Note: The following article is based on actual facts, but the name has been changed to protect the innocent.
In September of 2008, a Christian woman (a wife and mother) stumbled across Lighthouse Trails Research website when she and her husband became concerned about certain things happening in the large church they had been attending for several years, including plans to build a labyrinth and her husband being taught a repetitive breath prayer at a men’s prayer breakfast. Prior to that day, Susan had not heard the term contemplative spirituality nor did she know the meaning of “emerging church.” But on that particular day, Susan learned that she and her husband and her teenage sons were attending a church that had signs that they may be going emerging. She was shocked.
During the following several weeks, Susan scoured the Internet for documentation and information on this “new” spirituality that had apparently come into her own church. She also learned that her teenage sons’ youth group had been promoting emerging church figures–and had already done a three-week course on Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis (Bell had spoken at the church as well). It is Rob Bell who tells Velvet Elvis readers to study New Age mystic Ken Wilber for three months for a “mind-blowing introduction to emergence theory and divine creativity [panentheism (God in all) and pantheism (all is God)]” (p.192 V.E.). Ken Wilber promotes all varieties of mysticism: tantra, yoga, kundalini, karma meditation, sexual transformation through mysticism, etc. 1 And on the YouTube account associated with Wilber (which he openly links to from his main site) are many offensive videos, including one by a rapper who talks about raping girls from ages 1-10. Unspeakable! For any Christian church or school to use Rob Bell’s materials, when he clearly resonates with Ken Wilber is a breach of faith. Many Velvet Elvis readers are young people. When they read Bell encouraging them to turn to Wilber, they could end up on Wilber’s website and even the YouTube videos, not to mention Wilber’s New Age books.
When Susan and her husband confronted their church’s leadership about their embracing of certain emerging church leaders, the leadership denied these allegations. Emerging church links (such as The Ooze) that were posted on the church website were hastily removed, but with no public disclaimer or explanation. And even though The Ooze link was removed, Spencer Burke, The Ooze’s founder, states currently on his site that he “serves” at that church. Roger Oakland quotes Burke in Faith Undone:
I stopped reading from the approved evangelical reading list and began to distance myself from the evangelical agenda. I discovered new authors and new voices at the bookstore–Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and St. Teresa of Avila. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Contemplative spirituality seemed to open up a whole new way for me to understand and experience God. I was deeply moved by works like The Cloud of Unknowing, The Dark Night of the Soul and the Early Writings of the Desert Fathers.2
It seemed to Susan that the church removing certain links was merely a damage-control tactic to avoid public scrutiny. And even though some links were removed, other troubling ones remained and do so to this day. One of those is Beliefnet.com, an extremely popular, high-traffic website that services all religions. Strangely, Susan’s “evangelical church” was linking directly to Beliefnet.com’s Catholic section. This, of course, would be in line with contemplative spirituality that was pioneered into the evangelical church by Catholic monks (Merton, Keating, Pennington). But strange, because Susan’s church was denying being contemplative.
Beliefnet.com has an array of departments that represent every religious tradition under the sun. Some of the departments include: A Course in Miracles, Wicca, New Thought, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist and so on. There is even information on warlocks and an article on the Pagan and Earth-Based section titled “Welcome Your Baby: Pagan Traditions.” Another section is by a homosexual warlock. Banners flash throughout the site, beckoning visitors to join particular groups. And the Christianity section is inundated with eastern-mysticism sympathizing figures like Marcus Borg, Tony Jones, and suggestions for practicing eastern-style meditation. Clearly, Beliefnet.com is not a website that a biblical church would point their congregants to. Author and researcher Ray Yungen, in hearing about the church linking to Beliefnet.com, said: “It has a buffet-style approach to spirituality. In other words, whatever suits your taste–so typical of the emerging church view.”
Other links that remained on Susan’s church website are Discipleship Journal and SoJourners Magazine, both heavy proponents of contemplative/emerging spirituality.
As Susan learned the nature of this “new spirituality,” she became increasingly alarmed. And as she began talking about it with the leadership at her church, it became apparent to her that this was going to be no small matter, and that her concerns were not going to be welcomed by her church’s pastors and elders. After several agonizing weeks of discussion, prayer, and turmoil, Susan and her husband sadly left their church. They knew they could not, in good conscience, leave their sons (and themselves) in harm’s way.
But for Susan, the battle was only just beginning. One of her son’s was scheduled to go on a missions trip to Europe with his Christian high school group. But at a parent’s meeting, when Susan asked one of the leaders if the students would be attending any of the “boiler rooms” (Catholic-oriented contemplative “prayer” rooms) when they were in the UK, the leader curtly replied, “We’ll go where ever the Lord leads.” Susan thought perhaps he did not know what the boiler rooms were, but his sharp answer worried her. By this time in Susan’s research, she had learned that the UK boiler rooms, started by mystic proponent Pete Greig (Red Moon Rising) were not something she wanted her young son to take part in. And Susan suspected that the reason for the swift dismissal of her question at the parent’s meeting was because she was becoming known as a trouble-making parent who didn’t understand the wave of the future for Christianity.
Susan and her husband were still going to allow their son to go on the UK trip. After all, his school was a Calvary Chapel high school. But last week something happened that changed all that. Susan learned that her son’s class was asked to read a book titled How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski. The students were to do a book report on the book, and then the class would study it in the following weeks.
Susan made a quick call to Lighthouse Trails and asked what we knew about this author. We had not heard of him, but quickly learned that J. Budziszewski (pronounced Boo-jee-shef-ski) was an author and professor who had converted in 2004 from Protestantism to Catholicism. We also learned he was a proponent of contemplative practices. He is a featured professor on contemplative-promoting Focus on the Family’s TrueU.org online university, telling students to practice lectio divina as a form of meditation.3
It seemed quite ironic that someone who had left the Christian faith to follow contemplative Catholicism wrote a book to instruct high school students how to remain Christian while in college, when he had converted away from evangelical Christianity. And knowing that a Calvary Chapel high school was using this book was troubling. Interestingly, the first person Budziszewski quotes in How to Stay Christian in College is Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest, the late Richard John Neuhaus, who many would consider a friend in the emergent/Catholic conversation.
Lighthouse Trails quickly obtained a copy of How to Stay Christian in College, and much to our dismay saw full page advertisements at the back of the book for books by Tony Jones and Eugene Peterson. We could understand why Budziszewski’s publisher would place ads for Jones, a major advocate for mystical practices, in the back of Budziszewski’s book. But we could not understand how Calvary Chapel could bring this into their school.
Thinking that perhaps Calvary Chapel was not aware of Budziszewski’s 2004 conversion and his promotion of contemplative prayer practices, Lighthouse Trails, on behalf of Susan’s family, contacted the Calvary Chapel high school. The vice-principal of the school politely listened to our concerns and said he would get back with us very soon. We told him that we felt compelled to issue a warning about the matter but said we would wait until we heard back from him. We told him we were concerned for Susan’s son as well as the other students, who had been handed this book just prior to graduating and heading off to college. We said we felt this situation was urgent and we hoped to hear from him that the book had been pulled.
Several days passed, and we never did hear back from the school. Yesterday, Susan contacted us after she had a meeting with the vice-principal. She told him, in view of her and her husband’s growing concerns, including the use of Budziszewski’s book and the vagueness about the UK boiler rooms, they could not allow their son to go on the UK trip. She also learned yesterday that Budziszewski’s book was not going to be pulled, and in fact, the vice-principal had been instructed from higher ups “don’t call Lighthouse Trails – let them do their article.”
Needless to say, Susan and her husband have felt a sense of distraughtness that the Christian church is going in this direction, and discernment (or even the desire for it) seems so lacking. Lighthouse Trails has acknowledged in the past that Calvary Chapel’s founder Chuck Smith has made public statements denouncing contemplative mysticism, the emerging church, and the Purpose Driven Movement. He is one of the few leaders in the evangelical church who has made such bold proclamations. Thus, this article is not to condemn Calvary Chapel as a whole. We know there are many Bible-believing Calvary Chapel pastors who are standing strong for the faith. But rather it is to show that deception is often subtle, and Christian leaders cannot give way to it when it is spotted. It doesn’t matter that the school did not call Lighthouse Trails back. We are insignificant. But it does matter, that in spite of legitimate and substantiated concerns, the book was not removed. Below is a heartfelt letter that Susan wrote to us this week. We post it with her permission.
Dear Lighthouse Trails,
We told our son to pray, as he is going to the beach to get some sun–he is off school today.
He seems okay that he is possibly not going to England after all. I believe the leaders have singled him out for some reason. I have told him that he may likely be sent home for some minor infraction, most likely the day before the team goes to the boiler rooms. Good try, not with our son. We know it is because we have challenged the Emergent doctrine that is entering even some Calvary Chapels. What will happen when Chuck Smith dies???
More things become clear to us all the time. This new Calvary Chapel high school is so different than the one we knew with our first two kids. Times are changing; now our senior gets a book by a protestant theologian-turned-Catholic, WHO IN AN ARTICLE PREACHES THE PRACTICE OF “lectio divina” from the desert fathers.
As a family, we reject the mystical, sensual lies, the emptying of the mind in meditation, to put so many other unclean spirits in… No thank you. No meditation, except on the Word of God. The Bible states this will happen in the last days, that there will be a great departing from the faith. This concerns us as we see the YOUTH of today being targeted with false doctrine and mystical practices.
Up at Biola University they now have a Masters Degree program in “Spiritual Formation.” The seminaries are practicing mystical spirituality, even lectio divina, meditation, getting a high from breathing techniques (breath prayers) and entering the alpha state, and the ensuing “HIGH.”
Because of this we have such a heavy heart for the youth of today. We sincerely grieve over the lies and false doctrine that they are being told. The Bible also speaks that not all who say Lord, Lord, will enter the gates of Heaven … Lord, keep our young people safe, as well as our own kids, loved ones, and friends.
What happened to just JESUS?? It seems so simple, and for some unknown reason it does not seem to be enough for so many today.
We support your ministry and the fact that your hearts are so committed to exposing the truth. We choose to follow ONLY the inspired Word of God. We do not give any, and I mean any, credence to all the other “supposed” Christian authors, who do not speak the truth of the Word of God. Because of this, kids today love the physical and emotional HIGH and think that that is God. Lord God please have mercy on us.
We, as you know, have left an O.C. (RH) church that had breath prayers, Rob Bell, were going to build a labyrinth, linked to Emergent leader Spencer Burke, and still links to Beliefnet.com. WHY would a Christian church EVER lead their flock to this site rather than the one true Jesus Christ?
When confronted with this site they said they were going to remove it, like the Spencer Burke site. IT has been a full month, and they have not. Do they want to have their seekers and very vulnerable flock turn to dangerous doctrine?? Do they want their flock of believers to take the belief-net test, and maybe end up in a pagan or occult religion???
How can one of RH pastors state to my husband and I, that after a meeting with Calvary Chapel pastors, that they are on the same page??
We have tried to e-mail Chuck Smith and to have a meeting. He has never answered us. We do not believe that he has ever gotten our messages. Where is Chuck Smith?? The body of Christ needs him right now. Well if you can shed any light on the subject, please do.
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH,
Concerned parents in Orange County
2. Spencer Burke, “From the Third Floor to the Garage,” online chapter from Stories of Emergence published by Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2003, http://www.theooze.com/etrek/spencerburke.cfm.