by Herbert Douglass
If a person lives long enough, he or she will watch the unveiling of pleasant companions. Friends that he or she has trusted often veer into valleys and landscapes that reveal their personal “drummers”!
I have treasured Max Lucado for decades. Among his books I have cherished are Just Like Jesus, When God Whispers Your Name, of the Storm, Six Hours on Friday and When Christ Comes.
Max has a unique style, his signature touches all he writes. Marvelously personal, he knows how to transform the Galilean Lord into the 21th Century! I crave his literary finesse!
But I have been watching something happen to Max's world view in the last six years or so. I find him connecting with other brilliant authors and preachers as they turn their interests in a trajectory that leads them away from solid biblical foundations into the lure of the “journey” and the thrill of the “conversation.”
For instance, Max's latest book, Cure for the Common Life. (Here again is another example of his unequaled way to entitle his books!) Here he writes about “living in your sweet spot.” Lucado tells readers in chapter one to “[h]eed that inner music,” and then quotes mystic Martin Buber from his book, The Way of Man (a book on Jewish mysticism). Lucado tells readers they each have a “divine spark.” Buber had pantheistic affinities as he embraced the teachings of Hasidism (Jewish mysticism) and believed that this divine spark that Lucado refers to is in every human being and every part of creation.
Throughout Lucado’s book, he quotes other mystics and contemplatives: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Merton and Richard Foster. It is Thomas Merton who said:
Merton and Buber shared this belief that everyone had a divine spark. When Max Lucado quotes men of these persuasions, telling readers they each have a “sweet spot” then referring to a divine spark in everyone, this is very confusing and will leave the unaware spiritual seeker believing him.
Why is it misleading? Biblically, the Holy Spirit strives with all people whenever and wherever born but something more is required for a personal relationship with God. Jesus said that we must be “born anew [again]” (John 3:3) and Paul describes this “new birth” as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This marvelous arrangement is not the result of any kind of self-awareness or any form of emotional experience.
Cure for the Common Life has drawn endorsements from an assortment of Christian leaders. New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard says of the book, “Max Lucado has done it again! He has taken simple truths and made them available to all of us.” www.maxlucado.com/cure/quotes.html Perhaps the leading voice of the Spiritual Formation movement, Richard Foster says, “I’m so glad for Max Lucado’s insightful call for us to live and work as we are intrinsically designed by God.”www.maxlucado.com/cure Well-known singer, TV host, and author Sheila Walsh said that the “message of this book could change your life forever.” www.maxlucado.com/cure Bob Coy (Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale) and Bob Buford ( of the emergent advocating Leadership Network) also gave raving reviews of the book. www.maxlucado.com/cure.
On the back cover, New Age sympathizer and best-selling author and speaker Laurie Beth Jones who “transforms lives through self-understanding,” says, “This book can cure whatever ‘blah’ that ails you!” Jones would fit more in with the New Spirituality than with evangelical Christianity even though she is considered by many to be an evangelical writer. In Jones book, Teach Your Team to Fish, she states: “I have been challenged by the concept of meditation … I decided recently to accept the invitation of a friend to experience the sheer silence of meditation-undirected prayer. … I had before only sensed intellectually … But by going deep into prayer I could almost feel it.” (p. 142.)
Lucado seems to be coming out of the contemplative closet. He was featured on the Be Still DVD, along with Richard Foster and Beth Moore. In that DVD, Lucado emphasized the importance of contemplative prayer, saying “It’s nothing mystical, necessarily. It’s nothing secretive. It’s just what we do with our body we do with our soul.”
Christian leaders with contemplative and New Age sympathies are not the only ones who love Cure for the Common Life. Barnes and Noble bookstores recently began a New Age-promoting project called East West that is “a resource for conscious [New Age] living. It opens doors to self-discovery, higher awareness and true understanding.” Under the best sellers list are five titles, one of them being Lucado’s book Cure For the Common Life. This is what East West says of Lucado’s book:
Apparently, those with New Age persuasions admire Lucado’s “divine spark” in everyone concept. And why not? That’s what the New Age/Emerging Church/Spiritual Formation is really all about.
Let's make it clear: Anything I write here, or anywhere else, is not a personal attack on anyone, whether within or without the Adventist Church. Many of them are personal friends, or will be. I refuse to let differences of opinions make anyone be my enemy.
Emergent leaders are not "bad" guys. Most of them are winsome, pleasing, yes, believable speakers. Obviously, not everything they say is "over the top." Yet, although I believe them to be honest, I surely have serious concerns about what they are saying.
Frankly, I have sat where they sit and like Ezekiel (3:15) have been "astonished." For whatever reason, I, too, have been bored with Bible classes, sermons and Sabbath School classes. We have watched some parents, teachers and pastors wander past the "boundaries" that seemed to describe the Adventist lifestyle. The theological drift of the past 60 years has fogged over careful, long-standing distinctives. In other words, theological precision seems up for grabs for many. But still the gnawing urge to be "spiritual" remains.
Along come new faces, new songs, new ways of living the "spiritual" life without the do's and don'ts–and the appeal is refreshing. The question–"What's wrong with that?"–becomes the default instead of, "What's good about that?"
If anyone tries to define what Emergents or Emerging Church or New Spirituality believes, it is like trying to nail Jello against the wall. And that seems to be exactly what the various Emergents want. The lack of a common belief system is intentional; that is precisely why "conversation" is their chosen word for what they do/think. Their ideas are exploring, and experimenting, but not defining in any way. I find that refreshing in a way, but surely frustrating.
However, after saying all that, I must recognize that when zillions of books are being sold and most of the "leaders" make a habit of quoting each other, with prefaces and back covers loaded with endorsements of other "leaders," (such as Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren, Spencer Burke, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Rob Bell, etc.), all that sure sounds like a "Movement."
Yet, the general flood of information now circulating keeps me from making a blanket rejection of what is meant by the Emerging movement. I too resist, even reject with them, a propositional Bible study that is hardly more than memorizing an encyclopedia. I too think Jesus is a great Example but I see Him as also mankind's Savior. I want the "words" of Jesus to be circulating through me as the nourishment of the vine feeds its branches, not only a flush of feeling about a great, inspiring man.
I too reject the awful damage that the eternal-hell notion has done to men, women, and children, the world over for hundreds of years since the early church fathers.
I too reject that awful damage that depicts God the Father "punishing" Jesus with the agony of a public crucifixion (the worst the Roman world would do "to get even" with their common criminals) as if God the Father had to be appeased in some way.
I too reject the marketing gimmicks of the so-called "seeker-friendly" churches with their mammoth screens, slappy-happy music, and super-organized, all-day services for all ages throughout the week.
I too reject the "short-cuts" used by the slick evangelist or pastor who, eager for "results," define, for all practical purposes, "coming to Jesus" in terms of a "Jesus prayer" or a signed card.
I too reject the almost prevailing notion that the Bible is an inerrant document–that is, each word is as God wants it, rather than recognizing that the Bible is God-breathed through the minds of men who then put their God-breathed thoughts into their own words that could be understood by their contemporaries, with all the limitations of being human penmen.
But I also reject the worrisome emphasis on "experience" as the test of "authenticity" (a word they like). Just think how foolish, as well as its terrible consequences, of testing the "rightness" or "truth" of anything by how one, or how many, "feel" about a smooth lecturer, or a politician's message, or a man's charm on the prowl for a wife. Or vice versa!
But I also reject their recovery of 20th Century liberal theology that focuses on this earth as the "kingdom of God" rather than on our Lord's emphasis that the real and lasting "clean-up" of this earth will happen when He returns–at the same time, not diminishing our responsibilities as good stewards.
I also reject the remaking of English vocabulary wherein "tolerance" now must be couched in terms of political correctness. Today, to respectfully "disagree" is an intolerant act; thus, Emergents refuse to say that anyone is wrong (one of their core values).
I also reject the notion that one must first "belong" before one can "believe." Emergents contend people get too concerned or confused with questions of truth. Fellowship and conversation is where the action is.
I also reject the strange notion that a "relationship with Jesus" is primary, even though very little if any attention is paid to what Jesus actually said–how can anyone have an enduring relationship with anyone, such as a wife or husband to be, without really getting to know all about him/her–as far as possible? Facts and research seem imperative.
I also reject the disdain for evidence as I listen to Emergents relying more on what others may think.
I also reject a non-doctrinal "Christianity" wherein everything goes, avoiding the biblical edges of God's holiness, divine judgment, uniqueness of Jesus, sin, etc.
I also reject their use of Paul's example when he met the Athenians on Mar's Hill and catered to their "unknown gods," etc. Yes, the major lesson Paul gave all who fulfill the gospel commission was to work from the known to the unknown; but he declared unto them what most of them rejected (but not all)–the resurrected Galilean who would have the last word regarding sin and the judgment to come. That surely was speaking to their real needs, not to their "felt" needs.
I also reject the primary emphasis on being "missional" when the focus is on social compassion rather than conversion. We must not make all this into an either/or game. Jesus did both but His primary missionary impulse was to lead others to repentance. Emergents have difficulty using the holy "and" when they set forth their priorities.