The Lord Jesus Christ warned His followers, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15). The warning was important because Jesus later said to them: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The apostle Paul, with a deeply troubled spirit and in tears, penned a similar warning: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Throughout church history these warnings concerning professing Christians who deceive even the elect have seldom been taken seriously. How can the church be so easily deceived? According to Webster’s Dictionary “deceive” means “to lead astray or to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid.” Could it be the church has not only lost its ability to discern truth from error but also to discern wolves from sheep?
Consider Brennan Manning, an inactive Roman Catholic priest, who has some obvious characteristics of a “wolf,” yet goes mostly undetected. In the last ten years, he has become a popular speaker in many “evangelical” churches. Manning was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood after graduating from St. Francis Seminary in 1963. Later he was theology instructor at the University of Steubenville (a Catholic seminary and catalyst for Mary to be named co-redeemer). After being treated for alcoholism and leaving the Franciscan Order in 1982, he married Roslyn Ann Walker. The marriage has since ended in divorce but his popularity as a writer and speaker continues to grow despite his proclamation of “another” gospel.
The teachings of Manning are charming, seductive, cunning and dangerous as he takes advantage of his undiscerning audiences. He teaches that you can overcome fear, guilt and psychological hang-ups, even alcoholism, through meditation. His meditation techniques are drawn from a mixture of eastern mysticism, psychology, the New Age Movement and Catholicism. Manning gives the impression that he has a very intimate relationship with God and reports having many visions, encounters and conversations with Him. He assures his audiences that if they apply his teachings, they too can become more intimate with God.
I first met Manning at the Christian Booksellers Association in New Orleans last summer. As he was signing autographs for his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, I asked him if his “ragamuffin gospel” followed the Catholic plan of salvation or the biblical plan of salvation. He responded, “Read it and find out for yourself.” Still trying to gain insight into his theology, I gave him a tract I had written called Roman Catholicism: Scripture vs. Tradition and asked for his comments. After looking at it for a couple of minutes he tore it into pieces and threw it in the trash.
The next time I saw Manning was January 21st at Hillcrest Church, a growing congregation of over 5,000 members in north Dallas. Manning’s message was about our need for a second conversion, a conversion that can only take place when one overcomes self-rejection and gains esteem through self-acceptance. How contradictory were his words with the words of Christ! “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). After the service I asked two elders of Hillcrest Church how they could allow a Roman Catholic priest speak to their congregation. Their response—”we welcome everyone who loves God”—was a fulfillment of Paul’s prophetic words: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
All Mankind is Redeemed
As with many such teachers who gain popularity by tickling ears, Manning overemphasizes the love and grace of God while ignoring His attributes of justice, righteousness and holiness. He teaches that Jesus has redeemed all of mankind. His “good news” is that everyone is already saved. Among those Manning believes he will see in heaven is “the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick,’ whispers the name of the unknown God.”1 Manning’s theology opposes God’s word again and again: “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Accordingly, the only faith Manning thinks sinners need is to “trust the love of God.”
This is a major theme of The Ragamuffin Gospel, “trusting the love of God,” because God loves you no matter what you do. There is no call to sanctification or holiness. Instead Manning excuses sin as human weakness that God will tolerate regardless of whether the sinner is repentant or not. In saying this, Manning has turned “the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). He writes: “False gods—the gods of human understanding—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept.”2 Yes, too incredible because it violates God’s word: “Thou dost hate all who do iniquity” (Psalm 5:5).
Stop Thinking About God
In The Signature of Jesus, another one of Manning’s books, he teaches his readers how to pray, using an eight-word mantra.3 He says, “the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer” (p. 212). The second step is “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.” If distractions come, “simply return to listening to your sacred word” (p. 218). He also encourages his readers to “celebrate the darkness” because “the ego has to break; and this breaking is like entering into a great darkness” (p. 145). Jesus said, “He who follows me shall not walk in the darkness” (John 8:12).
The Spirit of Antichrist
Manning often cites Catholic saints, humanist philosophers, heretics, monks and medieval mystics. Some of the monks he quotes maintain that salvation is really a transformation of consciousness to be awakened to the oneness of all creation. Possibly the most dangerous practice and teaching of Manning is his New Age mind-emptying method of meditation. This is an open invitation to satanic activity. Many of the expressions and techniques Manning employs in The Signature of Jesus are not found in the Scriptures such as: centering prayer, paschal spirituality, the discipline of the secret, contemplative spirituality, mineralization, practicing the presence, inner integration, yielding to the Center, notional knowledge, contemporary spiritual masters and masters of the interior life. Extra-biblical spiritual practices can only produce confusion. They originate from the father of lies in whom there is no truth. What a contrast Manning is to the way Paul described the first century teachers. He said: “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2)
Manning rarely uses Scripture and shows his disdain for those who do and for those who believe “The Word was God” (John 1:1). He writes: “I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word—bibliolatry.… I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants” (p. 188). He criticize several churches he visited, where “religiosity has pushed Jesus to the margins of real life and plunged people into preoccupation with their own personal salvation” (p. 193).
Although Manning believes and teaches the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, The Signature of Jesus is not a guide to follow Jesus, but to follow “the masters of the interior life.” Paul wrote, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rom. 16:18).
Manning reinterprets some of the most essential biblical truths in the light of psychological healing. He looks upon “human nature as fallen but redeemed, flawed but in essence good” (p. 125). His instruction to meditate on nothingness instead of God’s Word is an exercise of modern occultism. This practice invites demonic influence and contact with the spirit world. Manning’s Catholic mysticism has no place in the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Christian leaders should warn others about Manning and all “deceitful workers who masquerade as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). They must be exposed (Eph. 5:11). We all live in days of great deception. May God give His church the gift of discernment as we take Paul’s warning seriously: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
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