Brian McLaren's newest book,
Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient
Practices, is the first in a series of eight books
by Thomas Nelson publishers. ...
In Finding Our Way Again, McLaren thanks several
contemplatives like Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Joan
Chittister. He also says he is "indebted" to Tony Campolo
and Jim Wallis and recognizes
Doug Pagitt and
Tony Jones for teaching him contemplative practices. It
is not surprising that McLaren thanks these listed teachers
- McLaren has been in the emergent camp from the beginning
of its inception, and where there is emerging, there is
McLaren tells a story in which he met Buddhist sympathizer
Senge at a Christian conference for pastors. Senge asks
the pastors: "[W]hy are books on Buddhism so popular, and
not books on Christianity?" Senge then tells the pastors it
is because "Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and
Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I
would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to
rediscover their own faith as a way of life." Translated,
this emulates what a Hindu monk, Dr. Bramachari, told Thomas
Merton once, that mysticism (ancient practices) could be
found within the Christian tradition (the desert fathers).
What Senge meant was that a Christian did not have to become
a Buddhist to enjoy the mystical experience but just
"rediscover" that this mysticism is within the Christian
faith (through contemplative spirituality). This is
essentially the thesis of McLaren's book, and with this
mystical ideology, McLaren interjects the usual emerging
church condemnation on Christians who adhere too closely to
biblical doctrine and the return of Christ.
In regard to Christian doctrine, McLaren states: "[W]e need
to move beyond our deadlock, our polarization, our binary,
either/or thinking regarding faith and reason, religion and
science, matter and spirit ... We need a fusion of the
sacred and the secular" (pp. 4-5). As do other emerging
philosophers (such as Tony Campolo and
Warren), McLaren pairs
fundamentalism with the adjectives: "fearful, manic,
violent, apocalyptic" saying that its followers are "well
armed, dangerous, and in the mood for an apocalypse." (p.
5). This resonates with Rick Warren who
said that Christian fundamentalists (he describes those
as ones who adhere to the five fundamentals of the faith
1) are this
century's enemy (and put them in the same category as
McLaren says there are three groups we must avoid:
"militarist scientific secularism, pushy religious
fundamentalism, and mushy amorphous spirituality" [which
he calls "new age"]. He offers a fourth "creative"
alternative, one that needs to "derive strength from the old
religious traditions" (i.e., mysticism ), a "fresh
alternative ... [that] seeks to bring ancient spiritual
practices to bear on the emerging world" (p. 6).
McLaren understands the outcome of mysticism, which is
interspirituality and man awakening to his own divinity.
Thus, he explains that these ancient practices (spiritual
formation) are for people of different faiths and that these
"practices are actions within our power that help us narrow
the gap" (p. 14). They are "ways of becoming awake and
staying awake to God" (p. 18).
McLaren twists Scripture by suggesting that the Old
Testament priest Melchizedek was of a different religion
than Abraham, and Abraham used a mystical practice to
connect with Melchizedek. Thus McLaren draws this
conclusion: "[W]e discover practices for our own faith in an
encounter with someone of another faith" (p. 25). This is
what occultists believe. Occultist Aldous Huxley said that
mysticism is the "highest common factor" that "links the
world's religious traditions" and leads man to recognize the
divinity within all things (see As Above, So Below,
p. 2). Spiritual director Tilden Edwards backed up this
comment by stating that this "mystical stream
[contemplative] is the Western bridge to far eastern
spirituality (see Spiritual Friend).
Tony Campolo, in his book Speaking My Mind
suggests that it is mysticism that unites Christianity with
Islam (pp. 149-150).
The interfaith theme is threaded through Finding
Our Way Again. In one section, McLaren says that even
Christian communion is something to be shared with people of
all faiths (in particularly with the Jewish faith and
Islam); he states that this "sacred meal" is a celebration
of "inclusion" and "reconciliation" (p. 26). This makes a
mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who told believers
to do this in remembrance of Him, acknowledging His
atonement for sin - a mockery because the beliefs of other
religions reject Christ as being God and the slain Lamb who
could take away sin.
As do other emerging/contemplative teachers, McLaren
believes in a
literal global kingdom of God on earth before
Christ returns that will incorporate all the world's
religions and all creation, a "world yet to be born" that
"desperately" needs "these spiritual practices." He also
relates: "[T]hese practices" have "enlivened the three
Abrahamic faiths" (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) and should
not be "allowed to go extinct" (p. 29).
There is a piece of the puzzle in the book as to where the
emerging church is really heading. In view of the fact that
prominent Christian figures like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels
continue to promote emerging church leaders (e.g. Leonard
Sweet was a recent speaker at Saddleback and McLaren himself
recently at Willow Creek) with millions of people around the
world being significantly influenced by them, it is
essential that we know where the emerging church is going.
In chapter four of Finding Our Way Again, McLaren, in
referring to his "spiritual formation," admits he has
gleaned from various religious traditions (e.g.,
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc).
Then he makes reference to a woman named
Anne Lamott when she says, "I am at heart a Jesus-y person"
(p. 31). Lamott is a perfect example of someone who
"likes Jesus" but rejects biblical Christianity. Lamott
illustrates this by her recent back cover endorsement of the
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert's
book is heavily promoted by Oprah and has been at the top of
the New York Times best-seller list for over a year.
Gilbert was a disillusioned young woman who traveled to an
India ashram where she learned to meditate and find oneness
with God. During her time at the ashram, Gilbert had
a meditative experience where she says "the scales fell from
my eyes and the openings of the universe were shown to me."
Her book is a virtual primer on New Age
thinking. Of the book, Lamott says: "This is a wonderful
book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight."
The reason McLaren resonates with Lamott is because the New
Age and the emerging church (or what we call the merging
church) are going in the same direction - to help man
awaken to his inner divinity through mysticism. When
McLaren states in this chapter that he learned from
Hinduism, what else could he have learned than this?
Like so many others in the emerging camp, McLaren shows a
distain for Christianity, saying that "a person can be a
follower of the way of Jesus without affiliating with
the Christian religion (p. 33) (please see our report
"Christian or Christ-follower". One emerging leader says
Christianity actually hijacked truth. McLaren takes this
reasoning a step further and says, "Jesus
wasn't a Christian" (p. 34). But McLaren certainly isn't
the only one in the merging church that talks like
Erwin McManus (unfortunately promoted by David Jeremiah)
says it is his "goal to destroy Christianity as a world
religion" and also: "Some people are upset with me because
it sounds like I'm anti-Christian. I think they might be
Finding Our Way Again emulates McLaren's previous
writings on atonement, on Jesus being the only way to God
and salvation, on the return of Christ and on the last days.
The difference with this book is that the emphasis is on
how we can attain to this
- through mystical practices. One chapter is devoted
primarily to these contemplative exercises, but the entire
book is seeping with its core message - "reconciliation
with God, one another, and all creation in a global
community" (p. 42).
While we at Lighthouse Trails read this entire book, it
would be repetitive to write about each chapter. The theme
is as we have described above, and McLaren spends page after
page trying to prove his points. He condemns traditional
Christianity to dangerous and fearful, he applauds
efforts to reconcile all religions together, he rejects
any thoughts that Christ's kingdom is only for the
born-again, and he upholds a New Age kingdom in which man is
in union with God (regardless of beliefs). He embraces
mysticism wholeheartedly and in fact believes the world
cannot be healed without it.
But something in McLaren's book has given this writer a
motivation to continue with the work we do at Lighthouse
Trails as long as we have breath. In McLaren's chapter
titled "Moving On," he gives a detailed analysis of how the
emerging church is God's answer to a stifled, fearful
Christian church. He explains that this merging church
must infiltrate the "institutions that rejected it..."
Then he says: "But over time, what they
reject will find or create safe space outside their borders
and become a resource so that many if not most of the
grandchildren of today's fundamentalists will learn and grow
and move on from the misguided battles of their forebears
[biblical believers]" (p. 133). You see, McLaren and his
emerging church fellows (Pagitt, Sweet, Warren, et.al) want
to change the minds of our children and grandchildren. That
is why Rick Warren
once said that the older traditional ones will have
or die because they won't change, thus the emphasis
in the emerging church on the youth.
What's alarming is that McLaren's vision of infiltration is
working. And he knows it. Listen: "At the center, safe space
happens. A learning community forms. New possibilities
emerge. A new day dawns. If the guardians of our fragmented
religious institutions forbid their members to meet in the
center, the members will not be able to comply. They will
simply go undercover and arrange secret liaisons ...
Eventually, the shared resources, vitality, and new
possibilities that unfold ... will penetrate and
reinvigorate ... Trying to stop [this] ... is a losing game
... against the plotline of God's universe."
In the last chapter of McLaren's book, "Theosis (via Unitiva),"
he sums up his calling by stating that "The purpose of the
via purgativa [the practices] is to prepare us for the via
illuminativa [the awakening], and the purpose of the via illuminativa is to
prepare us for the via unitiva [all is
one], the union of our nature with the nature of God" (pp.
171-172). He calls God "fire" and says, "We join God in
being fire ... Before the beginning ... God was All, and All
was God" (p. 175). This is the exact
same message that
Eckhart Tolle and Oprah are propagating. But while many
Christians are now condemning Tolle's message, they don't
realize that the very same message is permeating their very