Saturday, February 27, 2010

Playing The Pharisee Card

by Todd Wilken, host of the nationally syndicated radio program, "Issues, Etc." 
Posted with permission.

I have been called a Pharisee more times than I can remember. It goes with the territory. I host a conservative Christian radio talk show. I publicly defend the teachings and practices of the historic Church. I also publicly point out false teaching and practices in the Church today. For these reasons alone, some believe that I deserve to be called a Pharisee.

But I’m not alone. Today, the label “Pharisee” is applied to many Christians just like me—perhaps you’re one of them. We are Christians who cherish God’s Word, the Church’s historic Creeds, confessions and practices. When we see the Church abandoning these things to follow the latest fads and entertainments, we lament. When we see the Gospel itself being left behind in the Church’s rush to mimic popular culture, we are grieved. And when we question the Church’s infatuation with the spirit of the age, we are labeled Pharisees.

The “race card” is a political term of art made famour during the 1988 presidential race between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. In today’s presidential politics, we also have the “gender card.” The Race and Gender Cards aren’t designed to rise the legitimate issues surrounding race or gender. Instead, both the Race and Gender Cards are political tactics that exploit racial and gender divisions among voters, and appeal to the worst racial and gender sterotypes. In American politics, the Race and Gender Cards are played to discredit someone by implying that he is racist or sexist.

Just as politicians and pundits play the Race Card or the Gender Card, many in the Church are playing the “Pharisee Card.”

Just like the Race or Gender Cards, the Pharisee Card is not designed to raise a legitimate issue of doctrine or practice. Rather, the Pharisee Card is used to discredit someone by implying that he is narrow, rigid, and unloving—a Pharisee. Most often these days, the Pharisee Card is played to portray a fellow Christian as a “doctrinal purist,” resistant to change, and therefore, unconcerned for the lost.

The Pharisee Card is a powerful weapon. Most of its punch comes from the fact that, during His earthly ministry, Jesus did often condemn the Pharisees. The Pharisee Card is intended to be tantamount to the condemnation of Jesus Himself.

Why did Jesus so often condemn the Pharisees? Was it because (as those who play the Pharisee Card assume) the Pharisees were ultra-conservative doctrinal purists, with no love for the lost? No.

Were the Pharisees Concerned With Doctrinal Purity?

The Pharisee Card is played against Christians who are concerned with doctrinal purity. When used this way, the Pharisee Card is intended to discredit the doctrinal purist and silence any further questions about false teaching. It works beautifully. Those dealing the Pharisee Card know that many Christians would rather suffer silently under false teaching than speak up and risk being labeled a Pharisee.

The only problem is, Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for being doctrinal purists. He faulted them for being false teachers who abandoned the truth of God’s Word in favor of the erroneous word of man (Matthew 16:11–12; 15:1–9; Mark 7:6–13).

Jesus called Christians who demanded doctrinal purity “disciples,” not “Pharisees.” “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32) In fact, Christians who demand doctrinal purity are really following the example of Jesus, of Paul and the other Apostles (Matthew 7:15; see also Matthew 24:10–11; Mark 9:42; 2 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 4:16; 6:3–4; Titus 1:7–9; 2:1, 7–8; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 3:17).

Were the Pharisees Resistant To Change? 

The Pharisee Card is also played in order to discredit Christians who refuse to abandon the historic practices of the Church in favor of the latest innovations. This too works beautifully. Those dealing the Pharisee card know that, to avoid being labeled a Pharisee, many Christians will tolerate an endless succession of fads in worship, music, and ministry. But Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for resisting change. On the contrary, He faulted them for introducing their own innovations and methods in the place of God’s Word.

Dealers of the Pharisee Card will cite Luke 5:36–39 in favor of their own innovations:
And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”
Was Jesus calling for wholesale change, or warning against it? The new patch ruins the garment. The new wine bursts the wineskins. The context of the parable is a discussion of fasting. Rather than advocating the abandonment of this ancient practice, Jesus instead taught that ancient practices must now be understood and practiced in light of Him and His redemptive work.

Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisees for retaining ancient paractices, or for resisting change; rather, Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “And no one, after drinking old wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

Were the Pharisees Unconcerned For the Lost?

Christians who demand doctrinal purity and resist compromising change are often accused of being Pharisees with no love for the lost. This is probably the most common use of the Pharisee card today. Those who like to play the Pharisee Card know that Christians will put up with almost anything in the name of missions and evangelism, in order to avoid being called Pharisees.

But Jesus never faulted the Pharisees for being unconcerned for the lost. On the contrary, He said:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)
Jesus had no problem with the missionary zeal of the Pharisees—they were zealous enough; Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees’ soul-damning message. Paul was of the same opinion:
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2–3)
And Paul spoke from experience. As a former Pharisee, his missionary zeal took him far and wide as a persecutor of the first Christians (Acts 9:1–2; Philippians 3:6).

The Pharisees’ error was not a lack of missionary zeal; it was that their false teaching (however zealously preached) damned rather than saved.

Moreover, contrary to everything the Pharisee Card is meant to imply, just because someone is concerned for doctrinal purity and resistant to theological innovation does not mean that he is unconcerned for the lost. On the contrary, departure from the pure Word, in doctrine and practice, does not help, but hinders the preaching of the Gospel, therefore impeding the mission of the Church. False teaching does not save sinners. Purity in doctrine and practice makes the preaching of the Gospel possible. Purity in doctrine and practice makes the preaching of the Gospel imperative.

The irony is that those most often called Pharisees in the Church today are those most concerned about the lost, and therefore preaching the pure Gospel to them.

The power of the Pharisee Card is based on the mistaken idea that those unwilling to compromise in doctrine and practice are the modern-day counterparts of the ancient Pharisees. This idea has no basis in fact.

Why Did Jesus Really Condemn the Pharisees?

So if Jesus never condemned the Pharisees for bring ultra-conservative doctrinal purists with no love for the lost, why did He condemn them?

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their apostasy. The Pharisees had abandoned the Old Testament faith and therefore they rejected Jesus Himself (Matthew 8:11–12; 21:42–46; 22:41–46; Luke 7:29–30; 13:28–30; John 5:39, 43–47; Acts 4:10–12; Romans 9:1—11:36; 1 Peter 2:7–8).

The Pharisees taught that salvation was the result of God’s mercy plus man’s obedience. They reduced the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to a system of do’s and don’t’s. In this sense, the Pharisees were the inventors of what we call today “rules for living,” and the first preachers of “how-to” sermons.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for softening the demands of the Law. Because they taught that human works contributed to salvation, the Pharisees had to make the Law more “user-friendly.” The Pharisees diluted the Law’s requirement of perfect obedience with manageable human rules that could be kept (Matthew 5:17–48).

A compromised Law meant a compromised Gospel. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they abandoned God’s Word for the word of man. In this sense, the Pharisees were really the Liberals of their day.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. This hypocrisy and self-righteousness was most often the subject of Jesus’ condemnations. But it was merely a symptom of the Pharisees’ false faith in their own obedience:
He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
The Pharisees trusted their own obedience and moral progress. In this sense, the Pharisees were the original proponents of the victorious life.

Jesus condemnation of the Pharisees had nothing to do with doctrinal purity, resistance to change, or lack of missionary zeal. It had everything to do with the false hope of human obedience.

The Real Pharisees?

Who are the real Pharisees today? You are. I am. You, me, and every sinner—but not in the way that the players of the Pharisee Card say we are.

All of us are more willing to trust our own obedience than trust the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. All of us soften the Law’s perfect demands so that we can say we’ve kept them. All of us are therefore inclined to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. All of us are natural-born Pharisees.

Now, if someone wants to call me a Pharisee for that reason, I will gladly and repentantly be called a Pharisee.

But I will not be called a Pharisee for loving and defending pure doctrine. I will not be called a Pharisee for resisting the ill-conceived innovation and compromising change in the Church. I will not be called a Pharisee for demanding that the Gospel we preach to the lost be pure.

Some say that the pure Gospel is an impossible dream. I disagree. I hear it preached every week—more often than not by those Christians who are wrongly labeled Pharisees.

Those who play the Pharisee Card hope to dismiss Christians like you and me as ultra-conservative doctrinal purists with no love for the lost. But like a fifth Ace up the sleeve, the Pharisee Card is a cheat. Those who play it ignore the real errors of the real Pharisees. They wrongly apply the name to those who stand in the way of false teaching, compromising change and a watered-down Gospel. In the end, the Pharisee Card amounts to nothing more than name-calling. And, like the Race or Gender Cards are in politics, in the Church, the Pharisee Card is always the sign of a losing hand.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Judgment Isn't Hate

Posted by Christine Pack

The performance begins slowly, along with the music, but quickly picks up in tempo and action.  The couple skates seamlessly together, their elegant costumes flashing in the lights as they execute their moves with precision. The watching crowd gasps with each jump, each one seemingly higher and more daring than the one before. Finally, the music comes to an abrupt halt, and the skaters - who only moments before had been a blur of movement and flashing sequins - are as still as statues, arms around each other, smiling up at the crowd.  The entire arena bursts into applause, and the exuberant, beaming couple, waving and blowing kisses, skates slowly off the ice to await their score.  There is almost an electric hum in the arena as everyone waits for the score.  Then, there is another gasp - only this time it is an indignant expression of disbelief.  The score is low - too low!  The crowd murmers angrily, with even a few "boos" floating out over the cold still ice.

For those watching on television, the clarity of what has happened comes more quickly.  The announcers, who had just moments before been giving excited commentary on the performance, are now explaining the judges' ruling, along with slow motion camera work to help make the case.  A bobble here, a missed turn there.  Here a sliding misstep, imperceptible to all but the most trained eye, but clear to see with the camera speed reduced to a still picture.

The murmering changes in tone as the crowd settles down and accepts the ruling.  The judges are safe. On to the next....

One question that could be asked here is this: are the judges wrong to make a judgment that seems so obviously contrary to the naked eye? Clearly no, because we understand that they have trained themselves to discern what is not immediately apparent to the untrained observer.

I would submit that today's churches are churning out "untrained observers" when it comes to teaching its members how to study Scripture for the purposes set forth in 2 Timothy 3:16; that is, teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  Because of this, an online ministry that seeks to teach, rebuke, correct and train in biblical righteousness has developed.  This ministry has come to be known as Online Discernment Ministries (ODMs).  But being an ODM isn't necessarily a good thing, at least not according to the neo-cult of Christian liberalism.  You see, in the same way that political liberals use Saul Alinsky's "Rules For Radicals" as a handbook for how to minimize and marginalize their opposition, religious liberals follow these rules as well against those whom they view as their opposition, chiefly, ODMs.  ODMs are often referred to in a disparaging way.  They are often portrayed as judgmental, Pharisaical, mean-spirited, and unloving. And if you should happen to come across an article in which another ministry is sneeringly described as an ODM, let me just warn you that you are more than likely on a very liberal, possibly emergent, website.  How can I say this?  It's because ODMs have come about as a direct response to very liberal, usually emergent, theology.  My purpose in writing about all this to help explain the ongoing battle between ODMs and emergents, and how this conflict came about.

In a nutshell, the church in America has undergone radical - and I do mean radical - changes in the last 20 years.  I'm painting in broad strokes here, but in the 1980s, a group of Christian businessmen got together and determined through poll-taking and observation that the church in America needed to be revitalized.  What they saw were stagnating churches with falling memberships and a huge, untapped demographic of young people known as postmoderns.  Postmoderns are that group of people who came after the modernist movement.  The modernist says, "Science and reason are my authority," while the postmodern rejects this line of reasoning and says "Experience is my authority."  (Still with me?  Hang in there, it will start to make more sense in a minute.)

So these Christian businessmen (Leadership Network) got together to think-tank how to fix this problem.  They decided that what they needed to do was take polls among the unchurched to find out what would entice these people to come to church, and the answers they got across the board were generally this:  people wanted accessible parking, good coffee, rockin' music, short sermons and youth programs where kids could quickly "plug in."

And thus the "seeker sensitive" church was born.  There are many, many examples of this type of church all over America, but a few of the most notable ones are Saddleback (Rick Warren's church), Willow Creek (Bill Hybel's church), and Northpoint (Andy Stanley's church).  What is distinctive about this type of church is that it is typically attended by those who would classify themselves as "modernists" ("Science and reason are my authority.")

But wait - what about all those postmoderns? Didn't they deserve a church of their own?  Ah yes, so they did, reasoned these businessmen, and thus the "emergent" church was crafted out of this same think-tank that birthed the seeker sensitive church.  Think of it as a corporation with a manufacturing plant that makes different flavors of its product: for example, an automobile corporation with one mission statement, one vision, but which creates SUV's, hybrids, trucks, sedans, etc.  Tracking along this same line of thought, the seeker sensitive model was like the SUV of the line (no-nonsense, fun, cheery, practical, straightforward, family oriented) while the emergent church model was more like the hybrid of the line (an interesting new direction from a manufacturing standpoint, a vehicle geared more toward singles and young families, with the cheeky subtext of ecological awareness). The emergent church model - like the hybrid - was geared to the young, urban, hip, eco-greenie postmodern.  And because it was geared toward people who were more experience-driven, the church service itself became an overload of sensory stimulation: candles, icons, couches, a studied vibe of coolness.

So what do ODMs have to do with all this?  Well, ODMs developed because amidst the flurry of product development, the manufacturing line left out one crucial detail: the cars wouldn't drive.


That's right, the cars wouldn't drive.

Not to get too remedial here, but....

What is the main function of a car?  A car's primary purpose is to drive; to transport its occupants from one point to another.

What is the main function of a church?  A church's primary purpose is to nourish, train and equip the saints.

These new product lines, both with plenty of R&D, time, money and energy behind them, were complete failures in their functionality: they were attracting massive numbers of people who were faithfully attending but who were completely unable to articulate doctrine after years of attendance. Not only that, but because these products were being marketed and sold as "churches," most of the people who attended were probably under the pretense that they actually were churches....and that they themselves were now Christians.  Surely some of them actually were Christians - because God in his kindness and mercy can and does use imperfect means - but as for the rest? They were a sad, modern day fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:5: they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.  In other words, they used the same language as Christians, went to buildings identified as churches, but could not articulate the gospel when pressed, nor could they discern biblical truth from error.

So in a nutshell (sort of - I had to cover 2 decades, okay?), this was how seeker sensitive churches, emergent churches and online discernment ministries came into being.  ODMs developed mainly to fight the flow of bad theology, bad doctrine and bad teaching flooding into the churches.  When Rick Warren sold people on the idea of "Deeds not creeds!" ODMs saw that as a call to labor in love with people over the novel idea (at least to the poorly discipled) that creeds - and not just one's good deeds - are important, because creeds are what help bring clarity to our view of God and thus conform us more and more to the image of Christ.

When the mantra of "Doctrine divides!" became the standard rebuttal against anyone wanting to hold an idea up to Scripture, the ODMs saw that as a call to help people see that yes, in fact, doctrine does divide, and Jesus himself was the one who told us this and that it is a good thing, not a negative thing (Matthew 10:34-39).

When tolerance began to be prized above truth, with the out-of-context "Judge not, lest ye be judged," repeated ad infinitum, the ODMs saw that as a call to labor over helping people see that while it is true we are not to judge the heart, we are called to judge with right judgment (John 7:24).  By that I mean, we are to be "fruit inspectors," meaning, we don't judge the heart, but we do what Jesus told us to do when he said that "You will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16)  We don't just take a person's Christian confession as straight up evidence that they are, in fact, Christian.  Does this sound intolerant and unloving?  Well, don't take it up with me, take it up with the Apostle Paul.  After all, when the Bereans tested even the preaching of the illustrious Apostle Paul, did Paul say, “Oh those Bereans, such haters! How dare they question me? Judge not!” No, he commended them for their diligence in studying the Word, conveying to us the value of discernment and judging rightly.

When discerning Christians started pointing out false teachers in these seeker sensitive and emergent movements and were scolded for doing this, ODMs saw this as a call for us to remind Christians what Jesus warned his followers about repeatedly: that is, contrary to popular opinion, false teachers will not announce themselves at the door, but will sneak in unnoticed and will have the appearance of being Christian.  This willingness to "name names" and point out false teaching has been dubbed The New Pharisaism by those on the liberal/seeker sensitive/emergent side.  After all, what more effective way to close down your opponent could there be than lobbing this grenade?  What worse thing could a Christian be called, but a Pharisee?   According to today's wisdom, false teaching can be generally and vaguely discussed, but names must never be named.  This is akin to a friend knowing that a chef is putting arsenic in the food he prepares, knows that you are going out to eat in the area in which this chef works, but will not tell you specifically who the chef is, or what restaurant employs him.  He tells you somewhat vaguely that there is a danger, and says "Just eat the good food. After all, you know what good food is, right?"  This is ludicrous....and deadly.  If naming names is good enough for John (who named Diotrephes) and Paul (who named Hymenaeus and Alexander), it's good enough for me.

Coming back to my analogy of the Olympic judges, when we don't see what they see right away, do we call them haters?  No, we recognize that they have a standard for what good technique is, and that they are trained to observe this and judge accordingly.  In the same way, Christians are called to hold to the objective standard of God's Word, and to pass all information through this filter, no matter what its obvious appearance.  May we all be like the Bereans, who were diligent in study and discernment, so that we might present ourselves to God as ones who need not be ashamed and who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

photo credit: MikeWu via photo pin cc

Monday, February 15, 2010

Universalism: The Gospel Message of Emergent and New Age Spirituality

One of the greatest misconceptions in this country today is that the New Age Movement of the 80s and 90s is (1) a thing of the past and (2) has nothing whatsoever in common with Christianity.  Nothing could be further from the truth on either count.  Let me explain.

Most Americans today have sort of an eye-rolling, amused response to the phrase "New Age."  Perhaps their minds are conjuring up an image of Shirley MacLaine on the beach, talking to the sky, a spiritual eccentric who became the punch line of many jokes for her interest in reincarnation and channeling. Perhaps they think that, like Shirley MacLaine, the New Age has passed gently into history, much like the rubix cube and Duran Duran.  Well, the truth is that the New Age is still very much with us today.  It never really went away, it just went mainstream.  New Age practices or beliefs that were once considered borderline occultic or kooky are now widely accepted and embraced, including yoga, mantra meditation, muscle testing, acupuncture, reiki, sustainable living and going green.  Don't believe it?  Just pick up any newspaper or popular magazine today (Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Parade) and you will most likely read at least one, usually multiple articles, on the benefits of these practices.  Heck, even my husband's Golf World had a lengthy article in the February 2010 issue on how golf courses around the country are trying to "go green."

So just how did this New Age worldview get so powerful so fast? The short answer is that although it's actually been around for a very long time, it got its greatest push into the mainstream through America's most beloved talk show host, Oprah Winfrey.  For some reason, people think that this New Age Spirituality direction that Oprah has taken is a new thing.  It is not.  I know this because I was on the same path that she was for a very long time, and at about the same time.  Along with Oprah, I became completely immersed in New Age beliefs and practices, about 20 years ago, and yet at the same time used Christian terminology for all that I was doing.  But the catch was this: all the Christian terminology I used had been redefined to fit the theology of my New Age belief system.  And this is exactly how Oprah has made the New Age worldview palatable to the average Americans who were watching: she was using the same terminology that many Americans were.  We were still, at least at that time, a "Christian" nation, and by that I mean, the majority of Americans made some kind of Christian profession and had at least some knowledge of the Christian faith.  So although Oprah was going in a distinctly occultic, eastern direction spiritually, she was using words like "Holy Spirit," "God," "Jesus," "atonement," and "salvation."  And because Oprah was using terminology that everyone was familiar with, everybody's guard went down....and that's how the deception flooded in.  Not to get too creepy about it, but this is exactly how many cults "reprogram" their new recruits.  Same terminology, redefined terms.

One example of these redefined terms is a teaching from A Course In Miracles on the "atonement."  For those not familiar with A Course In Miracles (ACIM), it is a book that was originally published in 1976.  The teachings of this book were channeled by a demonic entity to a woman named Helen Schucman who transcribed them.  New Age author Marianne Williamson brought the teachings of ACIM into the mainstream after being enthusiastically endorsed on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the early 90s by writing her own book about ACIM and helping to explain its principles in laymans' terms, sort of "A Course In Miracles for Dummies" (its real title: "A Return To Love").

But back to the "teachings" of A Course In Miracles.  We know that it was a demon that channeled this book because the demon plainly revealed himself that way.  Nah - just kidding on that one.  The demon actually called himself "Jesus" when he delivered this occultic book to Helen Schucman.  And how do we know that this demon wasn't the "Jesus" he claimed to be?  Well, we go by Scripture that warns us not to let anyone come to us and preach "another Jesus" other than the one that Paul preached, and warns not to receive "a different gospel" from the one delivered by Jesus and the apostles.  ACIM's foundational principle, which is its view of the atonement, preaches a "different gospel" and "another Jesus."  The ACIM view of "atonement" (paraphrased) is this:
There is no separation between human beings and God, and the belief that we are separated has been the cause of most of the world's problems.  People grow spiritually by awakening to the view that they are already united with God.  When this happens, we achieve "At-one-ment," meaning, we grasp our unity with God and because of this new understanding, we take a huge spiritual leap forward and begin living in more loving, Godly ways.  This will eventually bring about a spiritual transformation on a global scale as more and more people awaken to this belief - and ALL people will eventually awaken to this belief.
Well, for orthodox Christians, our view of the atonement is also foundational - and it is vastly different from this New Age view that we simply have to "awaken" to the divinity we already have.  The ACIM view of atonement is both a "different gospel" and "another Jesus" in that it presents a different way to salvation rather than the biblical teaching on how we are saved: only those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus, understanding that his sacrificial death on the Cross was on their behalf, will be saved.  There is no eventual universal salvation, and neither do we start out with a little "God spark" inside (the inner divinity) that we just have to awaken to: we are born dead in our sins (Eph 2:1).  We need a Savior.  But ACIM's redefined view of sin reduces this central tenet of Christianity to something akin to spiritual amnesia - in other words, sin gets redefined as "forgotten" divinity, an "awakening" to the belief that we are actually already in union with God.  But if this is true, then anyone can approach God by simply "awakening" - muslem, buddhist, hindu, whatever.  So at its core, ACIM's view of salvation is one without the Cross.  No penal substitutionary atonement, no sacrificial death on behalf of God's people, and everyone eventually gets to God. This is as blasphemous as it gets, and as wickedly deceptive too, given that it is delivered by something claiming to be "Jesus."

Before God saved me, like Oprah I also embraced the teachings of A Course In Miracles, believing that my view of God had been "expanded" out of its narrow little box of orthodox Christianity.  It felt more tolerant, more loving to hold to these beliefs. But these beliefs are no longer in one little fringey segment of our culture like they were in the 80s and 90s - remember, the New Age has gone mainstream.  This view of God is becoming increasingly more widespread, especially in our culture which has begun to prize "tolerance" so greatly. But, not only are these beliefs held by those who embrace the New Age Spirituality, they are also held by the Emergent Church movement, which, like the New Age, uses plenty of Christian terminology, and positions itself as a more tolerant, loving version of Christianity with its big tent inclusivism and God-loves-you-just-the-way-you-are heresy.  The truth is that God loves his own children, yes, but we must approach him in the way He has ordained, and that is through the blood of Jesus.  We don't approach God through mystical mantra meditation - which, curiously enough, seems to be the connecting point between Emergent and New Age Spirituality.  Both New Age and Emergent heavily promote the practice of mantra meditation, only it's called different names from within each movement.  Within the Emergent Church movement, these practices are given "Christianized" names so that they will be more palatable.  I mean, what could possibly be wrong with something called the Jesus Prayer, right?

The fact remains that we do not approach God in this way, because here's the rub: as I stated before, if anyone could approach God by use of a mystical practice (a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, etc.) without repenting and confessing Christ, then there would be no point to the Cross, which as far as orthodox Christianity goes, is the hinge that swings the whole door.  No, we approach the throne of God through Christ alone, as Scripture plainly tells us: "There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12, my emphasis)

So who are the "players" in Emergent and New Age Spirituality bringing about this merging of these two movements?  Well, my money's on Ken Wilber for one, a straight up New Ager who is so admired by prominent Emergent Church leader Rob Bell that Bell tells us to "set aside three months" to read Ken Wilber's book, A Theory of Everything.

John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal Bishop who identifies himself as a "progressive Christian," will probably also be a player from the New Age side.  Doug Pagitt, a well known Emergent Church leader, recently interviewed John Shelby Spong, who, though he identifies himself as a Christian, is far, far afield of the orthodox views of Christianity. When speaking of the virgin birth and Jesus' resurrection, he actually sounds much more like a New Ager than a Christian when he says:
"The best way to lose all is to cling with desperation to that which cannot possibly be sustained literally. Literalistic Christians will learn that a God or a faith system that has to be defended daily is finally no God or faith system at all. They will learn that any god who can be killed ought to be killed."
Yikes!  I'm thinking the scholarly "Bishop" Spong must have somehow skipped Corinthians in the course of his biblical studies:
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve......But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Cor 15:3-5, 12-14)
I say this about Bishop Spong somewhat tongue in cheek, because I quite understand that Spong does not hold to the view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. How tragic for him, because this means that he is a pagan, not a Christian, and is therefore reduced to feeling around in the dark like all the other lost people, trying to figure out who God is and how to get to him. (Here's a tip: it's why God gave us the Bible, so that we would know....)

Stay tuned on this issue, as an upcoming interfaith conference called Sacred Awakenings features Marianne Williamson (mentioned above as the New Ager who brought A Course In Miracles into the mainstream) and John Shelby Spong, both espousing more of the all-paths-lead-to-God view of Universalism. Since this also seems to be the view held by Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and other emergent leaders, one has to wonder: how long before New Age Spirituality and Emergent officially merge together?

 Additional Resources 

John Shelby Spong: "Hell" as an invention of the church

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Science Will "Prove" Panentheism (God "In" Everything)?

In his book A Wonderful Deception, former New Ager Warren Smith comes to the starting conclusion that the New Age, instead of being a bygone thing of the past, is alive and well, and in the process of merging with a false church inside of evangelicalism (the Emergent Church) in a movement that threatens to destroy orthodox Christianity as we know it. It is a movement that will "deceive wonderfully" (Daniel 8:24). 

And that's just for starters. What this is all leading to is an ecumenical, one world religion (as prophesied many places in scripture, most notably in Revelation). This global religion will be panentheistic in nature; that is, the belief that God is "in" everything. This of course stands in distinct contrast to the Christian view, which holds that God is separate from, and transcendent to, His creation. But Smith even makes the case that the scientific community is on the verge of proclaiming that this religious worldview - panentheism - is not only true, but is scientifically verifiable.

As Christians, we know that God "writes" his signature on many aspects of creation, just as a painter might sign his painting, signifying that the work is His. But the (largely atheistic) scientific community, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, does not (or will not) "see" any evidence for a sovereign, creator God who stands separate from His creation. Instead, they are on the brink of "proving" a god who is identical to the pagan and occultic worldview of what god is: god as vibration, as energy, as chi, prana or flow (depending on the worldview one holds). This belief is of course preferable to an atheist, who does not want to bend the knee in humble submission to the creator God of the universe. Vibration? Energy? Those are just natural laws - and require no response because they are, in essence, "neutral." But, the sovereign creator God does require a response from His creation: either repent of sin, love him and come to him as he requires (through the blood of Christ) or rebel against him. The Bible states that there are only two choices! Jesus himself said plainly: "He who is not for me is against me." (Luke 11:23) 

As a former New Ager, I have also been doing New Age research for a few years, and have noticed a curious trend in the publications I review: there is increasing talk about something described as a "quantum leap," a "planetary evolution." These terms are used for the New Age belief that the world as a whole will begin to move from "individual co-creation" with the world around it to a "planetary co-creation." The thinking goes that the number of people awakening to their "interconnectedness" and "inner divinity" will reach such a critical mass that the entire world, including those not in alignment with this belief system, will be swept along toward the next stage of planetary evolution: world peace. This of course is also in direct contrast to Scripture which states that because of the Fall, we are born wicked and "dead in our sins." We have no inner divinity. But many innocent Christians today, thanks to a generation of "seeker sensitive" churches teaching "doctrine lite," do not even know the truth of Scripture enough to recognize these deceptions when they come into their churches - and thus are buying into this belief system, which is nothing more than a spiritual wolf in sheep's clothing.

Warren Smith also makes the case well that this New Age talk of "one-ness," interconnectedness, and "inner divinity" is also going on in the emergent church movement. The underlying belief in both the New Age and in the emergent church seems to be that only when our world awakens to its "one-ness" and interconnectedness will there be peace. This is a false eschatology and is actually fulfillment of the prophetic statement in Jeremiah 8:11 (" 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace."). The traditional Christian view has always been that there is no peace and there will never be peace until Christ returns and reigns over his earthly kingdom. 

Warren Smith is a meticulous researcher who dots all his i's and crosses all his t's. If you have heard the terms emergent church, contemplative prayer, fractal theory, quantum leap, etc., and wondered what they meant, then this is a must-read. Satan's lies and schemes aren't new....but they are remarkably effective. Arm yourself with truth so that you may stand against the deceptions and lies of our adversary, who is a hungry lion, prowling about seeking whom he may devour.  Warren Smith's book will open your eyes and help you see and understand some of these deceptions flowing into today's church. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Posted by Christine Pack

For those unfamiliar with how we post, and who's who, here's a quick thumbnail sketch:
▸ Cathy Mathews and I (Christine Pack) are real-life sisters. We both write articles here and also post on the Sola Sisters Facebook wall
▸ Marcia Montenegro is not our real-life (blood) sister, but is our sister-in-Christ. Marcia is seminary trained, and graciously helps moderate on the Facebook wall, but also has her own ministry website (Christian Answers For The New Age) and her own Facebook ministry site (Christian Answers For The New Age-Facebook). We occasionally post and link Marcia's articles here on the Sola Sisters website and on the Sola Sisters Facebook wall because all three of us have similar backgrounds, and are in alignment as far as our concerns about New Age teachings coming into the church today.
* * * * * * * * * *

As noted above, Christine Pack and Cathy Mathews are sisters in Christ as well as sisters in real life, and were both saved out of New Age Spirituality. We (Christine and Cathy) created the Sola Sisters website as the natural extension of long telephone conversations we were having years ago about "Christianized" New Age teachings that we were both seeing coming into the church, Cathy in her church in Arkansas, and Christine in her church in Georgia. These practices had been cleverly repackaged with Christian terminology, rendering them all the more deceptive and dangerous.

Our purpose in writing articles was, and is, to sound a warning to today's church, and to encourage and equip others who might be having a similar experience in their own churches. Christians must remember that God has called his people to be set apart unto him, to be in the world, but not of the world. The act of syncretizing worship of the LORD with pagan practices is something that the LORD calls "detestable."
"The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it." (Deut. 12:29-32, our emphasis)
The New Age is a movement that, on the whole, tends to follow along with whatever new trend comes along. Once we were saved, we recognized this foolish chasing after of trends for the worldly wisdom that it was:
"Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20)
"Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'."(1 Corinthians 3:18-19)
As believers, God was now the Rock upon which we stood so that we would not be shaken by every wind of doctrine to blow, and God was our standard for Truth in all things, not the fickle ideas of the world which change from day to day, and culture to culture. God is Truth, and He has given us revelation of Himself through (1) the person and work of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, who made atonement for sinners; and (2) the Bible, against which all teachings must be tested.
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8)
The Bible also commended the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what was being taught to them lined up with God's word already given to them:
"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11)
As we noted above, the trend that is the most concerning to us is the practice of combining New Age philosophies and teachings with Scripture. Some examples of this would be:
(1) Mysticism that comes into the church disguised as prayer/meditation. While Christians are often exhorted by Scripture to meditate upon God's word, it should be understood that Christian meditation is meditation in which the mind is fully engaged. This type of meditation stands in stark contrast to the New Age form of meditation, in which a light trance state is entered into for the purpose of connecting to "God." However, with the addition of scripture and/or Christian terminology, this New Age meditation practice is often deceptively marketed as "contemplative prayer," "breath prayers" or "Jesus prayers" (this latter practice is extremely deceptive in that it utilizes the name of our Savior as a mere device, a mantra, for corralling the mind and entering into a light trance state). But the addition of Scripture does not somehow magically sanctify this New Age practice which is, at its essence, a New Age spiritual practice, and is forbidden to born again believers (please note the Deuteronomy passage referenced above).
(2) Yoga that is often marketed today to Christians as either (a) having purely physical benefits, or (b) being a spiritual practice that, although Hindu in origin, can be "done unto the Lord." We have written and linked to a number of articles which explain how neither of these things are true.
Out of our concern, we began writing articles. These articles eventually turned into the Sola Sisters website, and we eventually added the Sola Sisters-Facebook discussion forum, which is where we discuss our articles and also take questions from readers and discuss other trends in the church in a more informal way.

We have a deep love for the Word of God, and now as born again believers, we stand firmly upon the Rock of Christ instead of standing on the shifting ground of whatever new teaching-fad-class-book-technique-discipline-etc. to come along (as was always the case in the New Age, and sadly now is often the case in the church).

We have named our Sola Sisters site after the rallying cry of the Reformation:
Sola Fide (by faith alone)
Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
Sola Gratia (by grace alone)
Solo Christo (through Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory)
We host ongoing discussions about our articles (and other current issues) on our Facebook page because we think it is important for Christians to not only study God's word, and pray, and be in fellowship for personal growth and edification, but to also know how to answer to the heresies of the day. And we find that these kinds of apologetics forums (like ours here, and others) are helpful in terms of putting us as Christians through our paces so that when these heresies show up amongst our loved ones and friends and fellow church members, we can biblically refute them.

The Sola Sisters ministry is not about keeping lists of who's okay and who's not, based on this or that endorsement or conference or casual association. After all, such a list would be constantly changing, a moving target, as it were. Even though we do occasionally single out specific books containing false doctrine, we are more interested in teaching women to grow in learning general discernment principles, and understanding how to apply them so that they can evaluate each teaching, sermon, book, etc. based on its own merit and how it lines up (or doesn't) with God's word. That is far better than list-keeping. We don't want women to be at the mercy of the keeper of the list.....we all need to know how to look at a person's ministry or Facebook wall or website or writings or Bible studies or whatever, and decide if they are biblical or not. The book of James exhorts believers to pray for wisdom, and our desire is that all women wishing to grow in discernment will take that exhortation to heart, pray for wisdom, and dig in to the task of discernment with great joy, because as we grow in truth, our walks WILL become steadier and steadier, and our joy in the Lord will only increase.

In closing, we want to state that we are both aware that there are a number of online discernment ministries who appear to feel that the freedom afforded by the anonymity of the internet gives license to be sharp and unguarded in their commentary. Knowing this, we make every attempt to speak truth in love, and to be "wise as serpents but gentle as doves," (Matthew 10:16) as Scripture exhorts all Christians to do. We are quite sure that we do this imperfectly, and while it is a delicate balance that we hope to strike, please know that it is our desire to be as kind as possible in this endeavor, through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We also have the oversight of a pastor, who reads every article and every Facebook post.

May God be glorified and our walks be steadied as we all sharpen each other ✟ 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Contributing writer Marcia Montenegro is a former professional astrologer, now a Christian writer, researcher and public speaker. Before becoming an astrologer, Marcia was involved with various New Age, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices, including Inner Light Consciousness, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hindu teachings and meditation, and psychic development classes. During these years, she also participated in past life regression, numerology, Tarot cards, spirit contact, seances, astral travel, and received a spirit guide through a guided visualization.

Since becoming a Christian, Marcia has been on many radio shows, including "Unshackled!," Bill Bright's "WorldChangers," "Janet Parshall's America," the "Dawson McAllister Live" show for teenagers, the Echo Zoe program, and the Janet Mefferd Show. She has also been on Christian television, including having her testimony dramatized on Dr. D. James Kennedy's show. She has led workshops and spoken at conferences, churches and retreats, and written for Christian publications (including Rose Publications). Marcia is the author of SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today's Kids (Cook, 2006).

Marcia is a full-time missionary with Fellowship International Mission, an independent mission board based in Allentown, PA, and does her ministry with the support of her church, as well as through donations from fellow Christians. Marcia's website is CANA/Christian Answers for the New Age, and is an informational and outreach ministry. Marcia has a Masters in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC.

Rules For Posting

We will not be posting any comments in which commenters refuse to interact with the ideas in the post, but instead scold us for being unloving, Pharisaical, legalistic, etc. for judging a well-known teacher's public and widely disseminated teaching. The New Testament model for dealing with public teaching that is false or unbiblical is to publicly challenge and rebuke the teaching, and contend for truth.
"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people." (Jude 3)
Of course, we aim and strive to speak the truth in love, but sadly, most of the church today has bought into the idea that challenging ANY idea is unloving and wrong. We adamantly reject this view. In fact, we think the essence of being loving is to point people to the truth, and away from lies and doctrines of demons. It is truth that sets people free. Lies cannot set people free.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

Radio Interviews

 Christine Pack and Cathy Mathews Interviews 

Faith in Culture Radio

Stand Up For The Truth

Crosstalk-VCY America
Topic: Wellness: The New Age Trojan Horse in Healthcare

 Marcia Montenegro Interviews 

Midwest Christian Outreach
Topic: Contemplating Contemplative Prayer (9-5-17)

The Missions Mantle
Topic: Signs In The Stars (10-16-17)

The Jamaal Williams Show
Topic: Exposing The New Age (Dangers of Yoga, Opening the "3rd Eye") (7-22-17)

Truth Frequency Radio
Topic: Astrology, the Occult and Deliverance (10-2-17)

A Minute to Midnite Radio 
Topic: Former Professional Astrologer Now Warns About Astrology (10-9-17)

People of the Free Gift
Topic: Mindfulness in the Buddhist/New Age Context (5-25-17)

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR)
Topics: Plenary talk 2016 EMNR Conference, "Is There A Mind In Mindfulness?" (5-14-16)
Topics: Astrology and the Age of Aquarius (5-14-16)

Messed Up Church (Steve Kozar)
Topic: An Astrologer Overtaken By The Love of God (1-28-17)
Topic: Discussion of the Movie "The Shack" Based on the Best-Selling Book (3-1-17)
Topic: Biblical Concerns About Popular Bestseller “Jesus Calling” (12-2-17)

Zoom Conference
Topic: Mindfulness in the Buddhist New Age Context (5-20-17)

TG4G Radio
Topic: Testimony, and Christians and Horoscopes (4-13-17)

Wretched Radio
Topic: Mindfulness (6-18-15)

Youth Apologetics Training (Michael Boehm)
Topics: New Age Practices and the Church (6-22-16)
Topics: Astrology, Yoga, Reiki, Chakras, and Acupuncture (7-6-16)
Topics: New Age Practices Coming Into the Church (7-18-16)
Topic: Zen Buddhism: Core Beliefs, as Explained By a Former Zen Buddhist Practitioner (Pt 1) (12-26-16)
Topic: What Is Zen Buddhism? (Pt 2) (1-3-17)

Dark Sun Rising Radio Show
Topics:  Astrology, Spirit Guides, Demons, Good vs. Evil (5-2-16)

Deeper Waters Radio Show
Topics: Marcia's Story and the Occult (10-25-14)

Peter Jones Conference - Truth XChange
Plenary Talk: "Astrology and Spirituality" (1-22-08)

Deeper Waters Podcast

Topic: In-Depth Interview About the Occult (10-25-14)

Christian Meets World
Topic: What the New Age Is and Why It's Not Just a Fad From the 1980s (10-21-14)

Crosstalk-VCY America
Topic: Wellness: The New Age Trojan Horse in Healthcare (4-26-11)

The Mind Renewed
Topic: What the New Age Movement Is, Personal Testimony (12-14-13)

Issues, Etc.
Topic: The Occult and Witnessing to Those in the Occult (11-5-08)

The Janet Mefferd Show
Topic: The Occult (10-31-11)
Topic: A Discussion on Panentheism (9-24-12)
Topic: A Discussion About "Mindfulness" (10-23-12)
Topic: A Discussion About Panentheism (11-19-12)
Topic: A Discussion About Mindfulness in Schools (3-4-13)
Topic: Friday the 13th (and other superstitions)? Chain letters? Salt to disperse demons? Horoscopes? Luck? Marcia addresses these topics from a biblical worldview (6-13-14)

Apologetics 315
Topic: Testimony,  General Differences Between the New Age and the Occult, How to Witness to Those in the Occult (6-13-11)

Blog Talk Radio
Topic: A Discussion "The Shack," a Movie Based On The Best-Selling Book (3-8-17)
Topic: Interview With Dr June Knight, New Age In The Church (11-16-17)
Topic: Testimony, General Discussion About the Occult (9-16-10)
Topic: Halloween, the Occult, Witchcraft, Wicca, Neopaganism and more (11-1-10)
Topic: Is Yoga For Christians? (11-8-12)
Topic: Testimony, Caller Questions (5-12-12)
Topic: What Is Wicca? Can Wicca and Christianity Co-Exist? (5-19-12)
Topic: Biblical Answers to Counter Occultic Activity Such as Hypnosis, Transcendental Meditation and more (7-26-12)
Topic: Why You Don't Want A New Age Healer (7-17-14)

The Parker J Cole Show
Topic: The Universe and Other Words Pt 1 (7-15-17)
Topic: The Universe and Other Words Pt 2 (9-16-17)
Topic: The Universe and Other Words Pt 3 (12-2-17)
Topic: Are Essential Oils Really Essential? (12-10-16)
Topic: Prayer vs. Meditation, Part 1 (7-23-16)
Topic: "Never Mind the Mind" Meditation, Stress Relief, Christian Meditation vs. Eastern Meditation (4-11-15)
Topic: Energy Flow and Healing (6-20-15)
Topic: The Christian and Energy Healing, Essential Oils, Yoga, Homeopathy, and the Need for Objective Scientific Data (6-27-15)
Topic: The Psychics: Can They Really Help You? (11-11-15)

Stand For Truth Ministries
Topic: What Is Reiki? (9-7-13)

Echo Zoe Radio
Topic: In Depth Discussion About the Occult - Part 1 (Testimony, Experiences in New Age and Occult, Spirit Contact, Divination, Astrology, TV Shows and Movies Featuring Occult Themes, Feng Shui, etc.)  (3-25-12)
Topic: In Depth Discussion About the Occult - Part 2 (New Thought, Therapeutic Touch, Wellness, etc.) (9-22-12)

Stand Up For The Truth
Topic: Testimony, the Paranormal, the Occult in Popular Culture (10-12-11)
Topic: "That's Entertainment?" A Discussion about Astrology in Popular Culture (11-4-11)
Topic: The Dangers of Mindfulness (2-24-12)

Olive Tree Views
Topic: Marcia Montenegro's book, Spellbound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today's Kids (to be released as an ebook November 1, 2013) (10-13-07)
Topic: Testimony, Christian Meditation vs. Eastern Meditation (12-12-09)

A Few Thoughts on Christian Music

Posted by Christine Pack

An excellent article over at Herescope discusses music in today's culturally relevant church:  "Like a bunch of conformist teenagers kowtowing to “peer pressure,” churches have adapted their musical style to whatever is hip in the culture." This has certainly been true even in my lifetime.  We sang traditional hymns in the church I grew up in, but after leaving the church for more than a decade, I was very surprised to find that the music in the churches I attended upon returning was radically different from what I was familiar with.  I was told that this was a way of "deconstructing" people's preconceived notions about what music "should" be in church.  In true postmodern fashion, I began to ponder this.  Well, what did I think music "should" be?  Sad to say, I did not come up with a very postmodern answer: to my mind, church music should clearly be traditional hymns played on a 19th century pipe organ. But in the little start-up church where my husband and I were saved, they had neither the budget for any such thing, nor, more importantly, any inclination toward having this kind of music.  Instead, we sang short songs with very few words, often repeating verses over and over.  Now, when we began attending this church, God had not yet saved me, and so my reaction to this music was simply personal: I didn't like it.  But after I was saved, I realized there was a deeper, more troubling reason why I didn't like the music: it was doctrinally vapid.

I had one friend who sardonically referred to this music as "7-Eleven songs," as in, 7 words sung 11 times.  The first time I heard this (and after I stopped laughing) I remember thinking what an apt description this was for this kind of music.  7-Eleven songs for a fast food culture.  Perfect.  And when I would ask about hymns at our church, I was told that this was what people wanted, they didn't like the tired old hymns of our "parents' church," we had to be culturally relevant, and that after all, worship wasn't about "me."  Well, I definitely got that worship wasn't about "me," but then that made me wonder: was God really glorified by these shallow songs devoid of doctrine?  Every now and then, our church would play a hymn.  My reaction to these lovely old songs would be so immediate, so visceral, and I simply couldn't understand why.  I would oftentimes be so overcome from hearing these old hymns that I would weep, and literally be unable to sing!  I initially chalked it up to nostalgia, to just remembering growing up and hearing these songs every week.  But as time went on, I began to realize how deep the theology was in these hymns.  I became obsessed with hymns.  Realizing this, one of my new Christian girlfriends gave me a book called Then Sings My Soul, which I absolutely loved and still love to this day.  This book catalogs many of the great classic old hymns, telling the story of how each hymn came into existence, what was happening in history at that time, and so on.  I began to realize why I loved these old hymns so much.  Not simply because the music was lovely - though it was, but chiefly because the lyrics were so rich.  Many of these great old hymns would "tell" the amazing story of redemption and God's mercy in just a few short verses.
"Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; He to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood." (Come Thou Fount, Robert Robinson, 1758)
Okay, in just those few words - which, incidentally, are only one half of one verse - you've got separation and alienation from God, the danger of hell, and God intervening into this dire situation with the life-giving blood of his Son. That's the gospel right there, folks.  How about this one: 
"Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow." (Jesus Paid It All, Elvina Hall, 1865)
In this one, you have an unpaid debt, sin leaving a stain that cannot be removed, and then - here comes the gospel - God intervening with his plan of salvation: the blood of Jesus, given to remove the stain, and leaving the white purity of righteousness in its place.  Glorious!

Needless to say, I still love hymns, and have found so many wonderful contemporary renditions of some of my favorites. I've also discovered some I had never heard  - because they weren't sung in our denomination of church - but have grown to love equally as much.  Below are some of my favorites -

Red Mountain Church
Crown Him (Alternately Titled: Look Ye Saints)
Lead Me To The Rock (never knew it growing up, have crazy love for it now)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul
My Jesus, I Love Thee
Come Boldly To The Throne of Grace
Why Should I Fear?
Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior (beautiful harmonizing)
Christ or Else I Die (great song, love his voice)
There Is A Fountain
Dearly We're Bought
Friend of Sinners
Melt My Soul To Love (there's a crazy, Appalachee-flavor to this song - you'll either love it or hate it) 

Keith Urban
I'll Fly Away (and some nifty guitar playing too) 

Emmylou Harris (what a voice)
Wayfaring Stranger
I Love to Tell The Story 

Chris Rice
Rock of Ages 

Candi Pearson
He Leadeth Me
Be Thou My Vision 

Shelly Moore Band
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Hallelujah, What A Savior
Jesus I Am Resting 

Debra Fotheringham
More Holiness Give Me 

Indelible Grace
Beneath The Cross of Jesus
O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus
Not What My Hands Have Done
O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing
What Wondrous Love Is This
Go To Dark Gethsamene
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
The Church's One Foundation 

David Crowder
All Creatures Of Our God and King
Rock of Ages (great hymn, fantastic version) 

Scott Underwood
Fairest Lord Jesus 

Dierks Bentley
It Is No Secret 

Natalie Grant
Fairest Lord Jesus 

Katie Nelson
Wonderful Merciful Savior 

Kourtney Heying
Holy, Holy, Holy 

Paul Baloche
How Great Thou Art 

Jadon Lavik
This is My Father's World
Blessed Assurance
Take My Life
'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus
Come Thou Fount
Turn Your Eyes
What Wondrous Love is This
I Need Thee Every Hour
I Surrender All 

Rebecca St. James
It Is Well With My Soul 

Sara Evans
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Sweet By And By 

Bart Millard
Hymned - the whole album 

Jars of Clay
Redemption Songs - the whole album 

Kyle Henderson
Nearer My God To Thee 

Tim Milner
This is My Father's World
O Worship The King
When Morning Gilds The Sky
All Hail The Power of Jesus' Name 

Shane & Shane
Before the Throne
O Worship the King 

Sherri Youngward
Amazing Grace
O Sacred Head Now Wounded 

Sarah McIntosh
Then Sings My Soul - whole album 

Nichole Nordeman
How Deep The Father's Love For Us 

Newsboys (lyrics by Stuart Townend)
In Christ Alone (just an awesome song, not technically a hymn, but so doctrinally rich it makes the cut) 

Jeremy Camp
It Is Well With My Soul 

Jessica Lofbomm
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
It Is Well With My Soul 

Bethany Dillon
How Deep The Father's Love For Us 

Shawn McDonald
Amazing Grace 

Carrie Underwood
How Great Thou Art 

Mark Roach
It Is Well With My Soul 

Aaron Keyes
Jesus Paid It All
It Is Well With My Soul 

Chris Rice 
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God 

Kristian Stanfill
Jesus Paid It All 

Sovereign Grace
How Sweet and Aweful Is The Place
I Will Glory In My Redeemer 

Todd Agnew 
Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us 

Alan Jackson
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Standing On The Promises
The Old Rugged Cross 

Sufjan Stephens
Holy, Holy, Holy
Amazing Grace

Michael Tait
How Great Thou Art 

Ginny Owens
It Is Well With My Soul 

Sara Groves
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing 

Patty Loveless
Two Coats 

Randy Travis
Are You Washed In The Blood?
O How I Love Jesus
Sweet By and By
Shall We Gather At the River
He's Got The Whole World In His Hand

Amy Grant
This Is My Father's World 

Allison Kraus
Down To The River To Pray
I'll Fly Away 

John Anderson
Peace In The Valley

Terry Butler
On Christ The Solid Rock (one of the best  hymns ever) 

Ben Kweller
Rock of Ages (you will either love or hate this version - I love it) 

Amy Nobles
O God, Our Help In Ages Past
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee 

Aaron Neville
Morning Has Broken

Willie Nelson
Just As I Am (instrumental) 

Billy Ray Cyrus
Just As I Am (very sweet rendition) 

Debby Smith-Tebay
What A Friend We Have In Jesus 

Trace Adkins
Victory in Jesus

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Peace Like A River (not technically a hymn I don't think, but so precious) 

Lari White
Power In the Blood (sing it sister - it's the blood!) 

Chris Tomlin
Take My Life and Let It Be 

Mark Schultz
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing 

Ricky Van Shelton
Take My Hand, Precious Lord 

Billy and Cindy Foote
Rescue the Perishing 

Casting Crowns
'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus 

Eric Clapton
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
photo credit: cealwyn via photopin cc
photo credit: @boetter via photo pin cc

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