Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD (Jeremiah 23:1, KJV).

It Is More Than A Little Bit Suspicious

In this series I’m attempting to employ the same methodology as a reporter piecing together a story or that of a detective whose suspicions have become aroused. My main goal then would be to simply follow the evidence wherever it leads me and then reserve judgment until all the facts are in. But what I have been saying is that the type of people Brian McLaren, as a leader in the egregiously ecumenical Emerging Church aka Emergent Church—morphing into Emergence Christianity (EC), surrounds himself with and those whose teachings he endorses and/or looks to as a source of inspiration have long ago begun to look awfully peculiar.

In a lecture a few years ago Dr. David Wells observed that a high percentage of Americans when faced with something which is quite stressful will say that they “look to ‘the power within.’” But what’s important to remember here, says Wells, is that “when they talk about the power within they’re thinking about their ‘natural’ connection to the sacred.” And it is this idea of the “power within” that we have been looking at in this series. As you are coming to see this supposed divine spark within mankind is the common thread which runs through all of the Eastern religions and inevitably creeps into theology of those who become involved in the practice of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism aka so-called “Christian” mysticism.

We use this as the backdrop for the next to the last part of our look at this idea of panentheism emerging from those around Brian McLaren in this confusing conversation of the Emerging Church. I pause here imagining the huge sighs of exasperation that have just arisen. Well just think of ol’ pastor Ken here for a moment, will ya. I only give you the synopsis; I have to research and read this stuff! But as we move ahead here I want to make something very clear. I’m not saying that the teachings of Brian McLaren about a “new kind of Christian” are necessarily of the New Age Movement; but what I am saying is that McLaren and others like heretical EC theologian Tony Jones, and his equally heretical quasi-universalist Emergent Church pastor Doug Pagitt, have had a not-so-hidden agenda: The Emerging Church Highjacking Evangelicalism.

Reimagining Christianity Into An Inclusive Faith

All of this began when I looked into a book that Brian McLaren had endorsed called Reimagining Christianity by the Very Reverend Dr. Alan Jones. Up until that time he hadn’t yet come up on my spiritual “knucklehead” radar screen. After McLaren’s glowing words I then felt called to investigate this so-called Living Spiritual Teacher Alan Jones and that Living Spiritual Teachers Project (LSTP) in which he is listed. By then I had finished reading Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy where he lays out his rather abstruse spiritual blend of Christianity and Eastern philosophy. I began to seek the Lord as to how to square this reimagined Christianity of mystic spirituality taught by Alan Jones, which McLaren says “emerges from authentic spirituality” that “stimulates and encourages me deeply” with what the Bible says.

So I began to think back to my studies of the New Age Movement in the late eighties and early nineties where we come up against the doctrine of pantheism, where God is all and all is God. But I thought, “no wait a minute; while that does teach man is God through transformation of a Higher Self, still in pantheism God is an it.” But then I remembered that there is a derivative of it called panentheism where God is a personal Being, but He created everything else inside Himself so it’s literally a part of Him. Now this would definitely fit the bill; man would still be divine, as is consistent with Eastern religions and the New Age Movement, but with panentheism God could still be a cognizant Ego or Person.

Then I decided to look a little closer at the website of Grace Cathedral (GC). This is the “church” where until recently Alan Jones, who is also an Episcopal minister, was “Dean”; and by the way, that aformentioned LTSP can be accessed right from this site itself e.g. Reading Into Things, an interview with Mary Ann Brussat who is behind LSTP with her husband Frederic. So far all of the pieces still fit because Jones is with a nearly dead denomination that will ordain anyone. For crying out loud this was the also the church where heretical Bishop James A. Pike once held court. I even found a section on GC’s site called Tales From The Crypt. Seriously folks, this is almost too easy; you just can’t make this stuff up. We read:

Attorney, dean, bishop, iconoclast, searcher–James Albert Pike, Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of California, was a restless and radical visionary. Grace Cathedral was completed during his nine-year bishopric, and several of its features reflect his modern spirit. To some he was a heretic, to others a man decades ahead of his time. His legacy is a more progressive and inclusive church, not afraid of difficult questions, and open to free inquiry. (Online source)

What; “To some he was a heretic”? Oh, I can’t imagine why; Pike only denied the inerrancy of Scripture, the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ on the Cross (familiar theme at GC apparently), and Christ’s Bodily Resurrection. How in the world could anyone think Pike as a heretic? Why, he was just “a man decades ahead of his time.” No doubt, the visible church in America today—crippled as it is with weak-kneed leaders—has indeed become a “more progressive and inclusive church”; exactly as this “radical visionary” foresaw!

As we look at this next paragraph it is kind of creepy how the vacuous shell of redefined (they were doing it then too) Christian terminology of James Pike has actually prepared the way for this reimagined neo-pagan spirituality of Alan Jones:

Few other American religious figures have matched Bishop Pike’s lasting influence on contemporary theology and society. For him, the search was more important than the discovery–the question more important than the answer. He envisioned a church free of any divisions, open to deep conversation and theological exploration, and fearless in the pursuit of individual and social justice. Spiritual iconoclast and theological pioneer, he helped to prepare the way for the church in the new millennium. (Online source)

Panentheism As A Creation Model

Now that I had an angle on how this type of New Age/New Light spirituality might be able to pull in people who professed to be Christian, with this as a backdrop, I decided to re-examine the theology of this “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones. And I came across a sermon of his called Who Is God? from 1993. Now before we are drowned out by the emerging howls of, “but that’s years ago, maybe he doesn’t believe this anymore”; I will tell you that I found this from Jones’ own introduction page on the LSTP website right here. So let’s just nip that argument right in the bud. But now that we know what we are looking for, let’s see whether or not a doctrine of panentheism emerges in the following sermon by Alan Jones, the man whose work you’ll recall EC guru Brian McLaren has told the world “stimulates and encourages me deeply.”

So let’s look at what our Very Reverend “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones tells us about this EC god with a man-shaped hole in its heart whom he serves:

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)

We stop right here for a moment. “In the beginning,” very Biblical; reminds us of bereshith in the Hebrew, en arche in the Septuagint (LXX) of Genesis 1:1, and used also in John 1:1 — “Before anything ever was.” So we’re off to a good start; but uh-oh, now we see “‘Ain Soph’” (from the Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah) breathed in to make,” i.e. to create. This is the emergence of the evangelical panentheism we are now alerted to look for; the creation is in God, where in historic orthodox theology the creation comes from God. While He is everywhere present in His creation, He is apart and distinct from it.

This next part is also very illuminating, so to speak, but also quite disturbing when we read:

Into the emptiness “Ain Soph” set vessels and began to fill them with divine light, as a mother places bowls in which to pour her delicious soup. As the light poured forth, a perfect world was being created! Think of it! A world without greed and cruelty and violence! But then, something happened. The bowls shattered. No one knows why.

Perhaps the bowls were too frail? Perhaps the light too intense? Perhaps “Ain Soph” was learning. After all, no one makes perfect the first time. And with the shattering of the bowls, divine sparks flew everywhere! Some rushing back to “Ain Soph,” some falling, falling, trapped in the broken shards to become our world, and us. (Online source)

I’m desperately trying to avoid “wrestling with the serpent” here, but according to the Bible, there is just so much wrong with what we just read. This “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones, who as a minister of Jesus Christ is supposed to teach what is in accord with Holy Scripture, has actually denied the absolute perfection of the LORD God Almighty—our Creator. “Perhaps ‘Ain Soph’ was learning”? And this is the kind of stuff that “encourages and stimulates” pastor McLaren “deeply”!? You see how easy it can be to get off the main point as we slither with the snake. Suffice to say, this is consistent with the heresy of Open Theism, as you can see in God Of Open Theism Is Too Human.

For now focus our attention specifically on the ideas related to panentheism as it pertains to Eastern mysticism and this New Light neo-Gnostic spirituality. Jones tells us God filled these “vessels” (human beings) “with divine light.” This is an admission by Jones that, just as Through Rob Bell “The Great Enlightened Ones” Tell Us Man Has Divine Greatness, he believes that mankind has innate divinity. And this theme of “divine light” runs through all of the religions/world views we have been discussing in this series. We aren’t going to analyze it further here, but then Jones goes on to mention “something happened.” I draw your attention to his statement that, “No one knows why,” because now we have a denial of the fall of man and the Christian doctrine of original sin.

The Reuniting Of The Global Family

This is really critical for you to understand here because this is what lays the foundation for the whole false idea of some Father/Motherhood of God and divine Brotherhood of Mankind. By doing away with the sinful nature of man, these men who fall for this lie, can now believe and teach that through “transformation” (read: re-education) all religions are actually paths back to this original Oneness in God. This Oneness is what Jones is alluding to when he speaks of the “shattering of the bowls” and the “divine sparks” that “flew everywhere.” In his mind Jones is telling us that mankind was scattered as little pieces of the Sacred (aka God) with the spark of the divine (deity) within each of us.

Right now I primarily want to keep us focused on the panentheism in Jones’ sermon (the creation was “breathed in” God) and the “divine sparks” of “light” (deity) within mankind as we look at one last excerpt of Who Is God? by this living spiritual teacher Alan Jones, who is such a deeply stimulating encourager for EC Swami Brian McLaren. However, if you look closely, you will be able to notice that through the imagery of scattered pieces of a puzzle Jones also gives us his own slant on the old social gospel of liberal theology where we have mankind building “the Kingdom of God” on earth:

Though this is hard to believe, the perfect world is all around us, but broken into jagged pieces, like a puzzle thrown to the floor, the picture lost, each piece without meaning, until someone puts them back together again. We are that someone. There is no one else. We are the ones who can find the broken pieces, remember how they fit together and rejoin them. This is the repairing of the world — the mending of creation. In every moment, with every act, we can heal our world and us. We are all holy sparks dulled by separation.

But when we meet, and talk and eat and make love, when we work and play and disagree with holiness in our eyes, seeing “Ain Soph” everywhere, then our brokenness will end, and our bowls will be strong enough to hold the light, and our light will be gentle enough to fill the bowls. As we repair the world together, we will learn that there is no place that is not God! (Online source)

Jones telling us here that we as mankind “are all holy sparks,” of divinity made of God Himself. However, says Guru Jones, we have simply forgotten our inherent Oneness because we are “dulled by separation.” So as a result, we just need to be taught to look for “Ain Soph” (God) “everywhere,” as in every thing and every one, because “there is no place that is not God!” Now what our spiritual directors like Jones and Brian McLaren, or Living Spiritual Teacher and “Progessive Christian” scholar Marcus Borg, are doing for us is having these interfaith “conversations” with the peoples of other religions in order to help us remember that within us we all have the “Divine Light” of deity. Can you see now how this doctrine of panentheism, which is unmistakeable here in Jones’ teaching about God, would be able to serve as a base for a new One World Global Family; and yet, such as these still see themselves as “followers of Jesus”?

Panentheism From Sally McFague And Marcus Borg

As we move toward our conclusion in this series we will also establish the doctrine of panentheism in the teachings of Sallie McFague here and Marcus Borg in Part Five. These are two other theologian/scholars who have produced a body of work which Brian McLaren also finds “enjoyable” and “important in many ways.” On McLaren’s website we find a reader asking the EC spiritual director the following question:

Have you read Sally Mcfague – she is an eco-theologian? She is a pan-en-theist. (not a pan-theist, the en is important). God is in the world, but more than the world. The world is Gods body, but the world is not God. You may find her writing enjoyable.

Answer: Yes, I have enjoyed her work. I wrote a bit about my views on panentheism in Finding Faith, fyi. (Online source)

We’ll look at McLaren’s book Finding Faith another time because his “views on panentheism” there are a bit vague. I know, that’s so very hard to believe; McLaren being vague, and yet, so it is. But for now, McLaren tells us he has “enjoyed” McFague’s “work.” Let’s see, if we wanted to help build a universal religion today that gets rid of, as mystic Matthew Fox puts it, “the image of the Punitive Father, personified by a rigidly hierarchical church structure, repression of the feminine,” it sure would be nice if we could find a woman theologian who taught panentheism. And if she could also write from the position of a liberal theologian with a feminist agenda who, in addition, also emphasized a creation model stressing the importance of the living planet Earth that would be even better.

Here is Sallie McFague from her book Models Of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age:

What if God’s promise of permanent presence to all space and time were imagined as a worldy reality, a palpable, bodily presence? What if, then, we did not have to go somewhere special (church) or somewhere else (another world) to be in the presence of God but could feel ourselves in that presence at all times and in all places? What if we imagined God’s presence as in us and in all others, including the least and the last? (70, emphasis mine)

Very pious-sounding, but according to Romans 8:9 it’s not true — you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. And then McFague describes her full “conversion” to panentheism in her book Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology And Economy For A Planet In Peril (LA):

As I have come to realize that we all live and move and have our being in God, the names of each person, species, creature, and element are superimposed over God’s name. God is reality; God is the source of reality of each of us. Panentheism seeing the world as in God–puts God’s “name” first, but each of our names are included and preserved in their distinctiveness within the divine reality. (5, emphasis mine).

And finally, a little later in LA there is our feminist liberal theologian, whose work our EC guru Brian McLaren “enjoys,” with a denial of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as McFague bows to the “Ground of Being” philoso-theology of Paul Tillich:

The “trinity” is a model, a way of speaking of God, that tries to express God’s profound involvement in, with, and for the world. It claims that the universe originates in God,… The notion of the trinity has been a source of misunderstanding and mystification for most of Christian history: How can three be one or one be three? Which of the three are responsible for what actions?

We are not interested in such puzzles, but rather in the way the trinitarian model of God gives us a language for speaking of what we know from our own experience and what the Christian traditions upholds; namely that God is our ground, our savior, and our nurturer (143, emphasis added).

A Generous Panentheistic Orthodoxy For The Global Family Of God

As we finish this up for now, next time we’ll look at one last example of “evangelical” panentheism, this time from Dr. Marcus Borg. And then we’ll take McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy and reimagine it with an eye toward the type of spirituality and theology we have been looking at in this series. I plan to reexamine some of the key passages that Christian scholars who have reviewed McLaren’s book, such as Dr. John Frame, Bob DeWaay and Dr. Al Mohler, all seemed to zero in on. Let’s see if the confusion we have over what exactly McLaren is saying can be cleared up a bit if we think along the lines of the creation being in God Himself, which as we mentioned, then means that mankind himself would actually share His divine nature.

In closing, I point out that I have been in dialogue with an Emerging Church pastor who says that he personally knows Brian McLaren and I have no reason to doubt this. However, in what has become typical when I have had a “conversation” with those who are in the Emergent Church, I find an unwillingness to actually listen to an opposing view. And you know, that really doesn’t make for a very good conversation. Now interestingly enough, for people who supposedly hold to the philosophy of postmodernism, they sure do seem to make a lot of absolute statements. The point being, they will tell us we now live in an age where conflicting views of truth could both be true. So in effect what happens is that what “feels” true for someone is then true for them.

For those who may not know, this kind of a-logic is common in the East, and this is reason for the relentless criticism of Western thinking that you will hear from Brian McLaren and Emergence Christianity leaders. The problem here is, that while they tell us the things thye teach are true, how do we know they are, in fact, true? Well they tell us, you know these things are so because we just told you that they are true. However, this itself is circular reasoning and a self-refuting statement all neatly rolled into one. Ah, now we have it; a double negative so then it becomes a positive again? No, it all still comes down to the same old thing: Is Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who He said He was; and if so, what did He tell us about God the Father.

The truth is Christ Jesus and His Apostles knew nothing of the doctrine of God creating the universe within Himself; and they knew nothing of spiritual practices like meditation in an altered state of consciousness as a part of the ancient Christian faith. As we are coming to see, if someone wishes to set up the one Global Family of God, then the foundational doctrine of panentheism must first be laid. Once they have this in place then the living gurus of the mystical spirituality of the New Age who want to convince us that we are all divine will have the platform necessary for their doctrine of New Light. And so my Emergent pastor friend can say to me if he wants to, “McLaren is someone who has lived into my life, and I understand and appreciate his deep passion for the kingdom and Jesus Christ.”

But my reply still remains the same: Which kingdom, and which Jesus Christ; because what I am hearing from all these “living spiritual teachers” McLaren surrounds himself with is clearly not from the Bible, and therefore, it cannot be from the one true and living God.

See also: