In this next series I will present conclusive evidence that there are those in and around Emergent-US who have found the emphasis on “Christian” mystic traditions–a core doctrine of the theology of the Emergent Church–fertile ground in which to plant neo-pagan spiritual elements absolutely hostile to the historic Christian faith. We have already discussed the repugnant spiritual ramifications inherent in the panentheism of the New Light theology taught by Brian McLaren’s good friend Leonard Sweet. Now we begin to look further at McLaren’s involvement with the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones, who has been connected to this Emergent “conversation” through his decided influence on McLaren’s theology. You will begin to see how the “enlightenment” of Buddhism is going to figure in the theological agenda of the Emergent Church.

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’ ” (Mark 7:6-7).

Apostolic Approaches To Spirituality?

We begin by establishing that “Christian” mysticism and its practices are an integral part of the theology of the Emergent Church. In his 2001 book Soul Shaper Tony Jones, the National Coordinator of Emergent-US, gives us his version of the historical background concerning one of the spiritual disciplines practiced by what have become known as Christian mystics, one that he refers to as “centering prayer.”

“Like the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers. John Cassian (c.360-c.430) came from the West and made a pilgrimage to the desert to learn the ways of contemplative prayer (073, emphasis added).

At the upcoming National Pastors Conference 2006 sponsored by Zondervan, Leadership and InterVarsityPress Tony Jones will be presenting this type of information to pastors and youth ministers. Notice in the above we can see that “the Jesus Prayer,” and “Centering Prayer” arose through “the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers.” One might also observe there is no mention of this being an Apostolic doctrine nor is there reference to Christ or His Apostles employing these practices for the simple fact that it wasn’t and they didn’t. And we also should note that Jones equates “Centering Prayer” here with “contemplative prayer.”

Now before anyone thinks I am being unfair because I am quoting something that Jones wrote years ago, let me inform you the above information is repeated verbatim on p. 70 of his book The Sacred Way (SW) released in 2005. It is in fact contained in a section called: “PART II: VIA CONTEMPLATIVA contemplative APPROACHES TO SPIRITUALITY.” Among these “contemplative approaches to spirituality” we find: “Silence and Solitude,” “Sacred Reading,” “The Jesus Prayer,” “Centering Prayer,” “Meditation,” “The Ignatian Examen,” “Icons,” “Spiritual Direction,” and “The Daily Office.”

Enter Richard Foster And Renovare

These will also be among the “contemplative approaches” taught to pastors by “writer and theologian” (SW, back cover) Tony Jones at NPC 2006. We’ve already established that the Emergent theologian has equated “Centering Prayer” with “Contemplative Prayer.” You will find this latter term “contemplative prayer” is the more common reference to this particular spiritual discipline. And one of the most recognized names involved with what is becoming known as the Contemplative Prayer movement is Richard Foster.

In an article in Christianity Today called “The Emergent Mystique,” Brian McLaren, a prominent theologian in “Emergent, the emerging church network that he and several other church planters and pastors lead,” cites Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, with their emphasis on spiritual disciplines, “as key mentors for the emerging church.” As a matter of fact on McLaren’s website he provides a running commentary on that CT article. Concerning the section on Willard and Foster pastor McLaren says:

“He cites Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, with their emphasis on spiritual disciplines, as key mentors for the emerging church. None of these thinkers has any inclination to throw out the baby of truth with the bathwater of modernity.”

I’m grateful to Andy for including the preceding, because many people doubt this. (

A reader also asks the Emergent leader about the subject of “spiritual formation”:

The reason I am writing you is because I am trying to better understand what spiritual formation is…I think it is important to seek the wisdom of today’s leaders. I have heard a lot on this subject from people such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, but I was wondering what Spiritual Formation is to you. How would you define Spiritual Formation and what kind of importance would you place on it with the current generation? I appreciate your time.

A: I hope to do some writing on this subject in a year or two. In the meantime, I have deep appreciation for what my friend Dallas Willard is saying. He, and those he points to, are great guides.

And as evidenced by this answer to a reader’s question, McLaren also seems to have a deep appreciation for what Richard Foster is doing for the “Christian mystical tradition” as well. And further you’ll see that McLaren recommends Tony Jones’ SW as a good resource on the subject of “contemplative practices” as well:

In some of my readings, both of books authored by you and others, I have read about Christian mystics. Who are the predominant Christian mystic authors?

Answer: If you pick up Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and his other work via Renovare, you’ll get a great exposure to the Christian mystical tradition. “The Spiritual Formation Workbook” is a great resource too. Tony Jones’ “The Sacred Way” is also a sturdy introduction to contemplative practices.

Now we have firmly established Richard Foster as a “key” mentor and source of authority in the Emergent Church on contemplative practices and the “Christian” mystic tradition. In his fine book A Time For Departing research analyst Ray Yungen gives us some of the benefits of his in-depth study of Foster’s teachings when he says:

I discovered he was the founder and head of an organization called Renovare, from the Latin word meaning renewal. The goal of this group, as stated in their material, is to provide the evangelical church with a “practical strategy” for growing spiritually. “An army without a plan will be defeated,” states one of Renovare’s promotional materials. Renovare provides that plan or as they refer to it: “practical training for transformed living” (71).

My Emerging Methodology

Let us stop right here and shift our focus onto this idea of Foster’s organization providing “practical training for transformed living.” We will discuss Foster himself a bit later in the series when we return more specifically to the issue of Centering Prayer aka Contemplative Prayer. At this point we will be changing direction a bit to center on this idea of spiritual transformation; but first for the benefit of those who have not read my 6 part series Brian McLaren And Evangelical Panentheism, I wish to point out the methodology I’m using in trying to expose the Emergent part of the conversation of the Emerging Church movement. Let me begin by pointing out that just the same as Brian McLaren I am also a pastor with no formal theological training.

However, unlike both McLaren and Jones who allow themselves to be labeled as “theologians,” I make no claim as such, nor do I even consider myself to be a Biblical “scholar” in any formal academic fashion. Having been largely trained through the tape ministry of the founder of the Christian Research Institute, the late Dr. Walter Martin, I will sometimes use an approach similar to that employed by a lawyer preparing a case. In the matter of the Emergent Church, for instance, there is little use to present a Biblical apologetic due to their largely being neo-orthodox (or worse) in their view of Scripture.

So what I am doing instead is building a case of evidence against this infiltration of counterfeit Christianity through Brian McLaren and his Emergent Church that I pray just might find its way to one influential leader within the Evangelical community who has enough guts to take it from here. Until this happens I feel led that I have no choice but to continue to turn over rocks and uncover what I see as the tactics used by Emergent leaders–particularly McLaren–to introduce their version of neo-pagan mystic spirituality deeper into the mainstream of the Church of Jesus Christ.

As a result of months of personal research into McLaren’s writings and the associations he has been making (see my EC index here) I believe the evidence has already shown that Emerging Church pastor Mark Driscoll is right when he said that his friend Brian McLaren is “pushing a theological agenda.” Driscoll is on record as saying:

I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell…(, emphasis added)

Just as in a court of law one will still have to decide for themselves how credible Driscoll’s firsthand testimony is, but since he would be in far better position than I to know for sure what would be going on I will leave the above assessment to him. At the same time however, the evidence that I am uncovering and presenting here at Apprising Ministries gives us every reason to believe that the pushing of a theological agenda is undoubtedly true in the case of Brian McLaren himself. In a very real sense I am not going to be able to rest until he is brought to spiritual justice so to speak because in my opinion McLaren is not being forthright about everything he personally believes theologically.

The Emergent Transformation

This whole matter is all tied up with the idea of transformation, also referred to as “spiritual enlightenment.” It is my contention that McLaren is in agreement with two “living spiritual teachers” from the Living Spiritual Teachers Project (LSTP), the Very Reverend Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, and fellow of The Jesus Seminar Dr. Marcus Borg when they speak of this spiritual transformation. What needs to be understood here is that in their mind to be transformed has nothing to do with the way this word is commonly used within the confines of historic Christian doctrine in which a believer in Christ is “born again” (regenerated) and thus transformed by God the Holy Spirit. Rather, I believe the evidence from his peculiar writings–and even more peculiar spiritual associations–will show that McLaren is viewing transformation in the same way; “transformed” as in the Buddhist concept of one becoming spiritually “enlightened.”

At this point a defense attorney might object that what Jones and Borg have to say is irrelevant; but since we are discussing the mystic spiritual nature that is integral to the theology of the Emergent Church, which Brian McLaren “and several other church planters and pastors lead,” and McLaren himself cites their work, then this goes to the possible motive he might have for pushing a particular “theological agenda.” We get to Marcus Borg next time but in Parts Five and Six of Brian McLaren And Evangelical Panentheism I show that McLaren clearly signifies his approval of Alan Jones’ teachings in his ringing endorsement of Jones’ book Reimaging Christianity when the Emergent leader says:

It used to be that Christian institutions and systems of dogma sustained the spiritual life of Christians. Increasingly, spirituality itself is what sustains everything else. Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply (back cover, emphasis added).

I argue that in the above words “systems of dogma” we are seeing McLaren’s own bias against much of historic orthodox Christian doctrine, which would be consistent with what he revealed in his own book A Generous Orthodoxy. Further, McLaren’s words of endorsement of Alan Jones are also consistent with his own approval of the mystic traditions cited earlier. This becomes clearly revealed when McLaren refers to Jones being “a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality.” We might take this two ways: 1) A criticism of current Evangelical Protestant teachings regarding the spiritual life of the Christian, and 2) McLaren sees something “authentic” in the neo-pagan mysticism taught by the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones.

In any event, since McLaren is beyond question one of the most prominent theologians in the Emergent Church we have great cause for concern here. And we also have a legitimate reason to suspect that McLaren is “pushing a theological agenda” when he says that the alleged “authentic spirituality” in the work of the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones “stimulates and encourages me deeply.” Therefore, this work of Jones endorsed by Brian McLaren does bear on the case we are making that McLaren is aligning with men like Jones and Marcus Borg to use the mysticism inherent in the theology of the Emergent Church to attach unbiblical doctrine, most specifically concepts from Buddhism, in an attempt to bring them into the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Buddhism Connection

We will continue to develop this further in Part Two as we introduce the doctrine of yet another of these “living spiritual teachers,” Dr. Marcus Borg, who just happens to specialize in teaching transformation. But as we begin to close this particular piece, the following excerpt from Reimagining Christianity will show with crystalline clarity why Brian McLaren would be so “deeply” stimulated and encouraged by the “authentic spirituality” of Alan Jones. Anyone even remotely familiar with the theology of the Emergent Church concerning their version of the “kingdom of God” will immediately recognize McLaren’s theological agenda in the words to follow.

First the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones opens his book by asking the typical “questions” designed to set up the need for their mystic brand of “Christian” spirituality when he says that this book “assumes that spiritually committed people, grounded in their own tradition, need not be afraid of other faiths and other stories” (11). The language used here by Jones is so reminiscent of Brian McLaren that this statement could have itself come right out of McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. And then to begin the subsequent discussion of the concept of transformation and/or enlightenment as it is taught in eastern religions Alan Jones introduces the subject of Buddhism as he says:

And it trusts that human beings have far more in common with each other than we have barriers that divide us. * Questioning and faith go together. * We needn’t be afraid of each other. * What unites us is stronger than what divides us.

These three assumptions have helped me appreciate traditions other than my own without my having to “give up” being a Christian. For example, I’ve learned a lot from my friends who once abandoned Christianity yet come back to it by way of Buddhism. I have much sympathy with those who turn to that tradition for a breath of sanity (ibid).

At this point I remind the reader that my intent is not to critique this Biblically at this point, but rather to let the evidence speak for itself that we are indeed witnessing a theological agenda developing which is being attached to the Emergent Church through men like McLaren and Jones. It is obvious we are not reading words consistent with true Christian doctrine as the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones (that title alone should be obvious enough) whose “authentic spirituality” of his reimagined Christianity “stimulates and encourages” pastor McLaren “deeply” continues:

The traditional reward of Christianity is “other-worldly,” while Buddhism pays off here and now in a practice that makes a difference. It is pragmatic and, at its best, leads to a personal and intellectual independence. You don’t have to believe in anything to be a Buddhist––not even in God. You are, however, called to be in the world in a certain way––a way of compassion and loving kindness. For some, this is like being led out of prison (11,12).

And finally Jones’ own disdain for, and denial of, historic Christian doctrine becomes painfully obvious when our living spiritual Guru tells us:

One of the attractions of Buddhism for Americans is that it’s a set of instructions rather than a list of impossible things to believe before breakfast. That’s where Christianity could do with some work––as a way of imagination rather than a set of dogmas (ibid, emphasis added).

The words “set of dogmas” ties all of this right back to McLaren’s own endorsement on the back cover of Reimagining Christianity concerning “systems of dogmas” with the clear implication this inhibits one’s spirituality. We do see a theological agenda being forged here. It is an agenda that is the opposite of true Christian faith with its base hostility for doctrine in favor of a neo-pagan mysticism. In Part Two we will develop this idea further as we introduce the teachings of Dr. Marcus Borg, another “living spiritual teacher” with an obvious affinity with Buddhism, and editor/author of the book Jesus And Buddha: The Parallel Sayings.

The Masterful Teachings Of Jesus And Buddha

The reason Borg now becomes relevant is because in response to a readers question on McLaren’s own website he says that he considers the work of Borg “helpful and important in many ways”; and then McLaren tells us further he is “supposed to work with” him later this year. This work McLaren is supposed to do was of his own volition and will be part of Summer Seminars at the Center these being at The Center for Spiritual Development (CSD). I argue that it is not an accident that for the past three years at CSD “a spirituality course” called An Introduction to Buddhism has been offered. And when one considers that McLaren is a supposed minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the idea that he would bring Borg any further exposure and credibility in Evangelical Christian circles by working with him, is ample reason to suspect McLaren’s true intentions.

In closing I provide a couple of brief excerpts from Jesus And Buddha: The Parallel Sayings as living spiritual teacher Dr. Marcus Borg says of each that their “subversive wisdom was also an alternative wisdom: they taught a way or path of transformation” (viii). Borg then explains this further when he points out, “the common description of [the Buddha] as ‘the enlightened one’ points to the centrality of a new way of seeing. Enlightenment means seeing differently. Both Jesus and the Buddha sought to bring about in their hearers a radical perceptual shiftboth paths or ways involve a similar psychological and spiritual process of transformation” (ix). Until finally Guru Borg tells us: “Both Jesus and the Buddha had life-transforming experiences of ‘the sacred(xiii).”

The question I want to ask you to prayerfully consider is this: Why would Brian McLaren as minister of the Gospel, a man who is brought in and paid for by Christian church groups to instruct their own pastors, even want to work with, and endorse, men like Marcus Borg and Alan Jones who teach these kinds of things about the Lord Jesus Christ he claims to represent?

Unless of course; Brian McLaren really does see something that is “important in many ways,” and something that “stimulates and encourages” him “deeply” toward an Emergent theological agenda he wishes to push…