Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or Something else?

02-Spirituality(Originally printed in the Spring 2010 Issue of the MCOI Journal page 6)

The entire world seems to be turning away from using rational understanding toward a reliance on mystical means as a basis for life.1

Is the Emergent Church hyphenated or regurgitated? It all depends on whom you ask. I believe readers are astute enough to be able to discern that, and they will when they look at this analysis of a recent book.

Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality2 has been written for the purpose of introducing readers to the practices of contemplative spirituality called by Scazzero the “ancient treasures of the church”3 and “spiritual formation.”4

Scazzero is a graduate of Eastern Baptist Seminary and pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York. He promotes the idea that ancient contemplative practices are the only way to spiritual health. This certainly is much in line with some segments of the Emerging Church Movement and especially the teachings of Brian McLaren, Robert Webber, Phyllis Tickle, and what is called the Ancient Future Faith Movement.

What is so strange and contradictory is that this call to ancient liturgy is seen as a way to aid the church at large when mainstream denominations employing these practices are declining in number and losing constituents on the altar of political correctness. Why would we want to be like them with their falling numbers and failing programs? What can they offer evangelical Christians other than failure?

Many are unaware of the underlying concept of the Contemplative Movement:

The underlying premise of contemplative spirituality is the belief that God is in all things and in all people, virtually in all of creation (panentheism*).5

Emergent leader Phyllis Tickle has floated the idea (and I paraphrase) that in taking the Eucharist, we feed on the body and blood of God to feed the God who is in us. In her view, we cannot trust the Bible, but somehow, we can trust rituals and mystical rites.

One of the huge red flags hoisted by Scazzero at the beginning of his book is his use of what is similar to the occult practice termed “automatic writing.” Scazzero is bold to say:

write down how God speaks to you. When I read an edifying book where God is coming to me, I write in¬side the back cover a few sentences about each insight along with the page number. I can go back later and easily review what God said to me. You may want to journal or write in the margins of this book.6 (emphasis mine)

He is bold to say:

I go back and read what I have written to review truths God told to me during that time.7 (emphasis mine)

This is nothing short of a public claim of divine inspiration. It tends to elevate Scazzero’s jottings, and those who follow his suggestions, on a par with inspired Scripture. After all, he is writing “what God said to me,” or so he claims. What he is suggesting to others and, in fact, doing is masquerading his form of the ancient, occult technique of automatic writing in Christian garb.

Our understanding of Scripture and our writings about our understanding of the Bible are not inspired. No one has written the words of God other than the God-inspired writers of sacred Scripture. Scazzero clearly is confusing divine inspiration (the writing of Scripture) with illumination (the understanding of Scripture). Charles Ryrie explains:

Generally the concept of illumination is related to the work of the Holy Spirit making clear the truth of written revelation. In reference to the Bible, revelation relates to the material, inspiration to the method of recording the revelation, and illumination to the meaning of the record. … The believer was promised this ministry of the Spirit by the Lord before his death.8

Deut. 4:2, Prov. 30:5-6, and Rev. 22:18-19 militate against anyone claiming to have writings from God today or adding to God’s Word. The Bible is enough. If new revelations match the Bible, we don’t need them. If they don’t match the Bible, then they are wrong.

On the other hand, automatic writing does assert that one is getting revelations from God or at least the other side. Early spiritualists found Ouija boards just too slow in getting the information and devised another, faster method:

Many spiritualists in the 1850’s, however, found this a tedious and time-consuming exercise. A faster means was ‘automatic writing,’ in which spirit beings could communicate through the pen of a medium, but some complained that this produced many pages of unclear or meandering prose.9

One can only conclude that automatic writing comes either from the demonic or the imagination of the writer. Attempting to get truth this way explains why so many cults get it wrong with the extra-biblical writings they produce. How much of Scazzero’s book was produced in this way?

The Historic Faith, Emotionally Unhealthy?

The success of Scazzero’s book hinges on the reader believing that normal, historic, orthodox views of the Christian life and sanctification are wrong and emotionally unhealthy. This, then, corresponds to/supports his assertion that real emotional health only can be found in “contemplative spirituality.”10 He claims his book will lead to “a richer, more authentic encounter with the living God.”11

Part of this book is autobiographical as Scazzero unloads his soul regarding many of his past foibles and failures. Does he feel the need to bare his soul in wrenching confessions about his past irresponsibility and lack of spiritual growth? He talks of his deep, internal wounds from his messed-up background.

But why focus on the past? The better answer seems to be simply to stop obsessing on the past, get into a more balanced, disciplined, and biblical way of living, and forget what lies behind as you press forward (Philippians 3:13). However, that is not Scazzero’s answer. Scazzero shares the fact he spent 17 years immersed in the Pentecostal/Charismatic world,12 yet he came up empty as far as his understanding of spirituality and still felt emotionally immature. He reads his own confusion into everyone and seeks to push the pendulum to an unbiblical extreme, as he dives headlong into the occultic practices of the medieval and current mystics. Had he gone back just a bit further, he could have found the Apostles and the Epistles as well as the Gospels. Scazzero’s book is an exercise in extremes.

Much of what Scazzero shares up to this point he calls the “Iceberg Model”13 and seems steeped in modern psychology and a secular, psychological understanding. It is a spin off of the idea there are deep, unconscious levels of the brain. This 90% untouched area of our life he calls “the ‘emotional component’.”14 It is Freudianism masked in religious garb. Scazzero alleges he would remain an “emotional infant”15 until this area was properly addressed. Apparently, salvation, grace, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word does nothing and means nothing. This problem would take something revolutionary and out of the ordinary to solve and must be obtained in some special way. Allegedly, Scazzero has discovered that way.

Does Scazzero realize that he is drawing people into this in a bit of a devious way? He lays out the “fruit of the Spirit”16 and asks to what degree are these fruits “realities in my life?”17 Of course, everyone would have to say they fall short and do not put these into practice on a continuing basis. However, that may be okay. These “fruit” are the “product” of yielding to the indwelling Holy Spirit. They are character qualities for which Christians sign up every day. That we do not do them perfectly all the time shows our humanity and our continuing need to depend on God and keep repentance and confession current. Imperfection in the area of the fruit of the spirit does not mean we have to take a leap into the extremes of mysticism as Scazzero will suggest and do. That we are imperfect is one thing. That our imperfections (until we reach Heaven) require extreme, unbiblical answers is quite another. We all struggle, because life is difficult, and God is not finished with us yet. In reading 2 Corinthians, we discover even the great Apostle Paul had his ups and downs, his lapses, fits, and starts. Some days we run, other days we walk as in Isaiah 40:31. Yet other days, we crawl, and some days, it takes all we can do simply to stay pointed in the right direction. This does not mean we look for “ANOTHER WAY”18 as Scazzero calls his mystical formula. This other way has been tried and failed, and anyone knowing Church history would knows that.

The mystics of the middle ages sought union with God and meditation to the point of hearing God’s voice within. This union was a union of being, that is, merging with God in some kind of fusion of nature. It was an extreme that blurs and often destroys the differences between the Creator and the creature. It was unhealthy and bizarre, and it left one open to the delusion of believing our thoughts were the exact thoughts of God. Scazzero goes off in that direction:

…positioning ourselves to hear God … communing with God, allowing him to fully indwell the depth of our being; practicing silence, solitude, … transformation toward ever-increasing union with God.19

All of this would be heartily affirmed by the extremist Roman Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages.

Scazzero’s language is troubling, and he is on the edge of mystical merging in God when he says, Mb>“Healing our image of God heals our image of ourselves.”20 Is it unfortunate language, perhaps just imprecise, as it moves us into pantheistic** thinking?

There is no doubt we are indwelt by Christ if we are believers. We affirm Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you the hope of Glory.” However Christ is still Christ, and we are still creatures. Nowhere does the Bible say we become Christ, yet mystics and fusionists*** believe that is what happens. A follower of subculture author and teacher Norman Grubb once told me that Jesus so became her, and she so became Jesus, that when she sinned, it was Jesus sinning! What horrible heresy and delusion. However, this is where mysticism leads us. As well, Christ is not in us for communication or a fusion of being, but rather for salvation and safe keeping. The Lord communes with us and “speaks to us” in His Word.

Scazzero gives “thumbs up” to the early desert mystics21 as if they are an example of spiritual maturity and spiritual health. Nothing could be further from the truth! Derwas J. Chitty is the premier scholar on the desert mystics. His book is a classic. Though he is favorable and sympathetic to that early movement, he is also an honest historian. In his book The Desert a City An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism Under the Christian Empire22 he divulges some interesting facts which I summarize.

1. The desert monks believed sin resided in our literal flesh and fleshly body.
2. The only way to overcome sin was to punish and chastise the body through rigorous self-denial and physical chastisements. Celibacy and fasting were sure ways to accomplish this, as was flagellation and mutilation of the body.
3. Since the devil left the city (because the cities were seen as Christianized), then he must dwell in the desert; there he must be faced head on.
4. The actual reproduction of the wilderness temptations of Jesus had to be the route to holiness.
5. They believed (and the public in general believed) this was the true way to acceptance with God and sainthood. These monks became the celebrities of the day.
6. Homosexuality was rife and spelled the end of most the desert mystics and the desert monasteries.
7. Strange and often heretical messages given in voices and visions were readily accepted.

On the last point, I can only say malnutrition, excessive sleep loss, and opening oneself to the demonic were the real origins of these voice and vision experiences. Does Scazzero look upon all of this with favor? Obviously, mysticism spells the end of discernment. The enforced celibacy and starvation of the mystics mark them as having departed from the faith according to 1 Timothy 4:1-7. How in the world can Scazzero call all of this “emotionally healthy spirituality”23, when it is anything but?

The Grand Illusion

Scazzero adds to his favorites the Dominican Meister Eckhart and St. Teresa of Avila.24 Teresa of Avila was heavily into devotion of the Virgin Mary, often went into stupors and trances, and had visions of the devil. She was a proponent of purgatory and automatic writing. She was bulimic† and claimed to have powers to levitate. A levitating host was said to be delivered to her lips. She was often ill and suspected of blood-letting and self-cutting. She also claimed seeing angelic appearances. Though she said she had literally married Jesus in what she called the 5th chamber, she would have horrible visions of Hell. All of these things are documented by her biographers.25 Teresa of Avila is the worst of the worst. One should pity such a person, and these things should be exposed and condemned, not show cased. Is Scazzero just ignorant of these things, or is he really endorsing them? In either case, he needs to wake up and acknowledge this is not biblical, spiritual health, but rather it is some kind of twisted, insane form of religious extremism. If someone today lived like Teresa, they would be hospitalized for their own good.

Mystics like Teresa should be pitied, not paraded. How she and others like her can be touted as examples of emotional health or be seen as emotionally healthy is beyond me. There have to be better examples and role models in Church history. Would biblical role models be far-fetched?

Another favorite of Scazzero is Trappist monk Thomas Merton.26 Who was Merton? Merton was a mystic monk and an advocate of non-violence who died by accidental electrocution in 1968 at age 53. Merton was a contemplative mystic and pan¬entheist who claimed, “the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.”27 It is written of Merton:

In his later years Merton became increasingly attracted by Buddhist and Hindu spiritual wisdom, which he felt stressed experience rather than doctrine.28

One should not be mislead here, since Buddhists do hold to certain doctrines after all. They do believe:

… that each human being is caught in a potentially never-ending cycle of reincarnation.29

Some may come back as a spirit or an animal as they work out self-atonement in each new life. A Buddhist ignores the Scriptures and only adheres to the writings and teachings of Buddha called Tripitaka. Buddhism is just another false and heretical guide admired and endorsed by Scazzero via Merton. Unfortunately, Scazzero is not taking his own advice, and one wonders how he can give the following advice:

The possibility of self-deception is so great that without mature companions [sic] we can easily fall into the trap of living in illusions.”30

If we consider books and writers as companions, and I do, then Scazzero has made some terrible friends. Because he is influenced by so many who are heretical, he might want to consider if he is trapped “living in illusions” and “self-deception.” The Word of God is the truth that can keep us anchored in reality. When Paul speaks of “sound doctrine” as in 2 Timothy 4:3, the word sound is the Greek word meaning healthy. True spiritual health begins with proper belief and good doctrine.

When Scazzero alleges “Emotionally healthy spirituality is about reality, not denial or illusion,”31 how can he be unaware Teresa of Avila was over the edge mentally, and Thomas Merton was into the belief of panentheism and not distinguishing creature from Creator? Is Scazzero aware of Merton’s teaching of reincarnation?

Additionally, Scazzero promotes the false teaching of ancestral bondage when he says there is a profound impact from our ancestral family “and significant others going back to the mid-1800s,”32 and this is “embedded in our DNA.”33

Is this in the realm of reality? Has he seen DNA studies that demonstrate this? He includes great uncles and aunts from 150 years ago; and he says their sins still impact us today—sins from 150 years ago? How does he know it is exactly 150 years? Suppose my ancestors 150 years ago were believers, what then? Scazzero thinks there is some special action needed to break from our parents’ sins.

Of course, he quotes the typical “spiritual bondage” verses (Exodus 20:4-6), but he never puts the emphasis where it belongs. The verses are clear that God’s judgment continues on those who continue to hate Him (verse 5 my emphasis). Exodus 20:6 tells us God is “but showing mercy to thousands [generations], to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” It is plain that redemption clears away any ongoing determinative influence of the parents’ sins. Our parents may influence us, but they do not determine if God’s Spirit and grace are operative in our lives. Consider Ezekiel’s words:

What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? “As I live” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. … The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:2-3, 20, emphasis mine)

In the end, Scazzero does not give us a real, practical, biblical solution for ancestral bondage. He tells us to get to know the “Beaver System Model” to try and understand our family,34 and to get a “mentor, spiritual director, counselor or therapist.”35 The “Beaver System Model” is a five-level, secular model which is supposed to help us judge if our family is severely disturbed, optimally healthy, or somewhere in between. Most people easily could figure that out just by reading what the Bible says about healthy families and healthy relationships. A far more biblical route, as far as a way out of the past, would be to not dwell on the past and to focus on the present, to take responsibility for oneself and put off the old man and put on the new. Also, rid oneself of bitterness, say “no” to old family patterns of behavior, and start being an example and blessing to one’s family. God’s grace and His indwelling Holy Spirit makes that all possible, and God’s Word tells us how. I am only stuck in the past if I think I am, and I remain there in my negative musings. Mull over Ephesians chapters 4-5 and Philippians chapters 3-4 for a few weeks. This will be a mind changing exercise.

There is so much more that could be critiqued about Scazzero’s book, but space is a limitation. It is like deciding what things are the worst in a very large landfill. I have sorted through what I thought was the worst of it, though certainly much more could be said. Scazzero’s book certainly will be welcomed by those in the Emerging Church today. What is called “emotionally healthy spirituality” turns out to be not so healthy and has been a big part of the decline of the mainstream denominations as some people have grown weary of ritual, thread-bare, ancient mysticism, and unreality. In truth, the so-called Emergent Church Movement is just repackaged liberalism. Phyllis Tickle has already renamed it “The Hyphenated Church,” but in reality it ought to be called the Regurgitated Church—it is just medieval mysticism and its practices ruminated and brought up all over again.


 

05 FisherReview by G. Richard Fisher, Researcher for Personal
Freedom Outreach, Advisory Board Member
for Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.

All quotations are from the New King James Version of the Holy Scriptures.

*panentheism=(from Greek πᾶν (pân) “all”; ἐν (en) “in”; and θεός (theós) “God”; “all-in-God”) is a belief system which pos­its that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe. Briefly put, in pantheism, “God is the whole”; in panentheism, “The whole is in God.” (Wikipedia)

**pantheism=is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God are identical, or that the Universe (including Nature on Earth) is the only thing deserving the deepest kind of reverence. The word derives from the Ancient Greek: πᾶν (pan) meaning “All” and θεός (theos) meaning “God” – literally “All is God.” As such Pantheism promotes the idea that God is better understood as a way of relating to nature and the Universe as a whole – all that was, is and shall be – rather than as a transcendent, mental, per­sonal or creator entity. (Wikipedia)

***fusion=a merging of diverse, distinct, or separate elements into a unified whole. (Merriam-Webster)

†bulimic= a serious eating disorder that occurs chiefly in fe­males, is characterized by compulsive overeating usually fol­lowed by self-induced vomiting or laxative or diuretic abuse, and is often accompanied by guilt and depression—called also bulimia nervosa. (Merriam-Webster)

© 2016, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Arthur Johnson, Faith Misguided, (Moody Press, Chicago Illinois, 1988) p 11
  2. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006
  3. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p.1
  4. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p.1
  5. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, (Lighthouse Trails Publishers, Silverton Oregon) p 85
  6. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 2
  7. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 2
  8. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1973) p 277
  9. Mitch Horowitz, Occult America, (Bantam Books, Random House, New York, 2009) p 67-68
  10. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 2
  11. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 3
  12. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 13
  13. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 16
  14. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 19
  15. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 19
  16. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 20
  17. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 20
  18. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 21
  19. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 45
  20. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 57
  21. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 58
  22. Derwas J. Chitty, The Desert a City An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian Monasticism Under the Christian Empire, (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1999)
  23. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 61
  24. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 65
  25. See, Teresa of Avila by Cathleen Medwick, Doubleday, New York, 1999
  26. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 75-76
  27. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, (Lighthouse Trails Publishers, Silverton Oregon) p 85
  28. Twentieth Century Dictionary of Christian Biography, J. D. Douglas, General Editor, Baker Books, Grand Rapids Michigan 1995, page 252
  29. Pocket Guide to World Religions, Winfried Corduan, (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove Illinois, 2006) p 29
  30. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 87
  31. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 93
  32. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 95
  33. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 100
  34. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 110
  35. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 2006) p 114

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