Discernment, False Teachers

Shauna Niequist

You are seeing this article as a part of “Project Breakdown“.


If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against certain teachers, please click here and read this article first. Your objection is most likely answered here. I won’t be publishing comments or answering emails that are answered by this article.

 

I get lots of questions about particular authors, pastors, and Bible teachers, and whether or not I recommend them. Some of the best known can be found above at my Popular False Teachers tab. The teacher below is someone I’ve been asked about recently, so I’ve done a quick check (this is brief research, not exhaustive) on her.

Generally speaking, in order for me to recommend a teacher, speaker, or author, he or she has to meet three criteria:

a) A female teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly preach to or teach men in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. A male teacher or pastor cannot allow women to carry out this violation of Scripture in his ministry. The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any other sin (for example, cohabiting with her boyfriend or living as a homosexual).

b) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.

c) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.

I am not very familiar with most of the teachers I’m asked about (there are so many out there!) and have not had the opportunity to examine their writings or hear them speak, so most of the “quick checking” I do involves items a and b (although in order to partner with false teachers (b) it is reasonable to assume their doctrine is acceptable to the false teacher and that they are not teaching anything that would conflict with the false teacher’s doctrine). Partnering with false teachers and women preaching to men are each sufficient biblical reasons not to follow a pastor, teacher, or author, or use his/her materials.

Just to be clear, “not recommended” is a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum are people like Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth and Kay Arthur. These are people I would not label as false teachers because their doctrine is generally sound, but because of some red flags I’m seeing with them, you won’t find me proactively endorsing them or suggesting them as a good resource, either. There are better people you could be listening to. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Joyce Meyer and Rachel Held Evans- complete heretics whose teachings, if believed, might lead you to an eternity in Hell. Most of the teachers I review fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum (leaning toward the latter).

If you’d like to check out some pastors and teachers I heartily recommend, click the Recommended Bible Teachers tab at the top of this page.


Shauna Niequist
Not Recommended

Shauna, an author, speaker, and podcaster, is the daughter of Bill Hybels, former pastor of Willow Creek, where Shauna has preached the Sunday sermon on many occasions.

This information from my 2016 article on Shauna is from a pastor friend of mine who knows Shauna’s family personally:

“[Shauna is] the daughter of Bill Hybels, the founder and pastor of Willow Creek in Barrington, IL. Because of very personal experience with it, I will tell you that this stuff they peddle has proven to be the worst kind of Christianity, and probably a Matthew 23:14-15 type of situation, at least in my opinion.

Next, this post right here ought to really be enough.

She is a friend of Rachel Held Evans. She is touring with Jen Hatmaker, who is a complete mess. Really, there is no other way to describe her than secularism covered with some Bible words.

Aaron [Shauna’s husband] is a worship leader at Willow Creek. He began a HUGE movement with contemplative prayer a couple of years ago. Because of his music, he comes off as very spiritual and sound, but there is nothing inherently Christian about anything he says or does, really. Take a look at Aaron’s blog here, which will give you more insight. [Aaron has apparently removed the blog portion of his website. He is no longer with Willow Creek, and neither is Shauna.]

There is ZERO discernment with this family, they either promote or flock to whoever is popular, and they are all about using words that sound really great, but have no substance to them at all. They are on this big thing lately about “Holy Spaces”, which sounds great, but is so anti-biblical when you really think about it. You don’t create a space that is holy, only God can do that. Anyway…

This is the Willow Creek legacy, in a nutshell: their lack of sound doctrine, lack of Bible, lack of biblical discernment, and their false teaching and false gospel. Shauna and Aaron are simply products of what her dad has built, which is a huge gathering of people who neither know Christ, nor have reverence for His word.”

As I began re-researching Shauna to update this article on her, her most recent Facebook posts alluded to the fact that she hadn’t written anything in a while and that her family had gone through some “adjustments” and other issues. I was hoping this meant God had convicted her of past sin and false doctrine and was straightening out her theology. Unfortunately, a mere scroll back through the last several months of her Facebook posts demonstrates that Shauna remains a false teacher to avoid.

A few years ago, Shauna publicly congratulated Jen Hatmaker for affirming homosexuality.

screenshot-2016-10-29-at-5-00-58-pm

And here’s Shauna recently affirming homosexuality herself.

“This is so beautiful,” says Shauna about this blasphemous article from female “preacher” and feminist Sarah Bessey. The purpose of the article is for Sarah to explain to a young woman (who is on the fence about the inclusion of practicing, unrepentant homosexuals into church membership and wrote to Sarah asking for advice) how she became affirming. In addition to shamelessly twisting and abusing the Scriptures throughout the article, Sarah has the unmitigated temerity to suggest that Jesus Christ, the sinless, perfect Son of God, had to be taught by the Syro-Phonecian woman about His privilege and His prejudice against Gentiles. And Shauna says, “This is so beautiful.”

Shauna continues to violate Scripture by preaching to men. Aaron says his wife is the “best preacher ever.”

She continues to yoke with, affirm, and maintain close friendships with, some of the most egregious false teachers out there, including Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle (The “Christian” mommy blogger who divorced her husband and “married” her lesbian partner, Abby. Shauna has recommended Glennon and spoken glowingly of her and Abby several times.), and the late Rachel Held Evans.

Here, Aaron says he and Shauna are helping Nichole Nordeman (homosexuality affirming, frequent associate of false teachers) fund her next album.

In addition to these (and so many more) glaringly unbiblical relationships, positions, and violations of Scripture, notably absent, or nearly so, from Shauna’s Facebook timeline is any meaningful mention of God, Jesus, or the Bible. Her post on “Holy Saturday” (the day before Easter) doesn’t even mention Jesus, the crucifixion, or the resurrection. And the benediction she wrote for her church’s Easter service barely does, in passing.

For a taste of Shauna’s theology, consider the following:

Shauna recently appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday to promote her book, Present Over Perfect, “a path away from frantic pushing and proving, and toward your essential self.” She does not mention Christ, the gospel, or the Bible, and only mentions God in the most generic (“God loves me”) of terms. When explaining what was most helpful to her in overcoming her stress and anxiety, Shauna credits centering prayer, an unbiblical, mystical, New Age practice.

 

Shauna’s website markets Present Over Perfect as a “Bible study.” You can download the first two chapters of the book, and view the teaching video for the first session of the study. I did both.

Shauna writes engagingly, there’s no doubt about that, but the first two chapters of the book read like a memoir of someone who is aching to know God but hasn’t found him yet. Christian-y words like “God,” “sin,” “grace,” and “baptism,” are sprinkled through the narrative, but there’s a palpable disconnect between Shauna’s artistic usage of these words and her grasp and internalization of what they truly, biblically mean. It’s almost like “stolen valor” – a guy desperately wants to be a soldier, so he dresses and talks the part, but he has never served and isn’t actually in the military, yet he hopes doing all these things will fulfill his yearning to actually be a soldier.

And, keeping in mind that this is supposed to be a “Bible study,” there is nothing from or about the Bible in the first two chapters of this book. No verses. No discussion of passages or books of the Bible that will be studied in subsequent chapters. It is all about Shauna and her thoughts and experiences.

The teaching video is very much the same, minus most of the sprinkling of Christian-y words. There is no Bible in this “Bible study” video. It’s all about Shauna’s opinions and anecdotes from her personal life. (Sharp listeners will also note her mention of her “friend, Glennon,” the aforementioned Glennon Doyle.)

Here, Shauna reinforces the pernicious “church is optional” and “I don’t have to go to church; I can worship God anywhere,” mindset ravaging Christianity today.

In this benediction she wrote for her church in June 2019, Shauna waxes panentheistic: “May we walk through these doors and through this city intimately aware of the divinity all around us and within us and within each person we encounter.”

And in her 2017 blog article, Expanding the Way We Experience God:

Shauna commends, “a wide vision for how people connect with God,” including “poetry, silence, sitting by the ocean…centering prayer, truth-telling with my closest friends…” (rather than studying your Bible, prayer, faithfully serving and being taught Scripture at your local church, etc.). “The tools [for connecting with God] that have been meaningful along the way for me have been books, poetry, counseling, friendship, spiritual direction, the Enneagram, centering prayer.”

She again promotes the “church is optional” idea when she states, “Some seasons [of spiritual growth] require poetry, and others preaching,” and “…in late high school and early college, I needed a little distance from church life. And so instead of going to church, I went to the ocean.”

Shauna also believes in extra-biblical revelation: “So I’d settle myself on a rock [at the beach] and I’d listen for God’s voice, or at least the sense of His spirit.”

Southern Baptists should note that LifeWay, which purports not to carry authors who affirm homosexuality, at this time, carries four of Shauna’s five books.

Researching Shauna saddened me at every turn. Most of the false teachers I warn against proudly and brashly twist and defy God’s Word in order to build up their own kingdoms on earth of fame, fortune, and influence. That’s not the impression I get from Shauna, but rather of someone who acutely craves peace, purpose, and contentment, and is casting about for it everywhere except in the Christ of Scripture.

Is Shauna deeply steeped in sin and false doctrine? Yes. Should you and your church avoid her teaching and materials? Definitely. But there’s a subtle thread of sorrow and despair running through her writing that makes me want to hug her, sit and cry with her, and help her to embrace the truth of the gospel that will give her the peace she so desperately seeks after, the love of Christ that she’s looking for in all the wrong places, and the rest for her soul that only comes from intimately knowing as Savior the Jesus who is a stranger to her.

Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: As a newly doctrinally sound Christian, should I stop journaling?

 

I just read your January 9th blog on Carey’s story. That is me regarding the journaling. I have journaled for 10 years and have saved them all. Now I don’t know if I should stop altogether. I already threw out all my Sarah Young books, Beth Moore, Lysa, etc. It’s like I’m starting over after 32 years as a Christian. I just found you this week through Justin Peters and I’m so grateful. So should I stop journaling too? I did automatic writing- ugg!

Don’t we serve a wonderful God? His mercies are not only new every morning, they are new even after 32 years! I’m so thrilled for you that God has opened your eyes and given you a fresh start. (P.S. Stick with Justin’s stuff. He is awesome.)

The word “journaling” gets tossed around a lot these days. Coloring in your Bible has come to be known as “Bible art journaling”. Then there’s the type of mystical or contemplative “journaling” you’ve touched on which can include automatic writing (one of the reasons Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is false doctrine and should be avoided like the Plague).

But there is a type of journaling you can do in conjunction with your personal Bible study and prayer time which is perfectly biblical. If it would help you to differentiate this type of biblical journaling from the mystical journaling you’ve done in the past, you might want to call it “taking notes” or “written Bible study” or something like that, instead. But if you need to put some time and space between the unbiblical type of journaling you used to do and beginning to journal again in a biblical way, it’s perfectly OK to take as long of a break from journaling as you need.

When it comes to journaling in a biblical way, it might help to look at studying the Bible through the lens of studying for a college class.

A lot of students go into college thinking that all they need to do is show up for class, write down whatever the teacher says will be on the test, read the chapter, and they’ll learn what they need to learn. But if you go through freshman orientation or take a study skills class, one of the learning strategies you’ll be taught is how to study your textbook.

First of all, you read the material in an organized way. Most people going to college don’t have to be told this, but when you sit down to study, say, a history book, you start at the beginning of the book and you work your way through to the end. You don’t start by reading two paragraphs out of the middle of chapter 7, then move on to the last three sentences of chapter 49, then the first half of chapter 1.

Do you see where I’m going with this? That’s how people “study” the Bible sometimes, and it’s just as crazy to study the Bible that way as it would be to study a history book, or math book, or science book that way.

So you’re reading along in an organized way. Take notes. Write down any questions you might have about the text, words you need to look up, etc. Write down what you learn about God from that text, or how the characters in that text set an example for you of something you should or shouldn’t do. Write down any commands from the text that you need to obey. Write down how the passage points to Christ. Write down anything the text reminds you to pray about. Write down anything God is convicting you about as you read the text. Write down any practical applications the text has for situations in your life. Write down a careful summary of the text. Write down any other Scriptures the text you’re reading reminds you of.

You might want to highlight or underline things in your Bible that you want to remember.

As you’re studying your Bible you’ll probably notice some footnotes. Take a look at those footnotes and see if there are any cross-references listed. A cross reference is a Scripture that’s related to the Scripture you’re reading that might help explain it a little bit better. So look up those cross-references and maybe make some notes on them.

This kind of “journaling” can be very helpful as you study your Bible. You might also want to jot down anything you’re praying about and, later, how God answers. You could include any notes you take on your pastor’s sermons or points you want to remember from the Sunday School lesson. Keeping these journals and looking back over them from time to time is an excellent way to see how God is growing you in the knowledge of His Word, your trust in Him, and your obedience.

If writing is the way you best process your thoughts and the information you’re learning, then by all means, continue journaling! Just make sure you’re doing it in a biblical way.


Additional Resources:

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible Study Articles and Resources

Bible Studies


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Discernment, False Doctrine, Guest Posts

Guest Post: A Reader’s Review of Wellspring Group

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

Yesterday, I published a new discernment article which included Wellspring Group. I did not find enough information online to be able to make a recommendation on whether or not this ministry is doctrinally sound. I subsequently heard from a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) who has had some personal experience with this organization and agreed to share her thoughts. Though I have no reason to doubt her word, neither can I vouch for her as I do not know her personally. This information is provided for your consideration, and to give you some things to watch for, should your church decide to take part in this program.

Objections to the Wellspring Process and Theology

Questionable interpretation of Scripture to fit the Wellspring model and process.

Proverbs 4:23 is the key verse for the Wellspring process of living wholeheartedly. The NIV translation is used, which says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The whole Wellspring “process” focuses on needing to understand our heart, that God is found in the deepest desires of our heart. This concept is not found anywhere in Scripture.

The Bible doesn’t describe God as being at the depth of our desires (in fact Jeremiah (17:9) said the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things, and beyond cure, and who can understand it?)

We are to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27), which indicates our whole being, not four different levels of our heart.

The NASB reads, “Watch over your hearts with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” When reading over Proverbs 4 in context we see that wisdom is the focus, not the desires of our heart. Wisdom is the thing we need to guard because from wisdom comes [abundant] life.

Verse 23 has to be pulled out of context to fit the Wellspring concept. The heart becomes the focus (and then an entire “process” is built from that assumption) when wisdom is real the focus of the passage. The Bible indicates that wisdom is what will provide the abundant life for us, not a deep and exhaustive understanding of our heart and its desires.

The manual says, “Follow your desires deep enough and you will find God and the image of God in you.” Where is this found in Scripture?

Hebrews 12:1 describes the “cloud of witnesses” and is understood by participants as people who have died who are watching us, as well as our “domain” – the community of people we are in contact with in our life. Biblically, the cloud of witnesses is not a group of people in Heaven watching us, they are believers who have passed on who witnessed the truths of Scripture and Jesus. Hebrews 11:39-40 describes who these people are. (How this plays out in the Wellspring process is described below under the Fellowship concept.

The cloud of witnesses is the group of people listed in Hebrews 11, “the great Hall of Faith”. The author of Hebrews ends chapter 11 with his main point for listing them, “they gained approval through their faith and didn’t receive what was promised because God provided something better.”

Chapter 12 begins with “Therefore”, i.e. because God provided something better than fulfilling the promises He made to these people during their lifetime, we “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and run with endurance the race set before us.”

The point of 12:1 is not that the cloud of witnesses will protect us and whisper to us and propel us into God’s story. The manual includes, “Praying the Four Realities” citing, “I see the Communion of Saints surrounding me and cheering me on to persevere all the way to the final Consummation.” Biblically they are not a group of people cheering us on, their lives left us a legacy to be followed.

The “Fellowship” concept.

The Fellowship is described as consisting of the Trinity, the Body of Christ, the Word of God in Scripture and the Communion of Saints (the cloud of witnesses). A circular drawing in the manual indicates that all four parts of the Fellowship are equal. Supposedly this “Fellowship desires to protect you.”

The communion of saints, whether defined as Wellspring does or as the Bible does, ARE NOT equal with the Trinity.

The Battle for Your Heart manual describes this Fellowship as one entity, having characteristics of personality:

“The Fellowship is pursuing you.”

It is suggested that we interact with this “entity”, “Above all else, do whatever it takes to cooperate with the Fellowship that desires to protect you.”

This entity supposedly motivates us, “The Fellowship not only desires to protect you but also to propel you into your part of the Story as an intimate ally.”

This entity supposedly talks to us – members are asked after viewing a clip from the movie Bagger Vance, “What do you hear the Fellowship whispering to you through this scene?” Later in the manual the same question is asked after viewing a clip from Good will Hunting. (If by “whisper” they merely means “teach” then why doesn’t he use the word teach? Why make it creepy?)

The Fellowship supposedly “walks with us” – on the website under a description of the Women’s program it says this, “It’s a rigorous, demanding experience that opens up your whole hearts, gives you clear path to change and connects you to The Fellowship that will walk with you into your part of God’s Larger Story.”

Participants are told that The Fellowship through God’s voice will give you a new name – this is a misconstruing of Revelation 2:17. Jesus will give us a new name after He returns. This indicates that we can receive personal revelation from Jesus, which is not Scriptural.

The manual states “The only way you can win that Battle (for your heart) and live in your part of the Story that is yours and yours alone is through intimately engaging with the Fellowship that desires to protect you and propel you into that Story.”

Again, this is not Scriptural. That statement follows this one, “only through your heart can you discover and live in your part of God’s Story.” Wellspring has missed the emphasis of the Bible – that we are to understand God by studying Scripture (not our heart) and then to think and behave by following Jesus’ example and the illustrations presented by the lives of people who did what pleased God.

Exclusivity – which is bound to cause division among people, between the Wellspringers and the nonWellspringers who don’t understand the lingo and are not “living out of their whole heart”.

They indicate that the deeper life is only found through Wellspring. The creator of Wellspringclaims that rarely do people learn to live out of their “whole heart” without the Wellspring process. This quote is found on the website under the Process for Women, “There is something in the life of every woman that fuels her deepest desires – for relationship, for value, for connecting with her destiny. The Bible calls this hidden source of life a wellspring. Few find it. But for those who do, a world of change is possible. The Battle for the Heart process helps you discover this wellspring in your own life.”

Wellspring alone. People are encouraged not to do any other small groups besides Wellspring – on the website under FAQs there is a question, “Can I participate in this process and another small group at the same time?” The answer says that’s up to them but “many find that they need to back off of another group for a year in order to fully engage in the Battle for the Heart process.” So does that mean no other Bible study is needed? That should send up warning flags. It has been observed that many of the participants drop out of Bible studies in order devote all their time to studying the Wellspring concepts, which is NOT a Bible study.

Wellspring has the secret. (Very gnostic) The manual states that “unless you understand the context of this Story (God’s Larger Story) and where you are in it, you will be confused, disoriented, effectively taken out of the battle.” The booklet doesn’t describe what this Larger Story is, so obviously you have to attend the retreat to gain this information if you don’t want to be confused, disoriented, etc. The Larger Story is described in the workbook as something you can only find by living “wholeheartedly” out of the four levels of your heart. And unless you learn the Wellspring process you won’t be able to do that.

The manual states, “We can only be fully human as we experience the redemptive love of Christ at all four levels of our hearts and then express that love from all four levels of our hearts.” Unless you take the WS courses you won’t know what the four levels are because they are not taught in the Bible.

Completely new vocabulary. This can cause two groups at church – those who understand the vocabulary and those who do not. Throughout the entire booklet there is new vocabulary that no one will understand unless they go to the retreat. There isn’t enough information in the booklet to define this vocabulary and it is used very differently from biblical language.

God’s Larger Story. What is larger than the story of redemption through Jesus and learning to live according to His commands and by His example? You have to attend the retreat to find out what this larger story is and how you fit into it.

Implication that a church is insufficient without the inculcation Wellspring process.

People are encouraged on the website to get their churches involved as partners with Wellspring after they attend all four retreats.

Under the FAQs the question is asked, “Why consider the Battle for the Heart Community Process?” The answer shows the reader their absolute need for this process (that can’t be found anywhere else but Wellspring), “When leaders are not living from their whole hearts (defined biblically as their thoughts feelings, desires and choices), their lives suffer, their relationships suffer, and their service in the body of Christ is hindered.” Then several examples are listed of what this looks like:

“People will talk about the love of God, but don’t experience that love in a way that results in significant, sustained change.”

“Achieve objectives, but often with significant collateral relational damage.”

“Unconsciously seek approval from God through performance instead of
performance flowing out of love for God and being loved by God.”

“Live in marriages where they are committed to their spouses, but there is little true intimacy, and they become “roommates on the way to heaven.”

“Become unable to effectively experience and express their own emotions and desires or effectively experience the desires and emotions of those they love the most.”

While some of those statements may be true in some people’s lives, Wellspring is not the only place to find healing in these areas, yet the website indicates that “few find it” aside from learning and following the Wellspring concepts. The Word of God is what changes us, “For the Word of God is living and active…” Hebrews 4:12a ESV.

Implied insufficiency of Scripture.

Film clips are used during the courses to illustrate the four levels of the heart and the elevator model of the heart. The manual states, “To assist you in getting in touch with all four levels of your heart we will ask questions after film clips and in your team meetings designed to help you go down the elevator.”

This is a huge red flag – The films they show clips of are made by Hollywood and rarely based on Scriptural principles. While they can have good illustrations about life, they should not be substituted for the Word of God when we are trying to grow closer to God.

The manual states that connecting on all four levels is really only possible with other Wellspring attendants, as implied in the manual, “Knowing your own heart at all four levels is the foundation for effectively connecting with others at all four levels of their heart.”

Again, this is secret knowledge that only those that attend Wellspring will gain, implying that the Bible alone is not sufficient for learning how to effectively connect with others.

The Bible is not the only source of Wellspring ideas, the manual states that “The Battle for the Heart draws upon ancient spiritual disciplines, such as reflective reading of Scripture, contemplative prayer and the power of intimate fellowship, and places them in an organic structure.”

The website at one time recommended reading books by John Eldridge’s and David Benner, who are both followers of “mystic” Christianity.

Overall, the Wellspring program encourages an unhealthy focus on self. Supposedly we find God from intense introspection, understanding an unbliblical concept of our heart and its four levels, searching within our deepest desires and through watching movie clips to gain insight. All of that is NOT what Scripture teaches.