Lighthouse Trails Research: Shrouded in Too Much Fog
For some reason, Lighthouse Trails Research has come up rather often lately. I know a number of people fairly recently who have had to explain why they aren’t heretical to people who have read something from this group. They’re reasonably well-known among those who work with spiritual formation, generally as “that group that hates us for some reason”. Much of their mission seems to be aimed at publicly identifying and vilifying people, organizations, and entire denominations that they believe are heretical or antithetical to the true Christian faith. In their efforts, they have identified Focus on the Family, Moody Bible Institute, Biola University, Rick Warren, Ken Blanchard, Dallas Willard, Calvary Chapel, and numerous others as being dangerous and false teachers and institutions.
I don’t want to flat out revile the Dombrowskis or others involved with Lighthouse Trails. They’re not intentionally malicious, I don’t think. However, like Paul said of the Jews who rejected Jesus (Rom. 10:2), their zeal for God isn’t according to knowledge. They really believe that they are upholding the truth and doing God’s will, but their thinking is at times unclear and their methods are causing strife and discord as well as potentially preventing people from growing and coming to embrace Jesus more fully.
Lighthouse Trails is concerned with a number of issues that they see as interrelated, though the one prominent and repeated issue is their fear that an unbiblical spirituality that is born of mysticism from Eastern faiths is subtly working its way into the church. However, among various other issues, they fail to understand complexity and nuance. By this I certainly don’t mean that it’s all very complex and nuanced and therefore everything is actually okay. Buddhist faith structures such as reincarnation and spiritual enlightenment, Hindu beliefs like unity of reality and consciousness, the foundations of transcendental meditation, the need for the integration of all religions into a single faith – none of these things are true, and they aren’t okay.
However, God did gift the world with common grace. The world is a mixture of good and evil, and it behooves us to sift things carefully to find what is good rather than shunning everything that has any hint of evil. After all, we’re all sinners, so if we push away from everything evil, we’re going to be left with no choice but to be very alone… and probably rather schizophrenic. This is where Lighthouse Trails misses the mark. They don’t tend to sift through things. They tend not to listen with an attempt to understand. They quickly label things dangerous and shun them.
As a few examples, Lighthouse Trails often declares that anything that comes from Roman Catholicism is dangerous. One inherent assumption here is that Catholicism has only a single face, but there are a plethora of divergent perspectives in said church, not all of which can be correct, and many of which even go against the official RC doctrinal stance. Where they clearly acknowledge different beliefs among Protestants, they do not do the same for Catholics. That the Roman Catholic church could contain some good things and some bad things is never considered.
Two more example arise out of a tendency they have to become alarmed at particular keywords that they immediately link to dangerous spiritual practices. “The silence” is, to them, a dangerous practice wherein one attempts not merely to get away from noise and distraction, but to cause one’s mind to be still. The word, silence, then, becomes a red flagged term in most any context. In their blog post, “The Silence: Everyone is Talking About It“, they list numerous quotes from authors that mention the word, silence, and that is sufficient to cause them to be condemned. Further, there is no allowance for different interpretations of what stillness of mind may intend to mean. For one author, it may reflect simply being focused and not having one’s mind jumping from thought to thought whereas for another it may mean a complete emptiness of thought and awareness. However, because “silence” is an automatic keyword for danger, Lighthouse Trails condemns the full range of its use. There is no room for complexity or nuance in the term.
Another key phrase, spiritual formation, is lumped together with other concepts, regardless of whether or not the author or speaker intended the concepts to be joined. In the Lighthouse Trails ideology, spiritual formation is a movement that always intends to invite people to engage in contemplative prayer, “the silence”, and altered states of consciousness. Lighthouse Trails argues that the movement is subtly rather than overtly drawing people into these things. However, as David E. Thomas wrote, “People do not just fall into transcendental states of mind, and using the words ‘spiritual formation’ does not produce such things.” There are those who, under the banner of spiritual formation, are indeed attempting to introduce altered states of consciousness or mystical prayer into the church, but that some do so does not guarantee that all do. The term, spiritual formation, arises out of Paul’s epistles where he speaks of “Christ formed in you” (Gal. 4:19), and there are many people, churches, and organizations that understand the term to be reflective of this biblical concept rather than having any intention of inducing altered states of consciousness. Lighthouse Trails, however, again fails to account for a range of understandings or nuances within the term.
Lighthouse Trails intends well, but as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That they are concerned about heretical beliefs and practices working their way into the church is not a bad thing. However, they disregard the fact that words and phrases can have many different ideas, both good and ill, and instead are too quick to assign evil intent through the establishment of shibboleth tests. Should someone pronounce the wrong word, they seize and slay them in their web site and literature.
Unfortunately, their message is still out there, and people are listening and even taking on the same reactive stance to these keywords and condemning people and organizations that may actually be part of the Kingdom. John said to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), a process that surely requires care, time, and discernment. A reactive condemnation doesn’t leave space for any such test to occur; it just quickly cuts off our brothers and sisters in Christ.