They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:4)

Have It Your Way Christian Spirituality

We now begin the final part of our look at curious spiritual associations that Brian McLaren has been making through the years, as well as some of the odd inclusivistic statements in his writings and how the doctrine of panentheism seems to figure into this enigma. During a lecture series in the fall of 2005 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Dr. David Wells made a number of salient points concerning the underlying philosophy of the egregiously ecumenical Emerging Church aka Emergent Church—morphing into Emergence Christianity (EC)—a cult within evangelical Christianity.

While discussing the results of a Barna poll that referred to a “Spiritual Revolution” in America Dr. Wells observed something that proves quite important to our examination:

Eight out of ten Americans describe themselves as being spiritual. This is their own self-designation; and six out of ten say they’re spirituality is “very important” to them. And almost six out of ten say that in life’s crises they look to “the power within.” Now undoubtedly among those are some Christians, but the great majority, I suspect, who say that are not.

And so when they talk about the power within they’re thinking about their “natural” connection to the sacred. And more than half say that they only truth we can know arises within our private experience. And it is something other than truth that is given to us by objective sources outside of us like the Bible or the Church.

Now in the spiritual revolution the dominant voice I believe [belongs to] those who say that they are “spiritual but not religious”…they are spiritual but not religious. What they apparently mean; what they’re hinting about under the word “religion” is first) doctrine to be believed which has been formulated by others and perhaps derived from some external source. Secondly) a corporate dimension; that is, attendance at, and involvement with, for example, a church.

And thirdly) ethical norms to be followed which are not simply rules that are self-generated, but norms that are objective, perhaps absolute, that come from outside. So in these ways the dominant voice in this “spiritual [revolution] is saying they’re spiritual but not religious. They are adverse; they are opposed to religion with these three elements in it.

The Convoluted Emerging/ent/ence Conversation

The above insight by Dr. Wells forms the background of what we are told publicly about the reason the EC—but another extention of the semi-pelagian (at best) Church Growth Movement—was started, to reach the kind of people he describes above. Undoubtedly this was a factor, but I strongly urge the reader to read Terra Nova Project — the vanguard for emergent postmodern evangelicalism from the research team at Herescope for some very important historical information about the true origin of the EC that you won’t see anywhere else. As we’ve been coming to suspect in this series, regardless of the original intent for the EC, it would appear that some have found fertile ground here to attach doctrine that has absolutely no place whatever in the historic Christian faith. And this has become possible through a core doctrine of this EC, a neo-pagan Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) ala Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster and his spiritual twin Dallas Willard.

The tragic result of this spurious CSM is an inherent emphasis on experience over Scripture when it comes to theology, i.e. the proper study of Who God is, as He chose to reveal Himself in the Bible. I offer that if you have been following the line of reasoning heavily documented through this 6 part series then you would now see Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy in a different light, so to speak. All of this is why, in my opinion, McLaren says on page 254 that the Christian faith “should become (in the name of Jesus Christ) a welcome friend to all religions.” Note the very pious deference to Jesus Christ there, but if in McLaren’s growing estimation all of mankind—as well as the creation itself—is already part of God, then it would nicely explain the following comment that many reviewers have found so puzzling. I have even said myself that McLaren is often quite vaccuous; but, what if he really isn’t so vague after all?

Maybe McLaren has been trying to let the “enlightened/transformed” in on a little secret ala classic Gnosticism when he says:

Because I follow Jesus, then, I am bound to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, New Agers, everyone (even religious broadcasters, I was just reminded by still, small voice). Not only am I bound to them in love, but I am also actually called to, in some real sense (please don’t minimize this before you qualify it), become one of them, to enter their world and be one with them in it. (250, emphasis added) 

Yes, I do know that McLaren says his “generous orthodoxy” isn’t a blanket approval of all religions being equally true, but as a teacher of this so-called superior New Light gleaned from these “living spiritual teachers” he has studied, then McLaren and friends wouldn’t necessarily believe that anyway. Likely they believe the “sail” analogy used by a friend of the Elvis of the EC Rob Bell in Shane Hipps: Osama Bin Laden Indwelt By Holy Spirit equating each religion to a sail that catches the “wind” i.e. the Spirit. Now it does seem interesting to note here that in New Age thinking Jesus is essentially thought of as a Wayshower to the Christ principle (deity)—an inherent divine spark—that is already present within us. In Part Five we have already shown that Living Spiritual Teacher and “Progessive Christian” scholar Marcus Borg believes this. So if this was entering McLaren’s thinking then it is perfectly understandable when he writes: “Ultimately I hope that Jesus will save save Buddhism, Islam, and every religion, including the Christian religion” (264).

If the panentheism taught by those McLaren associates with is what he personally has come to believe then it would logically follow that, in his view, all religions can be “saved” through Jesus with some sort of a universal moral/mystical atonement of the cosmos itself. You may recall Bell insisting in his book Velvet Elvis that “when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling “all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.” All things, everywhere” (146). If this was the thinking behind McLaren’s version of a “generous orthodoxy,” then all religions really could be one in purpose. All we would need to do then is to open conversations with them and then we can learn from each other by looking at the way God is speaking in each of the religions. Then, as we become “followers of Jesus” (and/or the Buddha), together could discover this New Light because Jesus was the wayshower for us to “rediscover” our Oneness. And the connection for us all is the practice of meditation in an altered state of consciousness, resurfacing in the visible church as Contemplative/Centering Prayer, and which is a common thread in virtually all of mankind’s religions.

Panentheism As A Foundation For A One World Religion

I admit the idea of this Global family is from the sail of the “New Age” religion and yes, is even ridiculous; but I have already shown you contemporary teachings about panentheism that McLaren enjoys from the writings of his friend EC theologian Leonard Sweet and feminist theologian Sallie McFague. Not only is this foolish idea found in their work, but I also documented for you that panentheism is taught as well by both Alan Jones and Marcus Borg, two of those apostate “living spiritual teachers” McLaren is so fond of. Here’s your key; you must understand, that for the idea of all mankind to live in peace and brotherhood on earth to work, (without being born again)—in their flawed version of the kingdom of God—we would have to solve the problem of finding a religious system that could accommodate Christian theism. This is because Eastern religions are by and large pantheistic (God is an it), but in contrast, Christianity holds that God is a Personal Being. The solution for these spiritual Gurus, in their deluded minds, would then logically be the doctrine of panentheism.

All this would require would be a better sail; more “full” understanding, of God as a cognizant Ego (i.e. Person) for the pantheist, and then simply a new “appreciation” of God’s creation for the theist. Too far out you say; not really. McLaren’s been hinting at it all along. It would appear to me that he begins by drawing from Karl Barth’s teachings on the nature of God’s presence; we already know McLaren holds his neo-orthodox view of Holy Scripture—or likely even worse. Now look at what McLaren has said on his website about an experience he had while reading Barth:

I have read quite a bit of Barth,…once, many years ago, while reading a section early in volume 1 of Church Dogmatics, I remember having this intense, gripping, almost scary sense of the glory and transcendence of God. I put the book down and just sat in a state of awe and worship. It was an afternoon I’ll never forget. (Online source)

And the doctrine of panentheism is also the best explanation for understanding this experience that McLaren describes in A Generous Orthodoxy:

But on this occasion, for a period of about 20 minutes, I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water become especially eloquent with God’s grandeur. Somehow they seemed to become transparent—or perhaps translucent is the better word—because each thing in its particularity was still utterly visible and unspeakably important: the movement of the grass in waves swayed by the wind, the way the goldfinches perch on a branch just so on a purple thistle plant. These specific, concrete things became translucent in the sense that a powerful, indescribable, invisible light seemed to shine through. The beauty of the creations around me, which I am always careful to notice, seemed on this day to explode, seemed to detonate, seemed to radiate with glory.

An ecstasy overcame me that I can’t describe. It brings tears to my eyes as I sit here and type. It was the exuberant joy of simply seeing these masterpieces of God’s creation…and knowing myself to be among them. It was to be one of them, and to feel and know that “we”—all of these creatures, molecules, and phenomena—were together known and loved by God, who embraced us all into the ultimate “We.” (178)

Highly Subjective Personal Experience Trumps Scripture

What I can tell you from years of personal study of this spurious CSM masquerading now as Spiritual Formation this is a man describing an experience of the type of enlightenment taught as a specialty by the aforementioned Marcus Borg, which is also called transformation. As I’ve shown in numerous articles that this kind of experience, and language, really is quite common from those who practice meditation in altered states of consciousness. Many reviewers missed this because we were looking for an indication of pantheism in McLaren’s writings; however, what you just read fits perfectly with the doctrine of panentheism. As lovely as it sounds to be one with nature by creation the fact remains that, if the LORD God Almighty created everything in Himself, then all of it would share the divine nature of God.

This would also have to include the Satan himself—no way around it—and that would then actually be the fulfillment of his boast in Isaiah 14:14 — “I will be like the Most High.” Note carefully that the enemy of men’s souls was not saying he would be God; no, all he says is that he will become like God. And panentheism thus fulfills his demented desires. Yet the beginnings of the doctrine of panentheism in Brian McLaren’s own writing can really be seen as at least as far back as his 1999 book Finding Faith, where he is on the record as saying:

Pantheism certainly has much to offer, and our understanding of monotheism is enriched, I believe, by dialogue with monotheism’s primary theological colleague. Incidentally, if Christian monotheism is true, pantheism might not be so much false as it is, “not true yet,” for Christians believe that history is flowing toward a goal in which God is in everything, and everything is in God…a vision not unlike that of one version of pantheism (called panentheism, to be precise) (118)

And then McLaren admits that his “honest sense in my own search is that logic drives me behind the many, behind the two, behind the all, to one God ‘over all, through all, and in all’” (ibid.). Me too spiritual director McLaren; it drives me to God to defend Christians from this kind of false teaching. Despite his eastern sounding reasoning, this verse of Ephesians 4:6 is clearly addressed to believers in Christ i.e. those quite literally who have been regenerated by God the Holy Spirit; this verse is not at all speaking to mankind and/or the cosmos in general. But this is an early example of the playing fast and loose with Scripture, which has become so apparent—not only with McLaren himself—but with much of the leadership within this postliberal cult of the Emerging/ent/ence Church as a whole.

I have been doing what I can to try and warn the mainstream evangelical community, that based on my own study of non-Christian cults, for a cult leader to gain authority over his adherents the very first thing that must be done is to cast doubt on the veracity of Holy Scripture. Only then can the would-be cult leader begin to twist the Scriptures to fit his preconceived ideas for the then indoctrinated. This Emerging/ent/ence Christianity has been doing this for years now with so many of its theologians and leaders already heavily influenced by Karl Barth’s “the Bible is a divine mailbox” subjectivity (or worse) approach to Holy Scripture. And Brian McLaren has simply gone down through the rabbit hole and into this spiritual Wonderland with the latitude to use postmodern Humpty Dumpty Language to teach whatever he wants to.

The Transformation Of Brian McLaren

I cover the following in more depth in the prior 5 parts of this series, so I am only going to summarize here. We’ve read McLaren himself above on panentheism so we now look at Alan Jones and Marcus Borg. Both men are members of the Living Spiritual Teachers Project (LSTP) and I strongly urge you to follow the links provided and examine the LSTP for yourself. These men are far more than simply liberal theologians who deny virtually every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. Click on their names, and then look closely at the introduction page for each man, as well as what they “specialize” in; Jones in imagination and Borg in transformation.

For the benefit of new readers, in his endorsement of Jones’ Reimagining Christianity McLaren writes: “Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.” I offer that these are not the words of someone simply lending a cursory approval; but rather, these are words of deep appreciation for Jones’ reimagined mystical message that allegedly “emerges from authentic spirituality.” In my view, McLaren is speaking genuinely here when he says that the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones’ “work stimulates and encourages me deeply.” So with our above discussion in mind, and for the good of those being deceived by these postliberal EC teachers, we must now ask the following: This “stimulates” McLaren why; and “encourages” him how, for what?

I say Jones stimulates McLaren to further explore the neo-Gnostic mysticism that he himself is clearly involved with; and further, Jones’ work encourages this EC guru that his idea of panentheism is the “revelation” that’s supposedly been rediscovered in his reimagined message of Jesus about what he thinks is the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Here is one quick example from Alan Jones in his book Journey Into Christ. As you read the below, think of Christ as a Wayshower back to Oneness, which I discussed above, and then see if the doctrine of panentheism reveals itself:

The path of metanoia is a way of glory which leads us home. Paranoia (to be out of your mind) is that process by which the mind is unhinged and the personality splintered and fragmented. Metanoia (to turn the mind, to be right in your mind), which is usually translated in the New Testament as repentance, means the restoration of mind, the coming together of the shattered fragments of the self. It means a turning to God as the source and the power of life. (Online source, emphasis added)

And then we have Marcus Borg, also another of this LSTP, whom I previously pointed out McLaren did some work with for something called The Center for Spiritual Development (CSD). Despite the fact that Borg is also a fellow with the Christ-denying Jesus Seminar, EC guru McLaren has still told us that he feels Borg’s work is “helpful and important in many ways.” Do you really think all of this is some mere coincidence? Here’s a couple of quick examples of what Borg has written, which most likely also stimulate and encourage McLaren on what appears to be his mission to help usher in the kingdom of God through this New Light theology that his good friend Emergent theologian Leonard Sweet has written about in his book Quantum Spirituality.

Transformational guru Marcus Borg tells in Jesus And Buddha: The Parallel Sayings:

I write as a Jesus scholar and a devoted non-exclusivist Christian…the cumulative product of my thinking and experience is the conclusion that Jesus and the Buddha are the two most remarkable religious figures whom have ever lived… I have sometimes said if the Buddha and Jesus were to meet, neither would try to convert the other…because they would recognize one another (Editor’s Preface, v., emphasis mine).

Borg then further enlightens us: “Their subversive wisdom was also an alternative wisdom: they taught a way or path of transformation” (viii). Our living spiritual teacher goes on to explain:

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 shift…both 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, emphasis mine)

Imagine that, “a radical perceptual shift,” and this leads to a “life-transforming” experience of “the sacred.” You know, when we think about this a little further, it just might shed additional light on something Alan Jones says in his book Reimagining Christianity:

The mystical traditions all agree that in our helplessness we come closer to the real well of life deep within us…[r]enewal and transformation could begin by our waiting for our own secret to reveal itself in the pregnant silence–in the silence of the Virgin concerning the secret of God…in the silence we, too, by the grace of the Spirit give birth to ourselves–to the true self that is both secret and known, the self-in-God. Loved and in communion with all things, the soul is born in and out of the secret silence of God, This silence at the heart of mysticism is not only the meeting point of the great traditions but it is also where all hearts might meet (172,174, emphasis mine)

With the above in mind now the below article on Amazon UK for his book Finding Faith proves quite interesting when McLaren clearly equates The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck with Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis as “good books”:

From the Author Here’s why I wrote “Finding Faith.” Finding Faith Ever since I began my own spiritual questionings and searchings in my teenage years, I have wanted to talk with people about faith…but there didn’t seem to be very many who would listen to my questions and help me work through them at my own pace and in my own way. The people in my life who helped me in this way are among my best friends today. One of the great things they have done for me is recommend good books, books like C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and his many other works of fiction and nonfiction – or like Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled,”… (Online source)

Here now is a brief section from the book The Road Less Traveled that McLaren said is “good.” Based on what we’ve come to see with Brian McLaren, first consider that it’s pretty evident that below Peck appears to believe that all is God; however, the panentheist who believes that God is in all would also see as Peck’s myth that:

Since the unconscious is God all along, we may further define the goal of spiritual growth to be the attainment of godhood by the conscious self. It is for the individual to become totally, wholly God… The point is to become God while preserving consciousness. If the bud of consciousness that grows from the rhizome of the unconscious God can become itself God, then God will have assumed a new life form. This is the meaning of our individual existence. We are born that we might become, as a conscious individual, a new life form of God (283)

If It Looks Like Neo-Gnosticism…

Again, do you seriously think that all of these peculiar associations by Brian McLaren with these kinds of neo-Gnostic teachers of mysticism, and all of his recommending and endorsing works by them, is just some kind of an incredible fluke? I say someone had better be calling these men of this Emerging/ent/ence Christianity to repent of this spiritual adultery in Christ’s name before we end up losing a whole generation of young as the Lord turns further away from the visible church in America. A Bride that should be a Church that brings Him joy, and not grief. Yes, there are those who say: All of this just guilt by association. I’ve covered this before; so here I will just paraphrase a famous line: If it looks like neo-Gnostic mysticism; if it has living spiritual teachers teaching panentheism; and if it tries to disassociate itself from “western” Christianity in favor of “rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion”; then it sure isn’t the historic Apostolic Christian faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

The Church has never taught that God created the cosmos as a part of Himself, because this would mean that even Satan himself would also have to share God’s divine nature. As we have seen, a universal concept running through pantheistic Eastern religions—such as Buddhism and Hinduism—is the idea that the creation itself is alive. However, you cannot have the concept of a spark of divinity within man, also a universal teaching, without attributing this divinity to the enemy of men’s souls as well. “But no one has said that,” you may say. Not in so many words; but this is the logical, and repugnant, conclusion of the doctrine of panentheism. And if you won’t listen to me about what’s really going on behind the Emergent Church, then at least listen to Emerging Church pastor Mark Driscoll. You see he’s been there. Once part of the Young Leaders Network ,which was assembled by Leadership Network, Driscoll has even been “friends” with both Brian McLaren and heretical quasi-universalist Emerging Church leader Doug Pagitt.

For some reason, now when you follow the link below you will be told: You are not authorized to access this page. But here is what Driscoll said when this post was still accessible:

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…(Online source, emphasis mine)

No, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ truly should have nothing to do with such as Brian McLaren or these neo-Gnostic living spiritual teachers with their secret knowledge of some New Light panentheism and Quantum Spirituality of the New Age. This is a Liberalism 2.0 where they’ve upgraded the original software of the old liberalism, which was also known as “modern theology.” In attempting to make their version of the Christian faith palatable to the culture of their day the Cult of Liberal Theology rejected the miraculous within Holy Scripture. Now this new cult of a postliberalism i.e. “postmodern theology” is catering to a culture that considers themselves “spiritual” so the de-formation of the church aka Emergence Christianity, while espousing virtually all of the beliefs of their evil forebears, have simply included a belief in the miraculous. And so we see yet another fulfillment of:

having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Timothy 3:5)

See also: