By Brannon S. Howse
For many people today, truth is based on their own personal experience. Truth and reality are created by man, not by God. That such ideas should grow outside the Church is certainly not surprising. What is disheartening, though, is the degree to which this sort of postmodern perspective has seeped into modern evangelicalism.
Many people think of J. P. Moreland as a wonderful apologist and defender of the faith. Yet, Moreland’s teaching contributes greatly to a watered down understanding of the source of truth. The November 14, 2007, issue of Christianity Today quoted Moreland:
[quote] “In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,” he [Moreland] said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.” . . .
The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.” [end quote]
Moreland appears to mock those who believe that the Bible is what it says—complete and thoroughly able to equip us (2 Timothy 3:17). Jude 3 says it was once for all delivered to the saints—there’s no ongoing revelation. Is it possible to be “over-committed” to the truth of God’s Word? No, but Moreland claims that the idea of the Bible as the sole source of the knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items is a problem.
Moreland routinely claims that he opposes postmodernism, yet Christianity Today notes that Moreland:
[quote] …thinks evangelical scholars and the movement as a whole are rejecting ‘guidance, revelation, and so forth from God through impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom. . . .” [end quote]
In his bio on his website Moreland declares:
[quote] My relationship with my local church—the Vineyard Anaheim—has shown me how short-sighted my previous vision was. I am fully committed to my local church’s well-being and absolutely love being a part of the fellowship. [end quote]
Moreland’s home church, the Vineyard, is of course one of the main forces behind the Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation.
In the book The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life, Moreland teams up with Klaus Issler to tell readers about the deeper experience waiting for those who pay attention:
[quote] Go to a retreat center that has as one of its purposes the provision of a place for individual sojourners. Try to find a center that has gardens, fountains, statues, and other forms of beautiful artwork. In our experience, Catholic retreat centers are usually ideal for solitude retreats.... We also recommend that you bring photos of your loved ones and a picture of Jesus.... Or gaze at a statue of Jesus. Or let some thought, feeling, or memory run through your mind over and over again. . . .
We recommend that you begin by saying the Jesus Prayer about three hundred times a day.... Now, before you roll your eyes in disbelief, hang in there with me. Derived from Luke 18:38, the Jesus Prayer has had a powerful impact on people at various times in church history. And while it comes in different forms, the wording we prefer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” If you take up the challenge, I think you’ll see some remarkable results. [end quote]
Moreland and Issler are recommending contemplative prayer, as well as, what I believe is a form of a mantra—repeating “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” 300 times in a row. Contemplative prayer, breath prayer, centering prayer, soaking prayers, or lectio divina have been promoted by many Roman Catholic mystics, yet J. P. Moreland thinks these experiences will help us understand a new revelation from God.
I believe this is paganism, postmodernism, and a very dangerous redefining of our source for truth. It implies that truth comes out of your experience—i.e., “God told me.” But what happens when someone else shows up saying God told them the exact opposite? This is where confusion sets in, and it is why the Word of God is complete. We don’t need any mystical, gnostic, higher knowledge, extra-biblical revelation. The Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture and divinely orchestrates our lives through His sovereign providence, with the Bible as our source for truth.
God’s “providence” is His hand at work that we often see only after we’ve come through a time of testing or decision-making. We look back and see His plans revealed. We usually don’t see it clearly as we’re going through it, but mystical experiences are not required. The biographical sketch of J. P. Moreland on his website concludes with the revelation of yet another connection in this un-defining of our source for truth:
[quote] …The influence of Dallas Willard towers over everyone else. I was honored to have him as my dissertation supervisor at the University of Southern California and Hope and I have counted Dallas and his wife Jane as dear friends and mentors for twenty-five years. [end quote]
Willard, too, believes experience to be a legitimate source for truth. In his book Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, he proposes, “How can you be sure God is speaking to you? The answer is that we learn by experiences.”
Apparently, truth is no longer, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” in words divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. Instead, individual, subjective experiences reveal truth. Moreland credits Willard and others with grasping this “truth” in his article “Mysticism, Awareness of God, and Postmodern Confusion.” He explains:
[quote] We receive the ideas of Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Henri Nouwen, for example, because we take them to know what they are talking about. When contributors to this journal share their spiritual experiences, we readers take them to know at least what their experiences actually were. Without such an assumption, we would have no confidence in their descriptions of their own experiences. Imagine a writer saying that he did not know what his own experience of forgiveness was like, but he was going to describe it to us anyway! Moreover, knowledge gives people confidence to act in certain ways and believe certain things. [end quote]
It is sad that so many self-described “Christian worldview” speakers, authors, and organizations promote J.P. Moreland. I know of one such worldview organization that has featured Moreland as a speaker many times. The organization claims to teach young people to refute postmodernism, the belief that truth and reality is created by man and not by God. But how can anyone claim to refute postmodernism and then promote Mooreland who promotes “spiritual” postmodernism based on spiritual experiences? It underscores the concern that parents must be extremely careful about where their students go to learn more about a biblical worldview.
Cited by Moreland as a worthy example to follow, Henri Nouwen takes the experience notion to an extreme when he says:
[quote] Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God. [end quote]
But the Bible does not teach that people can come to God on their own terms. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). There is only one way to God. And it’s not through Mormonism, through Mary as a co-redeemer. Or through works. It’s not through being a “good person,” a Southern Baptist deacon, walking the aisle, being baptized, or saying an appropriate number of Hail Mary’s. Faith and repentance in Jesus Christ alone is the only way.
Psalm 119:160 says, “The entirety of Your Word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” Truth is not based on someone's subjective experience, no matter how desperately people today wish they could create their own truths based on personal experience. No amount of redefining will change the reality of God’s Word.
Copyright 2015 ©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.