Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Says The "Begats" Are Boring?

Posted by Christine Pack

It has been said that all of the Old Testament is an arrow pointing to Christ.  It is a grand account, filled with instantly recognizable characters: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah. It is an account of a chosen people, and the beginning of the unfolding of God's plan of salvation.  There are amazing miracles and epic stories of kings and nations.  There are amazing displays of God's might and power: the devastation of the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, water from rocks, a talking donkey. And yet, you can almost feel the excitement as the Old Testament comes to a close, and we find ourselves at the beginning of the New Testament.  There is a fresh wind blowing: Messiah is coming!  We open to the first page of the New Testament, the Gospel According to Matthew, and we find.....a genealogy?!  Bor - ing!!  Or is it?

Genealogies are those looong passages interspersed throughout the Bible that trace the bloodline of Jesus. They're also known as the "begats."  As in, so-and so-begat so-and-so, and he begat so-and-so, and he begat.......  The one at the beginning of Matthew, and running for several paragraphs, covers more than 2,000 years and 40 generations.  These are the passages that people joke about as being boring, even painful to read.  Can't sleep? goes the old joke, just read through a genealogy, that ought to do the trick.  And yet, one of the things that God used to save me was the genealogy lines in the Bible.  It's true. Here's how it happened.....

I grew up faithfully attending church with my family.  We loved our church and were involved in many activities: choir, Sunday school, youth group, food drives, retreats, etc., etc. But, it was a very liberal church, and by that I mean, I can't say that I ever heard a clear gospel message in all the years that we attended.  The messages would generally start out with the reading of a Bible verse, but would wind up being a blend of moralism, pop psychology, worldly wisdom and self-help, sometimes with a measure of good old-fashioned American work ethic thrown in.  But no gospel.  And the Bible was sort of viewed as the message given to us by God about how to live Godly lives, with Jesus of course as the primary example.  I remember hearing the story of Adam and Eve as a child in Sunday school, but being told, "Of course, this didn't literally happen since we know that the earth is millions of years old."  Obviously, we were told, God was speaking in metaphorical terms here.  "Adam" as a representative figure of mankind, and "Eve" as a representative figure for womankind.  But there was never a literal "Adam" and a literal "Eve."

Along with this, we were taught that Jesus didn't really perform all the miracles accredited to him by the gospel accounts.  One class in particular stands out in my mind: a teacher earnestly laboring to help us see that Jesus couldn't have possibly fed 5,000 people with just one small meal.  What really happened, he explained to us, was that Jesus brought the little boy with the five loaves of bread and two fishes before the crowd, and the people, being moved by seeing such generosity of spirit in a child, were shamed into pulling out their own secret stashes and sharing.  I'm convinced that this was how the Jesus-as-a-great-moral-example teaching became so entrenched in liberal circles. In bowing down to the false "god" of science (which put forth, among other things, that the earth was millions of years old and miracles weren't possible), liberal theologians had to find a way to make the miracles of Jesus make sense.  This was how they did it.  But, about those pesky genealogies.....

Flash forward 15 years. I have left the church long ago and wound my way circuitously through many different religions, all of which, ultimately, proved futile.  I'm an agnostic now, and back in church giving this Christianity thing a second look, though with massive amounts of skepticism.  Still, I'm attending faithfully with my husband, taking notes, listening intently.  Our pastor stands up one Sunday and says to us, "For those of you who have never read the Bible, I want to invite you to get a reading guide and start reading through it."  I mentally have a forehead smack moment.  As in, why hadn't I ever read the Bible? After all, I had read the Tao Te Ching, the Sutras and Upanishads, the sayings of Buddha, Theosophical writings, etc.  Somewhat sheepishly, I got my reading guide after the service, went to the store the next day and got a study Bible, and started reading.

When I got to one of the bloodlines, okay I admit it, my eyes did roll up in my head at the first reading.  But then I went down to the study notes, which rather matter-of-factly explained that the "begats" were given so that people would know that (1) the Bible was a real book, of real history and real people fixed in time; and was therefore (2) a bloodline that could be traced from Adam and Eve to Jesus.  My brain began to short-circuit.  All those years of allegorized, evolutionized "facts" I had been taught were clashing with this book being presented as historical fact.  I knew I could not reconcile the story of the Garden of Eden with the science I had grown up with.  Where did you squeeze in the millions of years of slow, evolutionary development? Adam and Eve were presented as two real people, the first two people, fully and completely formed. This was a big problem for me, you see, because I was thoroughly postmodern in my thinking.  My generation was probably the first full generation to be raised on the tenets of postmodernism.  Postmodern thought, in a nutshell, is this: your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth, and even if they are different truths, they can peacefully co-exist. So that's why my brain was short-circuiting; all my postmodern thinking was being challenged by this presentation of Bible history as fact - fact which could not peacefully co-exist with the "science" of millions of years.

So one of these was true and one was not...but which one?  I began to study the bloodline, and realized that it simply wasn't possible to squeeze those millions in.  So what was I going to believe? Well, in his providence, God led me to two things:

(1) Answers in Genesis. AIG is an amazing ministry with many scientists who have gone on record categorically stating that the scientific evidence, rather than proving millions of years, instead is beginning to point more and more to a "young earth" in, a timeline that lines up with about the same amount of time given in the Bible. You can go here to see a very long list of scientists in agreement with the "young earth" timeline.  Bear in mind that these men and women are experts in their field, most of them in some area of specialized scientific study (archaeology, astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, etc.).  My point is this: you simply cannot look at this long list of scientists and give the standard worldly line: "Well, you must be an uneducated idiot to believe in the young earth theory!"  You can say a lot of things when you look at this list of scientists, but you definitely can't say that.

(2) James Ussher's 'Adams' Chart of HistoryJames Ussher was a 17th century Anglican bishop who painstakingly charted out the bloodline from Adam and Eve to Jesus.  His chart features the Biblical timeline going across the top and the corresponding world history underneath it. It's so amazing to look at it, and see God's hand sovereignly guiding all of human history.  Below the scarlet thread of Jesus's bloodline, you see nations and kings rise and fall, but above it all, God's bloodline marches steadily onward toward the fulfillment of his purposes (Psalm 90).  And what are those purposes?  What exactly is the point of the bloodline? Well, the point is where it ends.  Like in the Old Testament, remember? All of it an arrow pointing to Christ?  This is also what the bloodline does, it puts the spotlight on the one single Person at the end of it:  Jesus, the Messiah.  Jesus, the Lamb of God "who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus, who came and did what no other human being could have ever done: He lived a perfect, sinless life, the life that not one of us could ever live, and he took his perfect life and offered it up as a sacrifice for many. He was crucified and buried, but on the third day after his death, he was raised, proof that his sacrifice was acceptable to God and efficacious for the cleansing of sin.  And anyone who repents and puts their trust in him will be given a new heart and new desires, raised from death to life, born again.  His ultimate reason for coming to this earth was so that He would die. And God put a great big spotlight on that with the begats so that we wouldn't miss the one life - and death - that mattered above all others.

As Americans, we tend to think that we are so mighty, the greatest nation on earth.  Well, when you look at Ussher's timeline, you realize that ALL these kingdoms once had their day in the sun, but where are they now?  Egypt was once the mightiest nation in the world, known for the architectural magnificence of their awe-inspiring pyramids, and for taming the Nile River.  Babylon, known for their acclaimed Hanging Gardens, and brilliant military campaigns led by Nebuchadnezzar.  Rome, their amazing Roman roads and contributions to education and government.  Where are they now?  Some of them are still around, but do they rule the world?  Looking at this chart is truly humbling. It brings the deeper realization of that corny old chestnut: "History is really His - Story"  All of history is "His" story, and it's all about Christ.  All of history is about him.  That's why the Bible so carefully and methodically lays out that bloodline time and time again.  The begats aren't boring - quite the opposite.  They serve the very important purpose of anchoring the Son of God in time and space, a real person, who really lived at a fixed point in history.  The begats take the Bible out of the realm of allegory, and make it something that must be contended with on its own terms.  There is no "filler" in the Bible; all of God's word is holy, inspired, valuable, important (2 Tim 3:16). Even the begats. And for some of us oddballs, especially the begats.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Answers in Genesis

Adam's Synchronological Chart of History (compiled by James Ussher) 

Scientists Who Have Examined the Data and Conclude that the Evidence Points To Young Earth

The Dark Side of Darwin (interview with Dr. Jerry Bergman)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

When The World Determines the Message of the Church

A great discussion by Pastor Bob DeWaay of Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota.  Pastor Bob DeWaay, a thorough and biblical researcher, hosts a weekly program called Critical Issues Commentary.  On this program he has covered such wide ranging topics as:
Finding God's Will 
Personal Words From God 
Binding and Loosing 
Generational Curses 
Theophostics Ministry/Healing of Memories 
The Sufficiency of Christ 
The Church Growth Movement 
The Seeker Sensitive Movement 
The Blood Atonement 
Divination, Mysticism & Spiritual Formation 
Emergent Church 
False Spiritual Warfare Teachings 
Free Will 
Apostles & Prophets 
Biblical Judging 
Means of Grace 
This particular program is entitled When The World Determines the Message of the Church.  It is a strong counter-point to the present day conventional wisdom that, as the culture changes, the church needs to change with it and adapt its message to whatever culture it finds itself in.  This is unbiblical thinking and Bob DeWaay explains why.  We have a God who transcends cultures.  Whatever culture, whatever time or place we find ourselves in, fallen man must conform himself to God, not seek to conform God to the culture of the day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Breaking Free" from Beth Moore and Her "Try Hard" Theology

by Lisa Nunley, guest writer

Scroll down and you will find just a few emails I have gotten in the past 4 years (and am still getting) since I came out of the closet and confessed why I am not a Beth Moore fan anymore. These emails are from her current fan club. I will share 3 scary ones and 3 somewhat tame ones. Though, mind you, I have received well-over 50 and the majority would end up in the more-scary-than-not category. Also consider that these are professing Christian women who think they have been greatly changed under Beth Moore's teaching. I will begin with her freakish fans, of which I have had to replace the expletives with representative symbols because I just can't bring myself to post those words. Apparently if I were "culturally relevant" I would leave them in as is.
Oh... and my responses to these emails are point-by-point in italicized blue because it is such a nice color.
nd the links turn pretty pink. The links will lead you to other articles that I recommend you read.

I would like to begin with what I like about Beth Moore. She has a very bubbly, engaging personality. She is a beautiful, gifted speaker and she is what I consider "almost right" in her theology... which is a very dangerous place to be.

As I have written on a friend's post on Beth Moore: ...I have been through several Beth Moore studies, but being that it is more important to be a Berean and love Jesus more than any teacher, preacher, friend, family member, etc., we must understand, as I often say, that no one is above being held accountable. Even sweet Beth Moore must be held accountable, as should you, me, ...and every Christian. She is spiraling ever downward in her teaching [that is] in grievous error. It is teaching that I personally can account to as some of the worst of the “almost right” which makes it more on the sheep in wolf's clothing type. It is the “almost-right” teaching that Christians are especially warned to be on Guard against in God’s holy Word of Truth.
(Read Galatians 1:6-10)

She has some truth thrown in there with her teaching which may appear to give it credibility. on guard. I plead with you to sincerely pray about this before the throne of grace and search the Scriptures as a Berean with a sincere heart to know God’s Truth as He has revealed and not how Beth has revealed, in her sweet, engagingly dynamic almost-true teaching style.

Please note that though I consider her a gifted speaker, I am very concerned about her teaching on many levels. And I am not the only one...
as there are more and more women who have been through many of her studies that are coming out of the closet expressing deep concern about her teaching. Here's the sad thing. So many more are mortified at saying anything because Beth Moore's fans are actually kinda... scary...

The scary Beth Moore fan club emails: (Notice: I DON'T comment on these emails)
<1.> You $%#@!!! HOW DARE YOU JUDGE BETH MOORE!!! She changed my life and here you sit on your self-appointed @#$% throne and JUDGE HER!!! I pray your life is miserable you SICK @#@%!!! That your brain lesions from your MS take over your pea-sized brain and you die soon so you will SHUT THE #@%$# UP!!!

<2.> WHY, WHY, WHY would you hurt Beth Moore? Do you know what she’s been through? Do you have any clue about anything? Obviously you have no idea how to live what you {think} you are. A Christian? I don’t think so. Here’s what I think you are %$# %$#%$#& %$# ###$#&$#*^%$ %$#%$*^%&$ #^%^ and I have no doubt you are going straight to hell.
Here’s the thing. You think you know more than Beth Moore? HAHAHAHA!!! That makes me laugh. You know NOTHING!!! NOTHING!!!! You are filled with a demon. HOW DARE YOU say ANYTHING about Beth Moore. SHAME ON YOU!!!!

<3.> Okay, so I just can't post anymore of these... I can't. Though I will share that I have been told by some of her fans that my family would be better off without me as I have also been "hexed" several times for Beth Moore's sake. I think you get the picture. Why am I the target of all this "love" from so many of her fans? I think it is because of what happens when you google "Beth Moore Blog" or "More on Beth Moore")
So the next group is not so scary, but they definitely miss the mark on sound doctrine... probably because they are under Beth Moore's teaching.
Before I share more emails, I want to highlight
just a few concerns in Beth Moore's teaching:

a. She teaches generational bondage/ sin (both in "Breaking Free" and "Believing God") of which I address here: Generational Curses: Is This Belief Biblical?

b. She has a mystical/ psychological approach to sin issues instead of a Biblical one as she claims that God reveals himself and his purposes in many ways, including emotions, and mystical experiences. (sounds like a roller coaster ride of self-sustained religion)

c. She openly endorses contemplative prayer in the "Be Still" DVD where she encourages emptying your mind. This type of prayer is used by Eastern Religions and Catholic Mystics not based on Scripture and running acceptably rampant as the norm in way too many "Christian" churches. Scripture is clear that when we meditate on God's Word, we do not empty it, but fill it with His truth. (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Psalm 77:12; Psalm 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148; Psalm 143:5; Psalm 145:5)

d. She is a pragmatist which essentially makes all truth relative as she advocates the sweeping in of self-help, me-centered, positive thinking, and avoidance of offending any biblical doctrine as God's Word is twisted to meet the individuals needs, rather than preached without compromise.

e. Beth Moore teaches that knowing God is experiential at the expense of sound doctrine. I think she may really want to be theological, but ends up explaining theological truths away with a shallow don't let theology and doctrine confuse you when you can figure it out with God for yourself in a way that works for you. (okay, so this point is similar to the last one)

f. Beth actually gives some great advice... but it gets severely clouded in special revelations and horrendous hermeneutics (aka eisegesis) which leads to more and more misuses of Scripture.

g. In her "encouragement" to break free, she actually puts you in further legalistic bondage with her approach. Hmmm. Didn't Christ come to set us free from legalistic, Pharisaical bondage? (Matthew 12:1-21)

Beth actually says that Jesus “thinks it will be heaven because you will be there.” and then speaks the line of a song, “When He was on the Cross, I was on his mind.” ...So, if you end up in hell, is heaven no longer heaven to Jesus? (That just seems utterly blasphemous to me)

Oh, and she teaches men. (But, as you can see above in "a" thru "h", this is actually not the one and only concern and might even somewhat pale in comparison to the other stuff.)
The somewhat tame Beth Moore fan club emails: (Notice: I DO comment and provide links on these emails)

<1.> I think you do millions of women a great disservice with your negative remarks about Beth Moore. You seem to think you can stand in judgment of not only her, but also her pastors and husband - amazing! You need to understand that the New Testament was written in Greek and the English language is not able to always, totally accurately, translate words and passages. I Timothy 2:12 is a perfect example of trying to tidy-up the Greek into a short English sentence - and it's just impossible to do. It doesn't actually say (in Greek) that women should NEVER teach men, it actually says something more like 'a married woman should not try to assert herself so that it appears that she is trying to be the teacher of her husband and have authority over him'. She is to do nothing to usurp her husband's position (as head of the marriage/couple) or embarrass him.
Consider reading this: A Call to Discernment and On Women's Ordination

Obviously, there are some slightly varying opinions of this, but I believe that is for God to sort out.
I do know that He is not a God of confusion or division and it really bothers me when one Christian - or one Christian church - stands in judgement of another AND advertises it on a website!

Consider reading why God's truth is knowable HERE
I agree with you regarding confusion and division. Read THIS by Spurgeon, as well as: Do We Really Need to Wage War Against False Doctrine?

Beth Moore has an amazing love for and belief in Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit and God the Father; she has reached so many for the eternal kingdom and her faith is counted as righteousness.
Please consider that only God can truly determine whose faith is "counted as righteousness" and how many she has truly reached for the eternal kingdom and how many she has actually led down the path of false assurance roller-coaster ride of self-sustained religion

(next day, same gal above sent another email)

...If women are being saved and growing in Christ, is that not evidence, in all likelihood, of His hand in Beth Moore's ministry?
Ummmmm. No. Wish it was

(I personally know 2 women who have been led to Christ beacuse of being in a Beth Moore study.)
You find something about Beth Moore that YOU believe is not in accordance with Scripture and you would disregard her entire ministry? That's the old ''baby with the bath water mentality'! You're saying that all the Biblical truths that I and millions of others have learned and have had come alive for us in greater, deeper, more meaningful ways are all garbage because a few men have dared to sit in on Mrs. Moore's Sunday School class???
And now I pray that the Lord will lead them to a loving and Biblically solid church with sound teaching... and I dare say that it is God that draws His children to Himself in His time through the preaching of the Gospel of His Son.
Go back and read my concerns "a" thru "i" above.

Somehow I'm pretty sure God doesn't see it that way!
"His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts"

Again, others who have studied scripture - and it's Greek parentage - far beyond what you and I have, believe that the scripture in question refers to a married woman not usurping her husband's authority, embarrassing him, etc. With the husband's permisson a woman IS allowed to speak and teach. Other men have the option to listen or not. Of course the woman is to be discreet and modest as she does this.
I have already provided you a link in the first email you sent. Ummmm... please read it. It is quite thorough and spot on.

Do you cover your head every time you go to church? Do you braid your or your daughter's hair? Do you wear pearls or other jewelry? I'm sure I already know the answer to these questions, yet they are scripturally off-limits to the women of Paul's day. (And again, knowing the Greek translation would probably be clarifying and beneficial.) My point is that some things/actions were off-limits because of local customs and because they would be distracting and divisive - but that may not be the case today.
Consider reading this entire site, which includes
Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth

Matthew 7:5 and John 8:7 seem to be excellent, God-breathed words to live by, as they were spoken by Jesus himself. I know I need to be reminded.
I agree. Those are excellent Scriptures that we all have to be reminded of often. 

<2.> i got your email due to your blog about beth moore.
now i know maybe i shouldnt be sending this email, but that beth moore blog got me thinking. beth moore loves to share the word of the Lord.
now shouldnt we be moore concerned about someone speaking untrue things about Him?

I would love it if she would learn things like exegesis and sound doctrine so that uncompromising, Biblical teaching will permeate her gift for speaking.
The answer to your question is "yes, we should be concerned about someone speaking untrue things about Him. . That is why I am writing this. I am very concerned about Beth Moore teaching untrue things.

what if someone is teaching false facts? even
talking people out of christianity?
Lets go even further.. what about starvation, sex traders, abortions?

True saving faith Christians cannot be talked out of Christianity. All those blatant sins you have listed are horrendous. But then, before God, sin is sin.

i feel like there are so much more
things that are to our concerns in this world.
yes you are right it does say in the bible about women not preaching to men. WHAT ABOUT JUDGING OTHERS?

Except that the God of the Bible warns us over and over and over in the Bible about false teachers and wolves in sheep's clothing, so it doesn't seem like we should gloss over it.
There is unrighteous judgment and discerning righteous judgment and here is something you need to read, though I have already linked it:
But here I go again

i think you might be getting this belief of yours out
of hate.
i dont know where you stand now. i know that blog was a long time ago.
but be careful on your website. people might be looking for
answers on the internet and find a blog from you,
an amazing God loving strong woman, and how does that look that you are judging speakers out there serving Him?

If you mean hatred of things evil, which includes false teaching... yes. If you mean hatred of Beth Moore, no.
Where do I stand? Besides the fact that I am sitting, my concerns are not only the same, they have grown!
If people are looking for answers on the internet and end up on my blog, perhaps
so they might actually read a post about the uncompromising Gospel.
If I said nothing and buried my head in the sand, not caring about people falling prey to this teaching, how would that look?
As I have already written here, no one is above being held accountable... Not me, you, Beth Moore, my best friend, favorite preacher... no one.

i dont really want an email back.
ill be praying for you.

Okay. So I will address this publicly. and please remember, God doesn't turn His ear to hear certain prayers

<3.> This is regarding your post about Beth Moore (and female teachers in general)
I don't comment so much on this one because I will be merely repeating myself over and over with the same comments and links... so... see above... though this one seems to slam me personally more and yet claim not to be angry. Another emotional roller coaster ride.

I do not understand this, for a rebuke or reproof the statements were too harsh...following your trail of reasoning..should she be stopped from sharing the word? Should her ministry be stopped as well due to the fact that her messages (and the fact that she teaches men) were supposedly flawed? I don't understand...So should I listen to you then cuz you seem to have all the correct theology and flawless interpretation of the word? My heart is really sore, no wonder Jesus prayed for unity we are Christians but we are just so different...What can you say about the female missionary who taught in our village? Is that heresy as well? Should we not believe in her words cuz she's a woman? I'll be honest, you really made me cry, I uphold Christ as our only source (don't get me wrong) but it was Beth Moore whom God has used to reach out to my suicidal atheistic sister, she is now serving the Lord in our church... how can a bad tree bear such good fruits? (I'm really crying as I type this)...there's only one thing that I know of, in our villages...for those people who live in the mountains being a Calvinist or Armenian doesn't matter...what matters is our relationship with Jesus (you all have no idea what it is like) I am just wondering, since the theological intricacies of biblical concepts were not so much preached to local men in the islands...does that make them less acceptable to God and make you all more? (not to mention we have female teachers here)
I am not really angry, I was just hurt to see that those who have not really experienced reaching out to other people can say such terrible things. That a person who have not as much lifted a finger to share the word of God outside their own safe place can speak such intense words.
Please listen to
What Does the Bible Say a Good Work Is? and also to What is the Biblical Definition of a Good Work?

I don't know but as we say here...ang Diyos ang maghuhusga sa iyo at sa lahat ng iyong mga gawa... God will be the ultimate judge...
"Every lofty thought lifted up against Christ has to be torn down and in its place there has to be obedience to the truth of God in Christ revealed in Scripture. So spiritual war is a battle for the mind. It is a battle between truth and error. It calls for discernment."-JMac

This is not about being holier than thou. This is about sincere grievous concern over false teaching from someone very popular, personable and persuasive. Let me plead with my Christian brothers and sisters to not fall back on easy phrases like "that shalt not judge" or "God will be the judge" and do the scriptural thing and hold everything up to scripture as a Berean.

"Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." 2 Corinthians 4:2

 Additional Resources 

Theology......More or Less With Beth (Sarah Flashing, Midwest Christian Outreach)

An Overview of Beth Moore (CARM)

Beth Moore's Dangerous Bible Twisting (Fighting For The Faith radio)

Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mysticism: Spiritual Crack

Posted by Christine Pack

Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton once compared mystical meditation to the same powerful experience generated by mind-altering drugs.
"Isn't it a pity that people are going into LSD to have spiritual experiences, when we have a tradition in the Church [contemplative prayer] which no one knows anything about?" (Thomas Merton, from  a letter he wrote to fellow mystic Matthew Fox)
The thing that Merton (like all mystics before him and since) didn't understand is that mystical meditation is far more dangerous than drugs. Entering into an altered state of consciousness is playing with spiritual dynamite, and not in a good way.

Monvee, the new product put out by Leadership Network, markets itself as a way for Christians to draw closer to God through something called "Spiritual Formation." Spiritual Formation, for those who don't know, is the main avenue by which mysticism is coming into today's churches.  Today's Christians who are enamoured by this Christian sounding practice try to make the distinction that there is a difference between "bad" mysticism and "good" mysticism. Obviously, to those pleading this case, "bad" mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin. But "good" mysticism, so the reasoning goes, would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development.  

But the "Christian" mysticism taught in Spiritual Formation courses - and referenced by Thomas Merton above - is not Christian, and is in fact identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc.  The technique is always the same: corraling one's thoughts through the use of some device (mantra, breathing, etc.), entering into an altered state of consciousness, then "listening" to God.  This is not Christian.  This is what pagans do. And wiccans. And Buddhists. And Hindus.  And just like with crack, a Monvee user will have to come back over and over again, trying to find that elusive high, trying to get another spiritual charge.  Christians "listen" to God through the study of scripture, not through using a mantra meditation to alter their state of  consciousness so they can get a little spiritual "bump" from God.

Instead of actually drawing a person closer to God, these occultic practices generate a "counterfeit Holy Spirit experience" which "feels" very real, very profound, and very spiritual.  Actually, when people engage in these practices, what they're experiencing is spiritual...only, it is not from God.
"And no wonder, for even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor 11:14). 
Beware of Spiritual Formation - and warn your brothers and sisters in Christ.  We "listen" to God not by powering down and getting a spiritual "hit" from God, but by reading and studying the Bible- Sola Scriptura.  Spiritual Formation techniques have many different names, but here are some of the most well known:
Lectio Divina 
Contemplative Prayer 
Contemplative Spirituality 
Ancient Future 
Spiritual Disciplines 
Centering Prayer 
Jesus Prayer

photo credit: daveblume via photo pin cc

 Additional Resources 

Secular Interview About What Mysticism Is - BBC Radio Program

What Is Mysticism? (Sola Sisters Article)

What Is Mysticism? (3-Part Series by Dr. Gary Gilley) - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

Mystical Youth Ministry

Contemplative Monvee: Placing Experience Above Scripture

Contemplative Prayer, Spiritual Formation and the Kundalini Effect 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is Dallas Willard A Universalist?

Dallas Willard and popular author John Ortberg have teamed together to create a new product being launched right now called Monvee.  What is Monvee? Monvee, which bills itself as "the future of spiritual formation," is an online assessment tool that is used to "handcraft" a personalized plan for spiritual development for its participants.  That sounds great, except that there's a problem.  And that problem, one of them anyway, is Dallas Willard.

Dallas Willard, for those who don't know him, has been a darling of the evangelical world for years.  He has been a prolific writer in Christendom, churning out very popular books such as The Divine Conspiracy (Christianity Today's Book of the Year in 1998), The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God, Renovation of the Heart, and, most recently, The Great Omission.  But Dallas Willard, though he is identified as an evangelical, is anything but orthodox in his views.  In a recent interview, Willard made these shocking statements:
“Now, I believe that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved no matter where they are or what they do.” 
"(God) is open and in touch with everyone in the world, and for all who seek them with all of their heart—and that is defined in terms of coming to love Him, and not just have the right beliefs about Him—but coming to love Him, and loving their neighbor as themselves."
And then on Dallas Willard's own website, he makes this universalist statement:
"I am not going to stand in the way of anyone whom God wants to save. I am not going to say ‘he can’t save them.’ I am happy for God to save anyone he wants in any way he can.  It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved."
In these statements, Dallas Willard - a professing Christian, might I remind you - is making the classic argument put forward by all skeptics who don't want to believe Jesus when Jesus said these words: "I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father but by me."  And that argument is this: what about the "good Buddhist" or the "good atheist?" I know that it feels good and more loving to think that God will save people, who to our eyes anyway, appear to be good, decent, moral people.  Our error comes when we view this problem with human eyes, and not with God's eyes.  More importantly, we use our own standards for "good" to gauge a person's "goodness" or "worthiness" rather than God's holy standard.

The problem with that is that our human standards are notoriously fickle and self-serving.  After all, Hitler thought he was a good and moral person. Now, I'm purposefully using Hitler as an example here because he has come to be such an iconic figure for the personification of monumental evil.  I agree that he was monumentally evil, but what most people don't realize is that this universal understanding of his evilness only came about after World War II.  The truth is that, in his day, Hitler was loved and adored. Adoring crowds cheered his speeches, women fainted, children timidly offered bouquets.  Hitler was also a very pragmatic leader.  Along with getting rid of all those "filthy Jews," he cleaned up the streets and made the trains run on time.  Hey, what's a little mass murder when someone can make good time getting to Stuttgart?  It wasn't until the discovery of the concentration camps by the liberators that everyone shrank back in horror from him and he became the iconic, universal figure that we point to when we are struggling to describe evil of great magnitude.

So clearly, human judgment for what is good and what is evil simply cannot be trusted.  There is a higher truth, a higher standard, and that standard is given by God.  While we might struggle to understand why someone who is not a Christian, but whom we know and care about, would be cast into hell for refusing to  repent and bend the knee to Christ in humble submission, we know that we must not formulate our own doctrines (like Dallas Willard's brand of Universalism) to make this make sense.  We must go to Scripture, we must trust in the LORD with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding, but acknowledging him in all our ways....and only then will our paths be straight. (Prov 3:5-6)  My pastor often makes the statement: "We are reformed, always reforming."  Meaning, we all have gaps in our theology, but we don't "close the gaps" with our own man-made wisdom....we allow Scripture to "reform" our thinking.  Let's say there is something that I hold as a "truth," something that I think has guided me faithfully for years.  I love this truth, I embrace it, I speak about it to others, it has value to me.  And let's say that in ongoing Bible study, one day I realize this "truth" to be in error.  What happens to this "truth?"  Bye-bye, is what happens to it.  It has to go.  It's been great knowing you, dear "truth," but I have something better: God's truth.  Scripture.

Let me come right out and admit that Universalism was one of the "truths" that I loved and held to for many years.  I harbored it secretly in my heart as I grew up attending church, and then I let this truth run free as a young adult when I cast off my Christian upbringing and wholeheartedly embraced the New Age movement.  It seemed so much more tolerant and loving to repeat that postmodern, Universalist mantra: "All paths lead to God."  I was also working in an industry that attracted many homosexuals, some of whom I became friends with.  The biblical idea that these friends of mine would be damned for their sin was absolutely ludicrous to me.  Who could believe in such a God?  Moreover, who could love such a God?

What I came to realize after God saved me was that their sin of unrepentant homosexuality was no greater than my own sins of unrepentant covetousness, unrepentant pride, unrepentant stubborness. Like Jesus, we are to love the sinner but hate the sin.  Many people point to the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman as an example of Jesus-accepts-you-just-as-you-are tolerance.  Only, they conveniently leave out the last part where Jesus told the woman: "Go, and sin no more." (John 8:1-11)

We must - in love and with great compassion - exhort our homosexual friends to repent and bend the knee before their sovereign creator God, just as we would any other lost person.  And then we must understand  that all of us have besetting sins that we struggle with, all of us must seek to subdue and crucify our flesh, not in a works-righteous way, but in a God honoring and God glorifying way, so that our wills, our hearts, our minds, our bodies all come under the authority of Christ (Rom 13:14, Gal 3:27, Eph 4:24).  No, it's not easy, and yes, there are setbacks and ongoing struggles.  But when God saves us, He mercifully gives us the Holy Spirit, our ally behind enemy lines, as it were, who helps us grow and gives us strength and aids us as we become more and more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

What I have discovered in my own life, as I grow older and study the Bible more, is that the ideas I've come up with as I travel through life - which oftentimes have seemed so profound along the way - have always been shown for what they are in light of Scripture: Silly little nothings. Futile thinking. Vain imaginations. (2 Cor. 10:5, Rom 1:21-22).  I must reform my thinking in light of Scripture because I am a Christian.  I do not insist that its truths must "work" alongside mine.  I bow the knee in humble submission.

What I hear and read in Dallas Willard's articles and interviews is not a man who bows the knee in humble submission to God's word.  I see a man who tries to wear the cloak of Christianity and who uses Christian terminology, but whose core doctrines, when you get right down to it, are not Christian.  Not even close.  To which I say, fine, be who you are, only be it honestly.  If you believe what the pagans believe, go for it, knock yourself out, run wild in the streets with them.  Only, don't try to bring it into our churches.

So my final question is, if Dallas Willard is a Universalist, as it appears to me, where does that leave John Ortberg, his partner and co-creator of Monvee?  And what does that make Monvee.....a good thing or a bad thing?  We'll look at that in more detail in an upcoming post.

photo credit: Michael Dawes via photo pin cc

 Additional Resources 

Monvee: Mysticism For The Masses

Is Dallas Willard A Christian?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Monvee: Mysticism For The Masses

Until recently in this country, we Christian Americans can be very thankful that the plague of mysticism that can become so deeply embedded into a culture - and in the churches - has really not been too much of a problem here.  While there has always been interest in the general population in the occult, this has mostly remained somewhat on the fringes. Seances. Madam Blavatsky. Theosophy. These are terms that typically have no meaning for the average Christian.  Because of solid preaching and the systematic training up of our children in proper doctrine that has gone on for generations in this country, we have been trained to be discerning, and have taken admonitions on this from Scripture very seriously:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
"Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore, it is no great thing if his minsters also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness." (II Corinthians:14,15)
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times, some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." (I Timothy 4:1)
But while we did not have mysticism to contend with, we did have our own peculiar brand of "works righteousness," which is another deadly poison all its own.  Basically, "works righteousness" is a term used to describe the idea that someone gets their good standing in the eyes of the Lord from the good things that they do.  When someone's anxiety get ratcheted up because they think they're not doing enough for the Lord, this is an example of works righteousness; i.e., a person's "righteousness" (good standing in the eyes of the Lord) comes from the amount of "works" they do.  Righteousness from works...."works righteousness." This is a heresy, and orthodox Christians understand that their righteousness comes only from Christ and his finished work on the cross on their behalf.

Unfortunately, thanks to an entire generation of people - and now their children - being "undiscipled" under the teachings of the Purpose Driven Life movement, whole communities have been overtaken by the heresy of works righteousness through a catchy little phrase coined by pastor Rick Warren:  "deeds not creeds."  There is so much wrong with this clever little statement that it's hard to know where to begin, but in a nutshell, what this statement means is that our "creeds" (or doctrine) are not important as long as our "deeds" are godly.  And yes, it is right that as Christians we are godly in our deeds, but anyone can do good deeds and not be a Christian. Oprah. Mother Teresa. Ghandi. So simply looking at the "deeds" of a person's life does not prove that someone is a Christian.  Our orthodoxy has to be right.  And from right orthodoxy (creeds, doctrine) will flow right orthopraxy (deeds, actions, conduct).  Orthodoxy first, then orthopraxy.  Distinctly opposite from Rick Warren's mantra.

And yet, this catchy little phrase has been cheerfully and wholeheartedly embraced by the Christian community, and with that has come a wholesale throwing off of deep, systematic Bible study in favor of doing what Americans do best: rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.  After all, it's part of who we are as a culture.  We Americans are generally kind, generous, helpful, and hard-working.  When there are natural disasters around the world, the United States usually far outpaces all other countries in terms of providing relief, whether it is in terms of giving money or actually doing the hard physical work needed.  But I would submit that it is only because we have been a Christian nation that for generations was deeply rooted in doctrinal truths that we even have the capacity to be kind, generous, hard-working, quick to help.  Our orthopraxy has flowed out of our orthodoxy.  And I would submit also, sadly, that this kindness and generosity of spirit is all that remains, just a vestige of who we once were: a  nation built on God's truth that God providentially allowed to become great so that we could be used for the spreading of the gospel.

So Satan's first big deception in this country was built around this cheerful, peculiarly American work ethic, because after all, he's no dummy.  He knows that outright wickedness rarely works, and would certainly never work in a country so solidly biblical.  And so the first heresy to really take root in this country was works righteousness.  We began to be proud about, well, being American.  About our tough, hard-working, pioneering, conquering spirit.  After all, we tamed the wild west!  And along with this, Satan mixed in moralism to further quell the conscience, because even lost people can usually see the inherent value of living a moral life.  While a lost person may never embrace the gospel and become saved, that person may still embrace and see the value of the morals that God has given us: eschewing adultery so that a marriage and family will remain intact; eschewing covetousness, because of the discomfort and unrest that it brings; not succumbing to angry, even murderous, thoughts, knowing the consequences that will likely result.

But now there is a new, more deadly element, that Satan has managed to add to this already toxic brew:  occultic mysticism.  But how in the world could occultic mysticism - something generally associated with the far east, with swamis and yogis and such - how could this find its way into the churches?  How could such a thing happen?  Here's how: when pastors stopped taking seriously their responsibility before God (Mark 9:42) to protect their flocks, it became a season of anything goes.  Sometime in the mid 1980s, churches decided that being "seeker sensitive" was the way to go.  And thus, success began to be measured more by the number of seats filled than in members being trained in righteousness.  Resources were poured into plentiful parking, a well-paid worship band, and lattes to chat over afterwards.  Rather than being about preaching the gospel and discipleship, youth groups became centered around catering to kids' fleshly desires for fun-fun-fun.  And for both groups, doctrine went out the window, because lots of expensive and time-consuming polling showed - egads! - that lost people weren't all that interested in God and doctrine. So instead of preaching the gospel and taking people through systematic theology (bor - ing!), these "new, improved" churches were all about practical, life-enhancing sermonettes: Four Steps to a Better Marriage, Six Steps to Better Finances, How to Have Well-Behaved Kids, etc.  And thus an entire generation of parents and kids were biblically dumbed down because it had been decided that people wouldn't come to church unless there was something in it for them.  And this was how the pump was primed, as it were, for mysticism to flow in.

You see, in the flurry of all these people being drawn in with plentiful church activities and Christianized self-help tools, there was a problem: people weren't being saved because the gospel wasn't being preached. So now you've got all these churches filled mostly with lost people who now are deceived into thinking they are Christians because they're going to church, listening to "sermons," singing Christian songs...and yet, they're unregenerated because they've never heard the life-giving truth of the gospel. But the leadership seemed not to be aware that instead of feeding sheep, they were simply amusing goats, as Charles Spurgeon once so aptly put it.  And now there was still the matter of the conscience needing to be dealt with.  Because remember, we're talking about largely unregenerate groups of people here, who, instead of having a true sense of righteousness that comes from repentance and faith in Christ, have got a counterfeit sense of righteousness being generated by doing good works and moralism.

And as far quelling one's God given conscience, works righteousness and moralism will only go so far.  The "works" of going to church, making sure the kids are plugged into a youth group, dutifully listening to sermons, going to Sunday school, and so on, will not ever give enough of a sense of righteousness for people to truly know they are saved.  Satan knows this.  That is why he seized his opportunity to bring in the deadly poison of mysticism. Why so deadly?  Because along with the false sense of righteousness generated by doing "works," this mysticism further deceives by generating a very powerful - but false - sense of having connected with God.  A counterfeit Holy Spirit experience.  Talk about a one-two punch.  But, very few people today are even able to recognize this mysticism for what it is because it sounds good and spiritual and "churchy." Jesus Prayer. Contemplative Prayer. Centering Prayer. Spiritual Formation.  What could possibly be wrong with things like this?  After all - Jesus, he's our guy, right?  And Christians are supposed to pray, right? We want to be more spiritual of course, and isn't there something in the Bible about Christ being formed in us?  These must be good things....right?

They are not good things - but they are about to sweep across this country like a tsunami.  If your church hasn't already been infected with these practices, they probably will be soon.  There is a new "product" called Monvee that is being launched right now in churches all across America.  Monvee, which bills itself as "the future of Spiritual Formation," is being brought to us by Leadership Network, the same poll-taking, finger-to-the-air group that brought us purpose driven, seeker sensitive churches.  Leadership Network,  headed up by Bob Buford and Tom Wilson, has partnered with well-known author John Ortberg to bring us Monvee, which I have termed Mysticism for the Masses.  Seeming to recognize the spiritual vapidness that was the end result of the watered down teaching of the purpose driven movement, Leadership Network has developed Monvee as a product that is designed to help people grow spiritually.  Monvee promises to use "personalized online assessment" tools to craft programs of "Spiritual Formation" for its participants. Spiritual Formation is a series of disciplines designed to aid in spiritual development, and is generally thought to be Christian because these disciplines were formed centuries ago by monks in Catholic monasteries. There's just one problem here, but it's a biggie: these Catholic monks, who were known as the Desert Fathers, cloistered themselves in the Middle East and Egypt; and, because of their close proximity to eastern cultures, ended up being heavily influenced by paganism to the point of grafting pagan practices into their prayers, chiefly, mantra meditation.  So in essence, these "spiritual disciplines" that are part of Monvee's "Spiritual Formation" programs are classic, eastern occultic practices that have simply been "Christianized" with a sprinkling of the magic pixie dust of Christian terminology.  But make no mistake, these practices are occultic.

Here are some of the most commonly used terms and practices:
So a lack of biblical training coupled with the "churchiness" of these terms has made everyone think these things were okay to do.  And yet, nothing could have been further from the truth.  All of these things have their origins in the occult.   All of these things teach and promote some type of occultic meditation. Think I'm wrong?  Look them all up and see how they're done, then look up transcendental meditation, trance channeling, spirit guides, new age meditation, and self-hypnosis, and you will see for yourself that the technique given for reaching "God" is exactly the same.  Exactly the same.  Before being saved, I did this type of meditation probably thousands of time. This is how it goes: corral the mind using some type of "device" (breathing, chanting, using a mantra, looking at a candle or image, etc.), enter into an alpha level brain wave state, and listen to "God."  Now, the reason I put "God" in quotes there is because if a person follows this methodology, it won't be God they're listening to.  It will be something....but it won't be God.  It will more than likely "feel" spiritual....but only because Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light.

If these churches had been concentrating on teaching biblical truth rather than filling up their buildings, they would have been teaching that we already have a Mediator who grants us access to God.  No-one - and I mean no-one - is granted direct access to God without mediation.  There are plenty of examples of this in the Old Testament.  Uzzah, who reached out his hand to steady the ark as the oxen carrying it stumbled, was struck dead on the spot.  Wow, that seems a little harsh, someone might say.  But that's exactly the problem.  Uzzah, you see, not rightly understanding God's holiness, presumed that his own hand which was reaching out to stop the ark from falling was less filthy than the dirt the ark was about to touch.  Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, brought a type of offering to the Lord that was not what He had commanded.  They too were destroyed by God's wrath: the Lord consumed them with fire where they stood. Again...harsh? Well, not if you understand that when God teaches us how to approach him, he means what he says. We don't get to make up our own rules about how we come to him, as Aaron's sons were presumptuous enough to have done.

When I first began to grasp the indescribable holiness of God as a new Christian, my brain just had a hard time computing the data.  Eventually, I settled on a very imperfect analogy: God as an immutable law of physics: He simply is what He is, like gravity, and you don't rail against His nature, in the same way that we don't get mad about gravity being what it is, we simply accept it and live our lives accordingly.  Or like oil and water, they simply don't mix together, in the same way that God's holiness and man's sinfulness are incompatible, they don't mix.  With oil and water, we don't get mad about this, we simply observe this to be a fact.  You see, God's unmediated presence is a consuming fire.  We MUST have a Mediator, or we will perish.  This was why God would not show his face to Moses when Moses pleaded with him to let him see his face.  Did God not love Moses?  Yes, he did - the Bible tells us that God and Moses spoke often, as friend to friend.  What God knew - and Moses did not - was that direct access to holiness that blindingly pure would destroy him.  God said no because he loved was for Moses' own protection. 
Mysticism \ˈmis-tə-ˌsi-zəm\ - the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.
Throughout recorded history, humans have worked very hard at gaining access to God's presence through their own devices, on their own terms.  That's exactly what mysticism is - an attempt to gain access to God through one's own means.  That's why every false religion - at least the ones I've researched - have some type of mysticism at their core.  And this is precisely what makes Christianity so distinctively different: we are given access to the one true God, but it is only through the means of God's choosing.  God chose his Son, who having lived a sinless life was able to make atonement for us and who also - here's the amazing part - gave us his own righteousness so that when God looked upon us, he would see the righteousness of Christ instead of our own wretched sinfulness.  We would be "hidden" in Christ, our sins covered, and therefore safe in the presence of God. ("Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee!")

So.  You've got a once solid, Christian nation that slowly began to drift toward works righteousness and moralism.  That's bad enough, but when you add in the mysticism, you've got the missing ingredient that renders Satan's new potion completely toxic.  Remember the problem of works righteousness not being able to deal with the conscience very effectively?  Well, occultic mysticism closes the gap in this way: occultic meditation WILL give a person a supernatural experience.  Now, it's a demonic supernatural experience, but nonetheless it is supernatural.  And what do we know about Satan?  Among other things, we know that he is a supernatural being, he's a liar, and he prowls the earth like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Does he sound like a gentleman?  No - he will not announce himself at the door and state his intention to deceive.  And mysticism is one of his favorite stomping grounds. This alpha brain wave state that a person enters into during meditation?  This is the same, highly suggestible state that a person enters during hypnosis.  Many of us have seen the shows where a hypnotist will put his subject under and then tell him something silly - "There are orange balloons stuck all over your body" - and then everyone laughs at seeing the poor fellow swat at things that aren't really there.  Well, for Satan, it's no laughing matter, and he is deadly serious about deception.  He hates us, the creatures made in God's image.  He can't get to God, goes his reasoning, but maybe he can manage to destroy some of us along the way.  Once he gets any of us into this altered state of consciousness, with our God-given barriers down, and our minds primed for deception, will he tell us the truth, that instead of reaching God this way we will be led us into a dark, demonic, dangerous realm?  Will he remind us of the many biblical admonitions to flee from this type of divination?  Well - what do you think?

If you know anyone who has done any of the practices mentioned above, I urge you to warn them that these things are not Christian.  And don't take my word for it - do the research for yourself.  The truth is that we have only one Mediator who grants us access to God - and He is Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).  And Jesus tells us that when we pray, we are not to babble endlessly like the pagans, who "think they will be heard for their many words (Matt. 6:7)."  Does this not sound eerily like mantra meditation?  He tells us that we are to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), meaning, when our spiritual lives grows cold, we are to hold fast to what we know to be true, instead of seeking some kind of postmodern whipped up experience to help us "feel" more spiritual.  I've never been so acutely aware of living during a time when "experience" has come to be the end-all and be-all for determining truth.  I pray that the Lord will deliver this postmodern generation from looking to their fickle and foolish feelings as a way to validate truth.  May we instead remember this sober admonition:  "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9), and may we hold fast to the Lord and to the truth we find in Scripture.

 Additional Resources 

What Is Mysticism?

John Ortberg: You Don't Just Become Holier...You Become "You-ier!"

Leadership Network: Product Line Defects 

Roman Catholic Monastic Mysticism 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit

Fighting For The Faith Interview