Sorry Alex, Spiritual Formation is Not Compatible With Bible Adventism

O’ Ello!!!  The Mouse `ere, arising to pull back the curtain on Pacific Northwest liberals in the viticultural area of Washington State.

I felt a certain gravitational force this morning, pulling me toward the keypad in West Hougham.  This was not the after effects of the August eclipse and the alignment of planets and moons, nor was it the discs in me back finally aligning themselves, either.  This force was something even stronger.

It was an invitation by John McVay in his November 2014 Spectrum article.  McVay was defending certain Walla Walla individuals from the Emergent exposure they received at the 2014 Operation Iceberg Symposium:

The senior pastor of the WWU Seventh-day Adventist Church has now preached week-by-week for some five years.  Most of those sermons are easily accessible via the church’s archives.  Let me encourage you to randomly select four or five sermons, listen to them, and then ask: Are these sermons faithful, biblical, Adventist sermons, the obvious purpose of which is to draw people toward God and truth?  Or are they heretical?

Also, on July 30, 2015, the NPUC Gleaner, featured the WWU Dean of Theology, while writing about Spiritual Formation at WWU.  He said defensively “Ours is an open campus, and the church services are televised.”   

Since I proudly hail from jolly old England, I do not profess to know much about guns and ammo, however I can recognise a target invitation when I see one.  I will evaluate a Sabbath program that occurred on the WWU campus, put on by two pastoral staff at WWU (Alex Bryan and Emily Flottmann/Whitney; Emily is now the Spiritual Discipleship Pastor at Summit Northwest Ministries). 

This video was recorded on a Sabbath in October 2011 at a forum meeting on the subject of Spiritual Formation.  This meeting lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes.  A member of the WWU church obtained a  DVD copy of this meeting from the WWU church office and provided it to an editor of Fulcrum7 who posted it online.  The video was freely available.   Much obliged, me lads.

In this video is a detailed explanation of how Spiritual Formation is being taught at Andrews University.  Also, how a pastor (Emily Whitney) of the Walla Walla University Church was specifically recruited for possessing two attributes -– being female and being educated in the teachings and practice of spiritual formation.  Near the end of the video, you will be able to see the senior pastor of the WWU church state who some of his favorite authors are: “Brennan Manning, Foster, Yaconelli, Willard, Eldredge, etc.”  He says he does not understand why the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would say anything negative about these books.  Quite revealing!

Feel free to check the video out for yourself.  An outline:

1:14 – Pastor Alex Bryan’s  introduction to the subject: Spiritual Formation.  He discusses he & his brothers upbringing as SDA’s.  Alex’ brother, David, is the pastor at New Community Church in Roswell, GA which is the SDA church plant that Alex started and turned into a congregational non-Seventh-day Adventist, Sunday keeping church.  Today, the church is still a Sunday-keeping non-SDA church.

3:30 – Read from EGW on why “contemplation” and “imagination” are important.

4:00 – “Fasting, prayer, bible study, journaling, meditation, reflection…. normal.”

4:57 – Add a pastor to the team – need “new experiences” search committee – wanted: “a woman” and discovered she was working on her “PhD in Spiritual Formation.” “we were very interested.” 

6:30 – Describes the “challenges” in picking someone getting a doctorate in Spiritual Formation from Andrews University.  How it is “described” and how they “carry forth” their curriculum. Emily will explain her experience at Andrews, and what WWU Church has planned for SF.

7:20 – Emily begins her talk.  Why she took that particular focus, her passions, ect.  Explains how she was shocked to learn that SDA’s don’t really know Jesus.  Her concern is “How do we do Church?”

10:30 – Explains how the Andrews program was called “Discipleship and Spiritual Formation”

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12:35 – the “controversy” is just “semantics” or how we “define terms.”  Claims nothing wrong with Spiritual Formation.  Her objective “Clear up the debate.”

13:00 – Shows course outline for Andrews 4-year Doctorate program in Spiritual Formation.  Discusses Jon Dybdahl’s contribution as foundational.

15:50 – Shares what is NOT being taught.  No mantras, no centering.  Discussed – reflection.  An exercise on how the SF journey was shared with others.

17:42 – Due to controversy, she explains how the “name” was changed from “Discipleship and Spiritual Formation” to “Discipleship and Biblical Spirituality.”  Discusses Andrews University’s response, in Review Magazine.

19:00 – Shows Andrews produced “A statement on Biblical Spirituality.”  (See PDF of Andrews University’s statement.) That explains what is being taught.  But notice how they purposefully inject historic SDA words, to give an SDA ‘flavor’ to SF – “justification and the process of sanctification…”  She attempts to explain how the SF problem is just a misunderstanding of the words.  She points out meaningful statements of what Andrews is trying to do and what they are trying not to do – appears positive.

26:45 – She gives her personal view of the Andrews document/written statement. 

28:30 – What WWU church is doing to introduce SF at WWU.  And what her goals are. 

32:50 – Alex takes over for comments and Q&A.  Alex comments: 

1)      Limitation of preaching and corporate gatherings.  Need more. 

2)      If this was “Satan worship” I would vote against it.  (Classical straw man arguments list….)

3)      “There is no problem in North America” he has not seen it, anywhere.

35:45 – Acknowledges people frequently complain to him, “everyday”.  “I have not lost two minutes of sleep over this.”  “We can all be mellow about it.”

38:00 – Dialog time.  Q&A.

39:20 – Alex defends emptying the mind in prayer, says closing your eyes is a partial step towards emptying your mind.

40:20 – Dave Thomas answers question about how to empty your mind.  Warns against Eastern mantras.

42:30 – Again, he (Dave Thomas) comments on Emily’s comment about ignoring Satan, and focusing on God.  But remember 1 Peter 5:8 “the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”  If a lion was loose in your backyard, would you ignore it?  He says “there is very little to fear from the devil” (43.23).  This is quite troubling lads.

45:00 – Question on “how controversies arise” mentions about Lab 1 and Lab 2 LNP.  Expresses view about “how can this stuff be brought up.”  Interestingly, one of the teachers at the Andrews Doctorate program was a NLP (both lab 1 and lab 2) trained pastor.  This is an early sign that in this meeting, the audience is being conditioned to reject Satanic deceptions as of little value, and “conspiracy manufactured” tales.  It is all just a misunderstanding of words. The arrogance (and ignorance) of the audience will be seen in the remaining 40 minutes, and frankly started with the first question.

47:35 – The Bible teaches mantras.  Eh?

49:00 – A faculty member talks about “evil practices that come of certain traditions, but that the fact that a practice is found in a  (questionable) tradition does not make it evil.”

49:30 – Students make interesting observation about how Muslim students are more faithful to their religion than older Muslims, and Christian students are less faithful than their older counterparts.

51:10 – Alex explains how they took “lots of time” thinking about what Emily’s title should be at the WWU church – purposely called it “spiritual development” and not “spiritual formation” pastor to avoid controversy. “Avoid some fire here and there.”

52:15 – “Counterfeit” vs. Truth.  Points out we don’t need to go out of Adventism to get the truth.  This man is a faithful doctor in WW.  Alex shares how all sorts of things, in and out of Adventism can be good or bad.  “All kinds of things in the world can be a benefit.”  This is a key point into Alex’ (and emergent) thinking.

54:30 – Alex read 50 books on apologetics – all nonAdventist, because there aren’t any good books written by Adventists.  “I have one (Adventist) from 1983, very badly written” “This is also true about worship.” (No good Adventist books)

56:15 – As is sometimes apparent from  Alex  – a subtle dig on historic Adventism, “you can find all sorts of books in Adventism on end time events, and Sabbath, and healthy living, but we haven’t touched many topics.”  Thus we must go to non-Adventists to read.

57:00 – Emily reads EGW on why we need to read extensively from non-Adventist sources.   Starts long conversation on how other authors (non-SDA) are important.  Sets up Alex for his famous photo of holding up his favorite books.

1:01 – Alex discusses SF, and what it means.  It is just a word problem.

1:05:50 – Alex “shares some books.”  Now things start to be revealed ….  Starts with the book: “Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.” By Jim Belcher.  “One of the most helpful books, looking at new forms of Christianity that are Emerging.”

1:07 – Question on GC president – why did he do that (The GC president “coming out against all these books?”  Why are they now “bad words?”  Alex agrees with Ted Wilson at first, then immediately explains, in great detail, why the president was wrong.  Audience laughs as he says this problem will self-correct itself, and “blow over.”

1:11– More talk on GC president (TW).  Calling out the people that TW warned about, such as “Willard and Foster”.  Questioner (a doctor in Walla Walla) explains how the people Ted Wilson warned about were in Walla Walla 10-12 years ago – and they were “wonderful.”

1:11:30 – Alex says “Vigorous disagreement with church leadership is part of the protestant tradition that we are part of.  The books that I have here include….”   “The comments made about those authors, (by Ted Wilson), I would disagree with….”  holds up the books shown above and reads the names of his favorite authors) Brennan Manning, Foster, Yaconelli, Foster, Willard, Eldredge, Foster, Manning…

Alex Bryan holding a stack of some of his favorite progressive spirituality books.

Alex Bryan holding a stack of some of his favorite progressive spirituality books.

1:13:10 – “Adventism suffers from functional agnosticism – a lack of any real experience…. If I was weighing my concern over some practices that might be harmful, compared to no experience with God, and being taught that emotions and experiences are bad…That is worse than “harmful experiences.”  I must say, emotionalism is a poor guide to truth, especially emotions run amuck.  Ahem.

1:14:50 – Emily shares her favorite books.

Alex Bryan's "Must Reads"

Along with Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Rob Bell, Alex Bryan lists Brian McLaren as one of his “Must Reads.”    

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Brian McLaren

Who is this Brian McLaren that Alex Bryan is recommending that we should read?  Brian McLaren is a once-Evangelical pastor--still claiming to be a Christian theologian--who now worships an emergent god redefined as the spirit of love flowing within everything.  McLaren is the founder of Convergence, and speaks regularly at the Parliament of the World's Religions.

McLaren is the author of a new book The Great Spiritual Migration (Convergent Press, 2016).   In his book he exhorts the Church to get rid of the now "malfunctioning" "old-time religion (page 4)."

He sees that the culture is attacking the Christian faith.  His response is not to rescue sinners deceived by the culture.  On the contrary, for him, the culture has it right and it is Christianity that must be "saved" (page 8).   This book is an ominous revision of Christianity, beginning boldly with the very definition of God. 

God must no longer be understood as the separate "omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent" Creator and cosmic Ruler (p. 92).  God must be redefined as the spirit of love flowing within everything (p. 46).  This is Kellogg, Emergent mysticism, and Social Justice combined.  With not one mention of the Godhead, McLaren presents an entirely impersonal god.  "We must become atheists in relation to the Supreme Being of violent and dominating power" (p. 93).  Christianity must "lose its monotheistic notions to embrace a grander, more inclusive God who demonstrates solidarity with all" (p. 103).  We need "a bigger, non-dualistic God" (p. 102), a God who is "in the story, not outside of time and space like a prime mover or divine watchmaker" (p. 222). 

McLaren is driven to interfaith thinking and practice because he believes "Religion will not survive if we believe that our religion is the only one true religion" (p. 102).  This is why McLaren's god is surprisingly like, as he claims, the impersonal tribal deities of Africa and the gods of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions (p. 105).  To be complete, McLaren ought to have included witchcraft, as does the Parliament of the World's Religions, where McLaren now speaks. 

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McLaren's goal is to make Christianity resemble all the other religions by denying that specific "beliefs" or doctrines have anything to do with faith. This is the direction that liberal/interfaith Adventism is moving, through the influence of these Emergent 'gurus'.  McLaren's new-look Christianity becomes loving actions of social justice, similar to those expressed by other religions.  Must work to heal climate change, and, as "reconciled people working for the common good" (p. 168), a church should install "solar panels or a community garden" p. (172).  This "multi-faith movement will restore the planet" (p. 176).  The Great Spiritual Migration?  For McLaren, it is migrating out of Christianity into the lukewarm stew of homogeneous interfaith religion.  This author is one of the Must Reads of the Walla Walla senior pastor.  I dare say, this McLaren is a Must Avoid.  His teachings should be avoided with all possible dispatch, along with those whom he mentors!

Brennan Manning

This is another of Alex Bryan's favorite authors, according to footage in the above video.  Brennan Manning's (b. 1934) birth name was Richard Francis Xavier Manning.  In 1963 he was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood.  In the late 1960s he joined the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld in Spain.  In the 1970s he returned to the United States and eventually entered a six month treatment program for alcoholism at the Hazelden treatment center in Minnesota. In 1982 he got married and left the priesthood. 

According to his biography “In February 1956, while Brennan was meditating on the Stations of the Cross, a powerful experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ sealed the call of God on his life.”  There is no repentance, no scriptural new birth, merely a “sealing” of that which began at his infant baptism.  Further, the Jesus of the Stations of the Cross is widely regarded as a false christ of Roman Catholic invention. Though Manning was no longer a priest, he continued to participate in and promote the blasphemous Catholic mass.  When he was in his home in New Orleans he attended the morning daily mass at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Manning continually quotes from and unquestioningly affirms the writings of false teachers such as Paul Tillich (an adulterous neo-orthodox theologian), Carl Jung (who considered Christianity a myth and wrote under the guidance of a demon spirit guide), Beatrice Bruteau (a New Ager who believes in the divinity of man), Henri Nouwen (who believed men can be saved apart from faith in Christ), Thomas Merton (a Buddhist-Catholic), Teresa of Avila, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pantheistic, evolutionary Jesuit mystic), and Thomas Aquinas and “St.” Augustine (doctors of the Catholic Church).  Not a very inspiring group of pedantic mentors, me lads.  This is a must avoid.

Manning says, “God is a kooky God who can scarcely bear to be without us” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 165). 

Writing about the woman in John 8 who was caught in adultery, Manning says that Jesus “didn’t demand a firm purpose of amendment” and “didn’t seem too concerned that she might dash back into the arms of her lover” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, 1990, p. 167).  Quite the  contrary, Jesus commanded her, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).  Similarly, after Jesus healed the crippled man in John 5 He instructed him, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14). 

Manning surprisingly claims that those who take the mark of the Beast will be saved.  “And he [Christ] will say to us: ‘Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well’” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 21).  To the contrary, the book of Revelation plainly states that all who take the mark of the Beast will be lost.  Adventists, of all people, should know this.  True ones do.

Manning promotes mind-emptying contemplative mysticism.  In The Signature of Jesus Manning promotes the dangerous practice of centering prayer, which involves chanting “a sacred word” to empty the mind and allegedly enter into silent experiential communion with God within:

“THE FIRST STEP IN FAITH IS TO STOP THINKING ABOUT GOD AT THE TIME OF PRAYER. ... enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard. ... Choose a single, sacred word ... repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often” (pp. 212, 215, 218). 

Manning calls centering prayer a “GREAT DARKNESS” (The Signature of Jesus, p. 145) and an entire chapter of his book is devoted to “Celebrate the Darkness.”  We have heard this rubbish before haven't we?  On May 24, 2014, Alex Bryan preached a sermon on darkness, in which he quotes from the book Cloud of The Unknowing

Manning claims that the darkness of centering prayer is caused by the human ego being broken and spiritual healing being achieved, but since the practice is not supported by Scripture that is presumption and not faith. 

When leading contemplative retreats, Manning recommends that the practitioners NOT read the Bible.  Emerging church leader Spencer Burke says that this is how he was led into Roman Catholic mysticism: 

“I remember going on a three-day silent retreat with Brennan Manning while I was still at Mariners. To my horror, BRENNAN TOLD US WE SHOULD NOT READ ANY BOOKS DURING THIS TIME--EVEN THE BIBLE.  Instead, we should just sit and let God speak to us...."

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“THAT EXPERIENCE SEEMED TO MARK A TURNING POINT IN MY FAITH. SHORTLY AFTERWARD, I stopped reading from the approved evangelical reading list and BEGAN TO DISTANCE MYSELF FROM THE EVANGELICAL AGENDA.  I DISCOVERED new authors and NEW VOICES at the bookstore--Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and St. Teresa of Avila.  The more I read, the more intrigued I became.  Contemplative spirituality seemed to open up a whole new way for me to understand and experience God.  I was deeply moved by works like The Cloud of Unknowing, The Dark Night of the Soul and the Early Writings of the Desert Fathers” (“From the Third Floor of the Garage: The Story of TheOOze,”  

Observe that Brennan Manning taught Burke to communicate with God without the Bible and to accept the experiences that came by this method as authentic.  This is blind mysticism, me lads.  It is also favorite reading of Alex Bryan, in his own words.

Brennan Manning says that the fear of homosexuals is one of the greatest moral issues of our day.  Manning believes that homosexuals should be accepted in church and not required to repent of their sin.  He identifies “homophobia” as “among the most serious and vexing moral issues of this generation” (Abba’s Child).  I wonder if he includes Paul as a homophobic individual.  

As if that isn't quite enough, Manning denies the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.  He writes:

“The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger ... the god who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist” (Brennan Manning, Above All, p. 58-59).

Manning boldly states that the God that required a blood sacrifice is an idol, but throughout the Old Testament we are taught that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11) and “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). 

Ask yourself.  Is this the sort of rubbish that you would like an Adventist Pastor honoring as "Must Read" material. Indeed not.  Why aren't a bevy of people opposing this dangerous importation of mysticism in Adventism?  Here is one that did.

In Memory of Lois Kind

This article is dedicated to the memory of Lois Kind, a member of Alex Bryan's congregation.  He was her pastor and she sat on the front pew for many years.  She saw integral spiritualism being preached by Bryan and she wrote a letter to him on September 11, 2011, expressing her concerns.  He requested that her and some others meet with him at a future date in his office.  That meeting never took place, because thirty-four days later, the above (video) Walla Walla Adventist Forum meeting was held. 

"People who attended the event described his demeanor as "cocky, arrogant, showing a who-cares attitude, possibly because he seems to have support from the ministerial staff at the University."  He stated in his talk that he has had numerous emails, visits to his office, etc. "as late as this week" objecting to the spiritual formation project, and that he "has not lost two minutes of sleep over it; it is a non-issue" (Lois Kind letter). 

Why dedicate an article to Lois Kind?  Lois had the courage to question Alex Bryan's increasing involvement in emergent spirituality, and for that she paid the heavy price of marginalization and was banned from being a church greeter.  In the midst of heavy ostracism from the WWUC and their Pastor, she suffered a stroke and passed away.  I for one, appreciate her plucky courage and hope that more like her arise.  

In Summary, I quite appreciate John McVay's invitation to review the extant material of Walla Walla University Church's senior pastor.  I trust I have done a bit of justice to the topic, and leave the conclusions in you, the readers' capable hands.  

Ted Wilson was right, emergent spirituality and their pestilent authors are best avoided altogether. 

"We must be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of God's Word and the council with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White.  Don't reach out to movements or mega-church centers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology.  Stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism, such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted"  (Elder Ted Wilson, Sabbath address at 2010 GC Session in Atlanta).

Stand tall for The Lord, friends (the real Jesus Christ).  And stand up against the deceptive spirituality that the enemy is flooding into the Adventist Church!  Or be prepared to attend the spiritual funerals of those who eat poisoned apples.  It's that serious.

 

Cheerio,

ChurchMouse