Someone recently asked me if I had any information on an individual by the name of Henri Nouwen. Until August 2020, I didn’t normally do posts on pastors/teachers. I had two reasons for this:
A) there are plenty of them out there, and
B) not every one of them needs a public post.
Because there are plenty of them out there, I only do these upon request. If these were all I did, I would get nothing else done. I still may get nothing else done if these requests continue, but at least I would be serving my neighbor by telling my neighbor (in the case of the false teacher/heretic) who to mark and avoid (Romans 16:17).
Prior to this request, I had very little knowledge of Henri Nouwen. Unlike prior profile posts I have done (on pastors such as Max Lucado, Joseph Prince, Todd Smith, Richard Rohr and Henry Seeley), this one will not be done on a living person, for Henri Nouwen passed away in 1996
While Nouwen may be dead, his influence lives on (as advertised in this awful book by Jefferson Bethke). It seems Nouwen has authored a plethora of books. There have also been some posthumous works. The Henri Nouwen Society has this information as it pertains to Nouwen’s influence:
It is clear that Nouwen’s teachings are rather public. Moreover, he has influenced popular people such as Hillary Clinton and the late Fred Rogers. Even though Nouwen is dead, he has a Twitter account with over 74,600 followers. Therefore, a post on him is most definitely appropriate. This is not a Matthew 18 issue because Nouwen is obviously still in the public eye (not to mention deceased and not a Christian).
Nouwen was not primarily a pastor (more on that later), so the criteria I use when giving biblical critiques on pastors will not really apply here. Instead, one needs to compare Henri Nouwen’s teachings to the Word of God. In this post, I review three sermons that Nouwen gave in 1993 at the now-defunct Crystal Cathedral. I also get information from Nouwen’s society. After all, a society dedicated to him should be able to give accurate information about him. I’ll point out any discrepancies I may find.
Here is what Nouwen’s society has to state about him as a spiritual leader:
Nouwen’s society, under the heading “his historical impact”, states he was a priest. The prior page (down below, titled “About Henri“) is a little more specific on what type of priest he was:
It seems there’s a bit of a disconnect between how many books Nouwen has actually sold; one page says over two million books spanning 22 different languages whereas another says over eight million books spanning 28 different languages. Which is it?
Notice he was ordained as a diocesan priest. I could not find anything concrete about what exactly constitutes a diocesan priest. In my research, I found that Nouwen was actually “ordained to the Catholic priesthood by Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink (1900-1987), Archbishop of Utrecht on July 21, 1957.” This is significant because Catholicism rejects salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, it preaches a different gospel.
Those who know the biblical Gospel understand that by default, we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains:
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9). Revelation 21:1-8 states the following (NASB):
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be anymourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. 7 The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The Bible is clear that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. No adulterer, no murderer, no idolater, no unbeliever (among others) will inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin has a very serious consequence.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to solve the sin problem 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. If you get anything out of this long-winded article, please know how you can be saved through Jesus Christ alone.
At this point, it is clear Nouwen was a catholic priest. However, there was also a sentence stating he was a pastor. There appears to be evidence suggesting he had stronger ties to Catholicism than he did a biblical pastor. For the sake of argument, it would still be good to see the biblical qualifications of a pastor.
As a pastor, Nouwen would be subject to stricter judgment (James 3:1). Furthermore, certain things are expected of a pastor. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (said book being written to young Pastor Timothy), the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21), gives this exhortation to Timothy (NASB):
4 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
This charge Paul gives to Timothy is a serious one (verse 1). Paul is giving this charge in the presence of Jesus Christ, the only way by which mankind may be saved (Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:11; John 14:6). That charge is to preach the Word always, reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience and teaching (verse 2). The job of a pastor is to preach the Word.
This pastor must also exhort in sound doctrine and rebuke those that contradict. In the pastoral epistle of Titus, Paul writes the following in Titus 1:5-16 (NASB):
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
The same themes of exhortation and reproof shown in the 2 Timothy passage also manifest themselves in the above Titus passage. A pastor is to preach the Word, exhort in sound doctrine, refute that which contradicts sound doctrine, and silence the false teachers via a sharp rebuke. Did Nouwen’s society get it right by calling him a pastor? This article answers that question.
Nouwen’s society has a page called Daily Medication Archives. I’m not sure if these works were done posthumously or during his lifetime. Therefore, I’m not going to critique those, for I would rather focus on something more primary. Enter the aforementioned sermons.
Three years before Nouwen passed away (1993), he gave three sermons (spanning 3 weekends) on the Hour Of Power at the “now defunct Crystal Cathedral” (citation not an endorsement). This place was formerly led by heretic Robert Schuller. I won’t ding Nouwen for speaking at a heretic’s place. As I mentioned in an article I did on false teacher Max Lucado, I’ve heard the phrase, “If I had an opportunity to preach the Gospel in hell, I’m going.” I don’t have a problem with a person with the label of pastor speaking at a place with a big audience. He just has to make the most of the opportunity.
In this sermon, which was under twenty minutes long, Nouwen does not open a Bible. He does not mention sin, grace, repentance or the forgiveness of sins. He proclaims no Gospel. Instead, it’s basically all law and no Gospel. It’s advice (I don’t think it’s even good advice), but it’s not Good News. Having stated all that, I still review this sermon.
As I was transcribing these quotes, I had some difficulty understanding what Nouwen was saying. I cannot tell if what he is speaking with is a lisp or an accent (or maybe both). When I used “close caption” in transcribing, I think the close caption might not be as accurate as my transcribing.
He begins this sermon by stating the following (any bolding I do, unless otherwise stated, is done by me):
I’m really grateful to be with you here this morning and to share my faith with you, and to the core of that faith belongs my conviction that you and that I and that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God. I might as well say that from the very beginning. You, we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. And one of the enormous spiritual tasks we have is to claim that and to live a life based on that knowledge. And that’s not very easy. In fact, most of us fail constantly to claim the truths of who we are.
Notice he doesn’t start with a biblical text. Instead, he starts with his own assertion (or conviction, per se). Moreover, it’s a sweeping personal conviction. How does he know everyone in that audience is “the beloved daughters and sons of God”? Also, what biblical text states it is an enormous spiritual task for me to both claim “that” (referring to being a son/daughter of God) and live a life based on that knowledge? That’s law. Where’s the Gospel?
Earlier, I cited Ephesians 2:1-10. The first three verses state that by default, everyone is both born dead in trespasses/sins and at war with God. Therefore, to call someone a son/daughter of God outright isn’t the most technical theology. In fact, it’s dangerous (heretical even).
Consider this text from John 1:1-13 (NKJV):
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Those who believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ are given the right to become children of God. Those who do not do such a thing are not children of God.
Now consider 1 John 3:1-24 (NKJV):
3 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
There are two types of children; there are children of God and there are children of the devil. Children of God (adopted, mind you) believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Children of the devil do not do such a thing. If there was anyone in the audience not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, then calling that person a son/daughter of God is not true, for that person is in fact a child of the devil at war with god. We got a big problem here with Nouwen’s theology.
I continue to refute the “beloved sons and daughters of God” theology from Nouwen. As I mentioned, people are born dead in trespasses and sins. People that are given the right to become children of God are adopted into God’s family. Nouwen makes no mention of this concept of “adoption” anywhere. I consider two texts:
3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
4 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.Galatians 3:1-4:7 (NKJV)
Who were those under the law spoken of in Galatians 4:5? Every single one of us. The law serves as a tutor to bring people to Jesus Christ by faith (Galatians 3:23-25). Those redeemed who were under the law receive the adoption into Jesus Christ’s family.
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.Ephesians 1:1-6 (NKJV)
Paul here is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21) to the Christians at the church in Ephesus. Paul states that God predestined the believers there to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself. Any son or daughter of God is one by adoption.
In the sermon, Nouwen uses a flip chart to explain how we often live our lives. He is correct in stating that we have a “tiny little life” that goes by “very very fast.” He also does propose a valid question by stating, “…and the question for you and for me is, ‘Who are we?'” He states that that is the question that keeps “it” (I presume he is referring to life) going. He then states the following (3:01 mark; all time references henceforth will not have the word “mark” after it; the word “mark” instead is assumed):
Because all during our lives we try to answer that question, “Who am I?”
Do we really try to answer that question “all our lives”? I do not believe we do. We shouldn’t need all our lives to try and answer that question, anyway. Let me explain.
I’m 35 years old. I was born on May 20, 1985. I’m a white male in California standing at about 5’9″. I weigh about 208 pounds (I’m overweight, I know). You want to know how I know that? I look at my Driver’s License. It’s really not that hard.
I also know I was born dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). God, being rich in mercy, saved me from my sins (Ephesians 2:4-9). As a Christian, I walk in the good works Jesus Christ has called me to do (see Ephesians 2:10, 5:22-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; Romans 12:9-21) as a fruit of my salvation (not the root, for works don’t save anybody). You want to know how I know that? I know that by reading the Bible.
I know my identity. My Driver’s License tells me a bit about who I am. The Word of God tells me who I am and who I was (the “dead in trespasses and sins” part for the “was” part). If you’re having trouble knowing your identity, look at your Driver’s License. If you want to know what God says about you, understand that God says by default you’re not a child of God. Rather, by default you’re both born dead in trespasses/sins and at war with God. Repent and be forgiven. Refer to my Gospel presentation I gave earlier in this article if necessary (it may be necessary).
Nouwen explores possible answers to this question of “Who am I?”:
- I am what I do (3:18)
- I am what other people say about me (4:05)
- I am what I have (5:32)
Nouwen uses the flip chart to explain how life is a lot of ups and downs. He’s technically not wrong. Sadly, he makes no biblical argument whatsoever for any of his three points. He could have used a biblical text to support his illustration about life’s having ups and downs. After all, Christians sin daily and sin much (I know I do). Christians are both sinners and saints. They are simultaneously righteous and sinners (also known as the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator). The apostle Paul explained this concept best in Romans 7:1-25 (NKJV):
7 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it isgood. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but howto perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Had Nouwen used a biblical text to support his points, he would have a much stronger (not to mention biblical) case for how life is ups and downs. Unfortunately, his not having an open Bible during this sermon makes it unbiblical. His sermon is instead an anthropocentric me-centered sermon that one could hear basically anywhere.
At 8:47, Nouwen draws an “X” through his illustration. He says “this whole thing” (referring to what he has been drawing and illustrating) is “wrong” (even though the “ups and downs” part of his flip chart was not technically wrong). He then theologizes (but does not read from) a biblical text. For emphasis in this paragraph, I bold text indicating who is about to speak. Any underlined text is stuff someone is saying (according to Nouwen). Pay attention to who is saying what, for I compare what Nouwen says to what God’s Word says.
That that is not who you are and that is not who I am. That’s what the demon said to Jesus when he went to the desert. He says, “Turn these stones into bread and show You can do something. Jump from the temple and that people catch You so they speak well about You. Kneel in front of me and then I will give you a lot of possessions. Then You are loved because You do something, people speak well about You, and You have something and everybody going to love You.” And Jesus says, “That’s a lie. That’s the greatest lie. That makes you and me enter into relationships of violence and destruction. Because I know who I am. I know who I am. Because before the Spirit sent Me to be tempted, the Spirit came upon Me and says, ‘You are the beloved child. You are my beloved Son. On You my favorite.'”
That’s who you are. That’s who I am. And Jesus heard that voice, “You are My beloved. On you my favorite.” And it was that voice that He clung to as He left His life. And people praised Him. And people rejected Him. And people said, “Hosanna.” And people crucified Him, but Jesus held on to the truth. “Whatever happens, I am the beloved of God, and that is Who I am, and that allows Me to live in a world that keeps rejecting Me or praising Me or laughing at Me or spitting on Me. I am the beloved. Not because people say I’m great but because I’m the beloved. Even before I was born.”
I cited a big quote because I wanted you to see the context. The text Nouwen is theologizing from (but not reading from) is Matthew 4:1-11. Luke 4:1-13 also details this same scenario. I show both texts side-by-side.
|Matthew 4:1-11 (NKJV)||Luke 4:1-13 (NKJV)|
|4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”|
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
|4 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.|
3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
4 But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”
8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
9 Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said,‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.
As it pertains to Nouwen’s theologizing, I may have added more to what the devil said than what Nouwen probably meant for him to say. Nevertheless, if you compare what Nouwen stated to what the Matthew text states, you see that Nouwen both adds words to what the devil said and takes away words that Jesus said. Keep in mind that Jesus appealed to Deuteronomy in all three of his replies. Nouwen’s telling of the story omits Jesus’ appeals to the Word of God. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it makes Nouwen a liar in light of Revelation 22:18-19 (NKJV):
18 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Scripture has other similar warnings about adding to/subtracting from God’s Word (Proverbs 30:6; Jeremiah 26:2; Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32). Worse, Nouwen has omitted words that Jesus spoke. Nouwen has also distorted God’s Word with the phrase, “On You My favorite.” I’m presuming that the phrase “On You My favorite” is being used instead of the phrase “in Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matthew 3:17). Had Nouwen actually read the text, he could have avoided that distortion.
This sermon is blasphemous when you consider the fact Nouwen is ascribing to the audience something that should only be ascribed to Jesus. It is important to understand that Jesus Christ has a very unique relationship to the Father. Consider this text:
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
5 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
6 “Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
7 “I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8 Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ”
10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings;Psalm 2:1-12 (NKJV)
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
Psalm 2 is a messianic psalm. Psalm 2:7 was cited in the Gospel texts. Sadly, Nouwen takes that messianic citation speaking of Jesus and tells the audience, “That’s who you are. That’s who I am.” That is both blasphemous and a narcissistic way of reading the text.
Nouwen goes on (11:32; emphasis mine with bolding and underlining):
And dear friends, if there’s anything, anything I want you to hear, this morning is that what is said of Jesus is said of you. You have to hear that you are the beloved daughter and son of God. And to hear, not here, but right here. To hear it so that your whole life can be turned around. And listen to the Scriptures. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have written your name in the palm of my hand from all eternity. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I love you. I embrace you. You are mine and I am yours, and you belong to Me.” You have to hear that, because if you can hear that voice that speaks to you from all eternity to all eternity, your life will become more and more the life of the beloved because that’s who you are.
Jesus Christ came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; Matthew 9:13). I am nobody’s Savior. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. I’m an adopted child of God. There’s a big difference there. Finally, as Nouwen is explaining hearing “not here, but right here”, he points to the head when he states “not here.” He points to the heart when he states “but right here.” It’s seemingly both a subtle swipe at head knowledge and an elevation of what’s in the heart. Scripture actually puts a premium on filling the mind with all knowledge and discernment (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Colossians 1:9; Philippians 1:9-10; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 8:7; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:6; Proverbs 3:21-24; Proverbs 8:8-9; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Conversely, one should actually guard one’s heart since it’s deceitful and desperately wicked above all things (Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:16-20; Mark 7:21-23).
Notice also that Nouwen states, “listen to the Scriptures.” Notice also he does not even read a Scripture per se. Throughout this entire sermon, he has no open Bible. Why does his society has him labeled as a “pastor” when he does not even open a Bible?
At this point, there’s no really use in going on in the rest of this sermon. After all, Nouwen has made it clear that the one thing he wants his audience to know is that they are simply sons and daughters of God. He does not call anyone to repent and be forgiven. He simply tells them what is said of Jesus is said of them.
Jeremiah 23:1-40 is an interesting chapter to consider (NKJV):
23 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord. 3 “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
6 In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ 8 but, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ And they shall dwell in their own land.”
9 My heart within me is broken
Because of the prophets;
All my bones shake.
I am like a drunken man,
And like a man whom wine has overcome,
Because of the Lord,
And because of His holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers;
For because of a curse the land mourns.
The pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course of life is evil,
And their might is not right.
11 “For both prophet and priest are profane;
Yes, in My house I have found their wickedness,” says the Lord.
12 “Therefore their way shall be to them
Like slippery ways;
In the darkness they shall be driven on
And fall in them;
For I will bring disaster on them,
The year of their punishment,” says the Lord.
13 “And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria:
They prophesied by Baal
And caused My people Israel to err.
14 Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem:
They commit adultery and walk in lies;
They also strengthen the hands of evildoers,
So that no one turns back from his wickedness.
All of them are like Sodom to Me,
And her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
‘Behold, I will feed them with wormwood,
And make them drink the water of gall;
For from the prophets of Jerusalem
Profaneness has gone out into all the land.’ ”
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.
They make you worthless;
They speak a vision of their own heart,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.
17 They continually say to those who despise Me,
‘The Lord has said, “You shall have peace” ’;
And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say,
‘No evil shall come upon you.’ ”
18 For who has stood in the counsel of the Lord,
And has perceived and heard His word?
Who has marked His word and heard it?
19 Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord has gone forth in fury—
A violent whirlwind!
It will fall violently on the head of the wicked.
20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back
Until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart.
In the latter days you will understand it perfectly.
21 “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran.
I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
22 But if they had stood in My counsel,
And had caused My people to hear My words,
Then they would have turned them from their evil way
And from the evil of their doings.
23 “Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord,
“And not a God afar off?
24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the Lord;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.
25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, 27 who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal.
28 “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the Lord.
29 “Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord,
“And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
30 “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the Lord, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.
33 “So when these people or the prophet or the priest ask you, saying, ‘What is the oracle of the Lord?’ you shall then say to them, ‘What oracle?’ I will even forsake you,” says the Lord. 34 “And as for the prophet and the priest and the people who say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ I will even punish that man and his house. 35 Thus every one of you shall say to his neighbor, and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ and, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 And the oracle of the Lord you shall mention no more. For every man’s word will be his oracle, for you have perverted the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ and, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 But since you say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Because you say this word, “The oracle of the Lord!” and I have sent to you, saying, “Do not say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ ” 39 therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and will cast you out of My presence. 40 And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’ ”
Is Henri Nouwen not like the false prophets spoken of in Jeremiah 23? Hasn’t he basically told the audience “you shall have peace” by calling them all sons and daughters of God? Where is Jesus Christ as the propitiation of God’s wrath? Why did Nouwen not have an open Bible during this entire sermon? This is all something to think about.
Like the first sermon, Nouwen starts by telling his audience that they are the beloved sons and daughters of God. He calls that assessment “very hard to claim” because…
very quickly we think that we are what we do, that what we are what other people say about us. That we are what we have. But the real truth that Jesus announces is that we are like Jesus Himself, the beloved child of God. And it’s very very important that in the midst of this world that keeps telling us, “No no no. You are what you do, you are what people say about you, you are what you have”, that we listen to that voice that keeps telling us, “You are My beloved. On you My favorite.”
As I mentioned in my review of the prior sermon, I am neither a Savior nor the beloved child of God. I’ve been adopted into God’s family because God is merciful and kind (Exodus 34:1-7). Moreover, I did not die and rise from the dead. There’s only one Jesus Christ, and I’m not it. I’m not even close. Nouwen is blaspheming.
In this second sermon, Nouwen wishes to talk about how we can “become more fully the beloved, if that’s true.” Without reading from a biblical text, Nouwen states that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. I’ll let him explain (1:50).
And the story that you just heard was a story about bread. Jesus took bread, and He blessed it, and He broke it, and He gave it. And you know Jesus did exactly the same at the last supper. He took bread, He blessed it, He broke it, and He gave it. And when Jesus entered the house of those two disciples in Emmaus, He took bread, He blessed it, He broke it, and He gave it. And they recognized Him. And then what we continue to do through history. We take bread, we bless it, we break it, and we give it. And what I would like you to hear today is that these four words summarize the life of Jesus. Jesus is the one who was taken by God, who was blessed by God, who was broken on the cross, and given to the world, and these same four words are the words that summarizes your life as the beloved like they summarizes Jesus’ life as the beloved because you, your spiritual life, your life as the beloved daughters and sons of God is a life that is taken, that is blessed, that is broken, and given. And I would like very much, from you today, to remember just these four words. If you can just go home and say, I am taken, I am blessed, I am broken, and I am given. These four words are the words I wanna give you this morning so that you can claim what it means that you are the beloved son and daughter of God. Because if you can live your life as the taken, the blessed, the broken and the given, the world will recognize Jesus in you in the breaking of the bread in the breaking of your life.
“I am taken, I am blessed, I am broken, and I am given.” Who is this sermon about? This is a sermon that is all about you. This is narcissistic. Furthermore, it’s all law (and bad law since it’s not biblical law). Where’s the Gospel? It’s also blasphemous because I am not a Messiah. My body wasn’t broken for the world (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The event Nouwen is theologizing on is The Lord’s Supper. The Bible details this event in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. I’ll show the Matthew text just to make one point.
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
The Bible is not about you. It’s also not about me. It’s about Jesus Christ (John 5:39-45; Luke 24:13-32). It’s about who He is and what He is done. The Lord’s Supper is not a prescriptive text; it is a descriptive text. Just because Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread does not mean our lives are taken, blessed, broken and given. Those four words represent the four points of his sermon. Nouwen employs a rather narcissistic way of theologizing about Scripture. Had he read any biblical text on the Lord’s Supper, he would be guilty of narcigesis (reading yourself into the biblical text). Moreover, it would be blasphemous because we are not Jesus Christ. There was only one Jesus Christ, and we are not it.
At 5:10, Nouwen expounds on something I have seen before in a book I reviewed by Tony Dungy. It’s what I called the “doctrine of uniqueness.” I’ll let Nouwen explain:
You know, do you believe that God has taken you? Maybe we have a little better word for that. God has chosen you. Think about that for a moment. That you are chosen by God. That means God has seen you from all eternity as precious in His eyes, as unique. There is no other than you, that is like you. There is no other person that is exactly like you. You are unique, and you have a unique role to play in God’s story. Most people don’t believe that at all. Most people don’t even think they are welcome in the world. But God is saying to you and to me, “I have seen you from all eternity in your uniqueness. You are my chosen one. You’re special in my eyes.”
And what I hope that you will realize is, and it’s a surprise, that if you believe that you’re chosen, that doesn’t mean that others are not chosen. You see in our world, when they say you’re chosen, you’re the best in your class, too bad for the rest. If you say you’re chosen for the award, then the other didn’t get the award. If you’re chosen to be the president of a company or a class, then the others didn’t make it. But in God’s way, that’s not at all true. In fact, if you believe that you are chosen, God gives you eyes to see the chosenness of others. You’ll suddenly discover that your chosenness, your uniqueness opens up in your heart a place where you can suddenly realize, “Hey brother, hey sister, you too are unique in God’s eyes and it didn’t take anything away from my uniqueness.” That’s the great news. Very hard to claim in a world of statistics and the world in which your office thinks that you’re just a number, but hold on it, because it’s the first sign of your belovedness.
I have to challenge this belief that God created me for a unique role (singular). One could even call it a purpose (Dungy did in his book Uncommon). God’s Word actually says I have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (plural; see Ephesians 2:10). It is actually in various vocations that Christians do their good works. Consider the following texts:
Ephesians 5:22-6:9 (NASB):
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
When a Christian wife submits to her husband in the area of leadership in the home, that is a good work. When a Christian husband reads God’s Word with his wife, that is a good work. When a Christian child obeys his/her parents in the LORD, that is a good work. When Christian employees work hard for their employers, that is a good work. If I am so unique, why am I doing stuff (loving my wife and working hard) that has been done by Christians for millennia?
Here is Colossians 3:18-4:6 (NASB):
18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
4 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
When a Christian behaves wisely toward non-Christians (outsiders), that is a good work. When a Christian watches his/her speech, that is a good work.
The last text I consider as it pertains to good works and the doctrine of vocation is 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (NASB):
9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
When a Christian leads a quiet life, tends to one’s own business and works in his/her job as an employee, that is a good work. Simply put, Christians are created for good works. These good works are done in the mundane. The assertion that people are created for a unique role (or purpose) is an absolute myth. When researching Nouwen’s teachings, I didn’t expect that he was a guy teaching such a thing. It seems he is. This makes me wonder how much of an influence (if any) Henri Nouwen has had on people such as Dungy or on movements such as the seeker-driven movement, for they teach (possibly “taught” in Dungy’s case) a very similar thing.
From 8:35 through 10:33, Nouwen preaches a story about himself. Mind you that this sermon of his is just under nineteen minutes long. This means he spent at least ten percent of this sermon preaching himself. This is not a good thing. Preachers should not be preaching themselves; they need to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins (1 Corinthians 2:2).
A good text to consider is 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6 (NASB):
3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in ourspeech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
4 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The passage is beautiful; within the greater context of 2:14-6:10, this passage covers the nature of Paul’s ministry. Part of that nature involved not preaching the self. In light of that, I have to ask a question. By preaching about a personal story of his, is Henri Nouwen preaching himself or is he preaching Christ? The answer is he is preaching himself. This is not good.
After finishing the story about himself, Nouwen states (10:34):
We are called to claim the blessing and to bless people wherever we go. That’s our Christian call, to say good things of people. Not to give them little compliments, but to say good things about their being human, about their belovedness.
Once again, Nouwen does not go to a biblical text to back his assertions. Is it really the Christian call to say good things of people? To say good things about their being human and their belovedness?
A few biblical texts come to mind. Two pertain to the Great Commission.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
Nouwen states I am to say good things about people. Scripture says I am to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe” everything Jesus has commanded. Nouwen’s alleged “Christian call” does not square with what the Scriptures say.
Luke’s account of the Great Commission specifies a bit of what Christians are to call people to do.
33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things.Luke 24:33-48 (NKJV)
Jesus Christ says Christians are to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations. That would involve telling people they are sinners and that they are headed to hell if they don’t repent. Is that technically speaking “good” about people?
Consider what Jesus Christ said to those cities that did not repent.
20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all youwho labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:20-30 (NKJV)
Jesus did not speak well to the cities that did not repent; He called down woes on them. Either Jesus Christ is out of His mind or Henri Nouwen is lying. Who are you going to believe?
Consider also Matthew 23:1-36 (NKJV):
23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father;for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the giftor the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he whoswears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him whodwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel tothe blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Jews that didn’t believe in Him (see John 8:22-43) that they are of their father the devil. The point here is Nouwen is lying when he states the Christian call is to say good things of people. Christians are to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations. This involves confronting people with their sin. This Christian call does not involve scratching itching ears and telling people what they want to hear. Christians must proclaim the truth. This involves preaching the Word.
3 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.
10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and isprofitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.2 Timothy 3:1-4:5 (NKJV)
Nouwen is preaching fables meant to tickle itching ears. The Christian (especially the pastor in the above context) is to preach the Word no matter what.
Nouwen begins expounding on the third word “broken” from 10:58 through 15:25. Once again, he opens no Bible as he theologizes. In this segment, he theologizes about brokenness in relationships. It’s simply more anthropocentric nonsense that he spews.
Finally, he expounds on the final word “given” at 15:26. He says the following:
You and I are taken, blessed, broken to be given to the world. You’re not there for yourself. I’m not there for myself. I’m there for you. You’re there for me. We are there for each other, but we are there for the generations to come. Your little life does not end on the day you die. Your little life is a gift for your family, for your friends, but far beyond that, for the people who you never even will see or know about. Jesus doesn’t ask you to be successful, but He says be fruitful. And how can you will be fruitful without dying? If the grain does not die, it will not bring any fruit. And listen to Jesus. He says, “It’s good for you that I go, because when I go, I will send you My Spirit, My breath, My love, My intimacy, and that will lead you to the full truth that is to the full betrothal, to the full betrothal, to the full espousal, to the full communion.” And if you believe that your life is a life in which you are called to give more and more and more of yourself, not just a little bit, but all of you, that you can become food and drink through others when you are willing to pour yourself out for others, you can trust that you will bear in much fruit, far beyond your little life, your little chronology, your little clock time.
Without trusting and saving faith in Jesus Christ alone, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:5-8). No amount of giving one’s self for the world can ever please God if that person is not trusting in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of his/her sins. Nouwen is basically preaching a different gospel. Sadly, it is a gospel that does not save because it is all law, and no amount of works justifies a person.
Nouwen also twists Jesus’ words in the above cited paragraph. The words I bold refer to John 16:7. For context, I show John 15:18-16:15 (NKJV). This is part of a larger answer that Jesus was giving to Judas (not Iscariot; see John 14:22-23, Luke 6:16):
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
16 “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. 4 But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.
“And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.
5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that Hewill take of Mine and declare it to you.
Where in Scripture does it talk about Jesus’ sending His breath, love and intimacy in addition to the Holy Spirit when He (Jesus) goes away? It does not say it anywhere. Once again, Nouwen is lying. I find it interesting that Nouwen omits the part about the Spirit’s convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment when He (the Holy Spirit) is sent by Jesus. Nouwen’s message is a flowery and law-filled one that makes no room for judgment and sin.
At 17:34, Nouwen concludes his sermon with the following:
Anyone who lives like Jesus did as the beloved son or daughter of God can be sure that his or her life will bear fruit for ages to come. That indeed all generations will call you blessed. So be sure to realize that every little bit of giving you do is already part of your becoming fruitful as the beloved. So you and my life are taken, chosen, blessed, broken and given. And please, if you go to bed that evening, look over your day and say, “Where was I chosen again? Where was I blessed again? Where was I broken again? And where was I given?” Every time you recognize that, you recognize the presence of God in your heart. The presence of His Spirit in the center of your being. And you will know that you are the beloved daughter and son of God and that you can live a free life. Free to love.
Nouwen’s message of all law and no Gospel is hardly freeing. Instead, it is bondage because it offers no good news. If I went to bed every evening asking the asinine questions that Nouwen suggests, I would probably despair. I have something better to say everyday. Consider the following text:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:5-15 (NKJV)
I don’t need to ask Nouwen’s asinine questions. Instead, I need to pray the Lord’s prayer to start the day. When I go to bed at night, I ask Jesus to please forgive me of the sins I committed. I ask Him to please let His will be done regarding whether or not I wake up the next day. I rest in the comfort of the forgiveness of sins that He has freely provided to me.
Finally, notice that Nouwen talked about the “presence of God in your heart.” There’s no presence of God in my heart. That almost suggests I have some kind of divine spark. If that was what he was suggesting, that is blasphemy. Sadly, that would not be a shock given the blaspheming he has done up to this point. Furthermore, if hypothetically I did happen to have His presence somewhere on my person, the last place I would put it is in my heart. Consider this text:
16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding?17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”Matthew 15:16-20 (NKJV)
Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things” and “desperately wicked.” If there’s anything in my heart, it certainly is not something good.
For the second sermon in a row, Nouwen had no open Bible. For the second sermon in a row, he gave an anthropocentric message that was all law and no Gospel. For the second sermon in a row, he showed that he is a blasphemer.
Just like the first two sermons, Nouwen states that he and his audience are the beloved sons and daughters of God. He might have crossed the “blasphemy” line much faster in this sermon compared to the first two sermons. Consider the following (0:23):
When Jesus was baptized, there was this voice that spoke to Him. And that voice that said, “You are My beloved. On You My favorite.” And that is the voice that you and I have to hear too because Jesus came to let you know that you are as beloved as He is.
That is absolutely false and blasphemous. Jesus Christ came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15). Consider also this text:
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!John 1:29 (NKJV)
John doesn’t say, “Behold! The Lamb of God who tells you you are as beloved as He is.” Once again, Nouwen is spewing ear-scratching and blasphemous nonsense. I am not a Savior. I am not sinless. I was not prophesied of in Scripture. The Scriptures do not testify about me. Nouwen is spewing doctrines of demons.
Nouwen goes on:
And therefore the great challenge is to listen to that voice that calls you who you truly are.
I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. Does Nouwen’s theology have anything for that voice?
That calls you the beloved. And in this service I would very much like you to be good listeners. To listen to the voice that calls you the beloved. That’s what prayer is all about.
Nouwen once again is lying. In my review of the second sermon, I showed Matthew 6:5-15, a text showing a model for prayer. Nothing in that model talked about listening “to the voice that calls you the beloved.” Another text to consider is Luke 11:1-4 (NKJV):
11 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
The above text is the Luke account of the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6. Is there anything in either account about listening to the voice that calls one the beloved? The answer is no. Henri Nouwen is lying. Moreover, he is promoting a rather mystical and unbiblical way of praying. In prayer, Christians make their supplications (which are requests) known to God (see Philippians 4:4-7, Ephesians 6:16-18, Exodus 32:30-34:9, Psalm 17:1, Psalm 39:12, Psalm 54:2, Psalm 55:1, Psalm 61:1, Psalm 13, Psalm 15, Psalm 71, Daniel 9:1-20). They don’t engage in mystical exercises that involve listening to a voice of some sort.
After giving a brief explanation of what “listening” means in Latin (1:50), Nouwen states the following (2:04):
An obedient person is someone who can listen to the voice who calls him the beloved. And if you’re deaf, you know the Latin word for “deaf” is surdus. And if you’re absolutely deaf, you’re absurdus. That’s where the word “absurd” comes from. Now the question is can you move from a life of absurdity to a life of obedience. That is from a life in which you can hear the voice where you cannot hear the voice. And you get all distracted and you lose touch with who you are. You start thinking, “I am what I do. I am what other people say about me. I am what I have.” All these false voices that make your life absurd. And you gradually start listening to that gentle, soft, whispering voice that says, “Mary. John. Francis. Peter. You are my favorite daughter. You are my favorite son.” Believe it and live from that conviction, and your life will be different.
So apparently, I’m living a life of absurdity (a disobedient life at that) if I cannot listen to the voice that calls me the beloved. No biblical text says this. Furthermore, think of the implications of what Nouwen is saying. Basically, if you can’t hear that voice he mentions, you’re not a Christian. Forget faith. Forget repentance. Forget the forgiveness of sins. Forget the fruits of a repentant believer (loving spouse, loving neighbor, working quietly with your hands, etc.). The emphasis is on hearing some voice calling you the beloved. This is not something Christians are called to do. Moreover, Nouwen once again gives all law and no Gospel.
At 3:32, Nouwen employs his flip chart to draw a mountain. He explains the following:
It’s a story about the mountain. It’s about a mountain. And Jesus went up to the mountain and spent the whole night in communion with God. In communion with God. Listening to the voice who called Him the beloved. And early in the morning He came down, and when He came down he called His disciples and formed community. 12 apostles. He called them each by name. “Peter and John and James and Andrew. You are My friends with Whom I the beloved are forming community.” And in the afternoon, He went off with His community on the plains and spoke the words of healing, touched people, and cared for those who are poor. Called ministry. Communion, community and ministry are the three disciplines to discover the voice that calls you the beloved.
Communion, community and ministry represent the three points of Nouwen’s sermon. Once again, this is all law and no Gospel. Furthermore, what biblical text states that communion, community and ministry are the three disciplines to discover the voice that calls me the beloved? Nouwen once again is lying.
He elaborates on the first point of his sermon (5:11-6:48):
I tell you honestly, my life is usually very different. I want to do it by my own, ministry. If it doesn’t work, I call some people to help me out, and if that doesn’t work, I start to pray. But Jesus starts to spend the night with God. And what I disciplines, discipline is the human effort to create some open space where you can hear the voice speaking to you. And the world in which we live want to fill up every place. Wants you to be occupied, and if you’re not occupied, you are preoccupied. That is occupied before you’re even there, but what we call worrying.
The great philosopher Spinoza said there is a horror vacuum, a fear for emptiness in our life. We want to fill up everything. We want always to have something to do. Something to go through. Something to be busy with. Discipline is to keep some space open, some space empty so that God can say, “Mary. John. Don’t you know I love you? Why don’t you just relax? I can touch you and hug you and be with you.” But do the first discipline is communion.
What kind of lame god is Nouwen describing? It certainly is not the god of the Bible. Notice also that Nouwen accurately quotes from a philosopher. Sadly, in his three sermons, he has yet to accurately quote from a biblical passage. That says something.
I live in a beautiful house located in a city. Every morning, I get up and I make breakfast. I then go to my office (indoors) to eat it. While eating and even after eating, I hear God speak. You wanna know how? I’m either reading my Bible out loud (obviously after I finish eating) or I am listening to an episode from the WWUTT (When We Understand The Text) podcast, a podcast that does daily Bible teaching involving reading from the Word of God (it’s either that podcast or Grace To You). The god Nouwen is describing is not the god of the Bible. It is something else. If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible. If you want to hear God speak out loud, read your Bible out loud. You don’t need to create open space. You can be in your bed. You can be in your office. You can be in the break room. You can be in any spot that allows you to have access to a free Bible app (I prefer Bible Gateway; stay away from YouVersion). Whatever you do, don’t take Nouwen’s unbiblical and asinine doctrine as it pertains to hearing from God.
He continues and concludes the first point of his sermon (6:50-8:45):
You know, do you ever spend ten minutes doing nothing? That’s hard. You’re not, not listening to the radio, not watching television, not reading the paper. Not, uh, it’s very hard to sit down on your chair and do nothing. You know, before you know you you feel that your head is like a banana tree full of monkeys running around. “I should do this. I should do that. I have to write a letter. I have to go here. I I forgot that. I’m still angry at this person I should’ve done that I didn’t do that”, and before you know your whole mind is, so you get busy again so not to have to deal with all these inner monkeys.
Jesus says, “Stay there because underneath all these wild voices, there is a gentle soft voice that says, ‘you are My beloved.'” Listen to that voice. Please try to spend a little of your time everyday to listen to the One who so much wants your attention, so you will hear who you truly are. You can do that just by sitting on your chair or outside and maybe you can take the gospel of the day and read it and then look at it, like a picture, and be there so that it can enter into your heart. And as you drive to your work and you’re in your busy office, and you’re working in the store or do whatever, that voice is there with you. “You are the beloved.” But you need to spend some time with God alone so He can tell you who you are.
Again, Nouwen is not describing the God of the Bible. The god Nouwen describes is a false and a lame one. The God of the Bible is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). If He wants my attention, He can do whatever He must. He does not need to depend on me. Nouwen, once again, is blaspheming because he is putting words into Jesus’ mouth that Jesus did not say.
I found it interesting that Nouwen finally mentioned the word “gospel.” However, he is obviously advocating for a different gospel. Consider what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 (NKJV):
15 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
Nouwen has yet to mention anything about sin in his sermons. He has not put any meaningful emphasis whatsoever on Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. There is a severe penalty for preaching another gospel aside from the one in Scripture. The apostle Paul explains this severe penalty.
1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.Galatians 1:1-9 (NKJV)
Notice that Paul includes himself in this condemnation. Even if he were to preach a gospel other than the one he received, he would be eternally condemned (which is what “accursed” means). Nouwen has been preaching a false gospel (if any gospel at all) during these three sermons. This is not a good thing.
Before I move to Nouwen’s second point, notice that Nouwen is not advocating that you hear the voice of God via the written Word. He is advocating for hearing the voice of God via direct revelation. This is a tacit denial of Sola Scriptura.
It is important to understand that God’s Word is all true, all powerful and without error (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Psalm 12:6; John 17:17; Titus 1:2; John 10:35). Furthermore, it equips the believer for every good work, for it is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-9). Scripture is sufficient. Scripture alone is one’s authority for the faith and practice of a Christian. Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB) states:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB)
Who is “His Son”? That would be Jesus Christ, God in human flesh (John 1:1-14). Jesus is the Word incarnate. Moreover, He has already revealed all the Christian needs to know as it pertains to life and godliness. We do not need claims of direct revelation from God. We certainly do not need to heed to what Nouwen is promoting. What Nouwen promotes denies the sufficiency of Scripture.
At 8:46, Nouwen begins expounding on the second point of his sermon (community):
Now, community is what is essential for us to listen to the voice of God. We have to listen together, but you can only create community when you feel that you are truly the beloved. When you truly feel that you are loved, then you can start forming community.
This is utter nonsense. Am I not capable of hearing God’s voice by reading the Bible on my own? And what’s the deal with this emphasis on feeling that I’m the beloved and feeling that I’m loved? This emphasis on feelings reminds me of something Machen refuted in his classic work Christianity & Liberalism, a book I reviewed earlier this year. Here are a few paragraphs from that book (all bolding done by me):
It is not true at all, then, that modern liberalism is based upon the authority of Jesus. It is obliged to reject a vast deal that is absolutely essential in Jesus’ example and teaching —notably His consciousness of being the heavenly Messiah. The real authority, for liberalism, can only be “the Christian consciousness” or “Christian experience.” But how shall the findings of the Christian consciousness be established? Surely not by a majority vote of the organized Church. Such a method would obviously do away with all liberty of conscience. The only authority, then, can be individual experience; truth can only be that which “helps” the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded only as that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth. The result is an abysmal skepticism.
The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s Word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Charta of Christian liberty.
It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.pp. 80-81
In his three sermons, has Henri Nouwen been promoting the Bible or something else? He obviously is not advocating for listening to the voice of God via His written Word. He’s advocating for something entirely different. That “something entirely different” would be the words of man (presumably in community), not the written Word of God.
From 9:24 through 13:08, Nouwen attempts to explain what communities look like. He simply spews more manmade fluff that helps nobody. He does not cite a biblical text (again). He mentions Jesus’ name shortly after 13:10:
Community is not like a safe little home where, where you can just hide out for the world. Jesus calls the community together to be sent out into the world and to proclaim good news. He went to the poor, to the sick, to the dying, to the little ones. Oh dear friends I cannot tell you enough how, how the final voice that calls you the beloved comes from those you care for. That’s a great mystery I want to tell you this morning.
It’s too bad that Nouwen does not elaborate on what this good news is. Think of the implications of what Nouwen is saying when he states, “how the final voice that calls you the beloved comes from those you care for.” Is Nouwen suggesting that there is some kind of divinity in those cared for? If so, then that is heresy. We are not God. The people we care for are not God. Consider this text:
“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,Isaiah 43:10-11 (NKJV)
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
And besides Me there is no savior.
Other texts show that there is no God besides God alone (Isaiah 44:6-8, Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 48:12, Revelation 1:8, and Deuteronomy 32:39). There was none before Him. There shall be none after Him. If Nouwen is suggesting that there are many gods, then he (once again) is in grave error.
From 13:49 through roughly 16:48, Nouwen begins preaching himself and his community. He makes mention of the Beatitudes without (once again) reading from a biblical text. Keep in mind that this sermon of his is about twenty minutes in duration. This means that he spends no less than fifteen percent of his sermon preaching himself. This is not a good thing.
From 14:47 through 15:35, Nouwen says some stuff worth analyzing. Speaking of the handicapped people in his community (among other things), Nouwen states:
…these people are in fact the ones who give us life. They are the ones who God has chosen to speak His Word of love to us. Do you remember in the Beatitudes? Do you remember what it says? “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the mourning.” It does not say, “Blessed are those who care for the poor.” It doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who console the mourning.” No no. The blessing is located in the poor. In these people that we want to help, we will find that they carry the blessing in their heart for us, for us to live.
Should I tack to the end of my Bible the things that the people from Nouwen’s community said? Are those words equal to Scripture? The answer is no. Nouwen once again is basically distracting you from the written Word of God. Moreover, he twists the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, the most important sermon Jesus ever preached. Mind you that the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel comes shortly after Jesus began His ministry. For context, I show Matthew 4:12-5:12 (NKJV):
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
21 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and fromDecapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
5 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus called people to repent (Matthew 4:12). He came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Notice that Nouwen omitted the second half of Matthew 5:3 and Matthew 5:4. The poor in spirit refer to those who are spiritually bankrupt without God. Those who mourn are those who mourn over sin. Why does Nouwen consistently and repeatedly omit sin, repentance and faith from his sermons? The answer is that he preaches an entirely different jesus and an entirely different gospel altogether. He is a heretic.
At 16:50, he begins expounding on the third and final point of his sermon. This third and final point basically serves as a recap of what he has covered in the sermon. Unlike the first two sermons, Nouwen closes this one with a prayer beginning at 18:50. Here is his prayer:
Oh God. You sent Jesus among us to become so weak, and so vulnerable. So that you could touch Him, look at Him. Care for Him. Make Him grow up from a baby to a boy, from a boy to a man, from a man to a preacher. He became dependent on us so that He could give to us the blessing. Help us today to to welcome Jesus in our life. The Jesus who we meet in our own family among our friends in our cities. And truly believe that as we reach out, we will discover that Jesus is still among us. Still smiles at us, and still gives us His blessing. And help us to recognize through this blessing that we have nothing to be afraid of. That we have nothing to feel anxious about, even though we are anxious, and even though we are afraid, help us to recognize more fully that that we are the beloved, that we belong to you, and you belong to us. This we pray. Amen.
“He became dependent on us so that He could give to us the blessing.” This is blasphemy. Jesus is God. We are not. Jesus never once has had to depend on us. Christians depend fully on Him by faith for the forgiveness of sins. Notice that there is no mention of Jesus’ dying on the cross so that sinners could be set free. It was completely absent from all three of his messages.
Think of it this way; imagine you are a person who has been going through a bunch of medical tests. The latest test is not a good one. In fact, you are told to get your affairs in order. Moreover, you have a month to live. You are not a Christian. In fact, you’ve lived the life of an unrepentant sinner. You need some Good News, for you will be dead in a month.
Say you came to attend one of Nouwen’s three sermons. You’re in need of hope. Did you really get it from any of the messages? Did anyone come to repentance and faith as a result of coming to those services? This is something to think about.
At this point, based on the three sermons, Nouwen is certainly not a biblical pastor. His society has gotten it gravely wrong by calling him a pastor. The reasons for this include but are not limited to the following:
- Never opened a biblical text in any of his sermons
- Never called people to repent and be forgiven
- Adds to and subtracts from God’s Word
- Preached all law (bad law since it was not biblical) and no Gospel
- Blasphemes God by saying things for God that God did not say
- Does not point people to the written Word of God
- Denies Sola Scriptura
- Tacitly takes a swipe at head knowledge, elevating subjectivity and feelings
- Resembles the false prophets of Jeremiah 23
- Has anthropocentric sermons rather than christocentric sermons
- Scratches itching ears with his “doctrine of uniqueness”
- Preaches himself
- Lies about the Christian call by placing an emphasis on saying good things about people (scratching itching ears) rather than proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all the nations
- Narcissistically theologizes
- Promotes hearing from God outside of His written Word
- Preaches a false god that needs people to create space for him to be heard
- Promotes an unbiblical concept of prayer
- Basically states you’re not a Christian if you do not hear from God outside of Scripture
- Preaches a false Jesus
- Believes a community is essential to hearing God’s voice (once again taking a swipe at the written Word of God)
- Makes no mention of Jesus as Savior
- Omits the concepts of sin, repentance, faith and the forgiveness of sins
This is a rather exhaustive list because there was a lot wrong with Nouwen’s sermons, for he preaches something that is absolutely foreign to biblical Christianity. Nouwen’s society has biffed it by having the label “pastor” attached to this name. Nouwen is not a biblical pastor; he is a real heretic, for he preaches a different jesus and a different gospel.
This article has already done three sermon reviews. Moreover, each sermon review has shown sufficient information to conclude Henri Nouwen is a heretic who does not preach the biblical Gospel. Therefore, more sermon reviews in this post are not necessary. This short “miscellaneous” section briefly touches base on a few things (loose ends, perhaps).
A. Contemplative Prayer
On 1/2/20, John Lanagan, the engine behind The Word Like Fire, posted an article with some quotes from some books by Henri Nouwen. Lanagan noted how Rosaria Butterfield basically did a bad thing by giving Nouwen positive citation in one of her books. Lanagan also both gives a brief description of why contemplative prayer (something Nouwen promotes) is bad and cites some Nouwen quotes. Here are some relevant paragraphs from Lanagan’s work (I inserted a hyperlink for the term “Hesychasm”):
In one of the greatest examples of effective, yet demonically deceptive marketing, those who brought contemplative practices into the Protestant church insisted that in Eastern and New Age meditation the goal is to empty the mind; but with contemplative prayer, the goal is to fill the mind with God.
Thus, Nouwen states, “Our prayer becomes a prayer of the heart when we have localized in the center of our inner being the empty space in which our God-filled mind can descend and vanish, and where the distinctions between thinking and feeling, knowing and experiencing, ideas and emotions are transcended, and where God can become our host.” (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, pg. 147)
Nouwen also writes, “When we empty our mind from all thoughts and our hearts from all experiences, we can prepare in the center of our innermost being the home for the God who wants to dwell in us.” (pg. 147)
That sounds so beautiful, so spiritual. Except God already dwells in Christians. The Bible tells us:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)
Through contemplative prayer, Henri Nouwen ended up far from the God of the Bible. And so it is for many others. Elsewhere in the book, Nouwen promotes Hesychasm, a contemplative practice that originated centuries ago. (pg.141)
The quotes from Nouwen shows he worships a lame god. He does not worship the God of the Bible. The language from the quotes can fit in with some of the nonsense that came from his sermons.
B. New Age/Mysticism/Universalism
My sermon reviews did not really cover Nouwen’s connection to the New Age, mysticism and universalism. Apparently Nouwen was helped “a great deal” by a book by Eknath Easwaran, a “Hindu spiritual teacher” who knows Transcendental Meditation. The late Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries has quite a few older articles that explain the troubles with Nouwen. One of those articles has a few quotes from Nouwen’s own books. Any bolding/brackets/parenthesis are done by Silva.
Prayer [means: Contemplative/Centering Prayer] is the bridge between our conscious and unconscious lives… To pray [means: Meditation] is to connect these two sides of our lives by going to the place where God dwells. Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one and where God is with us…
(Bread for the Journey, January 15)
It is often in our absence that the Spirit of God manifests itself… When we claim for ourselves that we come to our friends in the Name of Jesus—that through us Jesus becomes present to them—we can trust that our leaving will also bring them the Spirit of Jesus.
(Bread for the Journey, March 14)
Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge…because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells. That sacred center may not be analyzed. It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.
(Bread for the Journey, March 22)
Today I personally believe that Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her way to God. (Sabbatical Journey, 51)
Still, when we remain faithful to our discipline [of Contemplative/Centering Prayer], even if it is only ten minutes a day, we gradually come to see — by the candlelight of our prayers — that there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God…
One of the discoveries we make in [meditative] prayer is that the closer we come to God, the closer we come to all our brothers and sisters in the human family. God is not a private God. The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being. (Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 24, 25
In my sermon reviews, I did make mention that Nouwen, in each sermon, called everyone in the audience (including himself) the sons and daughters of God. I didn’t make the “universalism” connection until I saw the quotes. I simply remarked that Nouwen was omitting repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps the reason why he omitted those terms was because he was indeed a universalist.
One of the above Nouwen quotes was, “Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her way to God.” Here are some biblical texts to consider:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.John 14:6 (NKJV)
All ways to God independent of Jesus Christ are false ways. Nouwen, once again, is refuted by Scripture.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,Isaiah 43:11 (NKJV)
And besides Me there is no savior.
Multiple times in this article, I have cited Luke 24. The back end of that chapter places an emphasis on preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations. That message is absent from Nouwen’s teachings. Because of that, Nouwen is actually lying when he says it is his call to help people claim their way to God, for he does not proclaim the biblical Gospel and he does not worship the one true God.
Consider the apostle Paul. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he encountered some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (Acts 17:16). For context, I show Acts 17:10-34 (NKJV):
10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.
16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”
Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Paul did not seek to help the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers claim their way to God. Instead, he proclaimed to them Jesus and the resurrection. He called people to repent. He called them to be forgiven. In response, some mocked. Some stated they would hear Paul again on the matter. Others believed. Does Nouwen call people to repent? No. Does Nouwen call people to be forgiven? No. Therefore, he cannot rightly say he tries to help people claim their way to God (or at least the God of the Bible).
C. Influence On Evangelicals
I have mentioned in this article the people who have positively cited Nouwen’s works in their own works (Jefferson Bethke and Rosaria Butterfield). As I was researching for this “miscellaneous” section, I found others who have positively cited Nouwen’s works and/or have been influenced by him. These people include but are not limited to:
- The late Ravi Zachariahs (although he did regret saying that)
- Chuck Swindoll
- Kay Warren (wife of heretic Rick Warren, who also positively cites him)
- The staff at Saddleback “Church” (where heretic Warren is still pastor)
- Dallas Theological Seminary
- David Jeremiah
- Moody Bible Institute
- Dan Kimball
- Richard Rohr
- Jonathan Martin
- Pete Wilson
- Heather Zempel (from heretic Mark Batterson’s “church”)
Many individuals and no less than one seminary have positively cited the works of Henri Nouwen. It is unknown if any of the above cited places/people (minus the late Zachariahs) have regretted positively citing Nouwen’s works. I wouldn’t expect fellow heretics like Rohr, Martin, Zempel, the Warrens and the Saddleback staff to do such a thing. Pray that the others do repent and get forgiven of positively citing such a heretic as Henri Nouwen.
LIMITATIONS TO THIS POST
This post was far from an exhaustive review of all of Nouwen’s sermons. Nevertheless, Nouwen demonstrated that he had three prime opportunities at a big place (the defunct Crystal Cathedral) to preach the biblical Gospel. He failed to do such a thing. Instead, he preached heresy, blasphemed Jesus and did not open a Bible once (among other things). I expect that any future sermons reviews would simply be more evidence that Henri Nouwen is a blasphemous heretic.
This post also did not do any long-form quotes from any of Nouwen’s books. Instead, I had a short section that had a few short quotes from his works. Nevertheless, even the short quotes showed language similar to that of his anthropocentric sermons. Moreover, I biblically refuted one of the quotes. I expect that if I was to review a Nouwen book, I would find it to be one I would not recommend.
Finally, I did not consider at all any of his daily meditations. Because Nouwen is deceased, I was not confident that his daily meditations were from his original works. This is why I instead focused on his three sermons from The Crystal Cathedral. Because there is sufficient evidence showing Nouwen’s heresies from both his sermons and his books, I would expect his mediations to be full of the same heresies.
The late Henri Nouwen is a heretic. Unfortunately, he has a bit of an influence in modern evangelicalism today. That is sad because he has demonstrated that he does not preach the biblical Gospel. Instead, he preaches a different jesus and a different gospel. Those who identify themselves as Christians need to mark and avoid Henri Nouwen (Romans 16:17). Those who continue to positively cite him do so at the potential (if not certain) peril of both themselves and their hearers.
NOTE: Usually I email my critiques to the people I critique. However, because Nouwen is deceased, I cannot do such a thing.
I have stated in the past that I don’t do these “profile” posts regularly. Otherwise these posts would be all I would do, for there are a PLETHORA of teachers/pastors out there. I have been doing more of these since the requests for these have increased. I do believe it is biblical to compare what people are saying in the Name of God to the Word of God (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). If you disagree with anything I have written, please make your case biblically. If I am wrong, I will repent and I will hope you forgive me.
Thank you again and God bless.