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Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomRecently, the Puritan Board (PB) featured a thread on seminaries. After taking a year off to earn money to finance his education, a student is preparing to return to seminary in Canada. Concerned about the theology his institution teaches, he asks whether he should choose another in order to complete his M.Div.

For those who are seminary-bound, the replies are worthwhile for seminarians. One mainline Baptist contributor who seems to be transitioning to the LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) is an alumnus of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. DMcFadden doesn’t mention his alma mater by name, but you will be able to tell by the fellow alumni he mentions in his comments.

Mr McFadden lists weakness in the Doctrine of Scripture as the main warning sign of theological weakness but ends by encouraging the young seminarian to not lose heart; he may still emerge with a strong faith intact.

What follows are DMcFadden’s comments (emphases mine). Future seminarians might find this information useful:

The Doctrine of Scripture.

While it is not the most important doctrine, it is the most important warning sign.

Years ago, in the coal mines of America, prior to the advances of technology and safety devices, many miners died from “bad air” (high concentations of methane or carbon monoxide). They began to carry tiny little canary birds in cages with them down into the hazardous mine shafts. With the fragility of the canary’s system, it would quit singing and keel over long before the air was bad enough to kill the miners. It was, if you will, an early warning signal of danger.

In the Protestant seminaries, the first place where bad theology shows itself is in the doctrine of Scripture. My alma mater was begun as a flagship “evangelical” school. Accordingly, it had a high view of the Bible as evidenced by a doctrine of inerrancy codified in the doctrinal statement. Within two decades of its founding, they modified the statement and removed the word inerrancy. When I was there three years later, they taught me:
* the Pentateuch is “mosaic” only in that it is a “mosaic” of bits and pieces cobbled together in the 7th century.
* Jonah is a parable.
* Daniel was written during the 2nd century B.C. (i.e., centuries after the prophet Daniel lived).
* Jesus did not say many of things attributed to him. The Gospels were creative shapings of redactors out to make a theological point.
* John didn’t write John; Paul didn’t write Ephesians or the Pastoral Epistles; who knows who wrote Revelation(?).
* Paul was “wrong” about women in 1 Timothy due to the hangover of his intolerant days as a pharisee and we ought to get on with it with full egalitarianism.
* God’s purpose was “probably” for heterosexual union. However, the church should get with it and accept permanent gay relationships.

After examining more than 400 graduates of this school for ordination, I would add that some ideas have become popular, although not necessarily unanimous among students
* Rob Bell (a grad of my seminary) has denied hell in his justly famous “Love Wins.”
* The Matthean magi and the star were non-historical, representing a gentilization of the Lucan shepherd and angel motif.
* Christian exclusivity in salvation is taken to be a scandal in our pluralistic world that should be explained by some scholarly slight-of-hand (e.g., the anonymous Christian?).
* Fascination with Tom Wright’s New Perspective on Paul.
* The school openly promotes campus lectures and alumni events feturing the latest leaders of the emergent church movement (e.g., McLaren) as ministry models.

On the word ‘liberal’ (progressive, not classical), he writes (emphases in green are the original; those in violet are mine):

To some extent, “liberal” is either a term of art, a badge of honor, or an epithet.

When used as a term of art, it denotes a specific strand of the Christian tradition associated with a movement that began in 19th century Pietism combined with Romanticism and pioneered by Schliermacher. Protestant liberalism emerged in Germany, was supported by Schleiermacher’s theological program, benefited from the rise of Darwinian thought, was impacted by the analysis of Marx, and proceeded to find a continuing role for Christianity by significantly reinterpreting the traditional doctrines. Wherever liberalism was practiced traditional Christian beliefs were either abandoned outright, or reinterpreted to fit the Zeitgeist. One of the hallmarks of “liberalism” is that it typically positions itself as mediator between what it deems two unacceptable alternatives: traditionalism/fundamentalism on the one hand and the complete rejection of Christianity on the other. McGrath suggests that the term “liberal” may be best interpreted as applying to “A theologian in the tradition of Schleiermacher and Tillich, concerned with the reconstruction of belief in response to contemporary culture.”

When worn as a badge of honor, it often denotes those who are affiliated with rapidly shrinking mainline schools attempting to justify their continuing existence by cruising on the fumes of the renown of bygone luminaries. “The personality and character of XYZ Divinity School grows out of its rich heritage” to the progressive liberal tradition, simultaneously grounded in the the tradition of Christianity combined with a forward leaning commitment to a holistic Gospel of social justice. One such school cites every major theologian, pastor, and social activist associated with the SIX schools that kept merging to form its current instantiation who taught the Social Gospel, pioneered the application of historical criticism, or was an early adopter of evolution. Now they have merged themselves into a school with only 7 full time faculty. If they keep puffing their collective chests about their rich liberal heritage, perhaps they will merge themselves into non-existence.

When used as an epithet, it denotes anybody to the left of you. If you go to a fundamentalist school, evangelicals are liberals. If you go to a conservative “evangelical” place, then the “progressive” evangelicals are liberals. If you go to my alma mater in Pasadena, then the term is eschewed as a slur that stops the (seemingly) most important task in the world: critical engagement and bridge building to those who are in non-evangelical mainline traditions, and any variety of non-Christian religions. That is why you will hear people seriously say that Dallas Theological Seminary (a progressive dispensational flagship of the dispensational movement) has “gone liberal,” Erskine has “gone liberal” (I only “know” this from things said on the PB by people who did not go there), TEDS has “gone liberal,” etc.

As in much of life, where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit. Liberalism is in the eye of the beholder. If the person uses the term historically, they are probably a nerd or professional historical theologian (or both?). If they use it as a badge of honor, they are probably part of a rapidly shrinking mainline denomination. And, if they are using it to denote other conservatives slightly to the left of themselves, they may have an overdeveloped interest in internecine warfare and a perverse taste for eating their own young.

As for the young Korean-Canadian’s choice of seminary (emphases mine):

However, since a former long-term president of your school is a personal friend of mine (he and I were in the same denomination, he served on the board of my ministry, and was senior pastor of a church where I was a member for ten years after he left the pastorate to be president of your school), that adds significantly to my understanding of your situation. Not that he necessarily represents every faculty member, but among his more interesting views and notables . . .

* he was exceedingly diversely educated with degrees from Biola, Talbot, Fuller, Harvard, and the University of Edinburgh.
* he has co-authored books (or contributed to collections of essays) with James Sanders (Claremont), James Dunn (one of the “original” NPP guys), Craig Evans, and James H. Charlesworth.
* he was associated with the Jesus Seminar for a time, even being invited by Funk to give lectures to the Jesus Seminar on the meaning of the canon.
* he gets really exercised about statements of faith, creeds, and confessions, resigning from one academic post in the Midwest rather than sign an “inerrancy” statement that he could not affirm. When my judicatory wanted to adopt a simple evangelical confession of faith (kind of vanilla broad evangelicalism), he was the leading voice opposing it, sometimes with great fervor and seeming agitation.
* he is an expert on the canon, advancing some views that would not comport well on this forum.
* he wryly complained about the insistence on the “trinity,” since it is not a biblical word.
* he is a strong egalitarian and champion of all that goes with it.
* he currently serves in retirement as an adjunct at my alma mater in Pasadena, a strongly “progressive evangelical” or “post-conservative” haven.

If my friend is anywhere near where your school is theologically, then the term he would probably apply to himself (if he would accept a “label”) would be “progressive evangelical” in the Fuller Seminary, Northern Seminary, Eastern Seminary tradition. Since he lists himself as a series editor of [Roger] Olson’s “Reformed and Always Reforming: The Post-Conservative Approach to Evangelical Theology” in his CURRICULUM VITAE, maybe he would even accept the term “post-conservative”???

So, if you are using “liberal” as a term of art (and if my friend is a faithful exemplar of it), then your school is not liberal. If you are using it as a badge of honor, then my guess is that they would firmly deny it. But, if you are thinking in terms of the standards of the PB and using the term as an epithet, well . . .

As to your participation in the seminary, I graduated from a “progressive evangelical” school that educated Rob Bell, where Rick Warren earned his doctorate, and where “dialogue” is viewed nearly sacramentally . . . and still came out as a knuckle dragging, mouth-breathing, Neanderthal conservative inerrantist. As long as you don’t expect them to agree with you theologically, their scholarship is pretty competent up there at that place in Canada. But, if you want to attend a school that will give you a consistently conservative evangelical or Reformed base, son, you are in the WRONG place.

I’ve written quite a bit about the errors which Fuller Theological Seminary encourages, as well as the theology of its alumni, including Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Richard Foster, John Ortberg, C Peter Wagner and Tony Jones. All of these men can be mapped in different places on the theological spectrum. Within that spectrum one finds semi-Pelagianism, Gnosticism (mysticism) and the dreaded pietism which often has a foot in each of those camps.

I also have a selection of posts discussing the error of Dr N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul. N T Wright is a low-church Anglican. (He is often referred to as Evangelical, which makes people think he attends an Evangelical church. However, in today’s Anglican Communion, ‘evangelical’ is used to denote ‘low church’.) These posts are as follows (and can be found on my Christianity / Apologetics page):

A British Evangelical explains the error of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul

Cornelis Venema on the error of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul

Michael Horton on the error of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul

J V Fesko on the error of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul — Parts 1 and 2

Sinclair Ferguson on the error of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul

Three more clergymen point out the errors of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul (includes Ligon Duncan’s link)

As for the pious-sounding Jesus Seminar, it is anything but. I introduced it in this post on the authorship of Luke’s Gospel.

Those interested in Roger Olson’s theology can read more here. Although I disagree with at least half of what he writes, he is undoubtedly the most brilliant pietist alive today. As he is also a seminary professor, he provokes the reader into thinking about what he writes.

The point of all these links is to encourage future seminarians to study the websites of candidate schools carefully. Among other things, look at:

– Theological statements or confessions to which the seminary subscribes.

– The biographies of the faculty (this should extend beyond the website; do your own research on their sermons and books).

– Famous alumni (what ‘products’ the seminary turns out and what they preach; again, do your own research).

– Academic policies (whether they will accept opposing ideas, e.g. male-only ordination, without penalising you personally).

A couple of weeks ago, news appeared in the blogosphere that the well-known Baptist pastor John Piper and the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina proponent Beth Moore appeared recently at the Passion 2012 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. (H/T: Anna Wood)

The Revd Ken Silva from Apprising Ministries carries the story (emphases mine):

It’s an incontrovertible fact that right from its hatching in hell corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), such as that taught by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster along with his spiritual twin and Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard, was a core doctrine

It’s also giving rise to a rebirth of Pietism; this isn’t surprising when you consider that CSM flowered in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism. As the evangelical fad of CSM expands there’s a decided charismania also developing, which is producing a syncretism where Word Faith heretics like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are essentially considered mainstream now. With all of this has come more and more people claiming to have direct experience with God

Hosted by Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Passion featured an interesting lineup of speakers such Francis Chan, Beth Moore and New Calvinist mentor John Piper. Not surpisingly the conference had a distinctive charismatic and even contemplative flair; e.g. prayer walking. After one session the crowd was urged to break into “love groups” and go out to pray and “take back the city of Atlanta.”

One can certainly point a finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but, as I wrote in the comments on Anna’s site, what has occurred at Passion 2012 is more symptomatic of 17th century Lutheran/Moravian pietism in general and of the Holiness movement which dates back to 19th century Methodism and advanced in the following century through the many Holiness denominations. Ultimately, this led to our current charismatic services and Pentecostal churches.

John Wesley borrowed heavily from Moravian pietists whose acquaintance he made on the journey from England to America. After his return to Europe, he even studied at their HQ in Herrnhut, Germany.

Although pietism has its most ancient beginnings in the earliest days of the Church, it was later revived when Germans and Scandinavians became disillusioned with ‘staid’ state churches and wanted something more.

Today, however, I am sorry to read that Dr Piper — a confessional, or Particular, Baptist — has fallen for more pietistic holiness (Rick Warren being the foremost example), hallmarks of which include contemplative prayer, Quaker quietism (‘let go and let God’ — wait until you get a ‘sign’ of some sort), small groups, personal accountability, public confession, overt sentimentality, strong emotional worship, receiving ‘divine messages’ and personal testimony over doctrine (or the Bible).

Yet, these activities are everywhere. Even Church of England vicars encourage them — contemplative prayer, especially. A number of Anglican churches offer days or mornings of ‘silent prayer’, which is the same thing.

Pietism is known for its ecumenism, so it’s no surprise that Passion 2012 featured speakers from a variety of Christian denominations.  Unfortunately, those denominations which practice pietism — holiness churches, in particular — will be affected by these cross-currents.  The Church of the Nazarene has experienced an onslaught of Fuller Seminary and Roman Catholic influence: The Reformed Nazarene blog chronicles them in detail. I empathise with Nazarenes who wish to keep their denomination pure, but, ultimately, this is the outcome of pietism and the holiness movement.  The Nazarenes emerged from the Wesleyan holiness movement in the 19th century.

Pietism is experiential, emotional and introspective. It seeks to transform denominations, if not the Church as a whole, in order to bring about personal and moral change.

Bob DeWaay, who has been in discernment ministry most of his life, admits to having fallen prey to pietism:

My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering[1]) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.[2]The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t.

My dissatisfaction with the Christianity taught in Bible College[3] led me to join a Christian commune some months after graduation. That group’s founder taught that all ordinary churches and Bible Colleges were caught up in “religious Babylon.” He taught that the kingdom of God was to be found by quitting one’s job, selling one’s possessions, giving the money to the commune, and moving in together to be devoted to the “kingdom” twenty four hours a day. So in my search to become an extraordinary Christian I did what he said and joined …

By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …

Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings

These appear to most poorly taught Christians to be what the Lord wants. They reason, “Of course God is happier with a person who sells all and moves into a convent where he takes an oath of poverty than He is with someone who goes to work forty hours a week and uses some of the money to buy things.” Is He? When I was a pietist, if someone told me he prayed two hours a day, then I had to pray three hours to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I reasoned, “Of course God is happier with a Christian who prays three hours than one who prays two.” Is He? When I was a pietist I would work on cranking up my desire for holiness because I reasoned that holiness is found through something in the person rather than through God’s grace. Based on sermons I’d heard I reasoned, “Christians are not experiencing a higher degree of holiness because they do not desire it enough.” Is that true? No, none of these pietistic statements are true. Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

I, along with confessional Lutherans, would disagree with DeWaay when he goes on to say that Spener was not a pietist but only reacting against a State Church. Spener’s theology was deeply pietist in that he promoted small groups (conventicles), agonised repentance and giving up worldly entertainments. He promoted justification by works through holiness and self-deprivation.

However, DeWaay rightly cites John Wesley as being a pietist:

Wesley’s Methodism and perfectionism were themselves pietistic. Wesley is an example of a much less extreme pietism. But the idea that some humanly discovered and implemented method can lead to the achievement of a better Christian life than through the ordinary means of grace is nevertheless pietism.

He is careful to draw a line between Wesley and Charles Finney, pre-eminent during the Second Great Awakening in the United States:

Wesley at least held to prevenient grace so as to avoid Pelagianism.[20] Finney was fully Pelagian in his approach to both salvation and sanctification.[21] And his innovations permanently changed much of American Evangelicalism. After Finney other perfectionist movements arose. The Holiness movement, for example, came not long after Finney. Both the Holiness movement and the subsequent Pentecostal movement held to second blessing doctrines that by nature are pietist because they create an elite category of Christians who have had a special experience that ordinary Christians lack.

DeWaay calls our attention to the Emergent Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church as the most recent examples of pietism:

Today the largest new pietist movement is the Emergent Church. As I pointed out earlier, pietism often arises in response to the perception (sometimes warranted) that the church has become too worldly and it seems true once again today. Some now assume that since ordinary Christianity is compromised, they must discover an extraordinary way to become better Christians. One Emergent leader has even entitled one of his works, “A New Kind of Christian.”[22] But this movement really isn’t all that new. It draws on teachings and practices found in other pietist movements in church history. In fact, a recent Emergent book includes essays by those experimenting with communal living, something I tried in my pietist days![23]

Furthermore, the Purpose Driven movement is also a pietistic movement. Rick Warren claims there are world class Christians that are in a better category than ordinary Christians. He had his followers take a long oath at a baseball field to pledge themselves to serving his new reformation. I already mentioned the apostles and prophets movement that is pietistic. So ironically, three huge movements in American evangelicalism (Purpose Driven, Emergent, and C. Peter Wagner’s latter day apostles) are all based on pietism. The three movements seem radically diverse, but each one claims to be a new reformation and each offers a higher status than that of ordinary Christians.

He cautions us against movements preaching against ‘dead orthodoxy’ and notes that the Charismatics are also pietist in this regard.

He also notes that the problem is not with orthodoxy but with church members, who are often spiritually dead:

Pietism misdiagnoses the problem and creates a false solution. It sees a compromised church that is apparently caught in dead orthodoxy. The real problem is not dead orthodoxy but spiritually dead sinners who give mental assent to orthodox truth but show no signs of regeneration. If indeed such a church existed (if truth really is there God has His remnant there as well), that church would be characterized by worldliness and sin. This is the case because dead sinners do not bear spiritual fruit. There was a church in Revelation that Jesus called “dead.” Pietism that holds to the true gospel but goes beyond it imagining that the dead sinners who are church members are Christians. When some of them become regenerate through the efforts of the pietists, they assume they have now entered a higher class of Christianity. They posit two types of Christian: “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians. But in reality there are only Christians and dead sinners. 

DeWaay writes that pietists end up ignoring the Gospel message in favour of works righteousness:

When I was a pietist I thought salvation was an interesting first step a person took, but mostly lost interest in the topic unless I ran across someone who needed to pray the sinners prayer, which I imagined was the first step. The gospel of Christ was only of marginal interest to me as I sought the “deeper things.” The more I tried to be a very special type of Christian, the further my mind wandered from the cross. I was guilty of the very thing for which Paul rebuked the Corinthians.

It seems that people fall for pietism in its various guises because it gives them a sense of reassurance — misguided though it is. Charismatics and Pentecostalists enjoy the heady experiences of being ‘born again’ — speaking in tongues, for instance — something they can do and feel.  Others believe that dressing differently sets them ‘apart’ from the world as does abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and certain foodstuffs. Hence, some desire to join faith communes, which is radical pietism. Then, there are the ‘mystics’ who follow Lectio Divina and believe they are channelling a ‘higher consciousness’, who are most likely Christian refugees from the New Age movement.  This leads to a Gnosticism of sorts — a supposed special, secret knowledge or spiritual attainment that other people lack.

Sadly, this desire to ‘experience’ Christianity can lead people down the paths of error: Pelagianism and Gnosticism are heresies.  The rest of us would do well to pray for these people and hope that God’s grace leads them to a true confessional denomination.

Yesterday, I included this link to Bron Taylor’s Books, which you will find interesting for its variety of publications, thought and praxis within the Church of Gaia.  Excerpts from his Dark Green Religion follow, emphases in bold mine.

Dr Taylor is Professor of Religion and Nature at The University of Florida. He is also an Affiliated Scholar with the Center for Environment and Development at Oslo University.  He has, among other degrees, an MA in religious ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

This is an interesting page to study.  Many of us may be surprised to find out deeply embedded environmentalism and Gaia are in the elite thought process.

In ‘Dark Green Religion and the Planetary Future’, Dr Taylor tells us:

a terrapolitan earth religion (or civil earth religion) is beginning to emerge, which is promoting kinship ethics and the construction of environmentally sustainable societies.

Indeed it is, as evidenced by Ecuador’s 2008 formalised treaty on behalf of Pachamama, or Mother Earth.  Gaia, Gaia.  Here’s a portion of Ecuador’s revised constitution, Title II, Chapter 1:

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain itself and regenerate its own vital cycles, structure, functions and its evolutionary processes.

Art. 2. Nature has the right to be completely restored. This complete restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to compensate people or collective groups that depend on the natural systems …

Art. 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and from natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

Dr Taylor observes:

They seemed to echo Christopher Stone’s novel legal argument, first advanced in 1972, that trees and other living things should have standing in the courts, and people ought to be able to represent their interests.

Below, you will also see the words ‘change’, ‘peace’, ‘shift’ and ‘community’.  The red flags are up!

Here is part of a statement from Thomas Derr about the Earth Charter:

The prior language of ‘intrinsic value of all beings,’ an arguable point at best, is gone, but its replacement is its functional equivalent: ‘[E]very form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.’ This is the point that the Charter’s originators regard as indispensable and at the heart of the values shift that they advocate. We are enjoined to ‘declare our responsibility [not only] to one another, [but also] to the greater community of life’… Peace requires ‘right relationships’ not only with other people but with ‘other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which we are a part’ …

On this, Dr Taylor says:

It is not surprising that Derr and others would make this kind of statement given the kind of pantheistic statements made by proponents such as Strong and Gorbechev … For less measured criticisms … see the article by Lee Penn (sourced in Dark Green Religion, 286, note 85), which considers the Earth Charter “totalitarian.” Penn spends a great deal of time looking at the religious beliefs and backgrounds of prominent Earth Charter proponents, including Strong and Gorb[a]chev. One need not appreciate the vitriolic tone to recognize that Christians such as Penn are quite able to discern nature religion when they see it.

Incidentally, I cited Lee Penn in my December 1, 2009 post, ‘More on Cardinal Levada — help of Anglicans’.  He’s a good investigative journalist.

Dr Taylor supplies various titles about Gaia worship and a one-world religious unity, some of which follow:

This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, first ed. (New York & London: Routledge, 1996)

Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth, 1st ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007)

the ten volume “Religions of the world and ecology” book series edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, published between 1997 and 2007 by the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School

an in depth ethnography exploring a movement among Roman Catholic Nuns who have significant affinities with dark green religion, see Sarah McFarland Taylor, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005)

So, it appears we have prominent Catholic and Protestant proponents of these syncretic ideas. Hmm.

And, he has more for us to digest:

The environmental philosopher Max Oelschlaeger … wrote a provocative book promoting a return to Paleolithic religious consciousness, by which he meant perception that considers nature sacred and that represented a clear rejection of the world’s major religious traditions. Later, thinking strategically and ignoring the irony, Oelschlaeger produced a book that endeavored to turn Christianity green; see Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) …

Par. 1, For books specifically about the sustainability revolution, which provide many examples of phenomena with dark green dimensions, see Andres R. Edwards, The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift (Gabriola, BC: New Society Publishers, 2005), and Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming (New York: Viking, 2007).]

If anyone has read the Hawken book, please feel free to comment with a brief synopsis.  I would be interested in knowing ‘why no one saw it coming’.

Other important publications that reflect the trend include John B. Cobb, Jr., Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1992) …

More Catholics!  And look how they wrap liberation theology into it.

On the corporate front, we have:

Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage (New Haven, [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2006)

Walking the Talk: The Business Case for Sustainable Development (Berrett-Koehler, 2002)

The Triple Bottom Line: How Today’s Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social, and Environmental Success-and How You Can Too, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006)

The Next Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2005)

In terms of business organisations:

There has also been a proliferation of business organizations devoted to sustainability, such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, see http://www.wbcsd.org/, and CERES, a coalition of investors and environmentalists that has developed important environmental principles and benchmarks for corporations and businesses, and states its mission as “integrating sustainability into capital markets for the health of the planet and its people.” See http://www.ceres.org

As the environmentalist milieu broadens, there will be further cross-fertilization as environmentalists and business people learn from one another and some of them re-configure their views.

Two of the prime texts in adaptive management well illustrate the value of breaking down such barriers between environmental and corporate sectors; see Gunderson and Holling, Panarchy and Fikret Berkes, Johan Colding, and Carl Folke, Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Note the words ‘complexity’ and ‘change’ there.

In closing, Dr Taylor shares what he wrote about Sanyo’s ‘remarkable Gaian spirituality, lest readers think I am making this up’.  Please click on the link at the top of the post to read what he wrote in full.  Here is a brief excerpt:

[a second hyperlink explained, “Sustainability is synonymous with preserving and maintaining. Its goal is to provide future generations an environment they can strive in. At SANYO, in order to create a sustainable future, we will move away from the commonly-held view of “technology manipulating nature” to a cooperative “technology assisting nature” ideal.”] and equipped with world-leading technologies, SANYO will provide solutions to help sustain a positive co-existence with Gaia.

Seriously, can you believe it? You really couldn’t make it up.

As my American readers will know, Rob Bell, Fuller Theological Seminary alumnus, has a new book out called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

The book has created a firestorm because of Bell’s apparent universalism, which he has denied.  Bell is pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. (His church is not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.)  He is prominent in the emergent church movement — which, incidentally, the Archbishop of Canterbury endorses — and has written books about his theology.  As such, Bell is directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of souls around the world and, in some sense, for their salvation or condemnation.

Recall what St James said (James 3:1):

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Now, if Rob Bell were a layman discussing his views at a dinner party, that would be one thing.  But, he is what St James described as a ‘teacher’.  And, as such, a significant number of Christians will look to him for theological guidance.

As my regular readers already know, I am only now reading the Bible in its entirety for the first time.  I’m completing my second reading of the New Testament and am over halfway through my first reading of the Old Testament.  I’m not mentioning that fact out of hubris but as a plea to everyone to either start reading it or to reread it.  Don’t make the same lifelong mistake I did!

I attended church faithfully from the time I was a toddler.  I was christened, made my First Holy Communion and was confirmed five years later.  Yet, despite this and my Catholic school education, I was still woefully ignorant of the Bible.  This remained the case when I became an Episcopalian many years ago.  Partly this is because the passages relating to salvation and hell are just not preached.  Many are excluded from the three-year Lectionary, and clergy give their sermons based on those Sunday and weekday readings.  This is why I started Forbidden Bible Verses.  Some of you who go to traditional Bible and evangelical churches will know them, but many people — including seminarians — will not.

In any event, it was the quotations from the Bible which piqued my interest.  A few years ago I started looking for Protestant blogs and saw that the Calvinists intersperse quotes from the Bible — prooftext — their assertions.  For two years, I read these thinking, ‘Is that what Scripture says?  Really? I’d better read it for myself.’  Gradually, from reading smaller passages which I didn’t know, I moved onto the Grant Horner Bible Reading System, which I continue to use.

The point is that I can see errors in Rob Bell’s theology, and these are dangerous.  Those pastors and lay bloggers who criticise his books and sermons are correct to do so, as I shall explain in detail this week.  But, imagine the people — like myself only a few years ago — who haven’t read Scripture or learned it was ‘allegorical’ and ‘for its time’. In other words, ‘don’t worry about it — keep attending church, that’s the main thing’.  They’re high school or university students.  They’re young adults on their own in the world.  They’re middle-aged folks coming back to the Church after a long hiatus.  They don’t know what they believe or why they believe it.  After all, the Bible is a dead book, is it not?  It was fine then, but we’ve moved on.

So, when USA Today (and other newspapers) feature articles such as ‘Pastor/author’s Love Wins bedevils traditionalists’, people read that prominent American theologians — among them Fuller Theological Seminary’s President — endorse Bell, what more can they think other than, ‘Must be okay’ (emphases mine throughout):

Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

Hmm.  First, Mouw should know better.  He comes from a Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) background.  Second, the New Testament — from Jesus’s words in the Gospels to those of the Apostles in the Epistles — makes salvation and damnation very clear.  Many of the passages Bell uses to his advantage are intended for believers.  They do not apply universally.

Third, to address Dr Mouw’s accusation of believers taking delight in others’ condemnation, nothing could be more inaccurate.  Faithful Christians evangelise in order to draw people to Christ’s truth, away from error and heresy.

It should be noted that Rob Bell does not confine his appearances to his own pulpit.  He also speaks to other Protestant denominations.  Manny Silva’s Reformed Nazarene blog details Bell’s and the Emergents’ infiltration into the Church of the Nazarene.  Have a look at ‘Northwest Nazarene University: Symbol Of What’s Wrong In Our Christian Schools’:

In NNU’s theology courses, you will find emergent leaders, Roman Catholic mystics, and modern day mystics such as Richard Foster in the textbooks used.  The Master’s in Spiritual Formation program uses books by Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke, Brother Lawrence, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, and Dallas Willard.  There are two Nazarenes on the list, but they both support open theism, process theology, and do not believe in biblical inerrancy.  The M.A. in Missional Leadership, and M.A. in Pastoral Leadership, also are stacked with books from the same kind of writers.  It makes one wonder, is there a severe shortage of textbooks by Bible believing teachers?  Even the M.A. in Christian Education is filled with textbooks from emergent authors such as McLaren, Sweet, and Phylis Tickle …

Point Loma Nazarene University has been going the way of contemplative spirituality for quite a while, and also has brought false teachers consistently to the school, most recently an appearance by Rob Bell, where he spoke on Pastor’s Day

The post points us to an excellent review by Reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung and his 21-page paper which I shall bring you excerpts from beginning tomorrow.

In preparation for the next few posts, it’s worth spending a short time becoming (re)acquainted with pertinent New Testament passages which Rob Bell dismisses.  Use these to evangelise against the false teaching of universalism and for the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  (Matthew 7:13)

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9:42-43)

15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  (Mark 16:15-16)

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

11This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  (Romans 1:28-32)

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (Romans 2:14)

19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  (Romans 3:19-20)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

9 Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, 10 Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon(F) the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; (Ephesians 5:5-7)

1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)

16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:12)

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.  (Jude 1:7)

3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:3)

16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  (Revelation 21:8)

11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-12)

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

——————————————————————-

*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.

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

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

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