The Spiritual Journey of Ruth Haley Barton
Since Ruth Haley Barton has become a significant figure in bringing new doctrine into Christianity, it is important to know who she is. Her writings are filled with Christian clichés mingled with bizarre misinterpretations of the Scriptures and quotes from Roman Catholic heretics and pagan mystics. Inserted into the mixture is a significant portion of New Age doctrine and practices. In fact, while she unabashedly promotes Roman Catholicism and New Age beliefs and practices throughout her writing and speaking, she repeatedly chides Protestantism as being inadequate and far less spiritual than Roman Catholicism. One has to wonder how a Christian could fall to this level of deception. While other individuals have done an excellent job of defining her by her doctrine and practices, I believe it is important to define her by her spiritual journey as well.
However, in her bio, she describes a phase in her life that led to a desperate search for something greater than what Protestantism had to offer her. In her thirties, married with children, Barton was likely on staff at the Highland Hills Church of Christ when she experienced a spiritual and emotional crisis. From her description in various bios, she had become what might be termed as a “basket case” that nothing in her Christian experience could correct.
“…I was aware of things in my life that needed fixing and longings that were painfully unmet. There was a level of selfishness that was being exposed in the crucible of marriage and family life that I did not know how to shift or change. There were emotions from past pains and current disappointments that I did not know how to resolve. There was a performance-oriented driven-ness that I did not know how to quiet and a longing for more, but more of what?”
“I had tried everything that had been offered in my own Protestant tradition—more Bible study, praying harder, trying harder, better sermons, Christian self-help books—to fix what was broken and to fill what was lacking, but to no avail. In the midst of the outward busyness of my “professional” life there was an inner chaos that was far more disconcerting than anything that was going on externally. But this was not a good time to admit to any kind of spiritual emptiness or acknowledge any kind of serious questions about my faith. As an emerging leader, it was a time for being “good,” for being available when people called, for maintaining outward evidences of spiritual maturity commensurate with the responsibilities I carried and the opportunities that were coming my way. It was a time to do what was needed in order to keep climbing the ladder to professional success and I knew it; yet (sic) my interior groanings were real and needed attention.” (Ruth Haley Barton – from her Transformation Center web site.
God’s word, prayer, and anointed preaching and teaching has for the entirety of Protestantism been sufficient to minister to individuals with her level and type of needs and much greater needs. It has been sufficient to bring millions of lost souls into the kingdom of God. Millions have been delivered from various bondages and sin. Millions have been healed, delivered, and had needs met miraculously. Innumerable Protestant Christians have faced imprisonment, torture, and even death being sustained by the very factors that Barton claims were inadequate. Further, some of the greatest Christians in history have come from the ranks of Protestantism. Additionally, I have personally experienced the power of God through His grace, love, and other avenues of His touching my life through many difficult circumstances. Barton declares that none of those things could help her.
The truth is that God is not going to become an enabler by feeding our need to feel good and right when we have become a serial bad-choice maker. It’s not about praying “harder”, whatever that means, or searching for a cure in self-help books, or in “Protestant tradition”. The answer is in putting God first, which leads to putting ones family, emotional, and spiritual welfare before ones ladder-climbing ambitions and other busyness. For example, imagine a professing Christian choosing to eat whatever and whenever of an abundance of food. Just because he or she is a professing Christian does not mean health problems will not occur. Ones “Protestant tradition” may certainly fail him or her when obesity and subsequent health issues occur. It would be unfair to blame it on God or Christianity when the consequences of bad choices come a calling. Besides, it does not appear that contemplative prayer solved her insatiable ambition, but perhaps has given her the means to somehow block the reality of its consequences.
Consequently, Barton rejected Protestantism to seek the help of a Roman Catholic clinical psychologist, who was also a “spiritual director” involved in pagan mysticism at The Loretto Center. The Loretto Center is advertised as a convent and retreat in Wheaton Illinois that was “founded and is supported in part by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. However, it more resembles a New Age center of pagan mysticism.
“It was almost twenty years ago now when, as a young leader, I crept into a spiritual director’s office desperate for help. “
“For me, help came through a spiritual director, although I didn’t even know what one was at the time. Our paths crossed because she was a psychologist. I sought her out for therapy because I assumed that my problems were psychological in nature and could be fixed at that level. Psychological insight and process were indeed valuable—to a point. Eventually, however, she observed that what I needed was spiritual direction and suggested that we shift the focus of our times together to my relationship with God. She told me that the questions I was raising were actually an invitation to deeper intimacy with God and needed to be dealt with in the context of that relationship. It was a welcome invitation and so we made the shift.” (Spiritual Direction with Pastoral and Corporate Leaders, Ruth Haley Barton, April 08 2013)
After making the “shift”, Barton gravitated with whole abandon into Roman Catholic/ New Age mysticism. She seems to be obsessed with luring as many Protestant Christian leaders as possible under her spiritual direction.
I am convinced that some of us need to function as spiritual directors outside of existing church systems and corporate structures so that there is a safe place for leaders to go. I have offered spiritual direction in my home and more recently, in my office at a nearby retreat center (the Loretto Center). (parenthesis added) (Spiritual Direction with Pastoral and Corporate Leaders, Ruth Haley Barton, April 08 2013)
In my opinion, this is a subtle attempt to separate Christians from God-ordained ministers and draw them into the same deception Barton was drawn into. Remember, Barton believes that the traditional church with all its benefits failed her. Therefore, she is not going to lead anyone to Christ the true Savior. The concept of a “spiritual director” is simply another Roman Catholic attempt to put an individual between God and us. The fact is that no true Christian needs a spiritual director no more than he or she needs a priest. Barton of course would disagree. In her view, Protestants are too preoccupied with words to really get to know God intimately. In fact, she almost contemptuously rejects the idea that any Protestant can be anything significant in God unless they practice contemplative prayer. Barton has not to my knowledge claimed to have converted to Roman Catholicism. However, she has beyond all doubt in practice made the “shift”, as she puts it, away from “unspiritual and helpless” Protestantism to the New Age/pagan allure of Roman Catholicism. Evidence of this is in her many references to the insufficiency of Protestantism, especially when it comes to spirituality.
All of this is somewhat predictable given the fact that, as Protestants, we are known by what we protest. But when the early reformers protested some of the excesses of the Catholic Church, they also threw out elements of the spiritual life that we couldn’t afford to lose—and we have been the poorer for it.” ((Make a Joyful Silence, by Ruth Haley Barton, Sojourners Magazine, February 2009)
When confronted with the fact that her doctrine and practices are non-Christian, Barton expresses surprise that anyone would label them as such. She defends them as having a biblical nature. However, in the same context of defending her teaching, she exalts some of the main individuals that are disseminating pagan/New Age doctrines and practices into Christianity. Consider the following from her web site.
“There are still many who are suspicious, even antagonistic. A couple of years ago as I was preparing to speak at Biola University about spiritual disciplines, someone circulated a warning e-mail with the subject line “Buddhism at Biola!” This language was stunning to me, given the biblical nature of everything I was teaching. Those who feel it is their duty to warn Christendom about contemplative practices also disseminate diatribes, on the Web and elsewhere, against spiritual leaders such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Brian McLaren. (Feb 05 2009,
Make a Joyful Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, Transforming Center web site)
Actually, there is no “biblical nature” in what Barton teaches, but only the support of ancient and not so ancient New age/Roman Catholic heresy. However, heresy does not progressively become truthful with age. Therefore, ancient heresy is no more qualified than modern heresy to support a new doctrine. At the heart of Barton’s heresy is the concept that God dwells in every individual. Thus, we do not find God unless we look within ourselves. This Buddhist and New Age belief is antithetical to God’s word. She insists that the practice of contemplative prayer will unlock our life that is “hidden with Christ in God”, enabling us to become what God designed us from the beginning to be. The following statements are evidence to the fact that she believes that humanity is inherently good.
“Before calling has anything to do with doing, it has everything to do with being that essence of yourself that God called into being and that God alone truly knows. It is the call to be who we are and at the same time to become more than we can yet envision. Our calling is woven into the very fabric of our being as we have been created by God, and it encompasses everything that makes us who we are—even those things that have caused pain and confusion. This would include our genetics, our innate orientations and capacities, our personality, heredity and life-shaping experiences, the time and place into which we were born. As Parker Palmer points out, ‘Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’” (Apr 08 2013, Spiritual Direction with Pastoral and Corporate Leaders, Ruth Haley Barton, Transforming Center Web Site)
You are so right! …It is not the true self that experiences humiliation–only that which is false within us. It is good to remember during this season that we have nothing to lose on the spiritual journey except the false self which is not “real” anyway (it just feels real) and everything to gain–the true self which is hidden with Christ in God and which God is always calling forth. How wonderful that you are experiencing this truth so deeply. (Ruth Haley Barton, March 30, 2011, responding to a comment on her article, Lent 2011: The Wilderness Within, Mar 29 2011)
Of course, this is not the biblical definition of our calling or vocation in God. God calls the weak things of the world to confound the mighty and whom He calls He equips and qualifies. Without God, we are by nature “children of wrath.” God’s word declares that nothing good dwelt in us before salvation. God’s word also declares that our self, the person we were born as, is the real problem. That is why Paul declares that we must die to self. We were born in sin, but by the grace of God we are re-born into His kingdom. We must yield to God who delivers us from sin through the blood of His only Son, Christ Jesus.
Further, there is no kernel of God deep within Christians and even non-Christians that one must find through contemplative prayer. According to her agreement with Parker Palmer’s explanation of original selfhood, our life is hidden with Christ in the kernel of God within us, and God is always calling that selfhood forth. To believe Barton, we would have to reject the biblical plan of salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit. We would also have to reject every other great doctrine of God’s word and submit to an alternate plan that gives us charge of our own salvation.
As I watched her go through the steps into contemplative prayer on YouTube, I felt nothing but pity for her. I could see the sadness, the total control of the demonic spirit that in my opinion has her in a death grip. I have known many individuals deep in that grip of darkness, some of them before I became a child of God and some afterward. All of them were as if suspended a few centimeters above a vast bottomless pool of misery. They know that if they fall in they will lose their lives and their souls. In order not to fall in, they will do whatever the demon (spirit guide) tells them to do. However, eventually Satan discards them like worthless trash. When he has gotten all that he can get out of them, and deems their deaths of more value than their lives, he cruelly cuts the thread by which they are suspended.
A person without Christ cannot avoid the misery of lostness. He or she needs everything Satan has to offer to endure the dearth of light. Subsequently, some vociferously chase the toys and frolic in the pleasure pools of the world system until their minds or bodies can no longer run the trail. Other ones are enlisted as attractors, luring more individuals into the rat race. All along the way God calls to them to exit the insidious roller coaster Satan has lured them to hop on. Presently, the world society has reached the point to where multitudes of individuals are seeking relief from misery of lostness by religious means. Satan will always find someone to do his bidding. Barton is willing to distribute his falsehoods to avoid punishing torment. Her soul void of God’s love is filled with the eerie shadows of false knowledge and bleak deserts of heresies. I feel much pity for her. At the end of her life there awaits judgment. All she has is to enjoy her material possessions and what small comfort she gets from her fame. That could all end in an instant.
While my pity for her lostness compels me to pray for her soul, I must also pray that she will not be allowed to lure anymore individuals into the spiritual dungeon with her. Hopefully and prayerfully she will be exposed fully enough that most Christian leaders will come to their senses. To the extent she has been exposed by her own words, I am astonished that she continues to be accepted into the inner circles of leadership in Christianity. I realize that some of the ones who promote her are themselves in need of deliverance. However, many leaders of major denominations are gullibly accepting her heresies without blinking. Never mind the fact that she is an extremely erroneous and inept expositor of the Scriptures, her open confession to diabolical practices and doctrine ought to set off alarms in every true Christian. Sadly, it has not been the case. God help us if that is an indication of how weak modern Christians are in biblical knowledge and spiritual discernment.
The facts are that Ruth Haley Barton rejected Protestantism, declaring that it had failed her, and ran into a convent of Roman Catholic/New Age mysticism. There she visited a clinical psychologist that was also a New Age spiritual director. Under her tutelage, Barton learned how to contact the demonic realm. Barton then ran into the waiting arms of the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation. No worse quagmire of New Age heresy could she have found. In the Shalem Institue, her spiritual formation from a believer in Christ to a New Age heretic was completed. From Shalem, she went on staff at one of the most heretical churches of our generation, Willow Creek Community Church. Now she stands on the final rungs of her “ladder of success” atop the heap of the spiritual rubble that was once called Christianity and beckons the ones who have thus far escaped to “Come, follow me.” I pray that no one else answers her call.