This book was recently brought to my attention by a friend who attends a Vineyard Church, which describes themselves as a middle of the road church but still sticks firmly to the Bible. My friend wanted to get my thoughts on the book because they have doubts to it being a biblical book and are concerned about what it teaches. Their church is going to be starting a class on the teaching in this book, called “spiritual formation”. According to the church the class is designed to help people become closer to God in a new way. I bought the book from the only place that sold it, Amazon and started some research on the book’s website to get an idea of what classes and schools they have available for people.
What caught my attention first is how much this organization “Sustainable Faith” is charging people. The tuition starts at $2,700 per year, per person to attain the title of spiritual director. Typically these programs run for 2 years and are very intense. Your spiritual advisor is someone who has already gone through the class and helps you to become accountable to what is being taught and expected of you.
Before I jump into my critique of this book I wanted to tell you a little bit about my background. While attending seminary one of the required classes I took was called “spiritual formation” and we read books from men like Thomas Ashbury and Richard Foster. The material from this class was centered around the monastic movement, which took me by surprise. I attended a conservative university but this class material took on a liberal or perhaps a better word is a progressive form of Christianity. Prior to my conversion to Christianity in 2004 I dabbled quite heavily in the new age religion and so I noticed similarities between new age beliefs and the class material. It’s as if they were trying to combine these two world views to make Christianity appear more mysterious and seductive. Many books under the spiritual formation category are written by catholic priests, pastors, or truth seekers and show them taking retreats to Monasteries where they learn and participate in the lives of the monks. These priests take very active roles alongside monks to reach a higher spiritual and intellectual ascension.
The same can be said about this book by this controversial Vineyard pastor. I know firsthand that not all Vineyard pastors feel the same way about endorsing this book and there seems to be a split within the Vineyard church about who believes this book to be beneficial to the church.
The author, Boyd resides in Norwood, Ohio and has created what he calls a ‘missional monastic expression,’ he has even built a monastery that he calls a new faith community called Franklinton Abbey. Something I noticed as I read this book is that it is set up very similar to “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu who was an ancient Chinese military strategist. Tzu’s book is on military tactics and strategy and was published in the 5th century BC. (Please note: scholars are not all in agreement that he wrote it in the time that it claims to have been written.)
Another alarming area for me is how the book is set up and what it entails. As mentioned above it costs around $2,700 per person, per year to learn these ancient teachings. I found many alarming ideas in the book that reminds me more of a cult than a Christian book. The book states that:
“each family dwelling will be considered its own monastic cent with the family unit inhabiliting it’s own space and creating an environment of simplicity, playfulness, care and education, as each family sees fit.” (P. 3).
All of its members are expected to follow what the book calls the “Rule of Life.” Also, the book talks about God but not Jesus Christ. That is a red flag to me because two people from different worldviews can have a definition for “God” that aren’t always in agreement. The book outlines, ad nauseam, 92 pages worth of rules which do not reflect anything biblical in nature. When reading books on spiritual formation it’s always important to ask yourself “does the Bible line up with what is being taught here?” Many times these books create man made rules which pushes the participant back into a works based religion which is one of the chief complaints of ex-christians. However, Jesus taught us that we are saved by grace and not by works. So to unnecessarily bind people to these “Rules for Life” creates a bondage to works.
Further, the most danger I see in this book is the teaching of spiritual disciplines in a new age style. By now you may be asking, what do I mean by this?
1) Their website talks about being more spiritually aware and doesn’t really mention Jesus Christ other than he gave us good advice.
2) The teachings in this book stress the need for contemplative life and practices.
3) Is directly influenced by progressive Christianity such as Greg Boyd and Thomas Merton. The book references such work by these men.
4) Another concerning factor is the weight they give to the writings of Thomas Aquinas who did not believe in basic Christian tenants such as how the fall of man (original sin) changes us. He felt our intellect was in tact and that we should trust secular philosophers views above our views. He thought God’s views were equal to the human intellect. Aquinas also did not believe that sin effects the person as a whole, only in part. He was the reason the Catholic Church allowed ideas of Aristotle to permeate theology and was accepted with as much authority as the Bible.
Needless to say, I know not all Vineyard churches have accepted Boyd’s ideas but it’s clear this is not biblical and I would not recommend this book to any christian. I do hope that Vineyard USA takes a second look at these teachings of Boyd because our culture needs more truth, not less.