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Richard Foster is one of today’s leaders of spiritual formation.  Much has been written about the various forms of ‘Christian’ meditation, which have been sweeping America over the past several years.

From small acorns do mighty oaks grow.  Who would have imagined that a small non-profit started in 1988 and called Renovaré would have shaken so many Protestant denominations to their foundations?

Richard Foster is a Quaker — a member of the Religious Society of Friends — who put Renovaré and spiritual formation into play.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, and his Doctorate of Pastoral Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

George Fox’s spirituality

First, a word about George Fox and the Quakers.  If Fox were a young man today, he no doubt would have been a follower of Foster’s and an adherent of spiritual formation.  Fox lived between 1624 and 1691 — a tumultuous time in England.  When Fox came of age, Oliver Cromwell had beheaded Charles I,  then the Interregnum took place, the English Civil War followed and Charles II ushered in the Restoration in 1660.  To say that tensions were running high during Fox’s life would be an understatement.

Fox grew up with Puritan preachers.  As such, he was well versed in the King James Bible.  But, like many Calvinist renegades throughout the past few centuries (e.g. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) the absolute doctrines of Calvinism upset him, particularly predestination.

Pastor Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries took a closer look at Fox’s mindset.  He read A History of Christianity and discovered (quote below is from the book, emphases are Silva’s):

For four years he suffered severe spiritual depression induced by the spectacle of human suffering,…and by the doctrine of predestination which he heard expounded from Puritan pulpits. By temperament a mystic, he was eager for direct and unhindered access to God

Eventually (1647) the light broke. He came to feel Christ could speak to “his condition,”… He believed that God is love and truth and that it is possible for all men so to open their lives to Him… [Fox] would follow and have others follow the Inner Light” (Vol. II, p. 822, emphasis mine).

What this meant was that Fox ended up rejecting sola Scriptura.  Sound familiar?  And so it goes today in the emergent church and in an increasing number of evangelical churches.

Quaker belief

Quakers believe that this Inner Light is present in everyone.  You can even see that reflected in the comments on the forum on QuakerInfo.com.  They don’t quote a lot of Scripture verses but rely on more secular or generically spiritual sayings or poems.  Some meetinghouses are more politically than religiously oriented.  There also appear to be three strands of Quaker practice — including an evangelical one.  Forum participant John writes:

Some examples:

Liberal Quaker – non-Christ centered … generally politically liberal, theologically liberal.

Evangelical Quaker – Christ centered … generally politically mixed, running from liberal to conservative, theologically conservative.

Conservative Quaker – Christ centered … politically liberal on some issues (i.e. peace and non-violence), and politically conservative on others (limited government), theologically very conservative.

‘Are Quakers Protestant?’

QuakerInfo.com tells us (emphases mine below):

It is quite clear from reading the works of early Friends that they did not identify with the Protestant movement. They considered the Protestant churches of their day, as well as the Roman Catholics, to be apostate. They felt that Protestants had lopped off some of the false branches of Catholicism, but did not challenge the root of apostasy. Insofar as Catholicism and Protestantism were different, early Friends would often in discourse on a topic point out what they felt were the incorrect views of Catholics and the separate incorrect views of the Protestants on the issue.

The early Friends considered themselves “primitive Christianity revived” – restoring true Christianity from the apostasy which started very early. They were not interested in reforming an existing church, but rather freshly expressing the truth of a Christianity before any institutional church took strong hold.

There were a number of differences early Friends had with Protestants of their day. Some of the key differences were:

    • The Protestants replaced the authority of the church with the authority of the Bible. Friends, while accepting the validity of the scriptures and believing in the importance of the faith community, gave first place to the Spirit of Christ. Pointing to the prologue of the Gospel of John, they viewed Christ, not the Bible, as the Word of God. The scripture was secondary, a declaration of the fountain rather than the fountain itself. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)
    • The Protestants replaced liturgy with a sermon as the center of worship. Friends center worship in the divine presence. Even though Friends disdain outward liturgy, in some sense Quaker worship may be closer to Catholic than Protestant in nature. Both Catholics and Quakers believe in the actual presence of Christ in worship, for Catholics centered in the host and for Quakers spiritually. (See also Friends (Quaker) Worship.)
    • The Protestants were continually disturbed by an inner sense of guilt and original sin, and often felt they were choosing between sins. Quakers balanced the concept of original sin with the idea that redemption and regeneration could actually free humans from sin.

Today:

much of Society of Friends has become more mainstream and tends to identify with some of the movements among Protestants. At the same time, some of the key Quaker understandings have become increasingly accepted among many Protestants in the last century. The pentecostal and charismatic movements, which have become a very large part of the Protestantism and have also impacted Catholicism, have some similarities with the early Quaker movement.

Shades of universalism

Ken Silva read more about George Fox’s experience in ‘the well-respected Handbook Of Denominations In The United States (HoD) from Mead and Hill’ (emphases below are Silva’s):

After failing to find satisfactory truth and peace in the churches of his time, Fox discovered what he sought in a direct personal relationship with Christ:

“When all my hopes in [churches] were gone… I heard a voice which said, ‘That is the Inner Voice, or Inner Light, based upon the description of John 1:9: ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (KJV)’ ”

“This voice,” Fox maintained, “is available to all and has nothing to do with the ceremonies, rituals, or creeds over which Christians have fought. Every heart is God’s altar and shrine.” (140,141, emphasis mine).

Let’s be honest.  If you were to ask any number of people about a) having a direct personal relationship with Christ or b) if everyone is part divine or can come equally to God, you’d receive a surprisingly positive response to both.  The question then is — are these in accordance with the Bible?  No, they are not.

Silva warns us (emphases mine):

this false idea of an inner light, or a “divine spark,” is a very key issue to grasp before one can come to understand the root of the flawed semi-pelagian “gospel” preached by much of mainstream evangelicalism within which Foster has now become a major player. I cover this spiritually fatal idea of “a spark of the divine” allegedly inside all of mankind further in The Emergent “One” and Understanding the New Spirituality: God Indwells Mankind.

So in closing this for now I tell you in the Lord that this musing is actually classic Gnostic mysticism, which itself has already been condemned within the pages of the New Testament. Particularly in the Book of Colossians as well as in 1 John we find the Apostles dealing with Gnosticism. And again concerning all of this messed mysticism the Lord warns us through His chosen vessel Peter — In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Peter 2:3).

Foster’s Celebration of Discipline

Foster’s most notable work is his 1978 book, Celebration of Discipline, wherein he explores mystical and Quaker practices. Christianity Today named it as one of the top 10 of the 20th century.  Pastor Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel observes (emphases mine):

Celebration of Discipline alone, not even referencing Foster’s other writings and teachings and ministries, is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error. We would be hard pressed to find in one so-called evangelical volume such a composite of false teaching. These include faulty views on the subjective leading of God (pp. 10, 16-17, 18, 50, 95, 98, 108-109, 128, 139-140, 149-150, 162, 167, 182); approval of New Age teachers (see Thomas Merton below); occultic use of imagination (pp. 25-26, 40-43, 163, 198); open theism (p. 35); misunderstanding of the will of God in prayer (p. 37); promotion of visions, revelations and charismatic gifts (pp. 108, 165, 168-169, 171, 193); endorsement of rosary and prayer wheel use (p. 64); misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law for today (pp. 82, 87); mystical journaling (p. 108); embracing pop-psychology (pp. 113-120); promoting Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” confession and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185); and affirming of aberrant charismatic practices (pp. 158-174, 198).

Gilley adds:

… the dust jacket of this edition assures us “that it is only by and through these practices that the true path to spiritual growth can be found” … If spiritual growth is dependent upon the spiritual disciplines described in Foster’s book, should not we have expected to find this truth in the Scriptures? Why did God reveal them, not to the apostles but to apostate Roman Catholic mystics, and then to Richard Foster as he studied the mystics and used occultic techniques of meditation? We need to tread very carefully through this spiritual minefield. If this is in fact one of the ten best books of the twentieth century, I am not too anxious to read the other nine.

He concludes:

No one is calling for a purely intellectualized faith devoid of practice and experience. What those who draw their cue from Scripture and not mystics are calling for is a Christian faith, experience and practice that is rational, intellectual, makes sense, and most importantly is solidly grounded on the Word of God. Foster and company have taken many far afield in pursuit of mystical experiences that lead to a pseudo-Christianity that has the appearance of spirituality but not the substance.

Renovaré

The verb is Latin for ‘to renew’.  Since Foster founded this organisation in 1988, it has expanded around the world.

After the success of Celebration of Discipline, Foster received many public speaking invitations.  Audiences, particularly in the evangelical world, were highly receptive to the book’s subject matter and wished to know more.  In 1986, Foster withdrew from active ministry to pursue a means for teaching people how to live the disciplines the book explores.  He launched Renovaré two years later.

The non-profit organisation has taken on an ecumenical membership from a variety of Protestant denominations as well as from the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, it is now headed by an Anglican Franciscan, Christopher Webb.  Foster remains a member of Renovaré’s board and its ministry team.

Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs and John MacArthur’s Grace to You Ministries shared his own impressions of Foster with Ken Silva (emphases mine):

I met Foster almost 25 years ago when we were both slated to teach seminars at a couple of writers’ conferences. At the time, he was teaching at Friends University in Wichita, which is a small college founded by Quakers and happens to be where my Mom got her degree in the early 1960s. So we had some things in common and spent quite a bit of time talking. He is a capable writer and a very likable person.

But in my opinion, he is not an evangelical. He does not seem to have any clear understanding of the gospel or the atonement. That’s why his emphasis is all about “spirituality” and “spiritual disciplines” and various things the worshiper must do, with virtually no emphasis on what Christ has done for sinners. I’ve read several of Foster’s books and have never even seen him mention the cross as a propitiation for sins.

Moreover, he blends all kinds of works-based approaches to spirituality, which he borrows from diverse “Christian” traditions and even from other religions’ mystical and superstitious practices. In my estimation, all of that puts him far outside the pale of orthodoxy. Although he occasionally makes quotable remarks and valid observations, he is by no means a trustworthy teacher.

Nonetheless, Foster’s disciplines are pervasive.

From Calvinists to the Nazarenes

Silva researched Foster’s effect on various churches and found that a new generation of Calvinists were on board.

In 2009, John Piper interviewed Matt Chandler of The Village Church, who gave Piper his impressions of being ‘a pastor, a Calvinist and a Complementarian’.  Silva found it ‘odd’ that

in a search for Richard Foster in the Recommended Books of The Village Church, “that have challenged and helped us as a staff in our faith and in our ministry work”, we find his books Celebration of Discipline, Streams of Living Water, and The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

And so I have to wonder: Why would a Calvinist pastor and his staff be recommending to anyone these books by a highly ecumenical Quaker mystic whose whole sorry shtick is reintroducing the unsuspecting to the apostate Sola Scriptura-denying and spurious spirituality of the Counter Reformation within the medieval Roman Catholic Church?

Mark Driscoll, controversial pastor of the Mars Hill Fellowship in Seattle, also advocates spiritual disciplines and contemplative practices.  Lighthouse Trails Research discovered (emphases mine):

In an article written by Driscoll himself, ironically titled Obedience, Driscoll tells readers to turn to Richard Foster and contemplative Gary Thomas. Driscoll states:

If you would like to study the spiritual disciplines in greater detail … helpful are Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, and Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas.

And:

Presently, on Driscoll’s website, The Resurgence … is an article titled “How to Practice Meditative Prayer.” The article is written by an Acts 29 (Driscoll’s network of churches) pastor, Winfield Bevins. A nearly identical article on Driscoll’s site, also by Bevins, is titled Meditative Prayer: Filling the Mind. Both articles show a drawing of a human brain. In this latter article, Bevins recognizes contemplative mystic pioneer Richard Foster:

What do we mean by meditative prayer? Is there such a thing as Christian meditation? Isn’t meditation non-Christian? According to Richard Foster, “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind” (Celebration of Discipline). Rather than emptying the mind we fill it with God’s word. We must not neglect a vital part of our Judeo-Christian heritage simply because other traditions use a form of meditation.

Meanwhile, Manny Silva at Reformed Nazarene does an excellent job in exposing false teachers to members of the Church of the Nazarene.

On November 14, 2010, he blogged about the possibility of Nazarene youth groups being influenced by Renovaré.  He writes about two Christian youth ministries already working with young adult Nazarene members — Barefoot and YouthFront — which wish to partner with Renovaré (emphases mine):

Mike King is the President of YouthFront, and …  Here is what he wrote:

“Back from five days in the Denver area.  The first couple of days Chris Folmsbee and I met with the leadership of Renovare about partnership possibilities between Barefoot, Renovare and Youthfront.  We had great and synergistic conversations.  The Renovare team is awesome and I look forward to working with them closer.  I think wonderful things will be coming from our ongoing dialogue and planning.  Stay tuned …” (Mike King’s blog)

…  Mike King … just recently received a Master’s Degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary, although I don’t know if he is actually a Nazarene.  YouthFront is a national youth ministry training organization based in Kansas City, and is known for promoting spiritual formation.  YouthFront has already partnered with NTS in at least one endeavor, as indicated in this NTS webpage ad from 2008 offering a youth spirituality course.  This is not a surprise for me anymore, but rather a painful expectation.

Chris Folmsbee is the director of Barefoot Ministries, a non-profit youth ministry training and publishing company located in Kansas City.  According to Chris’s website, “Barefoot exists to help youth workers guide students into Christian formation for the mission of God.”  I have written several articles on Barefoot ministries, and it is no secret that I and many other Nazarenes believe that this organization for youth is leading many youth down the wide path of spiritual destruction, not spiritual formation!

And the third part of this alliance is Renovare, an organization founded by Richard Foster, perhaps the most influential person today in leading many evangelicals directly to and over the cliffs, right into the abyss of spiritual formation (certainly a more palatable and innocent-sounding phrase than contemplative spirituality, or “Christianized transcendental meditation”, or maybe “occultic prayer practices.”  I have also documented much of Richard Foster’s unbiblical practices and ideology, and it is maddening that he has such an influence in a denomination that preaches holiness and faithfulness to God’s written word, and long ago ironically moved away from experiential-based spirituality in rejecting the hyper-charismatic movement.

Why Christians are unhappy

Manny Silva reminds Nazarenes what experimentation in religious practices can do not only to individuals but to a denomination as a whole (same link as above):

… we seem to be continuing down this road, making more and more alliances with organizations that have a veneer of truth. And so I ask again, since there is some truth there, does that make it okay to join with them?  Is there any more doubt as to where our denomination is heading, my friends?  Are we fooling ourselves and thinking that these are just minor aberrations in the whole scheme of things?

What does it say to you, then, that NTS, our main seminary for training pastors for the future, is clearly holding hands with these groups, and promoting them? Remember NTS’s promotion of the Spiritual Formation Retreat just before General Assembly?  Remember the Prayer Room at General Assembly with the Richard Foster book?  Or the Richard Foster/Renovare event at Point Loma Nazarene University? Or Trevecca Nazarene University’s prayer labyrinth? Remember the promotion of contemplative practices on the NTS website, for pre-teens?  ..Either our leadership is totally in the dark about these (and many more that I have not mentioned), or they know of it, and are saying nothing specific to the questions many have put to them.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.  In ‘What’s Wrong and Right about the Imitation of Christ’, he offers these observations of contemplative Christianity (emphases mine):

It would be a travesty simply to lump together medieval mysticism, the Anabaptist tradition, Quakers, Pietism, and Protestant liberalism. Nevertheless, there is a common thread running through these diverse movements-a theology of works-righteousness that emphasizes:

    • Christ’s example over his unique and sufficient achievement;
    • The inner experience and piety of believers over the external work and Word of Christ;
    • Our moral transformation over the Spirit’s application of redemption;
    • Private soul formation over the public ministry of the means of grace.

When we reverse the priority of these emphases, however, we experience more profoundly the delight of our inheritance, grow in our faith and gratitude toward God and our love toward our neighbors, are constantly renewed inwardly, and take from our public assembly enough morsels to feed on in our family and personal prayers and meditations throughout the week.

In the same article, he quotes Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde (emphases mine):

In our modern age, influenced by Pietism and the Enlightenment, our thinking is shaped by what is subjective, by the life of faith, by our inner disposition and motivation, by our inward impulses and the way they are shaped. When we think and live along these lines, sanctification is a matter of personal and individual development and orientation. It is true that we also find this approach in Luther. No one emphasized more sharply than he did our personal responsibility….But this approach is secondary. ‘The Word of God always comes first. After it follows faith; after faith, love; then love does every good work, for…it is the fulfilling of the law.’

Let’s leave the final word to Martin Luther, as recorded in Tabletalk (emphases mine):

Yet all these seeming holy actions of devotion, which the wit and wisdom of man holds to be angelical sanctity, are nothing else but works of the flesh. All manner of religion, where people serve God without his Word and command, is simply idolatry, and the more holy and spiritual such a religion seems, the more hurtful and venomous it is; for it leads people away from the faith of Christ, and makes them rely and depend upon their own strength, works, and righteousness. In like manner, all kinds of orders of monks, fasts, prayers, hairy shirts, the austerities of the Capuchins, who in popedome are held to be the most holy of all, are mere works of the flesh; for the monks hold they are holy, and shall be saved, not through Christ, whom they view as a severe and angry judge, but through the rules of their order.

Is the same true of our contemplative friends among the laity?  Please exercise caution in your Christian practices.  Is what you are doing in the Bible, particularly the New Testament? If not, avoid it. Rely not on Christian bookstores, errant pastors or sensation-seeking friends.  Instead, be Berean.

End of series

The gentleman on the left is John Ortberg, 53, the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in California.

His congregation’s demographics are very much in line with PCUSA findings.  For those who don’t know, Menlo Park is near Stanford University and Silicon Valley.  Therefore, many of the 4,000 people attending his services each week are no doubt high-earners, extremely intelligent and, quite possibly, looking for that much more out of life.

And Ortberg has an answer — Monvee, ‘the future of spiritual formation’.  The Sola Sisters, always on the lookout for new Christian movements of which we should beware, tell us that Bob Buford’s Leadership Network — heavily involved in church growth — partnered with Ortberg to bring the programme to us.

First, a bit about Ortberg, who is originally from Rockford, Illinois.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College, not too far away.  He went from there to Fuller Theological Seminary for his M.Div. and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.  He also served as teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church for several years.

Psychology and theology

In my review of Fuller’s curriculum the other day, I didn’t go into the clinical psychology aspect of Fuller’s curriculum.  The school runs courses separate to those from the school of theology, however, it is interesting that a seminary would have such a focus in an area which many Bible-believing Christians would view — correctly, in many cases — as being antithethical to a life in Christ Jesus.  As The Lighthearted Calvinist so aptly demonstrates time after time in the prison ministry (Keryx) in which he participates, the Word of God is the only book we need to live a godly and healthy life.  Psychology is man-made and man-centred.

Indeed, Ortberg plays on this man-centredness in his latest book, The Me I Want To Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You (Zondervan, 2010).  One has only to look at the cover to see that it’s all about … well, ME!  He’s a Joel Osteen for those into psychology and self-development.

However, it’s worse than that.  Ortberg also combines contemplative practices and works-based Christianity with the self-help.  The Monvee site has an online self-assessment (to take part, you’ll need to register).  It allegedly helps you find your own ‘spiritual inhibitors’ preventing you from discovering your pathway to God.

Some of you reading this might be asking, ‘What’s so wrong with combining psychology and church?’  As Pastor Bob DeWaay warns us (emphases mine throughout):

They were all justified and sanctified through New Testament teaching and the gospel Paul preached. There was no sanctification plan for fornicators that was different from a sanctification plan for swindlers.

One very bad idea churches have chosen is to divide people into fellowship groups based on their former sin. This only happened after evangelicalism began to believe that psychology could sanctify people. Therapy groups soon were brought into churches to replace normal fellowship. The great thing that Christianity has to offer, and found nowhere else, is the forgiveness of sins. If we were justified and sanctified as Paul said, then we can leave the past behind.

Who needs grace or Scripture?

Pastor DeWaay* of Critical Issues Commentary discussed Monvee in August 2010. He points out theological error in several places.

First, human ability over Christian teaching:

Like fellow modern evangelical Rick Warren, Ortberg thinks we do not need more Christian doctrine. He writes: “People would rather debate doctrine or beliefs or tradition or interpretation than actually do what Jesus said. It’s not rocket science. Just go do it.”12 Obviously he assumes we can do what Jesus taught without means of grace. He also says, “You already know more than you need to know.”13 That statement proves that Ortberg’s theology is man-centered. He assumes if we know something, we have the ability to do it. Clearly we then would not need Bible teaching as a means of grace if we had read through the Bible even once …

Furthermore, simply knowing something does not imply the ability to do it. Jesus taught this: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). If Ortberg is right and all we have to do is go out and do what Jesus taught because it is not “rocket science,” then all Christians could be perfected right now if we just went out and did it. But Ortberg says, “It is easier to be smart than be good. You don’t need to know more from the Bible; you just need to do what you already know.”14 This is appalling. No wonder Bible-teaching churches are disappearing from America. Our Christian leaders think we have a technological problem that can be solved by applying knowledge with the correct technique. God uses the teaching of the Bible to sanctify Christians. Sanctification is not a “how to” issue.

Second, mystical contemplation:

When I read books that I intend to write about, I make notations in the margins to help when I do the writing. As I flip through my notated book on “ME,” I see that the most common notation throughout the book is “no means of grace.” For example, Ortberg writes: “People often wonder how long they should be in solitude. You can experiment, because spiritual practices are about freedom.”16 He holds to an idea called “the flow of the Spirit” which is found throughout the book as well. I do not know what that is. But whatever it is, one is instructed to experiment to see how they specifically may find it. Where does the Bible ever promise that if we sit in solitude, we will find something called “the flow of the Spirit”? The answer is never. It is no wonder Ortberg promotes Catholic mystics—they invented various ideas about experimenting to find God.

I was teaching on this once and someone challenged me to prove that we cannot create our own ways to come to God or grow in God. The answer is found in the scripture. Paul is speaking of various religious practices invented by men. He writes: “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). The term “self-made” can also be translated “self chosen piety.” Self chosen piety is precisely what Ortberg teaches and Paul forbids. The means of coming to God and growing in God are revealed in scripture and are the same for all people. If we have different needs as we go through life they are covered by God’s providence—not by signing up for a personality test.

Third, exalting mysticism and its practitioners:

Ortberg has written curriculum with mystic Ruth Haley Barton. He praises false teacher Dallas Willard. He praises the Roman Catholic Saint Benedict. He praises Roman Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen. He cites New Age writer Teilhard de Chardin favorably. He cites the Roman Catholic Thomas Merton favorably. He promotes the Roman Catholic Richard Rohr‘s teaching on the Enneagram. It would not be unfair to say that there is no popular, “Christian” mystic he does not approve of.

Fourth, ignoring Scripture:

he cites The Journal of Happiness Studies to promote the idea of “connectedness.” He also cites a social researcher: “The single most common finding from a half-century’s research on life satisfaction, not only from the U.S. but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.”10

Notice that sociology and psychology have pushed theology out of the picture. Ortberg speaks of connecting with “somebody,” but that is not the Biblical concept of fellowship. We only have fellowship with one another if we have fellowship with God based on the blood atonement. Why do I need a supposed Christian book from a Christian publisher to learn psychological and sociological ideas stolen from the world? I do not. Frankly, the church doesn’t need this tripe

When Ortberg writes on the topic of “fellowship” he includes nothing that defines fellowship Biblically—nothing specifically Christian. Nature has eaten up grace. Evangelicalism has in fact pushed the means of grace to the sideline in favor of what can be gleaned from the natural world. Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 about being able to know about God through nature does not indicate that such knowledge is a saving knowledge—rather it is a condemning knowledge.

Fifth, utopian universalism:

Ortberg also mimics Emergent writers. Consider this:

One day there will be a glorious harmony between God and all that he has made. God wants no one left out. As you flourish, you help in God’s re-creation of the world he wants to see.5

This implies universalism and glosses over the issue of coming judgment. God does not need our help to create the world He wants to see. He is coming again and is going to judge the present world. That fact never comes up in Ortberg’s book. (In fact the gospel itself never comes up other than in a very truncated form on page 253.)

Finney and Fuller

DeWaay lays the blame for Ortberg’s type of thinking squarely at the feet of Fuller and 19th century evangelist (and heretic) Charles Finney:

Sociology underlies the church growth movement. Donald McGavran, who invented the movement by applying sociology to missions at Fuller Seminary in the 1950s, had a famous axiom: “People do not become Christians for theological reasons; they become Christians for sociological reasons.” His book Understanding Church Growth was required reading for me at seminary.8 I do not think that McGavran’s intent was to drive theology out of the evangelical movement, but eventually that was the effect. The church growth movement is based on McGavran’s use of sociology to grow the church. It makes theology a side point …

I suppose Monvee and Ortberg are the products of a long process dating back to the heretical Charles Finney.15 Finney taught the doctrine of human ability more fully than anyone since Pelagius himself. Finney believed that if God issued a moral law, then all people were capable of obeying it with no special work of grace. I cannot prove that Ortberg has studied Finney and learned his ideas from him. But they are the same ideas. It would not be overstating the matter to say that Finney ultimately destroyed American evangelicalism. In place of the gospel and the means of grace, we got the American ideal of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Monvee merely carries Finney’s ugly legacy from the 19th century into the 21st century.

DeWaay concludes:

In Ortberg’s thinking, we need to be more “you-ier.” The biblical concept is to be more Christ-like. We have gone from Christ-centered to self-centered. We have jettisoned the means of grace and replaced them with technology and the study of self. We are in serious need of repentance ...

If you still don’t see it …

The Boomer generation has lived half its life under the shadow of New Age influences.  Generations X and Y have lived most, if not all, of their lives in its shadow.  We’re used to it — the mind-expanding meditation, object-oriented techniques (crystals, labyrinths) and self-centred nonsense wrapped up as spiritual ‘insider knowledge’ — gnosticism, a heresy.

In ‘Mysticism for the Masses’, the Sola Sisters explain the error of combining New Age practices with Christianity, as Monvee does:

There’s just one problem here, but it’s a biggie: these Catholic monks, who were known as the Desert Fathers, cloistered themselves in the Middle East and Egypt; and, because of their close proximity to eastern cultures, ended up being heavily influenced by paganism to the point of grafting pagan practices into their prayers, chiefly, mantra meditation.  So in essence, these “spiritual disciplines” that are part of Monvee’s “Spiritual Formation” programs are classic, eastern occultic practices that have simply been “Christianized” with a sprinkling of the magic pixie dust of Christian terminology.  But make no mistake, these practices are occultic.

They helpfully list terms that fall into this category.  Please be aware of these practices and programmes, which are often marketed in church bulletins as being ‘helpful’, ‘holy’ and ‘ancient’:

– Spiritual formation

– Spiritual disciplines

– Ancient Future

– Contemplative prayer

– Contemplative spirituality

– Jesus Prayer

– Centering prayer (we have this at our church)

– Labyrinth

– Taizé (also at our church)

Lectio divina

One of the Sola Sisters warns:

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

She’s right.  They all operate on the same principle.  That’s why I stopped early on in my New Age dabblings nearly 30 years ago.

Christianity really is different

The Sola Sister lays it on the line:

Throughout recorded history, humans have worked very hard at gaining access to God’s presence through their own devices, on their own terms.  That’s exactly what mysticism is – an attempt to gain access to God through one’s own means.  That’s why every false religion – at least the ones I’ve researched – have some type of mysticism at their core.  And this is precisely what makes Christianity so distinctively different: we are given access to the one true God, but it is only through the means of God’s choosing.  God chose his Son, who having lived a sinless life was able to make atonement for us and who also – here’s the amazing part – gave us his own righteousness so that when God looked upon us, he would see the righteousness of Christ instead of our own wretched sinfulness.  We would be “hidden” in Christ, our sins covered, and therefore safe in the presence of God.

And she explains the danger of combining mysticism — occultism — with Christianity:

You’ve got a once solid, Christian nation that slowly began to drift toward works righteousness and moralism.  That’s bad enough, but when you add in the mysticism, you’ve got the missing ingredient that renders Satan’s new potion completely toxic.  Remember the problem of works righteousness not being able to deal with the conscience very effectively?  Well, occultic mysticism closes the gap in this way: occultic meditation WILL give a person a supernatural experience.  Now, it’s a demonic supernatural experience, but nonetheless it is supernatural.  And what do we know about Satan? Among other things, we know that he is a supernatural being, he’s a liar, and he prowls the earth like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Does he sound like a gentleman?  No – he will not announce himself at the door and state his intention to deceive.  And mysticism is one of his favorite stomping grounds. This alpha brain wave state that a person enters into during meditation? …

Once he gets any of us into this altered state of consciousness, with our God-given barriers down, and our minds primed for deception, will he tell us the truth, that instead of reaching God this way we will be led us into a dark, demonic, dangerous realm?  Will he remind us of the many biblical admonitions to flee from this type of divination?  Well – what do you think?

If you know anyone who has done any of the practices mentioned above, I urge you to warn them that these things are not Christian.  And don’t take my word for it – do the research for yourself.  The truth is that we have only one Mediator who grants us access to God – and He is Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).  And Jesus tells us that when we pray, we are not to babble endlessly like the pagans, who “think they will be heard for their many words (Matt. 6:7).”  Does this not sound eerily like mantra meditation?  He tells us that we are to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), meaning, when our spiritual lives grows cold, we are to hold fast to what we know to be true, instead of seeking some kind of postmodern whipped up experience to help us “feel” more spiritual.

Amen, sister!  What more can I say, other than to advise you to stay away from mysticism, Monvee and spiritual development.  Stay close to your Bible and closer to Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate.  And there the lesson endeth.

Tomorrow: our final Fuller alum

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*Before anyone mentions this in the comments, I did want to acknowledge that Pastor DeWaay is currently undergoing treatment for alcohol-related hepatitis.  This news came out only a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, he has had to leave his church, Twin City Fellowship, near Minneapolis.  Like many who have followed his searing and spot-on critiques of erroneous — if not heretical —  ‘Christian’ practices and beliefs over the years, I shall be praying for his complete recovery and eventual return to ministry.

Before we look at the life of Charles Peter Wagner, 80, let us find out a bit more about his mentor, Donald McGavran (1897-1990), who served as Dean Emeritus and former Senior Professor of Mission, church growth, and South Asian studies at the School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary.

McGavran and church growth

McGavran was born around the time my late paternal grandmother.  That cohort — and this has been discussed by theorists of generational studies — had an openness towards new ideas, new ways of thinking and keeping abreast of the times.  Like McGavran, my grandmother died in her early 90s and our family concluded that, whilst she was conventional in so many ways, she always had a zest for life and an interest in what was happening in the world.

So it was with McGavran, the child of missionaries to India, who later became one himself.  He observed that the country’s caste system often acted as a barrier to conversion to Christianity.  He devised a system of evangelising and categorising potential converts.  This later became known as the church growth movement.  He explained these theories and methods in Understanding Church Growth, The Bridges of God and How Churches Grow.  In 1965, he instituted the School of World Mission at Fuller.  In 1970, McGavran gave an address in which he discussed church growth, aligning it with methods used in industry (emphases mine throughout):

We devise mission methods and policies in the light of what God has blessed—and what He has obviously not blessed. Industry calls this “modifying operation in light of feedback.” Nothing hurts missions overseas so much as continuing methods, institutions, and policies which ought to bring men to Christ—but don’t; which ought to multiply churches—but don’t. We teach men to be ruthless in regard to method. If it does not work to the glory of God and the extension of Christ’s church, throw it away and get something which does. As to methods, we are fiercely pragmatic—doctrine is something else.[1]

Thus, we see why many critics of church growth say it is more about numbers than faith.

For McGavran, borrowing quantitative methods from the secular world of industry must have had great appeal.  It tapped into the zeitgeist, had pizazz and was revolutionary.  Not unlike my grandmother’s penchant for the latest styles of the period, like being the first (and only) woman I knew who had a Pauline Trigere style A-line coat, a chic design which served her well for many years, and her eagerness to try the latest household products and eat at the newest restaurants.  I mention these things because she, McGavran and many others born around the same time seemed to think the same way.

Whereas my grandmother’s penchant for the new was harmless, McGavran’s church growth movement ended up giving birth to seeker-sensitive churches, man-centred services and a postmodern interpretation of Scripture.

Wagner follows in McGavran’s footsteps

C Peter Wagner attended Fuller in the 1950s.  He and his wife served as Congregational (United Church of Christ) missionaries in South America.  A year after McGavran gave his talk above, Wagner became a professor at Fuller’s — McGavran’s — School of World Mission, now known as the School of Intercultural Studies.  In 1981, he replaced McGavran as the head of the school and continued in that capacity until 1998 and was also a professor of Church Growth.

In Leading Your Church to Growth, published in 1984, Wagner wrote:

The Church Growth Movement has always stressed pragmatism, and still does even though many have criticized it. It is not the kind of pragmatism that compromises doctrine or ethics or the kind that dehumanizes people by using them as means toward an end. It is, however, the kind of consecrated pragmatism which ruthlessly examines traditional methodologies and programs asking the tough questions. If some sort of ministry in the church is not reaching intended goals, consecrated pragmatism says there is something wrong which needs to be corrected.[5]

Implied in that is the idea that a church is unsuccessful when it does not grow, that there is something inherently wrong.  It must be fixed.  This is, frankly, unbiblical.  Better a small, faithful congregation than a large one of lukewarm quasi-believers who think their involvement in church programmes will bring them salvation.

In 1 Corinthians 2:5, St Paul wrote:

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit

Wagner categorised the Holy Spirit’s work in the 20th century and came up with the term, the Third Wave, which he discussed in his 1988 book, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit: Encountering the Power of Signs and Wonders Today. The first wave was during the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival, the second with the charismatic movement in churches during the 1960s and the third took place starting in the mid-1980s.   

Growth is good

One of Wagner’s friends was the late John Wimber, former keyboardist for the Paramours and the Righteous Brothers, who began attending a Quaker church during the 1960s.  Wimber later became an adjunct professor at Fuller for their controversial ‘Signs and Wonders’ course.  By this time, he was already the pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, affiliated with the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, which became an international Vineyard Movement. Wimber would go on to write Power Evangelism.

Wagner admired Wimber’s church as well as Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.  If a church was growing, it was good.  So, it is no wonder to read that he was the advisor for Rick Warren’s 1993 D.Min. project, for which the abstract reads in part:

NEW CHURCHES FOR A NEW GENERATION: CHURCH PLANTING TO REACH BABY BOOMERS. A CASE STUDY: THE SADDLEBACK VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH (CALIFORNIA)

A People magazine survey found that only 11% of Baby Boomers regularly attend church. The basic argument of this dissertation is that most Baby Boomers will never be reached by traditional churches. We must establish new churches to reach this new generation of Americans. It will require new churches that understand the Baby Boom mindset and are intentionally designed to meet their needs, tastes, and interests.

During the past thirteen years, I have been researching, testing, and implementing principles and programs to reach Baby Boomers. I began the Saddleback Valley Community Church in January, 1980 in my home … when I moved to the area. My target was to reach Baby Boomers. Today, the church averages about 6,000 in attendance. Over 50% of the members are Baby Boomers and nearly 70% were saved and baptized at the church.

Our church has sponsored 20 daughter churches since it began. In each of these new churches we have used the same strategy with good results. I believe the strategy we’re developing at Saddleback is reproducible in other new church starts.

Need we say more? Rick Warren has been tickling itching ears with astounding ‘success’.  As The Revd Bob DeWaay points out:

… if one follows the felt needs agenda, the church will inevitably have to take resources and attention away from gospel preaching and Bible teaching in order to create programs to meet these needs. When people are asked if they are “good people” and whether they think they will go to heaven when they die, the answer is nearly always “yes.” They feel no need for conversion. So hearing gospel preaching will not be one of their felt needs. Therefore the felt needs of the unregenerate will determine that the church puts the proclamation of the gospel on the back burner …

The New Apostolic Reformation for a new Millennium

In 1999, Wagner wrote a book, Churchquake, in which he posited the need for a New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).  DeWaay explains:

The New Apostolic Reformation is based on the idea that apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church were never meant to be only the Biblical ones, but that living persons should occupy these offices until the church is perfected.35 Wagner argues that the church has made remarkable progress for centuries without apostles and prophets, but that so much more will happen with them

Wagner himself claims to be the recipient of this type of apostolic revelation. He claims to have been given marching orders for the church to concentrate on the 40/70 window (missiologists use that term for the part of the world with the greatest numbers of non-Christians). He claims further that he knows that a principality of darkness named “The Queen of Heaven” is responsible for “neutralizing the power of Christianity in that area.”39 The long and the short of it is that the release of apostolic power through later day apostles and prophets with new revelations for the church will bring about the success and triumph of Christianity in the world.

Wagner was energised by the apostolic church and missional growth in Africa, South America and China.  He praises the high number of volunteers these churches have.  He likes the fact that the congregations yield up new ministers, ‘like cream on fresh milk’. In an excerpt from The Transforming Power of Revival which Talk to Action reproduced, Wagner noted that, for practical reasons, seminary formation would be out of the question for many hopeful preachers in the developing world.  Therefore:

New apostolic ordination is primarily rooted in personal relationships, which verify character, and in proved ministry skills.

Continuing education for leaders more frequently takes place in conferences, seminars and retreats rather than in classrooms of accredited institutions.  Little aversion is noticed for quality training, but the demands are many for alternate delivery systems.  A disproportionate number of new apostolic churches, especially the large ones, are establishing their own in-house Bible schools.

He adds:

On the other hand, new apostolic church leaders are vision driven.  In a conversation with a new apostolic senior pastor about his church, I once asked, “How many cell groups do you have?” I think that was sometime in 1996.

He replied, “We will have 600 by the year 2000!” I can’t seem to recall ever finding out how many cells he did have in 1996.  As far as the pastor was concerned, though, that apparently didn’t matter at all.  In his mind, the 600 cells were not imaginary, they were real.  The 600 was what really mattered.

And:

For many, praise marches, prayer walking, prayer journeys and prayer expeditions have become a part of congregational life and ministry.  For example, 55 members of one local church, New life Church of Colorado Springs, recently travelled to Nepal, high in the Himalayas, to pray on-site for each of the 43 major, yet-unreached people groups of the nation.

What concerns me is what sort of biblical interpretation and teaching these people are receiving.  Also, for some, is there a danger that syncretic religious practices will creep in?  My reservations are many.  How many pastors are saying, ‘The Holy Spirit told me today that you should …’  Whilst it’s always a blessing for people to receive the Gospel message with open and joyous hearts, there is a real possibility that such zeal could be misunderstood and misused.

New apostles and dominionism?

As part of the NAR effort, Wagner founded Global Harvest Ministries.  The idea was to infuse the seven mountains of culture with Christian ideals and zeal, working closely with governments and business as necessary.  In August 2010, it morphed into a new organisation with the same objectives, Global Spheres.  On the Global Harvest site, Wagner tells us:

I officially turned GHM over to Chuck Pierce of Denton, Texas. Instead of continuing GHM, Chuck organized Global Spheres, Inc. (GSI), a new wineskin for apostolic alignment which will carry Doris and me into the future. Chuck is President and I am Apostolic Ambassador. As a part of this transition, we have closed the GHM website, and transferred our material to the GSI website.

On Global Spheres, Chuck Pierce says:

We must not slow down but accelerate, review, regroup, face giants, gain strategy, and “go up!” I have a team praying for you as you pursue a new level of dominion in your sphere of authority. We are presently designing an interactive Global Spheres website so we can post your current mission thrusts

Then we will have the monthly report — Global Spheres: Expanding Our Dominion Month by Month in 2010. I will post these on the website and we will keep them updated for you to see. Another reason for doing this is that we want to support on a monthly basis each mission thrust that one of our associates have …

John Dickson and I are working on another Worship Book (As It Is In Heaven) with Regal Books. I am working on my third book for Charisma, Let Your Spirit Soar: Overcoming the Enemy’s Power of Vexation. Then as Glory of Zion International Ministries publications, I am working on two books. The first is The Triumphant Reserve, the vision the Lord gave me of every state in the USA and the 153 Sheep Nations …

As I write in November 2010, there is only one month of Global Sphere monthly reports — for January 2010.

Wagner was also the Presiding Apostle (2000-2009) of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). He is now their Presiding Apostle Emeritus. The Wagners and Pierce are council members. Its mission is as follows:

ICA is designed to connect apostles’ wisdom and resources in order that each member can function more strategically, combine their efforts globally, and effectively accelerate the advancement of the Kingdom of God into every sphere of society.

No comment.  Talk to Action lists a number of offshoots of this movement, many of which have some connection — direct or indirect — back to Wagner or his organisations.  Among them are prayer warrior groups, such as the kind which prayed for Sarah Palin in 2008.  Also ‘Bishop’ Thomas Muthee who prayed over Palin at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church.  He returned to speak to the church in October 2010.

Wagner Leadership Institute near Fuller

Wagner also founded the eponymous Leadership Institute.  It is located in Pasadena, the same city where Fuller is based.  Here’s a bit about the WLI which, by the way, does not ordain or licence students for the ministry:

Founded in 1998 by C. Peter Wagner, WLI reflects a new paradigm for unique training in practical ministry. Students learn in a creative, revelatory atmosphere of teaching, impartation and activation with opportunity for hands-on practical application and ministry. WLI provides the highest level of training and spiritual impartation through a successful faculty of internationally known leaders who walk and minister powerfully out of the five-fold ascension gifts. Students obtain a living, functioning impartation and activation from the Holy Spirit to walk in their divine destiny.

This may have even more implications than church growth.  Take a look at the courses, which include:

– Apostolic Breakthrough!

– Exploring the Nature and Gift of Dreams

– Biblical Entrepreneurship

– Current Topics for Kingdom Advance (this one taught by Wagner himself).

Dominionist?  You decide

We’re nearing the end, but, despite what Wagner says, did he know about Latter Rain and did he endorse it?  Deception in the Church has an interesting report, excerpted below (emphasis theirs):

C. Peter Wagner wrote a letter to Dr. Orrel Steinkamp on June 5, 2001 before Orrel wrote his article called “Spiritual Warfare Evangelism – How Did We Get Here?” in The Plumbline, volume 6, No. 5, November/December 2001.  Here is the salient quote from that article:

“So I never even heard of the Latter Rain, Kingdom Now .. Manifested Sons of God or any of those things

However, in a conference called “Global Harvest Ministries Presents: Apostolic Church Arising” held at the Atlanta Metropolitan Cathedral, Atlanta, GA, June 14-16, 2001 C. Peter Wagner claimed that he was drawn into the process and started hearing about the Latter Rain back in 1993 …

… I myself knew nothing about those previous efforts I mean I couldn’t even spell “latter rain” … but in 1993 then God drew me into the process and I began hearing about these things even though I never experienced them now.

‘Never experienced them now’ is an interesting turn of phrase.

Deception‘s Sandy Simpson concludes:

… I have already pointed out, one of the two living proponents of the New Order Of The Latter Rain, namely Paul Cain, associate to William Branham, visited John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner in 1989 according to Wagner on the DVD series, and he had to have explained the apostolic movement to them at that time.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions on C Peter Wagner.  However, church growth plus NAR plus dominionism is a frightening combination.  This post illustrates why many Christians are suspicious of Evangelicalism.  To bring us back to Gospel truths, here is Dr Michael Horton, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California and author of several books.  He says:

Long ago, the evangelist D. L. Moody responded to criticisms of his message and pragmatic methods with the quip, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it”  … Yet the answer is not “deeds over creeds,” but to be re-introduced to the creeds that generate the deeds that are the fruit of genuine faith.  Getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out, as well as loving and serving our neighbors, comprise the callings of the church and of Christians in the world. However, confusing these is always disastrous for our message and mission.

Today, we continue our examination of the Book of Revelation (click the link for past entries). Most of this book has been excluded from the standard three-year Lectionary.  This may be because of the imagery and symbolism which was common to Jewish Messianic literature of the day.  Had we lived then, we would have understood the references quite plainly.

As such, it is fitting for the ongoing Churchmouse Campanologist series of Forbidden Bible Verses, those which are equally essential to our understanding as the daily and Sunday readings in church are.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).  Exegetical sources are given at the end of the post.

Revelation 10

The Angel and the Little Scroll

1Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

8Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

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In Revelation 9, we read about St John’s vision of the six trumpets, heard in Revelation 8 and 9.  We shall wait a bit longer for the seventh trumpet to sound, although this chapter alludes to it.  This follows the pattern of the respite from the opening of the seven seals: our Lord Jesus Christ opened the first six in Revelation 6 and the seventh in Revelation 8.

The first verse of Revelation 10 gives us a vision of a ‘mighty angel’ coming down from Heaven in a cloud.  Yet, the cloud cannot obscure his dazzling brilliance, power and glory.  Who is this angel?  It is none other than Jesus Christ, the only angel who was worthy of opening the seven seals of the scroll.

The Lutheran pastor, the Revd Thomas Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, reminds us that the Old Testament makes numerous references to God appearing in a cloud: Ex. 13:21; 14:19-20; Num. 9:17-21; Ex. 24:15-18; Deut. 31:15-16; Ex. 16:10; Ex. 40:34-35. Therefore, this would have been a familiar type of imagery for St John as well as his fellow Jews.  Now, he — and we — see that Christ appears in the same way.  This is how He is introduced in Revelation 1:16.

Pastor Messer writes that the significance of the rainbow is that of redemption.  It is an allusion to the deadly deluge that Noah endured in the ark (Genesis 9:8-17), which is finished for good.  We now have hope in the risen Christ.  His message is not one of death but of eternal life, which He commanded us to proclaim in the Great Commission.  In Revelation 4:3, a rainbow with ‘the appearance of an emerald’ surrounds the heavenly throne.

In verse 2 we read that Christ holds a ‘little scroll’ which is open.  This is the same scroll which he opened in Revelation 6 — the one of the seven seals.  Our Lord’s standing with one foot on the earth and the other on the sea signifies His dominion over creation.  The mighty power of this vision continues in the next verse: his voice is like the mighty roar of a lion (verse 3).  Note that the seven thunders which sound only do so once He has spoken.  They follow His commanding authority.

Verse 4 implies that the seven thunders give John messages which he is about to write down.  Messer says that the thunders represent God the Father’s perfect voice — seven being a number of completion or perfection (depending on the interpretation).  He adds that as Christ’s speaks, His Father’s voice accompanies His own.  The Holy Trinity is a triune God, each sharing the same message, the same mission.

The thunders may be God’s sacred and beautiful mysteries revealed which no one on earth can understand at this time. In any event, John is not to put pen to paper to transcribe what he hears. Messer explains and cautions us:

Only those who enter His eternal kingdom can hear such things. This is also a warning for us not to delve into the mysteries of God which He Himself has not revealed to us. There are simply some things He hasn’t told us and we must not try to decipher those things using our own sinful human reason (e.g. Where did God come from? How can God predestine the saved, but is not, at the same time, responsible for predestining the damned? How can God be Human and Divine at the same time? How can Christ give us His very Body and Blood in the Holy Supper?, etc.).

In verse 6, Christ — ‘the angel’ — swears by God the Father that the time has come.  The Calvinist Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) interprets this in two possible ways:

(1.) That there shall be now no longer delay in fulfilling the predictions of this book than till the last angel should sound; then every thing should be put into speedy execution: the mystery of God shall be finished, v. 7. Or, (2.) That when this mystery of God is finished time itself shall be no more, as being the measure of things that are in a mutable changing state; but all things shall be at length for ever fixed, and so time itself swallowed up in eternity.

We have been in the last days since He sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles on Pentecost.  The last days will end when Christ comes again in glory.  On that day, the world will come to an end. During the intervening time, the divine plan for mankind will continue to be accomplished.  When the end comes, He will then reveal all (verse 7).  This is why it is so important to continuously study the Bible: know what it says.  Note that those who truly know and believe God’s Word are unsurprised by world events.  They do not lose heart but continue to preach and teach in His Name, in greater and lesser ways, depending on their calling in life, fulfilling the Great Commission — exhorting people to repentance and faith, not creating a utopia.

In verse 8, the mighty voice asks John to take the scroll from His hand. This is likely to be the voice of God the Father and God the Son in unison, as in verse 4.  John asks Christ — ‘the angel’ — for the scroll (verse 9).  Christ instructs the apostle to take the scroll and eat it — in order to understand the contents, John must fully digest them (figuratively). In the Old Testament, the Lord gave Ezekiel the same instruction (Ezekiel 3:3). Christ tells him that the Word will taste sweet in the apostle’s mouth — the joy and hope not only of the promise of salvation but in the fruits of faith of those who receive it.  Yet, they will leave a bitter aftertaste, meaning that he — like the faithful throughout the New Testament age — will be reviled and persecuted.

In verse 10, John eats the scroll and finds it bittersweet indeed. Henry says that, bitter or sweet, we must deliver the message of Jesus Christ.  We mustn’t present only the good things — grace and salvation — without the call to repentance and a warning about potential temporal suffering to come.  John’s mission would be greater.  As an apostle, he would be expected to deliver the message he received — in other words, to prophesy (verse 11).  Today, we have this prophecy in written form, to be read by all men in all nations throughout all ages, in fulfilment of the Great Commission.

Messer adds an important footnote to this chapter.  It concerns the falsehood of the church growth movement (emphases mine), a plague not only in Lutheran synods but also other mainline Protestant demoninations as well as the Catholic Church:

There is a lot of confusion today in defining the mission of the Church and how the Church carries out her mission. Too often, even now in Lutheran circles, people reduce the mission of the Church to simple witnessing, as if telling someone that Jesus loves them is the mission being fulfilled. But, the mission involves much more than simple witnessing. The Church’s mission is to “make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ commands” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). The goal of this mission is not to fill our pews or enlarge our synod, but to “make disciples” of Christ, our Lord

When we focus on increasing our numbers instead of making disciples, we run the danger of watering down our doctrine and practice in order to make it more appealing to people. When this approach meets with “success” (outward growth and enthusiasm), people are deceived into believing that God’s work is being done and He is blessing their efforts. But, God never blesses falsehood. He never permits His Word to be compromised with the world, as the entire testimony of Scripture clearly shows, and as we have learned in our study of Revelation. He “spits the lukewarm from His mouth” (Rev. 3:16). What looks like success is actually failure – grave failure. People come to believe that they are Christians on their way to heaven because they have “joined a Church they like and in which they feel comfortable.” The sad reality is that many of them will find on the Last Day that they were Christians in name only and that the Lord never knew them.

For this reason, it is vital that the Church truly understand her mission; that she be committed to “making disciples,” not “filling her pews.” She must be committed not only to bringing people into the Church, but to seeing to it that those people are properly catechized into the faith. She must realize that “watering down her doctrine and practice” will only result in “watered-down,” nominal Christians. She must remain firm and steadfast in the Word she is given to proclaim to the world. Then, and only then, is she about her Lord’s business, fulfilling the mission He has given her to fulfill!

Next week: Revelation 11

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 10 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

Tony Jones not only earned his M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary but is now one of their adjunct professors at the Lowell W. Berry Center for Lifelong Learning.

Since 2008, he has been the ‘theologian-in-residence’ at emergent Doug Pagitt‘s church — rather, ‘holistic, missional, Christian community’ — Solomon’s Porch, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Jones and Pagitt co-founded and co-own JoPa Productions.  JoPa has organised emergent events and has since branched into multi- and social media consulting and training.

I probably should have used one of Jones’s recent ‘mean and moody’ photies, but you can catch enough of those on his blog and related sites.

Fuller course in 2011

In June 2011, Jones will be leading the D.Min. cohort in Christian Spirituality (emphases mine throughout):

Year One:
Co-taught with Lauren Winner (& Featuring Phyllis Tickle)

Tony Jones will work with the students to develop a personal “theology of Christian spirituality” which will guide the student throughout the course of study. Phyllis Tickle, compiler of The Divine Hours and general editor of the Ancient Practices Series will also guest lecture in the class.

Year Two:
Co-taught with Brian McLaren

In the second year, the class will meet in Minnesota and explore the connection between Christianity spirituality and nature, including possible forays into the north woods and Boundary Water Area Wilderness, with a special emphasis on Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of creationBrian McLaren, long-time pastor and author of many books will join the class for the canoe trip, and he will teach from his long-time passion for creation care and the spirituality of the wilderness.

Year Three:
Co-taught with Gareth Higgins

The nexus of Christian spirituality and our everyday lives with be the focus of the third year, with Tony Jones teaching on cultural hermeneutics and challenging the students to take their theology of Christian spirituality—developed in year one—and apply it to the world in which we find ourselves.  Gareth Higgins, Northern Irish peace activist and renowned film critic will be screening films with us and catalyzing theological reflection.  This course will take place in Pasadena and Hollywood, CA.

Hmm.  One could write volumes on this bunkum.  And let’s not even get started on ‘Northern Irish peace activist’.  Anyway, here are a few excerpts from the PDF for Year 1:

DESCRIPTION:
Christian spirituality is a topic both wide-ranging and specific, and this first year of the three-year cohort cycle will put some boundaries and definitions on just what Christian spirituality is.  Instead of tracing the history of Christian spirituality in a linear fashion, the topic will be investigated via the many spiritual disciplines that have been popular over the last two millennia.

Some of the reading list:

Nouwen, Henri, Walk with Jesus: Stations of the Cross (Maryknoll, NewYork: Orbis, 1990)
Peterson, Eugene, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)
Forest, Jim, Praying with Icons, (Orbis: Maryknoll, NewYork, 1997)
Linn, Dennis, Shelia Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (Mahwah, New York: Paulist, 1995)
Main, John, Moment of Christ: The Path of Meditation (New York: Continuum, 1998)
Pennington, M. Basil, O.C.S.O., Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980)

Along with:

Paradigm Theological Shifts
Barna, George. Revolution. Tyndale, 2005.
Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.
Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church. Zondervan, 2003.

Leadership Development
Kouzes, James and Posner, Barry. The Leadership Challenge. Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Rusaw, Rick and Swanson, Eric. The Externally Focused Church. Group 2004.
Scott, Cynthia D. and Jaffe, Dennis T. Managing Organizational Change. Crisp Publications, 1989.

Personal Growth
Buford, Bob. Finishing Well. Integrity, 2004.
Dotlich, David and Cairo, Peter. Why CEO’s Fail. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Thrall, Bill; McNicol, Bruce and McElrath, Ken. The Ascent of a Leader. Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Jones and dissenters

For those wondering what it might be like to have Prof. Jones in class, read one of his blog posts, ‘Jim Wallis Appearance Stirs Wisconsin Controversy’.  The post concerns Q90-FM’s dropping their sponsorship of Lifest, a Christian music festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Q90 said the Sojourners‘ founder’s social justice message and agenda promotes “a seed of secular humanism, seeking an unholy alliance between the church and government.”  Good for them!

This sparked an emergent v Calvinist exchange in the comments. (How do I know he’s a Calvinist?  I visited his blog.) Be sure to click on previous comments to read the best parts, including Tony Jones calling out the young Calvinist, who offers intelligent, balanced, biblically-based responses to everyone.  Nonetheless, Jones gets his digs in:

Tony Jones: Darius, tone it down. This is your last warning.

Darius: Tony, so contrary voices are not allowed? Here I thought you postmoderns were so open-minded… yet you allow people to rip on me (I don’t care, I’m thick-skinned) yet you won’t let me speak my mind. Typical intolerance from the Left.

Tony Jones: Darius, dissenting voices are welcome. A——-ry is not.

Wow, what a godly response!  Darius is obviously — and thankfully — resistant to diaprax.

Jürgen Moltmann’s influence

Before I go further into Jones’s theology, I would like to touch briefly on Jürgen Moltmann‘s.  Moltmann was raised in a secular home in Hamburg.  Growing up, he read voraciously and absorbed a great deal from classical German philosophers.  Near the end of the Second World War, he spent time in a POW camp in Belgium, where he was given a Bible to read. After the war and back home in Germany, he studied theology.  The works of Karl Barth, Luther and Hegel influenced his thought.  After ordination, he served as a pastor and later become a professor, first at Bonn University, then at Tübingen University, where he is currently emeritus professor.

Moltmann’s 1964 work, Theology of Hope, is said to have influenced movements from liberation theology to the emergent church.  You can understand why, when you read:

The church is to be seen as the people of hope, experiencing hope in the God who is present in his promises. The coming kingdom gives the church a much broader vision of reality than a “merely” private vision of personal salvation. The church is to contest all the barriers that have been constructed by man for security; it challenges all structures that absolutize themselves, and all barriers erected between peoples in the name of the reality that is to come in Jesus Christ. The coming kingdom creates confronting and transforming vision for the mission of the people of God.

People could certainly be forgiven for picking up a scintilla of communitarianism there.  Our traditional view of redemption as being individual (as the Bible says) is but a trifle.  Instead, whole peoples will be redeemed.  And a thought process like this leads to … universalism.

Jones, Moltmann and universalism

Ken Silva for Apprising Ministries takes up the story:

Now we consider the following entry at the Emergent Village blog concerning an upcoming September 2009 event:

In what has become the hallmark event of Emergent Village, JoPa Productions is thrilled to welcome Jürgen Moltmann as the dialogue partner for the 2009 Emergent Theological Conversation. Moltmann, one of the premier theologians of the 20th century, is known as the “theologian of hope.” This will be a unique opportunity to sit in conversation with a renowned theologian who has shaped the theological landscape. (Online source)

As we can also see in his post Fuller Seminary Offers D.Min. Credit… at his Beliefnet blog Tony Jones, “professor of record” for Fuller Cesspool at this event, is pretty excited about it all as well. And watching the slide down further away from anything resembling orthodoxy by Tony Jones is a very good indicator of just where this Emergence rebellion against Sola Scriptura—with their growing deceptions—is headed

So now you have a better idea what Rob Bell means when he says it’s our “duty” to “hope and long and pray for somehow everybody to be reconciled to God” (Online source).

It transpires (same Apprising Ministries link) that Moltmann taught former Fuller faculty member, Miroslav VolfJones studied under Volf.  Join the dots.

Silva warns us (emphasis in the original here):

Note carefully: Progressive Christians “pro-actively” assert Christianity is not “the only” way to God and also lend their ”support of the complete validity of other religions.” Christians should support a person’s right to believe whatever they wish to about God; but that said, we must not deceive people into thinking they are actually worshipping the one true and living God apart from being regenerated in Christ (e.g. see—1 Corinthians 10:20).

Communitarianism alerts

On January 29, 2010, Jones posted the following on his blog about fellow emergent Philip Clayton:

I’ve just spent another few days with Philip Clayton, and once again been impressed with the evangelical zeal with which he approaches progressive theology.  He is a force of nature.

Which, I imagine, is why the Ford Foundation gave him a grant to “transform theology for church and society” (read, make progressive theology popular and populist again).  I’ve been involved with him in that, particularly with Tripp “Sancho Panza” Fuller.

So, there we have the Ford Foundation — one of the ones which endowed eugenics departments at Ivy League universities in the early part of the 20th century — taking a new tack in social engineering: getting us as churchgoers to buddy up with statist programmes.  Yes, very postmodern and progressive, isn’t it?

On November 21, 2010, Jones stated that he would be attending the Wild Goose Festival, an emergent social justice and spirituality weekend in North Carolina next year:

I think Wild Goose is the next domino to fall in the movement that is reshaping the church and society….but, more importantly, reshaping me.

Anyway, Gareth Higgins (see Fuller course above, Year 3) is the festival director.

Hmm.

Well, that’s the Tony Jones story.  Perfect for the Fullerites.  I’m hoping you’ll see things differently.

Tomorrow: Another Fuller Theological Seminary alum made good

Rob Bell, 40, is one of Fuller Theological Seminary‘s top alums and a big name in the Emergent Church.

Beginnings

He founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city better known as a centre of Reformed (Calvinist) theology in the United States.  His father, Robert Holmes Bell, is a US Federal Judge, first appointed in Ronald Reagan’s second administration in 1987.

Like his father, Rob earned his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton College in Illinois.  Whilst there, he was part of an indie rock band and also met his future wife, Kristen.  He got his start in the ministry after volunteering to teach a Christian message to the counsellors at the college’s Honey Rock Camp when no minister was available.  At that time, he said, the Holy Spirit gave him a message about ‘rest’.  From that point on, he decided to pursue a calling in the church.

That compelled him to earn an M.Div. from Fuller and serve as a youth intern at Lake Avenue Church.  After he earned his degree, Bell and his wife returned to Grand Rapids, where he took the Saturday evening service at Calvary Chapel.  At the age of 29, he decided to break out on his own by founding the Mars Hill Bible Church.  Within a year, the congregation moved to what was a disused anchor store in a local mall.

In addition to his highly successful church ministry, he also makes short films.  The series is called NOOMA, the phonetic American pronunciation of pneuma, signifying the Holy Spirit.  (Here in the UK, we would say ‘NEWMA‘.)  He also tours the country to sell-out crowds.  His books include Velvet Elvis, Sex God and Drops Like Stars.

Start with Barth

According to someone who knows and told Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries, Bell was more of a John MacArthur style preacher when he served at Calvary Chapel.  Then, he and his wife read one of Brian McLaren’s books, A New Kind of Christian.  From that point, he rejected sola Scriptura. He believes that the Bible needs reinterpretation.  He also said that the more one studies the Bible, the more questions it raises.

How do the ministers from the Emergent Church come to think that way?  Silva puts it down to the influence of Modernism, then Karl Barth.  Whilst Barth advocated a neo-orthodoxy, which in some way redressed Modernism, he did reject sola Scriptura and biblical inerrancy.  For him, Scripture contained words of God, not the Word of God.  Bell, too, rejects the truth of Scripture and loves the confusion his questions bring him.  Yet, for many of us, myself included, it was actually believing what the Bible said which brought a sense of relief and deepened our belief.

Divine dirt clods

Bell borrowed a phrase from Marianne Williamson and attributed it to Nelson Mandela.  One can imagine that his congregation lapped it up.  Ken Silva tells us:

If you’re still tracking with (in English that’s following) me I return your attention now to the supposed ”Mandela” quote where Guru Bell tells us “you may be a dirt clod, but there is greatness and power and glory that resides in every single human being.” Why is that; because ”this divine breath is in every single human being ever.” And what has Bell taught us all along; that “breath” is spirit—it’s the heart of his whole shtick right down to “Nooma” …

… as previously pointed out in Rob Bell and New Age Guru Marianne Williamson those words were actually penned by New Age Priestess Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.

What about homosexuals?

Scripturally speaking, there is only one way to truthfully respond when asked if a homosexual can continue his liaisons and become a Christian.  Yet, Bell obfuscates:

The Bible is very clear that the practice of homosexuality is a sin (see—Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and for someone to become a Christian they must repent of [i.e. forsake, turn away from] their sin (see—Mark 1:14-15; Acts 20:21). But unfortunately an honest question to Rob Bell and MHBC on such a crucial issue of our time was met with a mere form letter from a “michelle” …

Then the recipient of this form letter from michelle of “Mars Hill Communications” is told:

We care deeply how Scripture is interpreted and how to discern living the way of Jesus, and in encountering differing viewpoints it is our aim to agree or disagree in love, keeping central a shared desire to know God and serve Jesus Christ. Regarding your comments or questions, we’d like to direct you to our mission http://www.marshill.org/mission, Narrative Theology http://www.marshill.org/believe,

Directions http://www.marshill.org/believe/directions [shared values], and serving focus http://www.marshill.org/serving, available at marshill.org. You might also find our recent audio teachings http://www.marshill.org/teaching/podcast.php and archived series http://www.marshill.org/teaching/other.php as well as Rob Bell’s recommended reading list http://www.marshill.org/about/rob/recommendedReadingList.php to be beneficial.

After all, I’m constantly told how Jesus-centered and Biblical Bell’s teaching is; well Rob Bell, where do you stand; because Jesus answers the question—No.

Judge not

About online criticism, Bell had this to say:

When a Christian can find nothing better to do with their time [than criticize]…you start realizing that some Christians need to be saved. How a person would have energy to take shots at other Christians is just mind-boggling. You have to be so disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging is somehow a redemptive use of your time.

That sort of response doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.  I’m delighted that Ken Silva blogged (!) the following:

This would make me one whom Bell called “disconnected” from life because in his fickle fantasy I would only be thinking about how “blogging is somehow a redemptive use” of my time. But instead it looks like Bell’s entered the doghouse yet again feeling he’s just “a little more relevant” because he and his “tribe cares more about the poor” etc., etc. while buying into the myth that those who hold the doctrines of grace like me don’t have any such concerns.

And this is what an Anglican priest pretty much published in a parish newsletter a few weeks ago.  Paraphrased: ‘God doesn’t care about your religiosity or your doctrinal belief; He cares about what you do.’  Deeds, not creeds!  Oh, we have so much in this world to DO!  And you can’t redeem yourself in His sight unless your DOING things in His name. (That is, things which the church approves.  Blogging isn’t one of them, because your pastor cannot see what you are doing.) Wrong … it’s about living a life of faith through grace.  Our pitiful works alone cannot save us.

Hell defined

Bell is into utopia, always a bad sign.  Ken Silva explains:

Bell makes it clear that he is more concerned with “hell on earth” than with what happens after this life: “What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now” …

Bell’s teaching that heaven and hell come to earth depending on how we live now simply is not biblical. He says, “As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies.” [7] But the term for hell, Gehenna, is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them by Jesus. Not once did He use the term to describe something that is now on earth or now coming to earth.

But, then, Bell’s not interested in biblical truths, just a social activist interpretation.

How evangelical is Bell?

Ken Silva observes:

Bell is a hero to the mystical interspiritual set who in their deluded spiritual pride think their neo-Gnostic meditation powwows of Contemplative/Centering Prayer will eventually unite all religions. But this now begs the question: If the so-called crossing of ”traditional boundaries of religious groups to build stronger communities” really was the message of Jesus Christ and His Apostles then why were all of them, save John, murdered? They should have been as revered as Bell is. But you should now be able to understand why we’re experiencing such a diluting of doctrine; you see, if they were to teach in straight Biblical purity it wouldn’t make them very good role models at all for these fickle “faith heroes.”

‘Nothing new under the sun’

Another pastor, the Revd Casey Freswick of Bethany United Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan, writes of Bell’s errors:

Ultimately, Rob Bell does not repaint the Christian faith. He paints a picture that is not a picture of the Christian faith or the truth of Christianity. But his new picture of error is not really new at all. It is old error. It is old false teaching. It is the same old errors of the past repainted. Rob Bell forsakes truth. He rejects it. He deceives. He is a false teacher. He repaints the errors of the past…

Rob Bell has embraced these and other errors and merged them into postmodernism, an anti-Christian philosophy teaching the impossibility of absolute truth. Both postmodern 21st century philosophy and 20th century “modern liberalism” have influenced Rob Bell. A more appropriate title for Rob Bell’s painting, his “Velvet Elvis”, is “Postmodern Liberalism” …

One key aspect of liberalism embraced by Rob Bell is the false view of the life of Jesus replacing faith in Jesus. For Bell “Christian” describes those devoted “to living the way of the Messiah, who they believed was Jesus. A person who follows Jesus … A way of life centered around a person who lives.” He writes, “I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better.” What we do is essential, not what we believe.

It is hard to fathom someone professing a love for Christ yet rolling around in all that error.  I, too, embraced a lot of this before it was loosely codified as the emergent church.  You could get it fairly readily by finding out what the clergy read in their spare time, then taking the books out of the local library.  At some point, you get to the point where you ask yourself, ‘If I believe the Beatitudes and charity are the way forward, why am I not predisposed towards believing the rest of Scripture?‘  And, at that moment, the real journey begins with Bible reading, solemn reflection and prayer.  I am today miles away from where I was then, which was not too far from where Rob Bell is now.

I have spent the past few hours reading through what Rob Bell says.  Nowhere was there any mention of the Cross, Christ’s propitiation for our sins, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost or St Paul’s exhortations to the churches.  Maybe he’s wrestling with himself wondering whether or how they actually happened.  If so, that’s very sad, indeed.

Tomorrow: Another Fuller alum and his theology

A happy Thanksgiving to my American readers, wherever you might be today.

In case you missed my 2009 posts on the subject, here is one dated November 25 and the other from November 26.

Last year, I ran across a thought-provoking post from Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason Radio.  It is a transcript of a 1994 broadcast he gave about this special day.

He discusses Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, which we’ll get to in a moment.  But, first, here is what Koukl said after he read out the proclamation (emphases mine throughout):

We have set aside the day. On that day all over this country the post offices are closed, banks are closed, people observe the national holiday. But are they observing the holiday that Abraham Lincoln instituted in 1863? No, not quite.

Abraham Lincoln, in his official capacity as president, acknowledged that we owe everything to God. He called on us to humble ourselves in penitence for our disobedience, confess our sins with contrition, ask for God’s mercy and give Him praise for his love, for all of His care for us. This is not the Thanksgiving our country now officially observes, for it is de facto illegal for those under the color of governmental authority to take the initiative to honor God in this way.

Yes, as wonderful as Thanksgiving celebrations are, they are largely a secular affair.  Food, football and, for the kids, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  How many people attend church services on this day or say special prayers at home as a family?  I haven’t mentioned solemn civic commemorations nationwide, as Koukl notes:

We can’t do that anymore …

My point is to show how far removed the present atmosphere of the so-called “separation of church and state” is from what was understood by our forefathers. The current practice is not the original notion of non-establishment that the Bill of Rights mandates, and Lincoln’s comments make this clear.

Notice how natural it was for someone like the president of our country–many would say the greatest president our country has ever seen (and probably the saddest)–in the midst of an agonizing trial of national proportions–the civil war–to call the nation to repentance, prayer, and thanksgiving to God.

What a man. And what a change we have gone through since then to now.

Last year, I reproduced George Washington’s Proclamation of General Thanksgiving from 1789.  President Washington mandated a day of general thanksgiving and prayer — for the peaceful government which the newly-independent nation enjoyed, civil and religious liberty, the support of its foreign allies and for general prosperity — all of which he acknowledged came through God’s grace.

Koukl introduces the background to Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, which truly established it an annual national holiday:

In mid-1863 the tide of the war had just turned. Gettysburg was the turning point in early July–the 1st, 2nd , and 3rd of 1963–and on the 4th Vicksburg fell under Grant after a long five or six month siege there. It was a bad week for the South. So there was a big turning point in July and things started going the way of the Union. There was plenty to give thanks for, in a sense. Yet at the same time there was a bloody war continuing, and lives were still being lost. It would two more years of unimaginable carnage before the Civil War would end.

In the midst of this difficult time, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and he did so with these words. [Read] closely, especially in light of the present atmosphere of so-called separation of church and state.

Koukl took the text below from Roy P Basler’s The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

President Lincoln’s is an eloquent reminder of God’s blessings, even in an imperfect, conflict-driven world.  Would that American politicians, following the example of two of the nation’s greatest presidents, encourage this type of reflection more often.

A footnote on William Henry Seward, whom you might recall from history class.  Alaskans can be thankful for his foresight during his service in President Andrew Johnson’s administration:

An outspoken opponent of the spread of slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War, he was a dominant figure in the Republican Party in its formative years, and was widely regarded as the leading contender for the party’s presidential nomination in 1860 – yet his very outspokenness may have cost him the nomination. Despite his loss, he became a loyal member of Lincoln’s wartime cabinet, and played a role in preventing foreign intervention early in the war.[1] On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, he survived an attempt on his life in the conspirators’ effort to decapitate the Union government. As Johnson’s Secretary of State, he engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia in an act that was ridiculed at the time as “Seward’s Folly“, but which somehow exemplified his character. His contemporary Carl Schurz described Seward as “one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints.”[2]

It’s no secret.  Their true intentions are out in the open.

After having written a post on Fuller Theological Seminary’s curriculum, I’m still wrestling with the dichotomy of founder Charles E Fuller’s theology and that of his students 60+ years on.  Yes, that’s over threescore in the life of a seminary, but there is danger in moving from the, presumably, biblically-sound theology of its founder to weird and far-from-wonderful relativism of God’s Word.

Nonetheless, Fuller is clear on its stance.  You can find out where it is heading in The Burner, its blog from the Lowell W Berry Center for Lifelong Learning.  You may recall that lifelong learning is part of diaprax — an ongoing Hegelian dialectic combined with transformational Marxist praxis — intended to get you to continuously revise the way you think about life, church, everything really.  You move further away from the truth throughout the course of your life.

The Burner features ‘Fuller Seminary resources for the local church’. The blog has three editor-contributors.  If you were stuck in a lift with them, they look like the type of chaps with whom you would feel comfortable.  They look like relatively conservative, God-fearing, all-American family men.  And they probably are to an extent.  It’s just that the content and the God-fearing bits blur somewhat.  Eddie Gibbs, for example, believes in the Western ‘post-Christendom’ and is committed to church’n’change.  The title of his three books are ChurchNext, LeadershipNext, and Emerging Churches (co-authored with Fuller professor Ryan Bolger).

Featured in The Burner‘s blogroll are links to Brian McLaren, Church Then and Now (by two of The Burner’s editors, Gibbs and Fredrickson), Frank Viola, the Sojourners, The Ooze and Tony Jones.

Here is a sampling of The Burner‘s posts (emphases mine throughout):

Motivation Monday: The Sabbath Was Made for People

God enjoys you enjoying your rest!

In America, rest is all too often thought as something only for the weak or lazy. Well, God is not American. Take a breather. Take a nap. Take a day to rest and rejoice in the day that the Lord has made.

So, nothing about taking time out for prayer, church or Bible study then enjoying yourself in a way pleasing to Him.

What to Do with Your Fourth of July Service

Put simply: Does allegiance to America trump allegiance to the kingdom of God and God’s reign? Our political and religious freedoms dictated by a government pale in comparison to our freedom from sin and death obtained by the mighty act of God in Jesus Christ. The gospel to which we all bear witness must and will reject any attempt to make it synonymous with America or any nation.

The point of a church service commemorating the Fourth of July is really to give thanks for America’s independence and for the many blessings God has bestowed on the Great Republic, the greatest in the world (still, but for how long?).  So, there is nothing wrong with piling in with national hymns and preaching a sermon on it.  Being thankful for the United States is different from believing that it features in the New Testament as a chosen nation.

Richard Rohr @ Fuller: A Review by Patrick Oden

The Revd Richard Rohr is a Franciscan mystic who would like to inject some emergentcy (my word) into the Roman Catholic Church.  He spoke at Fuller on November 17, 2010.

Along with other observers, I predict a convergence between elements of the Catholic Church and the emergents based on the common ground of rejection of sola Scriptura and of ecclesiastical  hierarchy.

“To survive as a Roman Catholic,” he said, “ is to already understand the emerging church.” This is because of the longstanding reality of a double belonging within the Roman Catholic community. There is a deep-seated tradition but there is also a curious freedom, especially in the monastic communities, which maintain participation with the hierarchy but have their own notions of authority and priorities. More than the double belonging, however, is the reality of non-dualistic thinking that is the foundation of monastic contemplation. Dualistic thinking—the need to make every topic about two opposing sides—led to the increasing prioritization of orthodoxy over orthopraxy, having the right set of doctrines as opposed to the right set of actions. The emphasis on orthodoxy in the past became an emphasis on words, rather than on the Word which became Flesh.  In an emerging Christianity, Orthodoxy is not set in contrast to Orthopraxy, but rather they are meant to be joined together in a holistic expression.

Indeed, this forms the root of what Rohr calls the first pillar of emerging Christianity. There is a pursuit of “honest Jesus scholarship” which seeks to better understand the words and actions of Jesus within his own contexts.

More like, ‘what we wish to fashion as words and actions of Jesus within our own contexts’.

The truth of the Bible — including Christ’s intentions for His Church — isn’t that complicated.  There is no need to obfuscate it with words like ‘double belonging’, ‘non-dualistic thinking’ and ‘orthopraxy’.  Just read it for what it is.  It’ll be crystal clear.

I’ll close with a post about Leonard Sweet from Fredrickson and Gibbs’s blog, Church Then and Now:

Book Review: Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There by Leonard Sweet

Note the current theme of ‘nudge’, employed on both sides of the Atlantic by politicians and churchmen alike to move us towards communitarianism.

This book is vintage Sweet, with wit and charmed, persuasive language.  Here, Len makes the case for re-envisioning how the church engages the practice of evangelism

For Leonard Sweet, evangelism is the normal work of a follower of Jesus engaged in the world, It is a matter of paying attention, looking for evidence of God’s work, through all of our senses, nudging people towards the Lord who is already present and working.

Nudging requires proximity.  The church is God’s called out people who are sent back into the world. We live in neighborhoods. We cross paths with people all day long.  Disciples of Jesus listen and dialogue. We share our stories, and we share the Story—and the Spirit of God works in the lives of others, and in our lives as well.

This is not a how-to-evangelize type of book. It is better than that. Nudge argues that God is not anti-culture, but rather God is very much at work in and through culture. And in the midst of culture, God continues to draw people to himself. Nudge invites, more so, urges, followers of Jesus to live out a new understanding of evangelism—responding to our sensing of God’s activity all around us.

If that isn’t proof that the Church is programmed to become part of a communitarian, third-way, ‘think global, act local’ scheme, then, what is?  Also note the emphasis on sensation and experiences.  Beware!

Check out The Burner as well as Church Then and Now to see what Fuller has to say about the church of the future.  It’s a long way from Charles E Fuller’s The Old Fashioned Revival Hour but very much fitting with his vision of ‘a Caltech of the Evangelical world’.  A Faustian pact, certainly.

Friday: A look at a Fuller Theological Seminary alum

So far in the series, we have examined an Episcopal seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

Today, we look at an Evangelical institution, Fuller Theological Seminary, which has influenced not only non-denominational churches but aspects of mainline Protestantism as well.

Fuller’s main campus is located in Pasadena, California.  Undoubtedly, its location makes it a magnet for seminary students from all over the world who wish to study near iconic Los Angeles.  For Americans who wish to stay closer to home, Fuller has regional campuses in several other locations in the western US and Texas.

Charles E Fuller (1887-1968) was a native of Los Angeles and spent his life in southern California.  He was a graduate of Pomona College then worked in the fruit packing industry.  He then attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now known by its acronym, Biola) and dedicated his life to the ministry.  He rejected Presbyterianism as did Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Fuller became a Baptist minister in 1925.  In 1937, he began his 30-year radio ministry, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, on the Mutual Broadcasting System initially, followed by the ABC Radio Network.  It was broadcast nationwide.  Jack Chick, of the cartoon Gospel tracts, says he was saved while he was listening to the programme in 1948.

The previous year, Fuller had founded his eponymous seminary in partnership with Harold Ockenga, who was the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  His dream was to make it a ‘Caltech of the evangelical world’.  The idea was to reform American fundamentalism, turning it into what became known as neo-fundamentalism in the 1950s.

Today, its famous alumni include Rick (The Purpose-Driven Life) Warren, Rob (Sex God) Bell, John (The Me I Want to Be) Ortberg, Robert A Schuller (son of the Crystal Cathedral founder) and Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ).  The seminary is now known for advancing the emergent church, missiology, spiritual formation and the church growth movement.  These affect Lutheran, Anglican and Calvinist churches alike.

Past faculty members whose names you might recognise include C Peter Wagner (church growth proponent), Richard J Foster (Quaker mystic) and John Wimber (founder of the charismatic Vineyard Movement and former director of the Charles E Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth).

Faculty come from all continents and denominations.  Richard J Mouw has served as Fuller’s President since 1993.  He is also Professor of Christian Philosophy.  Coming from a Reformed background, he has a particular interest in the Calvinist concept of common grace (a providential modicum of goodness in mankind which holds society together).  He is also committed to social justice and ecumenism.

Overall impression of Fuller Theological Seminary: Be careful out there.  Between church growth, the emergents, the missiological, the ecumenists and the mystics, these guys have a lot of influence.  Their charm attracts fans from outside the evangelical world and could well be coming to a church near you, if not already.  There is no doubt that Fuller prepares its  students well.  Too well, perhaps.  Too many people from mainstream denominations have been taken in by honeyed words, new concepts and practices that go beyond or against what Scripture says.  I would be surprised if today’s Fuller is quite what its founder had in mind.

Verdict: Be Berean and test against the Bible — your soul might be at risk.

Women candidates for ordination: Yes

Pietism / Healthism index: Nothing about tobacco but a bit of a lecture about alcohol

——————————————————————————————————————–

Purpose and objectives:  Fuller’s School of Theology page quotes Old Testament Professor, James Butler (emphases mine throughout):

We’re a traditional seminary with a strong curriculum, doing traditional things well, but we’re also sensitive to how the Spirit is leading the Church into new forms and new areas of engagement and service in the world.

It adds:

Within its comprehensive approach, the school offers a broad spectrum of courses–more than 175 each year. Students receive a solid grounding in biblical studies, increase their theological understanding and spiritual discernment, and acquire pastoral and other ministerial skills. At Fuller, professors and students alike find a place where they not only can seek answers to questions, but can wrestle–individually and communally, through both study and dialogue-with the big issues of faith, life, and calling.

In discussing cultural engagement on his blog, President Mouw puts forward two different notions;  some readers will walk away with the first, others with the second:

the “accommodating” method … has been typical of much liberal Protestantism.The danger there is to become so wedded to the cultural thought forms that we lose the content of revelation.

… Do we go to war against the culture or do we commit ourselves to marrying it? Neither approach is legitimate, [Paul Tillich] insisted. Correlation—genuine dialogue, listening carefully, and responding faithfully—is the requirement.  That seems right to me.

Some of the courses on offer appear to support what Mouw says in the first paragraph.  Others support his conclusion.  One sees this throughout the site, which is artfully designed to appear conservative and properly theological in appearance, yet has many eye-openers in store for those who dig deeper.  It will appeal to the Jack Chicks of this world on one level and to the Rob Bells on another.

Please remember that these seminary reviews highlight critical issues which might have an adverse effect on the man in the pew.

A selection of courses follows:

SP511 Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection

The description reads:

This course is about the spiritual journey of Henri Nouwen, with particular focus on his integrated ministry approach and his counterintuitive brand of spirituality. First of all, it is a synthesis of Nouwen’s holistic approach to Christian formation–one that integrates spirituality, psychology, ministry, and theology together in a seamless fashion. Secondly, it is an exploration of Nouwen’s spirituality of imperfection which he embodied throughout his lived experience–where the journey toward perfection is through the realities of imperfection.

What’s so wrong with studying a Catholic mystic, you might wonder.  One, mysticism is not mandated in the Bible.  Two, some theologians perceive an inherent deficiency in Protestantism — the lack of ‘spiritual formation’ — which one must remedy with mysticism and extra-biblical practices. Three, mysticism is experiential, not Gospel-driven.  Four, mysticism is a work: unless we engage in it, we are told, we cannot hope to become true Christians, which contradicts what St Paul said (Galatians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

ST501 Systematic Theology 1: Theology and Anthropology

Includes texts on feminism and liberation theology as well as on the role of the individual in Christianity.   Students have a set reading list then another of several elective books, from which they must choose one.  Three of these stood out:

Johnson, E. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. Continuum, 1992.

McDermott, G. R. Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Cone, J.H. God of the Oppressed. Orbis, 1997.

James Hal Cone is a proponent of separatist black liberation theology, which evolved during his tenure at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  His Wikipedia profile tells us:

His theology developed further in response to critiques by black women, leading Cone to consider gender issues more prominently and foster the development of womanist theology, and also in dialogue with Marxist analysis and the sociology of knowledge.

Yet, Christ came to save all men, ‘Jew and Greek’, all races, all classes, all nations.  We are all equal in His eyes.

There’s more Cone in the next course.

TC511: Theology and Hip Hop Culture

Talk about mixing with the world:

SIGNIFICANCE FOR LIFE AND MINISTRY: Hip hop culture is experiencing a sea change that has implications for everything Christians do, from evangelism to worship and spiritual practices. Still Christians have often not taken the trouble to develop an ability to interpret culture with sensitivity and to adjust their ministry priorities accordingly. This course seeks to provide tools for making this adjustment.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students will (1) gain a working definition of hip hop culture; (2) understand the range of theological options and the reasons for this diversity as it relates to hip hop culture and theology; (3) develop their own theology in conversation with hip hop culture; (4) understand the role hip hop culture plays in the construction of a theological frame outside and inside the Christian church; (5) appreciate the importance of interpreting culture and how that can and should inform priorities for ministry.

It appears doubtful that hip hop is going to affect most people today, right now.  Even so.  Imagine calling this course ‘Theology and Trance Music’ or ‘Theology and Club Culture’.  It would be just as absurd.  Why would a pastor or youth minister need to get so involved with such a worldly thing that he would need to take a course in it?  There’s the secular and there’s the religious.  Why would they need to interact?

If we’re making popular, misogynistic culture part of our worship and ‘spiritual practices’, then heaven help us!  We’re going to need God’s mercy.

Here’s part of the reading list:

Cone, James. The Spirituals and the Blues. Orbis Books, 1998. 152pages.

KRS-One. The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument. PowerHouse, 2009. 832 pages.

Morgan, Joan. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down. Simon & Schuster, 2000. 240pages.

PM514 Missional Churches and Leadership

But never mind those courses. This is what has churchgoers in arms, particularly in the United States — diaprax: Hegelian dialectic + transformational Marxist praxis (practice).  Whether they understand the term as such is immaterial; it usually goes under the words ‘transformation’ and ‘change’.  Fuller teaches its students how to achieve this:

DESCRIPTION: This is [a] course on biblical, theological, and practical matters in ecclesiology and leadership. The work of lay and clergy leadership is explored in relationship to congregation formation, spiritual formation, and mission formation. All participants in a church are to be formed into an “interpretive community” that is engaged with God personally and corporately in spiritual formation and in missional life. Working from a praxis-theory-praxis perspective, the course will attend to topics as they are integrated in a practical theology methodology.

SIGNIFICANCE FOR LIFE AND MINISTRY: Concepts: a practical theology approach to the theological praxis of missional ecclesiology and leadership. Skills: theological reflection and interpretive skills relevant to congregational life & leadership. Conation: commitment and habits fronting church development and redevelopment.

‘Conation‘ is the aspect of mental processes directed towardschange.  So, we have workshops, clergy directing a move from Scripture and doctrine towards works, seeker-sensitive focus and lots of lay involvement.  Those who wish to follow Christ in prayer, the Bible, confessions of faith and the creeds will have to go elsewhere.  They haven’t moved with the times in our changing world.

And here’s more:

OD723: Leading Turnaround Churches

It should be noted that the accompanying PDF at the link is a sample only.  However, it’s worth a look:

RELEVANCE FOR MINISTRY:
This course will provide pastors, church leaders and denominational leaders with an understanding of generative change mechanisms and how to harness and indigenize each to your unique situation. As a result, this course will seek to help the leader bring about turnaround change in an effective and unifying manner.

Note the use of words like ‘indigenise’, ‘turnaround change’ and ‘unifying manner’.  Anyone who has undergone this transformation and been on the wrong end of it will have heard they are ‘divisive’ — we must have ‘church unity’ at all costs.

Here are some of the books on the extensive reading list:

Fullan, Michael. 2001. Leading in a Culture of Change.

Greenwood, Royston, and C. R. Hinings. 1996. Understanding Radical Organizational Change: Bringing Together the Old and the New Institutionalism. Academy of Management Review.

Hatch, Mary Jo. 1997. Organizational Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives.

Heifetz, Michael. 1994. Leading Change, Overcoming Chaos: A Seven Stage Process for Making Change Succeed in Your Organization.

Kraft, Charles H. 1991. Communication Theory for Christian Witness.

Ress, Frank. 2006. Enabling Congregations to Become Theological Communities. Evangelical Review of Theology.

Gee, don’t you think Paul and Timothy would have loved those?  The New Testament says  nothing about the size of a congregation, only its faithfulness to Christ Jesus.  Fuller professors would do well to reread Revelation 2 and 3.

EV715 Reinventing Evangelism: New Perspectives on Outreach, Conversion and Discipleship

The PDF indicates this is a sample, nonetheless:

Seminar Description: … the church is seen as the prime evangelizing agency; lay people are understood to be the prime carriers of the message; and pastors are called to be the prime trainers. Furthermore, it will be argued that wholistic evangelism must take into account the variety of ways in which people come to faith and the integral connection between evangelism and spiritual formation (discipleship).

It makes church sound like management consulting — seriously.  (I worked in it for 11 years and recognise the terminology.) Something is very wrong here.

Papers
Prepare the following three, brief reflection papers:
Evaluating a Seeker-Sensitive Service. A number of churches are now experimenting with this new outreach methodology. Attend a seeker-sensitive service and write a 2-3 page paper in which you describe the service (how it is designed, what it does, how it works) and evaluate it on the basis of your reading …
The Footprints of God. In one to two pages describe an experience, other than your conversion experience, in which you were aware of the presence, reality, or working of God.
The State of My Church. An Evangelistic Assessment. In five pages, describe and analyze the place of evangelism in your church or ministry site: what is positive, what is negative, and what might be done. This is a preliminary assessment of your situation. You will write a more nuanced description for your final paper.

Ugh.  It sounds so clinical, like social engineering.  Oh, by the way, the reading material includes Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church!

But wait, there’s more.

OD784: Liquid Leadership: The Art of Contextualisation and Adaptation

Here are some of the learning outcomes from this postmodern course, which involves an exchange with and support from Thailand:

• Students will analyze and develop a new concept of the Church for the 21st century that will enable the Church to become a “church without walls” during this century.
• Students will make a shift from a conventional understanding of the Church to a “movement of people in context” understanding of the Church.
• Students will articulate the nature of transformational development and its relevance to the mission of the Church in their own context – they will develop tools for enabling community transformation.
• Students will be involved in ongoing collaboration to further develop and deepen third culture leadership concepts and approaches to transformational ministry.

‘Third culture’ — a new term for me, too — refers to people who move around the world quite a bit as in the military or the missions.  Those people often feel more of an affinity towards others in the same situation than they do with people from their home or host countries.

Even so, this sounds more like the transformational workplace than Christian ministry.  Does everything have to be so cold and analytical?  We’re talking about souls here, not atoms.

Here is an excerpt from the reading list:

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.
Note: see especially chapter 12 “Contextualization: true or false”; chapter 13 “No Other Name”; chapter 14, “The Gospel and the Religions”.
Nouwen, Henry. In the Name of Jesus.
Boyatzis, Richard, Daniel Goleman & Annie McKee. Primal Leadership.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Merton, Thomas. The Way of Chuang Tzu.
Sun Tzu. The Art of War.
Volf. Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace.

Hmm.  A mix of postmodernism, mysticism, radicalism and Machiavellian-type literature.  What does the Gospel have to do with this?

Anyway, I’ll call it a day for now and continue this once I’ve had a nice cuppa and a sit-down.

Tomorrow: Fuller’s effect on the wider Church

A couple of years ago, I read in a magazine that when a society starts advancing by leaps and bounds (e.g. the Industrial Revolution, our current high-tech age), people begin to turn from technology to things spiritual.

Spiritualism, mesmerisation and seances were popular in the 19th century.  Today, we have New Age mysticism and Marian apparitions.  In our churches, we have seen the charismatic movement, healing services, unusual carnality (the infamous Anglican Nine O’Clock Service at a church in England in the 1990s) and many other unbiblical aberrations.

As modern Western society, we have been knee-deep in emotion over the past two decades.  We are losing our characteristic sang froid, stiff upper lip, objectivity and intelligence which got us through two world wars and other conflicts.  The West is now mainly filled with fearful jessies — big girls’ blouses — who cry at the drop of a hat.

Where does it all lead?  Enslaved to our emotions, we start looking for deep, powerful sensations that will transcend our daily lives.  These sensations must be big and bold.

At the same time, we sometimes forget that Satan is looking for any flaws in our armour.  He is there, ready to persuade us to discard our reason and discernment for falsehood and error.  And it’s not just on a personal level but a churchwide one, too.

If you stopped by last week you will have read posts about Mariology and Mariolatry.  Along with many other members of the online keyboard brigade, I believe that we face the very real  possibility of a One World Religion (OWR).  Because many of us are biblically illiterate, find the idea of crucifixion too ‘offensive’, think God is too authoritarian, dislike the idea of classically beautiful churches and idolise feminine qualities, it could well be that Satan has a plan to get us to replace the Holy Trinity with a goddess who could unite everyone — man, woman and child.  If you look at that sentence again, he is already doing quite well at paving the way for this.

In 1991, Time magazine published an article by Richard N Ostling, ‘Mary: Handmaid or Feminist?’ Ostling runs through an extensive list of Marian apparitions — many in obscure, out-of-the-way places, as John MacArthur said — and writes that the then-Pope, John Paul II, could only have been pleased with this revival of ‘growth of faith in the Virgin’.

Remember, at that time, the Berlin Wall had fallen two years before and a coup had taken place in Russia in August 1991.  Communism had supposedly died, the Pope was popular and it seemed as if devotion to Mary — in line with the messages received at Fatima in 1917 — had made it all possible.

However, John Paul II’s interpretation of Mary was a traditionalist one.  Ostling notes (emphases mine throughout):

The Pontiff’s 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), citing positions taken at Vatican II, declared that “the Blessed Virgin came first as an eminent and singular exemplar of both virginity and motherhood.” He extolled both states as ways women could find their dignity …

John Paul’s traditionalist leanings find their most pointed expression in the Pope’s continued refusal to consider the ordination of women as priests. The Vatican’s argument is that if Christ had wanted women priests or bishops, Mary above all would have become one.

There is an even better reason: 1 Timothy 3.

However, Ostling observed that a tension had begun to develop over Mary’s role in the Church and what all of us could derive from it.  Some women, particularly nuns and feminist professors, were looking for the Church to promote a stronger, politicised, more assertive Mary.  On the other hand, various Protestant clergy and theologians, especially Anglicans and Lutherans, were revisiting their objections to Catholicism’s high esteem of Jesus’s mother.

He touches on the belief of many in Mary as a Co-Redemptrix, for which there was pressure to formalise as dogma during Vatican II in the early 1960s.  Instead, the participating bishops incorporated her into the Constitution on the Church, with the result that Mary’s position was closer to that of Catholics as a body of the faithful than on a par with Christ.

Fast-forward to 1997, where Newsweek examines the clamour for a new Marian dogma.  In ‘Hail Mary’, the then-Religion Editor Kenneth L Woodward wrote that the Vatican had received 4.3m signatures from 157 countries between 1993 and 1997 in support of a new dogma to make Mary Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God.  Woodward explains:

This is what theologians call high Mariology, and it seems to contradict the basic New Testament belief that “there is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). In place of the Holy Trinity, it would appear, there would be a kind of Holy Quartet, with Mary playing the multiple roles of daughter of the Father, mother of the Son and spouse of the Holy Spirit.

He notes that the proposal is not without its opponents:

Rumors of the potential new dogma have triggered blistering criticism from other Christian denominations and ignited a battle within the church itself. “Calling Mary a Co-Redeemer is a heresy in the simplest sense,” says the Rev. George G. Passias, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. ” It is one thing to ask Mary to intercede with her son, but it is another thing to exalt her as the Mediatrix between God and men.” Episcopal theologian R. William Franklin, a veteran of the ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Churches, is equally outraged. A new papal dogma on Mary, he warns, “would be a further nail in the coffin of ecumenism” by stressing two points that Protestants cannot accept: “the Marian de-emphasis of Jesus and the re-emphasis of the dogmatic authority of the pope.” But, says Franklin, “I don’t think the church gives a damn. It’s an arrogance which stems from the mystical Marian devotion of the current pope.’

This is true even amongst Catholic theologians.  In June 1997:

… the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported that the Holy See had asked a commission of 23 Mariologists to study the proposal. These are specialists in the theology of Mary and the scholars most likely to applaud the initiative. But, by a vote of 23-0, the commission advised against promulgating the new dogma. It was, the panel argued, contrary to the teaching of Vatican Council II, ambiguous in its wording and insensitive to “”the ecumenical difficulties” such a definition of dogma would cause.

Two years later, Ralph E MacKenzie wrote an article, ‘New Marian Dogmas for Roman Catholicism?’ for Christian Research Institute:

While predisposed toward Marian devotion, many Roman Catholic leaders (including the Pope) are hesitant to embrace the new dogmas. Doing so would certainly curtail most ecumenical activity toward Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestant groups. Ecumenism is very important to the contemporary Catholic Church.

Some Mariologists who are presently against any pronouncement feel that the situation may change in the future. This is similar to the position taken by Henry Cardinal Newman concerning the dogma of the infallibility and universality of papal authority, proposed and ratified by Pius IX at Vatican I in 1870. Newman was opposed at the time. Some Catholic apologists claim that his opposition came not because he thought the promulgation was “inaccurate,” but “inopportune.”

Evangelicals are guided by Scripture alone and not extrabiblical traditions and papal decrees. They are convinced that the Marian proposals are not only “inopportune” now but also “inappropriate” at any time.

In 2001, Donald Anthony Foley examined the surge in Marian apparitions for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  He urged readers to be cautious about these visions as well as the calls for a new dogma, emphasising the need to discern the motivations and desires behind them:

In conclusion we can say that the lesson of history regarding the general area of genuine writings, revelations and prophecies is that a major problem is that they are subject to imitation at the instigation of Satan, the father of lies; that is the devil attempts to drown out the truth by a deluge of confusion. (This is not to deny though that false apparitions may well have a purely human origin, in some psychological disorder, or hallucination, or desire for money or fame). Thus there is more than a danger that true apparitions will be followed by false ones – in fact it is pretty much a certainty. We are apparently seeing this in our own time, as the message of the genuine Marian apparitions is in danger of being submerged by a host of alleged apparitions, visions, messages, and other dubious and unauthenticated claims.

In the end, as Our Lady proclaimed at Fatima, her Immaculate Heart will triumph, but in the meantime it is up to us to be vigilant, and not allow ourselves to be deceived. It is thus opportune for all those genuinely devoted to Mary to honestly examine their position, look at what the Church is saying about Fatima, take up the message given through the recently beatified children, and then put it into practice in everyday life. The alternative could well be a continued vain quest for new “signs and wonders,” a quest that that may well end in disappointment and possibly disaster.

‘Signs and wonders’ says it all, doesn’t it?  How many laypeople — and clergy — have been deceived by such sensationalism:  ‘Show me a sign, Lord, show me a sign!’

And this is where we could have problems.  ‘Queen of All’ posits that the major Marian sites feature healing or planetary phenomena (the Miracle of the Sun — recall that in Jeremiah 44, the ‘Queen of Heaven’, not Mary but a pagan goddess, is connected with the sun or the moon, depending on interpretation).  Those signs and wonders!  Isn’t the Bible enough?

So, we have sensation and a type of carnality — both man-centred.  ‘Wow — what will I experience?  What will I see?  It’s all about me!’

‘Queen of All’ quotes a 1996 Life magazine article which reported that interdenominational Marian prayer groups are springing up all over the world.  The Koran mentions Mary 34 times.  Hindu and Buddhist goddesses share Marian characteristics.  This must come as excellent news to the Catholic Church.

Note that Mary’s messages in apparitions revolve around unity and peace.  Beware of deception here!  The two most overused words by collectivists — whether among the elite or politicians — are unity and peace:

The following message from the “Lady and Mother of All Nations” states her clear mission:

‘Try to understand the reason for My coming on this day. The Lord Jesus Christ has selected this great day for “the Lady of All Nations.” Her mission is to establish unity among Her nations. She is sent to make one great Community of Her nations. To gather all nations into one Community, that is the task set before the world in this present time, which I have heralded repeatedly.’ …

Global peace, unity, and tolerance are repeatedly heralded by the Queen of Peace — as she is often called. This is a common reason for the Marian apparition’s universal appeal.

Hmm. We got a very similar message — without Mary — a couple of weeks ago from the unelected EU president, Jesuit-educated Herman van Rompuy.

In closing — and looking towards the future — here is an interesting observation from a rather sensible forum thread discussing OWR:

Doxiemom: IMHO, the Catholic Church will play a huge role in the OWR because it is a world wide governmental system already in place.  And, obviously, many of its characteristics can be found in scripture as others have pointed out.

It will be stripped, however, of all connections with Christ. Why would Anti-christ want to have the paintings, the crucifixes, the beautiful art all depicting Jesus? Why would he want the stores of items in the Vatican vaults? Those will be destroyed, I think.

What will be used, I think, is everything connected to Mary. Imagine another “vision” of Mary, this one captured on television, making some announcements that will be hard to ignore. Suppose this came from jerusalem itself, and from Rome. How powerful will that be for a world that the Age of grace had ended?

Islam venerates Mary as has the RCC. The other faiths will [find it] hard to ignore what is seen. The world loved Mother Teresa, she was Catholic, she believed in Mary. Easy to accept Mary, therefore, no? Even the mother-earther can hold onto a vision of Mary, the incarnation of mother earth goddess. This “Mary” could do miracles.

The Ac will have as his false prophet a “pope” who of course denounces Christ. Even the RCC has prophecies concerning this “false pope”, which, is to come in the not too far future.

Islam and the RCC will merge under Mary and all others will fall into place.

Further reading:

‘The Charmer and the Enforcer’

‘Has there been an increase of reported Marian apparitions in recent years?’

‘Myths about Mary’

‘Mary: “The Mother of My Lord”‘

‘Mary: Handmaid or Feminist’

‘Hail, Mary’

‘New Marian Dogmas for Roman Catholicism?’

‘Is Islam Going to Be the One World Religion?’

‘Queen of All, Chapter One Excerpt’

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