Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dialog With Deception

Part 1: Face to Face With Error

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

A critical review of Lloyd Gardner’s book, Face to Face: A Dialogue with Jesus (Tollhouse, CA: Eliezer Call Ministries, 2009) 174 pages.

"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by . . . taking his stand on visions he has seen . . ."
(Paul the Apostle, Colossians 2:18)

Lloyd Gardner’s book, Face to Face: A Dialogue with Jesus, contains material that Bible believing Christians can agree with. Scriptural quotations, paraphrases and allusions appear throughout the book. Lloyd’s emphasis upon the spiritual life--the need for believers to daily take up their cross and follow Jesus, to love Him as a faithful Bride, to enter into God’s rest, and to eschew worldliness and cultivate holiness and forgiveness in Christian living--ought to resonate with all believers.

Having almost died of a heart attack near Budapest, Hungary, in November of 2006, I sympathize with the author’s living with cancer. His insights can help others who for reason of illnesses, are coping with the uncertainty of life.

As a pastor, I also identify with the naiveté with which he returned to minister in a former congregation only to be dismissed by the leadership for failure to share their vision for the church (Chapter 9), which in today’s market-driven environment of ministry demands the production of tangible “results”—increasing attendance numbers, upping the cash flow and building bigger buildings. These days, “the buck stops” in the pulpit!

In a day of “big box” churches, Gardner’s focus upon the simple, as opposed to the institutional, church—The 2:42 Formula—finds precedent in Scripture. Luke describes “the four to-s” of the early church; that early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Emphasis added, Acts 2:42).[1] But these days, contemporary Christians are all about feeling comfortable in church. As one pastor observes:

Comfort has become a central goal of worship. In the face of life’s challenges, people come to church seeking therapy or comforting affirmation. They often get their wish because church leaders know that these customers will vanish from the padded seats if they’re not satisfied.[2]

So pan-evangelical congregations emphasize man-centered musical excitements and entertainment in worship, programmatic approaches to spirituality, and paid professionals preaching psychology, positivity, possibility and prosperity in order to make the audience “feel good.” These developments in America’s evangelical churches represent a radical departure, even apostasy, from the devout and simple church described in Acts.

Gardner’s book contains truth. But when compared to Scripture, the truth is mixed with error, something that ought to concern Bible believers. About mixing truth and untruth, Harry Ironside (1876-1951) wrote:

Error is like leaven of which we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Truth mixed with error is equivalent to all error, except that it is more innocent looking and, therefore, more dangerous. God hates such a mixture! Any error, or any truth-and-error mixture, calls for definite exposure and repudiation. To condone such is to be unfaithful to God and His Word and treacherous to imperiled souls for whom Christ died.[3]

We turn to discern the errors in Face to Face.

“Super Spirituality”

As suggested by the title (Face to Face: A Dialogue with Jesus), Gardner’s book claims to recount multiple in-the-body visitations the author had as a time traveler with Jesus at the future judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10-11); experiences that were personal, physical and private.[4] To discern the authenticity of these supra-spiritual encounters (spirituality above the scriptural norm), Gardner’s experiences should be submitted to the scrutiny of Scripture. He himself cautions readers: “Do not accept what people tell you without putting it to the test of God’s word. What God shares in His word is of much more importance than all of the experiences people can or will have.” (Face to Face, 6)

So by his invitation, we will attempt to assay (to test the qualitative substance of) the author’s claimed visitations and conversations with Jesus. In this assessment, I ask the reader’s patience, for the issues raised in Face to Face do not lend themselves to “sound bite” responses. Reported experiences like Gardner’s--which are also claimed by individuals who are part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a network of organizations and individual ministries like The Elijah List and The Call--represent much of what is being pawned off among uninformed Christians as true “spirituality.” Some claimed experiences are phenomenal--traveling to the third heaven, transporting oneself into other time dimensions, obsessing over angels and archangels, etc.--but blatantly challenge the Bible’s teaching on true spirituality.* We begin with Gardner’s claim to have had conversations with Jesus.


Listening to and hearing the voice of God is a popular experience claimed by many of today’s New Age/New Spiritualists.[5] In 1965, Columbia University Professor of Medical Psychology Helen Schucman (1909-1981) began to hear an inner Voice identified as Jesus'. Over a period of seven years, the Voice dictated material to her that, with transcriptional help provided by her faculty colleague William Thetford, became A Course in Miracles.[6] Because of the similarity of the course’s dictations to the words of the Gospels, especially John, others also believe that the “inner voice” Schucman heard to have been that of Jesus.[7] New Age spiritualist Barbara Marx Hubbard (1929- ) also listens to someone who speaks inside her.[8] New Age guru Neale Donald Walsch also claims to have heard God speak to him (Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue, Books 1, 2, 3).[9]

The author of the bestselling religious allegory The Shack, Paul Young, accounts for the book’s origin for reason of personal and private conversations he had with God.[10] On his daily work-commute from Gresham to Portland, Oregon, World magazine reports that, “Young used 80 minutes each day . . . to fill yellow legal pads with imagined conversations with God focused on suffering, pain, and evil.”[11] A friend of Young’s testified that the conversations were authentic.[12] In thinking how to explain the story of his ministry to a childhood campmate with whom he had been reunited, Bill Hybels asked: “How could I tell this savvy, cynical business guy that my fifty-year odyssey unfolded as it has because of a series of whispers from God? Inaudible whispers, at that.”[13] Many, both without and within the pale of evangelical Christendom, claim to have heard God speak in the quiet of contemplation or via direct conversations with Him.[14] Amidst the cacophony of voices, everybody seems to be listening to everybody else, but few to the Word of the Lord.

The fact that contemporary evangelicals seek “fresh” revelations from God indicates that they no longer consider Holy Scripture to be sufficient and authoritative in matters of faith (Contra 2 Timothy 3:16.). Yet if the Bible is no longer considered sufficient, the coming of “fresh revelations” raises the following conundrum. If the new revelations repeat the Word of God—and there is much in Gardner’s book that does that—then they are unnecessary. If the revelations/conversations are at odds with the Word of God, then they are heresy. If they add to the Word of God, then they point to Scripture’s inadequacy and insufficiency. To this point Proverbs warns: “Add thou not unto his [God’s] words, lest he [God] reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6, KJV; Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18.).

As such, whispers, conversations, contemplations or dialogs open up the borders of the Christian faith to beliefs alien to the Bible. Such trafficking in spiritual ideas undermines Scripture’s authority and sufficiency (See 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).[15] Unlike the Psalmist—who wrote, “How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From Thy precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way” Psalm 119:103-104, NASB—New Spiritualists manifest their dissatisfaction with, and in some instances disdain for, the Word of the Lord. They want more than what already stands written, more than the truth God revealed through the Holy Spirit in Scripture (See Luke 24:44-49; Romans 1:17; etc. and etc.; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Fifteen years ago the Van der Merwes observed this trend. They wrote:

By all appearances, Christians are knowingly or unknowingly dabbling in eastern mysticism and the spirit world. . . . Deeper spiritual understanding seems to be the motivation behind it all. The problem is that Christians are no longer satisfied with the literal Word of God. They are looking for experiences “beyond the sacred page”. The Bread of Heaven, according to their inner “sacred feelings”, has become stale and outmoded.[16]

So the claim to have encountered Jesus and received revelations via conversations casts an aura of suspicion over the Word of God and the God of the Word. For it must be asked, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant? Lewis Sperry Chafer once remarked that all heresy is either the Bible plus or the Bible minus. Face to Face contains material that not only adds to Scripture, but also is at odds with Scripture.

So the question arises, in his conversations with Jesus did Gardner, like the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844), receive added revelations? Like the prophet Mohammed (though he only did it once), did the author take night journeys into the future where he encountered Jesus at the judgment seat? (See 2 Corinthians 5:9-11.) To authenticate his having done so, Gardner points to the experiences of the apostles Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-6) and John (Revelation 4:1-2), thus inviting us to compare his experience with those of the apostles to see whether or not their experiences might validate his. We begin by comparing Gardner’s experience with Paul’s rapture into “the third heaven.”

Into Paradise—Caught up!

To the Corinthians Paul wrote:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, NASB)

Because Paul’s trip to Paradise came fourteen years before he wrote 2 Corinthians around A.D. 55-56, the experience can be estimated to have happened before his first missionary journey (A.D. 42-44). In the context of his overall ministry, Paul’s transport to Paradise was an obscure event that, were it not for the influence imposter apostles were having upon the Corinthian church, would likely have gone unreported. Yet Paul, in contrast to Gardner who claims to have visited the heavenly judgment seat on numerous occasions, reported that he visited Paradise once. As to Paul’s record of being “caught up to the third heaven” (we note that the passive verb “caught up,” Greek harpazo, is the same word that designates the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), we should observe the context of his experience.

Imposter Apostles

Imposter apostles had beguiled the Corinthian congregation. In contrast to Paul whose “personal presence [was] unimpressive, and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10), the super-apostles projected themselves as strong, self-assured, and successful. These “new lights” were striking in their appearance, self-confident in their demeanor, and smooth in their communication skills (2 Corinthians 10:12). In our culture, they would make for successful media preacher/communicators. Thus, to counteract the super-apostles, Paul boasted in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:12-15, 30).

But to enhance their apostolic credentials, these false teachers also claimed to have had extraordinary religious experiences. So reluctantly, Paul countered their claims by referring to his “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1). Paul’s “visions and revelations” were “of the Lord.” Jesus Christ was both the object and origin of what Paul saw and heard in Paradise. The visions and revelations came from Jesus Christ and were about Jesus Christ. Unlike Gardner, the apostle was a recipient of and not a participant in the visions and revelations. We note that unlike Gardner who paints a verbal picture of heaven resembling a Thomas Kinkade painting. (Face to Face, 14), Paul did not reveal the details of what he saw and heard.

Furthermore, in contrast to Gardner whose experiences with Jesus were in the body, Paul did not understand whether his experience of being taken to, arriving at and being in Paradise was “in the body” or “out of the body” (2 Corinthians 12:3). Unlike Gardner, who in vivid detail recounts his conversations with Jesus, Paul informed the Corinthians that his experience was ineffable. He “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (1 Corinthians 12:4). God forbade Paul to reveal details of what he saw. Of course, the question arises, if the Lord forbade Paul to describe his paranormal experience of being in Paradise, why did He permit Gardner to describe his encounters with Jesus in vivid detail, who supposedly even granted him “creative license” to do so? (Face to Face, 6)

It’s not that Paul could not describe being in Paradise but rather, for reason of a divine gag order, he would not. For good reasons he was forbidden to describe his experience in Paradise. First, by prohibiting Paul to speak of his experience, “God ensured,” Hafemann writes, “that the basis of apostolic authority did not become ecstatic, mystical experience.”[17] Unlike the imposter apostles, there was nothing to be gained by Paul for promoting himself as one who journeyed to heaven.

Second, as they boasted in the details of their spiritual experiences to trump Paul’s authority amongst the Corinthians, the imposter apostles apparently took their stand on visions they had seen (Colossians 2:18).[18] But Paul was under strict orders not to create a competition of experiences, a “can-you-top-this-one-?” contest. Unlike his opponents, the apostle made no claim that his experience enhanced his ministerial résumé. That he waited fourteen years to relate this incident to anyone indicates he considered that his rapture added nothing to his apostolic authority, doctrinal teaching or spiritual credibility. Though his letters are full of directions for practicing the faith, no directions are given for seeking experiences like his being in “the third heaven.” By Paul’s example we can deduce that, contrary to the super spirituality manifested by many charismatic and contemplative Christians, the apostle did not consider extra-biblical visions or visitations to be a vital component of the true spirituality he portrays in his letters.

Third, the fact that Gardner reports these conversations with Jesus to have been private—the contents of some of them, in Gardner’s words, to be “kept between Christ and me”—raises the question of verifiability. (Face to Face, 6) Has God spoken to Gardner in esoteric ways beyond the manner in which He speaks to other believers through Holy Scripture today? By his claim to have had encounters and visitations with Jesus, is Gardner attempting to distinguish himself to be a special prophet, even apostle of Jesus? To this point, Scripture demands that everything be confirmed by two or three witnesses, for as the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1; See Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28). This may explain why in his dealings with the imposter apostles, Paul kept the descriptive details of being taken into Paradise to himself. There were no other witnesses! His rapture was unverifiable. Had the great apostle given detailed reportage of his experience, he would have violated the very standard of verifiability he demanded the Corinthians to observe. In contrast to the resurrection of Christ who “appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time . . . and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me [Paul] also,” no other human being was privy to Paul’s Paradise visit.

Unlike the imposter apostles, there was nothing for Paul to gain by promoting himself as one who had seen divine visions or heard divine voices. Therefore, on the basis of verifiability, Paul’s rapture into the third heaven gives no example, provides no precedent, and grants no authorization for other Christians to seek or report similar spiritual enhancements.

To assure his readers that what he wrote to them was the truth, the Apostle John opens his first letter as follows: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life . . . we proclaim to you also” (1John 1:1, 3). Gardner admits to his readers that his conversations with Jesus at the judgment seat were private. On this point it should be noted that what is private is not verifiable; and for lack of witnesses, what is not verifiable is not believable. We turn to John’s experience.

In the Spirit in Heaven

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (John, Revelation 4:1-2, NASB)

Unlike Gardner's, John’s transport to heaven was spiritual and not physical. John’s experience was not in the body. Indicating that it was so, and unlike Paul, he says, “I was in the Spirit” (Revelation 4:2). As a seer, John’s experience was visionary. Mounce observed: “That John does not record a physical relocation from earth to heaven suggests that we are to understand the heavenly ascent in a spiritual sense.”[19] Then he adds: “There is no basis for discovering a rapture of the church at this point.”[20] And neither, it might be added, does it provide a basis to believe that God will physically translate an individual to a heavenly judgment seat.

To Be Continued...

[1] Recently, a friend of mine from seminary days has written an excellent book expressing concerns about the institutional church similar to those stated by Gardner. But Bill derived his thoughts about the present state of the church not from personal conversations with Jesus, but from the Bible, which is as it ought to be. See William J. Allen, Fractured Fellowships: Or, How the Church Lost its First Love (Bloomington, IN: West Bow Press, A Division of Thomas Nelson, 2010): xx+212 pages and Bibliography. My concern with the Purpose Driven method of doing church has also been stated. See Larry DeBruyn, Church on the Rise: Why I am not a “Purpose-Driven” Pastor (Indianapolis, IN: Moeller Printing Company, Inc., 2007): v+168 pages, Appendices, Essays and Bibliography. I note this to show that in his objecting to the current manifestation of “big box church,” Gardner is not alone.
[2] G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (New York, NY: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2010): 79.
[3] Harry Ironside, “Exposing Error: Is It Worthwhile?” Go to the Bible.com. Online:
http://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/exposingerror.html. Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951) was a godly Bible teacher and prolific author who pastored Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church from 1930-1948.
[4] Kurt Koch (1913-1987), German theologian, pastor, student of the occult and counselor to multitudes who suffered from demon affliction, notes that one form of spiritist activity is “astral traveling” or “astroprojection,” where adept mediums can “send their soul to the moon or the planets to discover things there,” some being so “bold that they claim to have penetrated the sphere of God.” See Kurt E. Koch, Occult ABC (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1986): 222. Gardner’s experience, though involving physicality, resembles astral traveling.
[5] In part, Hillstrom accounted for our culture’s shift toward mysticism for reason of “an astonishing variety” of reported spiritual experiences, one of which involves a time-to-time hearing of a “distinct inner voice” that gives “the listener advice and counsel.” See Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995): 15. Amazingly, what characterized the mysticism of the New Age/New Consciousness movement fifteen years ago has now become main stream amongst evangelicals!
[6] Helen Schucman with William Thetford, A Course in Miracles, 3 Volumes (New York, NY: The Foundation for Inner Peace, 1976). According to Schucman, these volumes were dictated by an inner Voice identified as that of Jesus.
[7] See Warren Smith, Reinventing Jesus Christ: The New Gospel (Ravenna, OH: Conscience Press, 2002): 9-12. Look for the new edition of this book in early 2011. Warren B. Smith, False Christ Coming: Does Anybody Care? (Magalia, CA: Mountain Stream Press, 2011).
[8] Ibid. 14-19.
[9] Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: an uncommon dialog, Book 1 (New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995, 1996). His two subsequent volumes were published by Hampton Roads Publishing in Charlottesville, Virginia, 1997, 1998.
[10] Immediate to the plot of The Shack is a personal note that the main character, Mack, receives from Papa, or God. The note reads: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be back at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. –Papa” See Wm. Paul Young, The Shack (Los Angeles, CA: Windblown Media, 2007): 16.
[11] Susan Olasky, “Commuter-driven bestseller,” World, June 28/July 5, 2008, 49.
[12] “I know the author well—a personal friend. (Our whole house church devoured it last summer, and Paul came to our home to discuss it—WONDERFUL time!) The conversations that “Mack” has with God are real conversations that Paul Young had with God . . . and they revolutionized him, his family, and friends . . . When he was a broken mess, God began to speak to him. He wrote the story (rather than a “sermon”) to give the real conversations context—because Jesus also used simple stories to engage our hearts, even by-passing our objecting brains, in order to have His message take root in our hearts, and grow.” Quoting Dena Brehm, on the interactive blog, Christian Universalism-The Beautiful Heresy: The Shack, posted February 14, 2008 at 11:44AM, http:// christian-universalism.blogs.com/thebeautiful heresy/2008/02/the-shack.html. Though no longer available on the blog, the writer possesses a copy of the letter.
[13] Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010): 16. If the whispers are not God’s (it cannot be assumed they are), then will any hearer have the guts not to respond? Furthermore, if like Samuel since his childhood Hybels has heard mystical whispers, why finally are we finding out about them now? Why weren’t we told about his experience earlier?
[14] See Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “Who Goes There? Encountering Voices in the Quiet of Contemplative Prayer,” Guarding His Flock Ministries. Online: http://guardinghisflock.com/2010/11/16/who-goes-there-2/. See also Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “Be Still: Contemplative, or Listening Prayer and Psalm 46:10,” Guarding His Flock Ministries. Online: http://guardinghisflock.com/2010/04/09/be-still/.
[15] Peter wrote that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). The word “interpretation” can be understood to mean “origination.” Indeed, that is as the context affirms, for Peter explained that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).
[16] Travers and Jewel Van der Merwe, Strange Fire: the Rise of Gnosticism in the Church (Lafayette, IN: Discernment Ministries, 1995): 21. Available online: http://discernment-ministries.org/StrangeFire.pdf. On this point, Warren Smith drew my attention to the confession of one emergent church leader who confessed: “I don’t know if you’ve read the Bible, but if you haven’t, I think you may be in a better place than those of us who have read it so much that it has become stale.” See Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006): 40.
[17] Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000): 460.
[18] It appears that Lloyd Gardner is also taking a stand on voices that he has heard.
[19] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977): 134.
[20] Ibid.

*Ed. Note: Recently The Elijah List, published an article by Dennis Cramer which appears to repudiate a number of the "New Age" mystical practices of the New Apostolic Reformation. His first edition was pulled immediately, and it was then republished with a softer tone. It appears that there is a dialectic dance, going on here -- two steps forward, one step back. Cramer affirms that the "open heaven/spiritual portals" and "third heaven" experiences are bad doctrine, but only if they are done "at will," which is a semantic tap dance not found in Scripture. See Cramer's article http://www.elijahlist.com/words/display_word/9511

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of the following books: UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality and Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose Driven Pastor, and Drumming Up Deception. All of these books can be ordered HERE.