In a recent post, a questionnaire on The Shack, a challenge went out to Nazarene leaders, pastors, District Superintendents, General Superintendents. If anyone could defend the merits of recommending this book as a good spiritual resource for Christians, I wanted to hear from them. Results so far: only one pastor responded. He did not give his defense, however, so I did not post his comment. He qualified any defense he may have, by asking me to fully document and show where someone or others had said that The Shack “is better than the Bible.” That’s it, that’s all I got so far. The post is still open for anyone to give a good biblically sound defense of a novel which many Christians believe to be full of heresy and blasphemy.
Today I would like to reference you to the Emerging Church statement by the General Superintendents and focus on a few specific quotes. In the statement, which was signed by Dr. Jesse Middendorf, there was a part that said:
“Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) and some of our universities are engaged in the conversation in order to help correct some of the aberrations that are associated with some of the “emergent” churches.”
“We are hopeful that we can be patient with what is a phase in a conversation that is already beginning to wind down in some areas even while it is just now being engaged in by others. Hopefully, we can move beyond the mischaracterizations and embrace what is legitimate while we readily and without hesitation reject the aberrations.”
“We do not endorse those “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology.”
My main question is this: what are the aberrations that Dr. Midddendorf is referring to? In the last post, I emphasized that there needs to be much more clarity than came out of this document. It certainly was not the kind of statement that we thought was going to come out after the General Assembly, when the General Secretary promised us that one was forthcoming. We are looking for specifics. We are looking for details. We are asking for names to be named, and practices to be mentioned, so that we can truly keep the good stuff, and shun the bad stuff. The Bible says,
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21
And the Bible specifically calls us as Christians to name names: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11
Would it not be most helpful if our leaders, then, would come out with a strong statement that rebukes those very practices, teachings, and false teachers that they themselves have said in this document are aberrant. A great bit of confusion would be cleared up instantly, and we would know what direction our leaders truly want to take us. There would be a lot less guessing about some things, and Christians could make up their minds as to whether they accept or reject any ideas that are put forth. Clearly people would be upset with a clear and unambiguous statement, no matter which way it went. But at least we would finally know which direction the ship is heading, and we could finally decide if we want to stay on that ship without complaining, or stay on that ship and fight for change, or abandon the ship. (Some already have).
Here are some questions that ask to give a response if these are aberrant teachings or not, or if these are orthodox leaders. These are drawn from what many Nazarenes have been wondering about, and clarity on these once and for all will go a long way to straightening out the confusion that is going on now. To really answer these questions in the best way, it would be ideal if we could get the General Superintendents’ working definitions of aberrant, and orthodox, that way we have something to compare with. But I would love to get an answer to these questions from them, even without a definition of the words.
1. Prayer labyrinths. Their origins are clearly from pagan religious practices. Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
2. Brian McLaren. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (called the doctrine of hell “false advertising for God”)
3. Rob Bell. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Taught that Peter lost faith in himself, not Jesus, when he sank in the water).
4. Leonard Sweet. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Influenced by New Age thought, “Christ-consciousness”)
5. Henri Nouwen. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (He was a universalist, and said there are many paths to God, in contradiction to Nazarene statements of belief)
2. Prayer beads for our youth. Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
3. Youth books recommending pilgrimages to interspiritual, multi-religion worship centers (Taize). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
3. Prayer stations. Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
4. Open Theism (God does not know the future). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
5. Process Theology (God learns from his mistakes?). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
6. The novel “The Shack” (The Trinity was crucified on the cross; all roads lead to Christ, etc.) Orthodox, or unorthodox?
7. Tony Jones. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Homosexuality is totally compatible with Christianity)
8. “Practicing the silence”. Aberrant, or good Christian practice? Orthodox, or unorthodox?
9. Richard Foster. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Recommends a prayer of protection before doing contemplative prayer).
10. “Christian Yoga”. Orthodox, or unorthodox? Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
The list could be longer, and perhaps at another time, but no doubt this is all going on in our denomination. These practices are being taught and used; these leaders are being invited to college campuses; these books by heretical mystics are recommended and used by pastors, AND used by Nazarene universities as primary sources for spiritual formation degree programs! Contemplative spirituality, which is known by the more popular name of spiritual formation, is taught at practically every Nazarene university, and Nazarene Theological seminary as well. The only truly unresolved matter is getting to the specifics, the details, of who and what is orthodox, and aberrant, as Dr. Middendorf has stated.
It would go a long way to resolving all the mystery and guesswork, and more importantly, identify the aberrations and the unorthodox, which would benefit all Nazarenes. We pray that this will happen soon.