OCEA (Ohio Christian Educators Association) Brings Emerging/Contemplative Proponents to Conference

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OCEA (Ohio Christian Educators Association) began over 50 years ago with “a vision to host an annual event where church teachers, both pastors and laymen, could receive solid biblical training.” Various denominations and ministries are represented, and participants in the conferences come from around the nation. Each year the Christian Ministries Conference is held in Ohio and is a well attended event.

A woman who has been attending these annual conferences for many years contacted Lighthouse Trails last week when she found out that emerging/contemplative proponents Tony Campolo and Wayne Rice would be the speakers.

Both Campolo and Rice are discussed in Roger Oakland’s book Faith Undone. What many people may not know is that Rice co-founded Youth Specialties with the late Mike Yaconelli several decades ago. Oakland explains:

In the late 1960s, two youth workers in their twenties, Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice (who happened to be working for Youth for Christ at the time), wanted to change the way youth ministry was viewed and approached. They self-published a small booklet called Ideas, began talking to senior pastors and churches, and in 1970 held their first conference. They called the company Youth Specialties. Interestingly, the late theologian Frances Schaeffer attended their second annual conference.1 Schaeffer would be very surprised if he had known that thirty years down the road this young sprouting organization would become one of the major catalysts for the emerging church movement.

Just a few years after Youth Specialties was launched, Zondervan publishers took notice of the two men’s work:

Youth Specialties’ passion for youth workers caught the attention of Zondervan Publishing House in 1974. Zondervan came to YS and said, “You guys are weird and unpredictable. We want to put your books in bookstores,” recalls Mike. Zondervan was very Dutch, very Grand Rapids, very conservative–but hey, they believed in our mission!2

Zondervan’s interest in Youth Specialties would only increase, and over the next thirty years, the two companies would publish over 500 resources for youth workers. It is worth mentioning that Zondervan became the property of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1988. Murdoch’s corporation, also owner of Fox News, has been a major catalyst for Purpose Driven Life and now we see for the emerging church through Zondervan. This is significant in light of Rick Warren’s relationship with Murdoch. Warren says he is Murdoch’s pastor;3 it is clear that both he and Youth Specialties benefited from a corporation that had a net profit of 21 billion dollars for the 2004 fiscal year,4 and whose founder (Murdoch) received a “papal knighthood” from Pope John Paul II for Murdoch’s donation of “large sums of money” to the Catholic church.5

In 1984, as Youth Specialties grew and its circle of influence spread across the country, Zondervan signed a co-publishing agreement with Youth Specialties. Eventually, there was the National Youth Workers Convention, the National Pastors Convention, and another 100 seminars throughout the year around the country.

Twelve years later, Youth Specialties partnered with San Francisco Theological Seminary to form the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project.6 The following year, the young organization was awarded a grant by the Lilly Endowment.7 By this time, Youth Specialties had contacted the new emergent leaders and said they wanted to work together. Sharing many of the same spiritual affinities as Emergent, Youth Specialties hoped to help take the movement to the next level with more books, more conferences, and more growth.

In 2006, Zondervan bought Youth Specialties.8

As many Lighthouse Trails readers are aware, Youth Specialties and Zondervan are major catalysts for both the emerging church and contemplative spirituality. Today, Wayne Rice is actively involved with a ministry called HomeWord, the ministry of Jim Burns. Burns promotes contemplative spirituality; for example Burns strongly promotes spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton. A 2006 radio interview Burns did with Barton shows this very clearly when he says she is one of his favorite guests and speaks with great admiration regarding her work in “transforming” lives through contemplative spirituality. Click here to listen to interview. Barton was trained at the panentheistic Shalem Institute and later worked with John Ortberg on developing spiritual formation curriculum at Willow Creek. HomeWord has numerous favorable articles, references, and books by contemplatives and emerging leaders such as Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton, etc. Wayne Rice is also founder of Understanding Your Teenagers, an organization that turns to Youth Specialties and other organizations that have propensities toward contemplative/emerging spirituality.

OCEA’s also has invited mystic proponent Tony Campolo, and on a phone message at the OCEA office, Campolo’s book The God of Intimacy and Action is favorably mentioned. This book resonates with contemplative spirituality as does his book Speaking My Mind (also mentioned on the OCEA phone message), in which Campolo states:

Beyond these models of reconciliation, a theology of mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have within their histories examples of ecstatic union with God … I do not know what to make of the Muslim mystics, especially those who have come to be known as the Sufis. What do they experience in their mystical experiences? Could they have encountered the same God we do in our Christian mysticism?” p. 149-150

It is most regretful that OCEA has chosen Rice and Campolo to give “solid biblical training” to educators. Because contemplative spirituality is not biblical, it is possible that attendees will get something other than biblical training at this year’s event.

1. Youth Specialties’ 30th Anniversary: http://www.youth specialties .com/about/30th.
2. Ibid.
3. Malcolm Gladwell, “How Rick Warren Built His Ministry” (New Yorker, September 12, 2005, http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/article.asp?ArtID=9636).
4. “News Corporation: Earnings Release for the Quarter and Fiscal Year Ended June 30th 2004,” accessed online at http://www.newscorp.com/Report2004/2004_annual_report.pdf.
5. Steve Boggan, “Catholic anger at Murdoch’s papal knighthood” (The (London) Independent, February 17, 1998).
6. From the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project website: http://www.ymsp.org/about/history.html.
7. “Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project Receives Major Grant,” (Youth Specialties News, January 11, 2001).
8. Press release from Zondervan, Tara Powers, “Leading Christian Publisher Zondervan Acquires Ministry Organization Youth Specialties” (May 2, 2006).

Related Stories:

Tony Campolo on Mystical Experiences