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In the last several years, there has been a growing body of members in the Church of the Nazarene who are very concerned about the direction of the denomination. In the United States and Canada, 10,000 Nazarenes have left the denomination in the last four years. Our research in the past few years has shown that the influence of the emergent church and other unbiblical ideologies is widespread, with its various forms including Roman Catholic monastic mysticism, liberal social justice and environmental programs, and post-modern philosophy promoted by emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren. All this, with a very low view of scripture and denial of biblical inerrancy has brought a once great holiness church into crisis, right alongside most evangelical denominations today. And this crisis includes universities such as Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.
One of the warning signs about NNU was in early 2008 when Brian McLaren was at the school for his “Everything Must Change” Tour. In a video excerpt of Christian apologist Eric Barger’s visit to the three day event, Eric describes some of the thinking of McLaren that goes against the teachings of orthodox Christianity. One of his basic premises is that after 2,000 years, we just have not gotten it right, and we need to re-discover Christianity all over again. McLaren truly means it when he says, “everything must change.” He decries those of a fundamentalist persuasion and believes they are intolerant. He wavers on the issue of homosexuality, and has likened the Cross to “false advertising for God.” He supports the contemplative spirituality movement, and recently joined his Muslim friends to participate in Ramadan with them. Yet NNU and other Nazarene schools have celebrated this man as a visionary in Christian teaching. Instead of solid Bible based teachers, Nazarene universities like NNU are bringing more and more emergent teachers who reject the authority of God’s word and deny its inerrancy.
The school has at least one professor who teaches or promotes open theism and process theology. Open theism says that God cannot know the future, thereby rejecting biblical prophesy as something we can trust. Process theology teaches that God makes mistakes and learns from them, refuting what scripture teaches about God’s nature. The theistic evolutionist believes in: (a) an old Earth; (b) wholly natural processes responsible for life as we see it, once the initial matter was brought into existence by God, and; (c) a figurative (non-literal) interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. But do these ideas fall in line with what scripture teaches about the nature of God?
There have been other very dubious speakers at the school. Brennan Manning was a guest speaker on the college campus church. He was quoted favorably at a chapel service in 2008 by the college president. Yet he is a big promoter of contemplative mysticism, practicing “the silence”, mantras, centering prayer and other forms of New Age occultism and Eastern meditation. In his book Abba’s Child, he refutes the Cross of Christ as the only way to salvation. He mocks Bible-believers and calls them bibliolaters. He believes that homosexuality is acceptable. He is ecumenical and embraces other religions as valid. So why would a Christian school invite such a speaker who promotes unbiblical practices?
Another recent speaker was Dr. Jay McDaniel, an ordained Methodist who is a self professing panentheist (God is in all). In his one hour presentation to students and faculty, he promoted a universalistic gospel, making the argument that his Buddhist friend would be welcome in heaven without ever accepting Jesus Christ, and that Christians can learn and apply truth from other religions. He was well received by the faculty who were present. I have listened to the entire presentation, and was shocked at the kind of heretical teaching that was being allowed to go unchallenged.
Another popular leader in the post-modern movement is Leonard Sweet, and he was a featured speaker at the PALCON (pastors’ conference) in 2010. He has been described as a New Age sympathizer and written several books that heavily promotes that kind of thinking, and endorses authors who promote contemplative spirituality. Although he has recently denied his New Age leanings, his book Quantum Spirituality still remains available on his website. He continues his influence, appearing at a leadership conference in January at European Nazarene College.
Northwest Nazarene has been on a path of emergent ideology, contemplative spirituality and secularization for some time now. In June of 2009, along with Nazarene Theological Seminary, the school sponsored a spiritual formation retreat at the Nazarene General Assembly in Orlando. This term sounds nice enough to the unawares, but it is the catchall term used today that now means the teaching of contemplative spirituality practices. And recently, the Wesleyan (The Bible Tells Me So) conference was just held at NNU, resulting in the end with very weak statements on scriptural authority.
In NNU’s theology courses, you will find emergent leaders, Roman Catholic mystics, and modern day mystics such as Richard Foster in the textbooks used. The Master’s in Spiritual Formation program uses books by Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke, Brother Lawrence, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, and Dallas Willard. There are two Nazarenes on the list, but they both support open theism, process theology, and do not believe in biblical inerrancy. The M.A. in Missional Leadership, and M.A. in Pastoral Leadership, also are stacked with books from the same kind of writers. It makes one wonder, is there a severe shortage of textbooks by Bible believing teachers? Even the M.A. in Christian Education is filled with textbooks from emergent authors such as McLaren, Sweet, and Phylis Tickle.
But not all professors or students at the school are happy with what is going on, and NNU is not the only school in trouble. The school is just one example of the retreat from biblical principles that many of our Nazarenes schools have taken. Our very own seminary, Nazarene Theological Seminary, has a course this Spring called Celtic Spirituality, which is giving pastors-to-be the opportunity to practice what amounts to an occultic type of Christianity that is not based on scripture. Point Loma Nazarene University has been going the way of contemplative spirituality for quite a while, and also has brought false teachers consistently to the school, most recently an appearance by Rob Bell, where he spoke on Pastor’s Day. Trevecca Nazarene University still has a prayer labyrinth on campus, and sends its students on retreats to a monastery to practice the silence. Even Nazarene Bible College has brought in spiritual formation. And Eastern Nazarene College has a prominent professor who believes in evolution and open theism, and the school is helping to introduce Roman Catholic ideology to the students.
We have only scratched the surface here. At some of these schools you will find professors teaching a view of God as being gender neutral, or even describing God as having a feminine side. You will find more and more emphasis on environmentalism, and social activism or social justice, to the exclusion of strong, biblically sound preparation of students. You will even see the “psycho-babble” that is prevalent at so many Christian schools and churches, where licensing with secular agencies is encouraged in their counselor education programs (unholy alliances) and given more weight and importance than solid Christian counseling for those who want to go into counseling ministries.
All this amounts to what is a serious problem that is resulting in schools losing students, as more and more parents and students are turning to biblically sound schools, instead of the slowly deteriorating schools in the Nazarene denomination. Will even more than 10,000 leave the denomination in the next four years? Will there be more and more pastors graduating from seminary who do not believe and trust all of scripture? Will the denomination recover from this damaging trend away from Biblical soundness? Will the leadership in the church speak out boldly, clearly, without ambiguity?
Only time will answer these questions. True revival- and the fruits that bear witness of true revival- will only come through much prayer, and the work of God’s Holy Spirit to move the hearts and minds of leaders at the schools and in the churches.
** If an official representative of any of these schools I mentioned would like to post a rebuttal or defense of any of the facts written here, I am willing to post their response.