Discernment, False Teachers

Shauna Niequist

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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.

Mailbag, Prayer

Throwback Thursday ~ The Mailbag: What is Contemplative Prayer?

Originally published August 1, 2016

mailbag

 

What is contemplative prayer, and is it biblical?

Contemplative prayer, often called centering prayer, (and connected to sozo prayer and soaking prayer) is very much like a “Christianized” transcendental meditation (similar to New Age or Buddhist meditation). You are supposed to sit quietly, empty your mind, and repeat a biblical word or phrase over and over until you begin “hearing from God.”

Is this a biblical form of prayer? No, and it is also very dangerous. Many who have come out of this practice and churches or organizations which promote it (the International House of Prayer, or IHOP, and Bethel “Church” in Redding, California, are major proponents) report that contemplative prayer is much like being hypnotized and that it was an open door for demonic opression and even possession.

Our beliefs and worship practices are to be drawn from Scripture, and nowhere in Scripture are we told to pray like this. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He did not tell them to empty their minds and repeat a mantra. He said,

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:7-13

Jesus taught us to talk to God using intelligible words, worshiping Him, repenting and seeking His forgiveness, and asking Him to provide for our needs. It is not His desire that we mimic a pagan form of meditation.


Additional Resources:

What is Contemplative Prayer? at Got Questions

What is Centering Prayer? at Got Questions

Contemplative Prayer at Berean Research

The Dangers of Contemplative Prayer at Sola Sisters

IHOP is Dangerous: Stephanie’s Testimony


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, 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.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Todd Friel on Rick Warren, Enneagram, Should I stay or should I go?…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar can be a helpful tool!


Do you have any thoughts on Todd Friel’s latest comment that Rick Warren is not a heretic?

Yes, I’m a faithful listener of Wretched Radio, and I did hear that episode. (You can listen to the specific remarks this reader is referencing here starting around the 5:25 mark.)

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t speak for Todd, so if this is of great concern to you, I would recommend contacting Todd directly and getting a “straight from the horse’s mouth” response from him.

The following is what I understood Todd’s remarks to mean:

I believe Todd was using a more classical theological definition of heresy used by many pastors and theologians (and which I agree with), which a lot of people are unaware of these days because the term “heresy” is tossed about so haphazardly (I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it myself). In this definition, real heresy is narrowly focused. It has only to do with the basic doctrines of salvation. In other words, the things you have to believe to be a Christian, and the things you can’t believe to be a Christian.

For example, T.D. Jakes is a heretic for two reasons: a) he is a modalist, a classic heresy which denies the biblical nature of the Trinity, and b) he preaches Word of Faith heresy – “another gospel” as described in Galatians 1:6-9.

Rick Warren, on the other hand, is someone I would categorize as a “false teacher” (again, I cannot speak for Todd, so I don’t know if he would use that label, but I think he would agree with the remainder of this paragraph). He says and does a lot of unbiblical things which he needs to stop and repent of, and nobody should be following him, but he does not preach or claim to believe anything (to my knowledge anyway) that goes against the basic doctrines of salvation. If you sat him down and talked to him, he would affirm the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, that Christ is the only way of salvation, etc.

I think the confusion is that the classical definition of heresy differentiates between true heretics and false teachers, but many Christians don’t seem to understand that because the terms “heretic” and “false teacher” are often used interchangeably. This is a definitional thing. Todd is not saying Rick Warren is a doctrinally sound pastor you should be following. He’s made that abundantly clear on a number of occasions.


My friend Samuel had a great question on Twitter recently:

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,
Titus 1:13

It’s a great passage with a lot to consider. My thoughts:

1. Look at the rest of 13: “that they may be sound in the faith”. That’s the goal of the sharp rebuke- to bring them out of false doctrine and restore them to sound doctrine. That goal is what should inform the “sharpness” of the rebuke as well as the tone.

2. I think the “sharpness” has more to do with the urgency and immovability of the content of the message you’re conveying, and gentleness, kindness, etc., have more to do with the way (tone) in which you convey it.

3. Notice the word “For” at the beginning of v. 10. It draws our attention back to v. 5-9, the qualifications for elders. In other words, “Elders need to have these qualities (5-9) because of the need to silence and sharply rebuke these false teachers (10-16).” Verses 7-8 call for an elder not to be “arrogant…quick-tempered…violent…but…self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Those qualities should govern how an elder gives a sharp rebuke.

4. I totally agree [I think someone else in the Twitter discussion mentioned this] that we should follow Christ’s example in Matthew 23, but we need to keep in mind that a culturally appropriate sharp rebuke in the first century Middle East might not be exactly the same as a culturally appropriate sharp rebuke in 21st century America. We convey the same message, but in a different way.


What is an Enneagram? A church in my area is offering a Bible study on it. Is it biblical?

The Enneagram is basically a tool that purports to help you discover which of nine fundamental personality types you are in order to maximize your strengths and grow in areas in which you are weak.

Is it biblical? There are a lot of different opinions and information out there, so it depends on who you ask. Some would say it’s merely a tool that helps identify less Christlike areas of your personality so you can be aware of, and strive to be more obedient in, those areas of weakness. Others grab on to the Enneagram and dive headfirst into the New Age mysticism that seems to be lurking in all its nooks and crannies.

I would just ask – have you ever read a passage of Scripture that says we need to analyze our personalities – using any tool, for any reason? No, you haven’t. And that’s the main reason I would say you don’t need the Enneagram or any other personality evaluation tool. Just like Christians for the past 2000 years haven’t needed them.

God gives us everything we need for life and godliness in the Bible. Do you tend to be too much of a people pleaser? That’s called fear of man. It’s in the Bible. Too harsh with others? You’re being unkind. It’s in the Bible. Struggle with anxiety? You’re not trusting God. It’s in the Bible.

A lot of people don’t want to hear this again and again because it’s not shiny and new, popular and fun like the Enneagram, personality tests, or internet quizzes (plus it takes longer and involves hard, spiritual work), but we don’t need to be looking for the latest evangelical fad to microwave us into spiritual maturity. We need the slow, deep, plodding work of studying our Bibles, sitting under good preaching and teaching at church, being discipled by older, wiser brothers and sisters in Christ, praying for wisdom, and repenting of sin.

If I were considering using the Enneagram, here’s what I would ask myself:

Why would I rather use the Enneagram – which isn’t mentioned or suggested anywhere in Scripture and has some sketchy spiritual elements to it – than use the methods (prayer, Bible study, discipleship, etc.) I know God has prescribed in Scripture?

For more information on the Enneagram here are some good resources:

Enneagram at Berean Research

Christian Answers for the New Age (Marcia posts great information on her Facebook page. You may have to scroll a bit or ask her to find the specific topic you’re looking for. Here’s something on the Enneagram I happened to find near the top of her feed today.)

Girl What’s Your Number? The Enneagram Episode at Sheologians

The New Age & Quack Spirituality Origins of the Enneagram with Marcia Montenegro and Steve Kozar


Can you recommend a good resource on _____ [a very specific relationship issue]?

There are a lot of wonderful books and other materials out there that can help us deal with certain relational issues, and when I’m aware of those resources I try to recommend them if I think they would help. I am all for reading and learning from helpful, doctrinally sound materials.

But the more specific and interpersonal the issue is, the less helpful resources are, because those resources are general by nature and can’t address every conceivable scenario, including yours. Sometimes you don’t need to read a book, you need to have a conversation with the other person(s) involved in the issue.

For example, if Sally is constantly gossiping about you to other people at church, you don’t need to read a book on gossip or relationships between church members. You need to go to Sally and ask why she’s saying these things. You might need to set the record straight about your behavior that she’s gossiping about. You might have received a false report that she’s gossiping about you. You might need to rebuke her and proceed to the next step of church discipline. But you won’t know any of those things unless you sit down and talk to her. And you’re not going to find those answers in a book.

In other situations, getting the wise counsel of a godly older sister in your church, or setting up an appointment with your pastor for counseling can be much more helpful than simply reading a book. These people know you and care about you. They’re available to help you and answer your questions. They can walk through the changing ups and downs of the situation with you over time. You can’t get all of that from a book.

Materials and resources are great and can be very helpful, but not in every situation.


I still meet with my ladies Bible study group, but they continue to choose very questionable material. Teachers that you have warned against as false and I agree with you. I have voiced my concerns to them over and over and at this point I am just starting to sound like a broken record. My question is, do I still participate and try my level best to help them discern or do I just leave the group?

In my article The Mailbag: Should I attend the “Bible” study to correct false doctrine? I addressed the question, “Should I attend a study using a false teacher’s materials in order to correct false doctrine, or should I decline to attend the study due to the unbiblical materials they’re using?”

Either option can be perfectly biblical depending on the situation and the people involved. This reader chose to go the former route, which brings up an additional question: If I join this group and they continue to teach false doctrine via materials by false teachers despite my correction, how long do I hang in there and continue to correct?

Since every situation is different, I can’t give a hard and fast answer to that. I would reiterate the counsel I gave in the previous article about praying for wisdom and discussing it with your husband and your pastor. If, in these discussions, you and your husband decide that, in addition to the women’s group, there are sufficient biblical reasons to look for another church, you may want to hang in there until you move to a new church.

If you decide to leave the group, another natural time to make the break would be when they finish the book they’re currently using and before they begin a new book.

If the question is less, “When should I leave?” and more, “Is it biblical to leave the group when it’s obvious they aren’t going to listen to biblical rebuke and sound doctrine?” the answer is yes, and practically the whole Bible is precedent for this.

Think back over the Scriptures. What is the Bible’s general posture and response to people – particularly God’s people – who have been repeatedly warned about their sin or presented with biblical truth, and choose to continue in that sin or ignore that truth (as this group seems to be acting toward the reader)?

Think about God’s repeated warnings to Old Testament Israel about their sins of idolatry and syncretism (which are basically what importing false doctrine into a church is). Even God didn’t hang in there continuing to warn them forever. What was His eventual response to them? He used pagan nations to conquer them and send them into exile.

Passages like these also help us see the New Testament’s take on moving on when sound doctrine is rejected:

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:10-11 (For more on false doctrine as “division”, see Romans 16:17-18, Jude 18-19.)

And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.
Mark 6:11 (see verses 7-13 for context)

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Matthew 7:6

Do you have scriptural grounds to leave if a group rejects biblical correction of their false doctrine? Yes. When should you leave? You’ll have to ask God to give you the wisdom to decide.


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.

Guest Posts

Guest Post: Moving Off the Sure Foundation

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.

Moving Off The Sure Foundation
by Kerri Sheldon

The authoritative rule for Christian belief and practice is Scripture – pure and sound. It should be the church’s first say, only say, and final say. If the truth within Scripture is compromised, then by default, the new norm will become muddled thinking and false teaching. Such a compromise will transpire when biblical truths are subtly displaced by other ideas that perhaps on the surface appear innocuous, but with further consideration are found to be a diversion from truth.

Unfortunately, such a shift is happening today among evangelical circles at an increasing rate. A prime illustration is seen when a church has a statement of faith that includes something like, “We believe in the sole authority of Scripture for faith and practice,” yet they have practically abandoned that stance by allowing false teachings to enter in, whether deliberately or indirectly. If Scripture is really their authority, as they say, it should be in actuality, not just in statement. Sometimes it can be more telling to view a church’s list of current studies to know if they truly adhere to God’s Word.

Let’s turn our attention to a few specific examples of untrue teachings that have entered the visible church, making way for a foundational swing.

Hearing God’s Voice

It is quite possible you have heard the phrase “hearing God’s voice,” whether from some teacher or in conversation. Upon hearing such an expression, we should ask ourselves what the person means. Are they saying they were reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit illuminated the truth meaning of the text to their minds? Perhaps that is what they mean. But generally when the phrase is used it means something quite different. Authors Henry and Richard Blackaby, as well as teachers Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer, to name a few, typically use it to convey the concept that God’s voice is heard when one opens themselves up or learns through experience apart from and outside of Scripture. Keep in mind they might affirm that God’s voice is heard only in Scripture. However, in reality, usually the idea is that one should hear fresh inner promptings or whispers that are not found in the Bible. In fact, they suggest that to hear God’s voice immediately and directly is fresher and greater than simply reading and studying His Word. Do you see why this teaching is so deceptive? It is not because of what is actually stated – to hear God’s voice, but because of what is not stated – how, when, and where to hear God’s voice. The truth is that Christians are commanded to read, study, memorize, believe, and obey God’s Word, not to listen for a voice. It is in the hearing and illumination of the Word that the Spirit then promises to be with us, guiding and empowering us, as we simply walk by faith.

Experiencing God

“Experiencing God” is another commonly heard theme. The idea is associated with having fresh encounters with God. An example can be seen in the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Young states, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more…” (p. xi) What is this “more” for which Young longs? Is it for more of the Bible? It is not presented that way. Implicit in her statement is the desire for a personal encounter or direct experience with the Living God that is beyond, or other than through, the Word of God.

Should Christians desire to personally encounter God based on their own devices or whims? Is this even attainable? Mystics would answer “yes.” They believe that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience as intuition or insight. But the believers’ “experiencing” of God is a knowing of God through His means – the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The eternal invisible God is unknowable to fallen and rebellious sinners apart from His own provision for them. Unfortunately, when someone wishes to experience God directly they will be operating from worldly or sensual desires. Let’s remember what one of the more prolific writers and theologians of the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer, said: “We must stress that the basis for our faith is neither experience nor emotion, but the truth as God has given it: in verbalized, propositional form in the Scripture and which we first of all apprehend with our mind – though, of course, the whole man must act upon it.”

Benjamin Warfield, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, explained the difference between biblically “experiencing” God and mystical experience, in The Biblical Review, Volume 2, 1917: “Evangelical Christianity interprets all religious experience by the normative revelation of God recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures, and guides, directs, and corrects it from these Scriptures, and thus molds it into harmony with what God in His revealed Word lays down as the normal Christian life. The mystic, on the other hand, tends to substitute his religious experience for the objective revelation of God recorded in the written Word, as the source from which he derives his knowledge of God, or at least to subordinate the expressly revealed Word as the less direct and convincing source of knowledge of God to his own religious experience. The result is that the external revelation is relatively depressed in value, if not totally set aside.”

One of the more prominent people who introduced experience-based emphases and techniques into the visible church was author Richard Foster. His book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth took the church world by storm when first published in 1978 (from which the below quotes are taken). It is about the quest for spirituality based on the inner workings of the soul and spiritual techniques. Interestingly, Foster was raised a Quaker. They believe in the “inward light.” To give you a taste of Foster’s book the following quotes are given:

The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. (p. 22)

Another meditation aimed at centering oneself begins by concentrating on breathing…become silent outwardly and inwardly. Be attentive to the inward living Christ…then listen once again. (p.25)

You can see Foster believes that imagination, meditation, and the quest for the “inward Christ” are the new mediation before God. Of course that is absolutely not biblical, and is in contrast to the “outward” light who invaded our world of darkness in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He and His Word are the Light having come into our darkened lives. Not long after Foster’s book, a new seminary category of study was born – spiritual formations. It is quite a conglomeration of teachings in most seminaries these days.

The Cosmic Christ

Another false thought that has entered into evangelicalism is that of a Romantic and/or Cosmic Christ. It says God comes to us “in stuff” (like the creation) and that we need “spiritual eyes” to see Him there. But does Christ make Himself known personally through the creation? No, the true God reigns transcendent over His creation and made Himself personally known in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Yet many are flocking to such authors as Ann Voskamp who writes in her book One Thousand Gifts, “Do I have eyes to see His face in all things…” (p.112). This is a new-age concept in that there is an ever present deity in the creation. It is not talking of the real Jesus, the One who became flesh and dwelt among us and died and was raised again and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. If you want that Christ, you should stick with only the Scriptures.

The End of this Present Evil Age

Unfortunately, the introduction of many false teachers and false doctrines as mentioned here has been “winked at” by most evangelical leaders. This is not ok. If we move even slightly off a biblical foundation, where does that take us? In Acts 20:17-38 we read of Paul’s ministry to the elders of Ephesus and his emphasis in that ministry. True shepherds warn the flock of such impending dangers just like Paul. In light of this, we must not overlook the very nature of the end of this present evil age. Remember what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2. He warns that there would be a falling away from the faith led by the man of sin. In the midst of the church at the end of the age a beast will arise and be the catalyst of a false church and the world’s final rebellion against the God of the Scriptures. The spirit of antichrist starts in the visible church and the final apostasy will be no exception. For saints who are alive, it will be very costly to maintain a faithful testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ in the environment of both the visible apostate church and the fallen world.

But our ultimate hope is eternal and will be revealed when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself returns on that glorious day of His revelation! Until then, we should be on guard even while sitting in a church pew and wait patiently with watchful eye and prayerful hearts.


This article is drawn, in part, from Resolute: An Unwavering Stance on the Truth of God’s Word by Kerri Sheldon and her father, David Sheldon. Kerri and David believe that making true disciples of Jesus Christ can only happen when one is presented with sound theological doctrine, and their desire is to help Christians guard against deception and ignite a stance on the Word of God alone. Check out Kerri and David’s website, 4 Truth Ministry and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.