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(458) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: RUTH HALEY BARTON & THE SHALEM INSTITUTE FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION

RUTH HALEY BARTON 

As we continue our discussion on Ruth Haley Barton, let’s remember her educational background to understand what has influenced her in her thinking, teaching, and theology.https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL4D7FED5E4D04ACAD&time_continue=480&v=0p3vMnzz1rMFrom her website (www.transformingcenter.org), she describes her

background as follows –

Untitled copy

Ruth has been a student, a practitioner, a teacher and a leader in the area of Christian spirituality and SPIRITUAL FORMATION for twenty years. A trained SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR and RETREAT leader, she is the author of numerous booksand resources on the spiritual life.Ruth_Jeans_Horizontal

Ruth holds a Doctor of Divinity from Northern Theological Seminary (Lombard, IL), along with a Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College (IL) and Master’s studies at Loyola University Chicago Institute for Pastoral Studies. She received her training in spiritual direction through the SHALEM INSTITUTE FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION (Bethesda, MD) under the guidance of Tilden Edwards, Rosemary Dougherty and GERALD MAY. She’s also a student of family systems theory as it relates to congregational life (Lombard Mennonite Peace Center) and has studied the ENNEAGRAM with Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute

Ruth travels widely, teaching and consulting with leadership teams in the areas of leadership transformation, corporate discernment, and spiritual community.  She has served on the pastoral staff of several churches, including WILLOW CREEK Community Church.  Ruth has taught at the Wheaton College Graduate School, Denver Seminary, Northeastern Seminary and Mars Hill Graduate School and is a senior teaching fellow for the Renovare Institute [RICHARD FOSTER].  She has recently joined the faculty of Northern Seminary as an adjunct Professor of Spiritual Transformation.

 

Looking at the part of her training from the SHALEM INSTITUTE, much could be written on this part alone.   We have done some of this in previous postings. 

So, let me just expose you to the Shalem Institute Gerald G. May Seminars being held today at Shalem by looking at the following video.  They are teaching (for lack of a better term) various aspects of mysticism.  They occasionally refer to mystics such as Francis of Assisi.  Thespeaker is MirabaiStarr (one word).  The talk is over 1.5 hours long – unless you are a glutton for punishment, only listen to the first 8-10 minutes or poke around at various portions to get a flavor of what is being promoted as CONTEMPLATIVE practices, SPIRITUAL FORMATION,………..MYSTICISM. – 

Just to give you a taste of what is being discussed, consider the following – 

  • Very little Scripture is used – actually, I think no Scripture is used. 
  • They begin the session – not with a prayer but a moment of SILENCE
  • They welcome all faiths, traditions, groups…..etc. (i.e. all religions?)
  • They talk about prayer with the source of prayer emanating from DEEP WITHIN ourselves (classical mysticism).
  • They lift up those who are participating in the CLIMATE MARCH – referring to the Earth as their “SISTER MOTHER EARTH”
  • The speaker, MirabaiStarr talks about her guru – named – “Bubba” something or other, who died in 1970 but travels with her today and continues to hold her? 
  • She asks the audience to sit straight, to control their breathing – “to feel the breath through a whole cycle to wash every cell in their body”?  Refers to their YOGA BREATH.
  • Later in the talk, she encourages the audience to stop thinking, “dismiss the eternal” which she quickly corrects herself to “dismiss the internal editor” causing you to think about what you write (i.e. don’t think). 
  • She also talks about being “unified with the Beloved” (internal unity with others including the Divine is also classic mysticism)
  • She explains the “feminine presence of the Divine”. 
  • She calls upon the group to engage in CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER
  • She tests the validity of their experience by seeing if they end up with “more love towards others” (not if it is given by God through His word, the Bible). 
  • There is another video listed next to this video and it shows MirabaiStarr giving another talk entitled – “BUDDHA AT THE GAS PUMP“…….etc.  That sounds enticing I’m sure.

This list is just a sampling from the video – I could go on and on.  But the above topics all fall under the subject of MYSTICISM, CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, SPIRITUAL FORMATION……etc.

Unfortunately, these characteristics are today, commonly being copied, borrowed, combined…etc. with historic Christian practices  – both within traditional mainline denominations as well as Evangelical denominations.  Much of the origin of these practices originate from ancient Roman Catholic mysticism as well as from Eastern religions (i.e. Eastern Mysticism) such as Buddhism, Hinduism…etc.
That is why I think these practices can be dangerous to the church and likewise, Scripture has a great deal to say about warning believers to NOT mix in and accept pagan practices.  But again, unfortunately, that is what is being done in the church today and in particular, it is becoming common in seminaries across the country from various denominations.

In previous postings, we have looked at the influence within the ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, NAZARENE, CHRISTIAN & MISSIONARY ALLIANCE, BAPTISTS, EVANGELICAL FREE…etc. churches.  Seminaries included  AMBROSE, NYACK….etc.

Let me give some specific examples – don’t feel bad if your denomination is not on this list because in reality, many if not most Evangelical denominations are developing a track record in CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, MYSTICISM, SPIRITUAL FORMATION...etc. 

My intention is to not pick on my denomination, rather, I am giving specific details of events that I am well aware of and even tried to warn the church before they decided to participate.  In my neck of the woods, the Western PA District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance invited RUTH HALEY BARTON to speak and its leaders and the graduating classof the local Bible Institute.  These are the same leaders who engaged in the ENNEAGRAM.  Here is a letter by a former C&MA pastor sent to the editor to a Christian site – explaining these concerns – 

Letter to the Editor: Christian & Missionary Alliance OK With Ruth Haley Barton and Other Contemplatives

Two and a half years ago the leadership of the Western PA District of the Christian and Missionary Allianceinvited Ruth Haley Barton to speak to its pastors and lay delegates at its annual District Conference.

I sat in amazement as I watched my fellow pastors nod their heads in affirmation as Mrs. Barton said Moses went in to the desert to meditate.  I didn’t see my fellow pastors turn to the book of Exodus to read the account of Moses.  My Bible says Moses went to the desert to escape being killed by Pharaoh.

Mrs. Barton also twisted the account of Elijah to say it was contemplative meditation which brought him out of his despair and depression.  At no time did I hear anyone in District C&MA leadership correct Mrs. Barton’s misrepresentation of Scripture.

Other Districts also have had Mrs. Barton speak to their pastors.  The late Brennan Manning and other heretical teachers also have been promoted.  When I questioned my District Superintendent about the use and promotion of Mr. Manning, I was told he must be all right, because the denomination has used him as a speaker at national youth rallies.

When I learned last spring that my District had invited as speakers for our next District Conference two C&MA seminary professors who teach contemplative meditation, I decided it was time to resign from the C&MA after __ years of ministry.  Sadly, the C&MA is no longer what it once was.

Currently my wife and I are working secular jobs, and I preach in independent churches when given the opportunity.  Prospects for full-time pastoral ministry seem slim, since I am __ years old.  However, I would rather do what I am doing than continue to support the heresy being promoted in the C&MA.

Everywhere in God’s Word where meditation is mentioned, the object of meditation is God’s Word, God’s law, God’s statutes, etc.  I see no mention of a centering prayer that I heard Mrs. Barton promote.  I want no part of pagan, vain repetitions.  Using Christian words doesn’t negate the pagan practice.  I was saved out of Catholicism and want no part of Catholicism, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

 

The C&MA has never corrected their error in allowing for these mystical practices that originated from outside the church, outside of Scripture and have more in common with other religions.  The reason is that they don’t view these issues as an error.  Today, the Alliance Theological Seminary continues to train future leaders and pastors in these same practices. In my opinion, the C&MA should renounce their participation in these practices to warn and correct current leaders from straying away from God’s word.  But, they have not chosen not to take that approach. 

So, mysticism is alive and well in the Evangelical church today – and as Paul warns Timothy and Jude warns believers – error creeps into the church from within the leadership and over time has a detrimental effect on the church.  What will other denominations do?  The NAZARENES, BAPTISTS, ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, EVANGELICAL FREE……..your church?

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(457) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: RUTH HALEY BARTON – INVITATION TO RETREAT

MORE SILENCE & SOLITUDE – MUCH MORE

At the risk of giving her free advertising, some things in Christianity just leave me shaking my head. RUTH HALEY BARTON and her promotion of SILENCE and SOLITUDE.

Don’t misunderstand – It is not wrong to relax with some alone time, silence….etc., but if the goal is to not think and instead it is recommended that you push out from your mind thoughts about anything and everything (some will even push out thoughts about God), in order to get into a state where one supposedly is open to hearing directly from God (or whoever starts communicating with you in this state….etc.) – One should ask – IS THIS SCRIPTURAL?

The short answer is that the Bible does NOT promote this as a normative prayer meditative practice. The few verses that some try to use to justify this are usually taken out of context. Instead, what is recommended is an experience-driven practice with the addition of practices to help you get into this state – such as the repetition of words (i.e. mantras) to clear out your mind.

Read the book description for yourself and ask if she is basing her ideas on SCRIPTURE or is based on her EXPERIENCE or her VIEWS –

=> “Come away and rest awhile.” Jesus invites us to be with him, offering our full and undivided attention to him. When we choose retreat we make a generous investment in our friendship with Christ. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of SOLITUDE and SILENCE into the RHYTHM of our ordinary lives which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and a half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it! BUT WE NEED MORE. Indeed, we long for MORE. In these pages Transforming Center founder and seasoned spiritual director, Ruth Haley Barton, gently and eloquently leads us into an exploration of RETREAT as a key practice that opens us to God. Based on her own practice and her experience leading hundreds of retreats for others, she will guide you in a very personal exploration of seven specific invitations contained within the general invitation to retreat. You will discover how to say yes to God’s winsome invitation to greater freedom and surrender. There has never been a time when the invitation to retreat is so radical and so relevant, so needed and so welcome. It is not a luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual life.

If you read the author’s bio, one can quickly see the diverse background in education from various religious practices.  These include both Protestant and Roman Catholic schools.  It includes organizations such as Willow Creek, the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Loyola University Chicago…..etc.  Diversity is normally seen as a good thing, but in this case, it clearly crosses different backgrounds with a vastly different interpretation of Scripture and church history to present a warped basis as well as contradictory perspectives for theological teaching – 

=> “Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founding president/CEO of the Transforming Center, a ministry dedicated to strengthening the souls of pastors and Christian leaders, and the congregations and organizations they serve. For over twenty years, she has ministered to the soul care needs of pastors and leaders based upon her conviction that the best thing we bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. Trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and the Institute for Pastoral Studies Loyola University Chicago, Ruth is a seasoned retreat leader and spiritual director. A sought-after speaker and preacher, she has served on the pastoral staff of several churches and teaches frequently at seminaries and graduate schools. Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life, including Invitation to Solitude and SilenceSacred RhythmsLonging for MorePursuing God’s Will Together, and Life Together in Christ.”

Her recommendation of increasing the time spent in SILENCE and SOLITUDE by participating in RETREATS is a common practice among those promoting these types of spiritual disciplines.  I’m sure most of us have been on retreats before – hopefully learning something to improve your walk.  However, these types of mystical practices have a history in Roman Catholicism.  One stream goes back to the Jesuits. 

In the 20th Century, three-day retreats were popularised by the Cursillo movement, based on Ignatian spirituality.

The retreat was popularised in Roman Catholicism by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), whose founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, as a layman began, in the 1520s, directing others in making (participating in) the exercises.[3] Another form the Exercises came in, which became known as the nineteenth “Observation”, ‘allowed continuing one’s ordinary occupations with the proviso of setting aside a few hours a day for this special purpose.’[5] The spiritual exercises were intended for people wanting to live closer to God’s will for their life.

Following the growth of the Cursillo movement in Spain, similar retreats have become popular, either using licensed Cursillo material or independent material loosely based on its concepts, leading to the development of the three day movement. (Wikipedia)

Several postings on this blog site have been dedicated to exploring what is meant by SILENCE and SOLITUDE –

https://irondukeblog.wordpress.com/?s=silence

http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_BeStillDVD.html

For now, we will just introduce (warn) you to this upcoming book by Ruth Haley Barton as we review current trends within Christianity.  We will follow up in future posts on specific issues relating to this topic.

(456) SPIRITUAL FORMATION – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY.

Spiritual Formation

Another view of Spiritual Formation using a basic resource that anyone could view themselves – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The attempt here is to use a more general, not necessarily one-sided definition and review of the topic of Spiritual Formation (SF).  Yes, we should always be careful about relying on Wikipedia because it has a reputation for some bias, error, false statements….etc. at times.  But, generally speaking, it can be a good way to start out researching a topic and traveling down various references included in their articles. 

With several previous articles on SF on this blog, we have already looked at more detailed definitions and explanations of the topic.  This is just to bring in a middle of the road view. 

Don’t be surprised how much of these writings sound good to your ears as you read through this.  But, read it again and then take notice of several concerns about this topic (from an Evangelical Protestant perspective).  There are portions that are in bold to stand out with regard to these issues.  Hopefully, one can start to understand if these practices come from God’s word or man’s tradition.  
  1. Do you think the biblical references given are referring to SF?  
  2. How many of the DISCIPLINES listed come from the Bible?
  3. What is the origin of SF?  Do you see the direct ties to Roman Catholicism? New Age? Mysticism? Historical ancient teachings? Psychology and Philosophy...etc.
    • Words used to show these types of teachings include a focus on the deep, inner world, intimacy, and union with God in this internal perspective,…etc.
  4. In the history of the Protestant Church, would you consider SF a more recent trend or one long established since the Reformation?

Keep in mind, there is much more background information that could be added to this article explaining in more detail specific issues relating to Roman Catholic teachings, mysticism, philosophy as well as biblical views on these subjects,…etc.  This is just a general article.  

Some previous blog posts on Spiritual Formation:

=> Wikipedia article:

Spiritual formation may refer either to the process and practices by which a person may progress in one’s spiritual or religious life or to a movement in Protestant Christianity that emphasizes these processes and practices. It may include, but is not limited to,

  • Specific techniques of prayer and meditation[1][page needed]
  • A focus on spiritual disciplines and practices[2][page needed]
  • Reference to historical religious philosophy and techniques[3]

Many authors[who?] have attempted to define spiritual formation. Christian religious writers and institutions have differing definitions due to their various conceptions of it. Some authors suggest that it is discovery of “leadings of the heart,”[4] renewal of the mind (sanctification),[5] walking in the spirit,[6] or a type of character formation.[7] In Care of Mind, Care of Spirit, psychiatrist Gerald G. May offers, “Spiritual formation is a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instruction, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as the more intimate and in-depth process of spiritual direction.”[8]

Christianity[edit]

Christian spiritual formation is often understood as a long-term process in which a believer desires to become a disciple of Jesus and become more like him. This process requires engagement of various sorts by the individual and religious community but is enacted and guided by the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard wrote that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[9]

Approaches to Spiritual Formation[edit]

Formal Study[edit]

Informal study[edit]

Community/church involvement[edit]

  • Corporate worship
  • Volunteer service
  • Activism

Practice of religious exercises[edit]

Ordinary experiences of everyday life[edit]

  • Work and play
  • Family life

Leadership[edit]

Some people regard leadership development as a process of spiritual formation.[citation needed] Building on the emphasis of Christian spiritual formation in leaders, leadershipexpert Timothy H. Warneka wrote:

Today’s world cries out for people who can lead with a global perspective. We need leaders who lead from the heart as well as the mind, leaders who understand that decisions made about even the smallest of organizations affect the entire global community. We need leaders who can act ethically, intentionally, and with respect for existing citizenry as well as for future generations. We need leaders who can address problems from an integrated, holistic perspective—the only place that solutions for today’s most pressing problems will be found. Most of all, we need leaders who understand that the primary function of a leader is to serve, not to be served.[10]

Biblical references[edit]

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

  • Romans 8:29 (New International Version)

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

  • Romans 12:2 (New International Version)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 (New International Version)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

  • Galatians 4:19 (New International Version)

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…

Disciplines[edit]

Many authors and speakers write that believers can attain spiritual growth through the practice of religious disciplines. Such disciplines may be understood as means of exercising and strengthening one’s religious and spiritual capacities,[11] a means of accessing a spiritual reality directly,[12] or a manner of making oneself available to the activity of God.[13]

Spiritual disciplines, as a strategy towards spiritual formation, have risen and fallen in popularity over the centuries. Christianity asserts two things: first, transformation of the heart is a work only God can accomplish, and second, we are saved not by our works or efforts, but by God’s grace, that is, His unmerited favor; the church has often been tempted to marginalize the usefulness of these disciplines so as not be confused with preaching “justification by works.”

However other scholars respond by saying that, it is not salvation that is at stake, but rather the need to develop people of genuine Christ-like character to live in the world and confront its values.

Quaker theologian Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline,[14] includes several internal, external, and corporate disciplines one should engage in through his or her Christian life. These include the following internal disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study. External disciplines include: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service. Finally, corporate disciplines, those that are completed within the body of the church are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

History of the Protestant Movement[edit]

Spiritual formation in general has been integral to most religions, including Christianity. The religious ideal typically presupposes that one be changed in some manner through interaction with spiritual realities. Therefore, to trace a historical origin of spiritual formation is to examine the history of religion in general.

However, the history of spiritual formation as a specific movement within 20th century Protestantism is possible. James Houston traces the history of the movement to post-Vatican II reformers within the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, who sought to find ways to educate and train new priests in a manner that was appropriate to VATICAN II ideals. This formative perspective began to spread into and was adopted by the Association of Theological Schools, and as an increasing number of evangelical schools began joining them in the 1970s and 1980s, the ideals spread throughout the academic and theological strata of Christianity, particularly in the United States. While initially aimed at academic and pastoral leadership, Houston notes that the Protestant ideal of the priesthood of all believers pushed churches to expand this formative ideal to all individuals.[15]

On a popular level, the formation movement emerged, in part, with the publication of Richard Foster’sCelebration of Discipline in 1978, which introduced and popularized a set of spiritual disciplines as historical practices BEYOND Bible study, prayer, and church attendance that may lead to religious maturity and spiritual growth.[16]

Controversy[edit]

Validity of Ideals[edit]

While some Christians understand spiritual formation to be an integral part of their religion, others perceive it as a diluting of the faith or an attempt by competing religious ideals to infiltrate Christian doctrine and lead adherents astray. Some individuals and organizations, such as Lighthouse Trails Research, interpret spiritual formation as a front for non-Christian mysticism or Roman Catholic influence to enter the Protestant church, which they see as damaging religious doctrine and leading Christians to engage in dangerous practices or leave the faith entirely.

Short-Term Movement[edit]

Because spiritual formation has been used, in recent decades, to describe a loose but semi-coherent set of practices and ideals within American Protestantism, many have accused it of merely being a “fad”. Such persons dismiss it because of this trendiness, but others have argued that to relegate it only to a small sub-group within the church is to neglect its necessity to Christian practice.[17]

References[edit]

  1. Jump up^ E.g., Keating, Thomas (2009). Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer. The Crossroad Publishing Company. ISBN 0824525299.
  2. Jump up^ E.g., Foster, Richard (1998). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0060628391.
  3. Jump up^ E.g., Hall, Christopher A. (1998). Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. IVP Academic. ISBN 0830815007.
  4. Jump up^ Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca Laird. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p xix
  5. Jump up^ Larry Christenson, The Renewed Mind: Becoming the Person God Wants You to BeBethany House, 2001
  6. Jump up^ Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 909.
  7. Jump up^ Tennant, Agnieszka. “The Making of a Christian”Christianity Today, London, 27 October 2005. Retrieved on 14 August 2014. ] ,
  8. Jump up^ May, Gerald GCare of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 6.
  9. Jump up^ Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002) p. 22.
  10. Jump up^ Warneka, Timothy H. (2007). Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader: An Introduction to Catholic Servant Leadership. Asogomi Publishing International. ISBN 9780976862758. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  11. Jump up^ Willard, Dallas (1999). The Spirit of the Disciplines. HarperOne. p. 4. ISBN 0060694424.
  12. Jump up^ Keating, Thomas (2006). Open Mind, Open Heart. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 11. ISBN 0826418899.
  13. Jump up^ Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. IVP Books. pp. 17–20. ISBN 0830846050.
  14. Jump up^ Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: A Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). pg v
  15. Jump up^ Houston, James. “The History of Spiritual Formation – James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh | Open Biola”Open Biola. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
  16. Jump up^ “Welkom in onze Spirituele Community”spirituelecommunity.nl. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  17. Jump up^ “Seven Things I Hate About Spiritual Formation”CT Pastors. Retrieved 2017-04-24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dallas Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002).
  • Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
  • Ken Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
  • Gerald G. May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. (San Francisco: Harper, 1982).
  • Richard Foster. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978).
  • David Benner. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).
  • Oswald ChambersMy Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House Publishers, 2014).
  • Thomas A Kempis. The Imitation of Christ (Lulu Press, 2010).
  • Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation. (Harper Collins, 2010).
  • John BunyanThe Pilgrim’s Progress. (Uhrichsville Ohio: Barbour and Company.
  • Dietrich BonhoefferCost of Discipleship. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
  • Don PostemaSpace for God: Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer. (Faith Alive Christian Resource, 1997).

(454) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: BIBLIOLATRY (Part 2) – WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TODAY

In Part 1 of our study on BIBLIOLATRY, we defined its meaning – the worship (idolization) of the Bible.  We looked at how the word bibliolatry is used today showing that in some cases it is used more so as a personal attack on Christians who hold to the Bible’s view of it its Divine origin and authority.  From the verses we looked at, the Bible shows how the study and application of God’s word lead to the conversion of unbelievers (Philip’s use of Scripture in Acts 8:30-31); we are encouraged to know God’s word when we defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15-16); and probably a good passage that sums much of what we can say about the Bible comes from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

But, not to be outdone, today’s Christians face an onslaught of both implicit and explicit influences on their faiths to move in a direction that borrows mystical practices from early church traditions  (Roman Catholic mystics – “saints”) to more not-so-subtle mystical practices from Eastern religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism…etc.).  The New Age also includes many of these perspectives. 

The editors at Lighthouse Trails put out a recent commentary on Bibliolatry and how it has become a popular view within the Contemplative movement (i.e. mystical) throughout Christianity today (especially with Evangelicalism).  The quotes in their article from popular authors/speakers/leaders are, in my mind, quite shocking (although I am not surprised anymore).  They reveal not only what these folks believe but also what the particular institution they are a part of is promoting to their students, theological journals, writings and books, future church pastors, leaders..etc.  I took the liberty of highlighting names and underlining portions of the article.

https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=28301

They Call It “Bibliolatry” (Bible Worship) – But Could it Be a Contemplative Smoke Screen?

 

In an article titled “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It,” Biola University professor J.P. Moreland says that  evangelical Christians are too committed to the Bible. He states:

“In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,”  [Moreland] said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.” The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.(source)

While Moreland gives examples such as non-charismatics who steer clear of any and all venues such as “impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom,” there may be more behind his statements than meets the eye. This idea of “bibliolatry” (the idolizing of the Bible) did not originate with Moreland. Contemplative Brennan Manning (who gets many of his ideas from mystics like Thomas Merton and William Shannon (Silence on Fire), once said this:

I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word–bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”–Brennan ManningSignature of Jesus, pp. 188-189

Without checking the further inferences of such statements, some may agree with Manning and Moreland solely on the idea that we should not worship a leather-bound book but rather the One of whom the book is about. But few “over-committed” Bible-believing Christians would argue with that. Christians who believe the Bible is the actual inspired word of God know that the Bible is not God Himself, but it is the Jesus Christ proclaimed in that Bible who is to be worshiped. But they also know that within the pages of the Bible are the holy words, ideas, and truths of God. So for Moreland and Manning to suggest that these types of Christians don’t really worship God but rather pages in a book is a misrepresentation of Bible-believing Christians.

Scot McKnight is another who uses this term, bibliolatry. In his book A Community Called Atonement, McKnight says, “I begin with the rubble called bibliolatry, the tendency for some Christians to ascribe too much to the Bible” (p. 143).  Emerging spirituality figure Walter Brueggemann uses the term in his book Theology of the Old Testament (p. 574).

There may be a logical reason why these men condemn those who adhere to the Bible too stronglyAll have something in common – they all promote CONTEMPLATIVE spirituality. And, as we have shown time and again, those who embrace the  contemplative spiritual outlook, often shift their focus from the moral (doctrine) to the MYSTICAL as HENRI NOUWEN suggested in his book In the Name of Jesus:

Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love . . .  For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required. (p. 32)

In Moreland’s book, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, he talks about rediscovering important spiritual principles that have been lost. In Faith Undone, Roger Oakland cites this book in explaining the problem of mysticism:

Two of the spiritual disciplines . . .  are “SOLITUDE and SILENCE” (p. 51). The book says that these two disciplines are “absolutely fundamental to the Christian life” (p. 51). . . .  Moreland and Issler [co-author] state:

In our experience, Catholic retreat centers [bastions of mysticism] are usually ideal for solitude retreats . . . We also recommend that you bring photos of your loved ones and a picture of Jesus . . .  Or gaze at a statue of Jesus. Or let some pleasant thought, feeling, or memory run through your mind over and over again (pp. 54-55)….

Moreland and Issler provide tips for developing a prayer life. Here are some of the recommendations they make:

  • [W]e recommend that you begin by saying the Jesus Prayer about three hundred times a day (p. 90).

 

  • When you first awaken, say the Jesus Prayer twenty to thirty times. As you do, something will begin to happen to you. God will begin to slowly begin to occupy the center of your attention (p. 92).

 

  • Repetitive use of the Jesus Prayer while doing more focused things allows God to be on the boundaries of your mind and forms the habit of being gently in contact with him all day long (p. 93).

Moreland and Issler try to present what they consider a scriptural case that repetitive prayers are OK with God. But they never do it! They say the Jesus Prayer is derived from Luke 18:38 where the blind man cries out, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me,”(p.90) but nowhere in that section of the Bible (or any other section for that matter) does it instruct people to repeat a rendition of Luke 18:38 over and over. (from Faith Undone, pp. 117-119)

To be sure, the worship of any leather-bound book would be unscriptural and idolatrous, but we have never known or heard of a single case where a Christian advocates or practices Bible worship. As far as that goes, we have known countless Christians who respect (revere) the Bible as being the inspired Word of God; now if that were a point deserving criticism and condemnation, then we would necessarily need to place the apostle Paul under such scrutiny for having said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Was Paul a Bible worshiper? We know he was not. We also know that he never instructed anyone to repeat words or phrases from the Bible over and over for the purpose of achieving a “silence” (i.e., a mind-altering state). Such a practice is not taught anywhere in Scripture; hence, we propose that it is just such a practice that is a misuse of Scripture. Is it mere coincidence that in virtually every case where someone uses the “bibliolatry” argument, that person also promotes contemplative prayer, a practice that cannot be supported through Scripture? And by downplaying scriptural authority, cannot the contemplative viewpoint be easier to promote within Christianity?

One last case in point about “bibliolatry” comes from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho  (NNU) where Dr. Jay McDaniel was invited to speak. McDaniel is a self-proclaimed “Christian” Buddhist sympathizer. When asked by a student at the lecture whether he believed that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” McDaniel stated that if Jesus had meant to say that He himself was the way, the truth, and the life, it would have been egocentric and arrogant of Jesus – He only meant to point people in the right direction – letting go of ego and grasping love. McDaniel stated also that Buddhist mindfulness (eastern meditation) is just as truth filled  as doctrine and theology. He said there was an overemphasis in the church on doctrine calling it bibliolatry (idol worship of the Bible). (source

There is an attack on the Word of God. That’s no new thing–secular humanists, New Agers, and philosophers have attacked the Bible for centuries. BUT this attack of which we speak comes from WITHIN the ranks of Christianity out of the halls of highly respected universities and off the presses of successful Christian publishers, and it is being carried forth by those who gain access into the hearts of men and women through their use of contemplative spirituality.

What can we make of this idea of “bibliolatry”? The following statement offers some valid insight regarding this idea that Christians put too much emphasis on the Bible:

Today some are saying that the Bible is a lesser revelation than the Son. But if we do not make much of the Bible, then we cannot know much of the Son, for our only source of information about the Son (and hence about the Father) is through the Bible. Furthermore, if the Bible is not to be trusted,  then again, we cannot know truth about the Son . . . if the Bible is not completely true, we end up with either misinformation or subjective evaluation. Jesus Himself asserted that the Bible revealed Him (Luke 24:27, 44-45, John 5:39). (A Survey of Christian Doctrine, Ryrie, p. 17)

In summary, we find it rather odd that in a time in history when many churches are hardly even opening the Bible, that Bible-believing Christians would be accused of focusing  too much on the Bible. Our continual plea to all Christians is to be diligent in their study of the Scriptures and to be as the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). We should also note that Jesus never corrected people for studying the Scriptures but rather for their lack of understanding them. Paul nailed it on the head when he said, “Study to show thyself approved unto God . . . rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Could this accusation of “bibliolatry” be nothing more than a smoke screen to further the contemplative agenda?

Additional information related to this article can be found at https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=28301

 

=> Instead of diving into mystical practices, if you desire to know God and truly understand Him along with a desire for God to talk to YOU – open up your Bible and pray for His Holy Spirit for an understanding of His word (2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

(450) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – “Go-Along-To-Get-Along” Christianity

“Go-Along-To-Get-Along” Christianity

In today’s church environment, there are a few people who are discerning and apt to identify false teaching when they see it in the church/Christianity.  Many more people are interested in just being involved with other Christians and not rocking the boat.  This can include a less discerning, all-inclusive, non-confrontational, so-called tolerance shown to others both outside the church and those within the church.

Many would agree that there can be extremes on either end of this spectrum.  Some folks exhibit a prideful and critical arrogance in thinking the worst of other Christians no matter how much they truly know of their situation or what they believe on an issue.  My Pastor consistently convicts me to check your actions in how we deal with other Christians. These are wise words because it can be very easy to think we know it all and that everyone needs to hear your view on the issues even though we may not know the background of the issue. 

On the other end are those who refuse to judge, compare what is being taught to what the Bible teaches, are always trying to show love to all they come in contact with…etc.  This shows itself in what some will call a “go-along-to-get-along” Christianity.  Knowingly or unknowingly, they view what society says above what the word of God says on everything from church issues to societal issues.  Some act this way because they are truly ignorant of God’s word, or they are fearful of being ridiculed, and some do it because they themselves may be caught up in false teaching.  

An example today includes the following –

Extremes are shown repeatedly today in the church.  It is not uncommon to find today unbiblical and non-Christian practices within the church.  Practices that don’t have a basis in the Bible but rather have more in common with mysticism found in Eastern religions and along with ancient Roman Catholic mysticism. On one end of the spectrum, some will say that since many Christians are doing these things, it must be alright to participate.  They refuse to think critically about what is being taught compared to what the Bible teaches.    Even leaders, seminaries, pastors…etc., exhibit a “go-along-to-get-along” attitude as the easy way out.

With this in mind, another very common example of this is shown by our society’s inclusion of YOGA both outside of the church and within the church. What is Yoga and why should we be concerned?  This article gives a glimpse into what the church is experiencing today  and how Christians respond:

THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018

Christian woman in Manitoba who warns of the dangers of Yoga shows more discernment and courage than the local “Christian” clergy

 
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.   For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. John 3:19-20

yoga
noun: yo·ga \ ˈyō-gə \
1: capitalized : a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation

As reported by Riley Laychuk of CBC NewsApril 24, 2018:

Yoga is supposed to bring about calm and tranquillity, but a letter denouncing the practice as anti-Christian is stirring up controversy in Boissevain, Man.

It started with the upcoming opening of a new yoga studio in the Manitoba town, 222 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

“I was startled and shocked about the negativity that could come out of a new business opening in Boissevain,” said Lindsay Alvis, owner of Soul Worx Yoga & Fitness, the studio she is preparing to open in the town.

“I was disappointed, obviously,” she told CBC’s Radio Noon on Tuesday. “I think it’s quite prejudiced to say that [yoga] is against a religion, especially in this day and age.”

Alvis believes the letter in question was sent to members of one local church. It’s not clear who authored it or how many people got copies. It surfaced about 10 days ago.

In it, the author cautions that yoga could disrupt the beliefs of Christians.

“If one desires to physical fitness only, exercise designed for that specific purpose ought rather be chosen,” it reads in part. “No part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it.”

The author also said with the imminent opening of a new studio in the town, they felt the need to share the letter.

Alvis, who practises Buti yoga — a mixture of traditional yoga and dance — believes the popular exercise has come a long way from its Hindu origins in India.

Wendy Giesbrecht, another yoga instructor in Boissevain, also saw a copy of the letter.

“It was kind of insulting, for sure, and I’d like to see the whole discussion on yoga come to light,” she said. “It’s an opinion that I obviously don’t share.”

Giesbrecht said she’s hosted community forums in the past to educate people on what yoga is and the sessions were met with many curious residents and questions.

“Yoga is not a religion.… It’s a very personal journey,” she said.

Rev. Michael Canning, who leads the local Anglican church, said he wasn’t aware of the letter until he was approached about it this week.

“I really don’t see yoga as anti-Christian,” he said, calling it a good way for people to get in touch with their minds and bodies. “I know people who are Christians who find that its a good way of meditating.”

Alvis says she’s had nothing but positive words and thoughts come in from people around town since the letter came to light.

She believes it’ll lead to even more support for her new studio, which she hopes to open in the near future.

“I think that people are entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think religion needs to be an influence or a decision-making [factor] in yoga.”

“I was very surprised by the letter,” said Jane Barter, an associate professor of religion and culture at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in Christian thought. 

“It was so decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga, which is odd because yoga is a universal practice — it’s meant to be a universal practice.”

Barter said Christians have incorporated all sorts of non-Christian practices over the centuries, always adapting the religion to the current culture. She said in Roman times, the gospel was explained through the lens of Greek philosophy. 

“I think it’s a feature of a lack of religious literacy in a way, because there have been times where people have been more inclined to recognize the value and the benefit of other practices, including spiritual practices, than today. But I suspect the letter writer represents a very small minority of people,” she said. 

Barter also doesn’t believe that much yoga practised in Manitoba is representative of Hinduism. “But nevertheless, it’s a practice that deserves respect and I believe there is absolutely no problem or peril to the souls of Christians for practising yoga.”

As reported by Kelly Geraldine Malone of Canadian PressApril 25, 2018:

BOISSEVAIN, Man. — Lindsay Alvis was excitedly preparing to open up the first yoga studio in the small southwestern Manitoba community she calls home when a letter showed up in the mail boxes of some of her neighbours.

“PLEASE DON’T DO YOGA” the letter began.

The typed letter left in mailboxes around Boissevain cautions people in the community of about 1,500 not to do yoga because of its Hindu roots, before closing with a dire warning for Christians.

“If you do yoga or are thinking of joining a class, prayerfully search your heart.”

The letter, which warns about “yoga missionaries” and that “no part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it,” is only signed with the name “Marie.”

Alvis was astounded and disappointed that it was being circulated just as she was preparing to teach her first class at Soul Worx Yoga and Fitness.

“If you don’t like yoga don’t do yoga,” Alvis said.

“(If yoga) doesn’t fall within your beliefs then don’t do it, but I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers, telling people not to do yoga and saying it in response to a yoga studio opening in your town.”

Alvis was born and raised in the former town, not far from the border with North Dakota. She ended up moving to Alberta, living there for 13 years, before she came back so her husband could take over the family farm two years ago.

“I know religion is big in Boissevain but, when I decided to open the studio, I only had positive feedback,” Alvis said. “I never intended to offend any religion and I don’t believe that yoga is any sort of religion, especially like in my yoga studio.”

She teaches Buti yoga, a cardio-intensive version of the traditional practice which involves stretching and dance. It was created by a celebrity trainer in the United States. Alvis said it’s far removed from having any religious overtones.

While her studio will be the first yoga-dedicated location in Boissevain, yoga has been in the community for a while. Alvis previously taught classes through the local municipality.

“It went very well in town. So it was kind of a first for me hearing about this,” said recreation director Samantha Dyck.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never heard any issues with yoga with regards to religious beliefs.”

Ken Warkentin, executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba which represents one of the churches in Boissevain, said he understands that some people may be “opposed to yoga as a spiritual discipline of Hinduism.” But he said it’s important to have meaningful discussions with people of other religions and beliefs.

“By and large, we would continue to value a conversation around those things and try hard not to become overly judgmental,” he said.

Avis said she won’t let the letter dampen her excitement over the studio opening.

While a few people may share the letter’s sentiment, she said a lot more have reached out to show their support.

“I just want a great thing for the community,” she said.

Click on the link to see the entire letter. Marie is in fact correct in her warning that Yoga is a HINDU practice, that it’s spiritually dangerous, and that Christians should avoid it. Ms. Alvis’s comment that “I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers” shows the truth of the passage in John 3 quoted above–those in darkness hate the light. Contrary to the assertion of Professor Barter, there’s nothing in Marie’s letter that’s “decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga”–no threats, merely warnings that Yoga is a Hindu practice, and that Christians should prayerfully check their hearts if they’re involved in it or are thinking of doing so.

While Marie is contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), Ken Warkentin, the provincial Mennonite leader, exhibits the “go-along-to-get-along” spinelessness that’s so typical of modern “Christianity,” while Rev. Canning, the local Anglican minister, exhibits the ignorance and apostasy that so characterizes the Anglican Church of Canada.

For further reading, I recommend the books Death of a Guru by Rabi Maharaj with Dave Hunt (1977, 1984) and Yoga & the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt (2006), and the article The Basic Spirituality of Yoga by an anonymous guest writer at Midwest Christian Outreach (March 8, 2018).

 

(448) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – EVANGELICAL & ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUALITY

Evangelical & Roman Catholic Spirituality

(1) INTRODUCTION

Looking at the issue of Evangelical spirituality and how it has progressed today, although regressed may be a better description, it is not uncommon to get blank stares when mentioning the influence of ancient Roman Catholic and Eastern Mysticism on Evangelical spirituality.   As I continue to see Evangelicals increasingly including Roman Catholic & Eastern mysticism practices, it makes one wonder if Evangelicals have lost sight as to why they became Evangelicals in the first place. Stated plainly, there is an increasingly syncretic blending of Eastern Mysticism along with Roman Catholicism practices infusing its way into Evangelical practices – which may be the most disturbing aspect of these trends. 

Evangelicals participating in ASH WEDNESDAY, STATIONS OF THE CROSS, SACRIFICIAL OBSERVANCE OF LENT….etc., seem to participate without considering the biblical basis for what they do.  As I researched the history of Evangelical spirituality, I discovered several bits of wisdom that can better put things in perspective.OCD_Zelle

Some would say that previously, spirituality was a drastically neglected subject among scholars. Christian experience was treated as an optional dimension of Christian life.  An additive that had its place in personal devotion and pastoral work but was marginal as a subject of serious reflection. The focus was on the Church’s theology but with minimal attention to what made up the Church’s shell and its various forms.

Roman Catholics, produced what seems to be excessive amounts of pious literature but little in the way of solid critical analysis and reflection.

That has changed over the last several decades.  Works have appeared in spiritual theology from every perspective: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, anabaptist, Wesleyan, evangelical, Jungian, liberationist, and even liberal. Spirituality is now discussed repeatedly with seminaries leading the way in developing new programs and classes on these issues.  Christian authors include, to various degrees, some aspect of the latest buzz words to describe some type of new practices that one can participate in order to experience spirituality in new ways and seek to become more intimate with God.

(2) REFORMATION, EVANGELICALS & RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE

Over the last decade, Evangelicals have been greatly influenced by what many would consider a departure from Reformation practices to a merging of outside mystical influences originating from Roman Catholic and Eastern religions.  There were always groups within Evangelical camps that were more mystical than others, but in 1978, author Richard Foster wrote, Celebration of DisciplineThis book has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with MYSTICAL CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and the NEW AGE. 

Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal) wrote this book having no idea the impact it would have.  But, even today, celebrationofdiscipline-40-years-400x600many Christian leaders and organizations continue to promote the book.  Christianity Today proclaimed it to be one of the ten best books of the 20th century.  Foster is a Quaker.  Quakers are known to have a spiritual life which is grounded in the subjective “inner light” presupposition of the Friends. Dr. Gary Giley summarizes Foster’s book –

“Foster is highly steeped in the Roman Catholic mystics, drawing from dozens of them for his theology. More than that, Eugene Peterson informs us that Foster has “‘found’ the spiritual disciplines [in the mystics] that the modern world stored away and forgot” (p. 206). Foster’s views are also formed by Quaker mystics and even secular thinking, most surprisingly Carl Jung….”

•The contemplative prayer movement which has taken many to the foothills of Eastern mysticism.

Centering prayer in which one moves to the center of God or self—an Eastern mystical practice.

•An unbiblical use of imagination which leads to occultic visualization.

•Use of rosaries and prayer wheels.

•Propagation of the Roman Catholic view of confession, penitence and spiritual directives.

Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “contemplative prayer” is the eastern-style mantra meditation to which mystic monk THOMAS MERTON adhered.  Foster is quoted as saying that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people”.

Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “BECOME AS GOOD A BUDDHIST” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing—MYSTICISM, and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” And yet, Thomas Merton once told New Age Episcopal priest MATTHEW FOX that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the mystical (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. We couldn’t agree with him more. Both ALTERED STATES  are the same, but we differ from Merton and Foster in conclusions outcome—we know neither leads to God.

Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people.”

 

(3) REFORMATION SPIRITUALITY

What is interesting to me is how Evangelical theology has developed from its Reformation basis.

The following is written by a church historian – Richard Lovelace.  Lovelace was a professor of Church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.  Back in 1988, he identified several items that struck me as being very important terms of a distinction between Roman Catholic and Evangelical practices.  Yes, today, with the growth of groups such as the Emerging Church movements as well as other ecumenical movements, we are seeing a return of some of these distinctives back to Roman Catholicism as well as to Eastern Mysticism.   With that, many today know very little of the history of their group’s spirituality as well as little consideration for what the Bible actually teaches about these issues. Lovelace states – 

The spirituality of Luther and Calvin is a reaction against western Catholic spirituality. Let me first point out the features that aroused reaction.

The absence of justification as a theological category separate from sanctification is a dominant factor shaping pre-Reformation spirituality. Luther felt that the spiritual lives of all Catholics, from the monks and nuns to the most retiring layperson, were affected by this justification gap. He also believed that this missing spiritual dimension virtually determined the whole shape of the medieval Church: “Ah, if the article on justification hadn’t fallen, the brotherhoods, pilgrimages, masses, invocation of saints, etc., would have found no place in the church. If it falls again (which may God prevent!) these idols will return.”3

This is an interesting comment on the vital force of theology and spirituality in shaping structures. The core doctrines of spiritual theology determine the shape of spirituality. But spirituality then amplifies the force of these doctrines, and it energizes and projects their.shape on the whole of theology and Church structure.

How did the absence of justification lead to dysfunction in medieval spirituality? Catholics believed that they were justified in the process of being sanctified. Since sanctification is never perfect and always in peril during our lifetime, they were imperfectly assured of their salvation. Serious believers could cure this uneasiness by martyrdom, or by the bloodless martyrdom of ascetic spirituality.

Sanctification, bearing an unnatural weight because it was expected to pacify the believer’s conscience, was a subject of extraordinary concern. But the ascetic method of sanctification was by amputation, not by healing. If the believer is having trouble with sex, give up sexual relations. If he or she is having difficulty with covetousness, give up private property. If he or she is tempted by power, give up independence. The monastery and the nunnery are sanctification machines that guarantee the surest victory over the sinful use of money, sex and power.4

Monasteries are an EASTERN religious instrument, NOT a Biblical format. And the medieval view of sanctification was subject to other eastern intrusions. The desert fathers are typically Hellenistic, if not BUDDHIST, in their assumption that spirit and matter—and especially soul and body—are enemies. “The body kills me,” says Macarius, “so I will kill it!”5

The western mystical tradition, from Augustine through Bernard and the Rhineland mystics, moved beyond this spiritual masochism to see that mortifying sin was the goal of sanctification and that this was not usually helped by punishing the body. But ASCETIC MYSTICISM characteristically views spiritual growth as the result of hard work. A central image of this literature is the ladder. One starts at the bottom, and there are thirteen steps that must be climbed, for instance, to move from pride to humility.6

Or, at the very least, there are the three steps of the Triple Way: the purging of sin from one’s life, then the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and then union with God. There are important lessons for Protestants in this structure, but we must make two observations: (1) that first step (purgation of sin) is a big one; (2) faith in Jesus Christ, and even the mention of the Redeemer, are scarce commodities in this literature. It is overwhelmingly theocentric rather than Christocentric, and it is full of nervous instructions to believers trying to cross the gap between man and God on their own footpaths.

This is not to agree with the common Protestant prejudice that nothing deeply spiritual can be going on among MYSTICS and in MONASTERIES. The problem is somewhat different: Spiritual experiences which for the Catholic doctors seem rare and hard to come by—the awesome summits of acquired or infused contemplation—appear to evangelical Protestants as common and routine possessions found among the laity, part of the birthright acquired by faith in Christ.

And this is the genius of Reformation spirituality. It assumes that the simplest believer leaps to the top of the spiritual ladder simply by realistic faith in Jesus Christ. Consistent Protestants start every day at the top of the ladder, receiving by faith what only God can give and what cannot be achieved by human efforts: assurance of salvation, and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. They may slip down a few rungs during the course of the day, but the way up again is not by climbing. It is by the vault of faith.

Similarly Luther stands the via triplex on its head. Union with Christ, received by faith, is the foundation of evangelical spirituality, not the final achievement. The illumination of the Holy Spirit then comes in to break up our darkness and show us our sins. Purgation of sin, finally, is a sanctification process in which we are led by the Spirit to recognize, confess and put to death the particular patterns of sin that are present in our characteristic fallen nature.

It seems obvious to evangelicals that this is a Biblical way to look at spiritual growth. The disciples, after all, were not Essene monks any more than Jesus was. They did not wear animal skins and eat locusts, like John. They were clumsy learners and listeners on the track of faith, NOT CHANTING MONKS pursuing SOLITUDE. They were annoyingly dense in their spiritual response throughout the gospels. They were cured, however, NOT by keeping SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES but by an infusion of the Holy Spirit, a whirlwind restructuring their minds, imparting a spirituality that they could never have achieved. As Paul puts it:

“Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?… Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Gal 3:2–5).

Luther’s teaching cut through the Roman Catholic spirituality of achievement by stressing the thing that was most important to Jesus: CHRIST-CENTERED FAITH. Evangelical piety is first of all a spirituality of faith as opposed to one of achievement. Responding to an ascetic model of Christian experience, Protestantism adopted an essentially pentecostal or charismatic model. Spirituality comes not through laborious cultivation of the human spirit but through the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a spirituality that flourishes in the atmosphere of faith. It is NOT WORKED UP through ASCETIC EXERCISES but infused directly, as at Pentecost. In Roman Catholic terms, infused contemplation is thus the common inheritance of all laity and clergy and not the private prerogative of those with ascetic vocations.7

P. T. Forsyth summarized Luther’s approach:

Perfection is not sanctity but faith … It is a perfection of attitude rather than of achievement, of relation more than of realization, of truth more than of behaviour … It is not a matter of our behaviour before God the Judge, but of our relation to God the Saviour … It is a fatal mistake to think of holiness as a possession which we have distinct from our faith … Every Christian experience is an experience of faith; that is, it is an experience of what we have not … Faith is always in opposition to seeing, possessing, experiencing. A faith wholly experimental has its perils. It varies too much with our subjectivity. It is not our experience of holiness that makes as believe in the Holy Ghost. It is a matter of faith that we are God’s children; there is plenty of experience in us against it … We are not saved by the love we exercise, but by the Love we trust.8

Luther believed that Catholic spirituality imposed a barrier between the believer and God. Because it leaves the believer in partial darkness, unaware of the imputed righteousness of Christ, the theology of Trent leaves weak Christians feeling distant from the Holy Spirit. It discourages the laity, and wherever it prevails in modern Catholicism the result is spiritual deadness, as Henri Nouwen has stated.9

The Reformers shied away from spiritual exercises as a road to growth, though they did stress the need to hear and read Scripture in order to nourish faith and the need to pray in order to express faith. John Calvin also balanced Luther’s emphasis on justification by an intensive treatment of sanctification. Out of the material in the application sections of Paul’s letters, Calvin carefully drew an understanding of spiritual growth through mortification of sin and vivification of every aspect of the personality by the Spirit’s releasing work. 

(4) CONCLUSIONS

There is much more to say about the history of spirituality from both a Roman Catholic and Evangelical perspective – this just touched the surface.  In future blogs, we can look at additional stages.  The important now is to realize that there was a clear difference in the Reformers approach to spirituality compared to Roman Catholicism.  

=> With that, Roman Catholicism has at least some influence from Eastern Mysticism/religions including in groups such as the DESERT FATHERS, MONKS, MONASTERIES, along with monks/authors such as THOMAS MERTON.  A key aspect of Protestant spirituality is based on reading and meditating on God’s word along with prayer.

As with the theological differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestants / Evangelicals, the practices promoted by Roman Catholicism seemingly stray very close to if not entirely within the camp of a works-based practice – i.e. there is something that you need to do in order to obtain unification with God.  But, Protestants believe there is nothing we can do to earn favor from God but rather God provides us with what we need in our walk because of Grace.   We can accept that by faith.  These two spirituality spectrums approach each other from opposite directions. 

So, when I hear Evangelicals all to quick to participate in or start a practice in their church (e.g. during Lent – Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross) that they borrow from Roman Catholicism, I have to ask if they realize that some will come under bondage in their efforts to please God.

____________________________________________________________________________________________


Evangelical Spirituality: A Church Historian’s Perspective — By: Richard F. Lovelace

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:1 (Mar 1988)
Article: Evangelical Spirituality: A Church Historian’s Perspective
Author: Richard F. Lovelace

 

1 I have reflected more extensively on this problem in the preface to Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979).

2 This is not to minimize the solid contributions of P. Pourrat, L. Bouyer and a few others who have explored the history of Christian spirituality from a Roman Catholic perspective. But in 1980 when I surveyed Roman Catholic educational institutions, most seemed unaware of spiritual theology, and few even had functioning analogues in the disciplines of pastoral theology, evangelism and spiritual formation. It appears that Thomas Merton was able to make the transition from a kind of ascetic, pietistic, Catholic chauvinism to the keen observation of world events through the lens of a well-developed ecumenical sensibility, which we see in works like Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, without losing his spiritual rootage in the Augustinian contemplative tradition. But a whole generation of Catholics seems to have attempted to dive into the world without maintaining any transcendental airhose. Perhaps one of their motivations in exploring the world has been their annoyance with asceticism and other toxic residua in the received tradition. Mainline Protestants and evangelicals after 1960 have had much the same experience in reacting to weaknesses in their own spiritualities.

3 Martin Luther, Table Talk (ed. T. G. Tappert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967) 340.

4 My favorite analysis of the problems and provisional advantages of asceticism is still H. B. Workman, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (Boston: Beacon, 1962).

5 Palladius: The Lausiac History (Westminster: Newman, 1965) 58-67.

6 The reference here is to Bernard’s Thirteen Steps.

7 Sister M. Murphy, a Catholic charismatic who has worked closely with George Gallup in recent years, comments that charismatic renewal is simply infused contemplation made available to everybody in the Church. Note that Leo Cardinal Suenens, early in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, stood up against the traditional teaching that the charismatic gifts had ended with the apostolic era on the grounds that without spiritual charisms broadly available among the laity the priesthood of believers could not be achieved.

8 P. T. Forsyth, Christian Perfection (London, 1899) 56, 7–9, 73.

9 H. J. M. Nouwen, Gracias (San Francisco: Harper, 1983).

(481) DUMBING DOWN CHRISTIANITY – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

The Tragedy of Dumbing Down Christianity

I came across this article in Relevant Magazine which caught my attention.  The article discusses a subject matter that is truly very relevant to American Christianity – not only today but also in trends that span the last couple of decades in the church. 

It is sometimes difficult to find an article of this importance when reading through Relevant Magazine (as with other journals such as Christianity Today).  But, it is very encouraging to read this article because it touches on a building block of the faith that in some cases has been weakened or even missing in the church today.  If these trends continue, the church tomorrow will move even further from a close walk with the Lord.

For now, let’s just categorize this as discipleship in the church today – is it happening?  Is it being implemented effectively?  Are Christians growing closer to God as they get to know God’s word?…etc.  Instead, what we find more common today is a brand of spirituality that minimalizes the Bible and focuses more on participating in practices that share less from the Bible but instead have more in common with mysticism in the early church and commonly found in Eastern religions today (e.g. Buddhism).  Today, one often hears the phrase of getting deeper into the faith – but it is applied to mean engaging in mystical practices with little to no Biblical justification to support it (non-biblical meditation, spiritual formation, contemplative prayer, breathing exercises….etc.).  This replaces basic biblical concepts such as discipleship, studying the Bible, participating in Bible study groups, prayer, meditation on God’s word…..etc.  

The Tragedy of Dumbing Down Christianity

We need to get deeper into our faith.

BY ETHAN RENOE – DECEMBER 22, 2017

The other day I was in a coffee shop in the mountains, seated near the counter. A guy in his early 20s walked in wearing a TOOL shirt and a long ponytail. I could overhear his conversation as he approached the barista and they began chatting. Somehow it came up that she attends a Christian university and he clearly didn’t approve.

“Do they incorporate religion into all the classes there?” he asked. “Even the science classes? How does that work?”

She valiantly began explaining how they pray before every class and teach from a Christian worldview, but it soon became evident that she was being crushed in this conversation. He was well-schooled in the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens and Nye, and began doling out the punishment.

I use the word punishment because this poor barista has herself been punished by a church system which, for the past 200 years, has begun discarding intelligence in favor of emotion, conversion experiences and passion. Ask most American Christians today any question deeper than “Does God love everyone?” and you’re bound to get some sort of response suggesting that that sort of discourse should be reserved for theological universities.

The other day, a friend of mine said he sees no merit in understanding Calvinism or Arminianism because he just wants to love God and love people. And it seems that the ball stops there for most Christians today. No need to know any more than that.

We have replaced rich, robust theology in the Church with emotional music and constant reminders that “God is love and loves you and He’s your personal Savior and loves your soul …” These words are great at bringing outsiders through the doors (because they’re true by and large) but poor at growing believers into mature witnesses with rich understanding of the deep things of God.

I have found the opposite to be very true. I have found that the more I learn about God, His Word and theology which describes Him, the more I can love and worship Him, because now there is that much more to adore and be amazed by. If my ability to worship God is a fire, learning more about Him only adds more wood to the blaze. After all, if you really loved God, wouldn’t you want to learn as much about Him as possible?

Our logic is pretty backward here.

Quite honestly, I’m exhausted by Christians who don’t want to learn more. It’s one thing to not know much about our faith, but another to have no desire to grow.

I’m saddened that atheists are so passionate about what they believe that they will read stacks of books in order to define their beliefs, while we are happy to float along the surface with a “Hillsong-deep theology” and call it good. And we wonder why people are leaving the Church in droves.

A church that offers only emotional, feel-good theology is going to lose the long-term wrestling match to a well-read and convincing atheist nearly every time.

Puritan Cotton Mather wrote, “Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of HERESY” (caps lock his).

The mushy-gushy can only last so long.

Just as a marriage cannot be sustained by the tumble of infatuation, a life of faith cannot be sustained by passionate emotion. Yes, it may be a wonderful (and necessary) entryway, but without depth of knowledge and understanding, it will be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

One of my theology professors is so passionate about this issue that he has brought up the same metaphor at least three times this semester. It goes something like this: 

Why do people say they want to ‘know God, but not know about Him? That is absolutely ludicrous!

Imagine if I told you, “I love my wife, but I don’t know anything about her.” You could ask me where she was born and I would shrug.

What type of music or food does she like?

I don’t know.

What color are her eyes?

No idea. But I love her.

See how insane that sounds? The more you come to know about someone, the more you are able to love them.

Yet we have no problem floating on the surface of our knowledge of God. And then we wonder why we have such trouble witnessing to others or describing what we believe or why we believe it to others.

 

J.P. Moreland, in his book Love the Lord Your God With All Your Minddemonstrates how the Second Great Awakening led to the beginning of emotional preaching and impassioned calls to a quick conversion experience, as opposed to a period of contemplation, learning and discovery of the Christian faith and doctrines. We live in the fallout of that style of thinking. Moreland writes, “The intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity … came to be part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.”

I was fascinated to learn that the Church was once the place where believers came to learn deep theology and robust doctrine, but now that seems to be reserved only for biblical universities. Nowadays anyone can start a church, and as long as it’s engaging and entertaining enough, people will show up. Never mind if it’s true or not (Case in point: The pastor of the largest church in America doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree, much less a seminary degree and look where that leads.). This all helps me realize why people are seeing less and less need for the Church. After the initial emotion has worn off, what does it really have to offer?

It should not only be pastors, authors and theologians who study what they believe, but all believers. Jesus Himself stated that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27), yet we tend to overlook this last one and focus on the heart and soul.

God paints an intense fate for those who neglect to grow in their understanding in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you.”

So let’s not get destroyed and rejected, eh?

It’s not too late for Christians to learn in their understanding of the holy. It’s not too late to learn the meaning and value of our creeds, doctrines, and systems. There is merit in learning and understanding the deeper parts of our faith and I say we start sooner than later.

If you’re reading this and thinking, Gee, I would love to come to a deeper understanding of God but don’t know where to start, I’ll give a few great starting points here. Additionally, if you’re reading this and thinking, Gee, I don’t really learn that much about the Bible or God at my church, it just kind of hypes me up, it may be time to change that. Begin by talking to your pastor about it before going church shopping.

Here are some books which are very easy to read and introduce us to cursory facets of the Christian faith:

Delighting in The Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The New Lonely by me

Enjoy!

https://relevantmagazine.com/article/the-tragedy-of-dumbing-down-christianity/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=RELEVANT&utm_content=The+Tragedy+of+Dumbing+Down+Christianity

A version of this article appeared on ethanrenoe.com. Used with permission.