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What churches should know about YWAM Part 1: A sketchy theological heritage

May 14th, 2019 | 31 Comments | Posted in Size and Influence of the NAR, YWAM

This post is the first in a series on the influential Christian missions organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM), with a focus on its relationship to the controversial New Apostolic Reformation movement. YWAM was founded in 1960 by Loren Cunningham as a way to deploy young people as missionaries throughout the world. It’s now one of the largest Christian missionary organizations, having more than 18,000 staff working in over 180 nations. Many churches financially support YWAM full-time missionaries and young adults who sign up to go on short-term mission trips with YWAM or to attend one of YWAM’s Discipleship Training Schools or other schools. Yet many of these churches would likely be surprised and concerned to learn about some of the unbiblical and spiritually harmful teachings promoted by this organization.

In this first post I’ll outline one significant part of YWAM’s theologically controversial history to set the stage for future posts about YWAM as it currently stands. 

 

A Sketchy Theological Heritage

 

One misperception of YWAM is that its teachings are generally theologically sound – or at least they started off that way. But in this post, I show that, from its earliest days, YWAM has been plagued by aberrant, and sometimes outright heretical, theology.

To be fair, I should note that YWAM bases are semi-autonomous. So, there is some variability in terms of what teachings might be found at those bases. That being said, the aberrant teachings I address in this series have not been limited to isolated bases under local leadership. Rather, they’ve been widespread and have been promoted at the level of the larger organization.

 

An Early Controversy: Moral Government Theology

In the 1970s and 1980s (and even some into the 1990s), a heretical belief system known as “Moral Government” was pervasive in YWAM.  It was taught to tens of thousands of students at YWAM bases throughout the world. YWAM’s promotion of the Moral Government teaching was documented by respected theologians, including Alan W. Gomes, of Talbot School of Theology, in a book published in 1981, titled Lead Us Not into Deception: A Biblical Examination of Moral Government Theology. Gomes, in his book, introduced his critique of Moral Government theology this way:

The Moral Government teaching is a distinct system of theology concerned with the nature and attributes of God, the nature of man, and the process of salvation. The Moral Government teaching is a heretical form of doctrine. It is unbiblical in key areas of the faith, such as the atonement and the nature of God. Moral Government errs in more than peripheral areas of doctrine: The Moral Government teaching is basically flawed concerning the issues on which salvation hinges…. At issue here is whether or not Jesus literally paid for our sins on Calvary, if the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us when we believe, and if God possesses the attributes of immutability and omniscience. Clearly, these are not issues about which Christians can “agree to disagree.” These are issues which strike at the heart of the Christian faith.[1]

Another summary of the errors of Moral Government theology can be found in this article written by E. Calvin Beisner titled The False God and Gospel of Moral Government Theology.[2] Here’s an excerpt.

Moral government theology (MGT), rooted in the philosophical definition of freedom as the “power of contrary choice,” denies the fundamental Christian doctrines of God’s perfection in knowledge, goodness, and power; original sin; human moral inability; the substitutionary satisfaction of God’s justice in Christ’s atoning death; redemption; and justification by the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to believers by grace through faith apart from works. As documented in this article, these denials are unbiblical and are so serious as to warrant classifying MGT as non-Christian.

In short, the Moral Government teaching encompasses many serious errors, including the teaching that God does not know his future actions, that God changes his mind and his plans, that he doesn’t know beforehand what actions people will freely choose to take, that he doesn’t sovereignly control all earthly events, that we are not born with a sinful nature, and that our salvation was not purchased by Christ’s blood, rather we are saved by ceasing from sinning.

YWAM promoted the Moral Government teaching through books sold at the YWAM bookstore, a training manual, and YWAM lecturers who traveled base to base teaching on a variety of topics, including Moral Government theology. YWAM’s leadership denies that Moral Government theology is still taught today. That may be true at most bases. Yet a series of teachings promoting Moral Government theology was delivered as recently as 2017 at a YWAM Discipleship Training School in the Philippines and is available online.[3]

Jesse Morrell teaches on Moral Government theology at YWAM Philippines (2017)

 

A Lingering Theological Controversy: Open Theism

 

The heretical Moral Government teaching is largely in YWAM’s past. Yet Moral Government teaching morphed into another heterodox doctrine promoted within YWAM today, known as “open theism.” What is open theism? It entails the belief that God does not exhaustively know all of the future. Specifically, he doesn’t know what decisions human beings will choose to make acting out of their free wills. In other words, God’s knowledge is limited by humankind’s free moral choice. He cannot 100 percent predict what any free moral agent will do ahead of time. Here’s a brief summary.

Because God experiences time like we do and because the future does not yet exist, God doesn’t know what the future holds. Although He is aware of the various possibilities of what could happen, the free-will decisions of God’s moral creatures are unknown to Him until those decisions are made. In other words, the events of tomorrow remain hidden from the mind of God until tomorrow actually arrives.

As a result, God is left to decide and to act in this world according to what He thinks is most likely to occur. Because He is sometimes mistaken about what He thought would happen, however, God occasionally finds Himself regretting a decision and resorting to Plan B. In this way, God learns from historical events as they occur and actually changes His mind and His plans in response to them.[4]

For a biblical response to open theism, see an article by Alan Gomes titled “God in Man’s Image: Freedom, Foreknowledge, and the ‘Openness’ of God.”[5] Read more about some of the controversy surrounding this teaching in this Gospel Coalition article.

Yet one reason people are drawn to open theism is they like the explanation it offers for how a good God can let bad things happen in the world (i.e., he didn’t know what was going to happen). Proponents of open theism also believe their view makes human contributions more meaningful. In other words, they believe that if God knows everything human beings will do in advance, then the future is fixed and nothing people do can change or impact anything.

Given the close connections between Moral Government theology and open theism, perhaps it’s little surprise that open theism has also found acceptance within YWAM. For instance, YWAM-Mercy – one of YWAM’s major institutional arms, which operates in 100 countries – currently features on its website a favorable review of the book God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict by Gregory A. Boyd.[6] The review describes this book – which argues for open theism and is written by one of the foremost proponents of open theism – as a must-read for Christian missionaries, relief and development workers, and those working in health care, government and business. It also includes a link to a bookstore, where people can purchase the book. Boyd has presented teaching promoting open theism to YWAM groups, including a group at Yale. And the YWAM Sydney Newtown base in Australia currently recommends Boyd’s podcast teachings on its website. Boyd notes that, among YWAM’s early founders, open theism was “a standard teaching.”[7]

Open theism does not promote all the same errors of Moral Government theology. Yet open theism’s denial of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge – which it shares with Moral Government theology – is an attack on the classic Christian view of God and has many troubling implications for the Christian faith. Both Moral Government teaching and open theism have harmed the faith of many Christians, to the extent that some of those individuals have considered abandoning their faith. Testimonies of such harm are documented in Gomes’ book and Beisner’s article, cited above. They’re also found elsewhere. For example, a professor at Highland Theological College, Nick Needham, writes that he first encountered open theism when he worked with YWAM in the 1980s. Needham explains how the denial of God’s complete foreknowledge harmed his own faith, and the faith of one of his friends, by making God feel more distant and less divine.[8]

A Common Thread?

So why would YWAM be drawn toward these similar theological systems of Moral Government theology and open theism? Is it possible that it’s because they appear to make the contributions of YWAM missionaries more significant and to lend greater urgency to their missionary enterprise? Let me explain. Consider the following comparison between the two views.

Excerpted from Beisner’s article cited above, Gordon C. Olson – a primary architect of Moral Government theology – states: “Man as an endowed moral being has been given the ability to limit the omnipotence of God in his sphere of life” (emphasis is Beisner’s).

Similarly, Richard Rice – a key proponent of open theism cited in the Gospel Coalition article referenced above – states:

God interacts with his creatures. Not only does he influence them, but they also exert an influence on him. As a result, the course of history is not the product of divine action alone. God’s will is not the ultimate explanation for everything that happens; human decisions and actions make an important contribution too. Thus history is the combined result of what God and his creatures decide to do.

In short, a possible thread between these two misguided theologies may be that God needs humankind to accomplish his plans on the earth. Since God doesn’t have complete control, he relies on people to cooperate with him to bring his plans to fulfillment, through various means including prayer, spiritual warfare, and missionary programs.

Let me pause here to make an important clarification. It’s certainly true that God graciously lets us participate in the working out of his plan. In that sense, we do have important roles to play in the fulfillment of his plan. But He does not need us to accomplish his will, absolutely speaking (Acts 17:25), as if his hands are ultimately tied without the help of willing men and women ready to get behind his cause. Any such notion – which renders God powerless or lacking in some way – must be soundly rejected as unbiblical. But the idea that God needs human beings to accomplish His will may explain why some missions organizations, including YWAM, are drawn to Moral Government theology or open theism.

Interestingly, the notion that God is dependent on YWAM students to change the world comes through in a book written by Rob Hensser, a member of the executive leadership team of YWAM in Melbourne, Australia, and a lecturer at YWAM bases throughout the world. The book is titled Be the Wave: Daring to Believe God and Embrace Your Destiny (Standard Publishing, 2005) and is endorsed by YWAM founder Loren Cunningham. In the introduction to his book, Hensser describes God as a salivating dog who appears to be dependent on YWAM students.  Here are his words.

You are the hope of the future, the next wave! I believe one thing: I believe that you and your generation have the potential to impact the world and disciple nations like none other. I bet my life on it. You, not I, are the hope of the future, the hope of the kingdom and you know what? The future has never been in better hands. God is salivating, licking his chops with huge expectation, waiting for you to explode into the world. Only one thing stands between you and the huge, crazy, epic destiny God has been dreaming of you. The only limitation is whether you will dare to believe in God’s desire and ability to use you, embrace your destiny and take you place as the next wave of history-shapers.

Take note that Hensser’s teaching elevates YWAM students as having great power to accomplish what God seems unable to do on his own. I don’t know if Hensser supports open theism. But his words, shown above, do seem to align with the open theistic worldview.

Yet whatever the reason for YWAM’s promotion of these errant theological systems, there is cause for deep concern.

In Part 2 of this series about YWAM, I will show the relationship between YWAM and the New Apostolic Reformation, a rapidly growing movement of church leaders who style themselves as authoritative apostles and prophets and claim their new revelations are key to bringing God’s physical kingdom to earth.

Notes

[1] Alan W. Gomes, Lead Us Not into Deception: A Biblical Examination of Moral Government Theology, 4th ed. (Alan Gomes, 1986), 1-2; accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.alangomes.com/Publications/YWAM.pdf.

[2] E. Calvin Beisner, “The False God and Gospel of Moral Government Theology,” Christian Research Institute Journal 20 (Fall 1994); accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0184a.html.

[3] “The Moral Government of God.” Youtube video, 3:08:29. Posted by “OpenAirOutreach.” August 16, 2017. Accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vBwmOLgqsE&t=0s&index=2&list=PLos_9Ta3Avwe9QxSuhcsUDFlT7iVLkvf3.

[4] “Open Theism,” Grace Fellowship Church; accessed March 19, 2019, https://www.gfcto.com/articles/theological-issues/open-theism.

[5] Alan W. Gomes, “God in Man’s Image: Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the `Openness’ of God,” Christian Research Journal 10 (Summer 1987):18-24; accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.SpiritOfError.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Gomes-God-in-Mans-Image-CRJ.pdf.

[6] G. Stephen Goode, review of God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict, by Gregory A. Boyd, YWAM-Mercy. N.d.; accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.ywam-mercy.org/book-reviews/god-at-war/.

[7] Gregory A. Boyd. “A Very Brief History of Open Theism,” ReKnew. N.d.; accessed August 27, 2018, http://reknew.org/2015/08/a-very-brief-history-of-open-theism/.

[8] Nick Needham, “Open Theism,” Evangelical Times. November 2002; accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.evangelical-times.org/27146/open-theism/.

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About the author

Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University

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31 Responses to “What churches should know about YWAM Part 1: A sketchy theological heritage”

  1. Chris Says:

    Thanks for a very informative article, Holly. As a new believer many years ago, YWAM was suggested to me as an option for Christian service, one which I thankfully never chose to pursue. In recent years, I have observed with some alarm both YWAM’s association with the NAR, and the tendency of friends who are caught up in the NAR to view service with YWAM in a positive light. Your article is enlightening in this regard, and I look forward to future installments.

  2. John Says:

    A really important article. I have been concerned about YWAM’s contemplative leanings and NAR connections, but I had no idea about the Moral Government or Open Theism aspects.

    My pastor met his wife years ago at a solid YWAM base. I am afraid that these are now in the minority.

  3. Brian Westcott Says:

    Very interesting article about YWAM. I was surprised about the association with open theism. I know one theologian who got into big trouble with a certain conservative Nazarene university I attended many years ago. He and a few others also believe in open theism.

    The Church of the Nazarene is openly flirting with the NAR. One of many reasons why I left and now I’m a member of the Assemblies of God (which declared the Order of the Latter Rain as heresy in 1949). I am a classical theist, so I would have issues with open theism. I am still Arminian and not Calvinist/Reformed.

    By the way, great job on your books about the NAR. Goes very well with the Wide is the Gate series by Carol Matrisciana, especially Volume 3.

  4. Rusty Says:

    @Brian, the official AG general council position against NAR teachings is no guarantee that the pastors of your relatively-autonomous local assembly will not flirt with–if not outright embrace–the NAR. So you need to continue to keep your discernment radar active and not rely on your shepherd to always protect you.

    I learned this recently after attending an AG church for almost three years. Everything seemed fine for the first year-and-a-half, but then I started noticing things that concerned me. For example, one or more of my pastors did the following:

    * Preaching Word of Faith theology, as well as recommending the congregation to read Kenneth Hagin’s books.
    * Partnering with the local IHOP for prayer services and spiritual warfare events.
    * Regularly inviting “prophets” to speak from the pulpit, as well as holding special multi-service “prophetic worship” events.
    * Making use of The Passion Translation during sermons.
    * Enrolling in online classes offered by Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry.
    * Referring to “The Holy Spirit” as just “Holy Spirit”. (This seems to be a tell of BSSM influence.)
    * Promoting ecumenism; specifically calling for reconciliation with the Roman Catholic church.
    * Partnering with other local churches to promote city-wide NAR events where recognized national apostles and prophets were speaking.

    (I’ll admit that, at the time, I was relatively untrained theologically, and am embarrassed I didn’t discern a lot of this stuff earlier. Because of all this craziness, I’ve since fallen in love with Scripture again, showing that God does indeed use all things–even the NAR–for the good of those who love Him.)

    My eyes were eventually opened, and I did a lot of research. I learned that almost all of the AG and IHPC churches in my (relatively small) city have some kind of involvement with the NAR. Interestingly, I discovered the common factor among most of them was the local IHOP. I believe Holly talks about this in her book: namely how the NAR attempts to “infect” other charismatic churches through inter-church “unity” events. In fact, the entire National Day of Prayer in my city has been entirely co-opted by the NAR for many years.

    We’re about to have a big city-wide NAR event next month with Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets. I sent a copy of Holly’s book to 20 charismatic/Pentecostal pastors in the area back in March, praying that they read it before the event, and that God opens their eyes to the false teachings of the NAR.

  5. Holly Says:

    Rusty, let me know how things unfold.

  6. Kiran Says:

    A very informative article. Aptly timed in these times of blossoming misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the gospel in its puritan form… a wake up call !!!

  7. Brian Westcott Says:

    My AG church is doing pretty well staying away from the NAR and Word of Faith. Unfortunately, we are doing songs by Bethel Church/Jesus Culture and Hillsong. Other than that, so far so good.

  8. Angela Says:

    Rusty, that’s wonderful to hear, may there be many rescued out of NAR in your area and would love to hear of more areas where people are sending out warnings to pastors, or even where warning meetings are being held!! God bless, Angela

  9. Angela Says:

    Rusty, could you please give us the name of your city so we can pray? 🙂 God bless, Angela

  10. Rusty Says:

    @Angela, thanks for offering to pray. The event in question is

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-time-to-plow-preparing-for-increase-tickets-58850370041

    This event is only one of many, part of a “regional” tour being made by Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets:

    https://youtu.be/deHjGVx5mro

    If anyone is concerned about one of these events coming to their area, the list of future meetings is on Dutch Sheets’ events page:

    https://dutchsheets.org/event-directory/

  11. Carol Berubee Says:

    Great article, Holly. I had no idea about the Moral Government or Open Theism connection with YWAM, but I’ve always known that YWAM was off from the beginning. In delving into Keith Green’s history, I learned of Loren Cunningham and knew that he was “off” as well as his ministry, YWAM.

    Open Theism is heresy as are the many elements of Moral Government. Thanks for warning the Body!

  12. Ernest Calvin Beisner Says:

    I expanded my article “The False God and False Gospel of Moral Government Theology” into the book EVANGELICAL HEATHENISM? EXAMINING CONTEMPORARY REVIVALISM, which goes into greater depth about MGT, refuting its Biblical arguments and providing conclusive historical evidence that it is entirely outside historic Protestantism. It cannot be defended as merely Wesleyanism or Arminianism versus Calvinism. Wesley and Arminius both wrote definitively against its main ideas, and Arminian and Wesleyan creeds and confessions explicitly reject its main ideas. Those interested in obtaining the book can write me at ECalvinBeisner@Gmail.com.

  13. Eileen Thompson Says:

    Very useful and enlightening article. My own brush with YWAM came in the 70’s when they ‘invaded’ the church that I (with my late husband) attended. At first we thought they were a lovely breath of fresh air. They were based in an old mansion- type house on the outskirts of the town but were regulars with us and other churches, taking house meetings etc.
    However, the warning bells started to ring for us quite quickly, but we weren’t knowledgeable enough about them to put our finger on anything. They definitely had an air of superiority about them , as if spiritually they knew better than we did. They were there to teach the Church, not the other way round , in spite of the age differences between us!
    At one house meeting, when we questioned the young man who was leading it, about sticking with the truth of God’s word he waved his Bible in the air and declared “ it’s only a guide you know!” ( it seemed he was exasperated with us!) . We were rather stunned!
    Then tapes began circulating that were extremely off , so we questioned this with a lady who was personal friends with the local YWAM group Leaders. She said she would look into it but was sure our fears were unfounded. When she got back to us , to our great consternation , she merely said to the effect – oh no – nothing to worry about doctrinally , everything fine.
    Of course , having now read your article, I understand what was influencing them . We were interactive with many of these young people at the time and really it was all very Cult-like . They thought they were the cat’s whiskers when it came to their ‘mission’ work too.

  14. Joaquin Says:

    Gracias por la informacion es una forna apologetica necesaria.Los Aoistoles nos alertaron que estas heregias llenas de vanidad profesional y de espiritus de error los tendriamos en estos tiempos de apostacia religiosa.Ud siempre siga adelante.La felicito por su valentia,Dios la recomoensara por alertarnos y cuidar el cueroo de Cristo.Bendiciones.

  15. Lora Gorton Says:

    Every once in awhile I do a Google to see what’s going on with YWAM.We were apart of the YWAM base back in the late 70’s in Salem Oregon and were taught MGT and Open Theism by Winkie
    Pratney,Joy Dawson,John Dawson and George Ottis Jr. My husband had Charles Finney’s theology book. Jesse Morrell is the new spokesman for MGT. He is passionately preaching on the streets about sinless perfection. I don’t think he’s apart of the NAR but he is someone to keep an eye on. The Spiritual damage YWAM did on me via their theology took years to get free from. Now we call ourselves confessional Lutheran (LCMS)and praise God for sending his son to live the perfect life I couldn’t. It’s new every morning walking with Him.I wait in anticipation to read Part 2 Holly. Thank you.

  16. Rusty Says:

    @Holly, just wanted to give you an update, as requested. The Chuck Pierce/Dutch Sheets/Ken Malone event concluded a little over a week ago, and there’s a bit of good news to report.

    For the same event in 2018 (which was canceled at the last minute due to Dutch Sheets requiring emergency back surgery), eight local churches held weekly inter-church prayer meetings for two months prior to the main event. These prayer meetings were alternately held at each of the participating churches. They were billed to the respective congregations as “city-wide prayer meetings,” but really were used as a recruitment drive to get people to come out to the main NAR event.

    This year, only three churches participated in those “prologue” prayer meetings. Those three churches are, what I consider, the hard-core NAR churches in town (IHOP, an “underground apostolic” IPHC church, and a non-denominational “prophetic” church). None of the AG churches that participated in 2018 participated this year. Also, unlike last year, none of the AG churches promoted the main event on social media. I don’t know if any of this is related to placing your book in the hands of these pastors, but praise God nonetheless for his goodness.

    The only real disappointment was that the pastor of the IPHC church that hosted the main event (who received two copies of your book) actually attended it (although he didn’t appear to participate in the earlier prayer meetings) and didn’t seem too bothered by what was said. A few days before the first session, that church posted the event on their Facebook page. I left a comment on that post that consisted only of Scriptures related to discernment, false teachers, etc. Literally, it was just Scripture–no editorial commentary at all on my part. Unfortunately, the church deleted my comment a few hours later. It’s a sad statement when churches find something so offensive in Scripture alone that they feel compelled to remove it.

    Videos of the five sessions were recently uploaded to YouTube (see the “A Time to Plow” videos for June 13-15 on https://www.youtube.com/user/kcmministry/videos). I’m in the process of reviewing them now. Lots of troubling “prophecies” and “decrees” so far, but I didn’t expect much less. 🙂

    Prior to the main event, I spent a lot of time watching Ken Malone’s (the “Apostle of Florida”) sermons, as well as those of two of the three local churches involved in the prayer meetings. In addition to what I’ve heard so far in the “A Time to Plow” sessions, it seems there is a disturbing strategy being employed by the NAR (apologies if you mentioned this in your book, but I don’t remember it, so I’m not sure if it’s something new). There seems to be a push for recognized “apostolic centers” to forego their Sunday morning worship services and instead hold “kingdom meetings” at a different time (Friday evening seems to be the most popular). The intention appears to be to attract members from other congregations who don’t want to miss their normal Sunday morning worship services but want “something more.” I suspect the motive here is similar to what BSSM does: namely, to indoctrinate these sheep with NAR beliefs, hoping that they then spread them back to the congregation where they regularly attend.

  17. Dave S Says:

    @ Lora Gorton: Yes the Dawsons are a family friend of mine growing up in the 60s. They are a very Godly family but were poisoned when they joined YWAM in the 70s. They are at the root of alot of NAR stuff, huge influence on C Peter Wagner etc. Also Tom Marshall from NZ was a very Godly man also til he was seduced by them, big influence on spiritual mapping rubbish. There was a YWAM SOE in Lausanne in around 1971 where they must have been indoctrinated with MGT. Alot of Dawson’s peers came out of that school promoting MGT. They must have had Harry Conn there or Gordon Olsen teaching at the school but much of the root of MGT teaching comes from Leonard Ravenhill. Ravenhill’s teaching is very Brutish and extremely negative where he perpetually complains about how bad Christians are and pushes MGT as the answer. MGT is a full blown heresy and my guess is that YWAM taught it as a reaction to local knowledge they have from having the first school in Lausanne near Geneve where maybe there is a historical reaction to John Calvin, not sure, just a guess. What ever it is YWAM damaged multitudes of souls through that MGT rubbish.

  18. John Winlow Says:

    It’s not wrong to examine YWAM teachings but the young people who make up YWAM ministries are not missionaries in the strict sense of the word. Most would be ordinary young Christian people coming from ordinary churches, who wanted to live out their faith in some more immediate way. They felt a calling and to their credit they obeyed it, as I myself did back in ’72.
    In fact I would say this is true that a para Church organisation can offer opportunities for Christian service that a local church simply can’t.
    I also believe that even if Christians do get involved with something that is false in some way, in His time and His way our Lord can lead them back into the right and narrow way. I would dispute that YWAM ‘damaged multitudes of souls through MGT, but I would accept that a few were hurt by it. I think supportive Scripture can be found for both Arminianism and Calvinism, but most folk I know hold a variation or even a mixture of both those views.

  19. Lou Says:

    I am currently in prayer about a family from a YWAM base that has joined our orthodox Charismatic Church’s staff. They very obviously love the Lord, but, in my opinion, are unqualified as teachers. Before they were brought on, the leadership of the local church had not even heard of YWAM.

    They are also making more and more overtures to get paid more from the missions budget of the Church.

  20. Greg Griffin Says:

    I’ve been to 120 YWAM locations in 20 countries for the past 15 years and have never encountered or heard of any of this. Would be great to see a followup article that documented the countless lives around the world that have been transformed, countless movements of God healing and restoring broken lives, the 5 million people worldwide that are now proclaiming the Gospel because of what God has done through YWAM.

    I hope that most reading this realize that even in their church, their pastor, even this author of this article can make mistakes. YWAM is not a centralized and controlled by one person kind of organization. Because a speaker at one school says something or some people do something is very unfair to condemn a worldwide ministry of about 28,000 that has grown completely on faith and trust and dependence on God. It is interesting that almost all the articles I see on this site are condemning and judging in nature. That is easy and fun to do, isn’t it.

    As an organization, we focus on drawing out the good in people and not focusing on the bad. Wish others would do the same with us.

  21. Lisa Says:

    Part of the reason I left the church was because of YWAM. In 1993 I attended Western Baptist College (Now Corben University) in Salem, OR. YWAM was a strong presence in the area and I knew people who had served missions with YWAM. I was growing increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with people saying, “Have you asked God?” or “Read the bible” every time I asked any questions, any time I wanted to have a conversation about the bible, about theology, about current events, about the church. I was naive and believed that if I went to a christian school I could finally have these conversations. I went to a separate YWAM bible study held in a Baptist church. It was mostly college students and they all came with note books and took notes – for what I to this day have no idea. I don’t understand their studiousness because the lesson was about the Onion model, which I was told was fundamental to YWAM. It went like this – we are all like onions, and the more the we peel back layers the more we realize that we hate God. Period. We all (christians and non-christians alike) hate God. We must make it a mission to acknowledge our hate, wrestle with it, and surrender to God. I was deeply deeply puzzled. I’d spent my entire life loving God. I wanted to please God, I wanted to know God, and I loved God. I asked the teacher immediately afterward what I didn’t understand. I said I didn’t hate God. He said I should pray about it. Hahahahahahahahah – nope. I said prayer wasn’t going to change the fact that I didn’t hate God. He said that this was the curriculum he had been given. I asked him if he hated God. He turned his back on me and walked away. I never went back to that bible study. Not a single other person in a room of at least 30 college students had any problem with what he said. I heard them saying things like “I never thought about it like that”.
    Here’s the thing – I believe now that they were actively trying to undermine our faith – not only our faith in God, but also in our faith in our own ability to understand our own emotions. This is a tactic of cults. If we can’t trust ourselves to understand what we feel, and need a higher spiritual authority to tell us what we feel – then they can tell us ANYTHING and it has to be true, because we can’t know ourselves even.
    I will never ever forgive them for what they did – the damage they did to those young, impressionable and genuinely faithful people. God may forgive them, but I can’t. I don’t have it in me.

  22. John Winlow Says:

    Well said Greg. In my 6 years with YWAM I occasionally encountered a person who was not suited to YWAM. They may have been in deception or their motives always pure, but they were very few.
    All human organisations have their imperfections and failings. Heavens! you only have to read the story of the Salvation Army or the Methodist Church to see that people fail.
    I would say that a young Christian man or woman who belongs to our Lord has the indwelling Holy Spirit, who will guide you or protect you from serious error. So even if you do encounter something that concerns you, you must remember that you are responsible to the Lord most of all, and if it doesn’t seem right go speak to someone in authority you respect.
    The thing about YWAM is that it gives wonderful opportunities to meet and work with Christians from other countries and other traditions. It provides an environment in which you can learn how to deal with difficult relationships and how to resolve them, to take on responsibilities you would probably never have in a home church and to see parts of the world you might never encounter otherwise. Travel is good for broadening our understanding of other cultures and religions, and you may see God lead and provide in ways you could never imagine!
    If as a Christian you feel God is leading you to YWAM then be obedient and be confident that God will lead and guide you, whatever you encounter.

  23. Cal Beisner Says:

    MGT is not Arminianism. I prove that in my book EVANGELICAL HEATHENISM by quoting Arminius, Wesley, and Creed’s of Arminian churches condemning specific doctrines that define MGT. YWAM claims constantly, as do MGT defenders elsewhere, that the controversy is between Calvinism and Arminianism. It is not. It is between Christianity and non-Christianity, as Wesley clearly stated. To find out how to get my book, email me at ecalvinbeisner@gmail.com.

  24. John Winlow Says:

    As I recall, and it’s 40+ years ago, The Moral Government of God teaching was mainly about predestination and free will. That man can choose to do what is right and can choose to work with God in this world. Essentially (I think)Gordon Olson was rebutting predestination: the idea that God had it all planned out. He had chosen who would be saved,and who would be lost, and there was nothing we can do about it! Gordon did not accept this.
    I have since found on YouTube that some of Gordon’s teaching sessions have been posted for anyone that is interested.
    Personally although I do not accept Gordon’s teaching in its entirety I wouldn’t agree that it is anti Christian. More of a theological attempt to explain why Man has free will and how God uses our choices to achieve His purposes. e.g. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until it was clear Pharaoh had determined in his own heart not to let the Israelites go…
    During my time in YWAM I actually met and listened to Gordon Olson. He was very much a sincere and scholarly man, a man of integrity. He may have been wrong on some aspects of theology, but he certainly loved the Lord.

  25. Cal Beisner Says:

    MGT is NOT just predestination versus freewill. Olson and Conn and other MGT teachers expressly deny the substitutionary, satisfaction doctrine of the atonement and teach justification by works, not be grace alone through faith alone. They also sent God’s omniscience and even teach His moral mutability. You may find it hard to imagine, but they do, and I prove all that and more in my book with extensive quotations from their writings.

  26. John Winlow Says:

    As I mentioned previously I have seen some of Gordon Olson’s lectures on YouTube recently. I didn’t watch them because as I also said previously(!) over the years I have changed my own theological understanding on these issues.
    I would also repeat that YWAM provided a wide spectrum of teachers and lecturers in active ministries, and it was a useful way of getting students to formulate their own thinking on various points of theology. There is another church leader who wrote a book called “God’s Strategy in Human History” (Roger Forster & Paul Marston). Roger came and spoke at YWAM whilst I was there, and I found his perspective very useful. Ditto the teaching of Francis Schaeffer.
    The point I am making is that the YWAMers of my generation are now in their late 60s, early 70s. Most I know of are still active Christians, still members of a church wherever they live. So perhaps like me they worked through these things and came out with their own understanding.
    I don’t deny that some people were disturbed by Gordon’s teaching, but it would be a very small number.
    Good luck with the book!

  27. Cal Beisner Says:

    Alan Gomes, Greg Robertson, and I intensely studied both Gordon Olson’s teachings (especially his writings) and his influence within YWAM from the 1960s into the 1980s. What we found was that, contrary to claims by YWAM leaders, his teaching prevailed at every YWAM training center around the world. It was not one small piece among many, but the dominant doctrine taught in YWAM. This was confirmed by testimonies of many people who had encountered it at YWAM training centers all around the world. YWAM may indeed have provided a wide spectrum, but Olson’s MGT was dominant. Even into the 1990s and early 2000s I kept hearing from people who encountered it in YWAM training.

    I prove in my book, by voluminous, in-context quotations from Olson (and likewise from other MGT teachers like Winkie Pratney and Roy Elseth and Harry Conn), that MGT teaches, contrary to Scripture and historic, orthodox Christianity:

    (a) that man is born morally neutral and is always capable of choosing whether to sin;
    (b) man’s future free choices cannot by known by God, and hence God’s knowledge grows as He observes those choices;
    (c) moral significance rests on what Olson called “the principle of contrary choice,” i.e., no act is morally significant unless the actor had the capacity to choose its moral opposite at the time–which entails logically that God could choose at any time to do evil (a fact that Olson affirmed);
    (d) Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to believers; rather, they must stand before God’s judgment in their own righteousness;
    (e) Christ’s death did not satisfy God’s just demand for the punishment of believers’ sin and in fact was not a payment of a penalty but a substitute for a penalty.

    Wesley and Arminius both condemned these doctrines as heresies–as I prove by extensive quotations from them.

    MGT is, as I prove in my book, heretical–not just one option among several that are within the bounds or Biblical, historic, orthodox Christianity but actually heretical, qualifying it as a non-Christian religion–on five major points. It denies:

    (1) God’s absolute and unchangeable foreknowledge;
    (2) God’s absolute and unchangeable goodness;
    (3) the Biblical doctrine of sin, especially of original sin as constituting both moral corruption and guilt on the part of all Adam’s posterity for his sin, and as disabling unregenerate man from any works pleasing to God;
    (4) the biblical doctrine of the atonement, particularly, that in the atonement Christ, substituting Himself for sinners, paid the penalty for sin and bore the punishment for it, thus satisfying the justice of God; and
    (5) the Biblical doctrine of justification, particularly, that justification consists in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer by grace through faith apart from any human works.

    It would be one thing for YWAM to have exposed those who went through its programs to a wide variety of views within the pale of Biblical, historic, orthodox Christianity. To have exposed them to Olson’s teachings, and to have done so not while warning against them but while recommending them (YWAM for many years published Olson’s evangelism training manual, in which all of MGT’s heresies are clearly taught), was certainly wrong.

  28. John Winlow Says:

    “It would be one thing for YWAM to have exposed those who went through its programs to a wide variety of views within the pale of Biblical, historic, orthodox Christianity. To have exposed them to Olson’s teachings, and to have done so not while warning against them but while recommending them (YWAM for many years published Olson’s evangelism training manual, in which all of MGT’s heresies are clearly taught), was certainly wrong.”

    The ’70s YWAM I knew most certainly did present a variety of speakers, some in teaching ministries others engaged in missionary work. The point being that they represented various shades of theological beliefs and practice. Most people in YWAM at that time were young Christians going through the training and practical experience on offer. Certainly after leaving YWAM in ’77 I have never heard MGT spoken of or taught since those early days, so I would question how much of an impact it has had on the Church, compared say to Bethel and the NAR.
    The fact that I gradually forgot most of that teaching in subsequent years of Christian service, would indicate to me that most people probably did the same. I do admit that since reading some of your research I can see why I let it go and developed my own more ‘orthodox’ understanding of mans rebellion and sinfulness, alongside God’s holiness and compassion according to the Bible.

  29. Rev. Gregory L Robertson Says:

    Although the teaching of Moral Government Theology is not as well known as it once was in YWAM, it has morphed into various other shades of unorthodox teaching and practice.
    For example, one of the main teachers of MGT was George Otis Jr. Apparently he learned the teaching when Harry Conn taught it at the SOE in Lausanne in 1972. As far as I can tell, Otis and John Dawson were classmates at that SOE. (If anyone has information otherwise, please let me know). Then, in 1978, Otis published The God They Never Knew which promoted the Open View of God and a strict MGT worldview.
    It wasn’t until years later, but Otis was the one who came up with Spiritual Mapping. I saw him on the Pat Robertson program as he was being interviewed by Gordon Robertson. In that interview he stated that he wondered why spiritual wickedness lingers where it does. The answer he came up with was from his MGT worldview, it is because there are demons ruling in various areas. It had nothing to do with a sinful nature. He doesn’t believe there is one. His spiritual mapping ideas have had a worldwide influence. I encountered them when living in Indonesia and the ideas lay the foundation for a very abusive system to those who don’t go along.
    Thus, MGT is at the foundation of a horrible theology which has caused abuse of other Christians who do not follow its dictates. To top it off, those who get involved in spiritual mapping do their thing in an area, then have evangelism crusades where the Gospel is preached, and then, low and behold, they take credit to themselves for the success of the preached Gospel, ignoring the fact that “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

  30. Gregory L Robertson Says:

    A big problem with the claim that Open Theism is Arminianism is simply that it cannot be! A pillar of Arminianism is God’s foreknowledge of all things. The classical Arminian view is that God foresaw who was to come to faith and elected them accordingly. That is a fundamental part of the Arminian view and was used to counter the arguments of the Calvinists who claimed that God’s election was unconditional.

  31. Webmestre JCV Says:

    The Moral Government Theology (MGT), or rather the “Governmental theory of atonement”, was developed by respectable Arminian theologians such as: Hugo Grotius, John Miley, or J. Kenneth Grider. This theory is limited to arguing that Christ’s suffering was a real and meaningful substitute for the punishment humans deserve, but it did not consist of Christ’s receiving the exact punishment due to sinful people, taken individually. (see en.wikipedia.org article for more details) This theory is different to the penal theory of atonement, a position also adopted by other respectable Arminian theologians like Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley.

    The problem with the MGT at YWAM is that it was adopted by theologians teaching a doctrine close to Pelagianism like Gordon C. Olson, and George Otis Jr. and that in their teachings, MGT ended up being associated to Pelagian views. On the other hand, YWAM theologians also taught “open theism”, which claims that God does not know the future, (and which is rejected by Arminians).
    Some people understood that MGT includes “Pelagianism” and “open theism”, but it’s not the case. It’s only the case for some YWAM theologians; those are actually distinct theological concepts.

    Gregory L. Roberston, (who I highly respect), himself wrote in his article: “Hearing Voices in the Dark” : “Apparently Cunningham believes the MGT concept that “God does not know the future.””, or “At the foundation of much of what is happening in YWAM today, in 2001, is Pelagianism — arguably the cornerstone of Moral Government Theology.”

    @Holly. Your article should have preserved the original meaning of the theological concept of « Moral Government Theology », by clearly explaining that its association with pelagianism and open theism, was done by YWAM theologians, but that they are not intrinsically and historically linked. Besides your 2 parts article is very instructive and I would have certainly asked you permission to translate it in French, if the MGT presentation was less partial.

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