The Mysticism of Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, and Rob Bell

By Brannon S. Howse

Many within the Emergent Church are committed to being mystic Christians, which fosters their merger with pagan spirituality. Yoga, transcendental meditation, and walking the occultic maze of a labyrinth are becoming increasingly popular practices in the Emergent, to say nothing of mainline, churches. 

Even the secular media is taking notice. In the September 14, 2008 Tennessean newspaper (Nashville), the article “Meditation Goes Mainstream,” reported: 

[quote] Joe Scott, 61, got hooked on meditation in yoga classes about 16 years ago. At the time, he was an opinionated workaholic who had a need to always be right. "I used to be a very angry, intense person," says Scott, who works in the quality assurance department at HCA. Thirty minutes of meditation first thing in the morning completely changed his life, says Scott, who also meditates with members of Self Realization Fellowship in Berry Hill, which incorporates readings from the Bible and the Hindu holy book in their Sunday services. For Carolyn Goddard of Nashville, she was drawn to centering prayer, a form of contemplative prayer, to deepen her connection with God. A Colorado monk revived this ancient ritual of "resting in God" in the 1970s as an alternative for Christians lured to transcendental meditation. Today, there are about 25 centering prayer groups that meet throughout Tennessee with 13 in the Nashville area.  

Participants choose a sacred word to help them clear their mind of other thoughts. "You don't have to go outside the Christian tradition to find methods of meditation. It's part of our heritage, as well," says Goddard, who attends Christ the King Catholic Church and is an instructor with Contemplative Outreach of Middle Tennessee. 

"I was constantly driven and racing against deadlines," says Cassandra Finch of her former life as a Nashville television news reporter. "I didn't have time to chew my food or breathe deeply. I kept it up for a while, but it was taking a toll on my body." She quit her job and cared full time for her father, who was dying from Parkinson's disease. After his death, she threw herself into meditation. "I discovered my true self through meditation," the 42-year-old says. "Often because we are so busy, we don't make time for self-discovery." A Christian who attends an interdenominational church and considers herself nondenominational, Finch has also been attending a Buddhist center to meditate. [end quote] 


How all this could have started becomes clearer when you consider Christianity Today  November 2004 interview with Emergent Pastor Rob Bell. It describes Bell’s own journey: 

"The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—“discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat." 


And in one of his sermons posted on the internet, Bell connects the dots all the way to yoga: 

"[In Yoga] it’s not how flexible you are, it’s not whether you can do the poses, it’s not how much you can bend yourself, it’s can you keep your breath through whatever you are doing. And the Yoga Masters say this is how it is when you follow Jesus and surrender to God. If it’s your breath being consistent, it's your connection with God regardless of the pose you find yourself in. That’s integrating the divine into the daily."


The ramifications of Emergent thinking affects even core doctrines such as salvation. How does Emergent pastor and best-selling author Rob Bell define salvation? According to Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch, Bell describes salvation like this:

"Bell derides the “score card” approach to sin. Rather, he maintains that once you’ve converted, you’re loved, you’re accepted, you’re forgiven, you’re in. But he leaves the joy of this personal salvation with the message that being “in” means understanding poverty as the Savior did."


(Silly me—I guess I took the Bible too literally when Jesus said being saved requires faith and repentance rather than having a proper knowledge of poverty.) 

In an interview with Relevant magazine Bell has said:

"Bell proposes some great ideas on living life the way God intended. He suggests what it might look like to bring heaven to earth, that heaven is a “now” thing, not a “someday” thing. He suggests viewing salvation as more than just a legal transaction. He suggests that maybe this whole thing is not just about us believing in God, but about God believing in us."


While Bell is one of the strongest voices in the Emergent fraternity, he is by no means the only influential one. The 2007 National Pastors Conference promoted Emergent pastor Doug Pagitt’s wife’s Christian yoga classes:

"Join Shelly Pagitt for a time of prayer, stretching, and meditative reflection as you begin your day at the NPC. If possible, please bring a mat with you for the stretching time."


Emergents also find various ways to merge other disparate ideas. EC leaders Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, and Jerry Haselmayer declared in their book, A is for Abductive—The Language of the Emergent Church:

"Emergence theory incorporates into an intellectual and spiritual framework ancient and recent arguments for intelligent design (focusing on diversity and complexity) with certain aspects of evolution (natural selection and the fossil record). In this view, part of the goodness of Creation is an inherent potential to generate new possibilities so that more and more goodness can emerge."


In his exposition of the Emergent Church heresy, Bob DeWaay comments:


[quote] This is not a Biblical explanation of Creation followed by the Fall that explains both good and evil, but philosophical speculation after the manner of Ken Wilber. Goodness does not emerge; as Jesus said: "only God is good." But if you have a panentheistic or pantheistic system, God is part of the process, thus goodness can be deemed to "emerge." [end quote]

Rob Bell echoes McLaren, Sweet, and Haselmayer in Velvet Elvis: Rethinking the Christian Faith:


"For a mind-blowing introduction to emergence theory and divine creativity, set aside three months and read Ken Wilber's A Brief History of Everything…Not only are we connected with creation but creation is going to move forward. It can't help it. It is loaded with energy. It's going to grow and produce and change and morph."


DeWaay puts this view in perspective: 


[quote] Bell's description of the fall also is inadequate and more in line with panentheism. Rather than rebelling against God and transgressing His moral laws, Adam and Eve made a mess of the balance of things by falling out of harmony. [end quote]


At almost every turn, the Emergent mindset seems to be more about us than about God. Bell explains our “personal power”:

[quote] God has given us power and potential and ability. God has given this power to us so we will use it well. We have choices about how we are going to use our power. The choices the first people made were so toxic because they were placed in the middle of a complex web of interaction and relationships with the world God had made. When they sinned, their actions threw off the balance of everything. It is all one, and when one part starts to splinter and fracture, the whole thing starts to crumble. [End quote, Emphasis mine] 


Alice Bailey and her demon said that the apostate church would be one of three institutions to lay the groundwork for the "new order," and the false-dominant church is laying the foundation for the great rebellion prior to the coming and acceptance of the anti-Christ. 

Lutheran scholar Frederic Bauer suggests where this all will lead:

"To a phase of western or world civilization that is innately religious but hostile to Christianity…or worse, a dominant but false church that brings all of its forces to bear against the truth of God’s Word."

This new church will, itself, become a persecutor of the remnant Bible-believing Christians. 

As long ago as 1898, Abraham Kuyper warned in the Stone Lectures at Princeton: 

"Do not forget that the fundamental contrast has always been, is still and always will be until the end: Christianity and Paganism, the idols and the living God."

The rise of the Emergent Church brings to mind the words of the late Vance Havner regarding Satan’s shrewdest strategy for getting his way in the world: 

"The devil is not fighting religion; he is too smart for that. He is producing a counterfeit Christianity so much like the real one that good Christians are afraid to speak out against it."

Christians who have not “studied to show themselves approved” unto God and who that are not committed to the Word of God, are at great risk for spiritual deception. And for those caught unaware, there will be an Emergent Church eager to welcome them. Kierkegaard would be smiling.

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