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Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary is Teaching Spiritual Formation

In October 2013, the Editors of B.A.N.A.S.H.published an article on their blog entitled Reformed Theologian recommends a book on 'Contemplative Prayer'. This article highlighted Dr Beeke's recommendation of a book written by Tom Schwanda entitled 'Soul Recreation' on the Reformation Heritage Book (RHB) website. (details of this can be accessed through this link).

Schwanda is an Associate Professor of Christian Formation & Ministry at the deeply compromised Wheaton College. We were profoundly concerned at that time regarding Dr Beeke’s apparent lack of discernment in associating himself with Schwanda and his book; ‘Soul Recreation’ provides ‘virtuous’ examples of the meditative/mystical prayer practices undertaken by Roman Catholic monastics such as Ignatius of Loyola (Founder of the Jesuit Order) and The Desert Fathers along with contemporary mystics like Thomas Merton ( a Roman Catholic monk influenced by Hindu mysticism) and Richard Foster, a false teacher deeply influenced by Merton.

It appears that our concerns at that time were entirely justified as Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) is now teaching Spiritual Formation! Given the serious nature of this development, the Editors of B.A.N.A.S.H. endeavoured to find out exactly what was being taught in respect of Spiritual Formation at PRTS by directly emailing (Rev Krederman), Dean of Students and Spiritual Formation. We also attempted to make contact with the PRTS via the general enquiry route on their website. However, to date we have not received a reply to either of these enquiries apart from an automated response from the PRTS, advising us that they would respond to our enquiry.

Failure by the PRTS to provide us with a response leaves us with no other alternative other than to assume that the PRTS has yielded to the prerequisite of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) for academic institutions seeking their accreditation to teach Spiritual Formation; PRTS became fully accredited with the ATS in February 2014.

For the PRTS to seek accreditation from such an unashamedly ecumenical organisation as ATS is almost beyond belief! (click here to read a recent article written by Rev I Foster in respect of this matter)

It was recently brought to the attention of one of the editors of B.A.N.A.S.H. that the Bible College of their denomination in Northern Ireland does not pursue accreditation with academic bodies because to do so would require them to teach things that would compromise their separated position and their capacity to maintain the Truth of the Gospel – may the Lord in His mercy enable this college to maintain this position!

The editors are not opposed to academic studies in order to instruct and prepare men for the ministry; indeed the Old and New Testaments provide ample evidence that it is entirely acceptable with the Lord to do so; nevertheless, it would be inconceivable to think that the schools of the prophets in Elijah’s time would have incorporated the mystical meditative practices of the prophets of Baal within their institutions. The instructional writings of the Apostles are saturated with warnings about departure from the simplicity of the Gospel, thus providing evidence that they would not have permitted the New Testament Church to have any association with the mystical practices of the Gnostics, who practiced an earlier version of Spiritual Formation that also claimed to take its initiated practitioners to a higher spiritual awareness of God. By having the minutest association with the ATS and by their compliance with its requirement to teach Spiritual Formation, (which by the ATS’s own admission is inextricably linked with the mystical practice of Contemplative Prayer - see next paragraph), the PRTS has permitted ‘a little leaven’ to find its way into their institution.

The editors of Lighthouse Trails approached ATS to make enquires about their criteria for the teaching content of Spiritual Formation within institutions awarded with their accreditation and were informed that, “Each school and tradition approaches this [Spiritual Formation] in a different way.” In other words, how one school defines “Spiritual Formation” may differ from how another school defines it, they say. Yet………[they] made it very clear that they are speaking of contemplative spirituality when they are speaking of Spiritual Formation." (Emphasis ours)

The Lighthouse Trails Research website has also been faithfully warning about the infiltration of Spiritual Formation within Christian Universities, colleges and seminaries for many years. They define Spiritual Formation as, “A movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case, you will find contemplative spirituality and its “pioneers” such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation is based on “spiritual disciplines” that can be practiced by people of any faith to make them more “Christ-like.” Rebirth through Jesus Christ and regeneration through the Holy Spirit are not essential. Rather it is a works-based “theology” that has strong roots in Roman Catholicism and ancient paganism.”

The Editors of B.A.N.A.S.H. are in no doubt that had a response from PRTS to our enquiry been forthcoming, it would have contained a denial that Spiritual Formation is being taught at PRTS in accordance with the definition as provided above by Lighthouse Trails. We are also reasonably certain that the PTRS would also seek to disassociate themselves from Roman Catholic mystical practices; we are aware that Dr Beeke has sought to do this publically several times. On one such occasion a brother in Christ contacted B.A.N.A.S.H. to say that he personally listened to Dr Beeke condemn Roman Catholic meditative practices at a conference in the United Kingdom. We replied saying that whilst we would be delighted if this were true, we required tangible evidence that Dr Beeke had disassociated from those who promoted contemplative prayer before we would consider removing the article posted regarding his promotion of Schwanda’s book. Incidentally, the Reformation Heritage Book website continues to promote Spiritual Formation books; 'Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life' by Donald Whitney, a Professor of ‘Biblical’ Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; his endorsement of false teachers within this book (Richard Foster and Dallas Willard) is enough to alert us that this book is authored by someone rooted in Spiritual Formation. (A very good review of this book can be accessed via this link, however, the editors cannot endorse the commendation attributed to Al Mohler in the conclusion of this article nor do they concur with the authors use of quotes from the NAS bible).

Whilst Dr Beeke may seek to disassociate himself from Roman Catholic monastic and mystical practices within the public arena of the UK, he appears to be unwilling or unable to maintain this professed separation on the other side of the Atlantic!

The PRTS may also have sought to placate us with ‘smoke screen labels’ such as ‘discipleship’ or ‘spiritual disciplines’ as these terms are frequently employed as alternative titles for Spiritual Formation.

However, even if such explanations had been forthcoming from PRTS, they would fail to provide adequate justification for their decision to seek accreditation from ATS and their compliance with ATS’s requirement to teach Spiritual Formation. It would still leave the following questions unanswered:

  • How could a Christian/Reformed academic institution, not wishing to be associated with the ecumenical movement or Roman Catholic/pagan mystical practices, ever agree to use of the term ‘Spiritual Formation’, given that it is inextricably linked to Contemplative Spirituality & the Emerging Church?

  • Why did the PRTS agree to appoint a Dean of ‘Spiritual Formation’ if it is opposed to Spiritual Formation as defined to Lighthouse Trails by the ATS (i.e. contemplative Prayer)?

  • Why did the PRTS seek accreditation with an apostate organisation like the ATS in the first place?

The only possible explanation for PRTS agreeing to teach Spiritual Formation is that they coveted accreditation with the ATS more than they desired the ‘well done’ of the Lord! What makes PRTS’s acceptance of the term ‘Spiritual Formation’ even more remarkable is their assent to the ‘Solas’ of the Reformation – ‘Sola Scriptura’ is rejected when Spiritual Formation/spiritual disciplines are imbibed!

Sadly, the PRTS appear to have ‘sold out’ in order to obtain a mess of pottage (i.e. academic acclaim!). God’s Word has numerous warnings about separating from those who behave contrary to His commandments and cautions us to “Abstain from ALL appearance of evil.” 1st Thessalonians 5:22. The Believer should “Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them.” Ephesians 5:11. Is the PRTS reproving Spiritual Formation as promoted by its ecumenical accrediting body, the ATS? This is highly unlikely, as to do so would almost certainly lead to a repeal of their coveted accreditation!

The Lord had good reason for warning Israel to “Learn not the way of the heathen” Jeremiah 10:2; The Lord knew that to do so would lead Israel to mix their pagan/mystical ways with the Truth that had been delivered unto that nation through the Prophets. The Lord even prohibited the Kings of Israel to have horses because they would have gone down into Egypt to purchase the finest steeds; Israel was commanded by the Lord not to return to Egypt land and lest they be led away from their status as a nation separated unto the Lord. Deuteronomy 17:16. Sadly King Solomon disobeyed the Lord’s command and bought horses from Egypt; he ended up marrying a daughter of Pharaoh who taught Solomon the way of the heathen! 1 Kings 11 provides a very solemn warning to those who stray from the authority of the Scriptures - to incorporate heathen/pagan practices with the truth of the Gospel is in essence creating another gospel - e.g. Spiritual Formation/Contemplative Prayer/monasticism/spiritual disciplines. (click here to access links to access information on unbiblical prayer techniques)

The Editors of the Lighthouse Trails Research website also reveal research evidence that universities who acquiesce to an accrediting organisation’s requirements to teach Spiritual Formation inevitably go on to employ the writings of contemplative mystics. (link to article)

By its association with the ATS and compliance with their requirement to teach spiritual Formation, the PRTS will soon learn that the little leaven they have permitted to enter within their institution, will most certainly leaven the whole lump. This compromise by the PRTS, if not repented of, will undoubtedly lead on to further concessions until they are finally aligned shoulder to shoulder with the ever growing ranks of outright apostate theological institutions like Wheaton College.

There is little doubt in the hearts and minds of the co-editors of B.A.N.A.S.H. that Spiritual Formation is a 'lying wonder' that will be employed by the Antichrist to bring about the culmination of the apostate church prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming. The mystical meditative practices of Spiritual Formation are demonic deceptions rooted in New Ageism/paganism and eastern mysticism, the like of which polluted the early New Testament church in Alexandria; however, it’s original source can be traced back much further to the land of Shinar (Babel/Babylon), where a united political and ecumenical/pantheistic religious group of people sought to gain power and access to a higher ‘spiritual’ knowledge but were forced to leave off the building of their city and mystical tower at that time by the intervention of the Lord, who confused their speech and scattered them abroad. (Genesis 10 & 11).

It has been pointed out by good men such as Horatius and Andrew Bonar, and in our own day, Dr John Douglas, that Zechariah 5:5-11 prophesies that Babylonian religion (woman= symbol of moral/religious system) will arise again along with a commercial system (ephah=symbol of commerce/trade) to re-establish Babylon in the land of Shinar (now known as Iraq). Revelation 17 reiterates Zechariah’s prophesy regarding ‘Mystery Babylon’, the commercial/political/religious emporium that will re-emerge at the end of this age.

Spiritual disciplines, particularly monastic ones associated with Spiritual Formation, are superfluous to the Scriptures; according to those who promote their practice, a closer walk with the Lord and a sense of his presence can be enjoyed perpetually; these disciplines usually require a set of principles to be followed and invariably require solitude, an emptying of the mind or intense focussing on a word or phrase to induce a sense of God’s presence; such techniques/disciplines may create mind altering states and emotional responses like ‘feel good factors’ of ecstasy, but what utter foolishness to interpret these experiences as being a sign of closer communion with God.

True Believers delight in experiencing a close walk with the Lord but this is not their perpetual experience; like Job (and every true child of God) they are frequently faced with difficult trials, tribulations and infirmities that the Lord in His providence permits to cloud the view of their Beloved; at such times they are compelled to cry out like Job, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him! That I might come even unto his seat.” Job 23:3. God in His wise Providence permits such dark times to overtake us. Believers know from God’s Word that such times are appointed by the Lord for various purposes including a means of chastisement to bring them back into line with His will if they have been disobedient; or when they become puffed up by the sense of the Lord’s abiding presence; or if they are no longer walking by faith as they once did. The true Believer may be cast down at such times but they will not despair because they are not depending on their feelings (feelings are closely associated with Spiritual Formation/disciplines!); they know that the Lord is with them even in the darkest, loneliest valleys of life and that He will never leave them nor forsake them because God’s Word has told them so…….they are walking by faith and not by their sight or feelings! 2 Corinthians 5:7

When an individual is born again of the Spirit of God, the indwelling Spirit causes the ‘new born’ to long after the Lord. They do not need to be instructed in a set of disciplines. What healthy, new born child needs to be taught how to cry (equivalent of prayer) or look for food (sincere milk of the Word)? Prayer, even for the youngest Christian, is as natural as breathing is for the healthy new born infant. As the hymn writer James Montgomery so aptly wrote: “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air”.

Of course, just as the natural growth of a child can be stunted by illness and inability to feed, so also the child of God can falter and fall into a backslidden state; they soon become cold, losing their appetite for the Word and the place of prayer because they are not enjoying as they once did, the sweet benefits of the Holy Spirit’s grace. Consequently they fail to grow in grace and such a condition will cause the backslider to be truly miserable even as a sickly child. This is the result of sin gaining an entrance into their hearts and lives.

Scriptural meditation on Christ as He is revealed throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments has nothing in common with the mystical meditative practices of Popery or Spiritual Formation (and of almost every other false religion under the sun including apostate Judaism-Kabbalah); nor is it anything like the wave of mystical practices sweeping the nations of the world at this time, enthusiastically promoted by His [un]holiness, the Dalai Lama! (Mindfulness, Yoga and Transcendental Meditation)

Scriptural meditation centred on the Person and work of Christ as revealed throughout the Bible will above all else result in a heart filled with humility and contrition, not an elated, mystical experience of the ‘presence of (a) god’ as taught by the Spiritual Formation and Emerging Church movements. A glimpse of The Lord led Job to declare, “…..I abhor myself in dust and ashes” Job 42:6. Other saints of God including Daniel and the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos had similar reactions when they had a vision of their glorified Saviour! (Daniel 10:11 & Revelation 1: 17)

Spiritual disciplines of any shape or form have no power to bring us into a state of abiding in Christ and should not be practiced in an effort to achieve a closer walk with the Lord. Remember the words of the Saviour; “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." Matthew 6:7-8. Vain repetitions are exactly what men think to be 'good' prayers. Rome’s ‘Rosary Beads’ and ‘Hail Mary’s’ testify to this. It is from the very same notions that Spiritual Formation and other such extra-scriptural practices have sprung!

"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Galations 3:3.

The Holy Spirit provides the Believer with a longing to have a closer walk with their Saviour, a longing that will only be fully realised when they see Him face to face. When Believers partake of the Lord’s Supper, attend to the preaching of the Word, study and meditate upon the Word of God and pray, they are availing of the means that the Lord has instituted whereby they may grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; but even these divinely appointed ordinances in and of themselves cannot dispense grace apart from the Holy Spirit.

John in his first epistle in the chapter 2 seeks to warn his little children of those who will come in the last time to seduce them away from their faith and dependency on the Truth; he tells them that the teachings of men (like spiritual disciplines/Spiritual Formation etc.) are unnecessary because the Word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit would teach them and lead them into all truth:

“Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." 1 John 2:27. (Emphasis ours)

We conclude with an earnest plead to the many otherwise good pastors who have aligned themselves with Dr Joel Beeke (and sadly promote his publications among the sheep and lambs within their flocks), to solemnly reconsider the accurate information that has been provided by faithful men like Pastor Ralph Ovadal and the Rev Ivan Foster exposing the historical compromises of Dr Beeke. Rev Brian McClung has also undertaken an excellent job in highlighting serious errors within Dr Beeke’s Heritage Study Bible. (read articles by Rev McClung)

It is our sincere prayer that the Lord’s people, especially those within our own homeland of Northern Ireland, will give heed to our feeble attempts to expose the serious error that PRTS has committed in its desire to achieve academic accreditation with the ATS.

We also pray that Dr Beeke will be brought to see the error of his ways in deciding to align the PRTS with the ATS; may he seek to distance himself and the PRTS from the pernicious teachings of ATS, despite the high cost that such an action would bring about.

May God’s people also be brought to see the necessity of separating themselves from Dr Beeke and the PRTS in obedience to the Scriptures with the view of bringing about their repentance and realignment with the Truth of God’s Word.

Peter clearly warned that false teachers would arise between the Lord’s two advents; as the end of this age approaches iniquity is abounding at an alarming rate and we have need to be even more cautious and discerning than those to whom Peter wrote in the early New Testament church. This portion of a verse of Scripture is of particular poignancy: “.....for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” 2 Peter 2:19.

“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18.

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