“He really is the living embodiment of truth. He is established in being on this earth, just as Christ Jesus was; basically he is the very foundation that the truth is able then to build itself upon and have brought in this world. Not just this world, the whole universe, every dimension. The truth is now able to move in a way that is able to do what the truth can do, and apart from John being here, then there’s no way in which the truth will move in that, it won’t fully manifest itself.”
—Bob Emmerzael, 1998
“You will notice though that the kind of people who turn to Jesus tend to be the sort of people who haven’t done that well with everybody else.”
—Dylan Moran, 2006
Early Years & “Awakening”
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”
Even with Joyce to help me, I couldn’t discover much about de Ruiter’s early childhood. Of those who were present at the time, and of the very few who ever got close to de Ruiter, I spoke to only a couple. What I was able to glean came mostly from Joyce and the official bio at de Ruiter’s website.
The child of Dutch Catholic immigrants, de Ruiter was the first-born son. He had an older sister, Rietta, and was followed by Frank and Cecilia. The youngest child, Cecilia, adored John and is numbered among his followers to this day. According to Joyce, John bullied Rietta and Frank (Frank is still with John today; Rietta has never been part of his group). At least partly because of his aggressive behavior and his love of “pranks,” family life generally centered on John. As Joyce recalled, “His father always used to say he was the life of the party; things were always exciting when John was around. He needed the most attention; he was a troublemaker but colorful and gregarious.” John’s official bio (attributed to one “Atticus Cutter,” a pseudonym) makes no mention of either his pranks or his bullying, however; instead it focuses on his “golden hands” and generosity. It does however quote his mother describing him as “restless” and “always on the go.”
John was not an easy child to bring up: in trouble frequently, not because he was bad or deliberately mischievous, but because his unceasing curiosity dissolved boundaries: open doors beckoned the stand-alone child out to wonder-worlds under a wider sky, toddling with unspecific purpose down the lane, time and again. Truly a trial-child of his mother’s vigilance and care. But at home and right through school, his father said and his teachers too—there was the fire alarm incident—that “John was always truthful, owned up, no question.”
Open doors beckoning, trial-children, wonder-worlds and wider skies—did de Ruiter hire the ghost of Walt Whitman to write his bio? Such awkward use of language cried out “spin.” But what was being spun? Having stated that John was not an easy child, the bio reassures us that he was not “bad,” or even “deliberately mischievous.” Omitting to mention pranks or bullying, we’re told that his “unceasing curiosity dissolved boundaries.” Later on, in a different context, the bio refers to de Ruiter’s “propensity to push boundaries.” A phrase like “truly a trial-child of his mother’s vigilance and care” suggests a pain in the ass who demanded ceaseless attention; so why not say it that way? Perhaps because de Ruiter wants his impeccable aura of truth to extend backwards through time and transform his past? So does the language of the spin—as well as the webs being spun—provide clues as to what was being concealed?
As de Ruiter entered adulthood, the bio refers in passing to the fact that his “intelligence had not responded tellingly to his classroom studies.”
In his early years the practical skills that attracted John were the first clear manifestation of a propensity to push boundaries. This pertinacity became a characteristic of focus on all levels of his interests—spiritual, psychological, academic and physical, as instanced in his progress from shoe repair to the making of shoes, refining this still further when, under the employ of Salamander Shoes (1981), he became accomplished in the craft of orthopaedic shoe-making, described by John as “the learning of a beautiful trade”; a skill that would support his young family and himself for many years ahead in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Pertinacity” implies persistence—presumably intentionally—but also suggests stubbornness and obstinacy (perhaps less intentionally). According to Joyce, her husband hardly worked at all in those early years, making the bio’s comment about de Ruiter supporting his family at best a generous exaggeration. As Joyce recalled, “I think there was probably only the very first year we both worked: he was making shoes. I think that was the only year he worked full-time. Then there were one or two years when he worked sixteen or eighteen hour shifts, two very long days. He basically never had normal work hours.” Did John’s “pertinacity” amount to diligence at earning a living—or an obstinate refusal to get a job? Aversion to working for a living would hardly be remarkable in a young man, even one who had been put to work at a young age by his (Christian) father.
The official bio states that John was taught shoe repair by his father as a boy, and that de Ruiter senior was “one of a long line of fine shoemakers from De Bildt in the Netherlands.” (The Van de Bildts is a royal bloodline if ever there was one.) John worked on repairing shoes after school, mainly on Saturday mornings, from the age of twelve. We’re told that “His work was good and his father paid him fairly, earning the boy more than usual pocket money for a child of his age.” Apparently John’s father, Cornelius, was determined to turn his son into a tradesman and put him to work at the earliest opportunity. John’s cobbling skills would later provide him with his first and last real job; before that, he applied his “golden hands” to carpentry work—a suitable occupation for a Messiah-to-be. Cutter continues:
In the school workshop, twelfth grade, John had been encouraged by his teacher, Ignace Miazga, renowned in Stettler as a superb craftsman in wood and stone, to take on an exacting carpentry project by making a full suite of bedroom furniture worked in walnut. . . . Seeing John’s sedulous [another obscure term which has the meaning of persistent, diligent] concentration in the shaping of this work, his parents and teachers grasped at the opportunity to settle such an aptitude in an apprenticeship, calculating that perhaps by this means a direction might be secured for an otherwise quite restive boy, about to leave school, whose intelligence had not responded tellingly to his classroom studies.” (My italics.)
What that last, convoluted, paragraph-long sentence translates to, as far as I can disentangle it, is: de Ruiter’s parents were worried John was not too bright and lazy to boot (“restive”); concerned he might wind up as a vagrant or a drug addict, they “nudged” him into a carpentry career. It’s safe to assume that much of the pressure for young Johannes to make something of himself came from his father.
At seventeen, de Ruiter had his first “awakening” experience. In the bio, he describes it as follows:
When I was seventeen I just stumbled on to being awakened to something that was profoundly amazing, wonderfully life-giving, without understanding the source of it. I wasn’t looking for it, I never related to anything like that being in existence, then all of a sudden there was a flowering inside, that made everything in this existence pale in comparison. That flowering, that awakening inside, opened up my awareness to everything in existence to be something more beautiful than I had ever seen before.
According to Joyce (who met John when he was twenty-one), de Ruiter said nothing about this experience during the years she knew him and she only heard about it when he began to describe it to his followers. After that, it became part of the official history.
I have obviously read this many times, and I think, “My God John, you’ve changed history!” The story he always told me is, he was a bully, he was a horrible kid, nobody liked him, he was a brat, a vandal, etc. At age seventeen, he wanted to work for a horse person, someone who did something to do with horses, someone named Sergio. John wanted to get a job and the person said, “Well, I will have to pray about this, to seek God’s guidance.” That just amazed John, he had never heard of someone having such a relationship with God. He was raised probably nominally Catholic. He was fascinated by this, got the job, and through that guy he became a Christian. He started going to a pretty alive Baptist church, and that’s all I know. The first time I started hearing this stuff about an awakening was maybe fifteen years later. Nothing of that was ever communicated to me, although he was very open to me about those years. It was expressed in radically different terms. I can imagine that he would have experienced some kind of high, because he was really a jerk before he became a Christian. The family does tell me that he really changed after that, that he became a much nicer person. All I can think of is that he probably was walking around on some kind of high, it was easy to be nice to his family, he was experiencing some kind of joy, gratification, from that. The experience he talks about now and as it is in his bio is nothing like what he communicated to me over those years. He was just a radical Christian. All this awakened stuff, never. He didn’t use any of that language back then. He was a very typical Christian, except [he was] extreme.
If it seems unlikely de Ruiter could have had such an experience and not have told his wife about it, even less likely is that she wouldn’t have been aware that, as the official bio and John’s own repeated testimony has it, he became re-awakened a couple of years later, roughly two years before he met her. (I read older accounts that estimated the second awakening happened around ten years later, a curious inconsistency, and not the only one.) Joyce’s version was that John became a devout Christian at seventeen and adopted a whole new personality. Until that time, she told me, de Ruiter was disliked by just about everyone. Not only his siblings, whom he bullied, but his classmates and others found him a mean, insufferable presence.
Besides Joyce, the only person from those early years that I have managed to persuade to speak to me was Jason Gerdes, who roomed with de Ruiter for several years in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Gerdes did remember de Ruiter describing some sort of awakening while he was working in the shoe store. Gerdes said he was never sure if it was the cobbler’s glue that gave de Ruiter his revelation—that “sweet thing,” John called it—but he remembered how “he always wanted to get that back; that was why he was always reading these books and going to all the churches or groups or organizations. He was in this endless search, he didn’t know if he should go to official training.” According to the official bio, de Ruiter kept that first awakening for about a year and then lost it as mysteriously as he had found it. The bio quotes de Ruiter:
“And that lasted about a year, then all of a sudden, it was gone. . . . In the same way as I couldn’t comprehend how it started, I also couldn’t comprehend how it ended, or why. Once awakened, it seemed to me inconceivable that it should ever go away. Once it left, I was profoundly disturbed because I knew I had been connected to something that made the whole universe live, and that without being connected to that, I knew nothing was worth living for. . . . I then committed myself to spending my existence in looking for that reality, not knowing what to look for, although I knew the flavor of it, knew what it was like when alive.” Holding course through years of anguish, no back-down considered, de Ruiter drew upon all his inner resources, to bring to light what had so inexplicably appeared and gone, accepting spells of despondency, brushed by hazards of lostness, and overwhelming darkness and pain, yet throughout those experiences he recalls—“though I had got myself in so deep, moved so far away from the familiar, there was no thought that I might be unable to get out of this, not be able to repair myself and sort of live normal again.”
Whatever really happened, it’s doubtless significant that John’s taste, and subsequent loss, of paradise, occurred when he was on the verge of manhood. De Ruiter entered into a state of completeness and fulfillment—he came of age—but, for whatever reason, he was unable to sustain it. What happened? The bio isn’t saying, and de Ruiter described it in terms that require no external cause, either for the awakening or for the fall from grace. It’s possible there wasn’t one; it’s also possible—and maybe more likely—that something happened which de Ruiter isn’t talking about. Something to do with sex, maybe—a subject he has a recurring history of not talking about?
Unconditional Surrender or Blind Submission?
“Essentially, I suppose, according to John, I undermined his status as an evolved person. I also often used Christian terms (albeit less and less as time went on) which he was trying to eradicate from his repertoire. I think I was just a reminder to him of who he once was.”
According to de Ruiter, in his online bio:
“After about two years, when there was nothing more that I could turn inside out, there was nothing else to peel and make raw, nothing left but a state of what seemed to me to be never-ending pain; . . . what I did, without fatalism, without any edge of hardness or bitterness or resentment or any seeming wastage or regret, was to surrender in a very sweet way to be in that deep, in that darkness, in that pain, with an absolute letting-go of ever needing to find that reality I had so wonderfully tasted and lost. . . . Then, to my total surprise, I was astonished when that same reality that I had once tasted, flowered again in the midst of the rawness and the pain, in the darkness where I had unconditionally made my home. . . . I surrendered to it unconditionally, understanding that it does not need to bless me, that I’ll give my life to it and it doesn’t have to give anything back. I would exist for that reality.”
Joyce claimed to have heard nothing about this second awakening either, even though it would have occurred only two years before they met. What de Ruiter did share with her about that period of his life (according to the official timeline, this would have been between the ages of eighteen and twenty) involved his participation in a “mini-cult” run by a Native American called Len, and some extremist Christian practices with a young man called Ross. De Ruiter told Joyce that Len and his wife took derelict types, young teenagers, into their home and “trained” them, in what Joyce called a “mini-cult.” She didn’t remember if the group had a specific teaching or a philosophy, but she believed “it was more about behavior. John called it very, very abusive.” He recounted being on a restricted diet of one meal a day (a McDonald’s meal), and how, if they expressed hunger at any time, they were heavily chastised. Punishments included doing a thousand pushups, which would take John two or three days. “He would have to walk through the streets and stay awake and do these pushups. They would have boxing matches . . . punching until there was blood.
Joyce voiced her suspicions to me that there had been a “distorted, perverted aspect to it,” citing how “Len would drive them around a certain area in Edmonton, near Jasper Avenue, checking out all the prostitutes.” She didn’t specify what kind of perversion, nor did she have an opinion as to why de Ruiter would submit to such abuse. When I suggested that he might have been doing penance for his own bullying, she was noncommittal.
John talked about it as a heavily, heavily intense time of being disciplined. He always said that he recognized some of the craziness of it, but for him it was just a matter of learning to surrender and be submissive to this person. He used it often to tell me about being submissive, because he strongly believed in my being a submissive wife. He used pushups on me as a form of training me to be submissive, when I would swear, in my early years of marriage. If I would say “fuck,” I would get twenty pushups. It was something he apparently learned from that time. John spoke about [Len] as an opportunity to learn surrender and obedience, blind submission.
If Len was de Ruiter’s first teacher, it begs the question how much his influence continues to inform de Ruiter’s own teachings, the fundamental requirement of which is “absolute surrender.” Making your newlywed do pushups for using the word “fuck” is unusual behavior even for a radical Christian; and since these methods of “discipling” came from Len, it suggests he was still under Len’s influence even after leaving him. The possibility de Ruiter had been terrorized—and victimized—by Len was supported by Joyce’s impressions on meeting Len: “I was shocked because John always talked about him as this big, burly, American Indian [but] he just seemed mild to me. . . .” Apparently de Ruiter’s perception of Len was influenced by being under his psychological control. Jason Gerdes had the same impression.
“He was really under this guy’s personal power,” Gerdes told me. “I don’t think it was a physical power, it was a personality power that he felt enslaved by.”
Gerdes and John were roommates for a time, and Gerdes recalled a time when de Ruiter heard that Len was back in town and trying to contact him, causing de Ruiter to become extremely anxious. “That was the first time I’d seen him as a weak person. He became less than who he was when this Len guy came into the picture.”
Although the chronology is unclear, by Joyce’s account it was after his involvement with Len that de Ruiter met Ross, at around nineteen or twenty. Joyce remembered that Ross was “more of a peer to John. He was a sort of cohort in their extremism, taking Christianity to an extreme.” She recalled how they were “devouring books” by an author called Charles Finney, on “a very intellectual pursuit of how to be genuine. His family talked about that time when John would come home, very drained, lifeless.” During this period, she said, de Ruiter was “harsh, he was cold, he was judgmental, very self-righteous. He was pursuing this true path and intent on labeling everything that was false.” She remembered hearing how he and Ross took food out of the bins behind the grocery stores, how John talked about getting up at four in the morning and sleeping in churchyards. It was “a very extreme time of thinking, ‘If this is what is expected of me, then I will do it, 100%.’” For de Ruiter, following the will of God entailed becoming a vagrant and eating out of garbage bins, as well as being especially harsh towards his family–suggesting that his Christian extremism was a form of rebellion.
Joyce described it as “a time of ‘Pharisee-ism,’ following the letter of the law, but not a very joyful time. There was no mercy, no softness, it was very hard.” After, de Ruiter became involved with the People’s Church, “which was filled with young, born-again Christians, radical Christians, and he started reading some books.” He was interested in Calvinism and he “absolutely fell in love with the gospel of grace, which completely turned him away from Pharisee-ism.” He started reading books by Andrew Murray, and it was at that point that he met Joyce. This was a time “when he was overwhelmed by the theology of grace.” Joyce found it strange, she said, that de Ruiter wanted to deny the Christian component to that period, “because he was flying high in euphoria of grace, grace, grace. That’s what I knew John was dealing with. [There was] nothing about awakening.”
Comparing de Ruiter’s version with what Joyce remembers, it seems like the time of “darkness” which he described (the loss of his awakening) coincides with being taken in by Len and taught the value of “blind submission” under an extreme, probably abusive, disciplinary regime. This period overlapped with his self-righteous Christian period, before he discovered “grace”; the latter would then roughly coincide with his second “awakening.” Since the official bio excludes any mention of external factors, of cobbler’s glue or mini-cults, it creates the impression that de Ruiter’s awakenings were internal affairs wholly independent of outside influences. That’s consistent with de Ruiter’s later teachings about “going finer,” while at the same time it subtly reinforces the idea that he was mysteriously touched by grace. But is it accurate, or is it, as Joyce believes, a case of de Ruiter rewriting history and creating a myth for his followers to believe in?
Early Christian Influences: Finney and Murray
“Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.”
Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792 – August 16, 1875) was a Presbyterian and Congregationalist figure in what was known in US Christian history as “the Second Great Awakening.” His influence during this period was such that he had been called “The Father of Modern Revivalism.” A cursory investigation into Finney reveals several striking parallels with de Ruiter: Finney’s many innovations in preaching and religious meetings included having public meetings of mixed gender and the development of the “anxious seat,” a place where people who were considering becoming Christians came to receive prayer. At de Ruiter’s satsangs, anyone who wants to have dialogue with him must take a seat in what is known simply as “the Chair.”
According to “The Sinner’s Prayer,” Finney made many enemies because of his innovation. The Anxious Seat practice was believed by some to be “a psychological technique that manipulated people to make a premature profession of faith.” Accusations were made of “an emotional conversion” influenced by the preacher’s “animal magnetism.” Finney’s method might be seen as “a precursor to the techniques used by many twentieth century televangelists.” (Source.)
Finney was also known for his use of extemporaneous preaching, which included preaching with no written preparation. Once again there was a parallel with de Ruiter’s history, specifically a turning point during his early days of preaching:
“In that service I just died inside. I knew I could have used a sermon of mine from the Three Hills Institute; all my notes were there with great clarity. I could have just walked through, preached a sermon, no-one would have known. I knew. I just had to be faithful to that one voice.” [The bio continues:] And still moving forward, certain of his way, he determined not to preach “anything that doesn’t happen fully to me first, because if it doesn’t happen, I can’t preach it. It can’t flow through me, because it’s not in me. I’d always try to figure out, how am I able to preach with revelation and not be breaking down all the time.”
Further parallels between de Ruiter and Finney: Finney never attended college, but his six-foot three-inch stature, piercing eyes, musical skill and leadership abilities gained him recognition in his community. Finney was married three times in his life. Counting his spiritual/common law marriage to Benita von Sass, the same is true of de Ruiter (to date at least). All three of his wives assisted Finney in his evangelistic efforts, and accompanied him on his revival tours. Snap. Finney was described by one who knew him as “a man of the wilderness, not damaged by religious or traditional thought patterns, but trained and raised of God and filled with the Holy Spirit.” Once again, the description fits de Ruiter (at least from a sympathetic perspective) to a “T.” The two men’s demeanor might have been similar also. Finney’s advice with regard to manners befitting a minister of God was to always avoid levity and “all winking and roguishness,” to be “grave but not morose, dignified but not sanctimonious.” Like de Ruiter, Finney also had an awakening experience and a personal relationship with Jesus. The following is from Finney’s “Memoirs,” chapter two, “Conversion to Christ”:
As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. . . . the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. . . My sense of guilt was gone; my sins were gone; and I do not think I felt any more sense of guilt than if I never had sinned. . . . Nor could I recover the least sense of guilt for my past sins. Of this experience I said nothing that I recollect, at the time, to anybody; that is, of this experience of justification.
Such outpourings notwithstanding, Finney was not without his enemies, one of whom charged that, “No single man is more responsible for the distortion of Christian truth in our age than Charles Grandison Finney.” (“The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney,” by Dr. Michael Horton) Another claimed that, “Finney’s ministry was founded on duplicity from the beginning.” (“A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” by Philip R. Johnson.)
The parallels with Andrew Murray, de Ruiter’s second major Christian influence, were less obvious. There was one striking similarity, however, and that was Murray’s aspiration to be an imitation of Christ. Murray wrote over two hundred books, including such titles as Abide in Christ, Absolute Surrender, Be Perfect, God’s Will: Our Dwelling Place and Like Christ. In “Andrew Murray—Christlike AntiChrist,” Christian exponent Victor Hafichuk gives a less than impartial account of Murray that is nonetheless interesting in relation to de Ruiter:
Murray put on a great show of imitating Jesus Christ as he perceived Him. It was all religiosity, a product of flesh born of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Murray pleased and impressed men by imitating Christ. . . . This copycat mentality and attitude, in essence, is Andrew Murray’s great sin. . . . All Murray’s writings are self-exaltation. In Absolute Surrender, one must take his word that he is absolutely surrendered; we assume he wouldn’t talk about it if he wasn’t. . . . As I scanned his sermon—The Power of Persevering Prayer—I could find no substance, nothing practical; it was all theory and condescension. [My italics.]
I have no idea how accurate Hafichuk’s charges are in regard to Murray, but there’s no denying they could also be leveled at de Ruiter. De Ruiter’s claim that he only ever preached from experience, quoted above, would only reinforce the assumption that anything de Ruiter describes he must also be embodying. That assumption creates an inevitable blurring in the mind of the listener between the message and the person who delivers it. Implicit in that blurring is the idea that, if they want to surrender to truth, they can do so by surrendering to the person embodying it.
The idea of blind submission to a human being is entirely foreign to Christianity. Pastors were not Kings, because there was only one King (only one god-embodiment) for Christians, and that was Christ. But there is a clear antecedent to such worship in the East: the guru.
 When de Ruiter described this experience in a 2011 interview for Conscious TV, the employer in question was a cabinet maker.
 Yet in a 2012 interview with a Dutch show, NonDualiteit, when Patrick Kicken asked de Ruiter if he had gone through a period of suffering prior to his awakening, De Ruiter denied it.