Monday, March 28, 2011

What is Really "Emerging" in the Church?

As a Christ follower I find myself at a crossroads of sorts as to who I am going to listen to.  There are so many voices within the church and sadly, not all are speaking truth.  Recent reading has opening my eyes to what some respected voices are really saying and I find myself with a lot of questions.

For example, as a Christian, can I support the teaching of a belief system that encourages induced altered states of consciousness and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but is now wrapped in Christian terminology as "contemplative prayer"?  A teaching that hints of pantheism (God is all) and panentheism (God is in all) and says that we need to empty our minds in order for "The Divine" to fill it up again?  

Do I allow myself to be influenced by a teaching that says in order to truly connect with our spirituality and God, we must reconnect with ancient, mystical forms of worship that says we can only connect with God in complete silence?  Or one that says if we all do this, no matter if we are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion, we will be connecting with the same god and thereby all be united which is what God intended all along?

Can I support a doctrine that says we can't know absolute truth and can only experience what is "true" for the community we live in, and since we cannot know absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine or morals? 

Do I embrace a philosophy that says the Bible and the notion of heaven and hell is simply outdated for the emerging, more savvy generation of believers and everything we thought we knew needs to be reconsidered so that it is a better fit for where we are as a society? Or one that says in the end, everyone will eventually be saved and go to heaven even if they don't acknowledge Jesus as savior?

These are the root of the teachings of the popular contemplative spirituality and prayer movement and the "emerging church" which have influenced main stream denominations and many popular Christian authors and speakers. 

I'm trying my best to not be reactionary but I guess it amazes me that some of the most sought after and quoted teachers, conference speakers, and authors in the Christian community support tenents of these teachings, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Some are all-out promoters of it knowing what it is and others are just dabbling in it but it's there just the same.  It's even shown up in subtle ways in my own church, not as an outright teaching per se, but in referencing the works or words of some of these teachers in the sermons or Bible studies being taught.

But what amazes me more is that so few are questioning it, perhaps because they do not recognize it for what it is or are too enamoured with the messengers.  My knee-jerk reaction is to use my mommy voice with one eyebrow raised and finger pointing, saying to those close to me, "Wake-up, little missy!  Pay attention, little mister!"  If the mommy voice doesn't work, I may have to resort to imitating the robot on Lost in Space: "Danger, Will Robinson!"

Consider the following quotes and decide, without being influenced by who said it, whether it would it be a teaching you would embrace as a Christian. (I'll let you know who said them following the quotes.)

1.  "Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not.  Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God."

2. "I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions."

3. "Every distraction of the body, mind, and spirit must be put into a kind of suspended animation before this deep work of God upon the soul can occur."

4."The ultimate authority in my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book.  It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself.  My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period."

5. "I'm looking for a second reformation.  The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior.  The first one was about creeds.  This one is going to be about deeds.  It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what the church is doing."

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

7. "Mysticism, once cast to the sidelines of the Christian tradition, is now situated in postmondernist culture near the center....Mysticism is metaphysics arrived at through mindbody experiences. Mysticism begins in experience; it ends in theology."

8.  "We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices."

9.  ‘... if we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness."

10. “I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word--bibliolatry ... I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”

11. “If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or, either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition…. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.”

12. “God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells-many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom."

Who said it?

1. Henri Nouwen
2. Thomas Merton
3. Richard Foster
4. Sue Monk Kidd
5. Rick Warren
6. Henri Nouwen
7. Leonard Sweet
8. Basil Pennington
9. Beth Moore
10. Brennan Manning
11. Brennan Manning
12. Matthew Fox

Even if I don't actually study the works of these men and women, I can't ignore the fact that other contemporary authors not only study them, but endorse their teachings.  Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) endorses the writings of Sue Monk Kid, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton, among others, in his books and joins alongside Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) for conferences promoting the emerging church and contemplative prayer.  Rick Warren endorses Leonard Sweet.  Beth Moore says of Brennan Manning in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things that his contribution to our generation "may be a gift without parallel" and calls his book Ragamuffin Gospel "one of the most remarkable books" and also shares the stage with Richard Foster and others at events.  Brennan Manning frequently quotes mystics Matthew Fox and Thomas Merton. A few of them started out sincere in the faith but have since turned away from God as is the case of Sue Monk Kidd, formerly a devout Christian author who now worships a goddess named Sophia. 

Even the online version of Today's Christian Woman magazine, endorses the contemplative prayer teaching as evidenced in this article in which the author quotes some of the authors mentioned above, and this article about Margaret Feinberg, a popular author and speaker at contemplative/emerging church conferences.  In fact, several of the Christianity Today publications support these things.

Apparently, it's not just the popular teachers and pastors themselves whom I need to be discerning of, it's who they study and endorse that is important as well.  Although some of the quotes are isolated from the actual writings they came from, they still reveal a lot about what the person believes. I guess what was most surprising to me as I started looking into this is how connected everyone was to the other. They study each other, they quote each other, so while I also want to give a measure of slack, we have to see that we each reflect the ideas and values of those we study. That's where the discernment is important. We need to know something about who they they are influenced by and who they follow before we join in.

I also have to mention the very popular yet questionable writings of authors such as  Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts), Sarah Young (Jesus Calling), Margaret Feinberg (Hungry For God) and emergent church guru Rob Bell (Love Wins).  Sadly, they are aligning themselves (knowingly or unknowingly) with teaching that isn't Biblical even if they put God's name all over it and it makes them feel closer to Him.  I've had to understand that the "ancient ways" and "mystical union" they are speaking of come out of man's traditions, not from scripture. It is wise for us to be wary when a woman claims to have received words from Jesus during times of meditative contemplation and puts them in a book written in the first person tense as him speaking to us through her. 

I know how it feels to really like a certain author or speaker or pastor and then find out something negative about him or her. Every part of me wants to protest and let the naysayer know how wrong they are. But I also know I have to at least take what is said and find out for myself whether it is true or not. That's what I hope anyone reading this will do. Don't take it on my say-so. Test anything you read or hear, no matter how endearing and popular the source, against what God really says in His Word, and decide for yourself who or what you will follow. 

I have often used the quote "eat the fish, spit out the bones" when referring to things I read that make me feel good and sound "right" even though they may have some questionable teaching mixed in with truth.  I'm questioning whether that is acceptable for me anymore.  It doesn't do to pick out the bones if the meat itself is tainted.  The only "meat" I can know is good and bone-free is the Bible itself and that has to then be the standard by which everything else is measured. 

Recommended reading: A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.  And of course, the Bible.


  1. Oh how I wish we could gather together around the table with a cup of tea and fellowship together. I agree whole heartily with what you are saying here. As my husband always says, keep it close to the cuff and you can't go wrong. Problem is to many people start wandering away from the pure word of God and are led away from the true source. I think part of the problem with many today is that they don't want to feel any guilt about their life style choices and cling to something that makes them feel safe and secure in their walk. We would all be wise to note that there is no such thing as a luke warm Christian. We have a lot of churches today that are telling people that they are good with out being good, saved with out being saved and so on. People just want to feel good with out being good. I also think that we have these big churches that have no clue who half their members are and no accountability for anyone. Seems to be about numbers, money and big staffs. The devil is the deceiver and wants nothing more then to fill churches with luke warm believers.He would love nothing more that have everyone think all is ok with this type of thinking and life style. Thanks for this post!

  2. It would be fun to chat over tea, Christine!

    I agree with what you said about people wanting to not feel any guilt. The emerging church theology is all about making people feel good.

  3. WOW! WOW! WOW! You knocked it outta the park with this one Cindy! I commend you for your bravery and all the work it took to put this post together. May God open our eyes and cause every Christian to "test the spirits to see if they are of God" We are truly living in perilous times!

    God bless you sister!

  4. Appreciate your good word of warning. It is never good to believe something because of the reputation of the speaker. In this busy day, it is a temptation to do this. As in Acts 17, we need to verify the message with God's message. Anything added needs to be tossed, remembering that people whose word once was credible, may have changed. Thank you and blessings!

  5. Do not know much about the emerging church theology.
    I do mark time with God throughout the day as an oblate to St. Benedict, with the prayers Jesus and the Jews recited thousands of years ago. This is known as the liturgy of the hours.

    Thomas Merton was engage in strong friendship & appreciative dialogue with non Christians -particularly those of the Eastern faiths & did so under the obedience of his abbots. I believe the approach to implementing Christianity into non Christian cultures begins with what we share in common. This is the way early Christianity spread throughout Europe.

    In regards to Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest that was so well known as professor at Notre Dame and Harvard before working with the disabled and mentally challenged. He was into the Centering Prayer that was a common form of prayer of the Egyptian Desert Fathers in the 4th & 5th centuries.

    A great book I just finished reading is Between Allah & Jesus by Peter Kreeft. What Christians Can Learn from Muslims...a good read indeed!

  6. Cindy,
    I echo Diane! I know this must have taken a lot of time, but these are things that need to be said. I'm coming across this stuff more and more and have a few posts I'm sitting on and thinking about.

    Henri Nouwen, in his writings, reflects that Zen Buddhism is useful in teaching Christians to be Christians again and is a universalist who wants to help every person find their own way to God.~source
    "From Mysticism to the Gospel" by Paul Dan

    Regarding Peter Kreeft....just read interesting things about him today and his "syncretistic and mystic form of Christianity" in the above referenced article.

    We don't need to be sitting at the feet of Muslims or any other false religion. We do need to be immersing ourselves in the WORD so that we're not taken captive by every false wind of doctrine.

    God help us all be Bereans.

  7. You're not alone in your concerns. There's a growing cacophony of voices that speak nobly & equally intelligently of similar things: Brannon Howse, Jan Markel & Albert Mohler to name a few. Here's a link to Mohler's recent post on this same subject:

    What concerns me deeply is how little people know of their own Bibles (if even they have one), but how much credence they afford priests, pastors, friends, TV, traditions, etc., when many of these serve things that are diametrically opposed to the Scriptures. Scary stuff!

    When believers obey the Lord, they will be set free; and then they will know the truth (John 8:31-32). There is no other name ... There is no other way!

    Great, fabulous post!


  8. Great post...I have read from the site Katherine spoke of and Brannon Howse.
    I picked up on #5 because I am hearing that more and more from the 20 year olds...and I wasn't surprised by who said it.
    Thanks for your very well documented and thought out piece.

  9. For years my family has worshiped and studied at home. We use a KJV, Strong's concordance and Bullinger's Companion Bible. We also take communion at home. It is for reasons similar to those that you have listed that we do this. I don't know any of the persons listed in your post and I'm ok with that. I do know the prophets of the O.T. and am filled with joy at the accounts of the N.T. I enjoy reading your posts and shake my head at some of the notions that people are getting from what sounds to me, like false teachings. Isn't it written, in effect, that not everyone is supposed to know the truth? Perhaps this is the modern way of not seeing and not hearing. It's sad, especially when so many folks seem to be sincere in their quest for Him. Anyway, I enjoyed today's pondering. Thanks.

  10. I can only echo what others have said here, this is an extraoridnary post! I so often talk with my friends about how it seems the Christian community has somehow decided we must become more and more like the idlatrous religions if we expect to reach people. The truth is that, we cannot reach people for Jesus if we abandon Him and His teachings as given to us in Holy Scriptures. I have lots of opinions about many things, but my opinions don't hold water if they disagree with Scripture. I feel the same about the opinions of any other person, be it Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer or Billy Graham. We are all but flesh and given to being misguided. Our only guarantee of being safe from believing wrongly is to let Christ be our guide and His Word as given to us through the Scriptures. Again, great post!

    Many hugs...........


  11. There are still churches that subscribe to TRUE doctrine and are still loving about it. To find that balance is hard, really hard. We left two denominations because they were heading into this sort of universalist thinking. We left a church last year because of weak doctrine. Sunday School class was centered around some book that had been written. Sermons leaned heavily on books. And I value books that are written IF they are based in truth. I've been encouraged and uplifted by many of them. But the Bible seemed to be getting scooted aside more and more. So, we searched for a new church and how difficult that was!!! We finally found a Baptist church where the pastor is not afraid to stand on the Gospel, preaches from the Bible, and if it isn't supported by Scripture, no matter the tradition, he won't preach it. Yet, he does it with love. We feel blessed to have found such a church. They are few and far between and when we do find them, we had better support them!!!

  12. In reference to the comment below...I would recommend reading the book, instead of commentary about the book before making judgement.

    In no way am I advocating "sitting at the feet of the Muslims" but believe that it is healthy to visit their example the book gave is in the regard of America's perspective of the Muslim culture being more violent than our culture... but are we (Americans) not just as violent when our tax dollars go to Planned Parenthood's abortion mill...and we say nor do nothing about it? Something to think about...

  13. Nancy, I understood where you were coming from and the point about Planned Parenthood is a good one.

    I know not all of us who read blogs will always agree with everything any one of us says, and the thing I like about blogging is that each person gets to speak her own mind. I actually welcome comments that make me think about what I've written and encourage me to consider another side of the issue. To me, that is iron sharpening iron, and gives me the opportunity to weigh what is said against what the Bible says.

    Thanks for your comments, Nancy!

  14. Let God be true and all men be
    liars. We can't go wrong when
    we stick to the Holy Bible. Men
    can always be wrong. God is never

  15. Regarding learning from the Muslims and the book referenced, here's a link to a review which highlights the concerns.

  16. Truth spoken in love from a heart that cares. I am so in agreement with you. There are many reasons people do not question these other gospels, but I think the two main ones are; itchy ears that go after whatever tickles pride, and lazy complacency (easy believeism, not reading/studying the Word). I thank God for rescuing me! Blessings to you!

  17. Whew... this is a hard one, Cindy. Is anyone left to read? I worked through each statement before looking at the authors. Realizing I'm reading them out of context, I will say I had a negative feeling about most of them. I'm not sure what #2 meant by "openness" but I will say that it's been important to me to have knowledge about other religions so that I can better debate the tenets of my own faith. In regards to #7, I haven't a clue what it means. As for Beth's #9, I'd probably give her a pass simply because I have an idea that "stillness" before God is important aspect to prayer, but it's very difficult to achieve. I don't think I am ever completely free of distraction when I pray. Rather, I think of prayer as more a moving dialogue with God. I don't let myself feel guilty when I go "off track" while praying. As to contemplative prayer, I'll have to read your next post.

    I guess if I fail with my writing (terminology, not saying something the right way... unknowingly), then it's because I haven't thought about it as much as I should. Some writers get "fuzzy" in their attempts to make a statement, so they say things poorly. Unless I know a lot about the writer/teacher/leader (which isn't an accuse, I'm just saying I don't always have time to do research on every thing I read or hear prior to reading or hearing it), I have to rely on the Holy Spirit's prompting to help me "hear" correctly.

    All that being said, and I realize it's a lot, I'm glad for the prod. Discernment is key to furthering our knowledge of God, but at the end of the day, the Bible is the only fully reliable source in our quest. With the Holy Spirit sitting alongside us as we read, we have all we need for Godly, good learning.

    And then there's grace... grace afforded to me for all the times when I've gotten it wrong (whether in print, via my mouth, or my actions), and grace enough to keep me humble and on my knees all the more.

    Mercy... none of this probably makes sense, but you've raised a good point here. This couldn't have been an easy piece to write. We'd all do well to examine our hearts in the matter.


  18. Goodness, gracious! I'm here from a link Elaine posted on her FB page.

    You certainly have written a very thought-provoking AND spirit-stirring post.

    My husband and I have a wonderful Sunday School teacher who has said it best, "Never take my word or the word of anyone else, when it comes to the meaning GOD'S WORD. Read the book yourself, and allow the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom."

    Thank you so much for your obedience to God in writing this post.


  19. Elaine, you said "I have to rely on the Holy Spirit's prompting to help me "hear" correctly." Yes! That's what we all need and desperately so with so many voices out there. There is enough truth mixed in with the false teaching that without the Holy Spirit, we sometimes miss what is wrong with it.

    As I said in the post, I believe some of the people mentioned have a real heart for God but are aligning themselves with those who may have started out on the right track but ended up someplace else because of the influences of things like eastern religion practices, etc. Sue Monk Kidd, for example, was a devout professing Christian when she started writing but now worships a goddess named Sophia. And although some of the quotes are isolated from the actual books they came from, they still reveal a lot about what the person believes. I guess what was most surprising to me as I started looking into this is how connected everyone was to the other in their writings. They study each other, they quote each other, so while I also want to give a measure of slack, sometimes we have to see that we all reflect the ideas and values of those we study. That's where the discernment is important. We need to know something about who they they are influenced by and who they follow before we join in.

  20. Hi Beth, Thank you for the encouraging words. I like what your Sunday School teacher said. That is so true! I don't every want anyone to decide what is ok or not on my say-so (except maybe my kids! lol!) but to study it for themselves.

  21. I meant "excuse" not "accuse"... you probably already discerned that!

    Proofread, elaine. Proofread!!


  22. Powerful post I saw linked on Elaine's FB page. I've been working through the same sort of thing myself on my blog, but I really like the way you laid this out with the quotes.

    I've been convicted and caused to take a stand for doctrine over the past year. I don't claim to know everything, but I test everything against the word of God. I stopped using "The Message" bible in my devotions and posts after I read some Scriptures that seemed to go out of context with the true meaning of the gospel. I decided I would pray a/b it and research it before I used it again. Later, I found out that Eugene Peterson is closely aligned with Rick Warren, Rob Bell and William Young. That cinched it for me.

    The reason I think it is more important than ever before that we take a stand against false doctrine and heresy is because the lines have become so blurred, and many teachers cling to half truths, adding and deleting. We have set Christian authors & preachers up as celebrities (not saying they have done is OUR responsibility).

    The Bible says "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."

    "See to it." That means it's my responsibility to be in my Bible, asking God to give me wisdom and insight and discernment so that I can stay unpolluted and live Christ's life in me to the full.

    Incredible incredible stuff here. I'll be back.

  23. That Scripture was from Col. 2:8, NIV.

  24. Laura Lee, I agree. The lines do get blurred and sometimes we are so enamoured with the messenger that we forget to test what they say against what scripture says.

    That's really the main point I hoped to make with what I wrote but I have the gift of gab and what started as a single thought ended up as a very long post! lol

  25. Oh, dear, Cindy...I wasn't implying that people shouldn't listen to you! :-) I think you brought up a very good point about what is being said and written these days. I was trying to say that we shouldn't believe everything speakers/evangelists/authors say without studying God's Word ourselves.

    I thought your post was great, and I am going to forward it to my Sunday School teacher!!! ;-)


  26. Beth, I took your comment as you meant it and didn't think you were saying no one should listen to me. We should always measure what anyone says on things like this against what the Bible teaches.

  27. ¡Excelente!

    Well said, my friend!

    O that we may love the Word more than any other human's teaching!

    Thank you for encouraging us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His Word.

    Have a blessed day,

  28. I just stumbled upon your blog, and I am so glad I did.

    Amen, amen, amen. Thank you for sharing truth in love.

    Thank you for exposing the false teaching that is abounding, so many have their heads stuck in the sand and do not have a clue.

    I have been encouraging others to stick to the word, stop taking the words of men and making too much of them. Men are imperfect, God is not, His word is sure and infallible.

    Thank you so much for this insightful, truth-filled blog post.

    We have sisters in Christ who need discernment, who need to be careful who they are embracing. Thank you again for this extremely timely post!!!

  29. Awesome, awesome post Cindy!! I wish I had your depth and knowledge! We share much of the same convictions but I just don't know how to go about putting mine into words as you do!

    In the past couple of years I have had discussions with a Christian friend about books she wanted me to read. One was "The Shack" which I took home with me but brought back after the first chapter. I told her that I could just not get past God the Father being portrayed as an African American women! Period! She told me I should read the book to "get the whole picture" but I had no need to get whatever "picture" there was. My heart just told me it was wrong. The other was the "Twilight" series about the vampires. She sees nothing wrong with reading these books. I feel that as Christians we have no business going where angels fear to tread!

    It's almost bedtime for me after a long...but good Sunday (a friend got saved this morning!)....but I'll be back to visit again!

    God bless! Mississippi