Elder Herbert Douglass

Parts I & II

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Is Truth Found in Commitment or Conversation?  March 3, 2010


Herbert Douglass


 In the last 15 years or so, New Spirituality (or “emerging church, “spiritual formation,” etc.) by whatever name its followers choose, has flooded Protestantism, especially Evangelical churches. In the last 5-7 years, the waves have been rolling over many in the Adventist Church.


It is more than curious that many Adventist pastors and administrators are usually five to ten years behind other waves in Protestant circles. We think of the James Kennedy Evangelism Explosion in the 1960s-1970s; “Filled with the Spirit” movement in the 70s and 80s; Neo-Linguistic Programming in the 80s; Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, for much too long, more about Fuller later), Willow Creek megachurch training, from 1980s to present; then Saddleback, Lake Forest, CA , megachurch pastoral training to present, and now the tug of the emerging church appeal, often called “spiritual formation.”


We all know well how, for the last 25 years, ministerial excitement and tons of Adventist money has focused on Willow Creek in Barrington, IL, and Saddleback in Lake Forest, CA.  Enormous numbers of Protestant pastors studied how to invigorate their churches with the seeker-friendly methods.  “Adventists, both pastors and laypeople, consistently make up one of the largest groups at Willow Creek’s half-dozen annual seminars—including church leadership conferences in May and October and a leadership summit in August.”—Adventist Review, Dec. 18, 1997.


After all, their methods do work, attracting tens of thousands weekly to their Sunday services. In addition, a hundred thousand or more ministers wait patiently each week on the Internet for Hybel’s contributions or Warren’s “tool box==providing many Adventist preachers with their Sabbath sermons. Some of our Adventist preachers don’t even change the sermon titles, as they advertise Warren-created sermons on their outdoor, church message boards! And most of Warren’s generic sermons can be preached anywhere; logical, hearer-centered, and laced with illustrations, especially where Adventist congregations can’t remember what a classic Adventist sermon used to be.


But in 2007, the mesmerizing balloon busted, at least for Hybel. His pastoral staff quietly and deliberately finished a four-year, self-evaluation as to what their highly acclaimed program was really doing for thirty years.  In their book, Reveal: Where Are You?, they were honest enough to broadcast what they learned and it was embarrassing. Hybel said that it “rocked my world” —that the findings were “earth-shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” They now realized that their seeker-friendly programs were “a mistake.” The lesson Hybel and his staff learned is that “growing” a congregation goes beyond “attracting” people to church—they needed to restructure their church program to grow their members in their personal relationship with God.  His new program is turning out to be another path into New Spirituality. What will the hundreds of Adventist copycats now say to their congregations?


Rick Warren’s Saddleback has been flirting with New Spirituality since 2004 as I outlined in Truth Matters in 2004.  But much more than mere flirting has taken place in the last four years and if were updating that book, I would have to add at least four more chapters. Amazing what a few years of following a wrong presupposition will do, even to gifted men.


Prediction #1Megachurches have crested; they are history, except for the charismatic megachurches and their TV audiences, such as Joel Osteen in Houston. But they too will quietly subside.


Prediction #2: Seeker-friendly churches, such as Willow Creek and Saddleback, will join the New Spirituality wave or fade.


Prediction #3: Adventist churches that have been copying the seeker-friendly model (we call some of them, “church plantings”) will either fade, as many have in this country and in Australia especially, or they will follow the crowd into New Spirituality.


If anyone in the past year has been following, Christianity Today, the flagship of Evangelicalism, he or she will have noted that it has become the standard-bearer for the Ancient-Future Movement, otherwise known as New Spirituality. It came out of the closet with the February, 2008 issue. Our friend, David Neff, is the magazine’s editor in chief and a leader in advancing churches everywhere into New Spirituality. I read every issue with great interest, with great appreciation for many of its emphases—but the drift is palpable. More later.




March 22nd, 2010 by Herbert Douglass


In continuing our brief look at the Emerging/Emergent Church tsunami sweeping over many Protestant and Catholic churches, with its emphasis on its particular understanding of "spiritual formation, etc.," we should first separate Spiritualism from New SpiritualitySpiritualism is the open appeal to find Reality, God, Cosmic Consciousness, whatever, through direct contact with the "other" world. It could be through channeling, ouija boards, séances, certain kinds of extra-sensory perception, etc.


New Spirituality, at this point in time, doesn't go in that direction although it has much in common with Spiritualism. Both concepts and movements believe in either the immortal soul or the subjective ability to find God or reality within themselves through any number of modalities. Neither believes in the final authority of Scripture or the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.  Why, of all people, would Adventists follow the piper as others who do not have the basic theological immunity system that should be protecting us?   Let's look first at the chief reasons for the leap into New Spirituality by non-Adventist churches:


1.    Many churches, fearing the baggage of time-honored names, such as Baptist or Methodist, are changing their names to Crosswoods Fellowship, Crosswinds Community Church. Centerpoint Church, Granite Springs Church, Elevation Church, New Hope Church, Lincoln Christian Life, Sonrise Church, etc. Pastors thus have a fresh opportunity to lead their congregation into new ways "to do" church.


2.  Because we live in a postmodern age, they believe churches must find new ways to express spiritual vision without appealing to absolute truths. They say that we must appeal to the wider circle of people everywhere who are "spiritually hungry." That is, discover how we can express Christian belief so that a Buddhist can understand and contribute to the "dialogue," the "conversation, etc."


3.  Remarkable instances of "spiritual healing" (translate that, physical healing) is no longer the shrill blast from certain Pentecostals. In Trondheim, Norway, the 5th International Medical Conference organized by the World Christian Doctors Network, 200 doctors and medical practitioners from 38 nations, said that medicine alone cannot deal with some of today's worst illnesses and that "spiritual healing" through alternative medicine is the remedy needed in the 21st century. Many illustrations include men raised from the dead, the healing of a detached retina, etc.


4.  The sense of "experiencing the holy" is understood by many who claim they are spiritual, but not religious. One leader said: "My God began to move outside the traditional box. I became much more interested in prayer. Where all the world religions really join hands is in prayer.  Each religion really has a very deep sense of the inner life and God within the world."


5.  Much like the Middle Ages before the Reformation, the Bible has become a neglected book. As the Bible becomes less and less important, mystical experiences escalate-note the rise of monasteries and mystical rituals during the centuries before Martin Luther. Thus, such leaders today teach that anyone can practice these same mystical rituals and "find God within" -notice the remarkable rise in Retreat Centers, Protestant and Catholics, with well-defined, ancient practices emphasized.


6.   Many of today's leaders in New Spirituality are saying that traditional Christianity cannot be understood in our post-modern world; therefore, it needs to be altered to meet the intellects and needs of the present generation. These comments are not being made by non Christians but by religious leaders who say, "Everything must change." That's what Willow Creek said thirty years ago, and now saying it again with a different set of sails.


7.   The spirit of our age is using "tolerance" (like in "politically correct") in furthering the goal of peace as a means to synthesize all the different religious beliefs to unite as one: "Can't we all get along!"  Well, don't we all want to "get along"?