Mysticism In The Nazarene Church: A Response to Elaine Heath

Yesterday, I started reading an article by Elaine Heath that is in the current online issue of Grace And Peace Magazine, a Nazarene publication that describes itself as a resource for Nazarene clergy.  That being said, after reading it, I was appalled at what she wrote.  The boldness of our Nazarene leadership, including our General Superintendents, that continues to recklessly allow the promotion of contemplative spirituality, paganism and methods of Eastern religions is disgraceful.  Unless you are spiritually blind as a professing Christian, you should also be appalled after reading John Henderson’s assessment below.  The question for you is, if you are silent now after these last four years, will you continue being silent in the face of all this apostasy?  I will follow up in a few days with a detailed summary of the “spiritual giants” Dr. Heath has studied and admired.

A Response to Elaine Heath

By John Henderson

Spiritual discernment is a special gift for some (1 Cor. 12:19) but is also necessary for all believers in Christ in a more general sense.  We must allow ourselves to be influenced only upon the will or heart and not on the fantasies of imagination or speculation.[1]  It involves a right relationship with Christ, familiarity with the Word of God, and a commitment to taking notice.  Proverbs 17:24 says:  “Wisdom is directly in front of[2] the discerning person, but the eyes of a fool run to the ends of the earth” (NET).[3]

I am confident that the majority of heresy issues we encounter these days are when speculation is presented and seen as on par with biblical revelation, especially when an ill-informed group fails to see the difference.  To an alarming degree, this is the case among the entire spectrum of what is called the church on earth.

One of the things that makes current error so deadly as compared to the former falling away is that today’s heretics have learned to not be so obvious, but are rather much more devious by their slick use of well-known evangelical terminology and concepts that they skillfully weave together with the deceptions of the emergent church movement.  This satanic cobra charms the victims into a spiritual and mental lethargy until they are ready to punch the fatal poison of deception into the life-system.

“Grace and Peace” Issue 7, Fall, 2012 has an article that caught my immediate attention just by the title:  “The Mystic Way of Evangelism: An Interview With Elaine A. Heath.”  I read it through and immediately recognized the blending of postmodern emergent error with concepts of truth.  Maybe I was alerted because of the title, but it dripped with new age postmodernism.  I knew it needed a public response.

You may read the article on the magazine’s website, If it becomes removed, I have it saved on my computer.

Who is Elaine Heath?[4]

Dr. Elaine Heath is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, New Mexico Annual Conference.  She is Director of the Center for Missional Wisdom (formerly the Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Evangelism) at Perkins School of Theology.  She has published several books mostly in the emergent doctrine genre, if the titles are any indication.  Her research interests are evangelism and spirituality, evangelism and gender, the church in emerging culture, and the new monasticism.  Dr. Heath’s work, writings, and philosophy are clearly tied to emergent leaders and emergent mystic forerunners from the medieval to modern times.  They notably include Henri Nouwen, a late 20th century Dutch-born Catholic priest who is considered one of the godfathers of the modern emergent movement.  He is reported by his biographers to have struggled with homosexual tendencies.  Another is John Woolman, an eighteenth century “North American itinerant Quaker preacher who traveled throughout much of British North America and in England, advocating against cruelty to animals, economic injustices and oppression, conscription, military taxation, and particularly slavery and the slave trade.”[5]  One of his dominant themes was “economic injustice and oppression” (a precursor to modern Marxist “social justice”).

She also saw Phoebe Palmer, a 19th Century Methodist holiness leader, as a mystic in the same sense as the others mentioned—something Palmer’s biographical history does not support.  Although Heath wrote a book supposedly defining Palmer’s mysticism, Palmer’s actual history, although deeply spiritual in quality, demonstrated nothing like the modern ideas of mysticism.

Palmer was neither a medieval mystic nor involved in Catholic mysticism.  She was very Wesleyan in her approach, although she did enhance some of Wesley’s doctrinal concepts that were picked up by the 19th and 20th Century Wesleyan holiness movement.  None of Palmer’s reported spiritual experiences were anywhere near Eastern, medieval, or Catholic mysticism.  Dr. Heath appears to be the only Palmer “historian” who mentions anything about mysticism in connection with Phoebe Palmer.  It makes one wonder where she found her “information”.

The nearest thing to “heavenly experiences” about Palmer was her early tendency to rely on feelings for assurance of sanctifying grace.  She conquered that error when “Finally she learned to trust to faith, which she defined in terms of her understanding of biblical promises. Once she stopped cross-examining her feelings and accepted the possibility that Holiness would come as the Lord dictated and not as she hypothesized, the dam burst.”[6]  Of course that is dynamic, but it is not mysticism.  There is nothing mystical about perfect love poured out on a soul, even when it is thrilling.

The Emergent Heresies Demonstrated in the Article.

The complete absence of references to the Scriptures or any biblical authority is the principal clue to Heath’s emergent ideology in the article.  Heath never went farther back than medieval personalities in historical references as her presumed sources of authority.  She never mentioned the Early Church at all.  Those references included at least two histrionics that were given to unbiblical visions.  She compared them to Old Testament prophets without offering any sort of evidence for the associations.

She referenced so many Roman Catholic clergy and theologians that one was left wondering why she was still a Methodist.  There are many godly theologians from the Methodist movement that would have put her on a different track.  Admittedly, she did reference Phoebe Palmer but did so in a way that misrepresented Mrs. Palmer by dragging her over into a scenario that was never true of Palmer or the holiness movement which she helped to lead.

Heath’s spiritually fatal mistake in referencing medieval “saints and mystics” as she called them is her apparent reliance on the assumption of their having innate authority alongside of or instead of the Scriptures.

The only authority for the Christian is the Word of God and all else must be judged by that.  Nothing outside of the inspired Scriptures has its own internal authority as was supposed by Heath’s comments.  There were saints (Christians) through the medieval period to be sure but they were still human beings and always subject to the authority of the Scriptures.

Heath used a telling phrase that clearly defines her perspective of “evangelism”.  She referred to “the matrix of the contemplative path, the three-fold contemplative path of purgation, illumination, and union.”  The term contemplation does not need defining here.  It is the emergent variety.  “Purgation, illumination, and union” are taken from Catholic practices and carry those meanings.  The phrase itself defines one of the approaches to the labyrinth.  They are three stages in one form of a labyrinth walk:

“1. Releasing (Purgation). From the entrance to the goal is the path of shedding or ‘letting go.’ There is a release and an emptying of worries and concerns.

“2. Receiving (Illumination). At the center there is illumination, insight, clarity, and focus. It is here that you are in a receptive, prayerful, meditative state.

“3. Integrating (Union). Empowerment and taking ownership. The path out is that of becoming grounded and integrating the insight. It is being energized and making what was received manifest in the world.”[7]


The three stages are considered as one path but one that is presumably different for everyone.  They don’t say how that is.

“Purgation” refers to purging or purification in a sense similar to a laxative or induced vomiting.  In the Catholic sense it is a self-effort of clearing oneself of a chargeable offense after which priestly absolution (pardon) is granted.  This, of course, is dissimilar and antithetical to the Protestant understanding and the evangelical’s biblical doctrine of grace by faith, the very thing that motivated Martin Luther.

There is enough empirical evidence to show that any form of the labyrinth leads into an exposure to the influences of demonic mysticism and it is the very thing Heath is advocating here, whether or not she realizes it.  Most importantly, none of the elements of this walk are based in the Scriptures by precept or implication.

Heath made the assumption that the “decline of the Church” could be corrected by this process.  If she meant the Church (capital “C”) as compared with the organizational church, she was very far afield from the Word of God, even in opposition to it, as she advocated mystical passivity versus conscious purposeful response to the Scriptural guidelines of spiritual prayer and growth.

Her definition of evangelism is dubious as well as her approach to evangelism through the labyrinth.  She defined evangelism is terms that, on the surface, could be accepted in any evangelical circle:  “…a holistic process of initiating a person into the reign of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and anchored in the Church for the transformation of the world.”  The term holistic is the operative word and that word defines all she talks about in the remainder of the article in terms of a Marxist social justice, caring for the earth, and humanitarian services through the prism of a socialist agenda.

Holistic is a word that means all-inclusive.  For the emergent postmodern/new ager, that means a social agenda that essentially sets aside the mission of the gospel in order to be carried out in its intended context.  The gospel really isn’t all that included except as a come-along.  Whatever gospel there may be is secondary to the socialistic agenda of earthy objectives.

She does use the popular term, missional, and its meaning is as it is defined by the emergent postmodern mindset of socialism despite all of the cloaking definitions that have been offered so they sound more Christian.  Biblical mission is not present in this discussion by any term.

Heath says that God is a mystery because we cannot know all there is about God.  If she had stopped at that, there would be no disagreement, but she goes further and uses that statement as support to denigrate the traditional approaches to evangelism by implying they have been inadequate since medieval times.  Therefore, God has more of Himself to reveal in our times.  What does she offer instead?  Mysticism (a form of mystery of which God has nothing to do with) is the new answer.  It will do what centuries of the scriptural methods have failed to accomplish—so she assumes.  It is as if she had said that God has been hidden in part all these centuries and now reveals more of Himself through mysticism.  Never mind that the Bible clearly says:

Hebrews 1:1-3 – “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high….”

Her social and community involvements are substitutes for traditional evangelism instead of natural outcomes of evangelism.  Planting community gardens and caring for the earth is the new approach to witnessing. Whereas traditional evangelism has always preached repentance through the Word of God first and spiritual conversion is followed by social services and benevolences, she joins the emergent concept of reversing the approach.  Even if it should work at all, the gospel is still diminished and most conversions in a postmodern context are absent of repentance and the forsaking of sin along with faith in Christ for salvation.   She thinks that if you are growing food together in a community that you would form relationships with people you would never form otherwise.  She says this gives a unique opportunity “to connect your lives in ways that allows the gospel to be spoken.”  In other words, she describes it as a prop that makes possible the sharing of the gospel not otherwise likely.  Christian benevolence is never a prop.  It is a vehicle in service.

That may sound like a great idea, but it doesn’t work all that well for bringing people to Christ when done first in order.  Those are good things to do and the opportunities for witnessing will be present, but that should not be the key to approaching others with the gospel—as if you could not do it by any other means.  It is more likely to promote selfish dependency in others just as those who followed Christ for the food He fed them unless we make “preaching Jesus” the essential thing in what we do.  Even then many will care only for the freebees.  They will take what you give them then walk away back into whatever life they had before you came along.

Heath seems to not understand that the Holy Spirit needs our obedience, not our methods.  If people’s hearts are not challenged for Christ, if they are not pricked in their consciences, our efforts will be futile.

I have heard Christians say that they will give to a bum on the street knowing he may drink it up but that they are not responsible for anything but their own benevolence in good faith.  I strongly disagree.  Such giving that predictably perpetuates a sinful lifestyle is highly irresponsible. If you do not have time to share Christ in some way, you are not giving or serving as a Christian.  It may still be squandered, and you may be unable to control that, but you can share Jesus in some significant way.  That makes all the difference.

The message matters the most.  All that we do for others hangs on that.  I had to learn that the hard way in my years of social services.  It is true that Christians should provide for those in need as best they can, especially in emergencies.  That is not the problem.  The problem is when that becomes all we do or the most of what we do.

Dr. Heath is not uncommon as a postmodern emergent advocate.  She covered just about every major aspect of the emergent agenda that is being espoused. That, however, is not the tragedy of it.  I expect an emergent to talk as an emergent.  The very fact that it was supportably published in a Nazarene periodical is the heartbreaking tragedy since most Nazarenes are not emergent in their thinking—so far.



[1]From a Jonathan Edwards sermon:

[2] NIV “A discerning man keeps wisdom in view.”

[3] He has no power to concentrate and cannot focus his attention on anything.

[4]This information may be found at