Reformed Preachers Promoting a Counter Reformation?

Reformed Preachers Promoting a Counter Reformation?

By Brannon S. Howse

While many discerning Christians are not surprised that heretics who make up the Word of Faith movement and the New Apostolic Reformation have embraced occultism and mysticism, it may come as a surprise that this same occultism and mysticism is becoming popular even within the Reformed theology camp. These are the folks who pride themselves on being smarter, more discerning, and more biblically pure than non-Calvinists.

Please understand that some of the men warning of false teaching and heresy in the Reformed community are genuine adherents to Reformed theology. One such “watchman on the wall” is John MacArthur, who explains: 

[quote] There is this growing sort of acquisition of reformed soteriology among these young guys. And it seems to me the mood is, that if you have a reformed soteriology, you get a pass on everything else….In other words, how in the world can you have a true, reformed view of the doctrines of grace that relate to salvation, and then think that having holes in your jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt and a can of beer in your hand somehow gave you access to the lost? And what the fear is, is that the power of the world’s attraction is gonna suck these guys—and every generation after them—more and more into the culture and we’re gonna see a reversal of the reformed revival. [end quote]


(Soteriology is the study of “theology dealing with salvation especially as effected by Jesus Christ.”)

In other words, many of the Reformed guys profess salvation through Jesus Christ alone but embrace additional philosophies not according to Christ but according to human thinking. So MacArthur is correct when he says we are going to see a reversal of the Reformed revival. I believe many well-known and lesser-known Reformed pastors who embrace mysticism—whether knowingly or unknowingly— actually assist in a counter-Reformation. 

This counter-Reformation will lead an apostate church right back into the arms of Rome, which I believe has been quietly infiltrating both Reformed churches and seminaries and non-Reformed churches and seminaries for hundreds of years in an attempt to re-introduce mysticism, pragmatism, social justice, communitarianism, dominion theology, and ecumenicalism.

John MacArthur details how many in Reformed circles compromise biblical truth and embrace the world and culture in order to attract a larger crowd:

[quote] So what’s gonna happen is, the world has already pulled them that far. It’s pulled them into worldly music, R movies, all that stuff, and eventually I think it will pull them right away from their theology. I think for the time it, it’s even macho. I think there’s a sense in which reformed theology is kind of strong and manly, you know it’s kind of airtight and they like that. My fear is that the further this thing goes in trying to accommodate the culture, the less it’s going to be able to hang on to that core doctrine. That’s what I fear. And even when you have some of the people who are the most well-known for reformed theology partner up in conferences with the people who are the most extreme pragmatists. I mean, this is happening. Who would have thought that, say, John Piper would have Rick Warren at a Desiring God conference? Those [teachers] seem like two completely polar opposites. So I don’t know that the heart of this reformed theology, kind of existing freestanding like an island, can really survive the pull of the culture which is attracting these young guys, and which these young guys are using to attract people. [end quote]

I believe we have now reached the point where some of the most popular Reformed preachers are a theological and doctrinal threat to the body of Christ. Many are knowingly or unknowingly part of the religious Trojan horse that is redefining and transforming Christianity away from a biblical ethos. 

In an attempt to appeal to the culture’s desire for a “spiritual” experience, many Reformed preachers openly promote pagan spirituality and mysticism in their churches. One such Reformed “superstar” is Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. For a time, Keller’s church website featured a class entitled “the Way of the Monk.” However, several discernment ministry websites reported on it, and it was removed. What was the problem with this course? The class description offers insight:

[quote] Do you long for the great theology in your head to be more real to your heart? Come discover age-old methods of contemplative prayer and worship that can help you encounter Christ in a more intimate, experiential way. In this hands-on workshop, you will experience the ancient art of chanting the Psalms (they were meant to be sung!), embark on a practice of authentic Christian meditation, discover how a simple, time-honored tool can help unleash the prayer warrior in you, learn what a typical monastic day is like and how you can make your own, private retreat at a monastery, and much more! [end quote]

Indeed, contemplative prayer was and is a practice of Catholic monks and mystics, but why would a Reformed pastor lead his church members back to the Church of Rome? Thousands of Christians died for the Gospel during the Catholic Inquisitions that sought to stop the Reformation, and now Reformed and non-Reformed pastors alike are leading right back to the Roman Catholic Church. I believe, as do many researchers and theologians, that one of the institutions that make up the Great Harlot who rides the beast as described by John in the book of Revelation will be the Church of Rome. 

Numerous websites have archived the screen shots of “The Way of the Monk” class schedule. The website listed Susan Catillo as the instructor and stated that:

[quote] She wholly espouses Reformed Presbyterian theology while continuing to embrace her “inner monk.” Sometimes referred to as “The Retreat Lady” she has been fleeing to monasteries to “honeymoon with Jesus” for over ten years. [end quote]

“The Way of the Monk” class included such topics as “Contemplative Practice” and “Centering Prayer” (another name for contemplative prayer). 

Even though the class is gone, Keller’s church website still offers questionable articles. One by Jan Johnson promotes Lectio Divina, which is another word for contemplative prayer. Johnson writes:

As I tried to meditate on the discourse and poetic texts, such as the New Testament letters and Old Testament poets and prophets, I found that another classical method helped me: lectio divina. This kind of meditation has been used widely among believers since the sixth century.

Wikipedia defines Lectio Divina as representing, “a traditional Catholic practice of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God.” 

Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the validity of this approach in September 2005: 

[quote] I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church—I am convinced of it—a new spiritual springtime. [end quote]

Given the Catholic teaching that Jesus wants to make gods out of us, would you be shocked that the Church of Rome for hundreds of years has promoted a practice such as contemplative prayer which is found in the occult of Eastern mysticism—a practice designed to facilitate a person’s becoming divine? In the book, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, Catholic priest Thomas Keating wrote: 

[quote] The following principles represent a tentative effort to restate the Christian spiritual journey in contemporary terms. They are designed to provide a conceptual background for the practice of centering prayer. They should be read according to the method of lectio divina. The fundamental goodness of human nature, like the mystery of the Trinity, Grace, and the Incarnation, is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified. [end quote]

In January 1979, at the “World Congress on Hinduism” in Allahabad, India, a speaker declared: “Our mission in the West has been crowned with fantastic success. Hinduism is becoming the dominant world religion and the end of Christianity has come near.”

While God’s Church will not be defeated, the reality is that Christianity has been replaced in many churches by the practices of Hinduism. Many once-biblical churches have embraced the mysticism of contemplative prayer, “Christian” yoga, and walking a labyrinth. They are no longer biblical churches and are no longer preaching and teaching biblical Christianity but the Eastern mysticism of Hinduism. 

Jan Johnson’s article “Meditation: Not So Mysterious” posted on Keller’s church website shows how this occurs:

[quote] One of the best-known ways to ponder God’s character, works, and ways is a format originated by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Loyola’s methods, recorded in his book Spiritual Exercises, have been used for hundreds of years. He urged people to enter into Scripture with all five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. [end quote] 

There’s an interesting connection between Ignatius Loyola and the Counter-Reformation idea I mentioned earlier: Loyola’s Jesuit Order was founded specifically to oversee the (original) Counter-Reformation. 

Jan Johnson explains that mystic Richard Foster, who also writes positively of Ignatius of Loyola, assisted her in using her imagination in meditation: “But since I read Richard Foster’s words about ‘sanctifying the imagination’ many years ago, I’ve asked God to purify my imagination along with my heart, mind, and will.” In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Foster writes about the importance of the imagination. However, as researcher Bob DeWaay points out, “A search of the KJV [King James Bible] for ‘imagination’ yields 14 verses, and in each case it is a bad thing.

Yet Richard Foster recommends:

[quote] The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. We fail today to appreciate its tremendous power. The imagination is stronger than conceptual thought and stronger than the will. [end quote]

Foster proclaims that through the use of one’s imagination people can actually see and talk to Jesus Christ:

[quote] As you enter the story, not as a passive observer but as an active participant, remember that since Jesus lives in the Eternal Now and is not bound by time, this event in the past is a living present-tense experience for Him. Hence, you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by His voice and be touched by His healing power. It can be more than an exercise of the imagination; it can be a genuine confrontation. Jesus Christ will actually come to you. [end quote]

Nowhere in the Bible are Christians instructed to use their imaginations to physically see and hear from the Lord. Yet Foster believes “as with meditation, the imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer.”

Foster embraces the “if you can conceive it, you can achieve it” philosophy of shamanism when he writes, “Imagination opens the door to faith. If we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it is only a short step to believing it will be so.” Foster even believes you can use your imagination to be involved in what sounds like astral projection or astral travel:

[quote] In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily. Imagine your spiritual self, alive and vibrant, rising up through the clouds and into the stratosphere….Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given. [end quote]

Note carefully any instruction given? So people are to listen for an audible voice? And just who or what would be talking to them? Could it be demons? 

Foster actually warns of the possibility that those who practice contemplative prayer could encounter demons. In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home he cautions: 

[quote] I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know… there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection…“All dark and evil spirits must now leave.” [end quote]

Foster admits he was influenced by Agnes Sanford:

[quote] The advice…[of] prayer through the imagination…picture the healing…and much more, was given to me by Agnes Sanford. I have discovered her to be an extremely wise and skillful counselor….Her book The Healing Gifts of the Spirit is an excellent resource. [end quote]

Sanford taught many pastors and self-professing Christians her philosophy of prayer, but it is clearly steeped in paganism. For example, Sanford recounts:

[quote] Wise men of India for many centuries have trod the lofty peaks of meditation, developing their psychospiritual powers and giving birth to their oversouls. Spirits of those [dead] for whom we have prayed on earth are working through us….One conveys that healing force to the inner being [of the sick] through the law of suggestion….He [the person doing the healing] has made a thought-track between his spirit, subconscious mind and body; and the body, the subconscious mind and the spirit of the patient…. [end quote]

Shamanism and Eastern mysticism are twin sisters, and Foster seems to have no problem with the latter when he writes:

[quote] No doubt part of the surge of interest in Eastern meditation is because the churches have abrogated the field. How depressing for a university student, seeking to know the Christian teaching on meditation, to discover that there are so few living masters of contemplative prayer and that nearly all of the serious writings on the subject are seven or more centuries old. No wonder he or she turns to Zen, Yoga, or TM. [end quote] 

Foster thinks we need spiritual “masters” in our churches? Would Jan Johnson from Keller’s church teaching “The Way of the Monk” class be an example of what we need in our churches? This creates a downward spiral of sorts. As Bob DeWaay points out: 

[quote] Once mysticism and the supposed need to gain personal revelations from God are embraced, there arises a need for new “masters” who are better at navigating the spirit world. Pagan societies have always had such persons. They are called “shamans.” Eastern religion calls them “gurus.” Deceived Christians call them “spiritual directors.” [end quote]

One reason so many churches now have “spiritual directors” that teach “spiritual formation” or “soul care” is that too many church leaders have read Richard Foster’s book. They buy his contention that “in the Middle Ages not even the greatest saints attempted the depths of the inward journey without the help of a spiritual director.”

Tim Keller is not the only Reformed theology leader to embrace Richard Foster. Donald Whitney, a Reformed theologian who has taught in a Reformed seminary, also appreciates Foster:

[quote] Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline has been the most popular book on the subject of the Spiritual Disciplines in the last half of the twentieth century. The great contribution of this work is the reminder that the Spiritual Disciplines, which many see as restrictive and binding, are actually means to spiritual freedom. [end quote]

John Piper is another popular Reformed pastor who promotes Richard Foster. In his sermons “Prayer, Meditation, and Fasting, Part 1” and “Man Shall Not Live on Bread Alone,” Piper quotes Foster in a positive light. In another sermon, “When the Bridegroom Is Taken Away, They Will Fast—With New Wineskins,” Piper also affirms Foster and references Celebration of Discipline:

[quote] Richard Foster, who wrote the book Celebration of Discipline, said in his chapter on fasting of Matthew 9:15, “That is perhaps the most important statement in the New Testament on whether Christians should fast today.” That’s probably true. So let’s give close attention to this text and ask the Lord to teach us from it what we should know and what we should do in regard to fasting. [end quote]

And Foster is not the only off-base teacher cited by John Piper. In his sermon “Tell How Much the Lord Has Done for You!” Piper recommends C. Peter Wagner’s book, The Crest of the Wave: “It may mean getting up in the middle of the night and listening to a John Michael Talbot album like Tom did, or reading The Crest of the Wave (Peter Wagner).”

As I have already explained, Wagner is founder of the New Apostolic Reformation Network. The NAR promotes mysticism, Gnosticism, and extra-biblical revelations that are declared equal to the Word of God. So why would Piper give credibility to Wagner? Does he agree with Wagner’s theology? Does Piper not realize his recommendation of Wagner’s book could cause readers serious spiritual consequences? 

On this point, I was able to “get a little help from my friends.” Phil Johnson, on his website, pyromaniacs, explained where Piper is coming from: “John Piper was openly intrigued with the Toronto Blessing when it was at its peak. (If he ever denounced it as a fraud, I never heard or read where he stated that fact publicly.)” 

In his book When I Don’t Desire God, Piper also quotes Richard Foster for “new prophets to arise in our day” and Piper responds by writing, “And when they arise, one way that we fight for joy in God is to read what they write.”

Why would John Piper encourage anyone to read self-proclaimed, modern-day prophets who believe in extra-biblical revelations? He offers credibility to the religious Trojan horse of mystic Richard Foster as well as C. Peter Wagner and his “prophets” who make up the New Apostolic Reformation. 

Piper does not seem to be finishing his race very well. Besides encouraging Foster and the like, he invited Rick Warren to speak for his Fall 2010 Desiring God conference, and in April 2011 Piper invited Warren to speak for a Desiring God conference co-sponsored by Warren’s church. During the conference, Piper videotaped an interview with Rick Warren about The Purpose Driven Life in which he said, “I read The Purpose Driven Life very carefully….And one of my agendas is to do an appreciative critique.” I think Piper’s other agenda was to try and prove that his critics were wrong to argue against his uniting with Rick Warren in spiritual enterprises.

Piper did not ask Warren why he positively cited nine different mystics in his book. He did not ask why Warren invited Dr.’s Oz, Amen, and Hymen to his church when all are promoters of the occult and Eastern mysticism. Piper did not ask why Warren would speak at a conference sponsored by the radical Center for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood. Piper did not ask Warren why his Daniel Plan includes promoting hypnosis and meditation. He did not ask why Warren has had Richard Foster speak at his church. He did not ask Warren why he sits on the advisory board of Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation.

I believe Piper is more emotional than he is intellectual, more pragmatic than he is principled, more a proponent of social justice than biblical justice, and more interested in proving his critics wrong than protecting the Church from its critics. Why, after all this evidence, anyone continues to sit under Piper’s teaching and call him their shepherd is beyond me. I believe it is only further proof that many of the sheep are more interested in a personality than the person of Jesus Christ. Piper has given aid and comfort to one of the most dangerous false teachers ever to arise within evangelicalism. 

I don’t believe we can accept the excuse that Piper just does not understand Warren’s worldview. In Fall 2010, I spoke to a man I have known since I was 14 years old. He had just rotated off of Piper’s elder board and told me he has provided a great deal of information to Piper’s staff and elders to reveal the unbiblical activities, programs, and philosophies of Rick Warren—but to no avail. C. Peter Wagner, Richard Foster, and Rick Warren have all been involved in the promotion of mysticism, and now Piper has promoted them. As I said, mysticism is going mainstream.

Another significant “main streamer” in recent years is Robert Schuller of the famed Crystal Cathedral. He advocates a mystic mush derived from an assortment of questionable sources: 

[quote] A variety of approaches to meditation…is employed by many different religions as well as by various non-religious mind-control systems. In all forms…TM, Zen Buddhism, or Yoga or…meditation…of Judeo-Christian tradition…the meditator endeavors to overcome the distractions of the conscious mind….It is important to remember that meditation in any form is the harnessing, by human means, of God’s divine laws….We are endowed with a great many powers and forces that we do not yet fully understand. The most effective mantras employ the “M” sound. You can get the feel of it by repeating the words, “I am, I am,” many times over….Transcendental Meditation or TM…is not a religion nor is it necessarily anti-Christian. [end quote]

I believe there may even be a connection between Schuller’s and Rick Warren’s embracing of mysticism. In the November 2002 issue of Christianity Today, Rick Warren’s wife Kay spoke of the “profound” influence Schuller had on her husband: 

[quote] During his last year in seminary, he and Kay drove west to visit Robert Schuller’s Institute for Church Growth. “We had a very stony ride out to the conference,” she says, because such nontraditional ministry scared her to death. Schuller, though, won them over. “He had a profound influence on Rick,” Kay says. “We were captivated by his positive appeal to nonbelievers. I never looked back.” [end quote]

The article continues: “Imitating Sculler, Warren walked the (then unincorporated but fast-growing) town of Lake Forest, asking what kept people from going to church.” Schuller himself states that Warren’s success was due to this imitation of Schuller’s methods:

[quote] This spirit is the underlining principle that we have taught to over 50,000 pastors who over the years attended the Institute for Successful Church Leadership. These pastors returned home and built upon it and even surpassed what they learned from me. Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and many other pastors of most of the biggest churches today are a result of applying that principle. [end quote]

The Crystal Cathedral website also confirms the influence of Schuller on Rick Warren: 

Since 1970, Dr. Schuller has taught more than 20,000 church leaders this approach to church growth at the Robert Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership. Institute alumni include pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.

These are the nine mystics Rick Warren quotes affirmatively in The Purpose Driven Life:


● Thomas Carlyle (page 27);
● Bernie Siegel (page 31);
● Henry David Thoreau (page 32);
● Brother Lawrence & Benedictine monks (page 88-89);
● Gary Thomas (page 102-103);
● St. John of the Cross (page 108);
● Henry Nouwen (page 108, 269);
● Madame Guyon (page 193);
● William James (page 285).

Of Catholic monk Brother Lawrence, Warren writes: “The classic book on learning how to develop a constant conversation with God is Practicing the Presence of God. It was written in the seventeenth century by Brother Lawrence, a humble cook in a French monastery.”


Another proponent of Brother Lawrence was C.S. Lovett, who wrote:

[quote] Around 300 years ago there was a French monk by the name of Brother Lawrence, who…developed the art of visualizing the Lord Jesus, and it revolutionized his life…. 

The most noble and glorious purpose of the imagination is gving reality to the unseen Lord!... 

As you know, many tend to be superstitious about picturing the Lord….But you see, the Lord doesn’t care ONE BIT how we visualize Him….Picture Him any way you wish, but love Him….I know from experience your enjoyment of Him is going to be greatly enhanced by giving Him arms with which to hold you.
[emphasis in original] [end quote] 

Copyright 2012 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.