Like so many ideas today, the Renovaré philosophy seems innocuous enough—even deeply spiritual—but there are some elements of the Renovaré movement that give cause for concern. The organization was founded in 1988 by Quaker theologian Richard J. Foster after the success of his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. In the book, Foster describes how to practice the “twelve spiritual disciplines”—meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
Renovaré (the Latin word for “renewal”) purports to work for the renewal of the Church by concentrating on the “spiritual formation” of individual Christians. This “spiritual formation” involves following certain practices and traditions with the result that the life of Christ is formed within the Christian. This sacramental living—a moment-by-moment interaction with God—Foster calls the “with-God life.”
Of course, becoming Christlike and developing the inner person should be the goal of every Christian. There are, however, definite red flags that go up when the basic tenets of the Renovaré movement are examined. First, Renovaré is unabashedly ecumenical. “Wisdom” is gathered from Catholic, Episcopal, mystic, and Protestant sources alike, with no regard for the serious theological differences these groups have. Biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism are two different religions that practice and believe different things about how one is saved, the authority of the Bible, the priesthood of believers, the nature of man, the work of Christ on the cross, and the veneration of and prayer to Mary. The list of irreconcilable differences between what the Bible says and what the Roman Catholic Church says makes any joint mission between the two absolutely impossible. Those who deny this are not being true to what they say they believe, no matter which side they are on. Any Catholic who is serious about his faith will deny what a serious evangelical Christian believes and vice-versa.
Second, Renovaré places a heavy emphasis on mysticism to the detriment of solid theology. The release of the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible in 2005 has packaged the mystical thinking of Renovaré scholars into “study notes” for the Bible itself (it has been recently published as the Life with God Bible). Besides Foster, editors included Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson. In an early edition of The Celebration of Discipline, Foster advises, “In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. . . . Reassure your body that you will return momentarily. Imagine your spiritual self, alive and vibrant, rising up through the clouds and into the stratosphere. . . . Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Do not be disappointed if no words come; like good friends, you are silently enjoying the company of each other” (p. 27). This activity bears a striking resemblance to astral projection and an out-of-body experience, both occult practices.
The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible also raises the following concerns for Christians:
1) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible includes the Apocrypha. The editors suggest that the Apocrypha is not to be viewed as equal with Bible; however, they also proclaim that “most of the Church throughout much of history has accepted the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture” (xxx.2). This is not true. The Catholic Church has accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture since the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, but not “most of the Church,” and not most of the time. Also, Israel never considered the Apocrypha as Holy Writ.
2) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible attacks the divine authorship of Genesis, stating in its General Introduction that Moses did not write it, that its content is mythological, and that it was written over a process of time as tales from other religions were adapted and given a unique monotheistic twist. This flies in the face of many passages of Scripture which say that Moses, under the inspiration of God, wrote the Pentateuch (Exodus 17:14, 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9, 25; Joshua 8:31–32; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 30:16; Nehemiah 8:1; Luke 24:44; John 1:17, 45; 5:45–46; 7:19–23). Jesus Himself spoke of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, so denying that truth denies Christ. In addition, those who accept such Renovaré teachings must reject the authority and infallibility of Scripture, two of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.
3) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible denies that the book of Daniel is prophecy, stating in the introductory notes to that book, “We do not know who wrote it or exactly when it was written” (p. 1245). The writer of the introduction, James M. Rand, goes on to set the date of Daniel’s writing around 167 BC. This would mean, of course, that the author of Daniel, who claims to be Daniel (Daniel 8:15, 27, 9:1–2; 10:2) and who claims to have written it “in the first year of Darius” (538 BC), is a liar.
4) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible attempts to destroy the nature and power of Messianic prophecy. For example, in Isaiah 9:6–7, the Messiah is called “the mighty God, the everlasting Father,” but the Renovaré study notes attribute this description to “human agents” (p. 997). The whole book of Isaiah (which Renovaré says Isaiah did not really write, pp. 982, 1068, again calling a prophet of God a liar) is called “tradition” (pp. 982–983) and “poetic imagination.”
5) The Renovaré Bible / Life with God Bible ignores the prophecies concerning Israel’s future. The prophecy of Jeremiah 31:7–14, which plainly says that Israel will be gathered and restored, is interpreted by Renovaré as God’s promise to homeless people everywhere. The “dry bones” prophecy of Ezekiel 37 (again, a passage that specifies “the whole house of Israel” in verse 11) is twisted into a reference to the Church’s beginning at Pentecost.
For these and other reasons, Renovaré is a theologically dangerous movement. Like many parts of the contemplative spirituality movement, Renovaré preys upon the spiritually hungry and points them not to the cross of Christ or God’s inerrant Word but to man’s traditions and emotional human experience. The wise and discerning Christian will examine carefully all claims of the Renovaré movement and compare each with Scripture. Those which contradict the Word of God must be rejected.