By Judson Casjens
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
So went one of the stanzas of the 1970s song by Peter, Paul & Mary about social justice and war. We might ask the same question about the books believers are reading today which purport to be Christian while inside the teaching betrays that very notion. Rather than being instructive about living the life Christ would have the believer live, instead, we are given various empty promises connected to superstition, mantras reflective of paganism, and other distortions; when will we ever learn?
There has been a continual flow of literature and teaching which has been deceptive and even blatantly false. One fitting example would be “The Jesus Prayer” which put forth the recitation of the formulaic “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” repeated until one’s mind is emptied by which presumably one’s heart would be cleansed. In the Jesus Prayer can be seen the Eastern counterpart of the rosary, which has developed to hold a similar place in the Christian West. In “Eastern church theology,” it is a “spiritual method” “of prayer” called “hesychasm”1, given to “emphasize the concrete possibility that man is given to unite himself with the Triune God in the intimacy of his heart, in that deep union of grace which Eastern theology likes to describe with the particularly powerful term of ‘theosis,’ or ‘divinization.'”2 Divinization is just as it sounds; to make divine describes the process underlined above.
The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson (a Dallas Seminary graduate) encouraged using this prayer as a formulaic prayer (out of context and misapplied) and suggests that God ought to do what people want rather than them following God’s will. In the book, he actually goes further and promises God will fulfill requests. This book, published by a Christian publisher (Multnomah Press), sold over nine million copies to the ever-gullible Christian community, and its author is still a “respected” teacher in many circles.3
You don’t reach the next level of blessing and stay there. You begin again—Lord, bless me indeed! Lord, please enlarge . . . ! And so on. As the cycle repeats itself, you’ll find that you are steadily moving into wider spheres of blessing and influence, spiraling ever outward and upward into a larger life for God. . . . You will know beyond doubt that God has opened heaven’s storehouses because you prayed.4 –The Prayer of Jabez
Here is a quote from Medicine Buddha Sadhana, a small book given to thousands of people who attended a May 2001 “Medicine Buddha Empowerment” workshop led by The Dalai Lama:
To recite the Medicine Buddha Mantra brings inconceivable merit. . . . If you recite the mantra every day, the buddhas and bodhisattvas will always pay attention to you, and they will guide you. All your negative karmas will be pacified and you will never be born in the three lower realms . . . and all your wishes are fulfilled.5
Is this really how we learn how to pray in God’s Word, by making formulaic prayers and mantras that God must respond to? That is the pagan conception of how their gods operate and respond.
In the mid 1970s, there was the book titled Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which has sold tens of millions of copies. Of this book, we read:
The story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull illustrates many of our culture’s beliefs about spirituality. And many in the evangelical community share those beliefs. They believe that God has given them the Holy Spirit, who is at their beck and call, for the primary purpose of giving them the power to rise above their moral and spiritual limitations. They interpret the gospel to be a message of peace and tranquility. And finally, they believe that “spirituality” means arriving at a state of conscious “connectedness” with God.6
Dave Hunt, founder of The Berean Call, said:
I remember Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and wow! That was such a big seller, popular in Christian bookstores. Christians loved it, and the author Richard Bach said—I mean, he just lays it out—he says he received it all by dictation from a spirit entity. So, I mean, it was New Age of course; it was the very antithesis of the truth the Bible teaches.7
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach is the story about a seagull who is “trying to learn about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection.”8 The plot goes like this:
The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with daily squabbles over food. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself and learns everything he can about flying. His increasing unwillingness to conform finally results in his expulsion from the flock. Now an outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities while leading a peaceful and happy life.
One day Jonathan meets two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” in which there is no heaven, but a better world found through perfection of knowledge. There he meets another seagull who loves to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “pretty well a one-in-a-million bird.” In this new place, Jonathan befriends the wisest gull, Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous self-education, and teaches him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived.”
But, unsatisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like himself to tell them what he’d learned and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, and Jonathan gathers around himself a flock of other gulls who have been outlawed for not conforming. The first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, ultimately becomes a teacher in his own right, and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.9
In this vein, consider these excerpted paragraphs from a 1972 Christianity Today* article reviewing this book:
“To begin with, you’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself,” instructs Fletcher Gull, paraphrasing one of the great sons of the Great Gull, Jonathan L. Seagull. And that sentence summarizes the philosophy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Richard Bach’s allegory-parable combines Mary Baker Eddy’s philosophy (Bach is a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist) with Emersonian transcendentalism under the guise of a children’s story. . . . Bach fails to consider that to gain a great good—in this case perfect freedom through perfect flying—we often experience great loss. He perceives only one form of reality and ignores the complexity of life’s multiple realities. And he does not understand or acknowledge God’s absolutes.10
This is much like the teachings of Hinduism, Yoga, the New Age, and other Eastern philosophies which believe that “God” (i.e., divinity) is already within everyone. (Namaste—meaning, the god in me bows to the god in you.) The underlying belief is that the secret of transformation is to recognize and believe one is already divine. This obviously anti-Gospel belief has seeped into the church. I am reminded of best-selling Christian author Max Lucado, who informs readers in his book Cure for the Common Life where he favorably quotes mystic Martin Buber:
The world is an irradiation of God, but as it is endowed with an independence of existence and striving, it is apt, always and everywhere, to form a crust around itself. Thus, a divine spark (emphasis in original) lives in everything and being, but each such spark is enclosed by an isolating shell. Only man can liberate it and rejoin it with the Origin: by holding holy converse with the thing and using it in a holy manner, that is, so that his intention in doing so remains directed towards God’s transcendence. Thus the divine immanence emerges from the exile of the “shells.”11 (emphasis added)
Lucado also favorably quotes Thomas Merton in the book. Merton, an a self-acknowledged panentheist, once said:
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people]could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.12
What Buber and Merton are proposing, my friends, is pantheism (all is god) or panentheism (god is in all) – whatever you want to call it. Is it really that difficult for the average believer to detect the error of what is being said here? Apparently, it is. Though Lucado’s book came out 15 years, he has never recanted his statements and endorsements that are in The Cure for the Common Life. Dr. Peter Jones coined the phrases “Oneism” and “Twoism” to simplify these concepts. Oneism is descriptive of a god who is actually an inherent and integral essence of the universe. Twoism describes a God Who created the universe and is therefore apart from it—He stands outside that which He created.13
God is not one with His creation; He stands apart from it. He may sustain and uphold it, but in no way is He the universe itself, nor is mankind in any way to be identified with any so-called “spark of divinity” which in its application teaches all have divinity within. The fallout from this realization is that we must “look within ourselves” to release our divinity.
For many decades now, this type of literature (such as Buber’s and Merton’s) was not only being sold, but virtually being endorsed by Christian bookstores and publishers; and Christians by the thousands were gobbling this up—and were unable to discern the biblical truth of God and His creation from Satan’s lies and distortions. And as evidenced by Max Lucado’s book and his popularity as a Christian author—nothing has changed! Uninformed and uneducated believers today are still falling prey to so-called Christian fiction and allegorical writings, witness books such as The Shack and devotionals like Jesus Calling, which, not unlike Jonathan Livingston Seagull, are derived from ungodly spiritual sources and methods. Even worse, this type of dangerous and insidious falsity goes unchallenged by leadership in the evangelical community.
The following quote offers some interesting insight into pertinent points about Christian-perceived spirituality:
[R]ecent articles in Newsweek and Self magazines represent a small portion of the plethora of advice on “spirituality.” Leading pop gurus promote their unique prescriptions with promises of satisfying our spiritual yearnings for peace and enlightenment, and we respond by reading their how-to books, attending their seminars, listening to their motivational tapes, taking the vitamins they sell, and meditating.
What makes their offer of spirituality so appealing? In a Newsweek interview (October 20, 1997), Deepak Chopra, a popular spiritual guru, asserts that you and I can satisfy our desire for spirituality without giving up everything, without worrying about God or punishment. For those who want spirituality, but who have rebelled against the burdensome yoke of mainstream orthodox religion, this is a very appealing path to nirvana.14
Scripture reminds us:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God [not our will]. (Romans 12:2)
Don’t let the world define reality for you, says Paul. Don’t let your culture influence you such that it determines your values and how you look at reality. Rather, be in the process of having your mind renewed. Be in the process of bringing your perspectives of reality more and more in line with reality as defined by God.
1. From a Greek root meaning “to be still.” “Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that ‘whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you,’ hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God” – Wikipedia
“The ultimate goal for hesychasts is union with God (Greek theosis). Three steps are required to achieve this goal. The first is dispassion (Greek apatheia), which involves detachment from the senses and the emotions. The second is stillness (Greek hesychia), which requires detachment from the discursive intellect and the imagination. The final step is an abiding state of illumination called deification or perfect union with God (Greek theosis).” – The Theosophical Society; https://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/1432-hesychasm-a-christian-path-of-transcendence
2. Pope Paul John II, “Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church” (August 1996, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/eastern-theology-has-enriched-the-whole-church-8802).
4. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000), from the chapter titled “Welcome to God’s Honor Roll,” pp. 82-84.
5. Quoted in Berit Kjos’ article, “Problems With The Prayer of Jabez” (https://www.crossroad.to/articles2/Jabez.htm).
6. Larry Barber, “Real Spirituality” (Gutenberg College, 2001, https://gutenberg.edu/2001/02/real-spirituality/).
7. Interview between Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon, “Are You Waiting, Watching, and Looking?” https://www.thebereancall.org/content/are-you-waiting-watching-and-looking.
10. “I Think I Can, I Think . . .” (Christianity Today, December 22, 1972, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1972/december-22/i-think-i-can-i-think.html).
11. Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), quoting Martin Buber, p. 215.
12. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
13. Peter Jones book, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, CA: Main Entry Editions, 2010), from chapter one: “Are You a One-ist or a Two-ist?”
14. Larry Barber, “Real Spirituality,” op. cit.
*Back when Christianity Today was warning about the New Age and other unbiblical ideas.
Other Articles by Judson Casjens:
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)