Showing posts with label richard foster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label richard foster. Show all posts

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Is Spiritual Formation?

Posted by Christine Pack (originally published 10-25-10)


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 addict, the Spiritual Formation addict will have to keep coming back to the contemplative practice for "hits," continually 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)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sola Experienca?

Posted by Christine Pack


Erik Raymond of the Ordinary Pastor blog has written an excellent article entitled Sola Experienca Is For Real, which challenges a rising tide of mysticism among professing Christian believers. From the article:
"We have a culture awash in a neo-gnosticism that gobbles up personal experience like samples at Costco. We cannot resist them. Then we have people everywhere telling their own stories and then interpreting them with authority. And of course we have a church that goes right along with it to reinforce sola experiencia to the thousands who attend each Sunday morning." 
"I was reading about the new movie to be released this weekend about the runaway bestseller, Heaven is for Real. In this book, as I’m sure you are aware, a 6-year-old boy reportedly went to heaven and then came back to tell us all about it. Our supernaturalist society gobbled up the book. The family is a professing Christian family from small-town Nebraska. I am sure they are nice and truly believe all of what they wrote and say. However, what they are doing is unwittingly contributing to the fog that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his word."
The article can read in its entirety here.


 Additional Resources 

What Is Mysticism?

Mysticism: Who Needs Crack?

The Dangers of Contemplative Prayer

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

Mystical Youth Ministry


Biblical Silence vs. Mystical Silence


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