I was recently asked to participate in a group that is creating a curriculum in the area of “spiritual formation.” I have never really written or spoken much on this, but my nerve endings are a bit sensitive when the subject is introduced. In other words, I can hang with it for a bit, but when it is talked about in terms of “curriculum” or “discipleship” or forming the “whole spiritual person,” I start to back out.

What is “spiritual formation”? I am trying to be fair and representative of it, but I know there will be those who feel I have left something out. Nevertheless, here it goes:

“Spiritual formation describes a process or path to spiritual wholeness though a practice of specific disciplines including prayer, meditation, study, fasting, solitude, confession, and worship. The end goal is that the person would be more Christ-like.”

Nothing wrong with that. Right? After all, who would argue against the necessity of confession, prayer, and Bible study?! These are all staple food groups in the food pyramid…errr…circle (or whatever it is now) of the Christian life. And it is the beginning of a new year. Time to set new goals, agendas, remake ourselves, right the wrongs, and discipline ourselves in ways we failed to in the previous year. So, how can I have ill will toward such things? I don’t, but hang with me.

In the last ten years, “spiritual formation” has become quite popular. I took a course called “Spiritual Formation” in seminary. Many well-respected colleges and seminaries are even offering Master’s degrees in spiritual formation. It is nothing new and there is everything right about being disciplined. But the current practice seems to have evolved into some sort of perceived spiritual antibiotic to all sin, malnutrition, and disease.

At one time, I tried to get in with the spiritual formation thing. At least, I tried to understand it as a movement. I even offered an elective course at Stonebriar Community Church through the Center for Biblical Studies of Dallas Theological Seminary. Why? Well, everyone else was doing it! I am not going to mention any of the gurus in these circles (many of whom I have great respect for and from whom I have learned much), but I do have some things about which I don’t mind taking liberty to be somewhat offensive.

First, a confession: for me, listening to or reading books of this genre is like listening to an organ. I know, you love the organ. I don’t too much. It drains the life out of me. I only have enough breath to make it though half a sentence in each organ-led song and the sentences are not long. When I read spiritual formation books, it is the same. It takes me half a day to get through a paragraph and the paragraphs are not that long. When I finish the book, I usually think to myself, “That could have been said in a lot less space. Did I just lose a week off my life?” Dramatic? Yes. But I am speaking for myself here.

(Calm down and keep reading.)

It is not that I think this 21st century spiritual formation movement is necessarily wrong, I just don’t jump on that bus. My vehicle simply does not run on that fuel.

Having spoken of this in a somewhat subjective way, let’s get to my issue. I do think there are some things in the spiritual formation movement that can be counterproductive. No . . . I don’t think it is “new age.” No . . . I don’t think that it is part of the “one world religion.” No, I don’t think it is demonic! I have actually read many Christian critiques that argue for such. Don’t go there. Those who argue such need to stop, count to ten, spin around thirty times, and take a spiritually-disciplined nap.

There are some red flags to everything (including theological studies!). Let me list some here with regard to spiritual formation movement:

1. It can fail to account for individuality.

This is how, when, and where you need to pray. You need to fast at least once a month. Here is how you should read your Bible. Encouragers of this type often disturb me. Not because they are making me uncomfortable in spiritual laziness (well, maybe a little), but because they attempt to shape me into someone that I am not. The spiritual formation movement can have a “cookie-cutter” mentality where every individual loses their individuality. When you begin to tell me when and how to pray, confess, fast, read, meditate, and the like, you fail to realize that I am not you!

God created us individually. The community does not function properly until we are functioning within our individuality. You may get up early in the morning and pray with your kids, read your Bible, carry Scripture memory cards, and take your vitamins. This is wonderful. But when you begin to overlay your structure on my life, it does not usually work. We have to allow others to express their spirituality according to their various strengths and weaknesses. This is simply recognizing the way God made us. When we don’t allow people to work in harmony to their own spiritual DNA, we can actually stunt their growth.

2. It can set one up for unrealistic expectations.

I have seen many people who jump head first into the “spiritual disciplines.” They are excited because they have structure. There is an ABC to their spiritual growth. For the first time, they realize they have not grown because they have not followed the “right” pattern. Before they have even had a chance to test the longevity of their new method in their own lives, they are pressuring others to follow with them.

I always give it a few months. I was there myself at one point. Real life has a way of laughing at our paradigms. Sooner or later most people find that the spiritual life is not produced through the A + B = C path. When this happens – when their expectations are not met – they not only give up on the form, but they get discouraged thinking it is the fault of the principles. In other words, if fasting every third week and practicing the Lectio Divina every morning does not fulfill the hyped expectations, then it is both prayer and self-discipline that failed, not my legalistic structure. This is wrong. Prayer is indispensable. Properly understood and practiced, fasting strengthens the will and tests commitment. Bible meditation is our food. But a one-size-fits-all pattern for practice quickly becomes empty spiritual calories that can make us malnourished.

3. It can hinder the spontaneous nature of the Spirit’s movements.

I know of some people who need to practice the spiritual discipline of taking a break from their spiritual routine. In weight training, one of the worst things you can do is to get stuck in a routine for too long, because our muscles get used to the same things over and over again. Things need to be changed up from time to time. We call this “shocking” the muscles. Some of us need our spiritual muscles shocked. For some, spiritual routines are the enemy of growth. Our habits become enshrined and untouchable. To break this routine causes us to be down, discouraged, and feeling like our spiritual equilibrium is off. What we often don’t realize is that these routines are actually controlling our person more than the Spirit of God. “The wind blows where it wills, so it is with the Spirit of God.” The Holy Spirit is faithful, but does not always follow our calendars.

When we attempt to structure our spiritual life, we can make the mistake of trying to twist the arm of God in our development. We don’t know exactly when or how God’s Spirit is going to move in our lives. We need to make sure that our mentality in spiritual formation does not create an implied path that God must follow. I fear that the mentality of this spiritual formation movement implicitly leans in such a direction. It is not unlike the dark side of the charismatic movement where a theology of expectation can get in front of God. Unfortunately (and fortunately!), God does not check our calendars to see when he is going to make his moves in our lives. His grace is the controlling force and it knows how to get the job done better than our routine.

4. It can be a replacement for trust, belief, and faith.

I think we can often mistake busyness for belief. In other words, we often think that if we are doing enough stuff, then we must believe in what we are doing. This is not true. I have seen far too many people who go through the movements of spiritual disciplines precisely because they cannot find a foothold in their faith. They believe their actions can create belief or at least be a placeholder for it. Belief is the foundation for the action, not the other way around. While many in this movement place a strong emphasis on belief and the discipline of study, I find that as a whole, it serves in a very secondary capacity. This is unfortunate. One of the worst things we can do as Christians is give people an excuse for not examining the reality of their belief. Doing “things” is easy. Following steps and rules is a snap. Belief – true belief – is often hard.

However, I do need to mark what might be somewhat of an inconsistency in my thinking here. I do encourage people who are doubting to continue in their Christian routine, even though their beliefs are tipsy. However, I don’t think this is a permanent thing. Our beliefs should eventually reclaim their position as the guides of our lives, not our routines.

Talk to God, control your will, stay broken before God, and diligently search for truth. These are the principles. Even have a disciplined routine. Fast once a week, pray with arms in the air, repent to other people, get up early and meet our Lord, and meditate on the Psalms. When you do these things – however you do these things – Christ will be formed in you and others will see Christ in you. I promise. But, realize that there is not one path to Christ being formed in you and God will not be controlled by your structure. If you get this, then call it spiritual formation, Christian discipline, or whatever. In the end, it is the Christian life where he who is at work in you will perfect his work in you. Your spirit will be conformed.

My Facebook friend asked me yesterday “Why do some people hate the spiritual formation movement with such a passion?” I know those people. But they usually hate everything with the same passion. I don’t hate the Spiritual Formation Movement. I just think there are some red flags that we need to be aware of (and the organ draining that I experience is not really one of them!).

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    29 replies to "Why I Don’t Think Much Of the Spiritual Formation Movement"

    • Brian Osisek

      Nice article Michael. I’ve given much thought to the spiritual formation movement and have written about it, you can check out some of my articles at my blog site:http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/

      Your concerns look at the movement from an angle that I’ve not really considered. I have been looking at the movement from the perspective of the authors and books that are often recommended readings.For example, Thomas Merton, Tereasa of Avila, Richard Foster, Brennan Manning.

      I’ve read the above and have found that i could never recommend those books to anyone. There is univesalism, new age, pantheism, and the teaching that there are many ways to God.

      These names will inevitably come up for anyone that gets involved in the contemplative prayer movement—thus young believers can easily be lead astray.

      I would encourage you to google in Sue Monk Kidd and see how she started down the road into new age mysticsm.

    • Grady Patterson

      It seems a human trait that whenever some event or process has benefit for more than one person, people around those positively affected desire to copy the event or process – effectively packaging what was organic and natural into a structured and architectural thing – and then are surprised when the effect is different.
      Christ told us that He is the vine and we are the branches – I have a hard time imagining the branches with their bright new leaves attending a class in “Grape Formation”. If spiritual formation is not directly as a result of Christ’s life being lived out in and through us, then it is not truly formation, but deformation. Even when the desired end result is good, it is not walking in the Spirit, but in the flesh, and the end result will not be the life we desire, but a restriction in the flow of Christ’s life through us, and thus a form of death …

    • Tim B

      I remember the first time I heard that you could get a Master’s degree in ‘Spiritual Formation.’ My first thought was ‘why would I want that?’

      This may go to your point about belief as the foundation for action. I’ve found that at times ‘spiritual formation’ as practiced can be anti-doctrinal. So instead of focusing on a Biblical discussion of sanctification (definitive and progressive) and then working towards a Biblical application of the mortification of sins and progressing in holiness, it just jumps right to behavior (as you point out).

      Spiritual formation seems to set all that aside and focus on the practices themselves. Maybe “set all that aside” is a bit strong, but there does seem to be a desire to find the lowest common denominator to Christianity. We can find a whole bunch of people with vastly differing doctrinal routes, but hey we all like the same spiritual practices so it’s all good.

      For me nothing has been more formative to my spiritual progress than the exact opposite approach: as I seek to understand Scripture and its doctrines and allow the Holy Spirit to apply them it thereby shapes my spiritual practices and my life [spiritual formation?] is enriched. I’m channelling Machen here: but Christianity is first and foremost a doctrine and then a way of life, not otherwise. I have found that to be both true and extremely practical.

    • There is a real place for “mystical theology”, but the Spiritual Formation Movement does not appear to be it! I agree that so-called spiritual formation, or proper mystical theology is found in a biblical and theological study of God. And here people like Luther (his Theology of the Cross), and Calvin’s doctrine of (Union with Christ), help and press me more in “habilis” (able), and spiritual and mystical manner.

    • Josh Newmaster

      My general (unfortunate) experience with many who discuss the “spiritual formation movement” seem to view it something like this: (forgive the simplicity of this description, it is just how I see it)

      “Read Dallas Willard and Richard Foster books and try to do what they say to do and you will grow spiritually”

      I understand where this mentality comes from, but from my experience at Talbot (I’m in the MDiv Spiritual Formation program there) this is simply isn’t what spiritual formation in Christ-likeness is, nor is what the ancient Christian writers wrote about.

      Part of the goal in spiritual formation is the “double-knowledge” that Calvin, Augustine, etc talked about in their works: the knowledge of self and knowledge of God.

      The disciplines themselves, can not, do not, and will not produce transformation. They are simply tools to presenting /opening oneself to God.

      What one tends to find is that there are many reasons why I sin. The effects of original sin and living a fallen world not doubt (but we cannot merely stop here because God has given us a will and given us commands that He calls us to obey). However, in these times of presenting / opening to God He may also reveal painful events / experiences which “foster” or “ignite” these sinful tendencies / attitudes. Thus our being (body, mind, heart, etc) has been trained in a variety of different and individual ways (depending on one’s experience) in unrighteous / living life apart from God. Therefore, these different capacities need to be “retrained”. Not in the power of the flesh, apart from the Spirit work; But rather open to God in the midst of the “weeds” of our life so that the transforming power of the Gospel and God’s love can penetrate the heart.

      The goal in the “spiritual formation movement” isn’t even transformation (becoming “good little boys and good little girls”) rather it is “actively” knowing God and joining Him in the work that He is doing internally (within my own heart) and externally in the world around me.

    • Eric S. Mueller

      CMP, I love your comment about the books. I’ve written several reviews of books where I rhetorically ask if we can pass a law forbidding pastors from writing books. I suppose when your job is to stretch 5 minutes of material into an hour week after week, you get used to beating a point to death.

      I’ve never gotten into spiritual formation either. Of course, I believe spiritual disciplines should make up a part of our lives. We tend to get into a gnostic type mindset though (Randy Alcorn calls it “christoplatonism”, where we consider the spiritual good and the physical bad. So we have to live in this world, but we need to focus more on the spiritual.

      It also seems to imply a “one size fits all”. Like you, I’m not a fan of organ music. I feel tortured when we have to sing the somber old hymns. I get very little out of most devotional works. I roll my eyes when people feel the need to post Bible verses on Facebook. So I don’t imagine I’d get much out of this movement.

    • KWilson

      Good post.

      I can sum up my feelings on the subject in one statement – you can’t workshop your way to heaven. That is, and this is expanded well in your points, you can’t ‘create’ a spiritual person any more than you can be saved by your own efforts.

      Now, that doesn’t mean that many of the activities themselves are not necessary in the life of the believer, laudable and useful. They are. But that usefulness does not (and in fact I would go so far as to say can not) explicitly ‘create’ the result implied by the spiritual Formation curriculum.

    • Steve Martin

      I never liked talk of “spirituality”.

      What the heck does that even mean?

      “He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.” All the while we are free to be the creatures that God has made us to be…human.

      God is more than capable of handling the “spiritual stuff”.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Why I Don’t think Much About the Spiritual Formation Movement”

      Me neither.

      “I don’t hate the Spiritual Formation Movement.”

      Me neither.

    • […] Mike Patton on why he doesn’t think much about the spiritual formation movement: It is not that I think this 21st century spiritual formation movement is necessarily wrong, I just don’t jump on that bus. My vehicle simply does not run on that fuel. // // […]

    • Peter Walters


      Thanks for the article. I am preaching on “Spiritual Disciplines” in a couple of weeks and starting a “Spiritual Formations” course at Seminary tomorrow. I have preached on prayer, fasting and the rest of those topics over the years but not given a lot of thought to the whole area of the Disciplines. I have read your article and another in the same vein over the past couple of days and I can see and understand your cautions. I am looking forward to see how my course will work itself out and especially how the retreat will go. I will be back with more comments in the next couple of months.

    • Evan

      Add the word “organic” in front of “spiritual formation,” and you have something that looks like a faith-filled life of discipleship. It’s all semantics, really. When I was introduced to “spiritual formation,” it looked nothing like what you describe above. The man that used that term encouraged me to be Spirit-led. Sometimes semantics can ruin great Truths for people; maybe we should just follow Christ and leave scholarly babble alone for a while.

    • Rick

      Thank you for your article. IMHO, there are two big risks in the world of “spiritual formation”. The first is the mystical side which has been promoted by Richard Foster and others. This can lead is to a world of subjectivity and away from truth. The second risk is in the human tendency to try to control our “world” including God. Many people gravitate towards those things that makes us feel like we’re in control. Call it “sin management” if you will through religious activity.

      While many of the disciplines encouraged in the current spiritual formation movement are good (as so well described by CMP), our sinful nature tends to move towards the bad parts (on way or the other( and we lose sight of Who changes us and how He does it. The fruit of the Spirit is just that, the fruit of the Spirit – not as a result of our efforts. Trust (you must know) and Obey (He gives the grace), there is no other way.

    • Steve Burdan

      There are a couple of other issues that contribute to the discussional friction with this topic. We’ve got to sort out these fundamental questions better and reach some agreement before we can move on.

      1. We as 21st American Evan. talk in a certain way about our spiritual relationship with God that is not reflected in Scripture, or even by the Reformers. So right away we can be stymied.

      2. How can we “metricize” the spiritual life? How do I know I’m more mature as a believer? How do I know I’ve had a good day “in the Lord.” By simply feeling good about it?

      3. As others have noted, what is the Christian life? There are few programs offered in Scripture – suggestions, expectations and guidelines, sure, but no definition that we can wrap our understanding around…

    • Alex Jordan

      Hi Michael,

      I think your point is valid that one problem with the spiritual formation movement is that it misses that the Spirit works in us, not in cookie-cutter fashion, but individually and personally. But in addition to this, I think it is mistake to not also consider the dangers posed by a view that lays down prescriptions for spiritual growth not explicitly laid out by Scripture. Also, a system that tends towards promotion of subjective, hignly mystical approach to spirituality that has more in common with the New Age than it does with biblical Christianity. So though we usually agree, I don’t concur with your statement, “Those who argue such need to stop, count to ten, spin around thirty times, and take a spiritual disciplined nap.” Actually, I think we are in danger of “napping” if we don’t take seriously the dangers this approach to spirituality poses to the church.

      I’m sure all would agree that God is interested in our spiritual formation. Hasn’t He then given us clear biblical directives on how we mature in our walk of faith? But are these the same as the “spiritual disciples”? Also, are we free to pick and choose, on a pragmatic basis, which of these disciplines we will do? It seems to me that, as those who were once dead in sins and had no spirituality at all, we need a lot of guidance and have already received it. We will grow spiritually if we simply follow Christ’s commands and instructions.

      I think Bob DeWaay’s 2005 article on this topic offers interesting food for thought:

      The Dangers of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines- A Critique of Dallas Willard and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Bob DeWaay”

    • ruben

      I agree pretty much with how you feel, I feel the same way when people impose a routine for my spiritual life – it stifles me and makes me feel less real. I’m not the type to spend too much time praying, I think I commune with God more by reading, reflecting and simply talking to him through the day. However, there is a big value in the Spriritual Formation movement I think: it introduces Protestants (Evangelicals) to practices that have been used in the church for centuries. Just reading the comments about how this is “new age” proves my point, we tend to think of anything that is spiritual or mystical as suspicious by default. But looking at the history of believers it is clear that these practices have been in place for millenia. I think the deeper approach that this movement takes is something that many evangelicals have been hungering for, having good theology is not enough, God engages more than our minds. It is not pantheistic to find the Creator’s imprint in the world that surrounds us and delighting in it. To me that is deep worship.

    • There is sadly a whole disconnect here with the proper understanding of mystery and the mystical! I don’t see Foster as a New Ager at all. In fact, the church if anything, has somewhat lost its “spiritual” ability to even understand the interior life! But here again is simply where we must have theological definition, and that which has been tried & true, in the life of the Church. We don’t want to either dumb-down the church, or make it narrow with rules and dogma, that are stale, but also we don’t want the “emergent” pop culture either. In the end, we must have the Visible Church, and to my mind, the best place for spiritual growth and interior discipline is in both Word & Sacrament, in the life of the Church!

    • Dan

      I think there is also a lack of emphasis on how evangelism is part of this. Not in all cases, but when I do read spiritual formation books and materials it is mainly about personal spiritual health and nothing about how our personal spiritual health is critical for mission and evangelism. So it is sort of an inward focused thing, which is important, but without the outer focus to mission, to me it then is not fitting in the Great Commission and a major reason of why the church is in existence.

      • Roger Sharp

        Hi Dan!

        I have been working on a DMin in Spiritual Transformation the past few years. As a Southern Baptist, I have had to grapple with the apparent lack of evangelism as well. Ruth Haley Barton makes a statement that settles that aspect for me:

        “Spiritual transformation is both an end in itself in that it that brings glory to God and it is a means to other ends in that it enables us to mediate the presence of Christ to others and to discern loving action in the world. The litmus test of mature spirituality is obedience to Christ’s commandment (Matthew 28:18-20), which always involves an increasing capacity to love God and to love others. (Mark 12:30, 31; I Corinthians 12; I John 4:7)

        Loving presence and action in the world includes sharing our faith (evangelism), giving generously of our resources, reconciliation and peacemaking (interpersonally and also across lines of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and people groups), working for justice, exercising compassion and care for the poor, and working for the betterment of life in the human community in Jesus’ name.

        All true Christian spiritual formation is for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives and for the sake of others or it is not Christian spiritual formation. For this we toil and struggle with all the energy that God so powerfully inspires within us.” (https://www.transformingcenter.org/in/about/what-we-believe.shtml#.VaCsbabZ8fo)

        Roger Sharp

    • jonathancarr

      I think (laying semantics aside) that the idea of a certain “diet” in our walk with God is really good…..as long as it is a means and not the end.

      When we set in our hearts to fast and pray and study, we will do it more then if we just sort of flow with how we feel.

      I think the sincere who, in love, fast and pray and read, receieve more then those who dont, because I believe that we must posture our hearts to recieve more…..it just doesnt come automatically.

      Now yes there are dangers, (spiritual pride, self reliance, ect) but just as Tim Kimberly posted the dangers of “doing theology”, we must remember what matters….and what doesnt.

    • […] What’s not to like about spiritual formation? C. Michael Patton has some issues with the way that particular paradigm is broadly applied. […]

    • Matthew Green

      I agree with a fair amount of what you say here, though it seems to me that it’s based on a misconception. You note that spiritual formation is not merely spiritual disciplines, yet link the spiritual formation movement with spiritual disciplines. There are actually quite a number of different streams of the spiritual formation movement including disciplines, mystical/contemplative, psychological, and relational/inter-personal. The most well-known names such as Foster and Willard tend to significantly favor the disciplines stream, which is part of where this misconception comes from, but it’s still a misnomer.

      I’ll acknowledge, however, that few programs or curricula with the label of spiritual formation have a basis in anything other than the disciplines, which is problematic. The Evangelical Center for Spiritual Wisdom is developing and testing a curriculum based on a more relational/inter-personal theology that might not slip into some of the red flags you note.

      But just an FYI, formation is not always merely the disciplines. Josh Newmaster above hit the nail on the head, I think.

    • […] contrary take on spiritual formation. Worth a read. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

    • John

      I liked your article. Of course I like it because it reflects (in better words than I can muster) my own sort of skepticism about this “movement”. I think perhaps I’m skeptical of most movements! I wonder if we don’t set-about trying to manage Christian belief and experience too much in a sort of modern business management fashion? We invent categories and organize reality accordingly. And I guess we must. But movements tend to distort as well as organize as they emphasize some truth at the expense of other truth. Thanks for your posts…..good reading!

    • Alex Kelley

      Thanks for the article. What has helped me “sniff” out things that are not sound is the simple reading and rereading of the NT in particular the letters to the Churches. This gives me a very nice grid to sift things through in regards to various and sundry movements. I recently experienced the Spiritual Formation movement in our church and having returned to Seminary for a counseling degree (there is a lot of stuff in that area that got the old sniffer going). The authors of these books are really off in many areas. Why would a church or an organization encourage reading Foster (a Quaker) and Henry Nouwen (a Universalist)? There is a lot of spiritualizing that can be confusing to those who don’t have a grasp on the Scriptures. When silence and solitude are seen as on the same level as the Scriptures and prayer, red flags should pop up everywhere.My challenge is how do I speak to this issue when helping others to evaluate what they read and see. Thanks again for the article.

    • James Sunduist

      I invite you to consider another perspective on the teachings of Richard Foster and Spiritual Formation:


      and our film documentary with Richard Bennett, former Roman Catholic priest at our website at:


    • Linda

      I’ve heard the notion of “spiritual formation” bandied around for a while, but didn’t bother to investigate what it was until recently. I was actually very surprised at what I found, and if you take at face value the words of many of the “big name” writers on the subject, they are, indeed, practicing eastern mysticism. In fact, at least one of them converted to Buddhism. Contemplative prayer is also TM in Christian terminology. I recently read Richard Foster’s explanation of it, and he went to great lengths to poo-poo the notion that it was New Age or alike to eastern religion. A couple pages later, he described it in detail, and lo-and-behold! It was TM.

      People will no doubt disagree with me, but I would encourage everyone to do some research. The truth would appear to be inescapable.

      I actually do think that several (not all) of the spiritual disciplines are dangerous; that they do invite communion with demonic entities–whether recognized or not; and that sooner than we think, the Christian church is going to end up firmly ensconced in the Universalist camp. Call me a prophet . . . :-), but that’s exactly where I see the movement headed.

      This is the kind of thing that Satan does so very well . . . mix liberal amounts of extremely subtle error with a few important nuggets of truth, and set it gently on the collective laps of those who are disgruntled with the church or with Christians in general.

      We Christians truly ARE sheep . . . a little dense, continually getting caught up in barbed wire or thistles, easily spooked, stupidly following the crowd even if it’s headed for a cliff; constantly wandering astray . . . Spiritual Formation is just a lovely-looking new field to get lost in, except that this one has wolves and quicksand–and we are our own shepherds. It’s all going to end badly.

    • James Sundquist

      I discovered a discussion about Rick Warren and Spiritual Formation promoation at Dallas Theological Seminary, so I thought you should be alerted to my exchange with DTS below.

      Kindest regards in Christ,

      James Sundquist


      From: James Sundquist
      Subject: re Your Rick Warren article on DTS
      Date: October 21, 2014 at 8:13:59 PM EDT
      To: [email protected]

      Dear Dr. Scott Horrell,

      I am back from teaching, so am happy to address each one of your points:

      1. I appreciate you addressing me as Pastor. I don’t believe I every stated that I was. I am an elder in the faith, having been a Christian almost 60 years. And I am a teacher.

      2. “I appreciate your desire to proclaim the gospel right, and I suspect that our beliefs on what defines the gospel of Jesus Christ are very close.”

      RESPONSE: I am indeed a born again Christian, purchased by the Blood of the Lamb. But part of the Gospel requires true love as the Apostle John defined it which is obedience to Christ’s commands as well as those by the Apostles. Both are critical. Part of that obedience is marking false teachers, silencing them, exposing the deeds of darkness, and not allowing teachings and teachers that are false even enter the door, as commanded by the Apostle John, or we share in their iniquity. I will elaborate more in the following points.

      3. “You wrote to me at the Dallas Seminary website on Friday Oct 17th around 1PM and then you wrote again to me before 2PM. On Friday I was teaching class at during that time before running to the airport to fly to the east coast. I taught for eight hours on Saturday and was in airports most of Sunday, returning last night about 8:30.

      Within 12 hours of writing to me personally on Friday you sent out a broadside to President Bailey and the entire DTS faculty complaining of my January 2004 review of Rick Warren¹s The Purpose Driven Life. I find that completely bewildering. The review is well over ten years old.”

      I am only sorry that I waited 12 hours instead of warning and entreating them ten years ago BEFORE all the damage was done. Certainly you are aware of Scripture commanding us to tell the whole church and Paul asking that his warning Epistle(s) be sent to the rest of the churches. I wrote President Bailey because as President Truman once stated “The buck stops here”. Your article is a published document under the banner of the Dallas Theological Seminary. So of course if information is disseminated in the name of the DTS, then the DTS is the ultimate responsible party. If false teaching is put out in the name of an organization, then everyone in that organization should be alerted. And if they don’t repent than all Christians should be warned about DTS. This is not a Matthew 18 private matter. Public Teaching is publicly exposed. But it was also published in your journal under its banner. So it too needs to be confronted for promoting falsehood. If there is strange fire in the theater, do you only warn or confront the person who started the fire, or the one who salutes and reward the arsonist, but let the rest burn in the fire? The fact that you would find this completely bewildering is one shock to me. You should be glad that your entire institution be warned that all might fear the Lord. You are clearly upset by someone complaining. But Scripture compels me to tell them all. Rick Warren didn’t like victims complaining either so he calls these good Bereans who are simply obeying the Apostle Paul, “enemies of the 21st Century” and “Sanballats from Hell” Or as the Apostle Paul would state: “I am now therefore enemy because I tell you and all in your organization the truth?” And if something is a lie in January 2004, isn’t it still a lie in October 2014? Does falsehood have a statute of limitations? And it is not as though the harm caused by Warren’s teachings stopped in January 2004. It continues to stumble children of the Most High Good, and will continue to do so until it silenced and those who promulgate it repent. Scripture talks about Zachaeus offering to to pay four times the amount if he has defrauded anyone, yes even if it was ten years ago. Scripture also commands us to track down the offended party and make restitution…and not even bring your sacrifice to the Lord until you do so. You don’t have 3 hours to view the truth in the Tares movie on Rick Warren. So if you could walk 3 mph to track down the offended brother, you could walk 9 miles in three hours. But that is too far for you? And if the offended brother (multitudes of brothers in countries throughout the world) is mostly ten miles to ten thousand miles away, you would not go to them. And many churches and saints have rightfully complained and Rick Warren and the denominations he has smitten, receive the same treatment you have extended to me and much worse. Even right in your own State of Texas, Baptist Churches were hijacked because of Rick Warren, one right in Dallas where you are, and one in Corpus Christi Texas making national news. I find it impossible to believe that the DTS did not know about that? So are you upset that they “complained” too. Where is your compassion for them? And even if everything you wrote about Rick Warren’s book were true and his book Scriptural, but ten years goes by and there is a wake of destruction in the path of his Purpose Driven ship, you should remove your article, so as not to lead even more astray and deceive more multitudes. Instead you and the DTS have continued to be accomplices, refuse correction even upon being confronted. Are you OK with Warren doing this to more churches and saints?

      If I had promoted a false teacher whether knowingly or not over the radio or in journals, I would want to know right away to correct it, so as not to continually lead thousands astray, let alone for ten years. But better late than never. In fact, I would not be “completely bewildered”, but rather grateful.

      4.”Yet you apparently wanted an immediate response. You have since requested answers two more times today, Monday, even claiming to make a post on my Facebook page (which I rarely check).”

      Of course I wanted a prompt reply. Every day that goes by that your article remains posted, more and more good saints are being deceived. The reason I posted on Facebook, is because emails sent to institutions often end up in spam and never get seen or read. If you won’t won’t posts on Facebook, then you should either say so on your site, or set up a block.

      5. “While other demands are more pressing, I have looked at the material that you sent to me against Rick Warren. My own review had several fairly negative observations which I¹m not sure you appreciated.”

      Your negative observations I did note, but they contradict your statement that is the elephant in the room far eclipsing and nullifying your criticisms when you state “there is no flaw” in the book, then later agree with a superlative review on Amazon about Warren’s book.

      6.”(By the way, you addressed me as Steve. My name is Scott, which if nothing else the Bib Sacre view also made clear.)”

      I apologized and agree with you. So truth does matter when it comes to getting someone’s name right? How much more urgent when it comes to corrupting Scripture and leading multitudes astray.

      7. “I do not know Rick Warren at all. I have no special agenda to protect him.”

      RESPONSE: You don’t have to know a public false teacher to mark him publicly. If you continue to keep your article posted and refuse to retract your article and refuse to be a good watchman on the wall to warn everyone at DTS and the Church at large that reads and trusts these articles, then, yes you do have an agenda to protect him. Your statement is simply not credible. Your agenda should be to protect the saints and the public. By doing nothing, you simply give more wind to Warren’s sail and make way for more destruction to more saints.

      8. “But I have been a missionary for about 25 years, a pastor, and a professor in evangelical seminaries in various cultures for another 25 (with a little overlap). When we preach the gospel and invite people to trust in Jesus Christ we must also speak into their lives, in their categories and addressing personal needs. The examples of Jesus and the sermons to non-Christian audiences in Acts (at Derbe and Athens) don¹t say everything.”

      RESPONSE: Perhaps they did not say everything they could have. But what they did say was sufficient. And what they did say would require you to say something…if not then, certainly now when you know it was falsehood, or would should know better.

      9. “You¹ll notice my review criticizes Warren for not adequately including God¹s holiness, justice and wrath. And again for an awfully lot of Purpose-Driven propaganda. But I doubt that he was deliberately
      embedding Jungian antiChristian psychology disguised as Christian truth.”

      Well there are two problems here. First of all Warren full well knows that MBTI and and other Personality Profiling programs that full well acknowledge they are Jung based and uses them in Purpose Driven Churches. Second problem: Even if Warren didn’t know it was Jung and was shown it was Jung, he should have repented saying that he did it in ignorance. Yet he keeps on promoting and, like you, refuses to retract. You appear to think it is helpful to keep it posted, when in fact, it will continue to harm your reputation, DTS, Biblio Sacra, and the host of people that read your review thinking it is true and Warren is good.

      10. “So I feel no compulsion to retract a review from 2004. My original book review was shortened. The review you see was vetted by Dr. Roy Zuck, who read the book as well. Perhaps there are negative things about Warren that I am unaware of (I could not listen to the 3 hour link that you suggested, but I did listen to parts of it). I do wish the book had filled in more fully the gospel. Sure. Do I have other concerns. Absolutely. But I am often unsatisfied with my own work as well. Perhaps you feel the same sometimes.

      RESPONSE: Did Dr. Roy Zuck read Warren’s book? My wife did. And do you know how she knew it was riddled with false teachings? For years she did the read the Bible in a year plan. So after several years, she had read the Bible completely through several times. In page after page, she recognized error in Warren’s PDL book, and would say time after time “that’s not there”, or “The Bible does not say that.” And she is not even a Bible scholar like you. So how did you miss a host of major false statements? Many pastors and Bible professors saw the same errors I saw. But most are either blinded, or know full well what Warren is doing and teaching have jumped on the band wagon, or worse, accuse authors trying to rescue the slaughtered sheep at Rick Warren’s hand of slander, such as John Piper (who refuses to supply a shred of proof). And none comfort the afflicted left in is wake.

      Now I have a few more thoughts. You said you did not find any flaws in Warren’s book and don’t have time to view the video of just how dangerous Warren is, or read my investigation and proof that he claims about his book sales are fraudulent, I am going to give you just a few samples in his PDL book:

      “God won’t ask your religious background or doctrinal view.” Rick Warren in his PDL book

      Response: Of course Paul stated the antithesis of Warren’s view in 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timoth 4:3, Titus 1:9, 2 John 2:10, Revelation 2:14-15.

      Lifeway Books, and Ed Stetzer promotes Rick Warren, collaborators and/or co-authors with Rick Warren such as Leonard Sweet, Mark Driscoll as well as a host of false teachers in their own right such as:

      This is just a partial list on Lifeway (I am sure there are many more):

      Rick Warren companion Bible study to New Age Roma Downey’s Son of God movie (also replete with error)
      John Piper (publicly accused Authors of slander who had exposed Warren’s teaching without a shred of evidence)
      Beth Moore
      Max Lucado (Warren endorser)
      Richard Foster
      Dallas Willard
      Eugene Peterson
      Leonard Sweet
      Sarah Young
      James MacDonald
      Larry Crabb (Warren collaborator)
      Mark Driscoll
      Jim Wallis (enemy of Israel)
      John Maxwell (Major Rick Warren’s Global Peace Plan partner)
      John Eldridge
      Hugh Ross (Warren collaborator)
      Jonathan Cahn
      Florence Littaur (temperament divination, also promoted in Rick Warren’s SHAPE book of Erik Rees that Lifeway promotes)
      Laurie Beth Jones
      Erik Rees (SHAPE …heart of Rick Warren’s PDL and Global Peace Plan)
      Gary Thomas (Carl Jung)
      David Muyskens
      Henry Blackaby (full blown mystic)

      I also could not find a single book on Lifeway about compassion to victims of Rick Warren’s teachings, divided churches, shattered saints, restoring shipwrecked churches left dismembered in the wake of Warren’s Church and attacks he made on good Berean saints whom he called “enemies of the 21st Century” and “Sanballats from Hell”. But we must go even further. We can’t simply agree privately that Warren is a false teacher. Silence is not golden, in light of Scriptural commands, but we must mark, warn, and sound the alarm on His Holy Hill before he destroys more saints and churches. Like the saying “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” (remain silent). Tragically, this is official policy of the Southern Baptist Convention and Henry Blackaby’s ministry. I can see why the SBC got a new nickname which the letters stand for “Soon to Be Catholic.” (The list of authors on Lifeway and whom Ed Stetzer promotes is all the evidence we need to see how many Roman Catholic Mystics are being promoted in the SBC and even the other Conservative Christian denominations such as Assemblies of God and Christian and Missionary Alliance). A little leaven leaveneth the entire lump, so imagine what a lot of leaven is going to do and has already done, now rendering the SBC spiritual radioactive and toxic waste. So whether wittingly or unwittingly, Lifeway and many other publishers too like Zondervan, now share in their iniquity as 2 John 2:10 confirms.

      This is not addressed directly in Warren’s book, but signing covenants is (one of which financial)…in spite of Christ and the Apostle James severe warnings about taking oaths (How did you miss that “flaw”?) Dr. Russell Kelly’s (Baptist) 2 hour video on Tithing. He did his Doctorate on this subject. You can view it free at:

      Tithing is Not a Christian Doctrine

      And how did you read Warren’s account of 40 day examples in the Bible and miss the fact that Warren got them ALL wrong, then used them as pretext to apply them to Christians?

      Finally, I am most grieved that most Christians look up to their pastors and professors and Christian Seminaries to keep them safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing, false teachers, yet remain mysteriously silent, or worse retaliate, often blame the victim, shoot the messenger. Even upon being alerted to the fraud that Warren committed about the lie about his PDL book sales, SBC and other major Christian leaders remain silent and even continue to promote Warren. What is even more frightening and beyond belief is that professors as so-called Christian schools and seminaries like you and pastors like like John Piper actually read Warren’s book and see few or no problems and the colossal false teachings and massacre of Scripture passages. Even scarier, is that the rest of the DTS faculty would remain silent in the face of this iniquity. And we should entrust our kids to their instruction and education and shepherding us? We want them as missionaries to lead even more nations into become Purpose Driven nations? So if the foundations of pastors and Christian leaders be destroyed, or go apostate, what will the righteous do? There is a remnant of pastors and those in discernment ministry that will speak out. But most Christians remain unprotected, analogous to Obama and the head of the CDC re Isis and Ebola. But I still pray you would be the exception. This could be a great opportunity to tell the truth about these men.

      I did not address Warren’s Global Peace Plan with you because it was not in Warren’s first book that you reviewed. But DTS hasn’t been living under a rock for ten years, so should be fully apprised of Warren’s high profile agenda. So let me put it simply. Warren thinks he can forge his global Peace Plan with Muslims, when Islam is a religion of the AntiChrist, by the Apostle John’s own definition. Furthermore, “peaceful” Muslim lmams and leaders teach and believe that Christianity is the work of Satan. Christ calls attributing the works of God to Satan as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So they are twice doomed. Therefore, if you maintain your vigilance and maintain your article in the billboard of DTS, you will still be esteemed to be protecting as well as promoting Rick Warren, but worse you and DTS will, in fact, continue to be his accomplice, exactly what the Apostle John warned in 2 John 2:10.

      Thank you again for responding! I have warned you twice as Scripture requires. So I can only hope and pray that you will heed my warning both for your own sake, but for all of the host of victims of Rick Warren that have received no comfort or restitution.

      Finally, I leave you with these Scriptures:

      “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20

      “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” Habbakuk 1:3

      Sincerely in Christ,

      James Sundquist

      From: James Sundquist
      Subject: p.s. re Rick Warren’s version of the Gospel and Great Commission
      Date: October 22, 2014 at 7:54:45 AM EDT
      To: [email protected]

      Dear Dr. Horrell,

      I just realized that there is more more urgent point I needed to make re Rick Warren. I wanted to wait until today to send my response to you but promised I would get back yesterday. And that has to do with your first point you raised:

      You stated:
      “I appreciate your desire to proclaim the gospel right, and I suspect that
      our beliefs on what defines the gospel of Jesus Christ are very close.”

      You may be right that you and I are very close what defines the Gospel. But if that is true, then Rick Warren and you are no where near very close, rather are light years apart on the definition.

      Rick Warren has publicly stated to Islamic conference and audiences as well as Judaism event that he is not here to convert you but work with you. Furthermore, he think Roman Catholics are Christians and even promotes RC and the Pope, a list of Roman Catholic mystics, and Mother Teresa.
      I find it unbelievable that the DTS doesn’t know that and would still keep a review up on its site promoting him. They have had ten years to take it down. Ten years to publicly mark him, but have been derelict watchmen on the wall.

      But this issue is not just between you and me. And you don’t even have to take my word for it. You could easily find it on the Internet.

      So this is far graver than you think. The DTS, has been one of the last fortresses of truth. But where can we go if they can’t even be trusted to safeguard our children and children’s children?
      Now if Dallas Theo Seminary, one of the most conservative Christian seminaries promotes Warren, won’t repent even given the facts, is there any safe place left to send our kids?

      Sincerely in Christ,

      James Sundquist

    • Maggy

      I have been a believer for over 32 years and have dabbled in the various ‘techniques’ that blow in and out of ‘the church’ from time to time. I find that if I just sit and allow the Holy Spirit to direct my time with God, then great fruit abounds. However, when I get ‘caught up’ in formulas, etc. it is always short-lived, boring and far less profitable.

      Several months ago, a friend invited me to be part of a Mark Virkler teaching series entitled “How to Hear From God”. As soon as I heard the title, red flags went up!! He actually ‘promised’ that if we do steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 we would hear the Voice of God (along with talking to our angels!) Scary stuff!! Why do Christians always want formulas? Is it because we are so lazy? I think ‘hearing from God’ requires ‘wrestling, and waiting, and perseverance’ but we Westerners, want a quick fix in everything it seems – even the sacred. I understand that we need to discipline ourselves to spend time with Our Lord in prayer, and bible reading, service and fasting but we always need to be careful that we are not engaging in a dead routine rather than a life-giving encounter.

      I enjoyed your comments about ‘the dark side of the charismatic movement’ and ‘the theology of expectation’. I hadn’t thought of that before but it is quite accurate. I am a ‘charismatic’ myself but am very much aware of the excesses- and error- within this movement. You’re right. Expectation can just become a theology, just as ‘faith’ in our faith can become a substitute for faith in Our God!!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your candor – and humour!!

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