Awana was founded in 1950. It is an outgrowth of the children’s program that originated in the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago. It has grown to be an international organization, and its programs are used in churches worldwide. They have a solid Statement of Beliefs and an unwavering commitment to the gospel. So, it was a surprise when it was recently announced that John Mark Comer would be a speaker at the AWANA Child Discipleship Conference in Nashville this September. Comer was the founding pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon, until he stepped down in 2021 to found Practicing the Way. Comer endorses and promotes Contemplative practices.1See my article, Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer? He favorably quoted heretic Richard Rohr, recommends Rohr’s Enneagram book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, promotes and teaches the Enneagram. His Practicing the Way website reveals Comer’s troubling teachings and recommendations.
Watching the Enneagram burrow into the church has been painful and led to unsound theology about God, self, and salvation. When Christians or those perceived as such use a spiritual tool from and developed in Gnostic, occult, and New Age sources that had no interaction with any credible or Christian influences, sound doctrine erodes and becomes corrupted.
I checked to see if John Mark Comer had appeared on Ian Cron’s Enneagram podcast, “Typology,” where a parade of Christians shows up regularly. Ian Cron is the co-author with Suzanne Stabile of the bestselling (over 750,000 copies) book, The Road Back to You (IVP 2016). Comer had Suzanne Stabile speak at his church for a conference on the Enneagram.
Not only did Comer appear on Typology once, but he also appeared a second time for Part Two.
What Comer and Cron Say
Several disturbing statements are made by both John Mark Comer and Ian Cron. On this podcast, Part 2: John Mark Comer on Focusing his Attention (Enneagram 1) [S03-018]:
– Comer states at 8:35 that his spiritual director is a Jesuit priest
– During a break at 10:20, Ian Cron recommends audiobooks by New Age Enneagram teacher BEATRICE CHESTNUT and New Age Enneagram teacher and psychic HELEN PALMER.
– Around 22:12, Comer states that Dallas Willard’s2See my article, An Ode to Silence: An Evaluation of the Be Still DVD regarding Dallas Willard writings have “done more to shape the way that I follow Jesus more than really anybody that I am aware of since the New Testament.”
– At 27:53, Cron asserts that he thinks Type 9s “have the potential to be most spiritually evolved number on the Enneagram.”
– Comer states at 31:35 that he got into the Enneagram 7 or 8 years ago (before this 2019 podcast) by reading Richard Rohr’s book.
How Do We Respond to These Remarks?
The fact that Comer has a spiritual director at all shows how much he has embraced Contemplative Spirituality3See my article, Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer? which goes hand-in-hand with the Enneagram. In addition, the fact that his spiritual director is a Jesuit priest is disturbing in light of the differences between Roman Catholic and evangelical theology. Please note that the Roman Catholic Church has not endorsed the Centering Prayer Movement that was started by Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and William Meninger. There are Roman Catholic articles like “The Danger of Centering Prayer” by Rev. John D. Dreher and “Fr. Thomas Keating on NPR: Heresy as Mysticism” by Brother Andre Marie, exposing this Contemplative/Centering Prayer as being dangerous non-Christian heresy).
Unsurprisingly, Cron recommends Chestnut since he did a seminar with her. This is being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14) because a Christian (perceived as one at least) is engaged in spiritual teaching with a New Ager.
Ian Cron’s speculation that a certain Type has the potential to be the “most spiritually evolved number” of the Enneagram types is not only elitism but is unbiblical. Where is the biblical idea of being “spiritually evolved?” Spiritual maturity is addressed in Scripture but not being more spiritually evolved than others. The reason I do not think Cron means “spiritually mature” is because I have listened to him many times, read him, and believe he leans toward Perennial Wisdom (he has used Perennial language) and, if so, then the term “spiritually evolved” would fit. Cron is a close associate of Richard Rohr, an adherent of Perennial Wisdom.
Comer became involved in the Enneagram around 2011 or 2012 by reading Richard Rohr’s Enneagram book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. At that time, the Enneagram had been getting popular with the Progressives. This was before the first evangelical book on the Enneagram was out in 2016 (Cron’s and Stabile’s book, The Road Back to You). Comer, Ian Cron, and Beth McCord all became interested in the Enneagram due to heretic Richard Rohr’s book. This type of insidious influence allows bad or false doctrine to creep into the church unnoticed.
Moreover, when John Mark Comer became interested in the Enneagram around 2011 or 2012, Enneagram information, aside from Rohr and a few Roman Catholics he influenced, would have come from New Age Enneagram teachers and authors. This proved to be the case with “Enneagram Coach” Beth McCord, who had six New Age teachers when she learned it several years ago.
I have other articles and warnings on Comer where I have documented that Comer agrees with Rohr’s redefinition of sin. This is just one of several examples of doctrine being corrupted.
More Misleading Statements
Cron states that anything good can be misused, which is true. The question is: Is the Enneagram good? If it is not good, then that statement does not apply. In fact, the Enneagram is not good because:
- It is as valid as astrology;
- It is a spiritual tool whose nature, purposes, and teachings oppose Christ.
I noticed a weakening of sound doctrine early on because the views of God and self in the Enneagram are closer to non-Christian beliefs, either Gnostic, Perennial Wisdom (from Richard Rohr), or New Age. The Enneagram has been busy in the church, eroding truth from God’s revelation on who He is, who man is, and how we know God.
Like many Enneagram teachers, Cron is into contemplative outlooks, believing in sacred spaces (in a mystical non-biblical way), and teaching Mindfulness. Comer has also been involved deeply with Contemplative practices and teachings. On his Practicing the Way website, Comer recommends books by Contemplative teacher Ruth Haley Barton, Contemplative enthusiast Peter Scazzero, Richard Foster, and Spiritual Director and pastor Adele Calhoun. Moreover, Barton, Scazzero, and Calhoun endorse the Enneagram, and Calhoun is co-author of the IVP book, Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram.
John Mark Comer talks about how he hates the Enneagram being used as a weapon. Still, a false tool will inevitably do this, usually on many levels, especially if it is used as a spiritual tool. Comer, in fact, is contributing to the problem by teaching and promoting the Enneagram so heavily on his Practicing the Way site and elsewhere.
The Enneagram is not only a weapon; it is predatory. It mirrors its master, Satan, who comes “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
Responses to Warning
It is unsurprising that a leading ministry has invited John Mark Comer. Many ministry leaders are unaware of the Enneagram and do not understand what it is if they have heard the word. After all, leading Christian publishers promote it, and celebrity Christians like Andy Stanley, Russell Moore, Dave Ramsey, and others endorse or promote it. Ed Gussein, Chief Ministry Officer of Awana, was alerted and seemed to indicate that Comer wasn’t teaching the Enneagram but having him teaching there at least gives the impression of validation of his Enneagram ministry. Ed Gussein, Chief Ministry Officer of Awana, posted a comment:
Awana is centered on the Gospel, rooted in Scripture, focused on child discipleship and we have been for 72 years. We work with over 69,000 church partners in 130 countries. We will never move even one inch off of our commitment to and dependency upon Scripture. Check out our doctrinal position here: Our Beliefs
Rick Fisher, the AMD/Commander at his church for Awana, has contacted his AWANA missionary and had a lengthy conversation. Rick is encouraged. It is doubtful they will cancel Comer this year, but this may influence how they vet future speakers. Rick wrote:
Concerning John Mark Comer, you did an excellent job raising the concern, and rightly so. The concern is not just with JMCs odd ‘gods’ sermon (“Yahweh, Elohim”) and lack of clear follow-up, along with some spiritism methods he promotes – this is about holding JMC up as a ‘leader’ to follow, as I think you well agree is not the best.
Right now, the story with Awana is: the conversation is ongoing. At this July-16-Saturday moment I don’t expect JMC to be pulled from the schedule (but we can pray about that.) We need to look to next year’s conference and see if the “Watchman on the wall” work we did this year influences how they vet speakers going forward. I can tell you from initial conversations this seems to be a case of not-enough-vetting of this speaker, but I will learn more next week.
I am not looking to bash Awana, but lovingly speak into this situation and pray & hope for positive outcomes.
– Prov 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted.
– 1 Cor 13 Love is patient, kind, bears all…
– Prov 10:12/1 Peter 4:8 … love covers a multitude of sins (just as Jesus did for us.)
– John 13:35 – You are my disciples for your love for one anotherΩ
(Link to Swedish translation by Ingemo Jonsäll)
Before trusting Christ, Marcia Montenegro was a professional astrologer and was involved in Eastern and New Age practices for many years. Through her ministry, Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia speaks around the country and on radio, and writes on New Age and occult topics. She has a Masters in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC, and serves as a missionary with Fellowship International Mission, Allentown, PA. Based in Arlington, VA, she is the mother of an adult son and author of SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids, (Cook, 2006). She is also co-author of Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret (MCOI Publishing, 2020) with Don and Joy Veinot You can find her online at: CANA or on Facebook at Christian Answers for the New Age
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|↑1, ↑3||See my article, Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?|
|↑2||See my article, An Ode to Silence: An Evaluation of the Be Still DVD regarding Dallas Willard|
My children were in AWANA 10 years ago. We quit when one of the exercises for the older children (per the lesson plan) was to rewrite a section of scripture and say “what does this means to you?”! My response was, we are not to change God’s word to suit our feelings! Eve responded in Genesis 3 when the serpent tempted her by saying,”Yeah hath God said…”
Hello, Pamela, Thanks for reading this and for you comment. I am sure many who have used and are using Awana are praying the leadership would be discerning and remove these types of teachings and be more selective in their speakers. Sorry to hear about this but your reaction was certainly on target. Thanks again.
I follow you on FB, and am in your Progressive Christianity group there as well. I wanted to point out that although the RCC hasn’t specifically endorsed Centering Prayer – they certainly are not against it. Pope John Paul II, gave it a sort of mediocre endorsement/warning – which didn’t really seem to matter. But Francis has definitely spoken in a very positive way about it recently, which is a de facto endorsement. His version of contemplation is a bit different than what we think of as contemplation. But I feel that since it wasn’t a “we do not believe or endorse this” type of statement, many/most will take it as being okay. So I’m not saying you are incorrect – just that since the current pope seems to be fine with it and even talks about it being good, it comes across like there is no issue there from the RCC perspective.
Thank you for all of your research and articles.
Hello, Matt, thanks for this information. I am not surprised the current Pope is not strongly against it but did not know he specifically addressed it. I think when I said the RCC never endorsed this, I meant officially. I don’t think the Pope’s remarks are meant as official unless they are put in a specific format though I know his words still influence. It is good to know this. But that is one reason I gave links to articles by two Roman Catholics pointing out the unchristian ideas in this practice, so that people know it is not embraced as a whole by the RCC church. I also have had many Catholics tell me this when I have posted on this topic, that they agree with me and are upset it was started by and is promoted by some Catholics. Thanks again for your comment and encouraging words!
It’s sad to see all these wonderful groups going down the road to apostasy. We need to ask for discernment all the time from the LORD.
Thanks for your comment and reminder to continually ask the Lord for discernment. We all always need that.
This article is severely mislead. Making hasty generalizations about men and women you do not know is more dangerous than any “personality tool” might be. To say this is done in love is ingenuous. This an article filled with broad accusations that does nothing but divide and destroy. John Mark Comer is deeply committed to scripture and is tied to the heart of Christ. If his interest in Christian spiritual formation is so threatening to your theology, I would just ponder why that is. Is this a spirit of fear or is it a spirit of love and power and self control.
Hello, Nick, It might be helpful for you to know that this article is hardly the sum of the concerns about John Mark Comer. It is very partial and would require too much space to cover more ground or go into further detail. I spent the last few years listening to/watching Comer’s messages when he was the pastor at Bridgetown, as well as watching numerous videos of Comer from that time until recently. I also spent a considerable amount of time examining his website. I was already familiar with some of the people he quotes and recommends such as Richard Rohr.
I had investigated some of these people starting a number of years ago. I have tracked the Enneagram and the Contemplative movement since the 1990s, read books by those who are regarded as teachers in it, heard and talked to one Contemplative teacher personally, and have been interviewed on and published on both the Enneagram and the Contemplative area.
I am careful about what I write because I do not want to mislead or bring disrepute to my ministry. I am able to support the claims I make with more than enough evidence, so there are no “hasty generalizations.”
If a pastor or teacher in the church is recommending a heretic like Rohr, and/or promotes invalid or biblically problematic teachings, it is biblical to warn about this. You may disagree with my views, but I have not made unsupported claims or criticisms.