Understanding the Error of Spiritual Formation

Source:  Understand the Times with Roger Oakland

When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction.1-Richard Foster

A move away from the truth of God’s Word to a mystical form of Christianity has infiltrated, to some degree, nearly all evangelical denominations. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, most do not realize it has even happened.

The best way to understand this process is to recall what happened during the Dark Ages when the Bible became the forbidden book. Until the reformers translated the Bible into the language of the common people, the great masses were in darkness. When the light of God’s Word became available, the Gospel was once again understood.

I believe history is repeating itself. As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise in mystical experiences escalates, and these experiences are presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling, and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for fostering spiritual formation. This term suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God and to emulate Him. Thus the idea that if you do certain practices, you can be more like Jesus. Proponents of spiritual formation erroneously teach that anyone can practice these mystical rituals and find God within. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite. In a DVD called Be Still, which promotes contemplative prayer, Richard Foster says that contemplative prayer is for anyone and that by practicing it, one becomes “a portable sanctuary” for “the presence of God.”2

Rather than having the indwelling of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines supposedly transforms the seeker by his or her entering an altered realm of consciousness.

The spiritual formation movement is widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the greatest way to become a spiritual leader. It teaches people that this is how they can become more intimate with God and truly hear His voice. Even Christian leaders with long-standing reputations of teaching God’s Word seem to be succumbing. In so doing, many Christian leaders are frivolously playing with fire, and the result will be thousands, probably millions, getting burned.

It isn’t going into the silence that transforms a person’s life. It is in accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and allowing Him to change us that transformation occurs.

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)

We are reconciled to God only through Christ’s death (the atonement for sin), and we are presented “holy and unblamable and unreproveable” when we belong to Him through rebirth. It has nothing to do with works, rituals, or mystical experiences. It is Christ’s life in the converted believer that transforms him. (from chapter 6, pp 90-92, Faith Undone by Roger Oakland)

1. Richard Foster, “Spiritual Formation: A Pastoral Letter” (January 18, 2004, http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=744).
2. Richard Foster, Be Still DVD (Fox Home Entertainment, 2006), section titled “Contemplative Prayer.”

This article or excerpt was posted on August 23, 2009@ 2:24 pm.


4 responses to “Understanding the Error of Spiritual Formation

  1. I found this article written by Dave Hunt on The Berean Call website. It details more damage done by Richard Foster within the evangelical church.

    God never adjusts Himself or His Word to the tastes of men. He never changes anything to appeal to the corrupt appetites of the ungodly in any age—all must come to Him on His terms. He commands all men everywhere to repent because of coming judgment (Acts 17:30, 31). “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord…” (Isa 55:7). There is no softening of the gospel to make it “seeker friendly.”

    Many claim to seek God but never find Him. Yet He has promised: “Ye shall seek ME, and find ME, when ye shall search for ME with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). The true God must be sought on His terms. It is not a question of music, videos, or other gimmicks to attract the youth, or of icons, candles, rituals, or other embellishments to create an aura of “sacredness.” The truth asks no props, only our fervent desire. The earnest seeker must come to God in repentance and cry out to Him for mercy.

    God has spoken in His infallible Word. We must honor what He has said. Truth is not negotiable. Yet many Christian leaders promote wicked Bible versions such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message (NavPress, 1993: see Q & A TBC Oct ’95) that pervert God’s Word. Men like Peterson have no conscience about changing what God says, replacing His words with their own.

    Peterson is praised for this perversion by many Christian leaders such as J.I. Packer, Warren Wiersbe, Jack W. Hayford, and Richard Foster, founder of the Renovaré Movement and General Editor of the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005). Foster loves The Message because it supports that movement. Peterson is “Consulting Editor, New Testament” of the Renovaré Bible. He reduces much of Paul’s vital treatment of the gospel in Romans to metaphor, which he says is the “opposite [of] precise use of language” (p. 2045).

    The Renovaré movement’s major purpose is to subtly lead the church back into the occultism of the mystics of the early Roman Catholic Church through “spiritual disciplines” and “spiritual formation.” The Renovaré Bible is a major effort in that direction. A host of “scholars” contributed commentaries, among them Bruce Demarest, Professor of Theology at Denver Seminary; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Tremper Longman III, Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College; Earl F. Palmer, pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA and on the Board of Trustees of the long-apostate Princeton Theological Seminary (as was Sir John Marks Templeton).

    The Renovaré Bible includes the Apocrypha and declares, “Most of the Church throughout much of history has accepted the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture….”1 Not as Scripture. Nor were these 13 books, written during the time between Malachi and the birth of Christ, ever accepted by Israel as inspired. Indeed, 1 Maccabees states that God was not speaking through prophets and apologizes for its errors (9:27 and 14:41). Obviously, anything written during that silence from God could not be Scripture.

    From the Apocrypha, the Roman Catholic Church justifies purgatory, prayers for the dead and their eventual redemption through a propitiatory sacrifice (thereby justifying the Mass), purchase of forgiveness of sins, worship of angels, prayers to the “saints” and their ability to intervene. Yet Renovaré asserts, “The Deuterocanonicals do not affect any central doctrine of the Christian faith.”2

    The Apocrypha were never quoted by Christ or by His apostles, though the Old Testament is quoted in the New more than 250 times. Even Renovaré does not put the Apocrypha on the same level as the Bible but as helpful for “spiritual formation.” Then why include it in the same volume as Scripture—and without any warning concerning its heretical teachings?!

    The Renovaré Bible introduces what it calls “Spiritual Disciplines” to help one’s “spiritual formation.” Neither term is found in the Bible. Renovaré declares that the purpose of this study Bible is the “discovery, instruction, and practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.” In fact, many of these are occult “disciplines” not found in Scripture but advocated by the mystics as a means of getting in touch with God. Foster has been a major influence in seducing today’s church with the same practices—and now has edited a Bible for the express purpose of justifying this seduction.

    A number of commendable “Spiritual Disciplines” are mentioned, and some that are not commendable: “solitude, confession…meditation and silence…secrecy, sacrifice, celebration.” These innocent words have a special meaning for Foster. Explaining his view of “celebration,” he writes: “We of the New Age can risk going against the tide. Let us with abandon…see visions and dream dreams….The imagination can release a flood of creative ideas [and] be lots of fun” (Celebration of Discipline, Harper & Row, 1978, p. 170).

    In the West, meditation means to think deeply about something, but in the East it means to empty the mind in order to open it to the spirit world, leading to mystical experiences of “God.” Purporting to reject Eastern mysticism, Foster says, “Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it.” He seductively suggests: “John was ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’ when he received his apocalyptic vision (Rev 1:10). Could it be that John was trained in a way of listening and seeing that we have forgotten?…Let us have courage to…once again learn the ancient…art of meditation” (Celebration, pp. 14,15). The idea that John had a special technique for hearing from God is heresy of the worst sort, but foundational to Renovare’s promotion of “spiritual disciplines” and “spiritual formation”!

    The arousal of the imagination through fantasy and visualization is a major theme in Foster’s Celebration. He acknowledges that “prayer through the imagination” was taught to him by Agnes Sanford, who popularized “inner healing,” a major source of much of the occultism in the Charismatic movement. (For documentation of her full-blown occultism, see TBC July ’89 .) We have dealt with these errors in detail in The Seduction of Christianity, Beyond Seduction, and Occult Invasion.

    Foster writes in Celebration, “In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body….Reassure your body that you will return….Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in his presence. Listen quietly [to] any instruction given” (p. 27). This is astral projection and occult contact through the imagination and is the major technique used by shamans to contact their spirit guides.

    Yet Foster claims that it leads to Christ and God: “Take a single event [from Scripture]. Seek to live the experience, remembering the encouragement of Ignatius of Loyola (Jesuit founder) to apply all our senses to our task…represent to your imagination the whole of the mystery…as an active participant….You can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by His voice…touched by His healing power.…Jesus Christ will actually come to you” (p. 26). Not so! You cannot call Jesus Christ from the right hand of the Father to appear to you—but any demon will be happy to pretend to be Jesus .

    In like manner, the Renovaré Bible honors Catholic heretics and occultists as “saints” and their writings as a framework within which to understand Scripture. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are endorsed even though they involve occult techniques that have caused many to be demonized (see TBC Mar ’00 ).

    Sadly, the Renovaré explanatory notes deny the Divine authorship of much of Scripture—even that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Yet they hypocritically declare, “We read the Bible literally, from cover to cover…[and] in context.”3 Renovaré claims that Genesis 1-11 is neither historic nor scientific,4 and that the entire book of Genesis is merely a collection of myths:

    Genesis began as an oral tradition of narrative stories passed down from generation to generation….These stories [gradually] took on theological meaning….Over time [they] were written down and collected together (Gen 12-50), and a prologue (Gen 1-11) was added….Borrowing from other creation accounts…stories with parallels to ancient Near Eastern religious narrative and mythology were reshaped with monotheistic intent….These strands of varied materials were gathered and edited into the written text….5

    What wickedness for Christian “scholars” to unite with skeptics to declare that Genesis, which is foundational to the Bible, is just an edited compilation of mythology and folk tales! If Genesis is not literally inspired of God, then how can we have confidence in any other part of the Bible? What about Paul’s statement that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16), or Peter’s “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt 1:21), or Christ’s many quotations from Genesis and references to “the things that Moses commanded” (Mat 8:4; 19:7; Mk 1:44; 7:10; 10:3, 4; 12:19, 26; Lk 16:29-31, etc.)?

    Contrary to Renovaré, the Bible itself declares in numerous places that under the inspiration of God Moses wrote the Pentateuch: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book…and Moses wrote all the words of the LORD…and Moses wrote this law, and delivered it…unto all the elders of Israel….And…Moses…commanded the Levites…put it in…the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God.…” (Ex 17:14; 24:4; Deut 31:9, 25, 26, etc.).

    “The law of Moses” is referred to repeatedly (Jos 8:31-32; 23:6; 1 Kgs2:3; 2 Kgs 14:6; 23:25; 2 Chr 30:16; Ezr 3:2; Neh 8:1; etc.). Jesus called the Pentateuch “the law of Moses” (Lk 24:44). The Gospel of John is filled with affirmations that Moses was a prophet who wrote much Scripture (Jn 1:17, 45; 5:45, 46; 7:19-23, etc.).

    Of Daniel, the Renovaré Bible declares, “We do not know who wrote it or exactly when it was written…it was most likely partially written during Antiochus Epiphanes’ persecution of the Jews in Babylon, which began with the desecration of the Temple in 167 B.C.” 6 So it is the work of an imposter pretending to be Daniel 400 years after the fact! To escape admitting that Daniel prophesied centuries in advance the breakup of Alexander’s empire under four generals, the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the pollution of the temple, skeptics had to invent a later date for these prophecies. Renovaré echoes this lie, robbing Christians of an essential proof of the validity of the Bible and depriving the unsaved of life-giving truth!

    Daniel is written in the first person, telling events that happened to the writer four centuries before 167 B.C.: “When I…Daniel, had seen the vision (8:15)…I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days (8:27)….In the first year of Darius…I Daniel understood (9:1,2)…I Daniel was mourning three full weeks (10:2),” etc. (For evidence that Daniel authored his book in the sixth century B.C., see Q&A Sept and Oct ’01.)

    The Renovaré “scholars” continually downplay the powerful Old Testament prophecies of Christ (pp. 22, 32, 1375, 1377-8, 1384, etc.). The key prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7 of the coming Messiah, who is “the mighty God, the everlasting Father,” is said to speak of “human agents” ( p. .997).

    The notes reduce Isaiah’s prophecies to “tradition” (pp. 982, 983), would have us believe that much of that book was not written by Isaiah (there are “three authors”– pp. 982, 1068), and even deny that chapter 53 prophesies Christ’s sacrifice for our sins (p. 984)! Renovaré describes the book of Isaiah as “poetic imagination…Isaiah imagines,” etc. The Renovaré “scholars” declare, “The prophets of Israel are not to be thought of primarily as…predictors of the future…they were poets” (p. 1079). Through poetry, Jeremiah attempts “to make sense of the events of his day…” (p. 1080). Blasphemy!

    Renovaré rejects the powerful prophecies of Daniel, including the proof of 9:24-26 that Jesus is the Christ. There is not a word about the image foretelling the four world kingdoms and revival of the fourth (Roman Empire) under ten heads (2:36-45) to be destroyed by the Messiah when He sets up His everlasting kingdom. Nor is there a word about the future apocalyptic significance of the four beasts of Daniel 7 coinciding with Revelation 13. The wrath of God poured out upon earth during the Great Tribulation (Renovaré avoids that term) are described as “natural disasters straight out of Exodus” (p. 2268). Yet even the magicians in Egypt told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Ex 8:19).

    All of the major prophecies so crucial in proving the Bible to be the Word of God and Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah are either not commented upon, or are spiritualized away as pertaining to the “faith community” and its “spiritual formation.” There is no recognition of the great prophecies in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc., of Israel being brought back into her own land in the last days, and that she must endure forever (Eze 35-37, etc.). For example, the powerful prophetic promise from God to bring back the Jews scattered around the world (Jer 31:8-14) is interpreted as a promise to all homeless people (nothing about Israel), and God’s promise that Israel can never be destroyed (31:35-37) is ignored!

    Israel is treated as having been replaced by the church. Incredibly, the valley of dry bones brought back to life in Ezekiel 37, which is clearly declared to be “the whole house of Israel” (37:11), is interpreted as the birth of the church at Pentecost! Ezekiel 38-39 is not about Armageddon, with real armies attacking the nation of Israel back in her land in the last days to be rescued by the Messiah, but is about “dark forces” always at work in the world.

    There is no commentary at Revelation 1:7 about the Second Coming of Christ (p. 2269), no evidence of belief in the Rapture; only that Christ will one day “return and overcome the wicked powers” (p. 2266).

    Revelation is reduced to a “pastoral letter meant to sustain the suffering and hearten the weary faithful” (p. 2267). The Antichrist and False Prophet (Rev 13) are depersonalized as “dark forces of evil” (p. 2281). The woman on the beast (Rev 17) has no prophetic significance but “embodies those institutions that across the ages have sold themselves to the dark forces…” (p. 2284). There is nothing about the city that it is clearly said she represents. So the fall of Babylon (Rev 18) “pictures the ultimate collapse of all human institutions given over to the lust for power…” (p. 2285).

    The marriage of the Lamb to His bride (Rev 19) is not a real event in heaven but “symbolic of the many different celebrations that bring joy and jubilation” into our lives (p. 2287) The thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev 20) is not a real event, and the armies of the world coming against Christ and the saints at Jerusalem after Satan’s release merely symbolize “the armies of darkness [which] surround us” (p. 2288).

    This “Study Bible” is one more step on the slippery downward path into deepening apostasy. The Bible is being mocked in the church. Let us stand firmly, vocally, and actively in defense of God’s holy, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient Word! TBC


    1. Richard J. Foster, ed., The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), xxx.

    2. Ibid., Foreword, xvii.

    3. Ibid., General Introduction, xxxi.

    4. Ibid., 14-15.

    5. Ibid., 13-15.

    6. Ibid., From the introduction to Daniel, 1245, by James M. Rand.

  2. Thanks, Brad. Good addition to this post.

    The editor in chief of Holiness Today, David Felter, apparently is a fan of Richard Foster. I happened upon his blog yesterday after I posted:

    And his recent article on the latest Holiness Today seems like an endorsement of emergent ideology:


    I am getting more concerned each day as these things come out.

  3. Our former church is way into spiritual formation and is about to go through a manditory 9 week study in small groups to prove it. Glad we left so our kids could be protected for a while longer!

  4. Oh, and Renovare scares me a great deal. When I was trying to figure out what our former church was involved in, I followed Dallas Willard information to that organization. The realization hit that this is everywhere, and is being pushed in colleges and seminaries. They are training pastors and planting the seeds deep. These pastors then go out and infect all their churches with this terrible doctrine. Ugh.

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