A Berean Exercise: “Christian” Magazines
By T. A. McMahon
A staff member handed me a couple of the latest magazine issues we received in order to review them. They were Christianity Today (CT) and Charisma Magazine (CM). We subscribe to them in order to keep up to date regarding teachings that are being disseminated throughout Christendom. In general they are representative of seemingly diverse Christian theological positions. CT was founded by Billy Graham and has been described as “a mainstream evangelical magazine.” Its beginnings were conservative, doctrinally, and Graham was considered an icon of fundamentalism. Not too long afterward, however, he began praising modernists (Christian liberals of that day) and involving them in his crusades. His later crusades included Roman Catholic priests and nuns as counselors who were to direct those Catholics who responded to Graham’s message back to their Catholic churches! Those seeds have produced the Christianity Today of our day. It is unabashedly liberal and pro-Catholic, which underscores its ongoing disregard of biblical Christianity.
Charisma Magazine has been described as “the main magazine of the Charismatic Movement.” Unlike CT, it hasn’t grown from the seeds of doctrinal changes. Its errors of hyper-charismatic beliefs were in place from the beginning of its publishing in the mid-1970s. They proudly proclaim, “We introduced many now-famous leaders to the charismatic community, from Benny Hinn to T.D. Jakes to Mike Bickle to Jonathan Cahn, and, in recent months, new up-and-comers.” Critiques of their false teachings can be found throughout TBC’s archives.
The objective of this article is to point out the critical need for biblical discernment when reading (or, for that matter, watching or listening to) anything that claims to be Christian. In the cases of CT and CM, they rarely produce a monthly issue that doesn’t exhibit serious doctrinal errors and practices. The following is a typical example from both magazines, which just crossed my desk for the month of May 2019.
One of Christianity Today’s feature articles is titled “Small Groups Anonymous,” subtitled, “Why the best church small groups might take their cues from the Twelve Steps [of Alcoholics Anonymous].” At first glance, the idea that “church small groups” should look to AA meetings for edification might seem a bit off track, but it’s way worse than that, as you will see. Furthermore, that concept is hardly new to Christianity Today, which has been an endorser of the psychological way of counseling for decades. Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-Steps programs actually utilize a psycho-spiritual methodology. This means that it’s a mixture of two belief systems—psychotherapy and spiritism.
CT’s history of promoting AA and 12 Steps and its religious convictions will be made clear following the perspective given in this article. The author, Kent Dunnington, a professor who teaches a class on addictions at Biola University, begins, “I am not an alcoholic. Alcohol just doesn’t do it for me. But Alcoholics Anonymous does. I attended an AA group while writing a book called Addiction and Virtue, and I’ve missed it ever since.” His students at Biola are required to attend AA meetings. He notes CT’s support of his subject when he states that “This magazine, too, has featured an ongoing conversation about the spiritual power of AA.”
He’s confident in the AA approach: “…generally speaking—and amazingly—AA works. It has a theory of how people change and a set of practices designed to change real human beings. In this respect, AA has what the contemporary church, or at least a large portion of the contemporary evangelical church, seems to lack: a clear theory of personal transformation codified in practices and traditions that are easily accessible to those who would like to be transformed.”
He reveals a higher regard for the false methods of men than for the full counsel of God given throughout the Scriptures. For example, he praises the anonymity of the Roman Catholic confessional as needful in the church: “Roman Catholics, with their practice of private confession, have known this for a long time, as has AA. Anonymity provides a haven in which we may speak about the incoherence of our lives. For the same reason [that] we are more likely to tell our darkest secrets to a stranger on a plane than to our friends, AA is a place of greater honesty than the small group can probably ever be.”
As I mentioned, CT’s affinity for AA and things psychological is not new with its May 2019 issue. In July 22, 1991, CT’s then-senior writer Tim Stafford wrote the featured article, “The Hidden Gospel of the 12 Steps.” He declares, “The 12 Steps are Christian,” and “We ought to use them gladly. They belong to us originally. They are doing tremendous good.” He further assures CT’s readers, “The 12 Steps are a package of Christian practices, and nothing is compromised in using them.”
Before I evaluate some of what Dunnington and Stafford have written, it might be helpful for the reader of this article to know a few things about me. I grew up in the mental health community. My father was a psychiatrist, and for a time we lived on the grounds of a very large mental institution. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to having compassion for those suffering through problems of living, especially the sin problem of drunkenness. That was dominant in my family history for generations. I’ve written books, articles, preached sermons, and given conference talks on the antichristian and pseudoscientific aspects of psychotherapy and so-called Christian psychology. Much of that material can be found in the Berean Call’s archives, especially Psychology and the Church: Critical Questions, Crucial Answers, chapter 13 of The Seduction of Christianity, and chapter 15 of Occult Invasion.
First, some general observations. Those issues that AA attempts to remedy are all sin problems. The word “sin,” however, is found nowhere in the CT article. AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson erroneously taught that “alcoholism” is a disease. Rarely can an individual be held accountable for contracting a disease. If the root problem is sin, and the claimed solution rejects sin as the problem, then AA has no solution. Dunnington’s psychologized mindset has him wanting to see church small groups function more as therapeutic or behavioral encounter groups like AA. He never acknowledges that a small group study of—and obedience to—the Word of God has provided the individual with “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter:1:3). God’s Word, the Manufacturer’s Handbook, has the only answer to man’s sin nature and sinful practices.
Dunnington is not only ignorant of the sufficiency of Scripture, but he is also dead wrong about the effectiveness of AA. There are no studies supporting AA’s programs over any other forms of treatment. The Harvard Medical School reported, “Most recovery from alcoholism is not the result of treatment. Probably no more than 10 percent of alcohol abusers are ever treated at all, but as many as 40 percent recover spontaneously.” One of the leading authorities in this field, Herbert Fingarette, the author of Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease, writes for the Harvard Medicine magazine: “This [disease] myth, now widely advertised and widely accepted, is neither helpfully compassionate nor scientifically valid” (See 12 Steps to Destruction by Martin & Deidre Bobgan, on page 6).
If AA can make no true claim of being more effective than the (non-treatment) spontaneous remission of drunkenness by alcohol abusers, what of its spiritual input? That “spirituality” is incorporated in the 12-Step philosophy and is foundational to everything that AA promotes. As noted above, Tim Stafford and CT declared, “We ought to use them [12-Steps programs] gladly. They belong to us originally. They are doing tremendous good.”
Really? Anyone who takes the time to research how AA’s 12 Steps began would readily discover that it came to Bill Wilson and Bob Smith through the activity of spiritism. That is “the spiritual power of A.A.”! Dave Hunt writes in Occult Invasion, “The official AA biography of Wilson reveals, without embarrassment, that for years after AA’s founding, regular séances were still being held in the Wilsons’ home, and other psychic activities were being pursued, including consulting the Ouija board.”
The biography itself declares: “[T]here are references to séances and other psychic events in the letters Bill wrote to Lois [his wife] during that first Akron summer with the Smiths [Bob and Anne], in 1935…Bill would lie down on the couch. He would ‘get’ these things [from the spirit world]…every week or so. Each time, certain people [demons impersonating the dead] would ‘come in…long sentences, word by word would come through.…’ [In 1938] as he started to write [the AA manual], he asked for guidance.… The words began tumbling out with astonishing speed. He completed the first draft in about half an hour.… Numbering the new steps…they added up to twelve—a symbolic number; he thought of the Twelve Apostles, and soon became convinced that the Society should have twelve steps.”
The Bible condemns the practice of communication with spirit entities as divination. The reason should be obvious. Those spirit entities are demons, whose objective it is to turn people away from the truth of God’s Word. Although Wilson and Smith were clearly intent upon contacting the spirit world through divination devices and techniques for spiritual guidance, the evidence that what Wilson received was and is demonic is found in the content itself. It only takes reading the second and third Steps to recognize how antichristian the methodology is. Step 2 and 3 state: [We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we “understood Him” (emphasis in the original).
“A Power greater than ourselves”? Who or what might that be? The God of the Bible and Jesus Christ, the Savior (from sins!) of the world? They are never mentioned in the 12 Steps, nor is sin! Yet there are many “Higher Powers” being put forth and sought after today. AA would have us pick whatever one we favor. Not only that, but we are to “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we [understand Him].” When Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis:3:1-5), he was helping her to “better understand” the God she believed in by questioning what she believed He had said (verse 1): “Yea, hath God said,…?” He followed that up by denying what God indeed had said (verse 4). That’s the demonic origin of Step 3. Proverbs:14:12, 16:25, and 3:5 ring out a sure warning against the allegedly Christian Step 3: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Pick a God? Any God? No! “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy:2:5).
I’ve spoken to dozens of men who have gone through the AA program. Nearly all have confirmed what I’ve written and much more than I have the space for. One common complaint among those who came to Christ outside of AA yet continued to attend AA meetings was the resistance, even hostility, toward sharing Christ among the group. You see, you can pick any God you desire—but you can’t claim that your God is any better than the “Gods” of the other members. That’s the problem (for AA) with the biblical Jesus who declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John:14:6). However, it’s only the first part of the verse that bothers AA. The issue of eternal life is out of their “spiritual” concern. They only focus on keeping a drunk sober and productive this side of heaven.
Those who have clung to AA for years admitted they do so, never missing meetings, regardless of family events or situations, in fear of “falling off the wagon” of sobriety. That’s bondage to a system of man and worse.
Christianity Today and its writers have tragically reinforced for its readership a program that rejects the God of the Bible and His instructions for the lives of those who have put their faith in Him. It’s clear that they also have rejected God’s instructions by attempting to supplement them with the so-called wisdom of the world. Again, that’s tragic. When Jesus, who is the Word, is supplemented, He is supplanted. And when He is supplanted, He becomes “another Jesus.”
But CT isn’t the only entity that has been turning to the world for its ways and means. The demonically inspired 12-Steps programs have, like leaven, worked their way throughout the church in various forms. My personal experience with 12 Steps involved Celebrate Recovery (CR) at Saddleback Church (see “A Way That Seemeth Right…” TBC October 1, 2005). I enrolled in the Celebrate Recovery Training Program in order to get an “up close and personal” understanding of what’s being taught. I do that whenever I can to make sure I’m not misunderstanding the things I’m critiquing biblically. That can happen, so whatever I can do to increase my understanding I try to do. The Saddleback event brought together thousands of people who seemed to me to be sincere in wanting to help those dealing with various sin issues.
We were all told that CR was based upon the Beatitudes. Wrong. It’s based upon the 12 Steps of AA, and the AA methods displace many scriptural elements that might conflict. For example, the men in my AA group claimed that AA meetings hold sway over Bible studies. The group meetings open with silence, the reading of the Serenity Prayer (a vague-at-best rote prayer to god as you conceive him), and the acknowledgement that one is undergoing the ongoing recovery of one or more “addictions.” This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Beatitudes nor with any other part of biblical Christianity.
What’s clear to me regarding Christianity Today is that it reflects the prophecy in 2 Timothy:4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” CT obviously prefers the world’s ways over God’s way, which is proven in every one of its issues. Next month, the Lord willing, there will be a review of the May issue of Charisma Magazine.