Resisting the Mystical: Staying Afloat
Looking around at the evangelical landscape, more and more influences from mystical authors and speakers can be seen.
People are not satisfied to sail through the doldrums, just eating “manna,” but want to spice up their prayer lives with exotic techniques. I’ve written a book titled, “Resisting the Mystical: Staying Afloat on an Ocean Full of Shipwrecks.” This book is unique in that it looks in-depth historically at some of the most influential Roman Catholic mystics (who now are being promoted in the evangelical church). The book shows how, through such mysticism, conservative churches are falling into the same error of the hyper Pentecostals, who said things like “turn off your mind, and just go with the flow of the Spirit”—chasing after experiences instead of walking by faith and loving God’s Word. Also, having written extensively on Buddhism, I bring out the similarities between not only the Roman Catholic Church in general and Buddhism, but also the similarities between their respective spiritualities—which are now being marketed in different packaging for an evangelical audience. This book is available through Moriel, and covers topics which, far from going away, seem to be taking center stage more and more. Let no man deceive you. May God help us to stand against the tide of this false spirituality and draw close to Jesus, praying as the Bible teaches us, avoiding mystical deception.
Calvary Chapel and the “Broadwayers”
In 1965 the first Calvary Chapel was founded in Costa Mesa. Now in 2017, there are over 1600 Calvary Chapels around the world. Chuck Smith, who by God’s help founded this movement, went to be with the Lord in 2013. The man who has taken over the Costa Mesa church, Brian Broderson, is moving this church in a very different direction from its founder. In Chuck Smith’s lifetime, his brother Paul Smith warned against compromises, such as ecumenism and mystical influences. He was eventually fired from Calvary Chapel, a decision supported by Brian Broderson (spelling his name “Broad”erson might be more in keeping with his increasingly ecumenical character-- Matthew 7:13-14).
Others, such as Roger Oakland who for over two decades was part of Calvary Chapels as a teacher, and who gave warning of incoming compromises, has left the movement. Jacob Prasch has also spoken warnings and continues to minister in Calvary Chapels to those who will listen. Calvary Chapel pastors such as Dwight Douville, John Higgins, Chris Quintana, and Marco Quintana have also taken a stand against compromise (this is not an exhaustive list—surely there are many faithful pastors in the Calvary Chapel association who are following God’s Word, rather than the Zeitgeist [spirit of the age]). The majority of Calvary Chapels seem to be maintaining the “Calvary Distinctives,” going verse by verse through the Bible, and holding to sound doctrine. A smaller number of CC churches however are moving towards a more ecumenical approach to church. One example of this would be Calvary Chapel’s Greg Laurie (www.light housetrailsresearch.com/blog/?tag=greg-laurie). Another example is Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa’s Brian Broderson (this is the church where Chuck Smith began). “New Distinctives” are now evident. Let us consider the following:
- Brian Broderson has separated from the Calvary Chapel Association and founded his own Calvary Chapel Global Network.
- On his “Things That Matter” podcast, Brian interviews Rick Warren and is supportive of his programs. Pointing the sheep to Rick Warren is a doorway to ecumenism. In The Purpose Driven Life, Warren recommends the spirituality of Brother Laurence, a Carmelite monk, who used breath prayers. Warren says, "You choose a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath" (Yungen, 148-150). What did Jesus say about repetitious prayers (Matthew 6:7)? In an interview in 2014, Warren called the writings of Teresa of Avila and other mystics “great, classic devotional works” (research.com/blog/?p=11347). Warren has attempted to broaden the narrow way to such an extent that he is inclusive of Catholic proselytizing. How can Broderson support such leanings?
- -On another “Things That Matter” podcast, Brian lists five podcasts that he personally considers to be edifying. All five of these podcasts are “Reformed/ Calvinist,” while Calvary Chapel has traditionally been non-Calvinistic. Four of these podcasts are linked to “The Gospel Coalition,” a network founded by Tim Keller and Don Carson—those four podcasts recommended by Brian are the Acts 29 podcast, Tim Keller’s sermon podcast, Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing,” and Russell Moore’s “Signposts” podcast. John Piper is also part of The Gospel Coalition. More about “The Gospel Coalition” later and their back door (and some front door) endorsements of mystics and ecumenism.
- On the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa bookstore on Facebook (facebook. com/CCCMChapelStore/), mystical authors are promoted such as Paul E. Miller (“A Praying Life”—more on this later), Gary Thomas (“Sacred Parenting”)--how could mysticism creep into a book on parenting? Well, he manages to get a whole chapter in on contemplative spirituality, pointing to Catholic nun Teresa of Avila and inter-faith Frank Buchman as teachers to enhance one’s prayer life (www.lighthousetrailsresearch .com/blog/?p=1610). An entire chapter in my book “Resisting the Mystical” explains why Teresa of Avila’s teachings are far from biblical.
- Broderson in 2016 sent out a promotion on his Facebook page of Nicky Gumbel and the ecumenical Alpha Course (understandthetimes.org/commentary/c183ccand alpha.shtml). Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha Course, said, "It was a great honor to be presented to Pope John Paul II, who has done so much to promote evangelization around the world.... We can be united and proclaim this Jesus to a desperately needy world" (Oakland, 132). If the pope is an “evangelist,” then we must wonder what gospel Gumbel is talking about. The apostle Paul’s definition of the gospel was not so broad as to include Catholic doctrines (see Galatians chapter 1).
Teachers Linked to The Gospel Coalition
- Tim Keller
(one of the five podcasts recommended by Brian Broderson)
In some of Keller’s statements he tries to distance himself from Catholic mysticism, but in other ways he promotes it full force. One example in which Keller promotes mysticism, is by having a “PRO- (Jesuit) Spiritual Exercises” and “PRO-visualization” article on his Redeemer website, without any word of warning. These “Exercises” were drawn up by none other than the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola. In this article, Jan Johnson wrote: “One of the best-known ways to ponder God’s character, works and ways is a format originated by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Loyola’s methods, recorded in his book Spiritual Exercises, have been used for hundreds of years. He urged people to enter into Scripture with all five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell…. As I meditate on a passage, I often ask myself, What did the biblical scene look like? At first, this was difficult. But then I decided to pretend I was Cecil B. DeMille creating a scene for a biblical epic such as The Ten Commandments. When I meditated on the transfiguration of Christ, I tried to imagine Jesus’ radiance. This passage required that I bring in Steven Spielberg too, adding the special effects of lightning-bright clothes.” (www.redeemer.com/ learn/prayer/prayer_and_fasting/meditation_not_so_ mysterious) The Spiritual Exercises delve deeper than this also, in contrast to John 20:29 and I Peter 1:8.
In Keller’s book on prayer, he also encouraged readers to look into Phyllis Tickle’s book “The Divine Hours.” Tickle, true to her name, but false to Jesus' name, tickles the ears of modern audiences, and promotes various mystical authors. Tickle wrote, “The new Christianity of the Great Emergence must discover some authority base or delivery system and/or governing agency of its own. It must formulate—and soon—something other than Luther’s Sola Scriptura which, although used so well by the Great Reformation originally, is now seen as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient…” (The Great Emergence, pg. 151) (www.deceptioninthechurch.com/ecsolascriptura.html) Also, Phyllis Tickle was invited to speak at Rob Bell's emergent church in Michigan, and she had the following to say about communion: "We are feeding, by eating God, which is what we're doing here, by eating the body and blood of our God, we are feeding the God within us, for as we take those elements, the Spirit also feeds within us and is reinvigorated as he or she or it is by our faith." (www.alittle leaven.com/2009/05/whats-being-taught-at-rob-bell.html)
In an interview on John Piper’s website (www.desiringgod.org/articles/10-questions-on-prayer-with-tim-keller), Keller gave a recommendation for one of Eugene Peterson’s books on prayer. On his own website, Keller also recommended Peterson’s books, calling them “a cool breeze in the desert” (www.timothykeller.com/s/Ministry-and-Character.pdf). Peterson is very ecumenical and a bridge to the mystics as well. He wrote, “The ancestors we look to for encouragement in this business – Augustine of Hippo and Julian of Norwich, John Calvin and Amy Carmichael, John Bunyan and Teresa of Avila – didn’t flit. They stayed” (www.submergingchurch.com/influencers/eugene-peterson). Also, “Peterson endorsed the back cover of Sue Monk Kidd’s new edition of When the Heart Waits. Sue Monk Kidd, once a conservative Baptist, found the ‘secret’ in contemplative prayer and has now become a strong proponent of contemplative spirituality. [Peterson wrote,] ‘As I read her book, Sue Monk Kidd became a companion to me. I love having her walk with me on my journey.’” (www.submergingchurch.com/influencers/eugene-peterson/)
In Keller’s book, “The Reason For God,” he encouraged people to go to church, but gave no direction as what kind of a church (Evangelical as opposed to Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox). In the book, Keller downplays the big differences, “…all Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians assent together to the great creeds of the first thousand years of church history….These teachings make Christians far more like than unlike one another. What is Christianity? For our purposes, I’ll define Christianity as the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds…” (116). Keller identifies himself as a Protestant (Presbyterian), but makes it sound like this is just one good option among other good Christian options. Rick Warren endorsed this book.
Keller has also signed the Manhattan Declaration of ecumenical unity with Catholics for the sake of moral legislation—seeking the fruits of the gospel apart from the gospel itself.
- John Piper
Out of one side of his mouth, John Piper said, “I'm very ticked at seminary classes that think you have to mainly go to the mystical Catholic tradition in order to find this kind of depth and this kind of personal connection with the living God that is both rational and supra-rational and very mystical in its communion.” (desiringgod.org/interviews/what-do-you-think-about-contemplative-prayer)
But, on the other side of his mouth, Piper on his OWN website promotes authors who point to the ROMAN CATHOLIC mystics. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster are favorably quoted on Piper’s site, but they are extreme promoters of the Catholic mystics. Why isn’t he “ticked” at them as he says he is “ticked” at seminary classes which promote the same thing? Also, Paul E. Miller and Ann Voskamp are writers for John Piper’s “Desiring God” website:
---Paul Miller (www.desiringgod.org/authors/paul-miller)
Miller’s book “A Praying Life” is promoted on Broderson’s church bookstore Facebook page also. In his book, Miller promotes the “Jesus Prayer” which is a repetitive prayer from the Greek/Eastern “Orthodox” tradition, and he references The Philokalia. The Philokalia is a part of the “Orthodox” church’s mystical literature along the lines of the hesychast tradition. The scholar Findly wrote, "Respiratory techniques similar to those used in Hindu yoga can be found in the Christian tradition of hesychasm. Hesychasm is a type of prayer in Eastern Christianity based on a control of physical faculties and a concentration on the Jesus Prayer to achieve peace of soul and union with God.... The traditional breath control that begins hesychastic contemplation is used, like pranayama, to prepare for mental prayer.... In a quiet cell, with the door closed, one sits in the corner and presses the (bearded) chin against the upper part of the chest, much as in the jalandhara bandha of Hindu yoga. One then directs the eye-and with it all the mind-to the navel, and compresses the inspiration of air in the nose so that normal breathing does not come easily, all the while ceaselessly repeating the Jesus Prayer.... This exercise prepares one for the attainment of absolute quietude of the soul and for the experience of divine light" (Findly, 308). I don’t think Miller has embraced the full force of such mysticism, but why point people in that direction at all? Even pointing people towards repetitive prayer is already against what Jesus taught. Also in the book, Miller affirmatively references Thomas Merton. Merton was a Catholic monk who felt complete unity with the spirituality of Buddhists, Hindus, Sufi Muslims, etc. He was not only an ecumenical promoter, but an inter-faith advocate as well. One Sunday School teacher named Sue Monk Kidd (referred to above regarding Keller/Peterson), was given a Merton book and it completely shipwrecked her faith, leading her into a head first dive into mysticism. Now she worships “Goddess Sophia,” not Jesus. Pope Francis has also given a green light promotion of Thomas Merton, which essentially is a green light promotion of mystical inter-faith spirituality (www.lighthouse trailsresearch.com/blog/?p=18379).
---Ann Voskamp (www.desiringgod.org/authors/ann-voskamp)
Voskamp promotes many Catholic and pro-Catholic authors…Voskamp has, “…favorable references to and quotes by various mystics, pantheists, and universalists. The following is a list of some of those influences: Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Evelyn Underhill, Brennan Manning, Annie Dillard, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Kreeft, Walter Brueggemann, Francis de Sales, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Henri Nouwen….” (www.lighthousetrailsresearch .com/blog/?tag=ann-voskamp)
John Piper also promoted ecumenical Rick Warren: (www.desiringgod.org/ articles/john-piper-interviews-rick-warren-on-doctrine)
- Russell Moore
Moore is a writer and speaker for The Gospel Coalition. His podcast is recommended by Brian Broderson. Moore sent out a very ecumenical tweet on Luther’s 500th anniversary of standing against Catholic falsehoods: “In a tweet probably designed to be pithy or cute, Russell Moore has drawn ire in social media for what basically amounts to trolling for reaction on Reformation Day. Tweeting a picture of a Russell Moore bobblehead placed between a Pope bobblehead and Martin Luther bobblehead, Moore said, ‘A uniter, not a divider.’”(http://pulpitand pen.org/2017/10/31/russell-moore-trolls-protestants-on-reformation-day-touts-unity-with-catholics/)
Also, in 2014, “Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Saddleback megachurch leader Rick Warren will team up with Roman Catholic Pontiff Francis later this month for an interfaith Vatican conference on marriage and family.” (www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=16363)
- Albert Mohler
Mohler is a council member of The Gospel Coalition. When asked what book he wished every Christian should read, his response was Augustine’s Confessions (thegospelcoalition.org/article/albert-mohlers-one-book-recommendation/). Augustine is considered to be a theological “doctor” of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the man who, more than any other, set the Catholic ship's compass to sail in a different doctrinal direction, towards what would eventually become full-blown Roman Catholicism. He was a promoter of doctrines such as infant baptism, Mary's perpetual virginity, purgatory, the persecution of heretics, and the Eucharist being sacrificed to help the dead. These doctrines would be spelled out more fully later, but he was "pivotal" as a direction changer. He was also a foundational man in relation to mysticism. Scholar McGinn says of him, "...he [Augustine] was also an author who gave considerable attention to the mystical element in Christianity and to whom almost all later Western mystics appealed." (McGinn, 1997; 231)
Albert Mohler has recently promoted the book “The Benedict Option,” advocating Catholic contemplative prayer, and ecumenism, using the monk Benedict and his “rule” as the center piece of the book. The author of this book, Rod Dreher, was raised as a Methodist, but converted to Catholicism in 1993, and then in 2006 converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. The “Orthodox” church believes in baptismal regeneration, emphasizes mysticism over theology, and generally looks to the sacraments rather than having a relationship with God through His grace (www.namb.net/apologetics/eastern-orthodox). Russell Moore and John Piper also are supportive of this book: (www.light housetrailsresearch.com/blog/?tag=benedictine-monks). The book is being touted as a book to help transform society in a good way. Aside from the obvious errors of the book, any effort to transform society is missing the most important element here--evangelism and the true gospel to transform lives--true faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). An Eastern Orthodox person has a different gospel to share.
Mohler has also signed the ecumenical Manhattan Declaration.
In advocating such podcasts by such ecumenical and pro-mystical men, Brian Broderson has shown what he is willing to tolerate and promote. Not only the podcasts, but also promotion of men like Rick Warren, Nicky Gumbel, and pro-mystical authors like Paul E. Miller, and Gary Thomas, show the direction Broderson wants to take the Calvary Chapels willing to follow him. Men, women, and even children of God of old were willing to suffer and die for the truth they maintained and confessed, rather than compromise. Many martyrs died at the command of the Roman Catholic authorities, because they loved the Word of God, rather than the traditions of men and the praise of man. In the age that we live, the broad way is very popular, but leads to destruction. Jesus pointed us to a narrow way. Let us be faithful to Jesus.
Compromising clear statements in God’s Word does not make the narrow way broader. Whether a compromising leader is actually on the broad way or just leaning towards the broad way, making such compromises has the potential to influence people negatively to 1. get off of the narrow way, 2. make them stumble, or 3. prevent them from getting onto the narrow way to heaven in the first place. Ironically, those who try to make the narrow way broader actually make it narrower by taking people off the pathway to heaven. Let us display our love for people by preaching God’s Word without any mixture of unbiblical mysticism or ecumenism. Our unity is in the truth.
Findly, E.B. (1987). Breath and Breathing. In Eliade, M. (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion (v.2). (pp. 302-308). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Keller, T. (2008). The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
McGinn, B. (1997). The Foundations of Mysticism. New York: Crossroad.
Oakland, R. (2007). Faith Undone: The emerging church...a new reformation or an end time deception. Eureka: Lighthouse Trails Publishing.
Yungen, R. (2012). A Time of Departing. Eureka: Lighthouse Trails Publishing.