[Dr. Carl Leth recently wrote “An Open Letter To Manny Silva” in response to my post about Olivet Nazarene University promoting contemplative spirituality. My response to that is below, followed after by the full text of his letter.]
Dear Dr. Leth,
1. Instead of attacking the stated facts in my article, you wrongly attacked the integrity and honesty of Stand For Truth Ministries (me) and of Lighthouse Trails Research. You attacked the messenger, but not the message! I think you could have done better.
2. You did not give a biblical defense for Olivet allowing false teachers like Tony Campolo to speak to students unchallenged.
3. You did not give a biblical defense for Olivet using books by authors like Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster.
4. You demonstrated no Scriptural defense of “spiritual formation.” Ironically, the only passage you used, Romans 12:2, is actually a reason for not allowing Tony Campolo to speak to the students at Olivet. He is part of the world!
5. You wrongly accused Lighthouse Trails of some kind of deception. You said: “But I do object to anonymous critique from people without identity or accountability. They operate – by choice – in the shadows.” Well, you obviously missed the easy-to-find “Contact Us” section that lists David and Deb Dombrowski as the editors. And you can further read their doctrinal statement, including the opening statement that the Bible is inerrant and historically accurate- a belief that is sadly lacking amongst many Nazarenes today, including many of our college theologians.
6. John Wesley was not someone who promoted contemplative spirituality. (Although if he did, I would have called him out on it).
7. From your letter, I can only conclude that Olivet Nazarene University has at this time no intention of seriously looking at the implications of what it is doing by promoting contemplative spirituality (via “spiritual formation programs”). That is why, unless their is a serious change, I do not recommend Olivet for any Bible believing Christian, as I do not recommend any of the other Nazarene schools and the seminary and Bible college as well.
8. I have no problem accepting your invitation to come and visit Olivet. You can read my answer at the end.
Dr. Leth, although I still have serious disagreement with you on these issues, at least you have responded publicly, and I commend you for that. Too many leaders in our denomination today are “operating in the shadows.” The church needs to know the facts of where you and other leaders stand at all the colleges and seminaries, and make their decisions based on the answers.
You stated, “What you failed to mention was our exchange of multiple e-mails and an extended phone conversation discussing Dr. Campolo. You also neglected to mention the multiple page assessment of Dr. Campolo which I sent to you (and which I also shared with our University chaplain), discussing points of disagreement – and agreement – with your concerns.”
Any “omission” of our communications was done out of consideration for your statement of confidentiality, and certainly not to hide anything. All your emails you sent me marked as confidential, including the one which had your assessment of Dr. Campolo attached. Your disclaimer says: “This message is from the Office of Carl M. Leth at Olivet Nazarene University and is intended only for the recipient to whom it is addressed. Please do not share or forward this e-mail without the permission of the sender.”
So I honored that disclaimer. If you wish, I would be glad to publicize all those emails that you stated were confidential, as well as your assessment of Dr. Campolo. There was no failure or dishonest omission on my part, as is implied.
Secondly, I stand by my statement in which I said that you have no problem with Dr. Campolo. Yes, you did write an assessment of Dr. Campolo that included some criticism, but the bottom line is this. In allowing Dr. Campolo to come to Olivet, you (and the leadership) are okay with a false teacher coming to the Olivet campus and speaking unchallenged. You know by now that Dr. Campolo promotes a whole lot of unbiblical ideologies, including contemplative mysticism, mantra prayers, and tacit support of the homosexual agenda. By allowing him to speak, you (the leaders of Olivet) potentially allow him to poison the minds of your students. That is irresponsible, and at least says that you and others are willing to tolerate the appearance of a false teacher on campus without giving anyone a chance to refute him at the same time. I’ll let others decide for themselves whether that is wise or not.
Thirdly, you also said, “that “standing for truth” does not require basic courtesy, not to mention following biblical principles for dealing with matters of disagreement.” I am not aware of any biblical principles I violated. Surely you do not mean Matthew 18, which does not apply here. You are a public figure, whose words are read by hundreds of students at a time at Olivet. A public response to you or any other public figure is absolutely appropriate. We warn you and the leadership of what your school is allowing. I am duty bound by God’s word to point out the errors publicly, for the sake of the students who attend your school, and for those who may attend. I see no biblical basis for keeping my mouth shut publicly. On the other hand, it would be reckless for me to not give out any warning as Olivet continues on this course.
You Question My Integrity, and That Of Lighthouse Trails
In spite of my serious disagreements with you, I had not (until now) questioned your integrity because I have not had any concrete reason to do so. I do question your ideas. I know that you sincerely believe in what you do, although I believe you are sincerely wrong. A person can be in error and still be a person of integrity. Yet you are questioning my integrity and my honesty, as well as that of the Lighthouse Trails writers. That is a disappointment to me, and I believe it is an improper unscriptural judgment of me, Lighthouse Trails, and anyone else who has an opinion of what Olivet is teaching. And it results , intentionally or otherwise, in trying to deflect away from the facts, which you never refuted.
You said: “standing for truth” does not require speaking truthfully” …. “It revealed that “standing for truth” does not require a very high standard for truth. The critique of Olivet in a broad, sweeping stroke, was based on the posting of “Lighthouse Trails Research” which you trust and “commend.”
I commend and stand by Lighthouse Trails and the work they do, and I stand by my work as well. We bring facts out in the open, and we give our opinion. Were these facts inaccurate about Olivet? If so, which stated facts are in error, and why? Frankly, what you object to is not the facts, but my conclusion as well as LHT’s conclusion, that Olivet is promoting contemplative spirituality.
And it does not matter whether LHT has a Wesleyan background! John Wesley did not write the Bible! What matters is if what they post is the truth, and there has been no refutation of any facts, and no biblical justification given for allowing these false teachers to influence our students. I have no formal theological training, but God has given me the discernment to see what is false, and what is truth.
So I am very disappointed at your accusation that both Lighthouse Trails and myself are lacking in integrity and honesty. This reminds me of the same technique used by my former pastor, when he did not like hearing the truth from me and could not refute a single thing I wrote. I’ve seen this often. When some people can’t refute the truth, they simply try to destroy the integrity of the messenger! I am not perfect, but my conscience is clear before God. Is yours?
I suspect that not one theology professor at Olivet, nor any other Christian university, can defend in a biblical manner the ideology of such writers as Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Tony Campolo, and many others. They all share one thing in common, and that is the rapidly growing phenomenon of “spiritual formation.” I would challenge your professors to come up with a biblical defense for the use of Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster books. If not, they ought to throw it all out. Sadly, those who are on the spiritual formation bandwagon are using contemplative practices that are unbiblical and that teach Christians that if they are quiet enough, the voice of God will speak to them; that if they practice “the silence” they will get closer to God.
Dr. Leth, you and some of your colleagues including some at our seminaries, are trying to justify the positive use of books by men who promote doctrines of demons. We should not be trying to confuse people by saying we can take the good from these men, and throw out the bad. That is not biblical at all. You are trying to justify contemplative spirituality, and denying that it is what you call spiritual formation. Spiritual formation programs are a Trojan horse bringing in contemplative mysticism. You say mystical expressions are okay. I would ask, how does one know that any of those mystical expressions are from God, or from Satan? How do I tell which is it? You seem to be pretty much on the same page as Tony Campolo, who said:
“We must pay serious attention to mystical happenings, and discern, in the context of biblical understanding in Christian community, whether or not we believe they are of God. Discernment is crucial to mystical spirituality. Without it, anything goes. On the other hand, we must learn to doubt our doubts if we are going to be open to the work of the Spirit in our lives” (The God of Intimacy and Action, p. 11).
Finally, you said: “And I categorically reject the position attributed to Nouwen suggesting that there could be any other way to God.”
How can it be clearer? In his own words, Nouwen said:
“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” (Sabbatical Journey, New York: Crossroad, 1998, p. 51).
Dr. Leth, let me make it clear: I have nothing personal against you or anyone at Olivet or any of the other colleges. I believe you and your colleagues have good intentions. God has long ago removed any personal resentments from my heart. But I am saddened that the current position of Olivet leadership seems to be one of either denial, or refusal to repent. I call on you and the leaders of the school to reject the use of these false teachers as good resources, to reject the spiritual formation which is a trojan horse for contemplative spirituality, and to get back to the Bible and nothing else as your source of truth. It is a call for repentance from what is slowly destroying the Nazarene denomination. It is a call to turn back to obedience to the inerrant word of God.
Your Invitation to Visit:
Regarding your invitation to come to Olivet. I would be glad to come sometime with a colleague and have a dialogue with two of your best theologians, in front of all the students in chapel, on the merits of contemplative spirituality (spiritual formation). I think something like that would be very interesting, and would allow someone like me, who is not seminary trained, to make my case. I would only be armed with my knowledge of Scripture, my knowledge of those who promote contemplative spirituality, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Besides, would this not reflect the spirit of academic discourse and freedom, and sharing of ideas?
So consider this reply a Yes to your offer for me to visit the campus and speak to your students. After all, if Tony Campolo, a non-Nazarene, can speak to them, why not a lifelong Nazarene like me?
* Additional comments have been added in red within your letter below:
ORIGINAL LETTER FROM DR. LETH
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2012 07:29:47 -0800
Subject: An Open Letter to Manny Silva
An Open Letter to Manny Silva
(Please note: This letter will also be published on EpworthPulpit.com)
You recently issued a sweeping online critique of Olivet Nazarene University which you sent to Dr. Bowling and myself. I was saddened and disappointed to receive it. But not by what it had to say about Olivet. It was what it revealed about Stand for Truth Ministries.
It revealed that “standing for truth” does not require speaking truthfully, or at the very least, is not averse to misleading statements. You wrote, concerning Tony Campolo’s visit to speak in chapel, “I sent my concerns to Dr. Carl Leth, dean of the School of Theology, but apparently he has no problem in having Dr. Campolo speak there.” What you failed to mention was our exchange of multiple e-mails and an extended phone conversation discussing Dr. Campolo. You also neglected to mention the multiple page assessment of Dr. Campolo which I sent to you (and which I also shared with our University chaplain), discussing points of disagreement – and agreement – with your concerns. In the end, our differences were less about the areas where Dr. Campolo is on questionable grounds than the severity of that critique. I shared your concerns about several positions Dr. Campolo advocates but I did not conclude that they disqualify him from speaking at all. That is a different conclusion from yours but hardly constitutes having “no problem” with Campolo.
It revealed that “standing for truth” does not require basic courtesy, not to mention following biblical principles for dealing with matters of disagreement. In my multiple exchanges of communication with you I have tried to understand your concerns and respond to them in a serious manner. While we do not agree on every issue I want to honor your concerns and perspective. In those multiple (and wholly congenial) exchanges I repeatedly asked you to contact me if you had any concerns about what we were doing at Olivet. “If you have a concern please let me know.” I extended my personal invitation to Olivet to communicate your concerns directly, offering to personally serve as your host. You have my e-mail address and my personal phone number, both of which you were invited to use freely. Yet this latest, sweeping, critique came without any prior contact from you. Perhaps any explanation I would have made would have been unsatisfactory to you. But it would have been a gesture of simple courtesy to give me that opportunity.
It revealed that “standing for truth” does not require a very high standard for truth. The critique of Olivet in a broad, sweeping stroke, was based on the posting of “Lighthouse Trails Research” which you trust and “commend.” So I went to Lighthouse Trails to learn a bit more about my accuser. What I learned was almost nothing. The editors of Lighthouse ministry shine a bright light on folks they disagree with but remain, themselves, in the shadows. The site includes a tab “about us” but it does not include any names, credentials, or church affiliation. Instead, the site freely identifies their purpose as for-profit book sales. I have no objections to free enterprise or book sales. But I do object to anonymous critique from people without identity or accountability. Do they have any meaningful theological training? Are they from the Wesleyan Holiness tradition? Are they active in a local church? Is there an accountability community that can vouch for their character and integrity? I am not presuming negative answers to any of these questions. I am simply noting that I have no basis on which to offer any kind of answer to them. The writers of Lighthouse Trails may be well-trained churchmen, deeply grounded in the Wesleyan holiness tradition and their understanding of our tradition, and persons of high personal, spiritual and moral character. I simply have no way to know. They operate – by choice – in the shadows.
Nevertheless, they have been installed as the authoritative theological source for assessment of the Church of the Nazarene and Olivet Nazarene University whose judgment is accepted without question by Stand for Truth Ministries.
Dr. Leth, I have many reliable sources of information that I use, besides LHT, and I also do my own research and also verify the information. But how would you know I accept LHTs words without question? And please tell me, which facts that they reported were incorrect? Did they not use Richard Foster’s book, and Nouwen’s books, in some courses? Did not the VP of SPiritual Life favorably quote Nouwen? Which facts were incorrect?
Among the faculty of Olivet’s School of Theology and Christian Ministry we have over 200 years of ministry experience – on the mission field, as pastors, in local ministry staff positions. I have, myself, over 25 years of pastoral service, including four years in Missions. I have been entrusted with leadership roles on districts where I have served – District Advisor Board, chairman of the district Finance Committee, chairman of the Ministerial Credential’s Board. You can read what I have written, identified by name, in multiple publications easily available to the public (including EpworthPulpit.com). You can hear me preach any Sunday at the multi-cultural church I pastor (as a bi-vocational pastor) in downtown Kankakee. My credentials, experience and service are readily available for public assessment. But for Stand for Truth Ministries none of that matters the moment an anonymous, for-profit, online bookseller makes a condemning critique. That is the standard of truth. No sir, the standard of truth is Jesus Christ, and His word, the word of God!
LHT is NOT anonymous, and you should correct that and apologize for saying that. They even explain why they are for-profit, but even so, what s wrong with for profit? Can they make a living, just as a pastor needs to get some income as well? Do you earn income for what you do?
As far as your credentials, they look really good to me. But is that the standard for Christians before they can discern what is right and what is wrong? Does that mean no one is qualified to discern unless they have gone to theological school and received a degree? Please read Psalm 119:99 and you will know that is not necessarily the case.
So much for what this reveals about Stand for Truth Ministries. Let me respond to the substance of your expressed concern. The general concern about “spiritual formation” reflects a misunderstanding about what spiritual formation is. You assume that anything identified as spiritual formation must be, or lead to, inappropriate forms of mysticism or non-Christian spirituality. This is simply mistaken. The disciplines of spiritual formation have been a part of the Christian community from its beginning. They reflect the intentional formation of practices and patterns of life to reflect and honor Christ’s lordship. They include practices of prayer, reading Scripture, worship, giving, and service. John Wesley did not use the term “spiritual formation” but emphasized the practices of spiritual formation as “means of grace.”
John Wesley, as far as I know, would not be involved with the kind of spiritual formation being promoted in the universities today, in many of our churches. But… if he did, I suppose I would have to call him out on it as well. The attempt to re-write the history of John Wesley, such as the claims of some that he was the first emergent, is outrageous!
The Wesleyan holiness understanding of God’s work of salvation has always included an emphatic insistence that this must include a radical change of life. Justification cannot be the experience of the believer without regeneration, newness of life, or initial sanctification. This means that life change is part and parcel of the New Birth. We must live in a new way. And this includes learning new habits and patterns of life. We need to learn to read the Word, spend time in prayer, spend time just listening to God, learn to act in new and different ways – like learning to serve others and spending time in the fellowship of the church.
All we need is the instructions God has given us in scripture. We MUST NOT use “new and different ways” if they contradict God’s word. But your examples certainly are not new. Serving others, fellowship in the church- those are nothing new, although they are biblical. Practicing the silence is not. Using books by heretical authors as good resources are not. Placing ashes on the forehead are not.
It is the expression of living worship. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
That is one of the points I have been trying to make! Do not conform to the world! Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster are part of the world! Run away from them- don’t embrace them!
This work of life transformation is God’s work, a gift of grace, but it is not done without us. We are called to participate with God’s gracious work in us. And just because it is grace does not mean that the work is not sometimes hard work on our part. We emerge from lives of sin and the powerful influence of this world with deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and habits of life. We have to re-learn how to think of ourselves, what we value, how to use our resources, how to work through our hurts and grievances. All of this is part of God’s work in our lives to make us holy. All the “work” we do is participating in God’s sanctifying work in our lives. This is what “spiritual formation” must always be about – being made holy, reflecting the image and character of the Christ to whom we belong.
This is the work we are purposing to do. No mystic spiritualism. No inner divinity. Richard Foster claims that EVERY human being can be a portable sanctuary for contact with God. EVERY human being, not just Christians. No universal spiritual being. Just forming hearts and lives around the heart and life of the One who gave himself for me. He alone is our life. He alone is our hope. He alone is the One we seek.
Let me add a word about the language of mysticism. It is easy for someone to misunderstood what is being said when calling for a movement from “moral” to “mystical” Christian experience. There are Christian traditions that see the Christian life as primarily a kind of moral living. Being Christian is, essentially, following the moral standards found in Scripture or expressed by the church. The life of the Christian is a life of compliance with the Law or the Church. “Mystical” expressions of Christianity have called people to a personal experience of God, a living personal relationship that does not require the mediation of a priest or the institutional church.
How is “Mystical” expressions biblical? Please explain how mysticism is encouraged or taught in Scripture. Nouwen said this: “Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love. … For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (In the Name of Jesus, pp. 6, 31, 32). How is this scriptural?
In this sense, we of the Wesleyan holiness tradition have always been “mystical.” We have never believed that being Christian is, essentially, about the Law. Dr. Leth, let me explain what being a Christian means. Being a Christian is this: someone who has repented of his sins, and placed his faith in Jesus Christ. He has turned away form his sinful path, and now turns to obedience to Christ. How do you obey Christ? Simply by following His word, His law if you will. Jesus said it Himself: if you love me, keep my commandments. He did not say, if you love me, become a mystic and experience by practicing the silence.
It is about a personal encounter with the living God. It is what every altar in every church calls out. God, Himself, may be met here.
This is a description of the experiential philosophy of the emergent church and the mystics of today. That you can “experience” God. However, this is very subjective, and there is not clear way for us to discern whether someone’s “persona” experience is genuine or not, or if it is demonic.
In this sense I am glad to be called “mystical.” In fact, I refuse to be anything else. As I write this response I am listening to the song that asks, “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song, as the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long?” And my heart is encouraged by the ringing refrain, “O yes, He cares; I know He cares!…I know my Saviour cares.” I know because I have met Him, I know Him. The Christian life is to follow Him and to know Him. This is the “mysticism” we value here at Olivet.
We follow and know Him by knowing His word. Otherwise, your mysticism and my mysticism can be totally different, and again, how can I tell whether your experience is valid or not? Or whether the “mystical experience” of 1000 different students at Olivet is valid or not.
That is not to say that any mysticism will do. Absolutely not! Only a life grounded in the life of Christ has found Life. And I categorically reject the position attributed to Nouwen suggesting that there could be any other way to God. There is no other Way, no other Truth, no other Life.
Where is any scriptural support for mystical experiences that can somehow be achieved by our efforts? All the mystical experiences documented in the New Testament were initiated by God- not by Paul or anyone else going through some kind of procedure or ritual.
I want to take you and your concerns seriously – as I have tried to do from the beginning. I will ask our faculty who are using Nouwen to carefully consider the texts they are using. I will ask them, specifically, to explore the suggested pluralism in the source you attribute to Nouwen.
They know what Henri Nouwen believed and taught. There should be no question but that they should immediately remove his material, as well as Richard Foster’s, from the curriculum. However, I do not fault Olivet alone on this. I was ashamed to see Richard Foster’s book at General Assembly, AND in a prayer room, which was doubly shameful.
We want to avoid any suggestion that we affirm mystical spirituality or hope of salvation that is not grounded in the life of Christ alone.
But that is what the Nazarene denomination is doing right now, seeking “experiences” instead of remaining int he word of God. It is no longer sufficient for them. They must seek more new ways of getting close to God. That is an insult to the sufficiency of placing our faith in Christ, and relying on His word.
We will not, however, abandon the enterprise of spiritual formation as I have described it. To do so would be to fail to be faithful stewards of the responsibility entrusted to us.
I’m sorry to hear that. May the Lord bring conviction to you all and repentance from this path that Olivet seemingly has chosen. It is the wrong way to go.
Nonetheless, I want to repeat my earlier offer to you. You are welcome to visit Olivet at any time as my guest. I will personally serve as your host and we will work to arrange meaningful opportunities for dialogue with you. If you are unable to visit the campus but have concerns you would like to express please communicate them to me and I will try to address them. In whatever we do let us try to honor Christ and be honoring to each other for his sake.
I’ll be glad to come, if I will be allowed to speak to the students in chapel, just as Tony Campolo was.