49 min readAlmost: an addendum since releasing this episode

Feb 25, 2018 | Article | 11 comments

Psalm 116 tells us that, “Gracious is the LORD and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate.” And it is in a commitment to those words that I write this. God is gracious, therefore we must strive to be gracious. God is righteous, therefore we must strive to be righteous. God is compassionate, therefore we must strive to be compassionate. It’s simple, really.

 

Except that it’s not simple, because I am a sinner, and often I am of the endlessly ungracious, unrighteous, incompassionate kind. Discernment ministries have a bad rap these days, and that’s for a compelling reason: this kind of thing is really hard to do, and few with any kind of platform do it well. Ultimately, discernment is an everyday believer’s responsibility, and should come from the natural outworking of being immersed in Scripture. It’s not actually a job—it’s a symptom of a greater task, and one not so many of us seem overly concerned with anymore (but that’s a topic for another day).

 

I am speaking about real human beings, made of flesh and blood. I imagine that many I may offend will one day dine with me at the eternal feast, and I would like for our love for one another to begin much sooner than eternity. The people that we disagree with are not rocks in our shoes, holding us back on our jaunt through the narrow gate; though an angry, divisive heart may be the stumbling block of our own making that trips us up on the way there. So although I mean to speak plainly about the rampant issues within the IF: Gathering, I’m not exchanging my love and care for my sisters for a sword. True love requires both.

 

A Correction[ish]

Because of multiple requests, pleas, and somewhat pushy demands (it’s okay, I liked your moxie), Joy and I decided we would answer the question: “What do y’all think of the IF: Gathering?” I will not be repeating the forty-ish minutes we spent answering that question here, and if you haven’t listened to it, I strongly recommend doing so before you invest any more time in reading this.

 

I mentioned in the podcast that I did not know if Jen Hatmaker’s absence from the conference was because she had come out in support for same-sex relationships within the context of the church. All I knew at the time of recording was that Hatmaker was not a part of the conference, and I couldn’t possibly speculate as to why and remain an honest person. Almost immediately, my inbox was flooded with the message that Jennie Allen did in fact release a statement regarding Hatmaker’s disappearance from the speaker list of the IF: Gathering.

 

I have now read this statement multiple times and I remain unable to say why Jen Hatmaker is no long a part of the conference. As Jennie said in her article, “While we disagree on this important issue, Jen and I love each other and agree on so many things. Jen speaking at IF:Gathering isn’t even on the table, because she took herself out of IF many months ago for reasons that are her own.” Meaning that Jen wasn’t slated to be a part of the IF: Gathering anymore before she took her unbiblical stance on homosexuality, and that it was Hatmaker who excused herself, not Allen.

 

Where does this leave me in terms of how Allen would handle a speaker who took Hatmaker’s stance? The article doesn’t say, which is irresponsible at best, given that the opening lines of the article acknowledge that many churches “entrust” their women to her. Knowing whether or not she would invite speakers who have turned their back on Christian sexual ethics is rather paramount. Instead, Allen waffles. And she is too smart not to realize it. The only direct address towards IF’s stance is this:
Nothing has changed. I lean on 2000 years of Church history and we continue to hold an orthodox view of marriage. Our commitment to Scripture is a guiding value: We believe the God of the Universe reveals and defines Himself through His Word. We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are verbally inspired by God, fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in what they say.  (Including in regards to sexual ethics.)
This may have been a statement a decade ago, but the reality is that it is not a statement any longer. My fear, given that Allen admitted to having discussed this topic with Hatmaker for several months, means that Allen knows as much already. Because here’s the thing: Jen Hatmaker believes nearly every line of what I just quoted for you from Allen’s article. Jen Hatmaker believes that she is also committed to church history, and to a Biblical view of marriage (albeit one that the church just messed up for a bit—see the link above). Hatmaker would argue that Scripture is her guide, that it is the Word of God, and that it is authoritative, even in regards to sexual ethics. You see, it’s not so much that she disagrees with Scripture, it is that the church has misunderstood the Scriptures for so long.

 

Not to be a broken record here or anything but Hatmaker would claim not to deny any of these things. Allen is fully aware of this, which is why this statement is decidedly un-statement-like. Here are some statements:

 

•Homosexuality is a sin.
•Two men cannot get married.
•Two women cannot get married.
•A woman and a woman and a man and man pretending to be married are not in a holy union, but engaging in sin.
•I love Jen very much, but she has removed herself from speaking at IF any longer. Should she change her mind about being a part of the IF: Gathering, her clear departure from Scripture on the topic of homosexuality, and the fact that many churches entrust their women to us means that I cannot invite her to speak at this conference any longer.

 

Those are statements that would let me know exactly where Jennie and the IF: Gathering stand on the topic of sexuality. What we got in the “statement” were not. Most liberal Christians today that defend homosexual unions as being holy do so on the basis that they do not believe they have to disregard Scripture to do so, as Allen must have known after discussing this at-length with her friend.

 

Allen goes on to spend the majority of the article talking about her desire to create “safe spaces” for you if you have not come to a solid conclusion on Biblical sexual ethics. She says that:
“This issue of homosexuality is a difficult one for us right now, and it’s not because the Bible is not clear on the issue. The difficulty is because it is not an issue- it is people. And people we love. It is requiring something we are not well practiced in holding the tensions of grace and truth.”

 

At this point, it is worth noting that being bad at something we are commanded to do does not excuse us from practicing it anyway. Perhaps Jennie would agree. Unfortunately, the rest of Jennie’s statement is not an encouragement for the church to become better at handling this tension. It seems to be more of a plea to back off from this fight because, after all, you’ve got a plank in your eye, too. However, Paul, the self-proclaimed “chief of sinners” did not see fit to leave the church at Corinth, or Ephesus, or Galatia, to their messes—and what a state we all would be in if he refused to pen often scathing letters to groups of Christians ravaged by besetting sexual sins! Paul clearly strove to correct his beloved brothers and sisters stridently with the Word of God. Unlike Allen, Paul was not concerned with creating a safe space for these sinners to make up their minds on Biblical issues. Which brings me to my next concern….

 

Trading Spaces

I struggle with all the “space” talk these days. There’s safe spaces and white spaces. Black spaces. Female spaces. Spaces for dissent. Spaces for discussion. Just space space space. What I do know is that it is very virtuous to create space, and not to inhabit too much space, and to never, ever make someone else feel like you don’t care about their space. I have no idea what anyone is talking about.

 

Assuredly, if “safe space” does exist, it is decidedly NOT the church. The church is not a safe space. Let me make this perfectly clear. The church? The Bride of Christ? It is not safe for the world. It is not safe to your sensibilities. It is not safe for your feelings. The Bride of Christ is anything but, because the Bride of Christ is literally covered in blood. Christ did not knock on the door of your heart and ask if he could come in, He is the Son of God incarnate and his body was crushed and broken and he slayed death to make you His bride and if you are indeed his bride, you have died, too. You are dead. And now you are alive in Christ. Your flesh is at war and the church is the hospital for those of us who are wounded by our remaining sin and seeking to mortify that sin. The church is not a safe space. You will find healing and you will find fellowship, but it is going to be among other soldiers who are also fighting the good fight and showing up week after week badly bruised and broken and scarred by their remaining sin. You will find peace and joy everlasting, but the church does not exist to give you that. Believers exist to be active, serving members of the church, and it WILL cost you to do so. Your peace rests solely on the head that wore a crown of thorns in your place, and that cross that Jesus was crucified on? It is foolishness to the world. It makes no sense to the world. It is laughable to the world, and it is detested by the world, and it is not safe. It’s the centerpoint of history itself. It is the hinge upon which our very calendars turn because until that cross, the world was just waiting for Him. And since that cross, we are waiting for Him, and we are told that the cost of following Christ is so high, that unless you are willing to hate father, mother, sister, brother, you go ahead and put that cross down and get out because it is not for you.

 

Now, all of that said, the church is a great place to work out your faith. The church is where we should be ready and willing to wrestle with tough issues. I daresay many churches don’t do that enough (although that has not been my experience, by and large). But I’m really confused about Allen’s stance on what the church even is, because in this video for one of her Bible studies, she claims that people just don’t go to church anymore, so she encourages us to conduct our Biblical studies outside of it.

 

And this, for me, is where it gets really confusing. What does Jennie mean by that? What “people” don’t go to church anymore? Is this a Bible study, or is this an evangelism tool? If it’s a discipleship tool that is supposed to aid the local church (like she claims IF exists to do), then why call people to disciple outside of their local churches? Surely the church is called to make disciples, but the primary function of the church is to feed the sheep…right?

 

A Jesus Scripture Does Not Know

The multitude of topics that have been brought to me since the episode has been a curiosity to me. Part of the difficulty in talking about IF in the first place was this very thing. IF does not exist to affirm a single doctrinal statement, and seems perfectly happy to invite anyone from any denomination and of any particular strain of Christianity. Being the slightly stuffy Reformed person that I am, it makes my eye twitch a bit, but I soldier on because many dear and beloved sisters remain unaware of some of the danger lying underneath, and it is a danger that I would feel remiss in leaving unmentioned.

 

The frequent “God told me” and “a voice in the clouds” language that can be heard at the IF: Gathering concerns me, and that is no great secret. Joy and I have done at least three episodes on the topic of how the Holy Spirit speaks to us today, why we believe that special revelation is unbiblical, and why we repudiate Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” type of spirituality.

 

I spent a considerable amount of time listening to a frequent speaker at the IF: Gathering, Shauna Niequest, and her husband, Aaron Niequist. Shauna has been featured as a part of “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations“, which made me curious. Oprah is a champion of the New Age Jesus, who is not in any way, shape, or form, the Jesus found in Scripture. I was confused as to why an evangelical conference committed to properly expositing Scripture would have a speaker touted by Oprah, so I started reading and listening to what Shauna and Aaron have to say.

 

Aaron Niequist is worship leader at Willow Creek Church. He began an “experimental worship service” there called The Practice, which is a lesson in how to take neo-pagan traditions and Christianize them. I found the New Age Jesus, and he is alive and well in the Niequist’s church. I would urge you to read about The Practice, and not just take my own words for it. What you will find here is more than I care to document, but suffice it to say, Christians should run far, far away from this. The “Centering Prayer”  advocated for here is from a Trappist monk named Thomas Keating, who actually claims that “in a sense….we are God.” It is abundantly clear that the Jesus that the Niequist’s serve is much more in line with the Eastern, mystical Jesus that Keating and Oprah serve.

 

The concept of “contemplative prayer” was foreign to me. It cannot be founded in the pages of Scripture, and models the visualization and contemplation that is part and parcel of New Age meditation practices. The first time I ever heard of anything like this was while reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog years and years ago. I faced this mysticism again when reading Challies review of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Anne is another frequent IF: Gathering speaker who, at the end of her book, claims to have had an encounter with God that can only be described as sexual while she was visiting a Roman Catholic cathedral. [As a side note, I would like to commend Challies for the public apology he wrote after his book review, asking Anne’s forgiveness for what was perceived as an inappropriately harsh tone. His theological critique of the mysticism found in the book stands, but I do recommend reading both his critique and apology. Oh, if only more of us could play ball in this way!]

 

Familiarizing myself with more of the speakers from the IF: Gathering has forced me over the last several weeks to familiarize myself with more and more of the New Age. With pagan practices. With contemplative prayer. With Eastern and Roman Catholic mysticism. I began to wonder if I was wasting my time. If I meant to respond to Jennie Allen directly, then why was I spending so much time figuring out what some of the IF speakers believe? So I returned to Jennie’s Twitter page. What I saw there was hopeful. She quotes Scripture. She tweets Spurgeon, Ryle, Eliot. Solid, solid, solid. But then….who is Dallas Willard?
Sometimes we get caught up in trying to glorify God by praising what He can do and we lose sight of the practical point of what He actually does do. -Dallas Willard
Jennie Allen (@JennieAllen) December 27, 2017

 

A quick Google search will tell you that Dallas Willard was a professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He was a disciple of Edmund Husserl, the founder of Phenomenology. Willard was a pioneer of something called “Christian Spiritual Formation”, something I had never heard of, but is strikingly similar to the New Ageism that Niequist and Oprah and Keating are proponents of.

 

Thankfully, my dear sister Christine Pack, a former New Age disciple herself, explained “spiritual formation” in her excellent blog:
Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism, as noted above, is literally flooding into today’s churches through practices that have positive sounding names, like “Spiritual Formation” and “Spiritual Disciplines.” Spiritual Formation is being promoted in many of today’s evangelical churches as a way for Christians to draw closer to God. Christian leaders who are teaching Spiritual Formation often understand that the word “mysticism” has a negative, eastern connotation, and try to draw a distinction between “bad” (eastern) mysticism and “good” (Christian) mysticism. Obviously, to those pleading this case, “bad” mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin. But “good” mysticism (like Spiritual Formation, say its proponents) would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development.
She goes on to explain what this means. Don’t skip this.

 

To be clear, let me restate this: the technique used for silencing the mind in Spiritual Formation is identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc. The technique goes something like this: find a quiet spot to sit or lie down, breathe deeply, and begin to focus on something for the purpose of stilling your thoughts. (The “something” can literally be almost anything: a candle, a word, a phrase, repetitive music, drumming, one’s own breath, etc.) After about 20 minutes of practicing this technique, which is simple to do, a person will enter into an altered state of consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, the mind is no longer active and critically engaged, and able to assess data. In this state, the mind is passive, its God-given barriers down; it is able only to receive information, much like a radio receiver. Mystics from all faith traditions the world over often report ecstatic experiences of becoming yoked to some spiritual energy, leaving them feeling refreshed, energized, and peaceful after engaging in their mystical practices.

 

But it is not the words or phrases themselves in so-called Spiritual Formation that somehow magically switches the dial from being “occultic” to being “Christian.” Nor does the intention of the practictioner somehow magically protect one from danger. The words or phrases used are completely irrelevant…..they are merely the device by which one corrals one’s thoughts for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness (among those who would claim to be “Christian mystics,” this altered state of consciousness is known by many different names: “the Silence,” “practicing the presence of God,” “the cloud of unknowing,” etc.)

 

But the God of the Bible is very specific about how we are to “draw closer” to Him, and it is not through using techniques for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness. True born again believers draw close to God through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10) and through the means of grace as taught by Scripture. And yet most religions outside of Christianity have some version of mysticism that they practice for the specific purpose of drawing close to God. So the question must be asked: if these faith traditions are outside of Christ, are they getting to God?
I have many, many concerns with the practice of contemplative prayer today, and how it has been dripping in to the church. When Christ was teaching the disciples how to pray in Matthew 6, he very specifically spoke against the kind of prayer that Willard, and Niequist, and Keating, and all New Agers model. He said,
7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
 
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.[a] 
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,[b]
    on earth as it is in heaven. 
11 Give us this day our daily bread,[c] 
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.[d]

 

Christ specifically commanded us not to use “empty phrases”, and the prayer that he modeled was not an emptying of the mind. It was deliberate petition based on God’s word. When the Psalmist speaks of “meditation” it is always in context of meditating upon “God’s Law”, meaning the Scriptures. Nowhere in Scripture do we see any practice that looks remotely like contemplative prayer, or centering prayer, or lectio divina, or whatever other Christianese labels these mystical, pagan practices might be filed under.

 

Since God is Real

Many women have asked me to be more specific regarding what I know of the speakers at the IF: Gathering. I have not had the time here to discuss Bianca Olthoff, who has also spoken at the Bethel Women’s Conference. Bethel is an apostate church, and I had to turn this talk off right around the time Bianca began taking the Lord’s name in vain and teaching us that Bible stories are more interesting if you read them as though they were a Spanish soap opera where the women have “dookie booties.” I am not sure if I spelled dookie right, but you get the picture.

 

I cannot, however, chronicle every difference I have with these women. I write because I long for the church to enter an age where women stir each other up to good works in every way, while also being true Bereans. Disciples of Christ cannot be made while we entangle ourselves in New Age practices, look for new revelation outside of Scripture, link arms with apostate churches, and eschew how God himself commands us to worship Him. As my friend Christine said in the blog I linked to previously:
God is quite clear on how we are to worship and approach him – and it is not through blending our worship of him with pagan practices. But this is exactly what Spiritual Formation is: a blending of Christian terminology with occultic mysticism, and calling it Christian. I recognize that it is very popular in today’s global, syncretized culture to meld different things together. We are most certainly an experience-driven culture, always seeking the fresh, exciting, “new” thing. And we also like our smorgasbord religions, with a little of this, a little of that. But we have clear mandates from Scripture about how we are to worship and approach God.  We are to be set apart from the world – not syncretized with it – so that God’s truth will shine like a beacon in the darkness.

 

Jennie, I don’t know if you’re reading this. But if you are, I want to plead with you on the basis of your credible profession of faith, and on something you said in your blog. Churches entrust their women to you when they send them to your conference. What will you do with this? On what Biblical grounds do you invite speakers entangled in the New Age to disciple these precious women? Where do you stand on these New Age practices? If you misspoke when you said a voice from the sky told you to start IF, what did you mean by it?

 

The IF: Gathering’s name is based on a question Jennie Allen wanted to answer: “If God is real…then what?” Respectfully, this is a horrible question. As creatures made in God’s image, we all know God is real (read: Romans 1). My question to anyone involved in the IF: Gathering is this: since God is real, now what? Well, that’s easy. The Bible has answered it for us.

 

Since God is real, we worship him how he has commanded us in Scripture to worship. (John 4:21-24)
Since God is real, we obey his commands, and do not give ourselves over to the flesh. (John 14:15-21)
Since God is real, we love Christ’s bride by creating disciples by the means He has given us—with the Word, not emotionalism or pagan practices. (2 Tim 3)
Since God is real, we love our neighbors more than our comfort, by telling them the truth even if it makes us uncomfortable. (John 8:32)

 

I suppose this is the part where I say something like, “I wish we could have coffee some day to discuss this.” And I would very much love to do so. But the IF: Gathering is not just Jennie, and it’s not just Olthoff, and it’s not just each of the speakers that have ever been there. It is one of the largest women’s conferences in the country, and many, many sisters are involved. I just can’t help but wonder, the more I listen and read, what kind of Christianity they are actually being led to.
Psalm 116 tells us that, “Gracious is the LORD and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate.” And it is in a commitment to those words that I write this. God is gracious, therefore we must strive to be gracious. God is righteous, therefore we must strive to be righteous. God is compassionate, therefore we must strive to be compassionate. It’s simple, really.

 

Except that it’s not simple, because I am a sinner, and often I am of the endlessly ungracious, unrighteous, incompassionate kind. Discernment ministries have a bad rap these days, and that’s for a compelling reason: this kind of thing is really hard to do, and few with any kind of platform do it well. Ultimately, discernment is an everyday believer’s responsibility, and should come from the natural outworking of being immersed in Scripture. It’s not actually a job—it’s a symptom of a greater task, and one not so many of us seem overly concerned with anymore (but that’s a topic for another day).

 

I am speaking about real human beings, made of flesh and blood. I imagine that many I may offend will one day dine with me at the eternal feast, and I would like for our love for one another to begin much sooner than eternity. The people that we disagree with are not rocks in our shoes, holding us back on our jaunt through the narrow gate; though an angry, divisive heart may be the stumbling block of our own making that trips us up on the way there. So although I mean to speak plainly about the rampant issues within the IF: Gathering, I’m not exchanging my love and care for my sisters for a sword. True love requires both.

 

A Correction[ish]

Because of multiple requests, pleas, and somewhat pushy demands (it’s okay, I liked your moxie), Joy and I decided we would answer the question: “What do y’all think of the IF: Gathering?” I will not be repeating the forty-ish minutes we spent answering that question here, and if you haven’t listened to it, I strongly recommend doing so before you invest any more time in reading this.

 

I mentioned in the podcast that I did not know if Jen Hatmaker’s absence from the conference was because she had come out in support for same-sex relationships within the context of the church. All I knew at the time of recording was that Hatmaker was not a part of the conference, and I couldn’t possibly speculate as to why and remain an honest person. Almost immediately, my inbox was flooded with the message that Jennie Allen did in fact release a statement regarding Hatmaker’s disappearance from the speaker list of the IF: Gathering.

 

I have now read this statement multiple times and I remain unable to say why Jen Hatmaker is no long a part of the conference. As Jennie said in her article, “While we disagree on this important issue, Jen and I love each other and agree on so many things. Jen speaking at IF:Gathering isn’t even on the table, because she took herself out of IF many months ago for reasons that are her own.” Meaning that Jen wasn’t slated to be a part of the IF: Gathering anymore before she took her unbiblical stance on homosexuality, and that it was Hatmaker who excused herself, not Allen.

 

Where does this leave me in terms of how Allen would handle a speaker who took Hatmaker’s stance? The article doesn’t say, which is irresponsible at best, given that the opening lines of the article acknowledge that many churches “entrust” their women to her. Knowing whether or not she would invite speakers who have turned their back on Christian sexual ethics is rather paramount. Instead, Allen waffles. And she is too smart not to realize it. The only direct address towards IF’s stance is this:
Nothing has changed. I lean on 2000 years of Church history and we continue to hold an orthodox view of marriage. Our commitment to Scripture is a guiding value: We believe the God of the Universe reveals and defines Himself through His Word. We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are verbally inspired by God, fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in what they say.  (Including in regards to sexual ethics.)

 

This may have been a statement a decade ago, but the reality is that it is not a statement any longer. My fear, given that Allen admitted to having discussed this topic with Hatmaker for several months, means that Allen knows as much already. Because here’s the thing: Jen Hatmaker believes nearly every line of what I just quoted for you from Allen’s article. Jen Hatmaker believes that she is also committed to church history, and to a Biblical view of marriage (albeit one that the church just messed up for a bit—see the link above). Hatmaker would argue that Scripture is her guide, that it is the Word of God, and that it is authoritative, even in regards to sexual ethics. You see, it’s not so much that she disagrees with Scripture, it is that the church has misunderstood the Scriptures for so long.

 

Not to be a broken record here or anything but Hatmaker would claim not to deny any of these things. Allen is fully aware of this, which is why this statement is decidedly un-statement-like. Here are some statements:
•Homosexuality is a sin.
•Two men cannot get married.
•Two women cannot get married.
•A woman and a woman and a man and man pretending to be married are not in a holy union, but engaging in sin.
•I love Jen very much, but she has removed herself from speaking at IF any longer. Should she change her mind about being a part of the IF: Gathering, her clear departure from Scripture on the topic of homosexuality, and the fact that many churches entrust their women to us means that I cannot invite her to speak at this conference any longer.

 

Those are statements that would let me know exactly where Jennie and the IF: Gathering stand on the topic of sexuality. What we got in the “statement” were not. Most liberal Christians today that defend homosexual unions as being holy do so on the basis that they do not believe they have to disregard Scripture to do so, as Allen must have known after discussing this at-length with her friend.

 

Allen goes on to spend the majority of the article talking about her desire to create “safe spaces” for you if you have not come to a solid conclusion on Biblical sexual ethics. She says that:
“This issue of homosexuality is a difficult one for us right now, and it’s not because the Bible is not clear on the issue. The difficulty is because it is not an issue- it is people. And people we love. It is requiring something we are not well practiced in holding the tensions of grace and truth.”

 

At this point, it is worth noting that being bad at something we are commanded to do does not excuse us from practicing it anyway. Perhaps Jennie would agree. Unfortunately, the rest of Jennie’s statement is not an encouragement for the church to become better at handling this tension. It seems to be more of a plea to back off from this fight because, after all, you’ve got a plank in your eye, too. However, Paul, the self-proclaimed “chief of sinners” did not see fit to leave the church at Corinth, or Ephesus, or Galatia, to their messes—and what a state we all would be in if he refused to pen often scathing letters to groups of Christians ravaged by besetting sexual sins! Paul clearly strove to correct his beloved brothers and sisters stridently with the Word of God. Unlike Allen, Paul was not concerned with creating a safe space for these sinners to make up their minds on Biblical issues. Which brings me to my next concern….

 

Trading Spaces

I struggle with all the “space” talk these days. There’s safe spaces and white spaces. Black spaces. Female spaces. Spaces for dissent. Spaces for discussion. Just space space space. What I do know is that it is very virtuous to create space, and not to inhabit too much space, and to never, ever make someone else feel like you don’t care about their space. I have no idea what anyone is talking about.

 

Assuredly, if “safe space” does exist, it is decidedly NOT the church. The church is not a safe space. Let me make this perfectly clear. The church? The Bride of Christ? It is not safe for the world. It is not safe to your sensibilities. It is not safe for your feelings. The Bride of Christ is anything but, because the Bride of Christ is literally covered in blood. Christ did not knock on the door of your heart and ask if he could come in, He is the Son of God incarnate and his body was crushed and broken and he slayed death to make you His bride and if you are indeed his bride, you have died, too. You are dead. And now you are alive in Christ. Your flesh is at war and the church is the hospital for those of us who are wounded by our remaining sin and seeking to mortify that sin. The church is not a safe space. You will find healing and you will find fellowship, but it is going to be among other soldiers who are also fighting the good fight and showing up week after week badly bruised and broken and scarred by their remaining sin. You will find peace and joy everlasting, but the church does not exist to give you that. Believers exist to be active, serving members of the church, and it WILL cost you to do so. Your peace rests solely on the head that wore a crown of thorns in your place, and that cross that Jesus was crucified on? It is foolishness to the world. It makes no sense to the world. It is laughable to the world, and it is detested by the world, and it is not safe. It’s the centerpoint of history itself. It is the hinge upon which our very calendars turn because until that cross, the world was just waiting for Him. And since that cross, we are waiting for Him, and we are told that the cost of following Christ is so high, that unless you are willing to hate father, mother, sister, brother, you go ahead and put that cross down and get out because it is not for you.

 

Now, all of that said, the church is a great place to work out your faith. The church is where we should be ready and willing to wrestle with tough issues. I daresay many churches don’t do that enough (although that has not been my experience, by and large). But I’m really confused about Allen’s stance on what the church even is, because in this video for one of her Bible studies, she claims that people just don’t go to church anymore, so she encourages us to conduct our Biblical studies outside of it.

 

And this, for me, is where it gets really confusing. What does Jennie mean by that? What “people” don’t go to church anymore? Is this a Bible study, or is this an evangelism tool? If it’s a discipleship tool that is supposed to aid the local church (like she claims IF exists to do), then why call people to disciple outside of their local churches? Surely the church is called to make disciples, but the primary function of the church is to feed the sheep…right?

 

A Jesus Scripture Does Not Know

The multitude of topics that have been brought to me since the episode has been a curiosity to me. Part of the difficulty in talking about IF in the first place was this very thing. IF does not exist to affirm a single doctrinal statement, and seems perfectly happy to invite anyone from any denomination and of any particular strain of Christianity. Being the slightly stuffy Reformed person that I am, it makes my eye twitch a bit, but I soldier on because many dear and beloved sisters remain unaware of some of the danger lying underneath, and it is a danger that I would feel remiss in leaving unmentioned.

 

The frequent “God told me” and “a voice in the clouds” language that can be heard at the IF: Gathering concerns me, and that is no great secret. Joy and I have done at least three episodes on the topic of how the Holy Spirit speaks to us today, why we believe that special revelation is unbiblical, and why we repudiate Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” type of spirituality.

 

I spent a considerable amount of time listening to a frequent speaker at the IF: Gathering, Shauna Niequest, and her husband, Aaron Niequist. Shauna has been featured as a part of “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations“, which made me curious. Oprah is a champion of the New Age Jesus, who is not in any way, shape, or form, the Jesus found in Scripture. I was confused as to why an evangelical conference committed to properly expositing Scripture would have a speaker touted by Oprah, so I started reading and listening to what Shauna and Aaron have to say.

 

Aaron Niequist is worship leader at Willow Creek Church. He began an “experimental worship service” there called The Practice, which is a lesson in how to take neo-pagan traditions and Christianize them. I found the New Age Jesus, and he is alive and well in the Niequist’s church. I would urge you to read about The Practice, and not just take my own words for it. What you will find here is more than I care to document, but suffice it to say, Christians should run far, far away from this. The “Centering Prayer”  advocated for here is from a Trappist monk named Thomas Keating, who actually claims that “in a sense….we are God.” It is abundantly clear that the Jesus that the Niequist’s serve is much more in line with the Eastern, mystical Jesus that Keating and Oprah serve.

 

The concept of “contemplative prayer” was foreign to me. It cannot be founded in the pages of Scripture, and models the visualization and contemplation that is part and parcel of New Age meditation practices. The first time I ever heard of anything like this was while reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog years and years ago. I faced this mysticism again when reading Challies review of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Anne is another frequent IF: Gathering speaker who, at the end of her book, claims to have had an encounter with God that can only be described as sexual while she was visiting a Roman Catholic cathedral. [As a side note, I would like to commend Challies for the public apology he wrote after his book review, asking Anne’s forgiveness for what was perceived as an inappropriately harsh tone. His theological critique of the mysticism found in the book stands, but I do recommend reading both his critique and apology. Oh, if only more of us could play ball in this way!]

 

Familiarizing myself with more of the speakers from the IF: Gathering has forced me over the last several weeks to familiarize myself with more and more of the New Age. With pagan practices. With contemplative prayer. With Eastern and Roman Catholic mysticism. I began to wonder if I was wasting my time. If I meant to respond to Jennie Allen directly, then why was I spending so much time figuring out what some of the IF speakers believe? So I returned to Jennie’s Twitter page. What I saw there was hopeful. She quotes Scripture. She tweets Spurgeon, Ryle, Eliot. Solid, solid, solid. But then….who is Dallas Willard?
Sometimes we get caught up in trying to glorify God by praising what He can do and we lose sight of the practical point of what He actually does do. -Dallas Willard
Jennie Allen (@JennieAllen) December 27, 2017

 

A quick Google search will tell you that Dallas Willard was a professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He was a disciple of Edmund Husserl, the founder of Phenomenology. Willard was a pioneer of something called “Christian Spiritual Formation”, something I had never heard of, but is strikingly similar to the New Ageism that Niequist and Oprah and Keating are proponents of.

 

Thankfully, my dear sister Christine Pack, a former New Age disciple herself, explained “spiritual formation” in her excellent blog:
Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism, as noted above, is literally flooding into today’s churches through practices that have positive sounding names, like “Spiritual Formation” and “Spiritual Disciplines.” Spiritual Formation is being promoted in many of today’s evangelical churches as a way for Christians to draw closer to God. Christian leaders who are teaching Spiritual Formation often understand that the word “mysticism” has a negative, eastern connotation, and try to draw a distinction between “bad” (eastern) mysticism and “good” (Christian) mysticism. Obviously, to those pleading this case, “bad” mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin. But “good” mysticism (like Spiritual Formation, say its proponents) would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development.
She goes on to explain what this means. Don’t skip this.

 

To be clear, let me restate this: the technique used for silencing the mind in Spiritual Formation is identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc. The technique goes something like this: find a quiet spot to sit or lie down, breathe deeply, and begin to focus on something for the purpose of stilling your thoughts. (The “something” can literally be almost anything: a candle, a word, a phrase, repetitive music, drumming, one’s own breath, etc.) After about 20 minutes of practicing this technique, which is simple to do, a person will enter into an altered state of consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, the mind is no longer active and critically engaged, and able to assess data. In this state, the mind is passive, its God-given barriers down; it is able only to receive information, much like a radio receiver. Mystics from all faith traditions the world over often report ecstatic experiences of becoming yoked to some spiritual energy, leaving them feeling refreshed, energized, and peaceful after engaging in their mystical practices.

 

But it is not the words or phrases themselves in so-called Spiritual Formation that somehow magically switches the dial from being “occultic” to being “Christian.” Nor does the intention of the practictioner somehow magically protect one from danger. The words or phrases used are completely irrelevant…..they are merely the device by which one corrals one’s thoughts for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness (among those who would claim to be “Christian mystics,” this altered state of consciousness is known by many different names: “the Silence,” “practicing the presence of God,” “the cloud of unknowing,” etc.)

 

But the God of the Bible is very specific about how we are to “draw closer” to Him, and it is not through using techniques for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness. True born again believers draw close to God through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10) and through the means of grace as taught by Scripture. And yet most religions outside of Christianity have some version of mysticism that they practice for the specific purpose of drawing close to God. So the question must be asked: if these faith traditions are outside of Christ, are they getting to God?

 

I have many, many concerns with the practice of contemplative prayer today, and how it has been dripping in to the church. When Christ was teaching the disciples how to pray in Matthew 6, he very specifically spoke against the kind of prayer that Willard, and Niequist, and Keating, and all New Agers model. He said,

 

7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
 
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.[a] 
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,[b]
    on earth as it is in heaven. 
11 Give us this day our daily bread,[c] 
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.[d]

 

Christ specifically commanded us not to use “empty phrases”, and the prayer that he modeled was not an emptying of the mind. It was deliberate petition based on God’s word. When the Psalmist speaks of “meditation” it is always in context of meditating upon “God’s Law”, meaning the Scriptures. Nowhere in Scripture do we see any practice that looks remotely like contemplative prayer, or centering prayer, or lectio divina, or whatever other Christianese labels these mystical, pagan practices might be filed under.

 

Since God is Real

Many women have asked me to be more specific regarding what I know of the speakers at the IF: Gathering. I have not had the time here to discuss Bianca Olthoff, who has also spoken at the Bethel Women’s Conference. Bethel is an apostate church, and I had to turn this talk off right around the time Bianca began taking the Lord’s name in vain and teaching us that Bible stories are more interesting if you read them as though they were a Spanish soap opera where the women have “dookie booties.” I am not sure if I spelled dookie right, but you get the picture.

 

I cannot, however, chronicle every difference I have with these women. I write because I long for the church to enter an age where women stir each other up to good works in every way, while also being true Bereans. Disciples of Christ cannot be made while we entangle ourselves in New Age practices, look for new revelation outside of Scripture, link arms with apostate churches, and eschew how God himself commands us to worship Him. As my friend Christine said in the blog I linked to previously:
God is quite clear on how we are to worship and approach him – and it is not through blending our worship of him with pagan practices. But this is exactly what Spiritual Formation is: a blending of Christian terminology with occultic mysticism, and calling it Christian. I recognize that it is very popular in today’s global, syncretized culture to meld different things together. We are most certainly an experience-driven culture, always seeking the fresh, exciting, “new” thing. And we also like our smorgasbord religions, with a little of this, a little of that. But we have clear mandates from Scripture about how we are to worship and approach God.  We are to be set apart from the world – not syncretized with it – so that God’s truth will shine like a beacon in the darkness.

 

Jennie, I don’t know if you’re reading this. But if you are, I want to plead with you on the basis of your credible profession of faith, and on something you said in your blog. Churches entrust their women to you when they send them to your conference. What will you do with this? On what Biblical grounds do you invite speakers entangled in the New Age to disciple these precious women? Where do you stand on these New Age practices? If you misspoke when you said a voice from the sky told you to start IF, what did you mean by it?

 

The IF: Gathering’s name is based on a question Jennie Allen wanted to answer: “If God is real…then what?” Respectfully, this is a horrible question. As creatures made in God’s image, we all know God is real (read: Romans 1). My question to anyone involved in the IF: Gathering is this: since God is real, now what? Well, that’s easy. The Bible has answered it for us.

 

Since God is real, we worship him how he has commanded us in Scripture to worship. (John 4:21-24)
Since God is real, we obey his commands, and do not give ourselves over to the flesh. (John 14:15-21)
Since God is real, we love Christ’s bride by creating disciples by the means He has given us—with the Word, not emotionalism or pagan practices. (2 Tim 3)
Since God is real, we love our neighbors more than our comfort, by telling them the truth even if it makes us uncomfortable. (John 8:32)

 

I suppose this is the part where I say something like, “I wish we could have coffee some day to discuss this.” And I would very much love to do so. But the IF: Gathering is not just Jennie, and it’s not just Olthoff, and it’s not just each of the speakers that have ever been there. It is one of the largest women’s conferences in the country, and many, many sisters are involved. I just can’t help but wonder, the more I listen and read, what kind of Christianity they are actually being led to.
SUMMER WHITE

Writer | Sheologian
Summer White is @SummrWrites on Twitter. She is a mother of two and she occasionally blogs when taking a break from making crock-pot meals. She grew up traveling with her dad and watching him debate all over the country. She does not like long walks on the beach.

@SummrWrites Facebook sheologiansblog@gmail.com

11 Comments

  1. Mary

    Well done!

    Reply
  2. Carol

    🙌🏼 Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Elise Crapuchettes

    Excellent article on a difficult subject. Thank you, Summer!

    Reply
  4. Abigail Sibayan

    Oh my. Thank you for this. I have to go back and click on all the links too. I appreciate this very thorough analysis; I have always been apprehensive about the IF: Gathering but I wasn’t sure how to put my thoughts into words. You’ve done an amazing job of breaking everything down, piece by piece. I appreciate your unrelenting stance on making biblical truth known.

    Reply
  5. Whitney

    So good, and beautifully written.

    Reply
  6. Blaire

    This is spot on, well written, and gracious. Thank you for speaking the truth in love, Summer!

    Reply
  7. Emily Keena

    I went to an IF local gathering a few weeks ago and felt strange about what they were speaking about. I couldn’t pinpoint most of it, but saw a blatant disregard for the holiness of our God. This article is SO encouraging and such a blessing. You are not alone, Shealogians. Well done.

    Reply
  8. Angie

    Thank you thank you thank you!
    You articulate what I can’t…and I couldn’t agree more with this.

    Reply
  9. Angela

    I’m so sorry you feel “called” into what you peg a “discernment ministry” to essentially take hours to dig and investigate in order to reveal truth (which from the outside looking in appears to be a euphamism for slander of fellow Christian women.) This has to be weighty on you as it’s not only divisive within the body of Christ, but hurtful to the testimony of unity within The Church to non-believing onlookers. Know that a sinner like you, I’m calling on the Lord to support us and help us to receive his gentle rebuke where needed.

    In the past several years, I have used IF:Gathering.org as a resource for some discipleship material in our local church and it’s been pretty legit (I don’t expect any content outside of the Bible to be without flaw) but I do believe Jennie’s heart’s intentions are legit as well. She is for the gospel message to be made central and clear and as a result, spread via the model of discipleship laid out in the Bible.

    I’ve only been a part of the gathering once as a participant but also in a private FB for if:local leaders and though I agree that the gathering is personally a little excessive in that it’s appealing to the senses: emotion evoking, (boarderline over-the-top) aesthetics, and even selection of some of the speakers is maybe more focused on bringing racial, ethnic, and church experience diversity rather than the degree of sound doctrinal beliefs.

    Your rant about spaces and a couple other nit-picky details take away from more serious and consequential arguments like the new age Jesus content which is to be seriously examined and prayfully considered with a contrite heart. In your own “About Us” drop box on your page uses the words “safe space.” And I understood what you meant. But don’t waste your time and energy splitting hairs about another when you’re using the same verbiage on your own platform.

    It just goes to show that with any ministry, comes an element of human error and that we must lean into God and trust Grace to cover, to allow the Spirit to do his work of revealing the truth necessary for sound doctrine. And maybe that’s just what you ladies are doing (surely with good intentions) but it comes across not so gracious as you noted (granted reading an article versus hearing the tone of one’s voice via podcast allows less room for interpretation).

    Other than the God-ordained and appropriate rebuke that we read about in God’s inspired word from apostles like Paul’s letters, we must take caution in pointing out herecies, misuse, and misunderstanding of God’s holy word. There is human error in all of yours’ and mine. Just want to gently remind you with a loving heart as a sister-in-Christ would because I’ve seen this type of ministry destroy more than edify and this particular episode and follow-up article would fall into that category.

    Know that I will include you in my prayers as I ask the Lord to search my own heart and see if there is any wicked way in me so that I can be near to him and that my ministry to the women of our church and my circle of influence can be sound and above reproach.

    Blessings on your pursuit of Him and glorifying of his name, most high!!

    Reply
    • Summer White

      1. We aren’t a discernment ministry, as I explained.
      2. Much caution was taken in pointing out these errors. Would you prefer I spent no time listening to what they had to say before I commented on it? I’m confused.
      3. It’s interesting that you’re bothered by my seeming splitting of hairs when this comment is full of them.
      4. It’s hard to take someone’s prayers for your ministry seriously when they admittedly have never listened to your podcast and start their introduction by being sorry that your ministry exists.

      Reply
      • Angela

        Summer, I don’t intend to engage in an online dispute because that too sets the stage for disunity. I apologize that I should have approached you privately and shared my concerns, but since I didn’t, I want to apologize publicly as well.

        I’m just going to share final thoughts and please accept them in grace as they are being given as such.

        “Pointing out errors” as you noted is necessary at times among members of the Body (as you’ve done with Jennie Allen and IF: and admittedly I with you) but based on Jesus’ command for correcting a fellow believer (Matthew 18:15-17) we have to follow this protocol in order to line up with God’s design for the Church to maintain integrity among brothers and sisters-in-Christ. We are to:
        1) Believe the best of the person and ministry and if needed, approach them privately about the issue. Please forgive me for not doing so with you and your’s. (Though I indeed listened to the podcast prior to reading your article and writing a note to you. What I meant to say above is that the spoken word is easier to gauge tone versus the tone in a written article. And I sensed more harshness in the article than I did in the podcast and that wasn’t believing the best of you.)
        2) Approach the person you have a problem with alongside several others.
        3) Then finally you are able to approach the Church (or in your case, this online community) if you feel that individual’s work is detrimental to the work of the Kingdom.

        Also, I’m sorry I sounded harsh in the beginning of my first comment. I reread it and realize it could have been taken that way. Just hoping (like I learned through this) for you to be cautious about getting questions/concerns you have answered directly from the source instead of going to secondary sources like book reviews who also might want to be cautious about the content they post in a public light.

        Reply

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