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The Emerging Church, Part 4: The Mystical Road

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  In their book Emerging Churches, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger quote Emerging Church pastor Spencer Burke:

“A move away from intellectual Christianity is essential. We must move to the mystical.”1

  Emerging Church enthusiast Frank Viola comments that

The emerging church phenomenon has re-ignited a healthy interest in the Christian mystics who emphasized spiritual encounter over against mere academic knowledge of God and the Bible.2

  Emerging Church leader Tony Jones says

propositional truth is out and mysticism is in. People are not necessarily put off by a religion that does not ‘make sense’ – they are more concerned with whether a religion can bring them into contact with God.3

  These types of statements are indicative of many in the Emerging Church. They are the next step in pushing the experiential boundaries of the knowledge of God outwards, away from Scripture. Let me emphasize here that mysticism is not denotative of all Emergents, and that they are not alone in their embrace of mysticism. There are many Christians of other “walks” who are also being lured away from a true knowledge of the Lord by mysticism.

  One of those who has been enticed by mysticism is Spencer Burke, founder of the Emerging website “TheOOZE.” He chronicles his own allurement away from the truth on his website, describing his thoughts after having attended a three-day silent retreat with mystic universalist Brennan Manning:

Shortly afterward, I stopped reading from the approved evangelical reading list and began to distance myself from the evangelical agenda. I discovered new authors and new voices at the bookstore-Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and St. Teresa of Avila. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Contemplative spirituality seemed to open up a whole new way for me to understand and experience God. I was deeply moved by works like The Cloud of Unknowing, The Dark Night of the Soul and the Early Writings of the Desert Fathers.

As my journey continued, I began to feel it might be time for me to leave professional ministry.4

It is not surprising that Spencer drifted from his conservative theological moorings. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, the mystical authors he lists have shipwrecked many a “sailor.”5

  Spencer mentions that “Contemplative spirituality seemed to open up a whole new way for me to understand and experience God.” The definition of contemplative spirituality is “a belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but is often wrapped in Christian terminology. The premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).”6 The Desert Fathers, whom Spencer also mentions, are generally regarded as the first “Christian mystics,” a phrase which I consider to be an oxymoron. Quoting Ray Yungen:

The contemplative movement traces its roots back to these monks who promoted the mantra as a prayer tool. One meditation scholar made this connection when he said:

The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East...the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.7, 8

  The goal of mysticism is to discover hidden knowledge about God or other subjects. Webster’s definition of the word “mystical” reads:

involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality <the mystical experience of the Inner Light>9

As discussed in Part 3, God chooses to come to us only through His means of grace, which are the Scriptures and the Sacraments (Holy Communion and Baptism). Seeking God through other means that are internal to us rather than external, and subjective rather than objective, is fraught with danger. God specifically forbids mysticism in multiple places in the Bible:

And when they say to you, "Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter," should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony [the Scriptures]! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
Isaiah 8:19-20

The form which mysticism takes does not matter to God - all forms are forbidden, whether yoga, magic, dream interpretation, the silence, spiritism, contemplative prayer, occultism, labyrinths, or other techniques. While there are instances recorded in the Bible in which God’s people had dreams and visions, in those instances God provided the revelation according to His plan, not the other way around.

  One of the mystical practices which is influencing the Emerging Church is that of contemplative prayer, one of the centerpieces of contemplative spirituality.

Contemplative Prayer in the Emerging Church

   Contemplative prayer, also known as centering prayer, or breath prayer, is encouraged by some in the Emerging Church. It is high on the experiential “to do” list. Tony Jones, the National Coordinator of Emergent-US, in his book The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, advocates a form of contemplative prayer called centering prayer. This type of “prayer” was developed by three Catholic monks in the 1970's, Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington. It was adapted, in part, from techniques described in the 14th century mystical book The Cloud of Unknowing.10 To quote The Sacred Way:

While the number of steps varies between authors, the basic formulation is this:

1. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, let yourself settle down. Let go of all the thoughts, tensions, and sensations you may feel and begin to rest in love of God who dwells within.

2. Effortlessly, choose a word, the symbol of your intention to surrender to God’s presence, and let the word be gently present within you. The word should be one syllable, if possible, and should communicate God’s love to you.

3. When you become aware of thoughts or as internal sensations arise, take this as your signal to gently return to the word, the symbol of your intention to let go and rest in God’s presence.

4. If thoughts subside and you find yourself restfully aware, simply let go even of the word. Just be in that stillness. When thoughts begin to stir again, gently return to the word. Use the word as your only response to thoughts, questions, or anxieties that arise in your mind.

5. At the end of your prayer time (20 minutes in the morning and evening is a good balance), take a couple of minutes to come out of the silence–even if you don’t feel you need it. Many people find this a perfect time to internally express to God their thanks and to pray for others in need of God’s grace. Slowly reciting the Lord’s Prayer is another gentle way to come out of the prayer.

  The other form of contemplative prayer, called Christian Meditation, was introduced by Catholic Benedictine monk John Main, and is done by repeating a single word, or mantra, over and over again. Using either technique, the goal, according to Thomas Keating, is to move “beyond dependence on concepts and words to a direct encounter with God on the level of faith and interior silence.”11

  Either form of contemplative prayer is an occult practice that will not lead to an encounter with God, but may lead to contact with a demon (a satanic angel - see 1 Timothy 4:1 for instance). The one thing it will not be is a prayer to God.12

The Origins of Contemplative Prayer

  Through the 4,000 years of recorded biblical history, through all of the believers whose lives are richly illustrated in the Bible, and through the wealth of prayers offered up in the Bible, there is not a single instance of contemplative prayer. While there are a few threadbare arguments offering Scriptural support for contemplative prayer, they are about as impressive as the Mormon basis for their doctrine of the three degrees of glory after the resurrection. Their doctrine of the three “kingdoms,” the celestial, telestial, and terrestrial kingdoms, is based on a single totally out of context Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 15:40.

  There are no biblical examples of anyone picking a word to use as a “symbol of their intention to surrender to God’s presence,” or to repeat a word over and over as a form of prayer, or to empty their head of all thought in prayer, or to concentrate on their breathing as they pray (another option in the contemplative prayer pantheon). There is, however, Christ’s specific command to avoid mantras:

"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
Matthew 6:7

  I am very suspicious of a prayer technique not mentioned in the Bible. God is purposeful in what He has caused to be written. I’ve already mentioned that mysticism is by default “ruled out” by God, and that the Desert Fathers may have borrowed their ideas from the east. This doubt leads me to ask a couple of pointed questions about today’s version of contemplative prayer: 1) What is the origin of contemplative prayer? and 2) What is its end result?

  The origin of the “Christian” version of contemplative prayer used today is not in dispute, although its origin is not always brought to light. Tony Jones mentioned the mystical book The Cloud of Unknowing in his description of the origins of contemplative prayer, but he failed to mention the heavy emphasis that Zen Buddhism has had on the genesis of the contemplative prayer project of Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington.

  Thomas Keating, along with his monk associates, were heavily versed in Zen. In an interview with Thomas Keating, when asked if his experience with Zen informed his Christian faith, his answer was “Yes, it enriched it. I read the Gospel from a different perspective and saw the truth of Zen in much of the Gospel.”14 The monks are lacking in discernment. God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doesn’t take advice from other gods, and we shouldn’t either. The First Commandment immediately comes to mind: THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME (Exodus 20:3). Or consider the first two verses from the Book of Psalms:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, And on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:1-2

Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, the New Age, and all other interlopers are no different than idols made of wood and stone. The LORD, who created heaven and earth by the breath of His mouth, who parted the Red Sea and crushed pharaoh’s chariots with his mighty right arm, will not share His glory with another.

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
Isaiah 40:21

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.
Isaiah 44:9

  To quote Thomas Keating in the same interview, regarding the inception of the other form of contemplative prayer developed by John Main, called Christian Meditation, it “is rooted in the experience John Main had in India. He learned a mantra from a Hindu source and translated that into a Christian context, finding sources in the early Christian tradition that reinforced his understanding.”

  Thus both forms of today’s contemplative prayer were influenced by, or originated directly from, Zen Buddhism ideals. When the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, God commanded them:

take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?--that I also may do the same.'
Deuteronomy 12:30

Those who have developed contemplative prayer and their followers are “doing the same.”

  Based on this discussion, I flee from contemplative prayer. Yet there are those whose view of God’s commands and of Scripture in general are similar to pirate Captain Barbarossa’s view of the Pirate’s Code in the movie Pirate’s of the Caribbean: “They’re more like guidelines.” They appeal to the code only when it works to their advantage. At other times, they lay it aside for a more opportune moment. For those who insist on viewing God’s commands as guidelines, let’s take a look at the end result of contemplative prayer.

The “Fruit” of Contemplative Prayer

  It is easy to believe that an eastern or New Age approach to contemplative prayer might have a bad ending, but what about a Christian approach?

  No matter which flavor of mysticism you are dealing with, eastern, New Age, or “Christian,” they all have the same pathway, an altered state of consciousness, brought on by focusing on or repeating a single word or phrase, to the exclusion of all conscious thought. If you think that slapping a “CHRISTIAN” label on the outside of the contemplative box will change the inside contents, think again. To quote former New Ager Elliot Miller:

For the responsive subject, “ASCs” (altered states of consciousness) can produce a profound mystical sense of “transcendence” of individuality and identification with everything. Such experiences of undifferentiated consciousness suggest to the seeker that ultimate reality itself is undifferentiated; everything is one, and the nature of the One must be consciousness (since at the peak of the mystical state consciousness is virtually all that is experienced)....The person who actively pursues or passively submits himself or herself to ASCs is setting himself up for nothing short of a religious conversion...15

The “religious conversion” Elliot refers to is the mystical belief that all is one. Russell Chandler states:

This premise [“All is One”] is known as monism, where distinctions of apparent opposites disappear, as does the line between material creation and the force or energy that creates it. Consciousness is not confined to human beings, but applies to all reality. It is best described in impersonal terms such as Principle, Mind, Power, Unity, and especially, Energy.16

  To go along with monism is its “evil twin,” pantheism. Pantheism is defined as “God is all things. The universe and all life are connected in a sum. This sum is the total reality of God. Thus, man, animals, plants, and all physical matter are seen as equal. The assumption–all is one, therefore all is deity.”17 This is sounding more far-fetched by the sentence, but these premises are exactly the kind of beliefs that mystics, even Christian mystics, harbor.

  Leonard Sweet, who has been called “the Emerging church’s most intellectual and influential thinker,”18 demonstrates his monistic and pantheistic leanings in his book Quantum Spirituality:

  Consciousness is even more than a causal reality. The ultimate reality of the universe appears to be consciousness, out of which energymatter arises.19

The most powerful forces in the universe are spiritual: the energies of divine unconditional love.20

...some of the last words poet/activist/contemplative/bridge between East and West Thomas Merton uttered:

We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity.21

Human minds are individual, but not singular or separated. They connect at some mysterious level not accessible to ordinary conscious awareness. God is the Spirit of the universe, the consciousness of the cosmos: its energy, its information, its thought.22

  Father Alan Jones, another contemplative prayer exponent, in his book Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind, shares similar thoughts:

...the sense of the divine came to me through other persons and wasn’t and isn’t, in the first instance, a matter of belief. Eventually I came to appreciate the insight of the mystics that we are nothing else but questions and longings, and that these deepening questions lead us beyond tribe and class into a vision of humanity that leaves no one out.

...I began to see that an energy had been at work in my life all along that is more than “me,” more than the longings that bubble around just under the surface of my life. ...I’m grateful for this energy. I am also confused and frustrated by it. And most important of all, I find that I am in love with it (or is it a him? a her?–it has the characteristics of the personal). Being connected to this energy became the most important thing in my life. Life turned into a romance of being lost and found.23

Basil Pennington, one of the Catholic monks who developed centering prayer, illustrates how, through centering prayer, “God” becomes a monistic “divine creating energy,” and consciousness and creation become one:

When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy. This is not a new idea. It is the common teaching of the Christian Fathers of the Greek tradition. When we dare with the full assent of love to unleash these energies within us not surprisingly the initial experience is of a flood of chaotic thoughts, memories, emotions and feelings. This is why wise spiritual Fathers and mothers counsel a gentle entering into this experience. Not too much too fast. But it is this release that allows all of this chaos within us with all its imprisoning stress to be brought into harmony so that not only there might be peace and harmony within but that the divine energy may have the freedom to forward the evolution of consciousness in us and through us, as a part of the whole, in the whole of the creation.24

Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer offer this unvarnished comment on monism:

“If modern western Christianity has become overly dualistic, might a measured dose of Zenlike monism help correct our hyperdualism?”25

Ray Yungen, in his book A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions, has this to say about the mystical experience:

The sad thing about this is that these meditative experiences are so real and convincing, and as people often testify, are very beautiful. They experience intense light flooding them, along with a sense of infinite wisdom. In this state, they also experience what many call ecstasy and feel a sense of unity with everything.26

Ray’s comments offer the perfect foil for Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren’s mystical experience, recalled in his book A Generous Orthodoxy:

But on this occasion, for a period of about 20 minutes, I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water became especially eloquent with God’s grandeur. Somehow they seemed to become transparent–or perhaps translucent is the better word–because each thing in its particularity was still utterly visible and unspeakably important: the movement of the grass in waves swayed by the wind, the way the goldfinches perch just so on a purple thistle plant. These specific, concrete things became translucent in the sense that a powerful, indescribable, invisible light seemed to shine through. The beauty of the creations around me, which I am always careful to notice, seemed on this day 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.”27

  Ultimately, contemplative prayer and mysticism lead to the belief that all religions worship the same God, and the traditions of other religions should be incorporated into Christianity. Leonard Sweet states:

A globalization of evangelism “in connection” with others, and a globally “in-formed” gospel, is capable of talking across the fence with Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim–people from other so called “new” religious traditions (“new” only to us)–without assumption of superiority and power. One Caribbean theologian has called this the “decolonization of theology.”~It will take a decolonized theology for Christians to appreciate the genuineness of others’ faiths, and to see and celebrate what is good, beautiful, and true in their beliefs without any illusions that down deep we all are believers in the same thing.28

Basil Pennington remarks:

It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced.29

Gibbs and Bolger quote Emerging Church leader Spencer Burke:

“...the Christian tradition could hold to an inclusive model, not an exclusive one. We have a community hermeneutic. We read other sacred writings, then get back to Scripture and decide together how to interpret what we have read from the literature that other religions hold to be sacred.”

Burke’s community is prepared to learn from faith traditions outside the Christian fold. There is a Buddhist family in their church. As a community, the church visited a Buddhist temple. They participated in a guided meditation with this family. Burke celebrates the many ways God is revealed. He recognizes that the Spirit has been with these people all along. The community celebrates other traditions. They reach out to other traditions, and they see them as beloved children of God.30

  Thomas Keating calls the process of centering prayer “divine therapy.” Why does he call it therapy? Because he believes that as your thoughts are stilled, the subconscious mind begins to “evacuate primitive experiences” (“unloading”), to continue quoting from the previously mentioned interview. As old painful memories surface, you are “to let them go” - these are the “false self” which prevents us from “union with God.” Thinking about these “painful emotions” while you are learning “interior silence” is not advisable, “because you might lose your grounding and confidence in God.” In the process of centering prayer, “the first experience of unloading is usually tears,” also “dream patterns change,” and “you may need the help of a therapist or a psychologically knowledgeable spiritual guide.” “With some prudent bodily exercises like Thai chi, the energy tends to get balanced”.31 He states that the bad experiences that occur are “the purification of Freud’s unconscious.” “You are not thinking about God during the time of centering prayer, so you are giving God a chance to manifest.” As the “spiritual journey” continues over a long period of time, the “true self,” which is our “basic core of goodness” manifests itself, “spiritual progress” is made, and “divine union” occurs. “If you want to call this higher states of consciousness or if you want to call it advanced stages of faith, hope, and charity, that is up to you.” But heed this caveat: “Centering prayer is very rich but quite diffuse and tends to put the emphasis on grace in a way that perhaps needs to be balanced by the Zen attitude, which is that we have to do something, too.” Does this sound like prayer to you?

  Centering prayer is indeed “therapy,” but in no way could it be called “divine.”

  Father Keating goes on to say:

Most mainline Christians have a pretty monstrous idea of God that involves hell and punishment. If you feel that God is a judge, then you are ready to bring down the verdict of guilty for your least fault. We didn't know how to teach children religion, so we gave them the Commandments instead of fostering the idea of God as a loving father and protector who is merciful and who loves us. That is the good news of the gospel. I'm afraid we got into the habit in many Christian denominations of teaching the bad news first.

  So what is the fruit of centering prayer for Thomas Keating, the originator of centering prayer? A belief that not talking to God is talking to God. A belief that sin is “the refusal to grow, to choose to stay as we are.” A belief that the Law, which shows us our sin, convicts us, and points us to the Gospel, is a “monstrous idea.” A belief that we can all achieve “divine union,” regardless of religious belief. A belief that we can achieve “divine union” by a psychological process, rather than being reborn by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. A belief that “we have to do something” to be saved.

  The fruit of contemplative prayer is rotten. It is dead. It is infested with the swarming flies of false doctrine. There are many well-meaning Christians who are seeking God but are being lured away by Satan through this and other mystical practices. Jesus warns in Matthew Chapter 7:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The god described by contemplative prayer is a god made of wood and stone.

  So why have I spent this much time on one narrow topic? Because contemplative prayer is a metaphor for all the mystical spiritual disciplines, and a metaphor for the Emerging Church’s search for God through mystical means. No matter which mystical “means” you pick, the same rotten fruit is produced. Other mystical “means” embraced by the Emerging Church include:

  • yoga, defined as

a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle,32


     the labyrinth, another “mystical journey to spiritual fulfillment.”33

  Mysticism has become a breeding ground for postmodern people who either refuse to acknowledge the inspired Word of God, seeking instead a god of their own making, or who have been led astray by false prophets.

Beyond Mysticism

  There is something even beyond mysticism, and that is imagination, the final frontier for the squeaking wheel portion of the Emerging Church. Community, story, experience, mysticism and the Bible have become fellow travelers on a journey of “imagination, and wondering, and thinking “what’s possible.”34

  Here are several Emerging Church voices on the subject of imagination:

The “personalised” meaning or significance of church will increasingly be heard, seen, and discerned in peopled stories, in what is said and what is not said, in the dreams, the imaginings, the practices, and hopes of all who are the local expression of the “one…catholic and apostolic church.”35

to imagine and generate new possibilities for the Christian church in the postmodern world.36

We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus, new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.37

And Brian McLaren’s voice:

“We believe that image (the language of imagination) and emotion (including the emotion of wonder) are essential elements of fully human knowing, and thus we seek to integrate them in our search for this precious, wonderful, sacred gift called truth, which you and I both love - and too often betray in spite of our best intentions.”38

  Finally, I’d like to quote ordained Episcopal priest Alan Jones, the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, because he exemplifies the ultimate heretical end of the mystical road. Father Jones is a postmodernist, and although I’d consider him to be on the fringe of the Emergent conversation, Brian McLaren apparently considers him a viable part of it, endorsing Alan’s book cover by saying “Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.” I can’t agree with Brian’s endorsement. Father Jones’ spirituality is a counterfeit spirituality. It appears that Father Jones’ mystical addiction has caused him to exchange the truth of God for a lie. Here are some of his thoughts from his book Reimagining Christianity:Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind:

When we begin to accept our inner plurality, we get less frightened of others who manifest a different tribal mix. Some of us feel that there is an emerging tribe–the global soul–that is able to see religion as a great work of the human imagination. Seeing it as a work of the imagination doesn’t make it any less true. Religion becomes a collective enterprise of cooperation between us and the unknown. Some of us identify the unknown with Spirit. Others leave it as the unknown. But we all participate in the same work of imagination.39

Reading his comments remind me of Ezekiel 13:1-3:

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: `Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! (NIV)

Alan continues:

When we recover religion as a work of the imagination and are able to play with it in stories and myths, we wake up to the liberating fact that dogma isn’t “eternal” but, like everything else, has a history.40

2 Timothy 4:3-4 also comes to mind:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Alan again continues:

I believe the Bible and the creeds but not literally, and I am no atheist....So Christianity as a set of beliefs doesn’t work for me.41

The phrase “I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian” is extraordinarily wise.42

The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine. I don’t doubt for one moment the power of sin and evil in the world or the power of sacrificial love as their antidote and the peculiar power of the cross as sign of forgiveness and restoration, but making God vengeful, all in the name of justice, has left thousands of souls deeply wounded and lost to the Church forever.43, 44

  By calling the doctrine of substitutionary atonement a “vile doctrine,” Alan Jones rejects the core of the Gospel. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ went to the cross carrying your sin and mine. Without that pivotal essence, the Gospel is meaningless, salvation is lost, and you’ve reached the abyss at the end of the satanic mystical road.

  Heading down that mystical road, some portions of the Emerging Church have lost sight of the Gospel. With mysticism and imagination reading the map, that’s not hard to “imagine.” It is the Gospel that will be the subject of The Emerging Church, Part 5: Redefining the Gospel?


Written by Scott Diekmann

Continue to Part 5

 All parts of this article may be referenced or downloaded separately or all together at:

To jump from the endnote number in the text to the actual endnote and vice versa, click on the respective endnote number.
All quotes containing italics are those of the quoted author unless otherwise noted.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.


1.     Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 230.

2.     Frank Viola, “Will the Emerging Church Fully Emerge?”, 2 Mar 2007 < >.

3.     This quote was taken from page 25 in chapter 3, “Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and The Emerging Church,” of R. Scott Smith’s book Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005) in its pre-publication form, available here: < >, 01 Mar 2007.

4.     Spencer Burke, “From the Third Floor of the Garage: The Story of TheOOZE,”, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

5.     To see where Spencer Burke’s mystical path has taken him, refer to his latest book, A Heretics Guide to Heaven. Theologian Scot McKnight reviewed the book in its pre-publication form. Having read other articles Scot has written on the Emerging Church, I’d have to say he’s an Emerging sympathizer (he’s on the Emergent Village Coordinating Group and he’s got a “FRIEND OF emergent” logo pasted in the margin of his website). His review of Spencer’s book, though, while trying to be charitable, is highly critical of Spencer’s “bottom line.” He calls Spencer a panentheist, states “...I see no reason to think he believes in the Trinity from reading this book,” and “I see no reason in this book to think Spencer believes in the Gospel as the NT defines gospel...” although “Spencer told me on the phone that he thinks all are included in God’s grace from the start solely because of Jesus’ death and resurrection; why not write that in this book?”
All four parts of Scot McKnight’s review can be found at the following addresses:

6.     “contemplative spirituality,” Lighthouse Trails Research Project, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

7.     Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions, 2nd Ed. (Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails, 2006) 45.

8.     Meditating on God’s Word is a common theme in the Bible. To quote Pastor Don Matzat: “In contrast [to empty-headed meditation], when Christians meditate upon the Word of God, this does not involve maintaining a blank mind. Rather it means filling the mind with the Word of God.”* Psalm 119:15-16 reads “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
*Don Matzat, “Meditating Upon the Word of God,” Issues, Etc. Journal, 1.7, May/June 1996, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

9.     “mystical,” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2005, 01 Mar 2007 <>.

10.  Author unknown, The Cloud of Unknowing. This book may be viewed or downloaded from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 24 Mar 2007 <>.

11.   Thomas Keating, interview with Anne A. Simpson, “Resting in God...An Interview with Fr. Thomas Keating, OSCO,” Common Boundary, Sep/Oct 1997, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

12.   A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions, by Ray Yungen is an excellent book to help sort out the interrelationship between such topics as contemplative prayer, the Desert Fathers, pantheism, yoga, the silence, eastern spirituality, demons, and the New Age. Mr. Yungen offers an in depth but easy to understand analysis, from a Christian perspective, to warn of the dangers of mysticism.

13.   For more on the contemplative spirituality of Tony Jones, refer to:
Richard Bennett, “Emerging Church Indoctrinates with Catholic Style Eastern Mysticism,” Berean Beacon Ministries, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

14.   Keating interview.

15.   Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989) Foreword by Walter Martin, 36-37.

16.   Russell Chandler, Understanding the New Age (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991, 1993) 27-28.

17. “pantheism,” Lighthouse Trails Research Project, 24 Mar 2007 < >.

18.  “The Issue of other Religious Practices as Worship in the Church,” Let Us ReasonMinistries, 03 Mar 2007 <>.

19.    Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: United Theological Seminary, 1991) 63.  Available for free download at: <>.

20.   Sweet, 65.

21.   Sweet, 12.

22.   Sweet, 63.

23.   Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2005) XVII-XVIII.

24.   “Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation,” The Cross and the Veil, quote from "Love is God's Being" by M. Basil Pennington, 24 Mar 2007 <>.

25.   Leonard Sweet, Brian D. McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer, A is for Abductive? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 336. Thanks to Apologetics Index for pointing out this quote.

26.   Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions, 2nd Ed. (Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails, 2006) 22.

27.   Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional+evangelical +post/protestant+liberal/conservative+mystical/poetic+biblical+charismatic/ contemplative+fundamentalist/calvinist+anabaptist/anglican+methodist+catholic+ green+incarnational+depressed-yet-hopeful+emergent+unfinished CHRISTIAN (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) 198-199.

28.   Sweet, 130-131.

29.   Basil Pennington, Lighthouse Trail Research Project, quoted from Centered Living by Basil Pennington, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

30.   Gibbs and Bolger, 132.

31.   The “energy” he is referring to is “kundalini energy,” which is also called “serpent power.” In the foreword to Philip St. Romain’s book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality: A Pathway to Growth and Healing, Thomas Keating offers this endorsement: “This book is the first description that I know of in Christian literature about the awakening of kundalini energy in a purely Christian context. Kundalini has long been known in Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist spirituality. The fact that this complete awakening occurred in the context of a classical development of Christian prayer makes it an important contribution to East/West dialogue. ...The awakening of kundalini energy and its various stages clearly enhances our understanding of how the body takes part in the spiritual journey.” Shalom Place, 24 Mar 2007 <>.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines kundalini as “Energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is activated, as by the practice of yoga, and channeled upward through the chakras in the process of spiritual perfection.”
“kundalini,” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, 02 Mar 2007,,>.
Brian Flynn describes kundalini: “Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, tingling sensation, and uncontrollable twitching. The Sanskrit word Kundalini means the curled one, and is also called Kundalini awakening or the awakening of the serpent. Practitioners describe it as a curled channel in the tailbone area. It can rise through the chakras (psychic centers situated along the spine from the tailbone to the top of the head), creating physical symptoms ranging from sensations of heat and tremors to involuntary laughing or crying, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, rigidity or limpness, and animal-like movements and sounds.” Brian Flynn, “The Kundalini Effect and Contemplative Prayer,” One Truth Ministries, 24 Mar 2007 <>.

32.   “yoga.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 20 Feb 2007. <>.

33.   Carl Teichrib, “The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path of Fulfillment?,”, 20 Feb 2007 <>.

34.   Doug Pagitt, “The Emergent Church and Postmodern Spirituality Debate,” CD-ROM, Session Two, Minneapolis, Twin City Fellowship, Jan 2006.

35.   Paul Fromont, “The ‘Body Art” Of Emerging Church,”, 02 Mar 2007 <>.

36.   Formerly on the Emergent Village website, <>.

37.   Formerly on the Emergent Village website, <>.

38.   Brian McLaren, “An Open Letter to Chuck Colson,” 02 Mar 2007 <>.

39.   Jones, 24.

40.   Jones, 117.

41.   Jones, 31.

42.   Jones, 16.

43.   Jones, 168.

44.   This is the last time we’ll be hearing from Alan Jones. While there are those in the Emerging Church who share his repudiation of “penal substitution,” as we’ll see in Part 5, his is a position that some in the Emerging Church would reject. Although Brian McLaren is only a step or two behind Alan Jones’ theological footprints (at least on paper), I think there are those in the Emerging conversation that abhor some of what Alan Jones has to say as much as I do. While I abhor what Alan Jones has said, I pray for him. I pray that God will remove the scales from his eyes, so that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit and a true knowledge of the Gospel.

Sola Scriptura     •     Sola Gratia     •     Sola Fide