Sunday, October 31, 2010

Interview on Christian Universalism

Posted by Christine Pack

Thank you to Linda Harvey of Mission America for recently having me on her radio program.  We discussed a recent article that ran on Sola Sisters which exposed a new heretical teaching - "Christian Universalism" - that is literally sweeping through today's church under names such as "the Wider Mercy Doctrine" and "Universal Reconciliation."  We also discussed how this teaching has even become prevalent in Missions. "Christian Universalism" is being taught by very popular and prominent writers, teachers and pastors today, among them:
Leonard Sweet (Jesus Manifesto) 
Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis, NOOMA videos) 
Dallas Willard (The Spirit of the Disciplines)
William P. Young (The Shack)
I also briefly gave my testimony and discussed one of the main reasons that we write the Sola Sisters blog, which is that our greatest desire is to protect the purity of the gospel.  After all, it is the gospel message that has the power to save (Romans 1:16). Both of us who write Sola Sisters were saved out of the New Age, and we view the New Age to be, in many ways, a very clever "counterfeit Christianity," which uses lots of out-of-context Scripture to "prove" its core teaching.  So in a sense, it can be argued that the New Age functions somewhat like a Christian cult (i.e., Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, etc.).

The core theology of the New Age - which today is called "New Spirituality" and "Integral Spirituality" - is Panentheistic Universalism.  Panentheisim is a belief based in the East, but in recent years, it has become wholeheartedly embraced in the West, through such things as mysticism, yoga, reiki, holistic medicine, etc.  Panentheism teaches that God is "in" everything, and thus all things - plants, rocks, animals, humans, etc. - have some spark of the Divine within.  This is contrary to Scripture, which teaches that we are "dead in our sins."  Panentheism, at its core, is Universalist; after all, if ALL religions have some element of the Divine, then any path can be chosen for reaching God.  But this is also contrary to Scripture:
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.' " (John 14:6)
The idea of Universalism - or, "all paths lead to God" - has been very popular for a long time in a world that increasingly worships at the altar of religious pluralism and tolerance....but here at Sola Sisters, we would exhort our Christian brothers and sisters to reject this new heretical teaching of so-called "Christian Universalism" and warn others about it as well.  Jesus taught that narrow is the way to heaven and there would be few who would find it.  We must not let this hard teaching drive us to take Scripture out of context and look for some "Secret Escape Hatch" that we think God must have tucked away in his back pocket.  Instead, we must let this hard teaching spur us onward toward fulfilling the Great Commission:
"And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'" (Mark 16:15)

 Additional Resources 

Interview on Christian Universalism

What Is A Christian Universalist?

The Wider Mercy Doctrine

Quantum Science Proves Everything Is Spiritual? Not So Fast, Says Quantum Physicist Dr. Frank Stootman

Universalism: The Gospel Message of the New Age and the Emergent Church Movement

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Emergent Church Pastor Rob Bell Praises New Age Author Huston Smith

Reprinted in part from Crosstalk blog, by Ingrid Schlueter

Rob Bell’s 40,000 something followers on Twitter were treated to this tweet where Bell calls New Age Interspiritualist author Huston Smith’s book “great.”  See tweet here. And here Huston Smith holds forth on one of the world’s religions. YouTube is filled with Mr. Smith’s praise for Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions and their “truth.” Christianity is just one of many choices, according to Smith.

Why should this be especially alarming? Because Rob Bell is a rock star among today's youth and church youth leaders.  His books (Sex God, Velvet Elvis, Drops Like Stars, etc.) have been bestsellers, and his NOOMA videos are shown in church youth groups all across the country.  Discerning, mature Christian adults may "get" why Rob Bell is dangerous, but it is the children and the youth who are being targeted and indoctrinated into Rob Bell's interfaith religious syncretism, sometimes right under their parent's noses.

We can thank Rob Bell for openly admitting what many of us have been warning about for years. He represents a version of Christianity that is, in fact, anti-Christ. While Bell roots around in the books of rank interspiritualists for “truth”, true Christians look to our only and final authority, the unchanging Word of God.

photo credit: Christian Selvaratnam via photopin cc

Monday, October 25, 2010

What is Spiritual Formation?

Posted by Christine Pack

While I recognize that the graphic that accompanies this article is shocking, it was used intentionally and purposefully to illustrate the dangers of Spiritual Formation, the Trojan Horse through which Contemplative Spirituality, a "Christianized" form of mysticism, is flooding into our churches today. Contemplative Spirituality is primarily coming into the church through the teachings associated with Spiritual Formation (also known as Spiritual Disciplines). But make no mistake: Contemplative Spirituality is a mind-altering practice that is as spiritually dangerous as a drug. and much like a drug user, the Contemplative Spirituality "user" has to keep coming back to the contemplative practice for "hits," ever seeking the elusive spiritual highs once attained from the practice, but which can no longer be found. You think I'm exaggerating? Don't take my word for it: Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton once compared Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism (CSM) 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)
Now, you might be wondering why the opinion of a deceased Roman Catholic mystic on an obscure sounding practice should matter to us today. It is for this reason: Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism, as noted above, is literally flooding into today's churches through practices that have positive sounding names, like "Spiritual Formation" and "Spiritual Disciplines." Spiritual Formation is being promoted in many of today's evangelical churches as a way for Christians to draw closer to God. Christian leaders who are teaching Spiritual Formation often understand that the word "mysticism" has a negative, eastern connotation, and try to draw a distinction between "bad" (eastern) mysticism and "good" (Christian) mysticism. Obviously, to those pleading this case, "bad" mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin. But "good" mysticism (like Spiritual Formation, say its proponents) would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development. They make this distinction between "good" and "bad" mysticism based on a quote by the founder of the Spiritual Formation movement, Richard Foster, who said in his 1978 book Celebration of Discipline that "Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind"(Celebration of Discipline, p 20).

The problem is that the Bible makes no such distinction between "good" and "bad" mysticism, which is a form of occultism. In fact, Spiritual Formation teaches the same "technique" for corralling and emptying the mind as that employed in eastern mantra meditation. To be clear, let me restate this: the technique used for silencing the mind in Spiritual Formation is identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc. The technique goes something like this: find a quiet spot to sit or lie down, breathe deeply, and begin to focus on something for the purpose of stilling your thoughts. (The "something" can literally be almost anything: a candle, a word, a phrase, repetitive music, drumming, one's own breath, etc.) After about 20 minutes of practicing this technique, which is simple to do, a person will enter into an altered state of consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, the mind is no longer active and critically engaged, and able to assess data. In this state, the mind is passive, its God-given barriers down; it is able only to receive information, much like a radio receiver. Mystics from all faith traditions the world over often report ecstatic experiences of becoming yoked to some spiritual energy, leaving them feeling refreshed, energized, and peaceful after engaging in their mystical practices.

So exactly how does this pagan practice manifest itself in Christian churches today? It looks something like this: instead of repeating a Buddhist mantra or the name of a false god, the Christian practitioner of Spiritual Formation would use something like the Jesus Prayer.....
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner."
or they might repeat a short Scripture.....
"Be still and know that I am God."
or they might simply repeat one name.....
"Jesus" or "Yahweh"
But it is not the words or phrases themselves in so-called Spiritual Formation that somehow magically switches the dial from being "occultic" to being "Christian." Nor does the intention of the practictioner somehow magically protect one from danger. The words or phrases used are completely irrelevant...they are merely the device by which one corrals one's thoughts for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness (among those who would claim to be "Christian mystics," this altered state of consciousness is known by many different names: "the Silence," "practicing the presence of God," "the cloud of unknowing," etc.)

But the God of the Bible is very specific about how we are to "draw closer" to Him, and it is not through using techniques for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness. True born again believers draw close to God through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10) and through the means of grace as taught by Scripture. And yet most religions outside of Christianity have some version of mysticism that they practice for the specific purpose of drawing close to God. So the question must be asked: if these faith traditions are outside of Christ, are they getting to God? We know the answer to that, and it is obviously, no, they aren't getting to God. We may not be getting much in the way of deep doctrinal teaching in our churches today, but we at least know that much, right? We know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no-one comes to the Father but by him. However, we also know from the testimonies of mystics that they are experiencing something, so what is it? It is a "counterfeit Holy Spirit experience" which "feels" very real and very spiritual. In fact, what they're experiencing is spiritual.....only, it is not from God.

As a former mystic, the biggest blind spot I see in today's Christian culture is almost an innocence about spiritual deception, a thinking that as Christians we can't be deceived. A belief that if, spiritually speaking, something were "off" about a teaching or practice, somehow we would just "know" it because it would "feel wrong." But even more than that, there also seems to be this idea that only we, as Christians, have true spiritual experiences, that somehow these mystics must not be having "real" experiences, that it's all smoke and mirrors. This is absolutely not true. What these mystics are experiencing is real, and it is spiritual, and mystics wouldn't have been doing these things for centuries if they weren't connecting to.....something. But God, in his loving-kindness and mercy, has graciously given us many warnings so that we would know how to defend ourselves against spiritual deception. We are warned that Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). We are told that we must test all things (1 John 4:1), because none of us are beyond being deceived.

So how do we "test all things?" What is our measure for testing? Is it our own hearts, our own emotions? In today's culture, we have a tendency to "test" things through our thoughts and feelings ("I didn't have a peace about it"). No, we must not do that, for we know that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked above all things (Jer 17:9). Scripture is our standard for testing all things, Scripture is what we must use in determining whether or not something is acceptable to God.

Let's look at one of the most powerful biblical warnings there is against incorporating pagan practices into our worship of God. Spiritual Formation, which is a blending of Christian terminology and occultic mysticism, is very similar to what the Israelites did in Exodus 32 in the story of the golden calf. What most people don't realize is that this well-known incident wasn't about straight up paganism. No, this story records how God's chosen people blended together (1) what they had been taught to do by God with (2) pagan practices that were familiar to them from their years of captivity in Egypt. They knew about altars and making offerings to God. And they knew about pagan animal worship from their exposure to Egyptian culture. When Moses delayed returning to the people from atop the mountain where he was speaking with God, the people decided to create their own tangible way of worshiping God. So they set up an altar, added a little Egyptian flavor in the form of cow worship, and called it a festival for the Lord:
"When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” " (Exodus 32:5)
And God saw this, and was very pleased?  Not exactly.  This is what the Bible records:
"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'  'I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'"  (Exodus 32:7-10, my emphasis)
God was not pleased - and only Moses' intercession on their behalf saved them from being completely destroyed by God. As if that weren't a clear enough warning against mixing pagan worship practices with worship of God, we are also warned in Deuteronomy against spiritual syncretism:
"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..." (Deut, 12:29-31a, my emphasis)
God is quite clear on how we are to worship and approach him - and it is not through blending our worship of him with pagan practices. But this is exactly what Spiritual Formation is: a blending of Christian terminology with occultic mysticism, and calling it Christian. I recognize that it is very popular in today's global, syncretized culture to meld different things together. We are most certainly an experience-driven culture, always seeking the fresh, exciting, "new" thing. And we also like our smorgasbord religions, with a little of this, a little of that. But we have clear mandates from Scripture about how we are to worship and approach God.  We are to be set apart from the world - not syncretized with it - so that God's truth will shine like a beacon in the darkness.

If you know anyone who is being drawn into the deceptive practices of Christian mysticism, Spiritual Formation, and Contemplative Prayer, please warn them. These things look spiritual and sound spiritual, but they are occultic and will lead into a dangerous spiritual realm. We must be diligent to guard our hearts and minds: after all, it is the Lord's honor and glory which are at stake. When we become just as pagan as the world, how is God revealed, exalted and glorified? And not only must He be rightly exalted, it is mockery to blend worldly pagan practices into our worship of Him. The Lord will not be mocked, and He will discipline those He loves:
"When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." (Exodus 32:19-20)
If you yourself have done these things at the leading of your pastor or church group, I urge you to repent so that you do not find yourself drinking ground calf juice - or whatever the modern equivalent of that judgment might look like today. Innocence concerning the "pagan-ness" of a practice will not protect a believer, especially when it comes to the area of the occult. This is Satan's domain, and we must flee from it. Those "ecstatic experiences" reported by mystics of other faith traditions? Having once been a mystic myself, I can attest that the mystical experiences may start out this way, but if continued, will lead to a very dark place.  The Bible speaks about those who practice occultism as starting out seeking knowledge, but ending up in a place of distress, darkness and anguish:
"And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness." (Isaiah 8:22)
My heart is broken for those who have been led into these unbiblical practices through church leadership, but it is never too late to fall at the foot of the Cross. The Lord is mighty to forgive and restore.

photo credit: jp512 via photopin cc

photo credit: daveblume via photo pin cc

 Additional Resources 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit (Sola Sisters)

Interview With A Former Mystic (Sola Sisters)

What Is Contemplative Prayer? (Christine Narloch)

Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer? (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Out Of Your Mind: Meditation and Visualization (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Meditation and Psalm 46:10 ("Be still and know that I am God.") (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

The "Be Still" DVD Featuring Beth Moore: An Ode To Silence (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

The Labyrinth: A Walk By Faith? (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Lecture and Meditation Session Led By Roman Catholic Trappist Monk Thomas Keating (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

What Is New Age Eschatology? (Herescope, Sarah Leslie)

Conversations With (an Occult) God - a critique of Neale Donald Walsche (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

Conversations With (an Occult) God - quotes from Neal Donald Walshe's books (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

Can Mysticism Lead To God? (Christian Answers)

Barbara Marx Hubbard - What does she believe? (Stand Up For The Truth)

What Is Mysticism? (Sola Sisters)

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

Mystical Youth Ministry (Southern View Chapel, Pastor Gary Gilley)

Rob Bell Recommends New Age teacher Ken Wilber to His Readers (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

How We Are Sanctified: The Means of Grace (Bob DeWaay, Critical Issues Commentary)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Is A "Christian Universalist?"

Posted by Christine Pack

It used to be that Universalists behaved and stayed in the New Age where they belonged. But sadly, those days are over. And it used to be that a Universalist message was easy to "hear" and distinguish from the exclusive message of Christ. Again, no more. A new, peculiar brand of Universalism - unique to Christianity - does not deny the reality of sin and the resurrection of Christ, and yet still manages to have a distinctively Universalist message. For the sake of simplicity, I've given this new virulent strain of spiritual bacterium the name of "Christian Universalism." Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Like "jumbo shrimp" or "virtual reality." The truth is that there is only one way to heaven, and that is through the shed blood of Christ. And a person has to know this, understand this, trust this, and affirm this, and without this awareness, trust and affirmation, a person cannot be saved. The Bible has to be read in context. For a person to try to affirm Christian Universalism means that they have to get out their scissors and cut out parts that go counter to their proof texts.

A Christian Universalist is someone who makes a verbal profession of Christ, uses Christian terminology, but who holds to a Universalist view that attempts to work a non-exclusionary Christ into their message. Sometimes a false teaching called "the Wider Mercy Doctrine" is worked into this odd Universalist message, but not always. And, Christian Universalism is also sometimes referred to as "Universal Reconciliation."

There are two very popular pastors/writers today that I think hold to this view of Christian Universalism, and they are Dallas Willard and Leonard Sweet. Let me explain why I think this.

Let's start with Dallas Willard, co-creator of the Renovar√© parachurch organization and resource center which places a heavy emphasis on Roman Catholic Monastic Mysticism (and also includes the non-biblical Apocrypha books in its own Renovar√© "Bible"). Willard is a prolific writer and is well-regarded in evangelical circles. Dallas Willard, though he is identified as an evangelical, is anything but orthodox in his views. In fact, Willard's own words prove that he is far outside of orthodoxy in his views. In a recent interview, Willard made some shocking statements which I have highlighted below, along with the correct Biblical teaching:

Willard: “Now, I believe that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved no matter where they are or what they do.”

Truth: None of us 'deserve' to be saved. There is no-one who seeks after God, no-one who is righteous. (Romans 3:10-11)

Willard: "(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." 

Truth:  Everyone who is saved may not have every i dotted or every crossed on a fancy doctrinal statement, but they WILL have right beliefs about God, including comprehension of and humble acknowledgement to the belief that Jesus is the ONLY way to God, and that no-one comes to the Father but by him. (John 14:6)

Willard: "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. But anyone who is going to be saved is going to be saved by Jesus: ‘There is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.’"

Truth:  What an odd statement this is. It sounds both Christian and Universalist at the same time.  Here is the Christian part:
"(A)nyone who is going to be saved is going to be saved by Jesus: ‘There is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.’"
and now for the Universalist part:
"It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved."
I suspect that the reason Willard can make both these contradictory assertions in one statement is that he embraces the false teaching mentioned above: "the Wider Mercy doctrine." The Wider Mercy doctrine is a false teaching that salvation can be obtained even when a person has not heard the gospel and does not know Jesus Christ. It is a belief that, somehow, some way, God grants salvation to persons who are sincere in their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are false. Therefore, according to this false doctrine, a sincere Buddhist or Shintoist or any other religious adherent can obtain salvation, simply because they are sincere in their belief and desire to approach God. 
The "Wider Mercy doctrine," in a slightly revised form, has been the main creed of Universalist belief for centuries. Universalism teaches that all religions are the same and that all beliefs are ultimately pointed toward the one true Deity. It does not matter which religion is accepted or practiced, they are simply different roads that ultimately lead to the same destination. (online source, my emphasis)

I could be wrong about this - and I sincerely hope that I am - but based on Willard's own writing, I suspect that Willard holds to either "Christian Universalism" or "the Wider Mercy doctrine." And this leads me to Leonard Sweet, an ordained United Methodist pastor, who is another prominent writer/pastor/teacher today that I believe is also a Christian Universalist masquerading as a Christian.

I actually know Leonard Sweet from my New Age days, having read his book Quantum Spirituality many years ago.  While Sweet has attempted in some ways to distance himself from the New Age Spirituality movement, his teaching, language and vision for the church very closely mimic the New Age Spirituality vision for today's church (which is an ecumenical coming together of all faiths through a belief in a "oneness" that unites all mankind, and a downplaying of the exclusiveness of Christ's message). Sweet's teaching in Quantum Spirituality advanced the idea that God is "in" everything....a very eastern idea that is more correctly known as "panentheism."

Sweet also uses the phrase "Christ consciousness," which is a New Age term used to express the belief that all humans already possess inner divinity. Please note that even though the term "Christ" is used, this is not a Christian term, because this view is counter to the orthodox Biblical view that man is born depraved, having inherited his nature from Adam, who sinned in the Garden of Eden and thus became depraved in his inmost being, a trait he passed down to all men and women descended from him. (The usage of Christian language such as "God," "Christ," "Holy Spirit," "grace," etc., is common in New Age circles, though these terms are always redefined to express New Age concepts.)

Sweet's books were very popular among my New Age friends who considered themselves "enlightened Christians." An "enlightened Christian" is someone that I would categorize today as a "Christian universalist," meaning it is someone who professes belief in Christ, but not the Christ of the Bible, with his narrow way and exclusive gospel message. No, the "enlightened Christians" believe that Jesus is their way to heaven...but that ultimately, all paths lead to God, and who are we to "put God in a box" and say that a good Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim couldn't find their way to heaven through their own faith tradition?

Here are some of Sweet's teachings from Quantum Spirituality, along with my commentary:
"The first of these five untheorized observations is that New Light embodiment means to be "in connection" and 'in-formation' with other Christians. Deeper feeling and higher relating go together. The church is fundamentally one being, one person, a comm-union whose cells are connected to one another within the information network called the Christ consciousness." p 122
"The power of small groups is in their ability to develop the discipline to get people "in-phase" with the Christ consciousness and connected with one another." p 147
"New Lights offer up themselves as the cosmions of a mind-of-Christ consciousness. As a cosmion incarnating the cells of a new body, New Lights will function as transitional vessels through which transforming energy can renew the divine image in the world, moving postmoderns from one state of embodiment to another." p 48
MY COMMENTARY: "Christ consciousness" was - and still is - a very prominent New Age Spirituality term used to describe a Christianized form of panentheism, which is the belief that God is "in" all things.
"A surprisingly central feature of all the world's religions is the language of light in communicating the divine and symbolizing the union of the human with the divine: Muhammed's light-filled cave, Moses' burning bush, Paul's blinding light, Fox's "inner light," Krishna's Lord of Light, Bohme's light-filled cobbler shop, Plotinus' fire experiences, Bodhisattvas with the flow of Kundalini's fire erupting from their fontanelles, and so on." p 235
MY COMMENTARY: Sweet is attempting to show here that the "light" of God has manifested itself in many different ways through many different cultures.  This is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which is that God chose to reveal truth ("light") through the Jews in the Old Testament times, with Christ being the culmination of this revealed truth in the New Testament.  Born-again believers also have the privilege of bearing this light in a dark and fallen world.  But, was there real "light" (i.e., truth) coming from "Muhammed's light-filled cave?" Or from the Universalist Quaker George Fox's mystical "light" experiences? Or from the "flow of Kundalini's fire" which was said to be the awakening of "serpent power" in the Hindu tradition? If so, then the Cross was a mockery, for what God would let his own Son die such a wretched, torturous death if all other paths to God were acceptable?
If I understand Leonard Sweet's latest book, Jesus Manifesto (co-written with Frank Viola) correctly, today's "Christian Universalists" are hanging their hat on Colossians 1:19-20* as their proof text:
"For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (my emphasis)
NOTE: I have a book dated from the late 1800s that uses Colossians 1:19-20 in an attempt to "prove" Universalism. So this is not a new strategy. Thus, a "Christian Universalist" would accept that^ verse, from Colossians, but would reject all other verses that express, explain and reinforce the exclusivity of Christ:
"Jesus is the stone which was rejected by the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12) MY NOTE: This verse says that salvation comes through Christ alone, and clearly expresses that others are NOT saved if they reject Christ.
"All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43) MY NOTE: This verse says that a person can't be saved without understanding and believing that their forgiveness and salvation comes exclusively through the person and work of Christ.
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) MY NOTE: Again, this verse teaches that a person cannot be saved without understanding and believing that their forgiveness and salvation comes exclusively through the person and work of Christ. Perhaps the strongest expression of the exclusivity of Christ in the Bible.
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5) MY NOTE: Exclusivity again, boom.
A "Christian Universalist" would say, according to the Colossians verse, everyone ultimately gets saved through Christ. But given the verses I've posted above, is this not universalism? Because the idea is that all faith traditions have some version of the "light" that is in Christ (i.e., "Muhammed's light-filled cave," the "kundalini's fire," the mystic Quaker's "inner light," etc.) and all people will eventually be reconciled to God through this "light."

But again, this would make a mockery of the Cross and of Jesus's own words:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
It is the preaching of the gospel message that saves lost and doomed sinners....and not the non-offensive message that all paths lead to God, and that the sincerity of one's beliefs are enough to protect one from God's judgment. And what is the gospel message that is so lacking from today's squishy, all-paths-lead-to-God universalism - "Christian" or "Wider Mercy" or any other kind?  It is this:

There is a sovereign creator God who has made us, and owns us, and has a righteous claim on our lives. But we have sinned against this God who made us and takes care of us by breaking his moral laws....and without his merciful and loving intervention, we will die in our sins and be condemned to hell forever.  It is a wretched, desperate situation. But God, being rich in mercy and loving-kindness, made a way where there was none: He has made a way for sinful man to be reconciled to a holy God. How could this be done? It seems impossible, given God's nature. We are sinful, wretched, depraved.....and He is pure, righteous and holy beyond our comprehension. And after all, the Bible itself plainly lays out the bad new for us in Proverbs 17:15:
"Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both."
Will not justice be subverted if a holy God does both of these things - acquit the guilty (us) and condemn the innocent (Christ)?  And yet, God - in his magnificent, unsurpassable wisdom - found a way to do just this thing without compromising his perfect, holy justice. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, never sinning in thought, word or deed, and who, because of this, was able to offer up his life as a ransom for many. I broke God's laws, and Jesus paid my fine in his life's blood so that I could be released from the rightful condemnation of the law. But this gift of salvation, though given freely, is narrow and exclusive. Only those who recognize their sinful wretchedness and need for a Savior, and repent and place their faith in Christ's atoning work done on their behalf, will see the kingdom of Heaven. The very first words of Jesus's public ministry (Matthew 4:17) were: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Narrow is the way, and few be those who find it. But ah, the wretched, human heart, which hugs its sin and depravity close, and would rather perish, clinging stubbornly and unrepentantly to its "right" to determine how we may approach God.......

Brothers and sisters in Christ, professing Christians have crept in unawares into our churches and are using Christian terminology to teach and promote a damning message of universal salvation. To make matters worse, they don't outright deny Christ (which would be easy enough to spot).  They simply say things like this:
"Well, sure, Jesus is important, but couldn't other ways be possible too?"
"Don't put God in a box."
"Who am I to say that God couldn't save someone in any way He wants?"
"Jesus is the only way that we know of."
We must not allow the salvific power of the gospel message to be adulterated with today's easy-going universalist thinking. We must not let this idea of all-paths-lead-to-God infiltrate our own thinking or the gospel message that we proclaim.  It is the gospel that saves, and we must not be ashamed of it to the point of watering it down, or worse, denying its exclusivity.  God will save all who come to him...BUT, everyone who comes to him must come on the terms God has set forth.

photo credit: djbuchanan via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Echo Zoe Radio Interview About "Christian Universalism"

Love Wins? A Critique of Rob Bell's New Book

Rob Bell Answers His Critics....But Don't Be Fooled

Monday, October 18, 2010

Crazy Love? A Book Review

by Sean Richardson,

I have been asked my opinion of the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan, so I felt like I should read it. Since I teach Bible at a Christian school, I’m often asked about such things. I must admit up front that I knew very little about the author or the book, even though the book has been out a couple of years. But once I saw the book cover, I knew this was going to be work, not enjoyment.

The back of the book held this blurb – “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions?” One question is more in line with eastern mysticism (the idea of breaking free from this world), the other more in line with existentialism. The book itself builds on these two ideas, and rarely gives us an explicitly Christian line of reasoning. There is much here with which a Hindu or New Ager might find agreement.

I believe the overall shortcomings of this book can be summed up this way – it is assumed that Christians already know enough, they’re just not doing enough. This is why it seems there is no gospel here and it’s all oriented towards works. You get a lot of the same thing when you read Rick Warren.

The book has much about what we call the natural, or general, revelation of God, but hardly any mention of the message of salvation contained in the special, Biblical revelation of Jesus Christ. The identity, work, and ministry of Christ is merely acknowledged or assumed, left undefined. You cannot and should not assume anything in these days in which we live and I fault the book for missing a great opportunity to expound the mediatorial role of Jesus Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is also missing. We are supposed to be radical about living like Christ, but are nowhere informed about how the Holy Spirit enables us to do those things. So, we are left to do a lot of things ourselves – radical, authentic things (like the guys in the Mountain Dew commercials).

If you’re wanting to know what you’re not doing right, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for guilt, here it is. If you want to burn out because you haven’t done enough, buy this book. But if you’re wanting to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, then look elsewhere.

A book that succeeds where this books fails is by another Francis – Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality. That is the book that needs to be read, not Crazy Love.

photo credit: williamhartz via photopin cc
photo credit: mccmicb via photopin cc

Note: Guest writer Sean Richardson has a blog called, where you can comment on this book review

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Is The "Wider Mercy" Doctrine?

by Gary A. Hand,

The Wider Mercy Doctrine is not particularly new, having been a part of the peripheral, heretical teachings of the Christian church almost since its inception. What makes its appearance unique today, is the fact that it appears to be accepted and given doctrinal status by certain members of the historically orthodox faith.


The "Wider Mercy Doctrine" is a belief that salvation can be obtained even when a person has not heard the gospel and does not know Jesus Christ. It is a belief that, somehow, God grants status to persons who are sincere in their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are false. Therefore, a sincere Buddhist or Shintoist or any other religious adherent can obtain salvation, simply because they are sincere in their belief and desire to approach God.

This doctrine, in a slightly revised form, has been the main creed of Universalist belief for centuries. Universalism teaches that all religions are the same and that all beliefs are ultimately pointed toward the one true Deity. It does not matter which religion is accepted or practiced, they are simply different roads that ultimately lead to the same destination.


On May 31, 1997, during an interview with Robert Schuller, Billy Graham made statements in a conversation that would indicate that he does not necessarily believe in the singular means by which salvation is granted and the relationship that salvation has to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the gospel that He has preached. The conversation below occurred between Billy Graham and Robert Schuller, who is the pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California and founder of the Hour Of Powertelevision program.
Dr. Schuller begins by speaking to Billy Graham:
Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"
Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."
"What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."
Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"
Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."
Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy."
Dr. Graham: There is. There definitely is."
It is not particularly surprising that Robert Schuller would agree to the "Wider Mercy Doctrine" since his definition of sin is, "...any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem." Given that theological slant, Robert Schuller is far away from any orthodox belief.

Dr. Graham makes several statements that simply cannot be reconciled with the message of salvation that he has preached his entire life. An inquiry directed toward the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association produced the following reply. The question of exactly why he made the statements that he did is not addressed, so the reader must determine for themselves if the reply answers the issues raised in the interview with Dr. Schuller.

Dear Gary:

Thank you for your email.

We appreciate your interest and concern about an interview with Mr. Graham that was conducted by Rev. Robert Schuller. Mr. Graham has faithfully and clearly preached the Gospel for over 50 years, and since the interview he has reaffirmed his belief in Christ as the only way of salvation: "In all our Crusades we place a prominent banner with Jesus' words, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.' We put that verse there because people live in a confused world, with so many competing religious voices calling men and women to follow them. But Christ is distinctive and exclusive about the way to God. There can be no true Christianity apart from Him. While some of the ethics and idealism of other religions may run parallel to Christian teachings, the fact remains, as stated by Jesus Christ, 'No Man cometh unto the Father but by me' (John 14:6, KJV).

"Over the years I have met people with many religious and philosophical views. Many of them have had deep commitment to their beliefs. But I have become even more convinced of the uniqueness and the truth of Christ and His Gospel. And I want to continue preaching it as long as possible."

We trust that you will pray that Mr. Graham will always correctly interpret God's Word and be sensitive to the Spirit's leading in every situation.


Jamie Andrews
Administrative Services Supervisor
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association


False beliefs of the "Wider Mercy Doctrine":

The true believer is identified as a person who comes from inside the Christian groups around the world OR OUTSIDE the Christian groups around the world. Of course, all believers at one time were outside the church or the body of Christ, but that is not what is being said. It is stated that a person can be a true believer within the church or outside the church, within the Christian world and outside of the Christian world - a person can be a believer and not claim the name of Jesus Christ and, in fact, might even be a person who denies Jesus Christ.

Those that love and know Christ are members AND those that DON'T LOVE OR KNOW Christ are members equally in the true church. A person can be a member of the body of Christ and not even know it. He claims there is not going to be a sweeping world-wide revival, presumably because people in other religions are already part of the body of Christ and are going to heaven without the knowledge of the gospel, so they don't need to be evangelized.

What is the reasoning used for these assumptions?
1. God is calling a people for his name out of every nation in the world.
2. People are saved because they are called.
3. People are saved because they know that they need something in their life.
4. People are saved because they turn to the light that they have, EVEN IF THAT "LIGHT" IS A FALSE BELIEF.
5. People are saved because they realize a need and have tried to live a better life than the people around them.
The reasons start very well, but quickly deteriorate into a litany of errors.
(1) God is calling out a people, as is noted in Revelation 5:9

(2) All people who are called are saved according to 1 Thessalonians 2:10-13.

The reasons now become increasingly distorted.

(3) The reality is that all people are not saved because of their perceived need...they are saved by the sovereign will of God. Many perceive a "need" but are not saved, and many believe they are saved when in fact they are not:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" Matthew 21-23 (NAS)

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:44 (NAS)
There appear to be many people on the Day of Judgment who believed sincerely that they were saved, and even claimed to have worked miracles in the name of Jesus, but Jesus did not know them as His own and they were rejected by Him. Sincerity of belief does not seem to be one of the criteria for acceptance, if one does not believe the proper gospel.

(4) There is no "light" if the belief is false. All false belief is darkness.
"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" Galatians 1:6-8 (NAS)
Apparently the Apostle Paul taught only one gospel....and it was not the "Wider Mercy Doctrine." If sincerity of belief is the criteria for acceptance with God, why was Paul so concerned with the purity of the doctrine that was being taught?

(5) People are not saved by their efforts or by a comparison to persons around themselves.
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of god, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus form all eternity..." 2 Timothy 1:8-9 (NAS)
Why preach salvation through Jesus Christ when a person can be saved by believing in any other religion in the world, justifying that belief as a turning to the only "light" that a person has? What is being said is that a person gets to heaven by sincerity. If one is "sincere" in their attempt to find light, then they will obtain heaven even if they sincerely believe a false doctrine.

What, then, is the point of the teaching in the New Testament, regarding the warnings against false teachers and false doctrine, if it does not matter if the doctrine is false.....but only that the false doctrine is sincerely believed?

Those who accept the "Wider Mercy Doctrine" must ignore the teaching of Jesus Christ about those who are true believers. True believers are those who are like sheep, because they know the Shepherd and enter the fold by means of the door which is Christ. In addition, Jesus knows His own. By His own statement, Jesus Christ declares that any who attempt to enter the into the fold of the sheep without passing through the door, which is Jesus Christ, are thieves and robbers.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." John 10:1-5 (NAS)

"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 (NAS)

"I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd." John 10:14-16 (NAS)
It is abundantly clear from the words of Jesus Christ, that the hallmark of the Christian is that they must know, and do know, Jesus Christ. They cannot claim another shepherd and be considered part of the flock of Jesus Christ. Therefore, another religion or another gospel is not an acceptable substitute for a knowledge of and belief in Jesus Christ. To accept another gospel or another religion in place of Jesus Christ is to accept that which is a thief and a robber; that which claims the soul in a false belief and robs the individual of entrance into heaven.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Gospel Message The World Loves

“The version of Christianity that Rick Warren presents to world leaders redefines the message of the first century apostles. The key difference is that the biblical version did not appeal to the world; it appealed only to those who were converted. Warren's version is popular with the world.”  - Bob DeWaay, Redefining Christianity
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  (John 15:18)
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

 Additional Resources 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit

Roman Catholic Monastic Mysticism at Saddleback

Dr. John Piper and Unanswered Questions

Enough! Scripture Twisting is Not 'Doctrinal and Sound'

Critical Issues Commentary: A Biblical Look at Rick Warren's Teaching

Rick Warren Unveils the R.I.C.K. Plan on Humility

Rick Warren at Desiring God 2010

Rick Warren at DG 2010: Not An April Fool's Joke?

Rick Warren: Driven by Destiny?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rick Warren: Did He or Didn't He?

The fallout from Desiring God 2010 continues, and seems to have taken a rather curious turn.  Rick Warren recently "tweeted" the following:

Now, those who know Rick Warren's "law heavy" teaching know that the above tweet is a dig at discernment writers (like Ken Silva, Ingrid Schlueter, and Pirate Christian Radio talk show host Chris Rosebrough) who - according to what Rick Warren is saying in this tweet - don't "do" anything, but focus too much on doctrinal correctness.  And what, according to Rick Warren, is the correct way to "do" things?  Well, in his own words, Rick Warren has said he thinks Christianity needs a “second Reformation” that would steer the church away from divisive politics and be “about deeds, not creeds” (i.e., helping the poor, the sick, the needy).

Now, not being a "tweeter," I don't really understand how Twitter works, but according to those who do, it is apparently just a matter of backtracking in order to understand from whence a "tweet" originated.  And according to some super sleuths who did a little old-fashioned gumshoe investigating, this particular tweet seems to have originated with Rick Warren.  Why is this significant?  Because "RT" on a tweeter's "tweet" is supposed to stand for a "re-tweet," meaning it has originated elsewhere and is simply being reposted at the borrower's own site.

Now, not being able to sleuth this out for myself, I can only imagine two scenarios for what has happened here:

(1) Rick Warren "retweeted" this rather juvenile dig at writers who are attempting to come alongside Rick Warren and exhort him to doctrinal purity, or

(2) Rick Warren actually originated the "tweet" and then deceptively tried to make it look like he was just reposting what someone else had originated.

So here is our take on this whole mess.  IF Rick Warren really did retweet the above tweet, it's just plain wrong because it's childish and immature.  After all, he is a pastor of one of the world's largest churches, and is in a position of authority and leadership.  People look to him for wisdom and guidance.

On the other hand, if Rick Warren actually originated this "tweet" - and then lied about originating it - that's taking this mess to a whole 'nother level of wrong.  Where in the Bible is there an example of it being okay for church leaders to do such a thing?

And to close, for those who don't understand what the big deal is about "deeds not creeds," the short video below gives a brief teaching on the historic importance of "creeds."  Now, no true Christians are AGAINST helping those in need.  But the problem comes when the focus shifts from sharing the gospel message and helping those in need to ONLY helping those in need, without sharing the true gospel.  Or, in the case of Rick Warren, helping those in need while offering only a non-salvific form of the gospel....a "gospel" that proclaims that God is just waiting for people to come to him so He can help them fulfill their purpose in life......this is not the gospel.

Let me put it this way: if we align ourselves with care organizations that bring aid, but not the salvific message of Jesus' atoning death made on behalf of those who will repent and believe, what happens when these people, who have been made physically comfortable in their poverty or suffering, come to the end of their lives and are face-to-face with a holy God on the Day of Judgment?  Will we have given them something of eternal value that they can take with them into eternity?  Or have we merely filled their stomachs and made them comfortable on their way to hell?

photo credit: Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Fighting For the Faith Sermon Review of Rick Warren at Desiring God 2010

Is Rick Warren Lying?

Rick Warren Doesn't Get A "Pass"

Rick Warren: Piper Approved

An Open Letter To Dr. John Piper

Desiring God 2010 (continued)