The church was founded by Jesus Christ, and he is the cornerstone. The church has a supernatural dimension due to its Founder, and because all believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are the church. Instructions regarding the church are found in scripture, especially 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter chapter 5, and parts of other books like Ephesians. So why are some church leaders looking to someone like Peter Senge’s ideas? This articles demonstrates why that is a bad idea.
Peter Senge’s Spiritual Views
Peter Senge (pronounced Sen-ge with a hard “g”) is viewed as a visionary leader by business leaders and is referred to in books and on many business websites. In fact, Senge is considered by some to be the successor to the influential Peter Drucker:
“Peter Senge has been called the most influential business strategists of the century and in my view Senge is the successor of Peter Drucker, the management visionary. Senge published a book in 1990 called The Fifth Discipline which I think every manager, founder and CEO should read.”
A Zen Buddhist and New Ager, Senge has been a familiar fixture on the New Age site, EnlightenNext. and on the website of New Ager Andrew Cohen (who is no longer online). He is listed with other Eastern and New Age spokespersons as a “visionary economist” on New Age sites. New Age principles have been infiltrating and impacting the business world for a number of years (as well as the fields of health, psychology, and education).
Senge is also the author of a book recommended by many Christians, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. It is one thing to apply these methods in business and quite another to apply them to the church.
Having been a New Ager and a student of Zen Buddhism for many years before Christ, I can affirm that this worldview is radically opposed to the Christian worldview. Here are some statements from the book, cited by page number, with my comments:
p. 153 – Recommends “some form of meditation” such as “contemplative prayer” or a method to quiet “the conscious mind” – and recommends “regular meditative practice.”
Senge gives the Zen view of “our normal highly active state of mind” as a distraction to the subconscious. The type of meditation he recommends is Eastern-based meditation that has the goal of stilling the thinking process so that “realizations” can “break through.” This is not the normal or biblical way to reason or think things through. The Bible encourages reasoning and pondering (Isaiah 1:18; Matt. 22:37; Acts 17:17, 18:4, 19; Ps. 16:7; Prov. 1:2-5; Prov. 18:15, 22:17; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 14:15; Heb. 10:16).
p. 169, “We begin to see that all of us are trapped in structures, structures embedded both in our ways of thinking and in the interpersonal and social milieus in which we live.”
This is a very Zen Buddhist view, since Buddhism sees this world and life as form and structure. The goal is to become detached so that one eventually escapes rebirth and extinguishes attachment, thereby going into formlessness, the true state of reality and being. This is reminiscent of the ancient Gnostic teachings that we are spirits from God trapped in bodies. However, a Christian is not “trapped” at all but has been set free in Christ (John 8:32, 36; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:1).
p. 192, “A shared vision is not an idea . . . It is, rather, a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressing power.”
This is very humanist and secular. “The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it” (Jer. 17:9).
p. 193, Senge writes of one his heroes, Kazuo Inamori of Kyocera, who entreats employees, “To look inward” to discover “their own internal standards.”
The standards for behavior are based on God’s character, not on our own, which are fallen and corrupted by sin.
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works,”(Psalm 73:28).
“You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes.”(Psalm 119:68)
“Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?”(Psalm71:19)
p. 222, Senge quotes David Bohm in the single quotes: “Science is not ‘accumulation of Knowledge’ but the creation of ‘mental maps’ that guide and shape our perception and action, bringing about a constant ‘mutual participation between nature and consciousness.'”
In this section, Senge gets into the quantum theories that New Agers misapply to reality in order to offer evidence for their Eastern view that all is connected and is one. Senge is not using business or leadership principles here, but New Age interpretations of reality through a misuse of quantum physics. Senge refers to the hologram (p. 212), a New Age concept of the universe, and discusses this for several pages as a model of reality. The hologram model is pantheistic (all is God), or at the very least, panentheistic (all is contained in God). He also approvingly quotes Abraham Maslow, an architect of human potential thinking. To say science is a creation of a mental map implies that creation is not real (a Buddhist concept), but is only a tool with which we understand the perceived (but false) reality. For a Christian, science is the discovery of laws that God set in place to operate in His creation, a view diametrically opposed to Senge’s.
p. 224, Referring to Bohm again, Senge writes: “We are like actors who forget they are playing a role. We become trapped in the theater of our thoughts. This is when thought starts, in Bohm’s words, to become ‘incoherent.'”
Becoming trapped in our thoughts is a concept found among materialists, New Agers, and Buddhists. Materialists believe that our thoughts are random consequences of evolution or the result of instincts or biochemical reactions; New Agers think that our thoughts are based on what we falsely believe to be true; and Buddhists think that thoughts are generated by a false perception of reality and attachment to that reality, in addition to the belief that the mind itself is part of the non-reality.
Dismissing or degrading the thought process and thinking is a core of New Age philosophy; analysis and reasoning are seen as a hindrance to enlightenment in Buddhism. See verses posted above on the Bible’s endorsement of using reason and thought.
p. 225, “Once people see the participatory nature of their thought, they begin to separate themselves from their thought.”
Separating the person from their thinking and thoughts is a goal in Buddhism since the belief is that the person is not his/her thoughts. Through Buddhist meditation, one can observe thoughts as they enter the mind and come to recognize that these thoughts are not coming from the true nature of the person which is, for want of a better term, the Buddha self or Buddha Mind (all that exists). However, God’s word tells us that He created us and we possess a body, mind, and soul/spirit.
“I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.”Psalm 16:7
“Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.”Psalm 26:2
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your mind to my knowledge.” Prov.22:17
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'”Matt. 22:37
Peter Senge and the Church
An article on forming small cell groups in a church, which is no longer online (but was at the time of writing this article) gave a reference to Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline as a helpful source.
On this list from Andy Stanley of Northpoint Church, note that Peter Senge’s book is recommended (number 9). (Andy Stanley is the son of Pastor Charles Stanley).
There is an endorsement of Senge’s teachings in a Christian book promoted on Leadership Network, Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey.
It seems a new group of visionaries are emerging in the business world, seeking to infuse New Age/Eastern beliefs into business models and companies. Through Senge and others, along with accommodating Christians, these concepts are influencing people in church leadership. Senge is a core part of something called Systems Thinking, led by the writings and vision of Otto C. Sharmer, author of Theory U and Presence (the latter co-authored by Senge). What many seem unaware of is that Scharmer’s ideas are spiritually based.
Because the New Age has been so inaccurately stereotyped, it has been successful in deception with its assorted disguises of health language, business-corporate sounding concepts, and slick psychological terms. It has cleaned itself up and put on a suit for the corporate world, and gone to church with its briefcase of catch phrases, ready to turn heads looking for new approaches to “growth” and “leadership.”
However, Jesus established the church, and instructions in God’s words pertaining to the church are sufficient. A model based on Buddhist or New Age worldviews of necessity will include core principles contrary to a biblical view that will wound the church and dishonor the name of Jesus Christ.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Tim. 3:16-17
Podcast interview with Joseph Jaworski (co-author with Senge and Scharmer of Presence). Jaworski is one of the thinkers/influencers in Systems.
Radio interview of Betty Sue Flowers, a Systems player and co-author with Senge of Presence. This interview reveals that Flowers incorporates New Age concepts in her thinking. Excerpt from link: “Betty Sue Flowers is a divine inspiration and a master rainmaker. She has been a midwife for more change agents, leaders, authors, and storytellers around the world than we could ever realize. She is the former director of the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, TX, a Global Business Network member, a NASA consultant, a member of the Envisioning Network for General Motors, a writer of global scenarios for Shell Oil International in London, and a member of the World Business Council in Geneva.”