Descerning the Times: The Need for Spiritual Discernment with Warren Smith, Sarah Leslie, Pastor Larry DeBruyn as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothIn these evil days of ever-increasing ear tickling, Smith, Leslie and DeBruym are among the voices desirous of keeping the remnant alert.

Discerning the Times: the Need for Spiritual Discernment
Warren Smith, Sarah Leslie, Pastor Larry DeBruyn
Cedarburg Cultural Center
Cedarburg, WI
30 April 2011
If the inspiration for bringing three of discernment ministry's biggest names in the blogosphere and on certain sectors of Christian radio was there to be appreciated for that inspiration, she surely wasn't introduced.
In a conversation I had with the organizer of this event that brought former new ager and author Warren B. Smith, Mennonite blogstress Sarah Leslie and Indianapolis' Baptist pastor and author Larry DeBruyn to an informative long-morning-into-afternoon session, the same man who brought Ray Yungen (A Time of  Departing) to speak on similar issues regarding contemplativosm/mysticism, universalism and other intertwined heresies infiltrating the Protestant Evangelical church three years earlier to the same venue told me that it's his daughter's involvement in emergent church practices and congregations that lit the fire in him to go to the expense of bringing in speakers to educate others. If the gal in question was in attendance, she certainly wasn't drawing any attention to herself.
Following the singing of a brief piano-accompanied hymn and introductions, Smith was first to take to the podium. The curly-haired writer, whose Deceived on Purpose in 2005 was one of the first works to question the orthodoxy of the influences and outcomes of Rick Warren's purpose-drivenness, exuded a peaceful, laconic presence as he spoke on how God, contrary to the pantheism espoused by many many pastors and authors in the emergent/contemplative camp, is not in everything. Weaving together copious Old and New Testament passages alongside properly contextualized quotations and citations from Warren, Willow Creek Association architect Bill Hybels, Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, neo-monk Shane Claireborne and new age celebrities Neal Donald Walsh and A Course in Milracles mavenness Marianne Williamson as well the movement's granddad, Jesuit priest Pierrre Reilhard de Chardin, Smith made a convincing case for scripturally foreign ideas rooted in concepts of oneness proffered in Buddhism and Hinduism mingling with biblical truth to shift (that's a significant enough word for Hybels to have hosted at his church a conference by that name featuring several names in "contemplative" Christianity/emergentism) the church toward the one-world religiosity prophesied in Revelation. It's tempting to let Smith's serene presentation style obscure the gravity of his message's urgency, but it's better to let it be a draw to his words of wisdom and first-hand experience. 

Sarah Leslie, dressed plainly, yet festively, in the simple dress and hat marking her denomination, though in a comely shade of lavender. Her first presentation-each speaker had two-dovetailed into Smith's as she spoke of the transformation of the church from the inside out, for which she had a series of  overhead transparencies to illustrate her points. Sadly, her engaging schoolmarn tone and the visuals she presented kept me from taking as many notes as I did for Smith and DeBruyn. And wouldn't you know it? I Can’t find the DVD of the day's talks to refresh my memory. Sorry, but honestly, her blog posts connect thematic dots in the neo-evangelical world and explicates church history galore. If that seems a cop-out, here's hoping conference organizer Chuck Cline or someone in his enploy will edit that DVD for commecial sale.
DeBruyn was the most brusque speaker on the dais, a mix of genial warmth for people personally and combative contentiousness when it comes to defending God's Word. His bald pate and glasses give the impression of a heterosexual Richard Deacon (Not a diss; Deacon was a funny and accomplished actor, probably best remembered for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show.).  He began his program on guarding against deception with the semi-apropops declaration that a belief in Darwinisn evolution and Christianity are cognitively dissonant by saying "If evolution's true, the Bible's false," before getting into the main of his talk. Spiritual deception, De Bruyn maintains, comes through voices (akin to Hybels' popularizing of supposedly divine "whispers"), visions (e.g . late telepreacher Oral Roberts' seeing his infamous 900-foot Jesus who threatened to take the word-faith pioneer if he didn't raise so many millions of dollars and the stream of "went to heaven and came" back" books Christian market publishers continue to sell) and visitations (such as the "conversations with God" some new age leaders claim to have and such that The Shack  author William Paul Young claimed to have had had that prompted the writing of his best-selling novel). The correctives for this, DeBrurn avers, are standing by the sola statements of the Protestant Reformation when it comes it theology, doctrine and ecclesial practice, most especially sola scriptura.

After a fine buffet lunch at a Chinese eatery across the street from the venue,  it was time to return to the Cedarburg Cultural Center for the afternoon sessions. Leslie led the second spate of presentations with one about the new paradigms that are directing where the (dominant) church is headed nowadays. I had the same trouble with her this time as I had last, and if she's reading this, I'd like to recommend that she make hand-outs of her detailed, useful visual complements to her talk next she talks in Wisconsin (or anywhere, really). It's not my intention to dismiss her work on grounds of gender, as she is one smart lady and, if I'm recalling rightly, shared the greatest amount of historical data. Again, I recommend the curious reader to check out her copious blog work.

After a passing of buckets for a free will offering, Smith returned. In a talk about signs of the times that mark U.S. Christendom's increasingly apostate state, he discussed The Shack, Eugene Peterson's suspect Bible paraphrase, The Message (which its, ahem, author claims now as a Bible translation, said Smith), and The Daniel Plan, the weight loss program at Warren's Saddleback Church wherein its pastor engaged noted non-Christians such as Swedenborgian* TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz and tantric sex advocate Dr. Daniel Amen to assist Mr. Purpose Driven's congregation in dropping pounds...and preparing recipes that even people who do all their grocery shopping at Whole Foods might find to be on the pricy side. Amid those three subjects, Smith interjected more about Williamson, her prelate to the afternoon talk show watching masses, Oprah Winfrey, De Chardin, and Sweet. Amid remarking on the heterodoxies of all those Smith brought up as deleterious provocateurs in the church and broader culture, in the same measured and dulcet tone that defines his delivery, he broached the unfortunate fact that the day's event, regardless its wealth of information and insight, wasn't all that well-attended. Certainly fewer than 200 came out for it. Admittedly, it could have been better served by a heightened publicity campaign; I’d heard about it, almost fleetingly, on the VCY America radio network's Crosstalk show, which drew some attendees, but many seemed to have been from Cline's congregation and other conservative churches in Southeastern Wisconsin. Whether this reflects on a lack of interest in the subjects discussed among area Christians I'll leave for the reader to ponder.

DeBruyn wrapped up Discerning the Times' formal sessions with an expose' on the evil eye over some current evangelistic methods and evangelists. Describing the difference between the meanings of the biblical Greek words logos and gnosis and exposition of verses from Pauline epistles, the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Job and Amos framed a trail that followed from a few of the aforementioned megachurch pastors to the teachings of other questionable personages including Robert Schuller, Joyce Meyers, and, coming as a roughly a half-surprise to me, Zig Ziglar, whose philosophical underpinnings DeBruyn connected to New Thought proponent Napoleon Hill, author of infamous self-help text Think and Grow Rich. As with his previous talk, the pastor opened with observations that seemed, at best, tangentially pertinent to the rest of his research, this time on the hypnotic effects of some drumming in worship contexts and many musical settings generally; having read the booklet about the topic he'd given me I'm more compelled than fully convinced as to his assertions, though there's room for Bereans caution in everything, surely.     

At the question & answer session that concluded the afternoon, Leslie affirmed my suspicion that a friend of mine who practices a couple forms of alternative medicine might want to be careful of occultic forces she may be unduly courting. By the end of the day I'd also introduced myself to Smith, with whom I had some telephone dialogue when Deceived was a new release and I was supposed to have interviewed him for The Wittenberg Door; regarding that, he admits to having to bone up some on his organizational and promotional skills. He also graciously gave me a copy of his latest book, False Christ Coming: Does Anybody Care? (An update of his 2002 work, Reinventing Jesus Christ), which I recommend as a relatively quick read about some of the themes he touched upon here.   

Not every Christian may be gifted in their attraction to doing the research these folks do, or be able to take in as much of it was provided in Discerning the Times. But, in these evil days of ever-increasing ear tickling, Smith, Leslie and DeBruym are among the voices desirous of keeping the remnant alert. Here's hoping more show up to hear them next they come around here. Maybe even Cline's daughter will show up?

More on Smith can be found at Much of DeBruyn's work can be seen at    

* Because this article already lengthy enough, this article should provide a sufficient introduction to the troubles with the Swedenborgianism Oz embraces: 

-Jamie Lee Rake