What’s wrong with Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality?
Peter Scazzero, and especially his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2006), is very influential in churches. Scazzero’s book is a main inspiration to many church leaders who consider it “a very good book.” Just like Richard Foster, Scazzero relies heavily on alleged personal messages from God through contemplative prayer and other means, but outside biblical guidelines. “Write down how God speaks to you. When I read an edifying book where God is coming to me, I write inside the back cover a few sentences about each insight along with the page number. This way I can go back later and easily review what God said to me.” (p. 2, emphasis mine).
Claiming divine revelation should be a red flag in any non-biblical book. Pseudo-Christian authors often claim divine revelation while advocating highly questionable theology in order to duck valid criticism—nobody dares to criticise God, right? On a more serious note: falsely claiming divine revelation in order to push your own agenda is a grave form of blasphemy.
For example, regarding the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) Scazzero introduces the unbiblical concept of experiencing the fruit (“experience the beautiful life”) as a factor separate from bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Scazzero claims that 90 percent of our personality (our deep, underlying layers where emotional life resides) is blocked and that’s why we don’t experience the fruit of the Spirit, even though we do bear it. According to Scazzero, this 90 percent has to be healed by God, resulting in emotional health. However, Scripture says something different. The Bible completely ignores Scazzero’s alleged deep layers (the 90 percent) where, again allegedly, emotional life resides, suggesting that Scazzero’s 90-percent-concept is irrelevant to experience the fruit of the Spirit.
According to Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit is the result of ‘remaining in the vine,’ the product of a life rooted in Jesus Christ (Jn. 15:1-8). Only if we remain in the vine, do we bear fruit. If we don’t experience the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, Scripture does not suggest that we are emotionally unhealthy. Instead, Scripture suggests that we are not rooted in the vine Jesus Christ. Scripture ignores the experience of the fruit as a factor separate from bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Scazzero’s emotional health is therefore irrelevant in this equation. This means that Scazzero is wrong in identifying emotional health as crucially important to experience the fruit of the Spirit. Even worse, Scazzero’s views are idolatrous because they lead us away from a life rooted in the vine Jesus Christ (God-centered) and into a focus on ourselves and our own feelings (man-centered).
Scazzero claims that “emotional health and contemplative spirituality are indispensable to bringing transformation in Christ to the deep places of our lives” (p. 2-3, emphasis mine). Scazzero believes that the combination of these two “addresses…the missing piece in contemporary Christianity. Together they unleash the Holy Spirit inside us” (p. 46, emphasis mine). Scazzero even says that “both are necessary to loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others” (p. 46, emphasis mine).
Again, Scripture says something different. Scripture completely ignores emotional health and contemplative spirituality as necessary factors to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). This means that Scazzero’s emotional health and contemplative spirituality are irrelevant and superfluous to comply with Jesus’ two commands. Even worse, Scazzero’s views are idolatrous because they lead us away from following Jesus Christ as our Lord (God-centered) and into focusing on our own feelings and void spirituality (man-centered).
Some of Scazzero’s views are blatantly unbiblical. “No other religion in the world reveals a personal God who loves us for who we are, not what we do. His approval is without conditions” (p. 108, emphasis mine). A core doctrine of the Christian faith is that God offers redemption from God’s wrath under the condition that the repentant sinners accept, by faith, Jesus Christ as their Savior and their Lord. That’s conditional approval, however you look at it. According to Scazzero the essential first step toward emotionally healthy spirituality is to “know yourself that you may know God—becoming your authentic self” (p. 65, emphasis mine). But according to Scripture it’s the other way around!
Scazzero starts from a pagan viewpoint (Socrates’ know yourself) and sets out on a man-made journey to know God, but Scazzero’s approach will end up in making idols, in making gods in our own image. According to Scripture, God revealed to us that we are sinners under God’s wrath, that we rebelled against our Maker and that we are in need of a Redeemer. According to Scazzero, we should develop a “new, more biblical self-understanding…I hold myself in high regard despite my imperfections and limits…I am worthy to assert my God-given power in the world. I am entitled to exist. It is good that I exist…I am worthy of being valued and paid attention to. I am entitled to joy and pleasure…” (p. 54, emphasis mine).
According to Scripture, “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12,23). Scazzero’s views are idolatrous because they encourage the mindset of a confident customer who selfishly focuses on personal fulfillment (man-centered), while Scripture demands the mindset of a repentant sinner who humbly focuses on God’s gracious gift of redemption (God-centered). Therefore, we should discard Scazzero’s unbiblical teachings from our churches.
Pieter Bouma is mainly occupied by teaching and writing. Inspired by the big questions of life (Does God exist? Where do we come from? How should we live? Is there an afterlife?), his main focus is on discipleship, explaining the New Covenant, apologetics in general and the question of origins in particular. Having a strong preference for direct, personal relationships (shared lives), Pieter is not active on Twitter, but will post regularly on Theology Mix.