“A prayer ending in ‘If this be Thy will’ simply does not release the spiritual power of a prayer that ends ‘Let it be so.’” (Agnes Sanford, Behold Your God, 40).
Although Richard Foster, author of the continuously popular book, Celebration of Discipline, admits there is a time to pray for God’s will, he deems it not necessary all the time, such as when doing the “command” prayers. In those situations, he considers asking for God’s will to be “indecisive, tentative, half-hoping” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 37).
Notice the similarity of thinking described in the above two statements about God’s will in prayer? There is a reason for it. Foster was mentored by the almost equally influential Agnes Sanford.
A Look at Agnes Sanford (1897-1982)
From New Thought to New Thought
When I had been a Christian for only a few days, and was searching for material on Christ and Christianity, I went to the Christianity section of a large bookstore and saw a book whose title caught my eye because the words had a New Age ring. It was The Healing Light, by Agnes Sanford.
Leafing through the book, I came across Sanford’s account of injuring her finger and how she held it up and spoke, affirming this:
“I am a spiritual being, a child of God. My spiritual body has a finger, and that finger doesn’t hurt” From The Healing Light_ online, p. 74
This concepts of a spiritual body and the spoken affirmation are hallmarks of New Thought. I wondered if this book was in the wrong section since this healing formula is common in the New Age (which adopted many New Thought beliefs). I read on, continuing to come across other New Age (which were originally New Thought) type ideas and, finally, quite disappointed and disturbed, I put the book back. I had just come out of the New Age and was confused at finding this book labeled Christian. Lttle did I know then how already popular Sanford’s pupil, Richard Foster, was in the evangelical church.
Within several months, I came across another book by Sanford in a church bookstore, Creation Waits. I bought and read it. Sanford wrote about how God is present in everything; He is in creation. I knew, even as a new believer, this is not a Christian belief. “Why are this woman’s books labeled Christian?” I wondered, further distressed that Sanford kept cropping up in Christian settings. I was too new in the faith to challenge this.
Zoom to several years later when I read about Agnes Sanford’s rather exalted status in the church despite her background in New Thought and her odd ideas of biblical healing (inner healing). Her ideas on healing actually were “universal,” not Christian:
“Mrs. Sanford taught that the principles of prayer and healing are universal–that is, they are included in all religions, yet transcend all religions.” — From Sermon Index
Look at what Sanford teaches along with that:
She said Jesus stood in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back because neither ministers nor people expected him to do anything. She said people who prayed had to expect miracles. That required them to pray down the voice of doubt within them based on old hurts, griefs, and failures. “There is more in the Bible than mere information. A spiritual energy we call faith, seems to
connect with the very book itself. – From same site as previous quote
The statement above reveals two characteristics of New Thought: That our words and thoughts have power to attract the good or the bad. That is why one must “expect miracles” and “pray down” negative thoughts. Secondly is the principle of faith as an energy or power. Having faith is not faith in the true God for who he is, but rather faith is an energy one can direct in order to get results.
Despite being the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an Episcopal priest, Sanford’s healing and prayer techniques were not from the Bible but rather from New Thought views. Sanford taught visualization, repetition of words, channeling God’s power, and the power of thoughts to banish illness, among other New Thought principles.
On page 157 of The Healing Light, for example, Sanford describes a visualization exercise for healing others; I had learned this technique in a New Age workshop called Inner Light Consciousness.
Sanford is considered one of the founders of the modern Inner Healing Movement, a concept stemming from New Thought, despite the fact it spread into the church (see Wikipedia entry on Inner Healing for more information). Charles Fillmore, co-founder with his wife of the New Thought church Unity, was also one of the pioneers of Inner Healing.
Indeed, a section devoted to Agnes Sanford’s healing ideas is on a New Thought site called “New Thought Wisdom” (a search for Agnes Sanford on this site is very revealing) Another New Thought website, ‘New Every Moment,” has a page on three New Thought healers, including Agnes Sanford. The website owners state that Sanford did not embrace New Thought theology but did practice New Thought healing (source: “The Healing Christ and Three New Thought Healers: P. P. Quimby, Henry Wood, and Agnes Sanford,“). However, Sanford did have New Thought theology behind her healing and prayer teachings. The article ends by recommending Sanford’s works.
Evidence for New Thought
“The Kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus. And it is the Indwelling Light, the secret Place of the Consciousness of the Most High that is the Kingdom of Heaven in its present manifestation on this earth. — From The Healing Light online
The above quote reveals Sanford’s confused theology about God. Such language abounds in Sanford’s writings. Behold Your God is saturated in New Thought misuse of scripture (the classic misuse of Prov. 23:7) and New Thought theology such as
Prayer as techniques
God being like electricity
Channeling God’s power (this and the 4 above practices are throughout the book)
The idea we existed before birth and that our spirits are offshoots of God (72, 90)
Not praying “if it be thy will:”
From Sanford: A prayer ending in “If this be Thy will” simply does not release the spiritual power of a prayer that ends “Let it be so” (40)
Extolling New Thought teacher Emmet Fox (74)
Sin is the fact that man had “become too densely veiled in flesh” and thus choked the spirit (Gnostic and New Thought), so *Jesus “opened the channel between the subconscious and spirit” (91-92)
On Richard Foster’s Renovare website (Renovare is a Contemplative organization started by Foster and the late Dallas Willard), he affirmatively quotes and refers to Sanford as well as promoting her books on several pages such as here, including The Healing Light.
Additionally, Foster and Dallas Willard put out the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible in 2005, later renamed the Life With God Bible. This Bible uses the views of the Higher Critics, who tried to reshape the Bible into a non-supernatural book.
God and Jesus Christ
The New Thought god is a vague principle, and this translates into Sanford’s and Foster’s god as a little god, one who needs our help to heal with techniques and affirmations, whose will is not to be sought in all cases, and who depends on man to determine the future (said explicitly by Foster in Celebration of Discipline). Sanford also had a false view of the nature of man, which collaborates with her faulty view of God.
It is tricky reading Sanford because she mixes some biblical statements with New Thought concepts, a hallmark of false teachings. This is clearly seen in her book, Behold Your God.
Sanford believed that the blood of Christ was “the essence of His being” and possessed a “life-energy” that was dried up after his death on the cross and “was disseminated by the wind and mingled with all life,” remaining as an “invisible current of a heavenly energy, an ACTUAL energy, a PERCEPTIBLE energy, and EFFECTIVE energy” (Behold Your God, 104; caps are Sanford’s). “We breathe in this energy today, and it is this energy that “accomplishes for us the forgiveness of sins” (105; italics are Sanford’s).
These statements are a denial of the truth of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and turn the sacrifice of Christ into an energy that disseminates forgiveness by breathing it in from the air.
Later, Sanford declares that the death of Christ allows man’s “light-vibrations of the spirit” to increase “to a higher current of spiritual energy by the infusion of the Holy Spirit,” and that the Holy Spirit is “the highest vibration of the life of God” (138). Taken alone, this statement appears to deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit… –From CANA article on Sanford .
RICHARD FOSTER: Agnes Sanford’s Disciple
Agnes Sanford, Mentor
Agnes Sanford was a mentor to Richard Foster, author of the ever-popular, Celebration of Discipline, a book which has darkened the doorway of almost every church in the United States. When I read Foster’s book, I was astounded at the New Thought concepts Foster endorses (at the time, I was unaware of his connection to Sanford).
Foster writes about visualizing to heal (and presents it as prayer!), for example, and using the imagination to effect changes in reality (page 25 of COD, 1998). He credits Sanford for learning about using the imagination in prayer (which is visualization in Foster’s terms). [I am leaving aside, for the sake of space and the topic, other concerns about COD].
Examples of New Thought in COD
If I had to list all the New Thought examples in COD, it would take up too much time and space. So here are just a few New Thought references from the 20th Anniversary edition of the book, 1998.
Foster quotes a New Thought concept from New Thought teacher and writer Emmet Fox, p. 5
Foster teaches affirmation techniques as prayer, such as stating “I release” and “I surrender,” using your hands to “release,” p. 31
“We are working with God to determine the future,” p. 35 (the second such statement on this page)
Prayer should be like a command to those we are praying for, p. 37 (as when Jesus and the apostles healed people and told them to walk, stand up, etc.)
Although Foster admits there is a time to pray for God’s will, he deems it not necessary all the time, such as doing the “command” prayers. In those situations, he considers asking for God’s will to be “indecisive, tentative, half-hoping,” p. 37.
In New Thought, it is taught not to ask for God’s will because prayer is more of a technique than an actual petition to a personal God. On a pro-Foster site, it states that Foster teaches we need to listen to God to know his will and then pray in that will instead of saying “if it is your will” to God (quote and source found below under Resources).
Praying for others requires that we let God’s “life and power flow through us into others,” p. 38 (Sanford often writes about channeling God’s “power” in healing)
“We can determine if we are praying correctly if the requests come to pass,” p. 38
“Imagination often opens the door to faith,” p. 41 (by “imagination” he means visualization)
Visualization and affirmations are given as “prayer” in several examples from pages 41-45
More visualization techniques are taught, including if you see people entering church who seem downcast, visualize them in God’s light with their burdens falling from their shoulders. Foster teaches this as intercession, p. 163
Foster, without giving any biblical basis for it, writes that our imagination is sanctified (25-26) and therefore, we should use visualization in prayer.
Notice the technique below that Foster advocates, which is exactly the same as is found in New Thought and the New Age:
... I was once called to a home to pray for a seriously ill baby girl. Her four-year-old brother was in the room and so I told him I needed his help to pray for his baby sister. … He climbed up into the chair beside me. ‘Let’s play a little game,’ I said. ‘Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that He is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to center our attention on Him. When we see Him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then let’s both put our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch and imagine that the light from Jesus is flowing right into your little sister and making her well. Let’s pretend that the light of Christ fights with the bad germs until they are all gone. Okay!’ Seriously the little one nodded. Together we prayed in this childlike way and then thanked the Lord that what we ‘saw’ was the way it was going to be. – From Celebration of Discipline, 1978, p. 37, found in “Beware of Visualization Prayer,” by David Cloud.
The scenario above describes New Thought and New Age practices, not biblical ones. There is no model for such a prayer in Scripture but there are many models for that in New Thought. Moreover, not only is this not found in the Bible, but it is contrary to what is taught in Scripture about prayer. Prayer is modeled as petition and praise to the Father in the authority of Jesus whom one has trusted for salvation. Foster apparently learned about visualization, affirmations, channeling God’s power, verbal commanding as prayer, and inner healing principles from Sanford, as well as possibly the idea that God does not know all the future (though that could be from his Quaker beliefs).
There are numerous other problems with the book which would take hours to write out. For example, aside from quoting some heretical mystics and many early Quakers (see *note below), Foster writes as though we should expect God to give revelation to us just as he did to Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah (16-25). He completely ignores the fact that God appointed these men as prophets and that we now have God’s completed word. This reveals Foster’s grave lack of biblical understanding as well lack of discernment. It also reveals a lack of belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.
Foster and Dallas Willard put out the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible in 2005, which was later renamed the Life With God Bible. This Bible makes positive use of the Higher Critics who viewed the Bible as a non-supernatural book.
I am not convinced early Quakers were teaching Christianity since they denied the authority of scripture and relied on the “inner light,” which they believed everyone has. I spent a few years as a New Ager attending Quaker meetings and, consequently, I read a lot of books on Quaker history and beliefs from the meetinghouse library so I became well informed.
Another example of Sanford’s influence on Foster is that his site Renovare promotes a book on prayer by Sanford, Experiments in Prayer by posting excerpts. Reading just a a few sentences reveals a stunning non-Christian view of prayer:
“One way to understand a hitherto unexplored force of nature is to experiment with that force intelligently and with an open mind. This book suggests, for those willing to learn, a method so simple that it is child-like, as the more profound truths are apt to be. It is an experimental method. One decides upon a definite subject for prayer, prays about it and then decides whether or not the prayer-project succeeds. If it does not succeed, one seeks a better adjustment with God and tries again. This is the method of the men who have discovered and harnessed the forces of God’s world—the scientists.” — From Renovare website
Reading Sanford’s “four simple steps in prayer” listed on that page not only demonstrates Sanford’s lack of understanding of prayer but an apparent ignorance of who God is. It is simply inconceivable as to how Sanford and Foster have been promoted by so many Christians as Christian teachers.
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” Acts 20:28-31
RESOURCES on Sanford and Foster
Christian articles on Inner Healing
Bob DeWaay, Critique of Celebration of Discipline
David Sheldon, Review of Celebration of Discipline
Foster invites those praying to “speak a definite, straightforward declaration of what is to be. We do not weaken our request with ifs, ands or buts.” For many, this boldness in prayer, declaring a person to be healed or confidently inviting God’s healing without some type of caveat (if it be Your will…) can feel brash and even dangerous. This is why the first step of listening and discernment is so important for healing prayer. In that step, we can get a sense from God what it is that He wants to do so we can have the confidence to pray within His will and for what He desires.” — From Foster, Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home, Google books
“He [Foster] credits Agnes Sanford for helping him see the value of using the imagination in praying. Foster writes, ‘Imagination opens the door to faith. If we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it is only a short step to believing it will be so’ (Foster: 36). Sanford got her ideas from Theosophy, New Thought, Jung, and Emmet Fox. These ideas, echoed by Foster, come from the unbiblical ‘mind over matter’ thinking of that era. That kind of thinking uses creative visualization to change reality or channel spiritual power. Foster suggests, ‘Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day’ (Foster: 39).” — From article by Bob DeWaay
Misused by Sanford — Proverbs 23:7
Proverbs 23:7 is not stating that how we think makes us who we are. This misuse is also taught in the New Thought and New Age movements. In context this statement in verse 7 is about hypocrisy, that one can think ill of someone but falsely act as though he is being nice. Verse 7 is not self-help advice nor is it even admirable. In fact, it is part of a passage condemning evil behavior.
Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
But his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments. Proverbs 23:6-8