biblical Higher Education is as troubling as it is at ATS. In the ABHE Programmatic Standards handbook, it states under Curriculum—Essential Elements: “[A]n accredited graduate program is characterized by . . . A learning environment that cultivates critical thinking, theological reflection, spiritual formation, and effective leadership/ministry practice.”9
That might sound vague, but the 2011 ABHE Leadership Development Conference helps clarify ABHE’s view of Spiritual Formation. Session 1 was titled: Student Spiritual Formation—Principles, Processes, Issues, Resources & Assessment.10 This session was presented by Todd Hall of Biola University, a school that has clearly come out on the side of contemplative spirituality. Hall co-authored a book with contemplative advocate Dr. John Coe, who is the director of Biola’s Institute of Spiritual Formation; Hall also teaches Spiritual Formation at the Institute, which turns to the ancient mystics for spiritual understanding.
It is interesting to note the following in the conference literature:
Todd also developed the Spiritual Transformation [a contemplative term] Inventory (STI), a measure of Christian spirituality that is being used in national assessment projects conducted by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).11
In other words, when it says “a measure of Christian spirituality that is being used” to assess students at Christian schools, it means that assessment is made under the lens of contemplative spirituality. Students are assessed to see if they are properly absorbing their spiritual disciplines ala Spiritual Formation.
ABHE’s Council of Reference members list also indicates a contemplative agenda. Members include J.P. Moreland (whom Lighthouse Trails has critiqued for his contemplative advocacy) and contemplative musician Michael Card.12
Students who oppose or resist contemplative spirituality aren’t going to find success in these 350 theological Spiritual Formation-driven schools. According to the ATS Handbook, “direct evidence of students reaching stated goals is needed.”13 In a section titled Quality Assurance Expectations, it explains again that students will be expected to “provide evidence” that they are being transformed into their view of spirituality:
[T]heological schools are required to provide evidence that students in general reach stated learning outcomes. 14
In the summer of 2010, Moody Bible Institute, accredited through ABHE, took part in ABHE’s Assessment and Accountability Project. A report on this project explains in depth the criteria for assessing the outcomes of student success. The four areas are Biblical, Transformational, General/Experiential, and Missional (Transformational, Experiential, and Missional are terms used frequently by contemplative/emerging advocates). The “suggested assessments” include ABHE Spiritual Formation Assessment.15 The report explains that students will need to “demonstrate the knowledge of specific spiritual disciplines.”16
Incidentally, the ABHE Spiritual Formation Assessment is given every year whereas some other programs at ABHE are only assessed every three years. Clearly, ABHE intends to see Spiritual Formation thriving at these accredited member schools. One of the ways they will do this is through the influence of Henri Nouwen. In the Winter 2010 ABHE Journal is an article titled: “Hospitable Teaching, Redemptive Formation, and Learning Mobility: A Spirituality of Teaching Based upon the Writings of Henri J.M. Nouwen” by Neal Windham.17 Nouwen’s idea of hospitality and redemption incorporated mystical practices, universalism, and an interfaith reconciliation.
Anyone who thinks that Moody Bible Institute is not going to succumb to the pressure from ABHE to implement a full Spiritual Formation program at Moody is not looking at the obvious here. Already Moody has a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. By the way, the report we mentioned—ABHE’s Assessment and Accountability Project—is on Moody’s website. In the past, Moody has condemned Lighthouse Trails for our efforts to warn them because they were veering toward contemplative/emerging figures.18 What shall they say now? They HAVE incorporated Spiritual Formation (that is, contemplative spirituality). In the spring of 2013, Lighthouse Trails issued a special report titled “Concerns Grow as Moody Presses Forward Down Contemplative Path.”19
One other case in point, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has been accredited by ATS since the 1970s. It went through an assessment by ATS in 2010 and passed. That is partly because Trinity now has a Spiritual Formation emphasis.20 Some may argue that just because a school uses the term Spiritual Formation doesn’t mean they are going contemplative. But in virtually every case we have ever examined, if a school is using that term, they are using the writings of the contemplative mystics.
As for Trinity, so are they. In their 2012-2013 catalog, they list some recommended authors for incoming seminary students for “excellent background.”21 Among those authors is Henri Nouwen and the mystic monk Brother Lawrence. This means that incoming students are being introduced, before they even get started, to contemplative writers. Trinity also has on this recommended reading list Lesslie Newbigin, a Scottish writer and Bishop who is looked to for insights by emerging church figures because of his sympathetic and embracing views of postmodernism (i.e., emerging). Of Newbigin, emerging church leader Brian McLaren says: “I see my work very much in line with Newbigin’s.”22 Trinity has at least one course, DE 5740, that is called Spiritual Formation. And in a student chapel service in October 2010, contemplative pioneer, the now late Dallas Willard was the guest speaker.23 Willard is aligned with Richard Foster, and both men have had a major influence in bringing contemplative spirituality into the evangelical church.
The future of Christian theological schools is bleak. In many cases, they are the most dangerous places for Christians to be, from a biblical point of view. Already scores of them are implementing contemplative spirituality, via Spiritual Formation programs, into the lives of their students. And remember, these students are the evangelical/Protestant church’s future pastors, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, professors, missionaries, and leaders. Thanks to ATS and ABHE, there’s little doubt that a growing number of Christian seminaries and colleges will join the ranks of contemplative-promoting schools. Consider the following by some of the people who are recommended on the resource list at ATS. This will illustrate the severity of this epidemic of apostasy.
Henri Nouwen: “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”24
Daniel Goleman: “The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks [the Desert Fathers] bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East . . . the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.”25 Note: Goleman’s book advocates Tantric sex, Kundalini, T.M., and other deep occultic meditative practices.
Rose Mary Dougherty: A description of Dougherty from the Shalem Institute: A Zen student for a number of years, Rose Mary was called forth as a dharma holder in the lineage of the White Plum Asanga in 2004, becoming a dharma heir in 2006. As a sensei, she teaches Zen meditation in various settings and assists people in integrating contemplative presence and just action in their lives.26
If you know someone who is attending a seminary or Christian college that is accredited by ATS or ABHE, the quotes above are a representation of what that person may be getting rather than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To order copies of An Epidemic of Apostasy – How Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to Become Accredited, click here.
1. From the www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com website.
8. Ibid, (A.220.127.116.11), p. 8.
9. http://web.archive.org/web/20120417114212/http://www.abhe-sln.org/opac/programmatic_standards.pdf, p. 9.
10. http://www.abhe.org/images/11.CSDO_Program.pdf. (link removed)
11. Ibid., p. 3. (link removed)
13. ATS Handbook (http://web.archive.org/web/20130415015005/http://www.ats.edu/Accrediting/Pages/HandbookofAccreditation.aspx), p. 9, Section 8.
14.http://web.archive.org/web/20130513124327/http://www.ats.edu/Accrediting/Documents/Handbook/HandbookSection8.pdf, p. 46.
15. http://www.academia.edu/609666/Association_for_Biblical_Higher_Educations_Assessment_and_Accountability_Project_for_Summer_2010, p. 7.
16. Ibid., p. 17.
21. http://divinity.tiu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/05/TEDS12-13catalog.pdf, p. 188.
24. Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1998), p. 51.
25. Daniel Goleman, The Meditative Mind (Los Angeles, CA: Tarcher/Putnam Inc., 1988), p.53.
To order copies of An Epidemic of Apostasy – How Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to Become Accredited, click here.
Christian Schools That Are Promoting Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality
Note: Lighthouse Trails has done research on every one of the schools below.
Abilene Christian University—Abilene, TX
ACTS Seminaries of Trinity Western University—British Columbia, CA
Alberta Bible College–Calgary, Alberta, CA
Ambrose University—Calgary, Alberta, CA
American Christian College & Seminary—Oklahoma City, OK
Anderson University—Anderson, IN
Anderson University—Anderson, SC
Ashland Theological Seminary—Ashland, OH
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary—Springfield, MO
Azusa Pacific University, Haggard School of Theology—Azusa, CA
Baptist Theological Seminary of Southern Africa—Johannesburg, ZA
Barclay College—Haviland, KS
Baylor University—Waco, TX
Beeson Divinity School—Birmingham, AL
Belmont University—Nashville, TN
Bethel Seminary—San Diego, CA St. Paul, MN, East Coast campus
Bethel University—St. Paul, MN
Biblical Theological Seminary—Hatfield, PA
Biola University—La Mirada, CA
Briercrest Bible College— Caronport, Saskatchewan, CA
Bryan College—Dayton, TN
California Baptist University—Riverside, CA
Calvin College—Grand Rapids, MI
Campbell University—Buies Creek, NC
Campbellsville University—Campbellsville, KY
Canadian Mennonite University—Winnipeg, Manitoba, CA
Carey Institute—Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
Cedarville University—Cedarville, OH
Christian Theological Seminary—Indianapolis, IN
Christian University (GlobalNet); ministry of RBC Ministries (online)
Cincinnati Bible Seminary—Cincinnati, OH
Corban University—Salem, OR
Colorado Christian University—Lakewood, CO
Columbia Theological Seminary (Presbyterian)—Decatur, GA
Cornerstone University—Grand Rapids, MI
Dallas Theological Seminary—Dallas, TX
Drew University—Madison, NJ
Duke Divinity School (Duke University)—Durham, NC
Eastern Mennonite Seminary—Harrisonburg, VA
Eastern University—St. Davids, PA
Emmanuel Bible College—Kitchner, Ontario, CA
Emmanuel School of Religion—Johnson City, TN
Fresno Pacific University—Fresno, CA
Fuller Theological Seminary—Pasadena, CA
George Fox University Seminary—Newberg, OR
Gordon College—Wenham, MA
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—South Hamilton, MA
Grace Theological Seminary—Winona Lake, IN
Grand Canyon College—Phoenix, AZ
Greenville College—Greenville, IL
Harding School of Theology—Nashville, TN
Harding University—Searcy, AR
Hope College—Holland, MI
Hope International University—Fullerton, CA
Houghton College—Houghton, NY
Indiana Wesleyan University—Marion, IN
John Brown University—Siloam Springs, AR
John Wesley College—Pretoria, ZA
Lancaster Bible College—Lancaster, PA
LeTourneau University—Longview, TX
Liberty University—Lynchburg, VA
Lincoln Christian University—Lincoln, IL
Lipscomb University—Nashville, TN
Luther Rice Seminary/University—Lithonia, GA
Malone College—Canton, OH
Mars Hill Graduate School—Bothell, WA
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary—Fresno, CA
Messiah College (Brethren in Christ Church)—Mechanicsburg, PA
MidAmerica Nazarene University—Olathe, KS
Milligan College—Milligan College, TN
Montreat College—Montreat, NC
Moody Bible Institute—Chicago, IL
Mount Vernon Nazarene—Mt. Vernon, OH
Multnomah University—Portland, OR
Nebraska Christian College—Papillion, NE
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary—New Orleans, LA
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Chicago, Rockford, IL
Northeastern Seminary—Rochester, NY
Northern Seminary—Lombard, IL
Northpark University & Northpark Theological Seminary—Chicago, IL
Northwest Nazarene University—Nampa, ID
Northwestern College—Orange City, IA
Northwestern College (University of Northwestern)—St. Paul, MN
Nyack College—Nyack, NY
Oklahoma Christian University—Oklahoma City, OK
Oklahoma Wesleyan University—Bartlesville, OK
Olivet Nazarene University—Bourbonnais, IL
Oral Roberts University—Tulsa, OK
Pacific Rim Christian College—Honolulu, HI
Palm Beach Atlantic University—Palm Beach, FL
Pepperdine University—Malibu, CA
Phoenix Seminary—Phoenix, AZ
Prairie College of the Bible—Three Hills, Alberta, CA
Providence College and Seminary—Otterburne, Manitoba, CA
Reformed Theological Seminary—Several locations in U.S.
Regent College—Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
Rockbridge Seminary—Springfield, MO
Rocky Mountain College—Calgary, Alberta, CA
Rolling Hills Bible Institute—Rolling Hills Estates, CA
Samford University—Birmingham, AL
Shorter College—Rome, GA
Simpson University—Redding, CA
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary—Wake Forest, NC
Southeastern University—Lakeland, Fl
Southwest Baptist University—Bolivar, MO
Spring Arbor University—Spring Arbor Township, MI
Talbot Seminary (Biola)—La Mirada, CA
Taylor Seminary/Taylor College—Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Taylor University—Upland, IN
Toccoa Falls College—Toccoa Falls, GA
Trevecca Nazarene University—Nashville, TN
Trinity International University—Deerfield, IL
Trinity Western University—Langley, British Columbia, CA
Tyndale University College & Seminary—Toronto, Ontario, CA
Vanguard University—Costa Mesa, CA
Western Seminary—Portland, OR; Sacramento, San Jose, CA
Western Theological Seminary—Holland, MI
Westmont College—Santa Barbara, CA
Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, IL
Whitworth University—Spokane, WA
William Carey Institute —Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
* This is not a complete list. Lighthouse Trails is adding new schools to this list as we learn of their contemplative propensities. To see updates to this list, visit: www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/Colleges.htm. We also have a small list of Christian schools that are not promoting Spiritual Formation at: www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/collegesgood.htm.
An Epidemic of Apostasy – How Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to Become Accredited, click here.