Many churches today are turning toward the ancient paths of the old mystics. In a certain church l came across a particular form of this unbiblical mysticism (in combination with psych-speak) and I had a closer look. Based on my experiences in this particular church, I present you with my reasons as to why I believe much of what is being taught in churches today is not only theologically unsound, but is dangerous to the faith life of many believers. The main inspirations for this particular mysticism-psych-speak-church are Bill Hybels’ seeker-friendly gospel and two popular pseudo-Christian books, namely Celebration of Discipline (1998) by Richard Foster and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2006) by Peter Scazzero. (Another book by Richard Foster, namely Prayer (2002), proved to be a revealing read too.) I have listed seven main areas of concern, and then have expanded on them in more detail.
7 Main Concerns Regarding Pseudo-Christianity Teaching
1. Contemplative Prayer
What’s Wrong With Contemplative Prayer?
Foster-Scazzero’s version of contemplative prayer is not about meditating on God’s Word, but getting into an altered state of mind and receiving personal messages from God. However, Richard Foster, the best-known advocate of contemplative prayer, does warn us that:
(a) this kind of contemplative prayer brings the unsuspecting believers in contact with demons,
(b) only mature Christians should be allowed to do this, and
(c) prayers of protection should be prayed before going into this God-forbidden spiritual realm.
So does it really take a rocket scientist to understand that we should discard Foster-Scazzero’s version of contemplative prayer from our churches completely?
2. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline
What’s Wrong With Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline”?
This book has sown the seeds of the “experience movement” that is characterized by contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and mysticism. Celebration of Discipline is an encyclopedia of unbiblical teaching that leads unsuspecting believers away from biblical Christianity and into unbiblical mysticism.
3. Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
What’s Wrong With Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”?
Just like Richard Foster, Scazzero relies heavily on alleged personal messages from God through contemplative prayer and other means, but outside biblical guidelines. 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).
4. Psychology as ‘Special Revelation’
What’s Wrong With Considering Psychology as “Special Revelation”?
“Special revelation” refers to the idea that truth about God and about the spiritual realm can be obtained by other means than by God’s revelation in the Bible. Based on the belief that psychology qualifies as “special revelation,” this leads to a focus on psychotherapy rather than biblical guidelines when teaching and counseling. But the psychological view and the biblical view on who we are and how we should live are incompatible on a deep level. Psychology tells us that we should focus on ourselves and on reaching our full potential (man-centered), while Scripture tells us that we must submit to God, deny ourselves, and that our ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God (God-centered). By following Scazzero’s concept of ancestral bondage, we are encouraged to search for actual or imagined psychological damage in the past, assuming that the alleged damage is the root cause of bad behavior. However, as Christians, we should accept the biblical view that sin is the root cause of bad behavior.
5. The Problem With “Love Yourself First”
What’s Wrong With the Non-biblical Command “Love Yourself First”?
According to Richard Foster, we have to learn to love ourselves first. When we finally love ourselves enough, then we can start to love others. But this is not true: we do not have to learn to love ourselves first before we can love our neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself” boils down to take care of your neighbor consciously the way you take care of yourself automatically. “Love yourself first” encourages a primary focus on ourselves, our problems, our feelings, etc. If people wait until they feel that they love themselves enough, then they will never proceed to love others. This is wrong: it leads to the idolatry of worshiping ourselves.
6. Lectio Divina
What’s Wrong With Lectio Divina?
The Bible reading method lectio divina highlights “illumination by the Holy Spirit” as the sole means to understand the Bible text. Although there is a place for lectio divina in personal devotion, it runs the risk of opening the floodgates to all kinds of heresies and shutting the door to a real understanding of what the Christian faith is about. To keep church life on track, Scripture must first be understood in the sense “What does this Bible verse mean logically and theologically?” before it can be understood in the sense “What does this Bible verse mean to me personally?” This is especially necessary regarding discipleship. According to the New Covenant, the transition from saved sinner to active disciple must be made: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Christ, be salt of the earth, and bring God’s kingdom to the world in order to fulfill the Great Commission. The Gospel message in combination with discipleship dominates the theology and the application of the New Testament and it should therefore also dominate the teaching in our churches.
7. The Seeker-Friendly Gospel
What’s Wrong With the Seeker-Friendly Gospel?
Bill Hybels’ seeker-friendly gospel is routinely defended by saying “methods change, but the message stays the same.” But this is not the case. Hybels redefines sin and salvation. The biblical Gospel portrays sin as rebellion against God and salvation as deliverance from God’s wrath. Hybels’ gospel portrays sin as a flawed strategy to gain fulfillment and salvation as a means to fulfill your felt-needs. Therefore, Hybels’ gospel is man-centered, not God-centered. This means that the transition from our felt-needs (man-centered) to the “way of the cross” (God-centered discipleship) is difficult to make. The first temptation of Christ (Mt. 4:1-4, Lk. 4:1-4) shows that it’s wrong to exchange God’s commands for the felt-needs of man. In churches today, we should follow the example of Jesus’ seeker-friendliness (Mt. 4:23-25, 9:35-38).
Next week: An In-Depth Look at Teachings that Lead to Pseudo-Christianity
1. What’s wrong with Contemplative Prayer?