Thursday, December 20, 2012

FGBC Concerns Pt. 5: Contemplative Concerns (Women of Grace, USA)

Present-Day Problems: Contemplative Concerns

This brings us up to the present-day: Women of Grace USA promoted contemplative mystic Ruth Haley-Barton at last year's Leadership summit which resulted in the refusal of several women from an Ohio church that did not go because this teacher was the featured resource. dr. Christy Hill, who teaches “spiritual Formation” at Grace was also featured as a speaker at one of these events. Women of Grace has been confronted by not just me but even after concerns have been shared, they are AGAIN promoting Ruth Haley-Barton at the upcoming summit this October. Read my email recently written to Women of Grace and watch the Haley-Barton clips and links I include:

Sent April 29, 2011:

Dear Leaders of Women of Grace USA,

Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. My name is Steve Mitchell and I pastor Garden City grace Brethren Church in Roanoke, VA. I also run a discernment ministry called Power To Stand Ministries. I am writing you in regards to the fact that Ruth Haley Barton was a featured resource for last year's Women's Leadership Summit in October 2010:

Led by Chery Boehm, sessions focus on being aware of your needs as you lead, keeping your soul while learning to live within limits both personally and in community, and the spiritual rhythms of life (especially in leadership). Much of the discussion is based on the book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership — Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton.”

I have been studying the contemplative/spiritual formation movement for some time and have noticed that Ruth Haley Barton is a major proponent of some very concerning doctrines related to this phenomenon. I have also watched as many of these teachings seem to be coming into the FGBC like never before. Featuring the teachings of Barton at last year's summit was a great cause for concern among some of us who know what she and the Transforming Center she directs are currently promoting and teaching and wanted to make sure you were aware of some of these concepts.

I am prompted to write this letter in an effort to share these concerns because of the fact that it appears that the upcoming 2011 Summit will again feature Ruth Haley Barton or at the very least seems influenced by her books. My concerns center around the fact that the web page for the 2011 summit features a quote from her and a few of the sessions seem to have borrowed from her book titles (

Please receive this letter and the concerns shared here with an open heart of love and in the charity in which it is written. I have atempted to outline a few things that show my concern with Ruth Haley Barton and the teachings and teachers she promotes. What follows are some evudences for why I am concerned.

Ruth Haley Barton Teaches on Youtube:

She refers to herself as a “pastor” in this clip and her website confirms that she has served on the pastoral staff of several churches including Willow Creek. Barton then says participants in this retreat will go into the “great silence” together. There's also a lot of terminology about solitude leading from the transforming self.

All of this is undoubtedly contemplative as per the new movements and are unbiblical in their scope and extremes. Here are a few articles on silence, solitude, and the contemplative movement:

The link on her YouTube clip is which leads to her ministry at The Transforming Center and features a description of the same contemplative concepts and a quote from contemplative mystic Henri Nouwen. Please read the following articles on why Nouwen is such a concern:

we are treated to a variety of clips in which she explains her personal experience and need for the solitude and silence. I concede that much of what she shares in these clips about solitude and silence is correct, generally speaking. The subtle problems are that her mention of “THE silence” as opposed to “silence” carry with it some mystical connections. Also, one also wonders why, if she is able to so clearly hear from God in these moments stolen away from the busyness, why does He never seem to reveal to her that her assumption of the role of a “pastor” is unbiblical. She does not meet the qualification of being a “one-woman man”(1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6) and doesn’t seem to pay much regard to the fact that God's Word doesn't allow for women to be in that role. Look at the endorsements of who she considers spiritual authorities on the disciplines and there is continuing concern.

Do these facts have any bearing on whether or not it is wise to promote the ministry of Ruth Haley Barton to the women of our fellowship?

On this same YouTube channel we are introduced to clips about the “Transforming Community” which is a two-year spiritual retreat for pastors and those in leadership where they can get away and become contemplative about their ministries. We see the testimony of Rev. Melanie Hammond Clark who is co-pastor of a Presbyterian church ( ). Women in the elder or pastoral role seems encouraged by Barton's ministry and why wouldn't they be because she is vocal about her own role as a pastor?

In her latest YouTube clips Barton is talking about her new book Sacred Rhythms and claims:
Ruth Haley Barton provides teaching and spiritual direction that will introduce spiritual formation to your congregation through guided experiences in the spiritual disciplines.”

Many will be introduced to a variety of sketchy teachers and influences in the contemplative movement that she draws from and points others to.

The Sacred Rhythms (also called “spiritual rhythms”) curriculum has an extremely ecumenical flavor to it as Barton reveals:

The idea of a 'rule of life' originated with spiritual leaders like St. Augustine, St. Benedict, and Teresa of Avila. These spiritual leaders crafted a way of life as a guide for monks and nuns who were living together in community... So as we begin this journey together, it's helpful to know that these disciplines are ones that spiritual seekers down through the centuries have practiced in order to keep themselves open to the transforming presence of God.”

Monks and nuns”? Teresa of Avila? She practiced mysticism and experienced ecstasy and was even said to have levitated at times in her life. She also claimed visions of Mary and Jesus and believed in holy water. ( )

Is this promotion safe and healthy for our women? Are these Roman Catholic mystics who we should be looking to emulate their practices?

Make no mistake, “Pastor” Barton wants people not only to learn these “disciplines” but she herself will be your guide:

Each session will include teaching and discussion about a particular discipline, and then I will guide you in actually experiencing that discipline.” ( ).

Again keep in mind that the evidence and endorsements indicate this to be the mixture of truth and error found in the spiritual formation movement that is so prevalent today. On the web page dedicated to her new book ( )Barton features a quote by mystic Henri Nouwen. She is at the forefront of introducing these practices and doctrines to many men and women today and sadly it appears that she has found an audience in our own fellowship as well.

The Transforming Center ( )

This is the center of Ruth Haley Barton's ministry and is located at The Loretto Center which is a convent (, a fact that I find very telling concerning her ecumenical proclivities. This convent also features a mystical labyrinth visitors can walk ( )

On their What We Do page we read :

Our Mission
We seek to strengthen the souls of pastors and leaders, equipping them to guide their churches and organizations to become spiritually transforming communities that discern and do the will of God in their settings. ( )

While this is an admirable statement one wonders how a woman who considers herself a pastor and points people to catholic mysticism from a convent can honestly speak of discernment and godly direction. This seems inconsistent on a massive scale and any biblical Christian should have “red flags” of discernment because of how unbiblical this scenario is at the outset.

On the About Us page we learn that Ruth Haley Barton “received her training in spiritual direction through the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (Bethesda, MD) under the guidance of Tilden Edwards, Rosemary Dougherty and Gerald May.” ( )

The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation ( )

At Shalem, we honor each individual spiritual path and welcome anyone who would seek to learn from the contemplative way.” ( Ibid.).

On the page where staff members feature their articles one can clearly see the contemplative direction of the institute ( ). Staff member Richard Rohr is a panentheist that promotes the “Cosmic Christ”

With influences like these, we must be extremely cautious of Barton as a student from this institute.

She has also studied the Enneagram with Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute.” (

Finally, even without reading all her books, barton reveals her influences on the Transforming Center website with featured quotes by Henri Nouwen ( ), John of the Cross ( ) and Fr. Thomas Keating

She writes in Rest for The Soul:
The concept of the true self and the false self is a consistent theme not only in Scripture but also in the writings of the church fathers and mothers. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen (particularly Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart) and Father Thomas Keating are contemporary authors who have shaped my understanding of this aspect of the spiritual life.” (141)

Church mothers”?”True/false self” doctrines? I think her influences and faulty beliefs are very evident here.
For further reading on Ruth Haley Barton concerns:
Refutation of Barton's “True self” doctrine:


Dearest Women of Grace leaders and teachers of the women of the FGBC, I submit to you the above information with a heart of love and concern. I believe the evidence clearly shows that the teachings and ministry of Ruth Haley Barton is not only incompatible with a biblical understanding of doctrine and practice in many areas but also a potential and actual spiritual danger as she is introducing many to an ecumenical, mystical, and unbiblical worldview, all under the guise of being a discerning spiritual director (whatever that is). The sad reality is that many have no idea about the danger of spiritual deception and I fear that many will be sucked in to an unbiblical understanding of God and spirituality through Barton and her connections.

Could I please ask you, in loving sincerity, to reconsider promoting Barton's ministry and materials to the women of the FGBC given the above obvious incompatibilities with biblical teaching and safe ministry? Is there any other alternative that the women of the FGBC could embrace and be taught at the upcoming summit? As it stands I could not recommend any women in our church or district to attend this summit and I am not alone in this area and this truly saddens me.

I realize that this is a lot to process and I want to make myself available to meet with you any time, in fact I am pleading with you to contact me when it is convenient. I am in Roanoke and am completely and utterly willing to chat at length if need be about my concerns for the good health of our fellowship and the cause of Christ.

Please contact me at 540-904-5420 or email me at . I would love to hear from any and all who would be willing to meet with me from WGUSA in a spirit of charity and open dialogue. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

In Christ, Pastor Steve Mitchell Garden City GBC

I received a response that stated that they would pray for discernment and leading as to whether to continue to feature Ruth Haley-Barton at the upcoming Oct. 2011 summit. I don’t know why anyone would have to pray about featuring the dangerous teachings of a woman who has demonstrated lack of discernment, usurps a 'pastoral role, and has a proclivity for catholic contemplative mysticism. A real problem here...

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