Apprising Ministries moves forward discussing an ongoing shift, drift would be the more applicable word, in the theology of the egregiously ecumenical Emerging Church aka Emergent Church—currently morphing into Emergence Christianity—(EC) toward panentheism with a flawed theosis (deification of man) as its logical conclusion; particularly evident with Brian McLaren.

In the soteriology of the Eastern Orthodox Church the word theosis is classically used in terms of the final result of the salvation of man. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology informs us that theosis is:

A term used by the Eastern Orthodox Church to describe the desired end result of the salvation process… Salvation in Orthodox theology is dependent on God’s grace. Theosis is the prime example of God’s grace in operation. Only by the substitutionary death of Christ can we have our sins forgiven and the way to heaven opened. (1191)

As time, and currently critically low funding may allow, AM will develop this subject further. The hope would be to show you that what McLaren means in his teachings about theosis, in truth, has little to do with the way the Eastern Orthodox Church uses this term. Our position is that it’s just not wise to use this term at all. That aside we first consider the following comment found on his website, which touches on McLaren’s “understandings of salvation” as well as Eastern Orthodoxy, in order to show that he is quite familiar with this particular view of soteriology (salvation).

A seminary student writes: “You need to read about Orthodox understandings of salvation (theosis) and synergy (synergia).” McLaren then answers:

I especially have been influenced by Orthodox soteriology and spiritual formation. My Orthodox friends sometimes criticize me, thinking that I’m like the guy who goes into a candy shop and licks a lot of the lollipops – because I’m too cheap to buy just one and stick to it. They suggest that I shouldn’t borrow anything from Orthodoxy unless I embrace it all. But what if Orthodoxy helps me see resources that have been there in the Bible all along – and so I’m actually rooting my discoveries in the Bible?

That’s not to deny that it’s possible that I and others might be dilettantes or “grazers” – that’s always a danger. But even then, we may be engaging with the meaning behind Orthodox practices more deeply than many Orthodox folk themselves – who, as you imply, don’t always know what treasure they have! (Online source, emphasis mine)

Now we look at another question from a reader about McLaren’s influences as it concerns his views on soteriology itself:

My question is about your experience with Eastern Orthodoxy… (as in Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Coptic, Syrian). How has Eastern Orthodox theology influenced you? Would you say that emergent theology is more closely related to that of the Orthodox church than to the Evangelical church?

Answer: I write a bit about this in A Generous Orthodoxy, and you’ll find other questions about this in previous monthly Q & A’s. Certain aspects of Eastern Orthodox theology have been very helpful to me – especially their soteriology, Christology, and understanding of the Trinity. And I have been enriched by their approach to spiritual formation as well. (Online source, emphasis mine)

This is not meant to be a theological exposition of theosis; for now, suffice to say that the concept of theosis—or man becoming divine in some fashion—is certainly found within the teachings of Brian McLaren. As such then, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone in the vague and nebulous world of the EC, while I simply inform the wider evangelical community that McLaren’s theology has long ago drifted away from anything remotely connected to evangelical doctrine. This becomes more and more evident as one thoroughly examines what, in fact, he is teaching.

McLaren writes an entire chapter on theosis in his book Finding Our Way Again where he uses language completely consistent with the panentheist as he says, “The call to theosis, the call to the via unitiva, is the call for us to realize that we have withdrawn ourselves from the fire and lost the glow of glory” (176); that fire being God. I’ll also point out here that the reason McLaren would be so inclusive of all “faith traditions” is, for one who holds to panentheism, all religions have some validity because they each would be thought of as but shattered pieces of the once united Whole i.e. God.

And then right on the contact page of McLaren’s website, where one may book him for a speaking engagement, among the topics McLaren could cover we find:

The Three-Fold Way: 1 or 3 sessions
The monastic traditions of both the Western and Eastern churches have this in common: a three-fold way of spiritual formation. In either one or three sessions (the longer format allowing for extensive experiential practice), the presentation explores the via purgativa (katharsis), the via illuminative (fotosis), and the via unitiva (theosis). Especially helpful for those seeking to experience and lead others in deep spiritual formation. (Online source, emphasis mine)

Eyewitness Views From Previous McLaren Seminars

I not been afforded the opportunity (yet) to attend a conference where Brian McLaren has spoken, but I did a little homework and was able to come up with eyewitness testimony from a couple of people who have. And you will indeed see the references to those three stages listed as “The Three-Fold Way” above. Not only that but I wish to draw to the readers attention to the way in which McLaren uses these stages in his presentations; and most particularly to his use of language that’s right in line with the theology of New Age/New Light as he leads up to this “unitive stage” (theosis).

As you’ll see McLaren’s teachings are not consistent with apostate Eastern Ortohdoxy—let alone Protestant evangelicalism—instead, we will see examples of what he referred to above as “engaging with the meaning behind Orthodox practices more deeply than many Orthodox folk themselves.” In other words, in true EC Humpty Dumpty fashion McLaren has simply reimagined [read: re-defined] terminology. This first report we have is from Bob Smietana, who covered a seminar by Brian McLaren in February of 2004 as Associate Editor for The Covenant Companion

Smietana says in his article called McLaren:It’s Not All About You :

“It’s all about you.” That’s the message that most of us receive every day from advertisers and marketers who want us to buy their products.

Unfortunately, said author and pastor Brian McLaren, that’s what most people believe the Christian faith is all about…talking to Evangelical Covenant Church pastors attending the 2004 Midwinter Conference about the effects of postmodernism on the church, McLaren turned his attention Thursday evening to an essential flaw in modern Christianity – the lost art of disciple-making.

The world’s three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all trace their beginning back to Abraham. In Genesis, God promised to bless Abraham and to make him “a great nation” and that “all nations of the world will be blessed through you.”

While these great faith’s embrace the first part of Abraham’s call – God’s promise to bless him” – they ignore the second half of the call to be a blessing to all the people of the world, said McLaren… In closing, McLaren offered some advice based on his studies of some of the practices on Medieval Christian monasteries, where the art of disciple making was treasured and lived out for hundred of years. There are three essential stages of those practices, he said:

• The “purgative stage,” where we try and rid our lives of the practice of sins like greed, lust and pride – “or money, sex, and power”

• The “illuminative stage,” where we open up the windows of our lives and let God’s light in through worship, prayer, and devotional practices

• The “unitive stage,” where we experience God’s presence in our soulsand are able to bring his blessings to the world by living out God’s love. The “unitive stage” is also known as “theosis” – or what McLaren called “getting a bad case of God.” (Online source, emphasis added)

When we see terms like “illuminative stage” and letting “God’s light in” before we “experience God’s presence,” as Christians we should immediately become cautious because these ideas are more in line with the false New Age/New Light spirituality aka the divine spark than they are with the Biblical revelation from God. You’ll also note that in this report we were not given any Scripture to back up these alleged “stages” in which we are to develop this “bad case of God.”

When one considers that Smietana filed this detailed report of McLaren’s teaching before Evangelical Covenant Church pastors for a Christian publication it would appear likely Smietana would have included some if they had been given. Our other account of a Brian McLarenspeaking engagement comes from Geoff Holsclaw of up/rooted, who tells us “up/rooted’s purposes are closely aligned with those of both Emergent (we are an Emergent cohort),” and who is reporting on the seminar that he attended in April of 2004.

In a post called Summary of Brian McLaren’s “Three Phases of Spiritual Formation” Holsclaw tells us:

Brian McLaren, of Emergent, started of his presentation with two clarifications. 1) The term “spiritual formation” is a Catholic, or non-evangelical, way of saying the “Great Commission.” The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, but too often evangelicals make converts without any spiritual depth. So the practices and phases of spiritual formation is a means toward fulfilling this commission. 2) We can’t let the idea of “spiritual formation” turn into pietism, or a cultivation of our own individual soul, neglecting the world we live. We need to balance the inner life of contemplation (viva contempletiva) with the our outer life of action (viva active). So Brian says we must have a spiritual formation for global transformation; or, aim at global transformation through spiritual formation.

From here Brian outlines what he sees as the three phases of spiritual formation (gathering material from both the Western [Catholic/Protestant] and Eastern [Orthodox] traditions of Christianity).

The first is the phase called “viva purgativa” (or “catharsis” in the East). This is the stage of revulsion and expulsion. It is a time of purging our lives from sin, temptation, distraction. The Torah (Old Testament Law) teaches revulsion through its prohibitions. And the act of confession is a type of expulsion where we name our sin, and then separate ourselves from it; “That was me, but not now!!” is what confession says.

The second phase is called “viva illuminative” (or “photosis” in the East). This is the state of light, illumination. In this time we are allowing the light of joy and truth into our hearts and minds. This happens through scripture, prayer, meditation, and creation.

The last phases is called “theosis.” This is conceived as entering into the divine life of God. As an iron in the fire begins to glow brightly, as if the fire were inside it also, so too we can receive the divine life of God such that it lives with in us. Some might call this a mystical experience of God; and others would just call it sanctification.

Brian reminded us that we must keep in mind that these phases are not a linear progression (once we are done the first we will never go back), but better understood as seasons of life which we entering rhythmically (repeating yet with variation). (Online source)

The Return Of Blood Brothers In Denial

The concern being raised here is that what we have just read from “evangelical” Brian McLaren is far more consistent with a lecture in the non-Christian cult of Christian Science than it is with instruction in the historic Christian faith. This is an especially serious issue when it becomes intertwined with McLaren’s own denial of the penal substitutionary atonement. His refusal to acknowledge this core doctrine of evangelical Christianity, coupled with his endorsement of books by Steve Chalke and Alan Jones who specifically do, speaks very loudly for him.

Chalke, who was even a General Session speaker at Zondervan’s NPC 2006, calls the substitutionary atonement “cosmic child abuse,” and Living Spiritual Teacher Alan Jones refers to our Lord’s sacrifice this way: “implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine.” Then McLaren says of Alan Jones’ book:

“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 flap, emphasis added)

Really now, a denial of the saving work of God Himself in Christ on the Cross “emerges from authentic spirituality”? No, these kinds of counterfeit Christian teachings from Alan Jones and Steve Chalke, as well as those coming from more and more leaders within the EC—such as the Elvis of the Emerging Church Rob Bell, actually emerge from the metaphysical ooze of the New Thought Mind Science cults. Think McLaren’s good friend Leonard Sweet in Emergence Christianity: Quantum Shift To Panentheism and you’ll begin to notice the drift away from the historic orthodox Christian faith more clearly.

And as you are about to see below, these false doctrines espoused by Jones, which according to McLaren emerge from “authentic spirituality,” are also consistent with the theology of those who have become known as so-called “Christian” mystics. Which now brings us back to our conclusion that Brian McLaren is being heavily influenced by, and has even drifted into, the panentheistic theology such as that found in the teachings of those aforementioned Christian mystics e.g. men like Francis of Assisi and Meister Eckhart.

In fact McLaren even has a chapter in A Generous Orthodoxy called Why I Am Charismatic/Contemplative, as well as one called Why I Am Mystical/Poetic, which more than demonstrate this propensity on his part. And here is another interesting question from McLaren’s website, this one concerning the subject of his own writings about these Christian mystics:

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. (Online source, emphasis mine)

In his fine book A Time Of Departing (ATD) Ray Yungen clearly makes the connection from the panetheism of mystics like Assisi, Eckhart, Julian of Norwich and John of the Cross to Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster. One would often see Foster mentioned favorably by leaders within the Emergent Church but now, as we see in Richard Foster Forming Protestant Southern Baptist Convention Spirituality—with an assist from his spiritual twin Dallas Willard—Foster’s spurious Spiritual Formation is now slithering into the mainstream.

Both Foster and Willard are well known for their teachings about Contemplative/Centering Prayer, which is performed in an altered state of consciousness i.e. transcendental meditation-lite. Below Yungen is speaking specifically about Foster’s own use of the corrupt theology of these mystics when he writes in ATD:

I began to study his teaching. I discovered he was the founder and head of an organization called Renovare, from the Latin word meaning renewal… Foster became a riddle; his statement of faith and other writings seem evangelical. (71)

Here I must alert the reader to what is actually going on with men like Foster and McLaren in regard to their statements of faith sounding evangelical; it really is all a matter of Humpty Dumpty—words mean what I want them to mean—terminology. As we showed in John MacArthur: Existential Neo-Orthodoxy Denies Sola Scriptura, in his sadly neglected book Reckless Faith MacArthur was dead-on-target when he wrote in 1994:

In neo-orthodoxy, that same subjectivism is imposed on all the doctrines of historic Christianity. Familiar terms are used, but are redefined or employed in such a way that is purposely vague—not to convey objective meaning, but to communicate a subjective symbolism. After all, any “truth” theological terms convey is unique to the person who exercises faith. What the Bible means becomes unimportant, What it means to me is the relevant issue. All of this resoundingly echoes Kierkegaard’s concept of “truth that is true for me.”

Thus while neo-orthodox theologians often sound as if they affirming traditional beliefs, their actual system differs radically from the historic understanding of the Christian faith. By denying the objectivity of truth, they relegate all theology to the realm of subjective relativism. It is a theology perfectly suited for the age in which we live. And that is precisely why it is so deadly… 

Dr. Walter Martin (1928-1989), a foremost defender of what he so often called “the orthodox Christian faith,” would tirelessly remind us: “Make sure people define their terms.” But as soon as you begin investigating what leaders in this Emerging/ent/ence quais-Christianity are actually teaching you learn quite quickly that the words they are using often sound evangelical, but they have largely been gutted of their original meanings and then redefined. All one needs to do is to look at how often the prefix “re” appears in their writings; don’t be fooled, it’s there for a good reason.

Yungen continues with a most important point regarding our discussion of McLaren, theosis, and a panentheism beginning to emerge from his doctrine, leading to his warped and toxic view of the Gospel. Using Foster as an illustration, in ATD Yungen shows how the spiritual progression away from orthodoxy truly begins:

For example, Foster openly quotes [Thomas] Merton on the virtues and benefits of contemplative prayer putting forth the view that through it God “offers you understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons.” But when one digs deeper and finds what exactly this “understanding” is, it casts a very dubious light on Foster’s judgement. Listen to a few statements from some of the mystics whom Foster sees as examples of contemplative spirituality:

“[T]he soul of the human family is the Holy Spirit” – Basil Pennington

“I saw that God is in all things” – Julian of Norwich

“My beloved [God] is the high mountains, and the lovely valley forests,…” – John of the Cross

“Here [in the contemplative state] everything is God. God is everywhere and in all things – Madam Guyon

By using them as models [Foster approves of] these mystics [which] brings up a difficult problem for him. Panentheism was the fruit of their mysticism. This mysticism led them to believe as they did, and Foster cannot distance himself from…endorsing their panentheism. (72,73)

Merging Into Neo-Gnostic Metaphysical Mysticism And The Doctrine Of Panentheism

And this conclusion by Yungenwould also apply to all the leaders of this Emergence Christianity within the Emerging Church who are themselves practicing the exact same type of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) as those mystics Yungen just quoted above. Men and women, this is the heart of what I am laboring to point out to influential leaders within the visible church of our Lord. How can this aberrant (at best) mystic spirituality of neo-Gnosticism and its subsequent panentheism possibly be squared with a Protestant evangelical position on the nature of God? Answer: It can’t. 

I offer that right under the noses of Rip Van Winkles in evangelical leadership Mainstream Evangelicalism Is Now On The Rapid Slide To Apostasy because The Emerging Church Has Been Highjacking Evangelicalism and is marshalling an ecumenical counter-reformation as EC leader Phyllis Tickle recently declared The Reformation Is Over And Reformers Have New Names Today. We have previously established in Brian McLaren And Evangelical Panentheism that McLaren’s theology is already heavily influenced by the panentheism in Leonard Sweet’s so-called Quantum Spirituality.

And McLaren’sfurther drift from orthodox Christian evangelical theology is evidenced by his ready admission above that he’s stimulated and encouraged by the work of the heretical Alan Jones. Leading online apologetics and discernment ministry LightHouse Trails Researchinforms us that Jones “is an interspiritualist and mystic. Take a look at the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, of which Jones is involved. This group of about twenty-five includes Zen and Buddhist monks, New Agers and even Marianne Williamson and her Course in Miracles.”

That interspiritualist Alan Jones’ theology itself is panenthesistic (at least) is quite clear from this excerpt from his sermon Who Is God, where he refers to God as Ain Soph, which comes from the Jewish mystical system Kabbalah:

In the beginning, before there were any beginnings and endings, there was no place that was not already God! And we call this unimaginable openness, “Ain Soph” – Being-without end. Then came the urge to give life to our world and to us. But there was no place that was not already God. So “Ain Soph breathed in to make room. (Online source, emphasis mine)

Can you see where this goes? Our living guru Alan Jones tells us here that God breathed into Himself in order to create this world, and mankind, because there was no place that was not already God. And so, according to this man whose work so stimulates and encourages EC  spiritual director Brian McLaren, everything was created inside God himself, which is actually panentheism. But there is no other way to read what we are being told here, and at best, what we have a panentheistic world view with the inherent deification of all creation—which would include mankind.

For those who may not be familiar with Kabbalah, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry informs us it’s:

is difficult to categorize because it is a subjective non-falsifiable belief system. In other words, it rests in non-verifiable philosophy, not in historic fact. Nevertheless, kaballah is a mystical and esoteric system of observing and interpreting the universe and mankind… (Online source

In Kabbalah, the creator is Ein Sof, which means “endless or infinite” and unknowable divinity. This is quite obviously not the loving one true and living God of the Bible. We’ll leave this for another time; but the point that’s critical to understand here is that within all of this mixing and matching, and picking and choosing, from various spiritual disciplines—which is becoming more prevalent within the EC and even evangelicalism itself—that we are losing the transcendenceof God through an over-emphasis on His imminence.

And so we can already see that in the very Name of Christ those who are following these foolish EC false prophets and dreamers are being led right into that metaphysical ooze of an Emergence of a new form of Gnosticism flowing from neo-pagan mysticism such as we discussed previously in The Emergent “One”. You’re invited to follow this story of Brian McLaren’s departure from the faith, and that of others aligned with the EC, as it continues to unfold should the Lord allow for this series to continue here at AM.  

However in closing this for now, on the Crosstalk program of VCY America Dr. Ron Gleason explains the vast difference between this Emerging/ent/ence counterfeit version of Christianity now even being foisted upon the mainstream of the visible church through the CSM of McLaren and the EC, as opposed to the true Christian spirituality taught in the Bible:

The mysticism that you find in the ancient Church was one where the believer, eventually, at the end of his journey said to God: “I am you.” There was this coalescence of believer with God. Whereas when we talk about being in Christ, in the mystical union of the believer with Christ at the beginning of the journey in the Christian faith, the believer says to Christ–not “I am You,” but “I am Yours.” And as such, “You have the right to rule.” (Pastor Ron Gleason: The Emergent Church)

See also: