What on earth are we teaching our children? (Updated)

The Catechism Lesson by Jules-Alexis Meunier (1890)

I stumbled upon my daughter’s school’s Summer Reading recommended list of Christian books. The list includes the following titles—titles which are clearly outside of orthodox, historic Christianity:

1. Love Wins by Rob Bell: This book promotes the heresies of universalism and the idea that there is no literal, eternal hell. Bell demeans the historic, orthodox Christian doctrine of heaven and hell as “misguided, toxic, and subversive”:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. (viii)

Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition reviews the book.

2. Letters from a Skeptic by Greg Boyd: Boyd teaches Open Theism, an unorthodox view of God’s omniscience, that God doesn’t violate human free will, so he really has no control over man’s thoughts or actions. In a booklet denouncing this heresy, John Piper and Justin Taylor says, “One element of this theology is the conviction that God does not infallibly foreknow all that shall come to  pass.” In this book, Boyd says,

In the Christian view God knows all of reality – everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know – even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions (page 30, italics added).

3. Finding Faith and A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren: An Emergent pastor who advocates universalism and other heretical, sub-Christian ideas. DeYoung concludes his review of A New Kind of Christian:

In McLarenism there is no original sin, no wrath, no hell, no creation-fall-redemption, no definite future, no second coming that I can see, no clear statement on the deity of Christ, no mention of vicarious substitution or God’s holiness or divine sovereignty, no ethical demands except as they relate to being kind to others, no God-offendedness, no doctrine of justification, no unchanging apostolic deposit of truth, no absolute submission to the word of God, nary a mention of faith and worship, no doctrine of regeneration, no evangelistic impulse to save the lost, and nothing about God’s passion for his glory. This is surely a lot to leave out.

4. The Great Omission by Dallas Willard: Willard promotes contemplative spirituality, a form of Catholic mysticism. Here’s what Dr. Michael Horton, my Systematic Theology professor at Westminster Seminary in California says about contemplatives like Willard in “Missional Church or New Monasticism?”:

Medieval monasticism was divided between those who prized the contemplative life (spiritual ascent to heaven through private disciplines of the mind) and those who gave priority to the active life (spiritual ascent through good works, especially for the poor). Francis of Assisi—and the Franciscan Order named after him—emphasized the latter.

Willard offers his own translation (more like a very loose paraphrase) of the Great Commission: “I have been given say over all things in heaven and in the earth. As you go, therefore, make disciples of all kinds of people, submerge them in the Trinitarian Presence, and show them how to do everything I have commanded. And now look: I am with you every minute until the job is done” (emphasis added). Willard thinks the real problem is that there is too much emphasis on grace and justification: “If there is anything we should know by now, it is that a gospel of justification alone does not regenerate disciples.”

Willard believes that the heart of the gospel is inner renewal and that we are transformed in our character by “carefully planned and grace-sustained disciplines.” It is not so much through the gospel that the Spirit transforms us as it is through our own determination and effort: “What transforms us is the will to obey Jesus Christ from a life that is one with his resurrected reality day by day, learning obedience through inward transformation.” “Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power.”[ref]Michael S. Horton, “Missional Church or New Monasticism?” Modern Reformation March/April 2011 20:2, 14-21[/ref]

In his own website, he writes that experience trumps the Holy Spirit, “belief is something that comes along as you experience.” Commenting on Romans 2:6-8, he counsels that a sinner can be worthy in himself to be saved by God, and he doesn’t have to know Christ to be saved:

What Paul is clearly saying is that if anyone is worthy of being saved, they will be saved. At that point many Christians get very anxious, saying that absolutely no one is worthy of being saved. The implication of that is that a person can be almost totally good, but miss the message about Jesus, and be sent to hell. What kind of a God would do that? … It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved. (italics added)

Dr. Wes Bredenhof, pastor of Providence Canadian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario, has a short review of the book’s introduction, and calls Willard’s “contemplative spirituality” as “syncretizing neo-Gnosticism.”

So, why are these books included in the teachers’ recommended reading list of a Christian school? What in the world are we teaching our children?

Instead of these gunky fluff, why not use the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism?

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5 thoughts on “What on earth are we teaching our children? (Updated)”

  1. If these books, or even just portions of them, were to be read by students and discussed later in classes in order to develop their critical thinking skills, I would definitely see benefits to it, especially if their teachers were adequately skilled in critical thinking themselves.  If, on the other hand, these books are actually recommended to students as being supposedly helpful resources in their Christian growth, this is nothing short of tragic, as a significant part of the doctrinal content of the books is so far removed from apostolic teaching that I have great difficulty associating it with Christianity in the biblical sense.

    1. I doubt that the purpose is “to develop their critical thinking skills.”

      I just read that the speaker of last weekend’s Staff Retreat recommended several books, one of them Henri Nouwen’s Clowning in Rome. Does any of them even know that Nouwen is a Roman Catholic, New Age mystic universalist?

  2. In the school’s Statement of Faith, we find these affirmations:

    “We believe in the resurrection of the body, the judgment of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal blessedness of the saved, and the eternal punishment of the lost.” Rob Bell doesn’t agree.

    “We believe in one triune God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the same in substance and equal in power and glory.” Greg Boyd doesn’t agree.

    “We believe that salvation of lost and sinful man is only by the grace of God through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, accomplished through regeneration by the Holy Spirit.” Brian McLaren doesn’t agree.

    “We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells and empowers all believers and enables them to live a godly life.” Dallas Willard doesn’t agree.

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