04 November 2010

Something You Need to Read

by Phil Johnson




ere's an excellent paper on a vital topic many Christians are either blithely unaware of or callously unconcerned about:


From Mysticism to the Gospel, by Paul Dan
(pdf file)

It's a sane and measured critique of contemplative mysticism, together with an insightful account of how the Reformation impacted Eastern Orthodoxy (and how the "Orthodox" mainstream rejected the Reformation). It also is an effective critical analysis of the Emerging/Emergent/Evangelical-Charismatic/YoungRestlessReformed love affair with dangerous forms of contemplative mysticism.

Read it, and feel free to respond.

Phil's signature

62 comments:

John said...

The risk of being an early poster on an article of this length will indicate that I did not read everything Paul Dan had to write. Having said that, while many have spoken out against this, I have not seen much connecting mysticism, EO and theosis. So, thanks to Paul Dan for something I will read in detail.

Mysticism is everywhere these days. It's openly promoted from many so-called evangelical pulpits.

Anyone see the connection to the theosis leanings/teachings of the Wesleys?

Patience said...

Ditto what John said.

Thanks for posting the link to that paper Phil.

Bit of light reading tomorrow ;-)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks Phil for posting this.

Did a quick 20 minute scan. I thought this section was illuminating: "Errors and various degrees of apostasy among Evangelical Leaders"

Also, Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries has been warning about Contemplative Spiritual Prayer, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard for a long time.

sonofthunder7 said...

tldr;

(kidding!)

But seriously, about half-way in now. Learned far more about Quakers than I really wanted to know(scary - I didn't know how far out they really were). It's a bit creepy thinking about how pervasive mysticism is becoming in certain circles. Some people are quite good at painting it with a light veneer of "Christian" words and phrases. All the more dangerous.

Thanks for the link, even though I can't say it's exactly enjoyable.

(Word verification: "uncert". Hmm...)

stratagem said...

I agree, I have benefitted greatly from Pastor Silva's teachings on this subject over the past several years. I got my eyes opened to this when the church we were attending five years ago started promoting contemplative prayer in a stealthy way among the youth, as a way of converting the church over to a liberal mindset.
I think the section on CP starting on p. 43 is excellent in its advice.

Stephen said...

From page 44:

It’s about time for parents to fire the pseudo-parenting methods such as the TV, computers, Ipods, their kids’ entourage, and really daily care for their own. It may occur also for many young ladies who profess Christianity that it is the case to dress properly. It is also the time for young Christian males to sober up and stop dragging their feet and dress like homeless. There are no excuses to put a premium on stupidity under the guise of teenage show off.
It’s about time for many pastors to step down from the stardom and be normal citizens. A true shepherd is formed through trials not through comfort. Let us not forget about church boards that run the churches as a business. They have to really repent on that. The church is not
meant to be a spiritual factory that puts out programs and cookie-cutter-shaped-worldly Christians.


This is a very nice rant, but I don't know if he doesn't get a little too swift for his own feet here. There may be a connection between mysticism and worldliness, namely sin, but I didn't think that was the topic of his paper.

stratagem said...

It wasn't the topic, but it's pretty good advice nonetheless.

Stefan said...

Phil:

Thank you very much for this. I had an interest in Eastern Orthodox mysticism on and off, for a number of years before I was saved. This is a very thorough paper, setting out exactly what the problems are.

There are some really good gems on there, like setting out the principles of "Salvation in Biblical Terms" on pages 87 to 90: it briefly describes a number of key biblical themes (covenant, sacrifice, faith/trust, and so on).

Stefan said...

Stephen:

It seems the author's point is that we don't like the messy, hard business of practical holiness, of the mortification of the flesh within the context of a life of work, marriage, and spiritual disciplines, lived out in this modern society.

We want the spiritual shortcut: the way to quick "enlightenment"; to instant holiness. And so we are easily seduced by techniques that deceive us into thinking that they will give us that.

In my own personal, fallible opinion, the other problem is that the modern "Christian" "church" is focused on everything except the Cross of Christ, the Gospel, and the life of discipleship the New Testament writers call us to.

The lack of spiritual depth—the lack of anchoring ourselves in the Spirit-breathed Word—in the modern "church" opens up a vacuum, in which heterodox beliefs and techniques can easily find a welcome audience.

Jason Woelm said...

Phil,

Thanks for bringing this well-written paper to light. I'll enjoy reading it today and this weekend.

I think that this resource, along with A Time of Departing and For Many Shall Come in My Name by Ray Yungen, will be great resources that the church will need to use to wake up from their slumber. The tidal wave has already overtaken most seminaries. I remember taking Spiritual Formation while I was attending Liberty. Most of my papers consisted of going to the biblical text to refute the authors I had to read. The warnings I sounded to my classmates and my professor fell on deaf ears. I pray that this warning will not.

Rachael Starke said...

Stephen,

I went and read just that one page because I wanted to check the context and make sure it was a direct quote before I commented further.

Having done that, and admittedly having read just that one page in full,as well as scanning the table of contents,

the topic seems compelling, and the data seems convincing,

but the structure of it, the formatting, and the writing (on that one page, at least) are really poor.

I respect the argument completely; I'd respect it more if it was offered a little more coherently.

I'd also be interested in seeing if there's anywhere in it where he also addresses the sins of lifeless preaching and worship which drive many starving souls to look for transcendence elsewhere. (Given that I'm a graduate of the Frank Turk School of Considering the Sins of My Own Congregation, and Mine, First. :) )

Stefan said...

Rachael:

It's true that it's not the best organized or formatted paper out there, unfortunately, and that some of what he writes verges away from clear argument and towards polemics.

Nevertheless, the sheer depth and breadth of the content makes up for it: I've never seen so much substantive material packed together in one place like that! And the broad outline is this: Part 1 covers the history of mysticism within the western church, and especially in contemporary Protestantism; part 2 gives the historical and theological background.

Just upon a quick skimming this morning, I have already read a lot in his paper about the historical development and practice of E.O. mysticism (the Desert Fathers; hesychasm; etc.) and its role within the E.O. church; of theological debates within the historic small-c catholic church; of the specific errors that mysticism holds to and teaches; of the history of various mystical movements in western Christianity—and quite a bit on the specific ways in which contemplative spirituality is making inroads into the modern church.

The author himself comes out an Eastern Orthodox context (Romania), and as way of background, even provides some history of the rise of evangelicalism within 20th-century Romania: a country with a relatively thriving Protestant church today.

fromabove said...

I echo Rachael's comment.

Moreover, while there is some worthwhile material here, you have to sort through a lot of chaff to find it.

The need for a good editor, frequent resort to watchblogger-like guilt by association, and alarmist tone tend to undermine the credibility of the author's arguments.

Stefan said...

Fromeabove:

I spent much of my adult life thinking that mysticism is the highest, most perfect form of Christianity, and sought out a mystical relationship with God.

I've read the Desert Fathers, and prayed the Jesus Prayer (though not to the extent that monks do/did: see pages 75 to 76). I read Theresa of Avila years ago.

Although I see now that mysticism tends towards self-indulgence, pietistic self-righteousness, and withdrawl from the world, I have still wondered why the watchbloggers are so seemingly obsessed with it: because they fear Roman Catholic infiltration of the church, or what?

But the paper seems to make the case quite clearly that the spritual techniques that are espoused and practiced (especially in the Eastern Orthodox church, but as they have been transferred over to the western church as well) and the "theology" behind them have absolutely nothing to do with any form of biblical Christianity.

And just as Eastern Orthodoxy has influenced evangelicalism, so too has Quakerism, and so the author devotes quite a bit of text to the history and rise of Quakerism as well, and its modern revival.

Yes, the paper is poorly organized; although I notice that at the end of most sections, the author indicates what he is going to discuss and why, and what the logical connection is between the two sections.

Stefan said...

...what he is going to discuss next and why....

And I'm still going to eat Quaker otmeal.

Aaron Snell said...

I'll third the opinion that there's decent content here, but he needs an editor. Is this a graduate dissertation, and if so, where was it submitted?

jbboren said...

I'm with Rachael on this...it is in serious need of serious editing.

Plus, there are a LOT of unsubstantiated historical claims in the second half that have no references. Without references, it is basically worthless.

Phil, did YOU read this first?

Stefan said...

So all my enthusiastic comments here must make me look like a fool.

Am I reading a different paper from the rest of you? The last 20 pages of the paper are footnotes, preceded by an 8-page annotated bibliography.

Furthermore, the history and theology described in part 2 is all over the Internet. Search for hesychasm, "prayer of the heart," "Gregory of Palamas," or "uncreated light," and start digging.

Of all the folks here, I should be the quickest to dismiss the writer out of hand, given my own prior biases to this form of "Christianity," from before I was saved. But what he writes rings true.

So the man is a self-published author, and doesn't have a whole staff of proofreaders, authors, and publishers to help him a polished book. He clearly went to great pains, however, to synthesize his research, assemble it into a coherent whole, and go to the trouble of publishing it online.

If we're going to tear this paper to shreds, let's do it on the basis of actual errors; and apart from actual errors, extended the author some grace, instead of dismissing his work out of hand because it doesn't meet our bibliophilic standards.

jbboren said...

Stefan,

Not citing references is an 'actual error'.

Rachael Starke said...

Stefan,

Seeing the additional comments, I am feeling slightly sorry for our dear brother Paul. The ESL factor does help explain some of the verbiage issues.

Phil is, no doubt, doing many other things today which are more important and needed for the church and to put food on the table. IOW, that he didn't note any caveats, or even the intended audience, is far more likely due to a busy day.

More to consider, but I have parent teacher conferences to get to.

I agree wholeheartedly that this is a vital topic. There certainly aren't a lot of people writing about it, at either the scholarly or the pastoral level.

This piece is an attempt. It is obviously a serious attempt. The question is, whether it's successful, or could be much better.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Jbboren: "Phil, did YOU read this first?"

Stefan: "So all my enthusiastic comments here must make me look like a fool."

ROFLOL!!

It's alright Stefan. Even when you're a fool, we still love ya, man.

Stefan said...

J.B. Boren:

Are the 20 pages of footnotes insufficient? Has the author written something that contradicts church history? Cursory searching on the Internet will bear out much of what he's written.

I spent quite a bit of time when I was younger, learning about the Jesus Prayer, the practice of "hesychasm," and the history behind it, because I was genuinely interested in it at the time; I haven't yet seen anything Paul has written which contradicts anything I've previously read.

I cannot possibly vouch that what he's written is entirely error-free, but if we're going to dismiss someone whose theology we agree with so conveniently, then no wonder those whose theology we disagree with try to deflect our complaints by saying that we haven't seriously engaged with what they have to say.

Melinda said...

I spent the morning reading up to page 40 and will try to finish later tonight. Like others said, the paper is in need of a good editor, but I'm going to cut him some slack on that one.

I found his work to be extremely helpful as he pieced together the history of Christian mysticism. There are elements of these practices seeping into my church, even within the last few months.

I appreciated his strong warning, especially when tolerance for bad theology is at an all time high.

Aaron Snell said...

Stefan,

Who said anything about writing him off? We just are noting the serious need of editing in a paper that looks like it is intended to be an academic/scholarly paper. The content is often good, as I said.

noheresy said...

Hello everyone,

Allow me to clarify certain issues in relation to my essay. As you may have read in my testimony in the essay, I am originally from Romania. So I have firsthand knowledge of the consequences of mysticism at the national level in my country. I have to be very specific- there are different degrees of mysticism among Romanians.
The one crucial book that will really help you understand the gravity of EO mysticism which now penetrates Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism, is the book written by Vladimir Lossky, "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church". If we are going to be very technical, mysticism equals occultism. Mysticism is a covert attack on the sufficiency of the Scriptures and the Reformation principles.

Now concerning the issue of textual clarity, there is need for editing, but I did my research and writing in the midst of a lot of trials. The Lord taught me several lessons among which were: humility, living by faith, being despised by relatives and believers alike because we are a large family with small revenue. The work you read is just my well documented essay which Pastor Phil Johnson decided to make available for reading and discussions. Thank you Phil! I am glad there is a lot of activity stirred up by the content. I will take into consideration all your comments.

Respectfully in Christ,
Pastor Paul Dan

David Sheldon said...

The current craze of “Christian” Mysticism and “Evangelical” Spiritual Formations in the western church is absolutely without any shred of a doubt the cloak of demonic delusion that has been placed over top of our evangelical churches. (Let me check with my editor – okay – she gets it.) The false doctrines in these items are a thorough undermining of Sola Scriptura and Solus Christus! So we must make sure we do not simply “mouth” these solas and then jump/dive into a river/fellowship of seducing spirits that are in actuality taking us away from those truths! Many of us have been warning about these items on websites and blogs over the years.

Hopefully brother Paul Dan’s article is the slap in the face we need. Get it dear saints. A different spirit is “hijacking” our beautiful inheritance!!! If we understand the inheritance we have in the Reformers, we will gain an appreciation of the ministry of Word AND Spirit which make known to us the real Lord Jesus Christ – Our Sole Mediator. That is our struggle – so I hope we all join in please.

This is an incredibly informative and important article. I mean incredibly so!!! We do not currently comprehend how pervasive this issue is in our churches. That is probably why it is being shared. It seems to me under cursory examination that our dear brother from Romania has a ton of stuff accurate. The article has incredible theological, historical and practical insight that I am sure came through the illumination of the Spirit in his long study of Scripture and the author’s own historical studies and context/struggle. THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!! I am sure your struggle for His Name has been personally costly and I appreciate it as your brother in Christ. We in the west have been too busy smelling the coffee – hopefully we will be willing to pay a similar price in our culture that our Romanian brethren have paid in theirs. And if I have to choose between an “easy” read and a “must” (need per title) read – I will pick “must” any day.

Stefan said...

Pastor Paul:

Thank you for your comment here, and for all the work you clearly put into your paper.

May God glorify Himself through your ministry, and may He bless you abundantly, even in the midst of your trials.

SPQR said...

Brother John MacArthur wrote an excellent book that addresses the perils of mysticism in Our Self-Sufficiency in Christ. Mysticism is anti-Christ, be it Eastern Orthodox (EO), charismatic, emergent, Sufi Islam, New Age, etc.

Brother Paul Dan does a fine job of analyzing the topic from another angle. Also note his irenic tone in addressing some of his former profs at Biola. Biola itself had an issue with a Greek Orthodox prof who later was dismissed - another Biola prof wrote a paper that denied the compatibility of EO with the Gospel of Christ.

How sad that certain Biola profs uphold mysticism (de facto EO) and deny the Gospel.

From what I have read of Brother Dan's analysis on EO, brothers in Russia and Serbia would agree with his analysis. It is a dark manmade religion that is pagan philosophy, not Christianity.

noheresy said...

Dear brothers and sisters,

I apologize for intervening again, but I felt compelled to make a few more remarks. I want to stop after this intervention, because the arena belongs to the readers.
First, Stephen, thank you for your feedback and several precise theological points you made, which helps the overall understanding of the issues. You went through mysticism at a deep level, so you understand the matters very well. In what capacity do you minister in your area?
Praise God for all of you who contributed to the discussion until now. This is a rare occurrence, since most Evangelicals are busy with entertainment and non-Christian issues.

Brother Sheldon’s comment was right on. His expression that “the insight came through the illumination of the Spirit, based on the study of the Scripture” is very accurate.
I prayed that the Lord would make available the best sources. A lot of people prayed for me while I was doing my work. When you enter the maze of Patristic theology, unless the Lord guides you, you will never come out. It is designed in such a way that it will keep people locked into endless speculations.
You will be shocked to learn that there is more honesty on Patristics, among secular authors from universities like Fordham, Drew, and the like, than among professors of theology from Evangelical seminaries. The issue is not Evangelical incompetence; but political correctness about the Church Fathers, Desert Fathers, and mysticism. Such Christian professors want to please their Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic counterparts. There are just a handful of theological schools in the U.S. today, which have not either created a department of Spiritual Formation or brought in a professor of that specialty.
David Sheldon is correct saying that mysticism is a demonic delusion. EO theology is fundamentally Neo-platonic philosophy, which in turn is occult in nature. Neo-Platonism is one of the major occult endeavors of our day.

Concerning lip service to the Reformation theology which brother Sheldon decried, that can be fixed by a serious study of Romans, accompanied by Dr. MacArthur’s two volumes commentary on the epistle; the clearest treatment of that book. If the Romans foundation is well established in the believer’s life (it may take years), then the doctrines of grace, Reformation theology, and the rest of the New Testament will be properly understood. I hope that Dr. MacArthur will one day bring a condensed format of Romans to help the super-busy people today.

Thank you again,
Pastor Paul Dan

kevin said...

I grew up in the Friends Church in Fresno and Seattle. The Quakers are a proud bunch think they have insight nobody else has. Truth is they are disobediently proud to the Word and will not humble themselves. The disgruntled and disobedient become Friends or are born into it. I wanted to get baptised in water when I was 17 after reading and submitting to Gods Word. The Pastor told me he could possibly arrange it at another church, I felt stupid and left, to follow my own ways. The Friends church is producing self righteous proud apostates in my view. Thanks be to the Holy Lord God of Israel, Jesus, for bringing me to Himself. Jesus is Lord of All like it or not, and He is unfolding His will on the Earth and in the heavens Praise and Glory be unto Him forever alone. I am thankful to the Father for men like Paul Dan whom He has given discernment and ability to proclaim the Truth. Jesus is Lord.

mennoknight said...

I'm thankful that Pastor Paul Dan has tackled this issue, and I'm amazed that people are complaining about the level of editing quality and needless verbiage in a FREE E-Book.

Complaining about proof-reading and editing in something that is made available to you for FREE?

Yikes.

I can only imagine the amount of blood that is drawn when the fries that you paid $1.79 for aren't cooked to your liking.

I'll admit that the book has some weaknesses, but I'm going to let a LOT slide seeing that I got access to hundreds of hours of research and reading for a big fat "diddly squat" dollar bill.

Everyday Mommy said...

Shame on all of you for jumping on the editorial bandwagon and ignoring the critical content of this essay. You all owe Paul Dan an apology.

Thank you to Pastor Paul for his efforts to expose this danger which is even now creeping into the church at an alarming rate. And, thank you Pastor Phil for giving it air time.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

o "Am I reading a different paper from the rest of you? The last 20 pages of the paper are footnotes, preceded by an 8-page annotated bibliography."

o "I'm thankful that Pastor Paul Dan has tackled this issue, and I'm amazed that people are complaining about the level of editing quality and needless verbiage in a FREE E-Book."

o "Shame on all of you for jumping on the editorial bandwagon and ignoring the critical content of this essay. You all owe Paul Dan an apology."

I heartily echo the above responses. I thought the criticisms over style/formatting/footnote references was either particularly ungracious or rather petty (or even both).

I thought Pastor Dan's book was exactly what Pastor Phil Johnson said: "Something You Need to Read."

allenpeek said...

My family and I are part of a church that doesn’t necessarily teach mysticism but the leadership has no problem quoting/promoting Roman Catholics and mystic from the pulpit and in our worship folder on Sunday mornings. The elder board and pastor gave me an opportunity to speak with them about it. I did my best to document the occurrences of their promotion of these apostate teachers and shared my research with them. In the end, the leadership didn’t acknowledge any error on their part. They didn’t think that promoting/quoting false teachers (as long as what they said was true) was an issue. “All truth is God’s truth” I heard them say a few times during our meeting. I’m grieving…

Is there something wrong with me? If I asked my pastor and elders to stop quoting/promoting/referencing these apostate mystic teachers in our worship folder, am I out of line?

My pastor and elders are faithful men in preaching the full council of God. We hear the gospel proclaimed each and every week. The worship is Christ-centered and we love it! But there is this one issue of them chronically quoting/promoting mystical teachers in our worship folder. Is this worth separating over?

Stefan said...

Thanks, brothers and sisters, for your comments.

Pastor Dan:

I cannot say I went through mysticism "at a deep level" (thank God!) but I did read a lot about it, have an interest in it, and try to pursue it. I also had a superficial interst in the occult at one time, and can see some similarities between them.

On the surface, Christian mysticism is attractive: it seems to just be a deeper or higher form of the spiritual disciplines. But your paper brought to light a lot of the heretical beliefs and practices underlying it: things that many Christians might not even be aware of.

There are so many ways for the Adversary to undermine biblical faith, and this is definitely one of them, all wrapped up in a pretty package.

As for ministry, I am just a lay member of my local church, but I serve in various capacities, including prayer and teaching.

Again, God bless you.

Aaron Snell said...

I cannot speak for the others who made critical comments in the meta here, but as for myself, my criticism was out of appreciation for the author's effort and content. He is addressing an oft-ignored topic. His intentions seem clear, and good.

My concern is that his research, because it is being presented in a scholarly format, will not have the desired effect because of certain glaring academic weaknesses. It's like putting a beautiful picture in a frame with dirty glass. It obscures the message.

This paper is worth being taken seriously, but it will have trouble doing so in its current form. I say this, not to denigrate Paul Dan's work, but to encourage further refinement so that it receives the best hearing possible.

That's why I questioned whether this was submitted as a graduate paper - a lot of these issues would have been worked out and guided through, not to criticize what the author is saying, but to help him say it better.

BTW, @SPQR - Biola never dismissed the EO prof (John Mark Reynolds), even though the inquiry committee headed by Alan Gomes found EO beliefs to be incompatible with the Biola statement of faith. Dr. Reynolds (easily one of the most interesting and thought-provoking men I know) maintains to this day that he holds to the school's statement of faith wholeheartedly and in good conscience. After having had him as a professor, I have some doubts about just how EO he is; however, I also wonder what it says about the evangelical convictions of a school that chooses to keep an EO professor in light of the contrary findings of its own task force. Biola's a mixed bag (and I say this as a current grad student there). At this point the good outweighs the bad (in my estimation), but the questions raised by Pastor Paul's paper are legitimate and may indicate that the scales are tipping.

Pastor Paul, I'd just like to say that I also appreciated your concern for the people whom you criticized in your paper. I hope that any criticism of your work here is done in the same spirit and received as such by you. Your intentions in this paper, as you seemed to say in your introduction, were to be both scholarly and passionately pastoral. I applaud you in that - we need more such scholarship in academia - but my prayer for you is that neither is accomplished at the expense of the other. God give you wisdom and supportive counsel as you strive for this goal.

CGrim said...

A few people here have pointed out that the paper has a few grammar / cadence issues. I suspect this is because English is in fact not the author's native tongue. I do some freelance work on the side, including helping edit thesis papers, research papers, etc for foreign students, and this is fairly common - even for people who have lived here for decades. Some become very fluent, others never do.

Besides editing grammar, etc, I also help them with the flow of the entire document and pare down some portions that may be tangential or distracting.

My guess is that this hasn't gone through an editing process like that, but nevertheless, it's very very valuable, particularly because of the author's first-hand experience coming out of Eastern Orthodoxy, recognizing its errors, and desiring to protect the evangelical church from those errors.

John said...

A friend sent me this quote yesterday (he has written extensively on the topic of mysticism and how it is infusing even the scientific community):

How can mystics and technocrats,
so long at odds in their vision of the universe,
find a common path to the future? …
Mystics must give up their insistence
on the empirical truth of their metaphysics,
and technocrats must stop denying the truth
of anything that cannot be proven empirically,
for both the mystical experience and technology transcend religious and cultural differences.
And it is the transcendent quality of each
that will allow them to merge in the
‘conscious technology’ of the future.
—Jerome Glenn, futurist and author of Future Mind


For those who love footnotes, the quote above appears in the September-November 2008 Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness

mennoknight said...

Now that I've scolded those who complain about the quality level of free e-books, I'll add something that's a general criticism that I would hope would be taken as an effort to positively refine things.

When I read some people's engagement of the contemplative prayer movement, or Mormonism, or any cultic group, I tend to see a whole lot of the following:

1. This movement was started by people who were cultists.

2. This movement is currently being propogated by cultists.

3. Therefore, the beliefs of this movement are cultic.

4. Here's 2 verses to prove it.

I agree that such arguing is historically informative, and defintiely helpful in understanding the roots of a movement, but it's not ultimately that helpful in combatting a movement.

The reason for this is threefold:

A. Many modern proponents of a cultic movement are unaware of the cultic origins of their movement and either don't know or outrightly deny the cultic beliefs of their movement, at least in the specific way that the founders did.

The shifts in theology of the modern LDS church would be an example of this, for those who are aware of such things.

B. Beliefs of cultic groups can and often do change and evolve over time, and some movements looked amazingly different than when they started. The "historic cultists" argument is often rightly tossed aside as a genetic fallacy.

For example, I'm an Anabaptist. Conrad Grebel and other early Anabaptists were unquestionably CRAZY in some areas and had some rather unbiblical beliefs. I'm NOT Conrad Grebel or the early Anabaptists.

C. The scripture penetrates the heart, not history or philosophy. Much of what we write against cultic groups betrays that belief.

It's one thing to establish that a belief is cultic. It's another thing to establish that a belief is SINFUL. What I mean is that something isn't wrong because it's cultic; something is wrong because it's contra scripture.

I find that a lot of "cult expose" writing does a lot of history, but not a lot of comprehensive biblical exegesis to clearly show how it's an attack upon the truth of scripture.

To be clear, Pastor Dan provided some great exegetical work, but I was still left with some questions about why contemplative prayer (and the associated ideas) is actually sin, or how exactly someone would repent of it (what do you stop doing and START doing).

Just some thoughts from a quick initial read.

mennoknight said...

Now that I've scolded those who complain about the quality level of free e-books, I'll add something that's a general criticism that I would hope would be taken as an effort to positively refine things.

When I read some people's engagement of the contemplative prayer movement, or Mormonism, or any cultic group, I tend to see a whole lot of the following:

1. This movement was started by people who were cultists.

2. This movement is currently being propogated by cultists.

3. Therefore, the beliefs of this movement are cultic.

4. Here's 2 verses to prove it.

I agree that such arguing is historically informative, and defintiely helpful in understanding the roots of a movement, but it's not ultimately that helpful in combatting a movement.

The reason for this is threefold:

A. Many modern proponents of a cultic movement are unaware of the cultic origins of their movement and either don't know or outrightly deny the cultic beliefs of their movement, at least in the specific way that the founders did.

The shifts in theology of the modern LDS church would be an example of this, for those who are aware of such things.

B. Beliefs of cultic groups can and often do change and evolve over time, and some movements looked amazingly different than when they started. The "historic cultists" argument is often rightly tossed aside as a genetic fallacy.

For example, I'm an Anabaptist. Conrad Grebel and other early Anabaptists were unquestionably CRAZY in some areas and had some rather unbiblical beliefs. I'm NOT Conrad Grebel or the early Anabaptists.

C. The scripture penetrates the heart, not history or philosophy. Much of what we write against cultic groups betrays that belief.

It's one thing to establish that a belief is cultic. It's another thing to establish that a belief is SINFUL. What I mean is that something isn't wrong because it's cultic; something is wrong because it's contra scripture.

I find that a lot of "cult expose" writing does a lot of history, but not a lot of comprehensive biblical exegesis to clearly show how it's an attack upon the truth of scripture.

To be clear, Pastor Dan provided some great exegetical work, but I was still left with some questions about why contemplative prayer (and the associated ideas) is actually sin, or how exactly someone would repent of it (what do you stop doing and START doing).

Just some thoughts from a quick initial read.

Sorry if I've been too verbose...

mennoknight said...

Now that I've scolded those who complain about the quality level of free e-books, I'll add something that's a general criticism that I would hope would be taken as an effort to positively refine things.

When I read some people's engagement of the contemplative prayer movement, or Mormonism, or any cultic group, I tend to see a whole lot of the following:

1. This movement was started by people who were cultists.

2. This movement is currently being propogated by cultists.

3. Therefore, the beliefs of this movement are cultic.

4. Here's 2 verses to prove it.

I agree that such arguing is historically informative, and defintiely helpful in understanding the roots of a movement, but it's not ultimately that helpful in combatting a movement.

It's one thing to establish that a belief is cultic. It's another thing to establish that a belief is SINFUL. What I mean is that something isn't wrong because it's cultic; something is wrong because it's contra scripture.

I find that a lot of "cult expose" writing does a lot of history, but not a lot of comprehensive biblical exegesis to clearly show how it's an attack upon the truth of scripture.

To be clear, Pastor Dan provided some great exegetical work, but I was still left with some questions about why contemplative prayer (and the associated ideas) is actually sin, or how exactly someone would repent of it (what do you stop doing and START doing).

Just some thoughts from a quick initial read.

Rachael Starke said...
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Rachael Starke said...
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Rachael Starke said...

Well, as the original critic, here's where I was coming from:

I have eleven years of experience in helping technically-oriented groups communicate with business groups more effectively. A large part of my time is spent helping these brilliant technologists eliminate sources of "friction" in their communication - poor syntax, poor structure and argument flow, hyperbole, poor hygiene - things that will push your audience away from your goal, instead of draw them toward it.

The people I work with are unregenerate; few have anything like a Proverbs 15 attitude about their frustrated superiors paying me to do something they see as inconsequential. When the response from their audience goes from outright offense to signing a big check, they see that sometimes working on "soft skills", like how you present your material, matters.

This situation was different, issues of the kingdom being of far great value than bits and bytes. Almost all readers here read our Pyro brothers’ blog posts with an expectant, and critical eye; it seemed logical that we would do the same with an even lengthier work of greater import. Phil's endorsement was unqualified. His own credentials in this area are greater than mine. But my own, different but related, experience led me to a different conclusion I felt had to be offered, again, in the spirit of Proverbs 15.

I was taking into consideration not just this audience (many of whom, in my line of work, would be called "insider adovcates" - already in total agreement with a particular view, helpful in persuading others, but biased against reasonable questions or criticisms of their position), but other audiences as well:

neutral audiences - unaware or unsure of the issue,

passively dissenting audiences - those who are currently dabbling in these practices and are unsure of their appropriateness

actively dissenting audiences - those actively advocating for the relevance or necessity of these practices

Then there's the question of the scholarly level of the audience - university-level theologian, pastor, well-read layperson, poorly-read layperson, etc.

My experience led me to believe that, in its current form, this piece does not yet achieve Pastor Dan’s goal. Now that I have read the piece more fully, I still stand by that assessment, and not just for stylistic reasons – I’d offer the others, but this comment is too long already! The digital format is a non-issue; the content and the way it’s organized are.

Like Aaron Snell and the others who’ve been critical, my goal is helpful, productive encouragement. I acknowledge that, for this audience, I didn’t initially achieve that goal. Given the way I may have not heeded my own counsel at first, feel free to take my comments at the same cost as we were charge for our brother's efforts. :)

Stefan said...

Mennoknight:

You make a good point, especially because there really can be a very fine line between godly prayer and biblical meditation, and something that veers into what we would call "contemplative spirituality."

For example, the Jesus Prayer lies at the heart of much Eastern Orthodox contemplative practice: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

The prayer itself is actually quite biblical, quite proper, and has the added advantage of being short, simple, and to the point. And prayed consciously as a prayer, seems to quite a legitimate prayer.

But it is the way in which the prayer is used in contemplative spirituality, that is the problem—as a mantra, as a "breath prayer," to obtain a "higher" state of consciousness, to be repeated hundreds of times for the sake of a supernatural experience, rather than for the sake of confessing one's sinfulness before God.

So we need to bring scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 2, Colossians 2, or Matthew 6 to bear, to tease apart the legitimate from the counterfeit.

So too with things you mentioned like Mormonism—or the Jehovah's Witnesses. On the surface, they certainly appear to worship the same God as us, and they certainly appear to hold the same Bible in high regard as we hold in high regard. It's only when you start digging below the surface that you start to see the differences: some subtle and some fundamental.

...And so too with open theism, higher criticism, mainline liberal theology, and so on!

Simon said...

I do hope Pastor Dan will have his thesis looked at as suggested above - it deserves a wider reading.
Rachael, can you help?

Rachael Starke said...

mennoknight,

Now that we're moving on to the substance of Pastor Dan's argument :) -

I find that a lot of "cult expose" writing does a lot of history, but not a lot of comprehensive biblical exegesis to clearly show how it's an attack upon the truth of scripture.

I had several other questions in connection with that:

- What is the truth of Scripture as it relates to the genuinely supernatural, vs. sinfully mystical? (This presumes those terms have been carefully defined.) Genesis 3 indicates we were created for face to face fellowship with the LORD God, who is Spirit. Romans 8 says that we are children of God if His Spirit dwells within us. The act of regeneration is a miraculous, divinely-initiated act. Our ability to pursue, love, respond to the truth of God's Word, is divinely initiated and enabled. The very act of the immortal, invisible God, speaking to mortal, physical man, in any way is supernatural.

- Given that this movement is not new, what is the current cause for this renewed interest in mysticism? Pastor Dan seems to argue that it's pop culture. That is, IMHO, a pretty big leap of logic.

- What is the answer to this latest resurgence, specifically? Pastor Dan's premise (built on the earlier one that pop culture is the problem), is the expected: holiness, in the forms of repenting of various sins, dressing right and turning off the T.V.

-Would a better answer to the cause of the problem be that, in typical fashion, Satan is working to take a truth about God (that He is Spirit, that we were created for transcendent fellowship with Him, that His Word is spiritual life and food), and twisting it (fellowship with God is mediated through candles and mantras etc., rather than through Christ and His Word, prayer, the Lord's Supper)

- Might another, equally dangerous, twisting of this truth about God be that our faith is purely intellectual, that emotions like love for God and joy in God must be tempered/ distrusted, that God's Word is a devotional book of helpful thoughts for living in the here and now? Might we ourselves be guilty of these attitudes? Might any of our pastors be guilty of preaching sermons full of dead law, without life-giving gospel?

-Might a different solution be preaching and worship that rejects both of these distortions by proclaiming God's Word in a way that shows it is the way to God, the truth about God, the life in God?

-If people began to see God's Word that way, what would be the results, personally and corporately?

Stefan said...

Rachael, you raise a lot of good points.

* The sense I got about Pastor Dan's critique of pop culture was that we're looking for the spiritual "quick fix," rather than doing the hard work of day-to-day "practical holiness." I've certainly been guilty of that.

* But another point that you and I raised yesterday, independently of each other, bears examination, too: if our churches are giving us fluff and not enough substance, then there is going to be a feeling that there's got to be "something more" out there. The search for genuine transcendent experience is going to lead people to places that might range anywhere from small-o orthodox, to totally off the reservation.

* And, a couple of points you raised today are also important. We were made for a supernatural relationship with God. The very fact that we believe is, according to the Bible, because we have been born again in the Spirit. Our relationship to God is supernatural to its very core.

...But if we practice a form of religion that's all head and no heart, all Word and no Spirit; that downplays the supernatural and empirical aspects of Christianity to such a point that they are denied altogether, and reduces the indwelling Holy Spirit to a philosophical proposition...then there are going to be Christians who turn to the Emergent Church, or Mysticism, or Charismaticism, and be seduced by something that's filling the vacuum that they're not getting in their own churches.

Stefan said...

...Likewise for (for example) seminary professors (or even bloggers!), whose whole lives revolve around teaching and defending elaborately constructed systematic theologies, that can turn into houses of cards. There is a disconnect between what they know in their heads and how they relate to God in their hearts, and so they are vulnerable to the allure of doctrines and practices that can seduce them away from the Spirit-breathed Word of God. We can all think of famous theologians and professors who appear(ed) to be orthodox, and yet who have some very strange ideas, or have become ensnared in teachings that range from the merely misguided to the completely false.

Rose said...

allenpeak,

I can't see where anyone replied to you...so I will give it a try. What you explain about your church leaders troubles me, too. You did the right thing to confront them. I can't say that it is necessarily time to leave that fellowship, but I would certainly have my guard up and be alert for any further drift in the contemplative direction. If that is the way they are intending to go eventually, you will know it! Thankfully, you are informed about contemplative and know what to watch for. This situation you describe is a red flag though so you are right to be concerned. I don't buy their argument that it doesn't matter if they quote apostates as long as what they said was the truth. The leaders are, in effect, training the congregation to trust those individuals as acceptable sources for truth...and that IS a problem IMHO.

I left my church of 28 years because of their slide into the seeker-sensitive movement. When it was time to leave, I knew it immediately and had no misgivings about it. I felt compelled to go. God led me out of there. If you are to leave, God will make it very plain and you will be at peace with that decision.

Wishing the best!

Rose

John said...

Allenpeak:

Did they ever hear of the church at Laodicea?

Stefan said...

Allenpeak:

What Rose said.

Watch, wait...and pray. Pray for them to see the error of their ways, and pray for God to guide you in the way you should walk.

That the elders gave you an opportunity to air your concerns is admirable—as is the weekly preaching of the Gospel—but the utter lack of concern in their response is troubling.

This is when error is the most seductive: when it is the verisimilitude of the truth. Even Thomas Merton and Mother Theresa said things that are true—but that doesn't negate the error underlying their beliefs.

(I've been so dominating this comment thread, that I must apologize for not replying to you earlier: but I didn't feel qualified to respond to your particular situation. Rose answered better than I could.)

mennoknight said...

Oh man! What in the world happened with my post?

I tried to post and it wouldn't go through...but it appears that it did multiple times.

Can someone please remove my other two unneccessary posts?

DOH!

noheresy said...

Dear brothers and sisters,

I wanted to keep my promise and not enter the arena of discussions, but I felt compelled to do it, given the fact that there are some new developments that need to be addressed. I put my reply in two posts since blogger limits the number of characters.

Why Pop Culture leads to Mysticism:

First I’d like to bring before all of you the issue of pop culture, and why it is part of my argument in relation to mysticism. I did my research, and if you take a closer look at the American history since the 1900s, you will see that after WWI, a mega shift takes place in the American society through what is known as the Roaring Twenties. The Roaring Twenties is the revolt of most of the youth, and especially young ladies, against Christian morals. Public drinking, smoking, blatant immorality, and speakeasies were the norm of the day.
The people who brought about this social decadence were the French fashion designers like Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret (whose ideas were brought by American nurses coming home from Europe after WWI) On the other hand, the psychological concepts of sexual pervert Sigmund Freud gave a “scientific” legitimacy to immorality. Nevertheless, the feminist movement had its contribution.
The Great Depression and WWII did not erase the decadence, and after WWII wicked people like Alfred Kinsey, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, prepared America for the sexual/hippie revolution. If in the 1920s, the youth rejected Christian morals, in the 60s and 70s, they rejected Christian dogma, embracing Hinduism and other Eastern religions. Mass media became the master manipulator, gradually injecting superficiality, immodesty, occultism, violence, obsession with sex, and so on, in the mind of the average American. The church at large gradually caved in and combined Christianity and this type of neopaganism (although the term has a different meaning). America, after WWII, is America created by the mass media, not America created by the Founding Fathers and the Christian heritage before WWII.
Let me give you an example in relation to the evangelistic crusades. D.L. Moody held big crusades in Chicago relative to that era, but the music of the day- ragtime music- did not make it into the church or the crusades to attract people. The Harvest Crusades and Greg Laurie employ the music of our day through groups like Skillet, whose band leader makes Satanic gestures on stage. Ephesians 4:18 says “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God.” Pop culture is a clear alienation from the life of God. Do we dare to look at the statistics to see where we, as an Evangelical church, stand? The greatest fallacy among Evangelicals in the United States is that combining pop culture and Biblical Christianity, will somehow work. God is not mocked. It doesn’t work. The result is incredible emptiness which drives people to look for spirituality in other places, because this mix of Christianity and pop culture fails.

noheresy said...

Part Two:

A reply to Allen Peek: when ministers in your church preach the Word faithfully, but MIX IT with quotations from mystics, what they do is called “adulterating the Word of God” 2 Cor. 2:17, which is a clear violation of the purity of the Scriptures. You don’t see this practice in Dr. MacArthur’s church. When heretics are mentioned by Dr. MacArthur, it is done in a critical way. Let me review the flow of the text of my essay, and then please refer them to my blog. I make a subjective prediction: they will not change, and you need to leave.

In relation to the statement which Rachel made that “Phil's endorsement was unqualified” concerning my essay, I respectfully disagree. The work I did contains comprehensive treatment of neoplatonic philosophy, which is the foundation for contemporary mysticism. Let me just say that neoplatonism is not the simplest philosophy to deal with, and besides, it is occult in nature. So this is the sin of mysticism: it is occult.
The essay contains extensive research on Quakerism, revealing who Richard Foster is: a Quaker, the high priest of American mysticism. I also dealt at length with the essential aspect of the role of the mind in connection to mysticism, contrasting the mind of Christ (based on the Scriptures) with the mystical mind. This instance and several others, prove that there is Biblical backing of the essay. I have to stop here because it is a long answer.

Thank you all for your patience, and for the challenges. This will help me refine my work even more, for better results.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Paul Dan

halo said...

As a continuationist, I think a sound warning about contemplative prayer/mysticism is very much needed.

However, I did think there were a few things in the essay that were factually inaccurate:

the Toronto Blessing was a recurrence of the early Quaker “performance”, and received the blessing of John Wimber, the Quaker. Later, pressured by the media to explain the grotesque
manifestations of Toronto Blessing, Wimber retracted his endorsement.


I do not think that John Wimber ever gave his 'blessing' to the Toronto movement, even from the very outset he did not give it his endorsement. I would like to see substantiation for this claim.

Wimber ... fathered a
heresy called the Third Wave which is extreme Pentecostalism obsessed with demonism.
They have a fixation with exorcism wanting to implement it not only for people but
geographical regions and whole countries. They see all sicknesses related to Satan...


This contains a number of things I do not think are true.

First, Third Wave is not Pentecostal - they generally reject the central Pentecostal doctrine of 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' instead emphasizing the traditional evangelical view - that all believers get baptized in the Holy Spirit at salvation.

Second, the word 'obsessed' is pejorative - one could easily put that spin on Jesus' ministry and say that He was 'obsessed with demonism' given that he was regularly casting out demons.

Third, saying that they see 'all sicknesses related to Satan', well in one sense is that not true? However, I suspect the author means that all sicknesses are due to supernatural demonic oppression, if that is what he means then I am not aware that John Wimber ever taught that. Again, substantiation needed.

Fellow Quaker, John Wimber

Using phrases like this is misleading. John Wimber came out of the Quaker's, but this makes it sound like is was still a participating member.

John said...

I do not think that John Wimber ever gave his 'blessing' to the Toronto movement, even from the very outset he did not give it his endorsement. I would like to see substantiation for this claim.

I'm going from memory here, but it was pretty well known that many throughout the Vineyard movement (Randy Clark, Todd Hunter, etc.) were fully on board with it. In the book The Chronology of the Toronto Blessing, the October 2, 1994 Sunday Telegraph quotes Wimber: “This recent happening … is as intense as anything we’ve seen, but much more pervasive and rapid. I see it as a quickening – an
awakening in the heart of the Church.” Wimber was later quoted in Christianity Today: "Nearly everything we’ve seen, falling, weeping, laughing, shaking – has been seen before, not only in our own memory, but in revivals all over the world."

While is true that the Vineyard later disfellowshipped the Airport Vineyard, but that was only after the Airport Vineyard began to stray into the realm of animal sounds and other behavior that could not be tolerated, even by the Vineyard.

John said...
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Katie said...

10 years ago a woman began teaching 'Centering Prayer' in our small church. I spent from 40 to 60 hours researching the topic, it's roots and history learning much of the information presented in this paper. Our pastor sided with the heretical teacher and eventually the church disintegrated due to this and other issues. Since then we've seen mysticism within every imaginable evangelical group or denomination (R. Warren has endorsed the practices and all things Purpose Driven are saturated with them, so even churches who may think they have their guard up against mysticism have brought the Trojan Horse in through affiliation with PDC materials). It turns my stomach, I've felt like very few are aware or or heeding the dangers. Later I read Yungen's 'A Time of Departing' which is excellent and I find this pastors paper solid. I wish the Church would hold Councils today where such heresies could be exposed and explained to the Church at large.

Jeri Tanner said...

Thanks so much for posting this Phil, and thank you, Pastor Paul, for researching and writing it. I appreciated your comments about pop culture and the various events of the preceding decades in the West a great deal. May the Lord richly bless you and keep you.

noheresy said...

To Katie: Thank you for your comment.

To Halo: First read this great article: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/laugh.htm:

Halo earlier said: "I do not think that John Wimber ever gave his 'blessing' to the Toronto movement, even from the very outset he did not give it his endorsement. I would like to see substantiation for this claim."

In a 1997 article in Christianity Today, John Wimber said:
"Toronto was changing the definition of renewal in the Vineyard. Our decision was to withdraw endorsement; their decision was to resign. At the Vineyard, we see renewal not only of individuals but of the forms and practice of the church. For instance, when an individual is stirred by God, it will be reflected in a new attitude toward witnessing and cooperating with the work the Lord is doing in his or her life. I don't have any objection to phenomenon per se. I think Jonathan Edwards has adequately addressed the issue of phenomena in revival, and I would generally take his position. However, I think if it's fleshly and brought out by some sort of display, or promoted by somebody on stage, that's abysmal. But if God does something to somebody, that's between them and God.
When the Toronto thing first occurred, people were reciting 1 Corinthians 14 regarding orderliness in the service. I thought about it and wrote back saying, 'Whose orderliness?' Our current culture-adapted understanding or order, or the Holy Spirit's order?
When babies are born, is that orderly? It's as messy as anything. Blood all over the place. The child comes out all right, but it's not developed. It's not cultured. It's not brought into the world already mature. The norm for God moving among people is a pretty messy thing. If you go back to revival literature, you can say, Wow, that's messy."

You can see that Wimber endorsed the movement in the beginning. His statements are sprinkled with other heresies too.

Pastor Paul Dan

noheresy said...

Halo also said: “This contains a number of things I do not think are true.
First, Third Wave is not Pentecostal - they generally reject the central Pentecostal doctrine of 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' instead emphasizing the traditional evangelical view - that all believers get baptized in the Holy Spirit at salvation.”

Any documented reference will affirm that The Third Way is Pentecostal in nature, in other words it does not need to be identical with classical Pentecostalism but the main ideology is the same. Check out this credible source: Holiness Pentecostal Tradition-Charismatic movements in the twentieth century by Vinson Synan - 1971, 1997 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Halo again: “Second, the word 'obsessed' is pejorative - one could easily put that spin on Jesus' ministry and say that He was 'obsessed with demonism' given that he was regularly casting out demons.
Third, saying that they see 'all sicknesses related to Satan', well in one sense is that not true? However, I suspect the author means that all sicknesses are due to supernatural demonic oppression, if that is what he means then I am not aware that John Wimber ever taught that. Again, substantiation needed.
Fellow Quaker, John Wimber,
Using phrases like this is misleading. John Wimber came out of the Quaker's, but this makes it sound like is was still a participating member.”

The context is widely different between the time when Christ was on Earth in the 1st century, and when Wimber was active in the 20th century. So your analogy does not work.

Wimber and Co. did not explicitly say that all sicknesses are due to demonic activity, but he and his movement acted as if it were so. Although Wimber established his own denomination, he remained a Quaker to the core. Quakers are mystics and have no problem incorporating any heresy, including those of the Pentecostals.

Pastor Paul Dan