THE EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT – Part One:
THE METHODS USED BY ONE OF ITS PRIMARY LEADERS
by Richard Bennett
The Emergent Church Markets Catholicism
Not since the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s has a Christian phenomenon been so closely entangled with the self-conscious cutting edge of U.S. culture. Frequently urban, disproportionately young, overwhelmingly white, and very new–few have been in existence for more than five years–a growing number of churches are joining the ranks of the “emerging church.”
Thus declared Christianity Today in its article, “The Emergent Mystique”.1 While this new movement is permeating modern Evangelical circles in the Western world, few seem to understand its essential modus operandi. Careful analysis shows it to be a theory that repudiates any single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual.
Emergent Church in its larger context
The Emergent Church movement did not start and does not operate in a vacuum. Hence to evaluate its function in the larger context, it is essential to understand that thirty-five years ago, the Roman Catholic Church published its non-negotiable agenda on ecumenism in its Post Vatican Council II documents. A crucial passage states,
“…ecumenical dialogue is not limited to an academic or purely conceptual level, but striving for a more complete communion between the Christian communities [churches], a common service on the Gospel and closer collaboration on the level of thought and action, it serves to transform modes of thought and behavior and the daily life of those communities. In this way, it aims at preparing the way for their unity of faith in the bosom of a Church one and visible: thus ‘little by little’, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesial communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into that unity of the one and only Church which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose…”2
Thus rather than looking for unity based on truth, the Papacy, as ever, is seeking to secure visible outward conformity through the compromise of others.This is the larger context into which the Emergent Church is set.
A man for the ecumenical season
Brian McLaren is the pastor of the non-denominational church he founded in the late 1980’s and a leading spokesman for Emergent-US, a dominant group within the Emerging Church movement. As such, he is a prime example of the success of the Catholic ecumenical agenda, a fact is well demonstrated by the strategy of this particular leader. McLaren’s website bio states that he obtained both a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of Maryland. He has had no formal degree from any seminary, other than an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2004. His academic interests, listed as including “Medieval drama, Romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of [Roman Catholic] Dr. Walker Percy”, have fitted him well for the task at hand.
Leaning heavily on Roman Catholic writers, particularly G. K. Chesterton and his book, Orthodoxy3, McLaren has written a book entitled A Generous Orthodoxy. Here he moves beyond Chesterton’s censure of Calvinism and sponsorship of mysticism to present what he thinks is a whole new method of knowing Christian truth, i.e., through Eastern mysticism. But to sell this mindset to the Protestants with their memory verses intact and their Bibles in hand, his approach to them is pitched on a strongly subjective level. This subtle tactic is part of the methodology of ecumenism spelled out in 1970 in Post Vatican Council II documents.
Bitterness against his heritage
At the outset, McLaren classes his book as “confessional”, which gives him latitude to express his opinions without the necessity to give any formal argument.4 Indeed, he states, “you should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness.” Excusing himself on the basis of his heritage, he goes on, “I am far harder on conservative Protestant Christians who share that heritage than I am on anyone else. I’m sorry. I am consistently over sympathetic to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, even dreaded liberals, while I keep elbowing my conservative brethren in the ribs in a most annoying–some would say ungenerous–way. I cannot even pretend to be objective or fair.”5 Here the author shows by his own admission what amounts to bitterness against his conservative Protestant heritage and the personal context out of which A Generous Orthodoxy arises. While this same book is being hailed by many admirers as the “manifesto” or public declaration of the Emergent Church movement, the larger context in which it is set is the ecumenical movement of the Roman Catholic Church–as the Papacy moves to regain the loss of her political empire, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire, which loss she suffered at the hand of the Reformation three and a half centuries ago. Since the Papacy thinks in terms of centuries6 rather than decades, it is not too much to think that among Protestants, Brian McLaren (and Rick Warren as well) could be very useful to the larger papal cause.
McLaren says his book is addressed primarily to those who are ready to give up Christianity altogether, but encourages them not to do so. The basis on which he encourages them, however, first involves insulting the conservative Protestants’ and Pentecostals’ view of Jesus with their insistence on individual salvation or “a personal savior”. He then points them approvingly to his definition of the Roman Catholic “Jesus”, including the Liberation Theology “Jesus” and liberal Protestant “Jesuses”.
Next, McLaren is bold enough to re-define the Holy God. He does this by making a distinction between “God A” and “God B” via the present gender pronoun dispute. He writes,
“Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutuality, freedom.” (p. 76)
By this fictitious contrast he entices his readers to choose between two highly subjective conceptions of a god of his own imagination. That done, he has set his standard of truth, which is not the inerrant Word of God, but rather his own current theory.
Harmful, offensive tactics disclosed
McLaren also informs the reader that, “as in most of my other books…I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated.”7 Further, he fully intends that “shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue”8 are all to be a part of the style of his book. His tone is also highly reflective of Roman Catholic Chesterton’s own style. The springboard of permissive subjectivity laid, McLaren demonstrates his understanding of Christianity in the major section of his book, “The Kind of Christian I Am”. He claims to be many kinds of Christian simultaneously.
His method is usually to launch his bitterness against conservative Protestants by carefully assigning a major focus of his own choosing to that particular group and then redefining whatever words or terms delineate the target group. Under the new definition, which usually is nearly totally opposite of the original definition, he then declares himself to be one of that group, as “Fundamentalist/Calvinist”, “Methodist”, “evangelical”, “Charismatic/Contemplative”, “Liberal/Conservative”, “catholic”, “green”, “biblical”, “(Ana)baptist/Anglican”, “Mystical/Poetic”, “incarnational”, “missional”, etc. An instance of his tactic is when he defines Calvinists by their acrostic TULIP, which he clearly detests. Using the same letters, he makes a parody of the acrostic–which totally redefines it in a way antithetical to what TULIP commonly means–and on the sole basis of his redefinition calls himself a Calvinist.
Another group he dislikes are the Fundamentalists, or “fighting fundies”, from whom he says he will take the term, “fighting”. He now claims that this word is his legitimate heritage from them, and therefore he can “fight” for his own cause under the name of Fundamentalist–although what he is fighting for is directly opposed to Fundamentalists. Hence he has defined himself as a “Fundamentalist/Calvinist”, but what he means by those terms is totally different from what is commonly meant by them. In this way, he shows how his unbiblical method deliberately foments confusion and division. By contrast, however, he does not basically re-define the terms of the groups he likes, such as the liberal Protestants, Catholics, mystics, and environmentalists, all of which he also claims to be, except Roman Catholic. There is good reason for this: he claims to be “Post/Protestant”, retaining then in the larger ecumenical debate the legitimacy of his heritage to protest–but not to protest Roman Catholicism, as classically the term Protestant has meant in its historical context, but rather to protest against the conservative Protestants of his own day. It should be noted that his chief sources of authority in nearly every chapter are Roman Catholic, particularly G. K. Chesterton.
Relative and qualified compromise
Although McLaren denies that he is a relativist, his explanations give him away. He states,
“How do you know if something is true?…First, you engage in spiritual practices like prayer, Bible reading, forgiveness, and service. Then you see what happens; you remain open to experience. Finally, you report your experience to others in the field of spirituality for their discernment, to see if they confirm your findings or not.”9
In another place, McLaren redefines theology. He does this by drawing heavily from Vincent Donovan, a Roman Catholic missionary priest. Donovan came to the conclusion that “praxis [practice] must be prior to theology” and that his theology would be derived from his theory that was derived out of his experience with pagans.10 McLaren enlarges Donovan’s (and others’) definition to “rather than seeing missiology (the study of missions) within theology, theology is actually a discipline within Christian mission. Theology is the church on a mission reflecting on its message, its identity, its meaning.”11 McLaren has thus redefined theology. In short, McLaren says that mission defines theology rather than theology defines mission. His standard is pragmatism, or “what works”, rather than the absolute authority of Scripture. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “The scripture cannot be broken.”12 “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”13 McLaren’s assertion that theology is actually a discipline within Christian mission is an utter denial of absolute truth as it is revealed in Scripture. Like the existentialists before him, McLaren has clearly denied biblical faith.
Adding fuel to his relativism
McLaren also shows that he is denying biblical authority when he states, “The earliest Protestants [meaning those of the Reformation of the sixteenth century] transferred the fulcrum or center of authority from the church to the Bible (which the…invention of an improved press facilitated greatly). But the Bible requires human interpretation, which was a problem…”14. Here McLaren totally ignores the fact that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, as Psalm 36:9 explains, “for with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” God’s truth is seen in the light of God’s truth, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”15
Having left Scriptural truth behind, McLaren now lays the groundwork for his theory by which he hopes, in the words of Vatican Council II, to remove one of “the obstacles to ecclesial communion”. His theory is that both Conservative and Liberal Protestants have trouble accepting the authority of the Bible in the “post-evangelical” or “post-modern” or “post-liberal” world in which their civil, political views are based in their religious convictions, causing a polarization between them. Of this, he says, both groups must repent because “[both] having survived in different ways the rough waters of modernity, they are now facing a new challenge: working together to save the village which we call planet Earth.”16 His own religion-based solution to what he casts as a civil and political problem that liberal and conservative Protestants have made is to say that times have changed and it is now necessary to change the norm of biblical interpretation accordingly. This is most interesting, since this is the same modus operandi as Papal Rome. In the beginning of her latest Catechism, the Vatican states, “Read the Scripture within the ‘living Tradition of the whole Church.'”17 Then Rome goes so far as to reprimand those who stray because she states there is “…the tendency to read and to interpret Sacred Scripture outside the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.”18 McLaren is in the early stages of presenting the same protocol as Papal Rome. But then, Rome said that the induction of Protestant churches was to be “little by little” as their thinking was changed by dialogue with Catholics.
McLaren Reshapes History
In trying to lump liberals and conservatives together, McLaren also shows his prejudice against Evangelicalism by strongly insinuating that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was the beginning of believers placing their trust in the written Word of God.19 He is wrong about this, as the history of the Vaudois, Albigenses, and Waldenses show. His point is that there is a shift today away from the emphasis on the authority of the Bible (he leaves out the word “alone”), just as in the time of the Reformation there was a shift away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to the Bible. His attack on Martin Luther is to show him only as an individualist who would not bow to Catholic authority–but that is not why Martin Luther is important in church history. He states that in the context of “Martin Luther’s famous individualistic statement, uttered before the Catholic authorities with whom he disagreed, expresses this shift perfectly: Here I stand. That sentence might be understood as the first statement uttered in the modern world.”20 Here McLaren uses historical fact to chip away at individual salvation, which will dovetail nicely into his argument for emphasis on universal salvation. He totally neglects the content of Martin Luther’s historic position–which was to stand for justification by faith alone based in the authority of the Bible alone. In this way, he is able to use Martin Luther as simply a man of another time, not relevant for today because that time, which he calls modern, is now over. What he has failed to comprehend is that the biblical truth that justification is by faith alone is timeless. But McLaren’s opinion falls directly in line with the 1999 concordat between the Roman Catholic Church and the German Lutheran Federation in which it was declared that Lutherans and Catholics now agree on the issue of justification by faith alone and that the Reformation was a mistake.
McLaren mum on the Inquisition
What McLaren never tells is that the authority of the Roman Papacy was not well established until near the end of the eleventh century, when by crusades and the Inquisition, the Papacy by coercion forced people to submit to her ecclesiastical dictates. Many refused. Uncountable millions were robbed, tortured, and martyred because they held to the authority of the Bible in those bloody centuries and refused to accept Roman Catholic doctrines and traditions. At one point, McLaren admits that he is being unfair in his presentation of English history, but he does not apologize or correct his illicit revision of historical fact.
Nor does McLaren mention that it was the Papacy that locked away the Bible from the common people during the Middle Ages with their version in Latin, which only the clergy could have.21 Nevertheless, it is a well established historical fact that even in the fourth century, the bishops of Milan of Northern Italy were in no way subject to the bishops of Rome. The historical record shows that they used the Bible alone as their authority, having only two sacraments, baptism and communion, prayed to God alone, and allowed no images of the Deity. 22 The Vaudois of the Cottian Alps in that same area were by the ninth century known for their apostolic faith in the Bible alone, as Claude, bishop of Turin makes clear. The tenants of these ancient churches of the Alps were well demonstrated by their faith and practice to be essentially the same as those proclaimed by the Reformers of the sixteenth century. The same is true of the Albigenses, against whom the Papacy sent its first domestic crusade in the twelfth century. Thomas M’Crie gives an amazingly similar report of historical facts regarding the pre-Reformation believers in Spain in the sixth century. 23 The historical facts show that from early on the Church of Rome was the schismatic. It remains the same today. Her corruptions-become-traditions, spread by the Papacy during the centuries of the Holy Roman Empire, are now flowering in that same Papacy’s new tactic of “ecumenical outreach”. It is an entirely logical development that the open welcome of Eastern mysticism by Vatican Council II24 into this four-hundred-fifty year old apostate system25 should transfer a yet more potent strain of mysticism through her ecumenical outreach to those who have not received a love of the truth.
McLaren plays by Vatican Council II rules
In adopting this all inclusive format, McLaren is certainly playing by the rules for dialogue laid out by Vatican Council II, which states, “Each partner [in the dialogue] should seek to expound the doctrine of his own community in a constructive manner, putting aside the tendency to define by opposition, which generally results in certain positions becoming overstressed or unduly hardened.”26 “The partners [in the dialogue] will work together towards a constructive synthesis, in such a way that every legitimate contribution is made use of, in a joint research aimed at the complete assimilation of the revealed datum.”27 McLaren is well versed in Catholic literature. In this book, the approach to his subject of dealing with conservative Protestantism is a pristine demonstration that he has successfully assimilated Vatican Council II methodology and doctrine. Rather than defining by opposition, as Bible based public discussion would require, McLaren has followed the Vatican II tactic of presenting subjective opinion in a subtle attempt to pervert biblical authority and historical fact through fictitious contrast, revisionist history, and “constructive synthesis”. He has redefined commonly understood Protestant terminology in order to claim his compromises of truth as a “legitimate contribution” that Vatican II dialogue requires of its participants. These Catholic dialogue parameters, which are the working orders of the larger context in which the Emergent Church is set, work well for both the Catholic Church and McLaren because they sow confusion and discord among believers and unbelievers alike. The Papacy is most likely the bigger winner, for McLaren will be gone in a few decades, but the walls of doctrinal separation between the Catholics and the Protestant world will have been further damaged through McLaren’s assistance. And McLaren for his part, fueled by bitterness and informed and protected under the rules of the larger context agenda, is able to implement his own goal of moving the religious global village toward a new knowledge of God through mysticism. In Part II and III we will explore these things in more detail. McLaren claims to be a true prophet by bringing in his new ideas of emergent thinking.28 The infallible Spirit of God through the Apostle Paul warned Christians about “grievous wolves…not sparing the flock.”29
Christ Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”30 Good spiritual fruit shows the nature of the doctrines that have been taught. The Holy Spirit produces spiritual fruits in those who are truly born again. There are fruits of repentance, personal faith, and deep fellowship with God and His people. New birth bears fruit in an awareness of God’s absolute Holiness, and in awareness of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. When Christ Jesus saves a person, He saves from hell and the power of sin. The Lord also delivers the true believer from the dominion of Satan and from the love of and the ways of the world. When we see in a person neither the conviction of sin, nor the fear of God, but rather both a love for the world and it methods, we “know them by their fruits”. Thus it is with McLaren. Not only do his tactics, methods, relativism and rewriting of history reveal whom he is following, but also we see much more is he revealed by what his message is missing. The Holiness of God, the conviction of sin, the fear of God, and the Gospel message are major parts of what is missing from A Generous Orthodoxy. Rather than compromise these precious tenants of the faith, the believer is to separate from those who promote such heresy by “earnestly contend[ing] for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
1 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/011/12.36.html 1/18/06
2 Vatican Council II Document No. 42, “Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue”, S.P.U.C., 15 Aug 1970, in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, ed., New Rev. Ed., Vol. I, Sec. II, pp. 540
3 G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) has been very influential in literature of the twentieth century. His book, Orthodoxy, is considered by many to be the centerpiece of his writings. McLaren’s work largely reflects both the content and style of Chesterton, who was staunchly Roman Catholic and who is aggressively promoted on the Internet and elsewhere by Catholics.
4 John Henry Cardinal Newman in the nineteenth century did the same thing in his well-known treatise, Apologia pro Vita Sua, in which he presented his arguments in the form of a testimonial. Newman started out as an Anglican prelate who wanted to become a Catholic, but in 1844 was persuaded by the Papacy to remain an Anglican. From his position, inside the Anglican Church, he was to use all his influence and power to move the Church of England back into the Roman Catholic fold. It has proven to be a very effective strategy. See Walter Walsh, The Secret History of the Oxford Movement (Swan Sonnenschein & Co.,: London, 1898).
5 Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004) p. 35 Emphasis in original.
6 A primary example of one of the Papacy’s long range plans has been its Oxford movement to reclaim England from Henry VIII’s defection in the sixteenth century. Papal plans were put in motion in 1844, using John Henry Newman as their point man within the Church of England for the express goal of subverting that body to Catholicism and thereby regain England as a Catholic country. The group Newman succeeded in establishing within the Church of England became known as Anglo-Catholics, to which belonged the famous Wescott and Hort. That movement is still progressing, although not now known by the same name.
Another example is the Papacy’s snaring of the German Lutheran Federation in a concordat signed October 31, 1999 in Augsburg, Germany. Four hundred forty-four years prior to this signing was the signing of the Treaty of Augsburg (September 25, 1555) in which Germany ratified the Peace of Passau of 1552. This completely established the Reformation by confirming the Protestant Churches of Germany in all their rights and possessions, making them entirely independent of the Pope. The basic issue was justification by faith alone, which Martin Luther had so clearly published on October 31, 1517. The basic issue of the 1999 concordat was the same issue but in 1999 it was declared that the Reformation was a mistake and that the Lutherans and Catholics now believe the same on justification. Nothing could be further from the truth; but after thirty years of dialogue with the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans compromised their historic stand for the biblical truth. The October 31st 1999 concordat, which overturned Martin Luther’s historic stand of October 31, 1517, was signed in Augsburg, the same place where the Treaty of Augsburg, declaring liberty of worship for Protestants, had been signed in 1555. In light of these historical facts, the significance of dates and places is hard to miss.
7 McLaren, pp. 22-23
9 McLaren, p. 199 Emphasis in original.
10 McLaren, p. 92
11 McLaren p 105
12 John 10:35
13 Jeremiah 23:29
14 McLaren, p 133.
15 I Corinthians 2:13
16 McLaren, p. 143
17 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Para. 113 Emphasis in original.
18 “DOMINUS IESUS” September 5th 2000 http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html
19 McLaren, p. 133.
20 McLaren, p. 132, 133
21 Thomas M’Crie recounts that in the sixteenth century in Spain, Archbishop Fernando de Talavera wanted to translate the Bible into Arabic in order to win the Moors to Christ. Cardinal Ximenes, who carried enormous influence with the Spanish government, was strenuously opposed to this because in his opinion to do so was to throw pearls before swine. Therefore, his solution was that “the sacred scriptures ought to be exclusively preserved in the three languages in which the inscription on our Saviour’s cross was written. …This opinion, of Rome, that ignorance is the mother of devotion, has met with the warm approbation of his biographer.” Further, of the vulgar or common people, the cardinal was of the opinion that “they were in danger of wresting the Scripture to their destruction…Therefore, the books which the Cardinal had promised as a substitute for the Gospels and Epistles made their appearance, consisting of treatises of mystic or rather monastic devotion, and the lives of some of its most high-flying zealots, both male and female.” Thomas M’Crie, History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Spain in the Sixteenth Century (Edinburgh: Wm Blackwood; & London: T. Cadell, 1824) Reprinted by Hartland Publications, 1998; pp. 46-47
22 Peter Allix, The Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont and of the Albigenses (1619, 1690, 1692, 1821) Reprinted by Church History Research & Archives (CHRA), 1989. Ch. III, IV. See also Jean Paul Perrin, History of the Ancient Christians Inhabiting the Valleys of the Alps (Philadelphia: Griffith & Simon, 1847). Reprinted by CHRA, 1991. Perrin, a Waldensian pastor from whom Allix got his information, attended a very important meeting which drew up six articles condemning the church of Rome as the whore in the book of Revelation and clearing the Albigenses and Waldenses of the charges of Manicheanism.
23 M’Crie, Ch. I & II.
24 Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Para. 2.
25 Council of Trent, Session XI, Jan. 13, 1547, “If anyone shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified: let him be anathema [cursed].” Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Tr. by Roy J Deferrari from Enchiridion Symbolorum, 13th ed. (B. Herder Book Co., 1957) #822, Canon 12.
26 Vatican Council II Document No. 42, V. Method of Dialogue, (b), p. 548, in Flannery
27 Ibid., (c), p. 548
28 McLaren, p. 285
29 Acts 20:29
30 Matthew 7:16
Permission is given by the author to copy this article if it is done in its entirety without any changes. Richard Bennett, Berean Beacon. The ministry’s Internet web page address is: www.bereanbeacon.org
THE EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT – Part Two:
THE REJECTION OF THE GOSPEL AND AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
by Richard Bennett
Leader of Emergent Church Movement Embraces Mysticism
The Emerging Church movement has hailed as its “manifesto” Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy. In it, McLaren explains that the genesis and title of the Emergent Church movement takes its model from the growth of a tree,
“The meaning of emergent as used in these and other settings is an essential part of the ecosystem of generous orthodoxy. A simple diagram can illustrate what we mean by emergent thinking…Each ring [of a tree] represents not a replacement of the previous rings, not a rejection of them but an embracing of them, a comprising of them and inclusion of them in something bigger…[likewise] some thought seeks to embrace what has come before–like a new ring on a tree–in something bigger. This is emergent (or integral, or integrative) thinking. Emergent thinking has been an unspoken assumption behind all my previous books….”1
While this definition gives an excellent picture of McLaren’s modus operandi, it also is the Hegelian dialectic idea2 in a different format. Such change does not describe the biblical pattern of growth that the believer experiences. The biblical pattern requires a putting away of worldly thinking and an adherence to thinking in line with the Bible, which produces godly understanding and behavior.
McLaren further states, “This God-given thirst for emergence…is causing new forms of Christian spirituality, community, and mission to emerge from modern Western Christianity…a generous orthodoxy is an emerging orthodoxy, never complete until we arrive at our final home in God.”3 Contrary to what McLaren states, new forms of Christianity are not developing. Rather, he is inserting new definitions into the classical terminology so that the words suddenly do not mean what they used to mean, thus intentionally confusing people. McLaren has stated that he was going to use devices that confuse because he thinks, “clarity is sometimes overrated.”4
McLaren is at no loss to demonstrate how his “emergent thinking” works. The object of his book is to lump all Protestants and Catholics together, which would be the new ring around the Protestant Catholic split, and to move beyond that5 into Eastern mysticism, which would be the new ring around Catholicism.
The “Solas”–the basic biblical principles utterly denied In order to accomplish his first step of lumping Protestants and Catholics together, McLaren has to redefine the Lord Jesus Christ, Holy God, biblical authority, theology, salvation, and conservative Protestant denominational distinctives. However, after the example of the Lord and the Apostles, true believers adhere to God’s written Word alone as the final authority–Sola Scriptura.6 Before the all-holy God, according to the Bible, an individual is saved by grace alone– Sola Gratia,7 through faith alone–Sola Fide,8 in Christ alone–Solo Christo.9 Following on this, all glory and praise is to God alone–Soli Deo Gloria.10 These five biblical principles, called “the solas,” are the foundation of true faith in the Lord. They are founded on Scripture, existed in the early Church, and have been the basis of all genuine biblical revivals since then. The solas were the foundational principles for which so many thousands of Evangelicals gave their lives at the stake–John Huss, William Tyndale, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Anne Askew, John Bradford, and John Philpot, to name but a few–and for which millions were martyred under various tortures during six hundred years of papal Inquisition. Nevertheless, McLaren makes it very clear that conservative Protestants will have to compromise these basic biblical principles for the sake of community; otherwise they cannot be part of his “generous orthodoxy”. According to McLaren, what we have just outlined in the solas must be discarded. Thus, he proclaims, “Calvinists in particular and fundamentalists in general” are to give up their “solas” or “alones” as distinctives because the word sola is not in the Bible.11 What he is telling the Bible believers is that they must renounce the five basic biblical principles–principles that were the distinctives, principles that separated the Reformers from the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, although McLaren has assured his readers that “emergent thinking” does not reject any of the thinking that has preceded it, yet when he applies his method, his words of assurance turn out to be of no value whatsoever.
On the most fundamental of these distinctives McLaren states, “Scripture is something God had ‘let be,’ and so it is at once God’s creation and the creation of the dozens of people and communities and cultures who produced it.”12 In this, as in most of his teaching, McLaren is in line with the Church of Rome. While Papal Rome does not say these words, she embodies the same concept when she states, “[Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God….”13 McLaren has clearly paralleled the Catholic line in attempting to equate man’s creativity on a par with God’s. The Scripture itself teaches something totally different, “…holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”.14 The Bible alone is the Word of God revealed to men as the Holy Spirit moved them. According to the Apostle Paul, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God….15 It is not as McLaren would have one believe–“the creation of the dozens of people and communities and cultures.” It is especially serious to undermine the authorship of God’s written Word. Such belittling of the authority of the written Word prevents a person from coming to knowledge of the truth and embracing it as it is in Christ Jesus. This means that McLaren’s teaching is literally soul damning because it has “taken away the key of knowledge.”16
History fabricated to meet desired ends
McLaren also lies about historical facts in order to be able to present an integrated (emergent) picture of Protestants and Catholics on the same issue. He states, “The Christian community at its best through history has always had a deep feeling and understanding for this integrated dual origin of the Scriptures…the Christian community in its Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox forms has sought to hold on to both dimensions of the origin of Scripture…to hold them together as friends, as partners, as colleagues.”17 In history, true Bible believers never bowed to the man-made notion of a “dual origin” of the Scripture. They held to the Scripture as God’s revelation alone. Many were burned at the stake for it. McLaren’s “friends, partners, and colleagues” of the Bible is nothing but a re-statement of the Roman Catholic notion that “Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are bound closely together and communicate with one another.”18 The Catholic statement and McLaren’s statement on the “integrated dual origin of the Scriptures” are in essence the same. Both are outright lies. To put away truth for these fabrications–not only of doctrinal distinctives but also of the facts of history–is what the “generous orthodoxy” requires. This is nothing new. It is simply the traditional teaching of Papal Rome using other words.
Denying the Gospel
McLaren absolutely denies the Gospel when, for example, he states,
“Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply. In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal’. It emphatically does not mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death,’ as many preachers seem to imply in sermon after sermon. Rather its meaning varies from passage to passage, but in general, in any context, save means ‘get out of trouble.’ The trouble could be sickness, war, political intrigue, oppression, poverty, imprisonment, or any kind of danger or evil.”19
Contrary to McLaren, Christ Jesus proclaimed, “I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”20The Lord Himself summarized the Gospel when He said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”21 The contrast is stark; the one who personally believes on the Son has everlasting life. The one who denies personal salvation is not only under the wrath of God, which is surely the soul’s death, but God’s wrath abides on him. McLaren has formally denied the faith. He and his followers have fulfilled the Word spoken of Scripture, that they “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”22 One can see McLaren’s heresy in other pastors and authors in the Emerging Church movement, such as Alan Jones. McLaren has endorsed Jones’ book, Re-imagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind. Alan Jones, like McLaren, rejects what is central and pivotal to the Gospel message. Jones brazenly declares, “The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.”23Jones goes on to say, “Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine.”24
As we saw above, the Lord declared, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”25 If McLaren and others, such as Alan Jones, continue to deny personal biblical salvation then they shall neither enjoy true life or happiness here nor in the world to come. Rather, they are now under the wrath of God’s condemnation. As there is no way of escaping the wrath of God but by the Lord Jesus Christ, those who will not personally trust and believe in Christ’s penal substitution in his or her place must go to eternity under the wrath of God and be cast, “into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”26 Such is the miserable condition of those who accept such teaching, i.e., denying personal salvation, which we have documented.
McLaren, however, is not concerned with hell because, he says,
“Isn’t hell such a grave ‘bottom line’ that it devalues all other values? It so emphasizes the importance of life after death that it can unintentionally trivialize life before death. No wonder many people feel that ‘accepting Jesus as a personal Savior’ could make them a worse person–more self-centered and less concerned about justice on earth because of a preoccupation with forgiveness in heaven. Again, although I believe in Jesus as my personal savior, I am not a Christian for that reason. I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.”27
In the above statement McLaren does what countless others have done before him. He remakes Jesus into a social justice mascot. “Accepting Jesus as a personal Savior” for him is not focused on “forgiveness” but rather on “justice on earth.” The Lord Himself spoke about sin before God, and He was not an advocate of “justice on earth!” He taught that “…whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin… if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”28 In this passage, the Lord showed that He was not referring to political bondage but to a person’s slavery to evil passions and desires. The Lord’s message is about the bondage to sin and of the spiritual liberty that He brings. Christ Jesus’ message is “…except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”29 It never was a call for “justice on earth.” It is interesting that the Catholic priests, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, would agree with McLaren as they wrote, “Liberation theology was born when faith confronted the injustice done to the poor.”30 Let it be clearly and emphatically stated: if Christ Jesus does not save a person spiritually, that person’s case is desperate, and he will die in his sins. McLaren’s profession, “I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world,” suggests that the whole world makes up the kingdom of God. Unless his profession is interpreted in the sense of personal repentance and salvation from sin, which he denies, McLaren’s personal salvation is a socialized reduction of the Gospel message.
The true message is the clarion call of the Lord, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”31 The Lord’s message will always be “everlasting life,” notwithstanding a thousand McLarens who try to reduce His teaching into pragmatism, i.e., “concerned about justice on earth.” McLaren needs the light of the biblical solas to draw him out from his efforts to demolish the Christian faith; but he has rather turned aside into a still darker haunt, Eastern mysticism.
The Mystic Poet
To move into mysticism, McLaren has yet another hindrance–the preaching of the Gospel and Bible truth in terms of methodical exegesis of Scripture, propositional knowledge, and systematic theology. To destroy these objective methods of preaching and teaching is necessary because mysticism is the attempt to have direct, subjective communication with Holy God, thereby taking to one’s self the role of mediator. The Bible states clearly, however, that this role is given to the Lord Jesus Christ alone–“For… there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”32
McLaren, in his chapter entitled “Why I Am Mystical/Poetic,” never formally defines what a mystic is nor quotes anybody who does. Rather, he sets up a false dialectic. McLaren writes, “This mystical/poetic approach takes special pains to remember that the Bible itself contains precious little expository prose. Rather it is story laced with parable, poem interwoven with vision, dream, opera…personal letter and public song, all thrown together with an undomesticated and unedited artistic passion.”33 For him, to preach the Gospel and Bible truth in terms that primarily address the mind is to reduce it to something scientific, mechanical, and dead. His idea is that preaching needs to be done by poets who address the emotions primarily, the direct opposite of addressing the mind. He quotes Walter Brueggemann, “Poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in a situation of reductionism, the only proclamation, I submit, that is worthy of the name preaching.”34 McLaren’s immediate comment on Brueggemann is this, “This non-prose world…is the world entered by the mystic, the contemplative, the visionary, the prophet, the poet.” His insinuation is that men of reason and logical thinking have not under stood or used poetry at all. This suggestion is patently false. Having thus created a false distinction, he now is ready for a synthesis between the two, which allows for direct communication with God. He says, “There long have been Christian traditions recognizing the profound importance of mysticism and poetry, and the corresponding limitations of rationality and prose, including the via negative–the negative way–and the hesychastic tradition, which discovers God in silence. Both traditions remind us of the limitations of language when talking about God….”35 The hesychastic tradition36 is the synthesis, or the “emergent” circle around McLaren’s misleading distinctions regarding addressing mind and emotion. Having thus been able to insert into his argument the “larger” or “emergent” idea of discovering God in silence, an Eastern monastic idea, he concludes,
“A generous orthodoxy, in contrast to the tense, narrow, controlling, or critical orthodoxies of so much of Christian history, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is humble; it doesn’t claim too much…It doesn’t consider orthodoxy the exclusive domain of prose scholars (theologians) alone, but, like Chesterton, welcomes the poets, the mystics, and even those who choose to say very little or to remain silent, including the disillusioned and the doubters. Their silence speaks eloquently of the majesty of God that goes beyond all human articulation.”37
With this, he has set the stage for mysticism and buttresses his new position by praising Ignatius of Loyola, the mystical founder of the Jesuit order and originator of the counter-Reformation–a man who died an unbeliever.38
By “emergent thinking” (the Hegelian dialectical method), McLaren has worked his argument from objective teaching to mysticism and cited Ignatius of Loyola as an example that mysticism is acceptable in the West. McLaren explains, in some detail, one of his own mystical experiences with God.
“For a period of about 20 minutes, I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water become especially eloquent with God’s grandeur…These specific, concrete things became translucent in the sense that a powerful, indescribably, invisible light seemed to shine through. The beauty of the creations around me…seemed…to explode, seemed to detonate, seemed to radiate with glory. An ecstasy overcame me that I can’t describe. It brings tears to my eyes as I sit here and type. It was the exuberant joy of simply seeing these masterpieces of God’s creation…and knowing myself to be among them. It was to be one of them, and to feel and know that ‘we’–all of these creatures, molecules, and phenomena–were together known and loved by God, who embraced us all into the ultimate ‘We.'”39
This man’s darkness is a heart breaker. He is stating that through this mystical experience he has been brought into the ultimate “We.” It cannot be so. God is holy, totally “other” than His creation. There is no direct communication between God and man. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and men. McLaren is tragically wrong about his experience, totally deceived by “the light” that made him think he is part of God. Confusion of God with His creation has ever been the hallmark of Hinduism, Buddhism, and every other form of polytheism over the centuries.
Having reduced his idea of salvation from personal to universal, having reduced God from an All Holy God to his own notion of a mere loving god, and having redefined theology from the study of God to the study of man, McLaren has also invented a “salvation” that signifies “get out of trouble.” In all of his writing, his tactic for success is the Roman Catholic methodology of ecumenism. Behind the poetry and rhetoric of McLaren’s movement is heresy. McLaren’s paradigm is in the domain of apostasy, showing by its duplicity and falseness a withdrawal and defection from the Gospel of grace. Satan’s trick is always to promote leaders who think that they are truly Christian, while at the same time they proffer new unbiblical techniques for the glorious work of Christ Jesus. Ecumenical strategy, re-defining God, a fictitious contrast replacing the Word of truth, redefining theology, rewriting history, the utter denial of basic biblical principles, and the rejection of the Gospel are just a part of what McLaren proposes. This is the deed and work of antichrist. It is the sin of a so-called “spiritual” man. Unless present day Christians take the biblical warnings with radical seriousness and examine their own hearts and households, they can be deceived by this lethal scheme. Unless this generation of the Evangelical church takes seriously the Gospel, as the Lord and His Apostles spoke it, it will become more and more part of Papal Rome. The Church of Rome has already attempted to usurp Christ’s place and His prerogatives, and far from truly representing Him, she represents His greatest enemy. If peoples succumb to the Emerging Church movement, they will be surrendering to “…the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.”40 Nothing could possibly be more descriptive of the Papacy than this. It has been kept up by deception, delusion, and its pretended growth and success. Thus, we now see the growth and success of a movement that embodies much of the strategy and teaching of Papal Rome. Many of the subtle artifices of man and various pretences of the world are evident in the Emergent Church movement, yet like the Papacy it is remarkable in its propagation. What we see is patent apostasy making shipwreck of the faith. For us, however, it is to fear the All Holy God and obey His commandment and, “hold fast the form of sound words…in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. “41 Steadfastness to the Gospel is of utmost necessity. It is dangerous when those who profess to be true Christians remain unaware of the attacks that are presently confronting the Gospel. Those who would strive for the faith of the Gospel must stand firm in it, aware of present dangers, and carry on unwavering in the hour of crisis. In the words of the Apostle, “…stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”42
(In Part III, we will document the syncretistic Catholic mysticism in the Emergent Church movement.)
1 Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004) pp. 276-278 Underlining in any quotation indicates emphasis in original text.
2 The Hegelian model starts with a thesis and then an antithesis is introduced. Finally, these two merge into a synthesis, which is a new thesis, and the whole process starts over. Marxism is based heavily on this model.
3 McLaren, pp. 284-285
4 “… places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated.” McLaren, p. 23.
5 McLaren, p. 210
6 John 10:35,17:17, Proverbs 30:5-6, I Corinthians 4:6, II Timothy 3:15-17
7 Romans. 3:24, Ephesians 2:8, 9
8 Acts 16:31, Romans. 4:5, 5:1
9 Ephesians 1:3-14, I Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12
10 I Corinthians 10: 31, Colossians 3:17
11 McLaren, p. 198
12 McLaren, p. 162
13 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) Para 81. Square brackets and italic in the original.
14 II Peter 1:20, 21
15 II Timothy 3:16, 17
16 Luke 11:52
17 McLaren, p. 162
18 Catechism, Para 80
19 McLaren, p. 93
20 Luke 12:5
21 John 3:36
22 Romans 10:3
23 Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005) p. 132
24 Alan Jones, p. 168
25 John 3:36
26 Matthew 22:13
27 McLaren, p. 100 Emphasis in the original.
28 John 8:34-36
29 Luke 13:5
30 Introducing Liberation Theology http://www.landreform.org/reading0.htm 2/10/06
31 John 3:16
32 I Timothy 2:5
33 McLaren, p. 155
34 McLaren, p. 146
35 McLaren, p. 151
36 The hesychastic tradition is basically the Eastern orthodox monastic practice.
37 McLaren, p. 155
38 See J. A. Wylie’s contrast of Ignatius of Loyola’s life and experience with his contemporary, Martin Luther, in History of Protestantism, Book Fifteenth. Originally published 1878. Reprinted by Hartland Publications, 2002. Also posted on www.bereanbeacon.org.
39 McLaren, p. 178
40 II Thessalonians 2:9
41 II Timothy 1:13
42 Philippians 1:27
Permission is given by the author to copy this article if it is done in its entirety without any changes. Richard Bennett, Berean Beacon. The ministry’s Internet web page address is: www.bereanbeacon.org
THE EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT – Part Three:
THE PROMOTION OF EASTERN MYSTICISM AND THE CATHOLIC CONNECTION
by Richard Bennett
Emerging Church Indoctrinates with Catholic Style Eastern Mysticism
“Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God”, declared the “Spirituality in America” feature article in the Aug. 29 – Sept. 5, 2005 issue of Newsweek.1 The article highlights the fact that America and much of the Western world are becoming more open to mysticism. A major factor in this is Rome’s official policy, which in 1965 formally endorsed
Hinduism and Buddhism. The Vatican officially states,
“In Hinduism, men…seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism…proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help…. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.”2
Purpose and Essence of Catholic Mysticism
Two months after the Vatican’s monumental acceptance of pagan mysticism, another well-known papal document revealed the heart of Roman Catholic policy. “It [Vatican Council II] longs to set forth the way it understands the presence and function of the [Roman Catholic] Church in the world of today. Therefore, the world which the Council has in mind is the whole human family seen in the context of everything which envelops it… This is the reason why this sacred Synod, in proclaiming the noble destiny of man and affirming an element of the divine in him, offers to co-operate unreservedly with mankind in fostering a sense of brotherhood to correspond to this destinyof theirs.”3
In order to promote the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of her role in the world, her talking point for dialogue with the Hindus and Buddhists is to affirm their ideas, specifically “an element of the divine” within mankind. If in man there were “an element of the divine”, mankind would be of the same order of being as God. Such teaching attempts to do away with the utter transcendence of God and the total depravity of man in his natural or unregenerate state. In a word, it is pantheism. The very first verse of the Bible proclaims, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”4 This is the epitome of the absolute distinction of God from all created things. The Lord God is revealed as unique and separate from His creation. The Creator and the creation are not the same. Were it not for the fact that this papal declaration of pantheism is now accepted and marketed by some modern Evangelicals, we might think that the Vatican statement was simply a seductive trapping of ecumenism packaged for Eastern paganism.
The True Basis for Fellowship with God
The doctrine of the Trinity and the Gospel are the basis of fellowship with God. Fellowship with God involves the whole of the grace and faith relationship with God on which the Gospel is based. Christians enjoy fellowship with God, which God Himself initiates, and at each stage, the Lord God is in control. The doctrine of the Trinity is the underpinning to both Christian faith and Christian experience. The glorious life of the Godhead is foundational to the Christian life. The Father, in the pages of Scripture, is revealed as the One who initiates the whole message of salvation. He is the one who has chosen a people, and He is the one who selected His Son to redeem and save them by means of His perfect life and sacrifice. The Gospel and Christian living depends wholly and completely on the nature of the Father when revealed as the God of love. The Christian experience depends entirely on Christ Jesus being full of grace and truth. The work of the Holy Spirit in Christian experience consists in communicating and making known to the believer the love of the Father and the grace of the Son. The Holy Spirit is the principal and fountain of all genuine Christian living. In this life, He is the controller and source of the communion we have with God. Fellowship with God is the excellent privilege of the Gospel. It is based on the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Due to a sinful nature, no man has any communion with God, “… they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”5 The Lord God is light; we are darkness. Light has no communion with darkness. He is Life, we are dead in trespasses and sins; there can be no accord between us. In the first place, the giving of grace is the only way into fellowship with God. God does not entrust grace to any technique or strategy of man but to Christ Jesus alone. Herein lies the root problem with the modern seeker-sensitive approach to the Christian faith. One must be in Christ before he can “… have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him [Christ Jesus].”6 For sinners to have fellowship with the infinitely all Holy God, there is the need for the direct work of Christ Jesus. This communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the very heart of the New Testament message. In the words of the Apostle, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.”7 Thus, life of the Godhead and the Gospel of grace are foundational to the whole of Christian life. This vital message is not simply missing from the present day advocates of the Emerging Church movement; rather it is contradicted, inverted, and reversed at times in utterly blasphemous ways.
Mystic Syncretism Popularized for Youth
Tony Jones is the U.S. National Coordinator of Emergent-US and minister to youth at Colonial Church of Edina in Minnesota. He is a regular speaker at Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Conventions. Jones was also respected enough in his field to be one of the featured seminar presenters for the Zondervan National Pastors Conference in February 2006. The back cover of his 2003 book, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality And Contemplative Practices In Youth Ministry, states that this book “is hands down the most comprehensive primer on the study and use of spiritual and contemplative practices for the benefit of your teenagers–and especially your own soul.”8 The book specifically targets youth ministers and pastors. Even Jones’s recommendation of Meister Eckhardt’s Collected Works as “a mystical treatise…with an emphasis on God’s indwelling of humanity”9 is enough to forewarn a true Christian of the latent pantheism.
No testimony of salvation in Christ Jesus
In neither of his two books, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality And Contemplative Practices In Youth Ministry (2003) and The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (2005), does Jones present the Gospel. Like so many leaders in the Emergent Church, his personal testimony is not of being a convicted sinner without hope before the all Holy God and in that conviction coming to Christ as the only Savior. Rather, in Chapter 1, “The Quest for God”, Jones’ testimony shows that in 2005 he is still fumbling in the darkness of unbelief.
“[Some of us] have this nagging feeling that God is following us around, nudging us to live justly, and expecting us to talk to him every once in a while…Every time I leave God’s side, as it were, it’s not too long until I feel God tagging right along beside me, I can’t seem to shake him. Yet having this sense of God’s company doesn’t necessarily translate to a meaningful spiritual life. I know this because despite my awareness of God’s presence, I have spent most of my life trying to figure out what to do about it.”10
This sad testimony is of a man who is not “in Christ”, and yet he is one of the leading lights of the Emergent Church movement in making and disseminating materials for youth pastors and youth groups.
Of his growing up in a Protestant church, he says, “I’d say there was one word that summed up my religious life: obligation.”11 Predictably, he fell away from his pattern of obligatory prayer, Bible reading, and “quiet time”, but felt guilt ridden about it. His solution:
“Something occurred to me: People have been trying to follow God for thousands of years…Maybe somewhere along the line some of them had come up with ways of connecting with God that could help people like me…I could think of no better way to spend it [his three month sabbatical] than to travel and read about different ancient ways of prayer and devotion.”12
His travels took him to round the clock prayer vigils and to Dublin, Ireland, to Catholic priest Alan McGuickian and the staff at the Jesuit Communication Centre. He “voraciously read” Roman Catholic mystics and spoke with individuals who were Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. Nowhere does he mention any in-depth study of the Bible nor of searching after the great truths of Scripture. In this way, his searching is reminiscent of Ignatius of Loyola13 and it is noteworthy that he recommends the disciplines of the founder of the Jesuits to youth pastors and youths to learn and practice. What is clear from his statements is that “obligation” remains major in his understanding of what it means to be a Christian–but what becomes equally clear is that he has no dependable knowledge of God from God. That is, he has no knowledge of God through the Bible as revelation by His Spirit. Because Jones does not hold to the Bible alone as giving truthful knowledge of God, God Himself remains a truth undefined. Thus Jones is free to define his own god and to fulfill his obligation to this god of his own making.
Thus by making Roman Catholic and Greek tradition his current standard, he is able to fulfill what he sees as his obligation in a supposedly time-honored and acceptable way through these old, mostly Roman Catholic mystical exercises. Yet clearly before the All Holy God, he is still an alien and a stranger to saving grace in Christ Jesus.
Jones’s definition of “Christian” needs careful attention. In The Sacred Way, he states,
“For years I’d been told that to be a Christian meant I had to do three things: (1) read the Bible, (2) pray, and (3) go to church. But I had come to the realization that there must be something more. And indeed there is. There is a long tradition of searching among the followers of Jesus–it’s a quest, really, for ways to connect with God…The quest is to know Jesus better, to follow him more closely, to become–in some mysterious way–wrapped into his presence. And I thank God that some of these brilliant and spiritual persons wrote down what they learned.” (pp. 16-17)
What is missing in Jones’s definition of following Jesus more closely is any conviction of sin and therefore any need for a Savior. Without the conviction of sin one does not have life in Christ Jesus. The Lord declared that the Holy Spirit “will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”14 Conviction is the Spirit’s work; He does it effectually, and none but He can open the mind and heart of a sinner to saving faith. Jones appears to be totally unaware of this, for he says nothing about the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, or about the Holy Spirit’s role of conviction. Jones is not a “follower of Jesus” in any biblical sense since his god is not the All Holy God of the Bible. His “Jesus”, therefore, is not the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible.
“A zeal of God, but not according to knowledge”
Jones does state, however, that he feels “that the road to inner peace and connection with our Creator is through Jesus.”15 But at the same time he also says, “the point of these practices is to draw me into a deeper relationship with the Christian God.” While recommending these mystical practices, he clearly states that he really cannot say why he has found them so helpful and does not know why they work, but that they do work. Then he states,
“I think they work because of Jesus. I’m afraid you’re not going to get much more explanation from me than that. Still, I think that something about Jesus…inspired the people who developed these disciplines centuries ago. He led them on this quest, which really is unique to Christianity. For only in Christianity is there the belief that the one, true God came to earth as a human being, and that, to this day, we can know him in as personal a way as the disciples who shared lunch with him 2,000 years ago. That is, Christians engage in these spiritual practices not out of duty or obligation but because there is a promise attached: God will personally meet us in the midst of these disciplines. It’s really pretty crazy when you think about it–… some of the saints who favored these disciplines were driven to extremes that their contemporaries considered mad. (St. Francis preached to the birds in the forest–in the nude)…traditional Christian practice [of the mystical disciplines] is…about a way of life and faith that has been honed by the centuries. It is a way–the way–to live in the sacredness of God.“16
For Jones, as with Catholic and Greek mystics, conviction by the Holy Spirit through the written Word has become irrelevant because they do not believe that God has revealed true propositional knowledge about Himself through the Scripture alone. They have neglected His call, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”17. Rather than engaging their minds over the issue of their sin and need for perfect righteousness before the All Holy God, they seek a subjective meeting with God through spiritual exercises– practices that do not engage the mind according to biblical truth as presented in the written Word. When this so-called union is purportedly experienced, a sense of spiritual fulfillment is felt. This subjective experience (called “enlightenment”) is an attempt to replace Christ Jesus the Lord as the only way to communicate with God. Thus Jones’s above statement is a formal denial of the Lord. Fallen man cannot communicate with God other than through Christ Jesus, who is the only Mediator, the only way. Christ Jesus’ own declaration puts to death all subjective mystical experiences as means of reaching the Father, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”18 The Lord Jesus Christ is the All Holy God’s loving, and only, answer to every man’s sin and need of perfect righteousness.
Historically, the spiritual practices of which Jones writes came from and flourished under the monastic system. These mystical practices went hand in hand with the ascetical practices that prevailed in Egypt and over the East. The fundamental principle behind them was the philosophy that the flesh was the seat of evil, and, consequently to meet God one must first mortify the body and at the same time engage in spiritual rituals whereby man can find God.
Past apostasy comes alive in the present In Soul Shaper, Tony Jones advocates sixteen “ancient-future” spiritual tools or disciplines such as “The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, Silence and Solitude, Stations of the Cross, Centering Prayer, The Ignatian Examen, and the Labyrinth”. Assuming that the Roman Catholic-Evangelical split over the Gospel is a thing of the past, Jones begins defining his “postmodern” approach to youth ministry by combining aspects of what he sees as common spirituality in Evangelicalism, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions along with Eastern religious practices gleaned from Buddhism and Hinduism. Tony Jones’s involvement with youth ministry and leaders of youth ministry is particularly dangerous. This is because of his use of obscure heretical practices from Papal Rome, which he then passes off on the unsuspecting as if he has rediscovered a long hidden spiritual treasure for a “postmodern” Christianity. His major goal is to make his very Roman Catholic view of the “past come alive in the present”19–something Bible believers should consider carefully, especially regarding his very young audience.
What is so hazardous is that most youth ministers are not familiar enough with the history of the Christian Church to recognize that Jones is selling them a bill of spiritually bankrupt goods. Moreover, pastors within the mainstream of the Evangelical church are also being taught these practices at such places as Zondervan National Pastors Conference 2006. Regrettably, Tony Jones misleads pastors and youth when he writes of “the saints of the Christian church who have over the past two millennia labored at practicing and perfecting these disciplines.”20 He also states, “One of the things you may have to leave at the front cover is denominational bigotry. A lot of the practices herein will seem very ‘Catholic’ or very ‘Eastern Orthodox,’ and if you aren’t from one of those traditions, remember this: before 1054 we were all Catholic/Orthodox! That’s right–for the first half of Christian history, there was one church, and most of the practices in this book are from that time.”21 Jones is not drawing from genuine Christian history before 1054. Clearly, he has taken his history from the apostate Roman Catholic Church, conveniently forgetting the Vaudois, the Waldenses, the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Spanish believers, and many others who in the first eleven centuries never followed the mystic practices the papacy has consistently promoted since the Dark Ages.
The Catholic mystic, Thomas ˆ Kempis (1380-1471) has had a primary influence upon Tony Jones. Each chapter in Soul Shaper opens with a quote from Kempis. In fact Jones writes, “Thomas ˆ Kempis has guided us throughout our exploration of ancient spiritual practices” (p. 254). In commenting on his book, Jones says, “This book is long on history and theology” (p. 19). The history and theology he presents, however, have a distinct and singular Roman Catholic bias. His section of recommended reading is a virtual all-star roster of mystics of mostly Roman Catholic vintage. Among those he encourages youth ministers to read are “Ignatius of Loyola, Catherine of Siena, Henri Nouwen, John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Theresa of Lisieux and George Fox.” (pp. 252, 253)
More developed and lethal mystic syncretism
The Gospel message is open, plain and straightforward. Tony Jones’s message, however, in his 2005 book The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life is even more artful and disguised than his Soul Shaper book. In The Sacred Way, Jones advocates the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and such mystical and Roman Catholic practices as the Labyrinth, Centering Prayer, the Stations of the Cross and the Jesus Prayer. The dishonest substitution of Roman Catholic mystical methods for the straightforward proclamation of the Gospel of grace and fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the spiritual black hole into which Tony Jones is leading his readers.
The operating principle of Tony Jones’s mystical philosophy is his endorsement of the humanistic message and technique of Ignatius of Loyola. Here Jones emphasizes the Jesuit founder’s use of visualization and human choice in order to overcome evil and to be the person one wants to be. Thus in Chapter 8 of Soul Shaper, “The Ignatian Examen”, Jones declares,
“From the first day, meditating on the Incarnation and nativity of Jesus, through the final meditation focused on the week leading up to Palm Sunday, the retreatant imagines Lucifer arrayed with all of his forces in one plain, ready to do battle, and Jesus and his forces lined up against him. By the end of this week, Ignatius says the retreatant will be ready to make Election–that is, to choose which army she wants to be a part of, to choose what kind of a person she wants to be.” (p. 92)
This is openly and unmistakably to place oneself in what the Lord classified as, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” in contrast to, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”22 Man’s own election, or his choice of his own destiny, is manifestly presented as the starting point of what is alleged to be Christian salvation. This is in stark opposition to the Apostle Paul’s statement that salvation is by “the election of grace”. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”23 Salvation and fellowship with God is by His gracious or merciful choosing, that is, election; and not by any maneuver of man.
Jones also teaches gross idolatry. He promotes images that are forbidden by the Lord, implying that God’s holy presence is to be seen in the icon. Like Brian McLaren, he makes his position known by quoting others who hold the same position without ever presenting the biblical position. In The Sacred Way, he quotes an Eastern Orthodox woman who says,
“The sober presence of the Lord in an icon makes us uncomfortable because it makes us realize how far short we fall from the ineffable beauty and power of God…. The steady, unsettling gaze of the Lord in an icon is like the gaze of a surgeon as he looks at a patient’s wounded, broken body. The surgeon understands the woundedness better than the patient does, and he knows exactly what it will take to heal it. Our Lord sees brokenness and failures in us that we can’t, that we simply won’t, that we could not bear to see. And he invites us to open ourselves to his healing, a healing that will progress very gently, very gradually, as we are able to bear it.” (pp. 98-99)
Rather than exposing this sentimental notion of an icon as a substitute for conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, leading to repentance and salvation in Christ alone, Jones uses this “castle-in-the-air” to soften his audience to the use of icons. He then builds his case for idolatry citing Catholic legends and modern Catholics as his authority because although he does not say so, he has found it necessary to bring in his own mediator, the form of which is an icon. He states,
“The Catholic belief [is] that Christians can pray through saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, and their prayers will be delivered to the throne of God…The bottom line is that we use icons to pray, but we pray through them, not to them….Since we believe that those who have died in faith are currently living in eternity with God, praying through an icon of a saint is simply asking one of these friends to pray for me.”
This is exactly the issue in Exodus 32 when Aaron made a golden calf for the worship of Holy God. They surmised that they were not worshipping the calf; rather they were using it to worship Holy God. Their worship was supposedly going through the image to God. Exodus 20:4-5 specifically forbids the making of these images, a reminder that is much needed today. Because he claims that we are in the postmodern age, which de facto means post-Gospel, and has rationalized by legend and Catholic tradition that icons are acceptable, he counsels,
“In order to incorporate praying with icons into your personal devotional life, the first item of business is to get an icon…. Shadows are never seen in an icon, and no source of light illuminates the subject’s face. The icon itself is a source of light…an icon is not meant to be a depiction of a normal human being but of Jesus or Mary or a saint in their resurrected state.”24
Thus Tony Jones, turning his back on conviction of sin through the preaching of the Word of God, endorses forbidden images as being good for a person’s spiritual life; but the Lord God says those who use such images hate him, and He will visit their iniquity upon them to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:4-6).
In the Epilogue to his two books, in the sections called “Developing a Rule of Life”, Jones urges his readers to place their faith in the religious exercises, “Following some experience with the ancient practices outlined in this book, you may decide to incorporate some of them into your personal Rule of Life. An example of a rule could look something like this: Pray through two centuries of the Jesus Prayer in the morning and evening every day. Keep the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday every week. Walk a labyrinth once a month. Take a two-day silent retreat once a year. Fast and walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent. Take a 28-day Ignatian retreat every decade….”25 His final platitude is simply on the level of feeling,
“We have lots of options in our ministries, but developing a disciplined spiritual life isn’t one of them. That is, it isn’t optional. It’s mandatory…Slow down. Listen to God. Be silent. Meditate. Make the Stations. Stare at the icon. And there, do you feel it? The divine light of the Risen Christ flickering within you, slowly building to a roaring fire….”26
To all this, the Lord thunders through His Word, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”27 One would have to say that the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland has more to offer. The notions that Jones advances are merely the inventions of men and are certainly not by divine revelation of the Bible. They are but proud conceits from the Roman Catholic tradition “intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”28 These traditional Catholic practices that Jones so warmly promotes may have an appearance of spirituality but they have been found throughout history, and even again in our own day, simply to deceive by leading into pride and sin. In effect, Jones disclaims Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. One of the greatest denigrations of Christ Jesus is to attempt to interject some other mediator between God and His creation; and Jones has done this unashamedly. Yet as Jones has already shown in his own case, when men let go of the knowledge of Christ Jesus as the only Mediator, they become entrapped within the traditions of men and the bankruptcy of worldly spirituality. Jones makes mystical exercises seem so worthy that by endorsing Catholic mysticism, idolatry and fleshly devotions, he can easily bewitch those who read or try to implement his teaching. The relic-artifacts of Catholicism, presented by Jones as appropriate to the postmodern period, are absolutely opposed to biblical truth. The Lord God’s command is that believers are to be “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”29
Communion with God is a participation in eternal life by grace through faith. Such communion is not achieved by imagination, visualizations, solitude, or mystical formulas. False teachers such Tony Jones and Brian McLaren have attempted to supplant the Gospel by seducing multitudes with doctrines that can damn their souls for all eternity. Christ Jesus the Lord warned that, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”30 The present day Emerging Church movement is full of deceitful “contemplative practices”. Only by taking heed to the counsel of the Lord can His followers escape ruin. The danger of the Emerging Church’s type of spirituality is that it replaces the certainty of the written Word with subjective experiences. Jones and other leaders of the movement teach that “spiritual practices” can bring an awareness of God wherein morality and keeping the commandments of God are not mentioned. True coming to God is by trusting on the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ that includes repentance and forsaking of sin. If Evangelicals follow the teachings of Jones, it will inevitably lead to asceticism and immorality, a fact of prior church history, by those who practiced such things. Christ Jesus proclaims in His Word “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear… take heed what ye hear.”31 Not only are we to hold to the Gospel, but also the Lord commands us to give due regard to what we hear. To be true to the Lord, we must be perceptive to what is happening and diligent to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”32
1 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9024914/site/newsweek/ 1/5/06
2 No.56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Oct 28,
1965, in Documents of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, Ed.,
New Revised Ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984) Para. 2.
3 Vatican II Document No. 64, Gaudium et Spes, 7 Dec. 1965 in Flannery, Vol. I, Sec. 2, 3 pp. 904-5.
Bolding in any quotation is added in this presentation.
4 Genesis 1:1
5 Romans 8:8
6 Ephesians 3:12
7 II Corinthians 13:14
8 Tony Jones, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality And Contemplative Practices In Youth Ministry (Zondervan, 2003)
9 Ibid., p. 252
10 Tony Jones, The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005) p. 15
11 The Sacred Way, p. 15
12 Ibid., p. 16
13 Ignatius’s search began by reading stories of the Catholic saints, and attending to images, all of which fed his wild imagination with mystical fervor. None of these things brought salvation, Ignatius died unsaved.
14 John 16:8
15 The Sacred Way, p. 17
16 The Sacred Way, pp. 18-19
17 Isaiah 1:18
18 John 14:6
19 Soul Shaper, back cover
20 The Sacred Way, p. 21
21 Soul Shaper, Introduction, p.20 22 John 3:6
23 Romans 11:5-6
24 The Sacred Way, p. 103 Antidote: Christ Can’t Be Pictured by Virgil Dunbar available on www.bereanbeacon.org
25 Sole Shaper, p. 233
26 The Sacred Way, pp. 198-199; Soul Shaper, p. 233-234
27 Job 38:2
28 Colossians 2:18
29 II Corinthians 10:5
30 Matthew 24:11
31 Mark 4:23,24
32 Philippians 1:27
Permission is given by the author to copy this article if it is done in its entirety without any changes. Richard Bennett, Berean Beacon. The ministry’s Internet web page address is: www.bereanbeacon.org