THE LIFE WITH GOD (RENOVARE) BIBLE: RICHARD FOSTER AND DALLAS WILLARD

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After someone sent me the Renovare Bible (now called the Life With God Bible) several years ago, I looked through it and made notes of troubling things I found.  My interest in this Bible was based on grave concerns I had with the Bible’s editor Richard Foster and one of the general editors, Dallas Willard, and what they called spiritual formation. In this article, I cite pages in the Renovare Bible (of the copy I had), now called the Life With God Bible (published by Zondervan)  and make comments. Direct quotes are in italics to distinguish them from my summary and comments.

 

You may not feel concern about this Bible if it is not one you would use. However, it exposes the views of  Richard Foster and Dallas Willard which have been deeply influential in the church, and, therefore, it is important to know about.

 

The article has many hyperlinks which lead to further information, some to CANA articles and others to information off the CANA site.

 

Basic information given on the Renovare/Life With God Bible

This Bible is the New Revised Standard Version and also has the Deuterocanonical Books. The editor is RICHARD J FOSTER and the General Editors are Gayle Beebe, Lynda L. Graybeal, Thomas C. Oden, and DALLAS WILLARD. The consulting editors are WALTER BRUEGEMANN, Old Testament and Deuterocanonicals and EUGENE H. PETERSON, New Testament.

 

Contributing editor is Brenda Quinn and managing editors are John R. Kohlenberger III, and Terri Leonard. The contributors are Howard Baker, Timothy K. Beal, William H. Bellinger, Jr., Timothy Brown Glandion Carney, Ellen T. Charry, Jamesl. Crenshaw, Marva J. Dawn, Kerry Dearborn, Bruce Demarest, David A. deSilva, James R. Edwards, PETER ENNS, Rebecca J. Kruger Gaudino, Emilie Griffin, Christopher A. Hall, Andrew E. Hill, Evan B. Howard, Darlene Hyatt, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Joshua Choon Min Kang, Ralph W. Klein, Nancy C. Lee, Rebekah Close LeMon, William R. Long, Tremper Longman III, Howard R. Macy, James Earl Massey, J. Clinton McCann, Jr. Trevor Miller, Rickie D. Moore, Barbara M. Musselman, Agnes W. Norfleet, Virginia Stem Owens, Earl F. Palmer, Murray Andrew Pura, Andrew Purves, James M. Rand, Kimberly Clayton Richter, Michael D. Riley, Edwin Searcy, Roy Searle, Timothy F. Simpson, Felicia and Lyle SmithGraybeal, Catherine Taylor Bonnie Thurston, William H. Willimon, Ben Witherington III.

 

I put in all caps the names above of Foster, Willard, Bruegemann, Peterson (a Contemplative enthusiast and author of The Message), and Enns due to problems with many things they have said or written. Read critiques of Peterson’s views and The Message here and here. Enns was removed from Westminster Seminary and has been teaching the Bible as a work resulting from how people interacted in ancient times with their concept of God based on their culture.

 

A Side Trip On Enns

Due to the influence of Foster and Willard in the church, it is important to know how serious it is that Peter Enns is part of the Renovare/Life with God Bible. Here is an excerpt from a Gospel Coalition article by Robert W. Yarbrough responding to Enns’ book, How the Bible Actually Works:

 

 In How the Bible Actually Works, Enns—professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania—argues that the mission of the Bible is to subvert much of what Bible-believing Christians through the centuries have thought about the Bible. If you’re such a Christian, you may think the Bible has answers to your questions. No, it rather reshapes the questions you ask. You may think Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. No, New Testament writers just radically reimagined the Jews’ ancestral God and imputed beliefs about Jesus to him. You may think the Bible tells you what God is like. No, it just recounts what other people in other places and times thought about God.

“God” to us is who we imagine him to be. That’s all he can be, because we’re bound by our conceptual and cultural limitations, while God is beyond all human knowing.

 

I encourage anyone interested to read that article in full.

 

The rest of this article is broken up into sections or topics from the Renovare/Life With God Bible followed by my comments. Page numbers are given for quotes.

 

General Introduction

Here is a definition of spiritual formation in this Bible:

 

P. xxix,  Spiritual formation’ is the process of transforming the inner reality of the self (the ‘inward being’ of the psalmist) in such a way that the overall with-God life seen in the Bible naturally and freely comes to pass in us. Our inner world (the ‘secret heart’) becomes the home of Jesus by his initiative and our response. As a result, our interior world becomes increasingly like the inner self of Jesus, and therefore, the natural source of words and deeds that are the characteristic of him. By his enabling presence we come to ‘let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5).

 

There is no biblical support for an “inner self” of Jesus. Jesus, the God-man, is equal to God. He added humanity to his nature and therefore had human weaknesses like thirst, hunger, and fatigue. But what is the relevance or meaning of an “inner self” for Jesus? There is none. It is not rational. If there is such a thing, then it is “inner” and we cannot know about it. If we know about it, it is not “inner.” This is typical of the mystical and often convoluted approach of Foster (and Willard).

 

Hildegard of Bingen

This paragraph expresses admiration for some dubious people:

 

P. xxxii, “So we read the Bible in conversation with Origen and Jerome, Augustine of Hippo and Hildegard of Bingen, John Chrysostom and John Calvin, Martin Luther and Richard Baxter, Watchman Nee and Sundar Singh – and many others, including the wise and mature interpreters of Scripture today.” [Boldface added]

 

(The life of Sundar Singh,1889-1929, a mystic and Christian missionary, is controversial and many accounts about him have been disputed. Please do searches if interested as it too time consuming to research him considering others with more priority who should be addressed. However, he is named in this Bible in a positive way probably because he was a mystic who had visions).

 

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was generally regarded highly by New Agers when I was in the New Age. Visions were the staple of Hildegard’s spiritual life. Her work, Scivias, written around 1151, contains 26 visions. However, some believe these visions were connected to migraines:

 

However, in 1141, Hildegard had a vision that changed the course of her life. A vision of god gave her instant understanding of the meaning of the religious texts, and commanded her to write down everything she would observe in her visions.

“And it came to pass … when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming… and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…

. . . It is now generally agreed that Hildegard suffered from migraine, and that her visions were a result of this condition. The way she describes her visions, the precursors, to visions, to debilitating aftereffects, point to classic symptoms of migraine sufferers. Although a number of visual hallucinations may occur, the more common ones described are the “scotomata” which often follow perceptions of phosphenes in the visual field. Scintillating scotomata are also associated with areas of total blindness in the visual field, something Hildegard might have been describing when she spoke of points of intense light, and also the “extinguished stars.” Migraine attacks are usually followed by sickness, paralysis, blindness-all reported by Hildegard, and when they pass, by a period of rebound and feeling better than before, a euphoria also described by her.

 

Whether the visions were from migrains or not, you can read Scivias online for  yourself and it is clear such visions are not only extra-biblical but unbiblical.

 

Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee’s teachings are extremely problematic. He expressed some very bizarre views about soul and spirit and seemed to have many inner subjective “knowings.” I have read many of his writings online and found them disturbing. Rather than writing more, I am providing four sources with warnings on Nee:

 

 

Yet his views on sanctification, the Holy Spirit, hermeneutics, baptism, the church and sin contain significant error. He had a flawed view of man, practiced an allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture, believed denominations were sinful, and frequently called others to join him in his perpetual quest for the deeper spiritual life—a quest that smacks of perfectionism. From Beware the Writings of the Watchman by Tommy Clayton

 

At a Bible school in Shanghai, he came under the influence of a female teacher, Miss Yu. Under her instruction he seriously sought a “second blessing.” He later said he felt he had “recovered” truth for the church and taught four subsequent experiences after conversion.

Miss Yu directed Nee to Miss M.E. Barber, who taught him in the Keswick concept of the filling of the Spirit. In February 1922, Nee claimed, he was “baptized in the Spirit” and put himself under the continuing instruction of Barber. Barber then was responsible for the development of Nee’s perfectionistic theology.

Barber also convinced Nee of the truth of the “partial rapture” theory assigning carnal believers to a kind of Protestant purgatory. Nee admitted that in his writings on the book of Revelation, he depended on a book from Barber’s library by Robert Govett that teaches a partial rapture. Thus we see how he got these new “insights” that became the basis for new books.

….. Nee outlines no method of Bible study and interpretation and appears to deny evangelical hermeneutics. In his book Spiritual Authority, he sets himself and his elders up as the unquestionable authorities. By all appearances, Nee saw himself not as a servant but as a guru.

One gets the impression from Nee that the Bible was not nearly as important as Christians generally consider it. In his book The Ministry of God’s Word, Nee says, “Words alone cannot be considered God’s Word.” In this book, Nee becomes very philosophical, mystical and incoherent. From Watching Out for Watchman Nee by Richard Fischer, a long time pastor whom I knew personally through the ministry Personal Freedom Outreach (which is no longer active). I recommend reading his entire article.

 

Why I Can No Longer Endorse Any of Watchman Nee’s Books

 

An article by Gordon Ferguson analyzing some problems with Watchman Nee’s teachings

 

Reading with the Heart

This section endorses the mystical practice known as Lecto Divina. This practice treats the Bible as an esoteric book with private meanings one derives from a passage via subjective techniques.

 

P. xxxii, under “Reading with the Heart,” it states: “Finally, as we approach the Bible it is helpful to slow down, breathe deeply, and read with the heart.”

 

It goes on to advise the method of lectio divina, described as “listening” to Scripture.

 

P. xxxiii, There is an assumption that the “Spiritual Disciplines” are “God-ordained means by which each of us is enabled to place the little, individualistic power pack we all possess — the human body — before God as a ‘living sacrifice’.”

 

The assumption is false. The disciplines listed are: fasting and prayer, study and service, submission and solitude, confession and worship, meditation and silence, simplicity, frugality, secrecy, sacrifice, celebration, and “the like.”

 

What biblical basis is there for the following as disciplines: solitude, meditation (in the sense that is meant, which is a retreat into silence and being still in order to “hear” God), silence, simplicity, or secrecy, especially as “disciplines?” They may be good values for some but there is nothing especially biblical about them.

 

The simplicity is undoubtedly from Foster’s Quakerism. One can argue for simplicity from Scripture (Matthew 6:19) and to be content with what one possesses (Philippians 4:11; Hebrews 13:5) but it is not explicitly taught nor is it on the level of other behaviors taught to the church in the epistles. There is more about avoiding the love of money (Ecclesiastes 5:10; Luke 16:14; 1 Timothy 3:3, 6:10; 2 Timothy3:2), which is not the same thing. Another problem is defining the concept of simplicity. How much or little should one have? How can that be measured? This can get into the weeds quickly. Simplicity is also found in Foster’s bestselling The Celebration of Discipline, one of the worst books to invade the wider evangelical  church, in my view. This is the contemplative spirituality I have researched and written and warned about for the past 18 years. In the last 5 years, it has accelerated in the church at breakneck speed.

 

Not surprisingly, Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle and Ignatius of Loyola’s The Spiritual Exercises are recommended. Having read about three-quarters of Teresa of Avila’s book so far, I can say with no hesitation that this book is based on an esoteric spirituality and teaches prayer that is not biblical.

 

THE WITH-GOD LIFE: A Panoramic View of God’s Purpose in History

In this section we find a surprising statement about the fall into sin:

 

P. xxxvii, Adam and Eve ‘fell’ because, though innocent, they lacked character. Innocence is not virtue. Innocence, for all its beauty, is a form of ignorance and lack of character……

[…..]…..To develop Adam’s and Eve’s character – and ours too — God has to be ‘absent’ as well as present in human life……Through the ages God purposely works to establish a balance between his ‘manifest presence’ and his ‘seeming absence,’ so that we will develop character…

 

Adan and Eve “fell” because they lacked character? This is not compatible with the Genesis account or with Romans 5. Adam disobeyed and Eve was deceived. Based on what I have read and heard, contemplatives do not use the word “sin” much, if at all. They seem to have an aversion to it.

 

As for innocence being ignorance and “lack of character,” if this were true, then God made Adam and Eve with a flaw. It is true they were not perfect because 1) only God is perfect (perfect in the Bible means complete, with no need or ability to be better because perfection cannot be improved upon), and 2) because they were able to sin and did chose to do so. But to make innocence sound negative in this way is not in the text nor implied as such.

 

Genesis As Account of Beliefs, Not Facts

This seems to deny a literal reading of Genesis 1-11:

 

P. 14 (Genesis), Gen. 1-11 is Israel’s theological narrative about God the Creator.

 

Note the phrasing that Genesis 1 through 11 is a narrative, not from God, but a narrative from Israel, as though God is not the author.  Here is another issue:

 

P. 15, Borrowing from other creation accounts, these writers express the strong belief that the one God of Israel is the very same God of all creation.

 

The phrase “borrowing from other creation accounts” falls in line with liberal scholarship that asserts that the Genesis account of creation was borrowed from pagan creation myths. This has been heavily disputed. The creation account in Genesis is starkly different from pagan myths.  Also see articles here and here on the uniqueness of the Genesis account versus pagan myths.

 

More Than One Isaiah

This contemplative promoting Bible appears to promote the Deutero-Isaiah theory by stating there is a gap of 200 years between Isaiah 39.8 and 40.1 (P. 983 – Isaiah).

 

I had to study and respond to this theory in seminary. There are refutations to it:

 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 as being from Isaiah in Matthew 13:14-15

 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 9 as coming from Isaiah in Matthew 4:14-15

 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 29 as coming from Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-8

 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 40 as coming from Isaiah in Matthew 3:3

 

Jesus quotes Isaiah 42 as coming from Isaiah in Matthew 12:18

 

(Here are the passages above from Matthew)

 

According to the Deutero-Isaiah theory, Isaiah came from two different people at diffferent periods of history (and some critics have said there are multiple sources for Isaiah). Yet Jesus attributes the quotes to one person, the prophet Isaiah.

 

Q Document

This Bible endorses the Q document theories (P. 1842 -Mark).  The Q document is a hypothetical source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke:

 

In the nineteenth century, New Testament scholars noted that the gospels of Matthew and Luke shared much material in common, which was echoed in the Gospel of Mark. They suggested a second common source, which was termed the Q document. This hypothetical lost text—also called the Q Gospel, the Sayings Gospel Q, the Synoptic Sayings Source, the Q Manuscript, and (in the nineteenth century) The Logia—seems most likely to have comprised of a collection of Jesus‘ sayings. Recognizing such a Q document is one of two key elements in the “two-source hypothesis” alongside the priority of Mark.  From New World Encyclopedia

 

I took a course on the Bible at a church I went to after becoming a Christian, when I was still very new in Christ, and the Q document was taught as fact. I kept wondering why I had never heard of Q and why wasn’t it in the Bible if it existed? I did not learn about this until years later when I was in seminary. There is no evidence for any such document.

 

The Renovare/Life With God Bible supports the views of the Higher Critics I to had to refute in seminary and which many others have refuted. It is not an evangelical oriented Bible but rather a Bible for Progressives. I would not recommend this Bible.

 

More Resources

The Little God of Richard Foster 

 

Contemplative Prayer

 

The Be Still DVD

 

Renovare/Life With God Bible from Got Questions:

<1) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible includes the Apocrypha. The editors suggest that the Apocrypha is not to be viewed as equal with Bible; however, they also proclaim that “most of the Church throughout much of history has accepted the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture” (xxx.2). This is not true. The Catholic Church has accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture since the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, but not “most of the Church,” and not most of the time. Also, Israel never considered the Apocrypha as Holy Writ.

2) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible attacks the divine authorship of Genesis, stating in its General Introduction that Moses did not write it, that its content is mythological, and that it was written over a process of time as tales from other religions were adapted and given a unique monotheistic twist. This flies in the face of many passages of Scripture which say that Moses, under the inspiration of God, wrote the Pentateuch (Exodus 17:14, 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9, 25; Joshua 8:31–32; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 30:16; Nehemiah 8:1; Luke 24:44; John 1:17, 45; 5:45–46; 7:19–23). Jesus Himself spoke of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, so denying that truth denies Christ. In addition, those who accept such Renovaré teachings must reject the authority and infallibility of Scripture, two of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.

3) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible denies that the book of Daniel is prophecy, stating in the introductory notes to that book, “We do not know who wrote it or exactly when it was written” (p. 1245). The writer of the introduction, James M. Rand, goes on to set the date of Daniel’s writing around 167 BC. This would mean, of course, that the author of Daniel, who claims to be Daniel (Daniel 8:15, 27, 9:1–2; 10:2) and who claims to have written it “in the first year of Darius” (538 BC), is a liar.

4) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible attempts to destroy the nature and power of Messianic prophecy. For example, in Isaiah 9:6–7, the Messiah is called “the mighty God, the everlasting Father,” but the Renovaré study notes attribute this description to “human agents” (p. 997). The whole book of Isaiah (which Renovaré says Isaiah did not really write, pp. 982, 1068, again calling a prophet of God a liar) is called “tradition” (pp. 982–983) and “poetic imagination.”

5) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible ignores the prophecies concerning Israel’s future. The prophecy of Jeremiah 31:7–14, which plainly says that Israel will be gathered and restored, is interpreted by Renovaré as God’s promise to homeless people everywhere. The “dry bones” prophecy of Ezekiel 37 (again, a passage that specifies “the whole house of Israel” in verse 11) is twisted into a reference to the Church’s beginning at Pentecost. 

 

 

On Teresa of Avila from Got Questions

 

 

Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Case For Re-Examination

 

Short link: http://tinyurl.com/5ffhj7cz