LTRP Note: This an update to our previous articles regarding Assemblies of God’s invitation of contemplative leader Ruth Haley Barton to their 2013 General Council conference. Please see the links at the bottom of this page for a chronological listing of articles relating to this matter.
“Will Assemblies of God Leaders Ignore Contemplative Evidence?”
By the Editors at Lighthouse Trails
In the course of attempting to provide evidence to the leaders of Assemblies of God as to the nature of Ruth Haley Barton’s spirituality, AG General Superintendent Dr. George Wood has issued both public and private statements. This past week we received an e-mail from an Assemblies of God pastor, which included an e-mail the pastor received from Dr. Wood about the Ruth Haley Barton controversy. We are posting Dr. Wood’s e-mail to the AG pastor for two reasons: first, the pastor gave us permission, saying he was very concerned about his denomination; and second, Dr. Wood’s e-mail to the AG pastor brings further clarification to his earlier public statements.
The following is Dr. Wood’s e-mail to an AG pastor. This is an extract that includes all parts pertaining to the issue at hand. We have removed a few personal comments:
The group of women who invited Ruth Barton is the Credentialed Women In Ministry, not the Women’s Ministry Department. The task force for our Credentialed Women in Ministry is led by a volunteer, Dr. Jodi Detrick. You have noted her prior response to Lighthouse Trails (LT). I gave direction to not respond to further LT posts.
I have looked at what LT has said. I have also read Ruth Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Ministry. Quite honestly, it is one of the best books I’ve ever ready on breaking away from the busy-ness of ministry to seek the presence of God. She uses the life of Moses as a template for how we need to desire the Presence of the Lord above all else. I encourage you to read it and judge for yourself. I also note that Ruth Barton’s books are published by InterVarsity Press, a solid evangelical publisher. . . .
Barton talks about how Moses, despite the heavy responsibilities he bore, treasured most his fellowship with God, his taking time to listen to God. Near the end of her book, she talks about how we often think it unfair that for one rash act of striking the rock twice, Moses was told by God he could not enter the Promised Land. However, this is the same Moses who wanted to see God face to face, and instead God said, “You can only see the back of me.” In denying Moses entry into Canaan, Barton pointed out a fact I had not thought of – Moses’ great desire in his life was to see God face to face, so in denying him entry into the Promised Land God responded to a deeper yearning within Moses. Instead of giving him the Promised Land, God let Moses come into the Promised Presence. That one insight was so helpful to me in ministering to [a] dying friend. And, it helps me in my life with all the responsibilities of this office to make sure I keep my attention and focus on His Presence more than I do all the things that belong to my present duties.
As I read books, I find that usually I don’t agree 100% with everything an author has said; but I take the one or few things I don’t agree with and measure it against the vast amount of profit I gain from the insights of the author. If people are looking for something to pick at, they can always find it.
Basically it boils down to this: I trust the people I know and whose ministry I know. I don’t hold equal weight with people I don’t know. I don’t know LT. They are not in our Fellowship. But, I do know the women who serve on our task force for Credentialed Women in Ministry. They are women of God and have proven fruitfulness in ministry. They invited Ruth Barton and I trust their spiritual discernment and judgment.
Finally, the Credentialed Women in Ministry event at General Council is not a main session. It is their separate event. I believe the credentialed women in our Fellowship who attend also will have sufficient discernment as to whether the ministry of Ruth Barton is beneficial to them or not. If she ministers along the themes of the book I mentioned above, then there will be real profit for those who come. The event is not for lay women, but for credentialed women. Possibly some minister’s wives will attend as well.
The first thing we want to clarify is this: We understand Dr. Wood is a man who is in a position of high leadership. It is not our intention to put ourselves above Dr. Wood nor is it our intention to humiliate or embarrass anyone. We are attempting to present our material in an attitude of humility and godliness, and we do not mean for this to be a show of disrespect by any means.
That said, our hearts are greatly troubled by Dr. Wood’s apparent unwillingness to openly address the evidence we have presented. The fact is, in each of his statements so far, he has not brought up the issue at hand at all. He does not even try to refute it, almost as if he doesn’t believe it, or believes that it is completely irrelevant.
As to the suggestion that he made that he would not listen to Lighthouse Trails because he does not know us, this is not a valid argument. It would be like this scenario: a neighbor you have never met comes running over to your house, crying out that a nearby dam is reported to have been breached and you must evacuate. But you say to yourself, I don’t know that neighbor, and I don’t like the way he approached me. So you go back in your house, and you close your door. In other words, if someone has documentation, even though it may at first sound implausible, one has an obligation to check it out and see if it is valid.
In addition to the points of evidence we have presented on our previous statements about this situation (see links below), we have the following to add. We pray that Dr. Wood and other Assemblies of God pastors and leaders would consider these things.
As we pointed out earlier, by Ruth Barton’s own admission, her spirituality was shaped by Thomas Keating. To show why this is so significant, and where it can lead, another individual who was spiritually shaped by Thomas Keating was Catholic monk and interspiritual activist Wayne Teasdale. (Teasdale writes about it in his book, The Mystic Heart). Of Keating, he states:
I owe so much to so many people everywhere, particularly those who have influenced my spiritual growth [and then he names Thomas Keating - p. xxi].
Eastern meditation has inspired Christian forms of contemplation like Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer (p. 32).
[M]onastics have carried the primary responsibility for this significant, mystical interfaith work. They have deeply assimilated Hinduism, Zen, Taoism and other forms of Buddhism, notably the Theravadan and Tibetan traditions. Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating, both Trappists, are two leading figures in this development (p. 39).
Few have contributed more to interspirituality in our time than Keating (p. 41).
The point here, which is really quite obvious, is that Teasdale saw contemplative Christianity as being aligned with Eastern meditation, and he recognized that Thomas Keating had the same goals. Teasdale also acknowledged Keating’s contribution to his own spiritual “growth.” And so does Ruth Haley Barton. This is absolutely a point that cannot be overlooked or ignored.
To emphasize the spiritual infrastructure of Teasdale’s (and Keating’s) spirituality, listen to what Teasdale has to say in The Mystic Heart:
* It was during my college years that my first mystical experiences occurred. . . . The divine completely took me over. . . . I couldn’t think, analyze, remember, imagine, or speak (p. 225).
* For many years I have been intensely aware of the divine as a breathing presence that surrounds me, is within me, and takes me into itself. . . . Whenever I am aware of it, there is no mistaking it for something else. I immediately know who it is (p. 226).
* I began to appreciate and value other traditions. I discovered that Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, the Kabbalah, Hasidism did not take me away from my faith, but augmented my deep commitment to Christian contemplation. I became impassioned in my interest in these traditions (emphasis added, p. 236).
* Interspirituality, and the intermystical life it entails, recognizes the larger community of humankind in the mystical quest. . . . To leave out any spiritual experience is to impoverish humanity. Everything must be included (p. 236).
What Teasdale is describing here is the effect that happens to virtually every leader of the contemplative prayer movement (e.g., Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, etc.). You usually won’t hear such blatant statements by the contemplatives in the evangelical camp (e.g., Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, and Ruth Haley Barton), but they betray any sense of opposition by their sympathy, promotion, endorsement, and referencing of these panentheistic teachers.
On Ruth Barton’s website, she gives a disclaimer that she does not agree with everything her mysticism teachers taught her. So, what did she take from them? That is very clear – meditation. And like her kindred companions in the contemplative prayer movement will say, contemplative meditation is different than Eastern or New Age meditation. We addressed this in our last report with overwhelming evidence that the realm entered during contemplative meditation is the same as the realm entered during New Age and Eastern meditation (i.e., an occultic presence is the result, not the presence of God).
Here is the controversy: These interspiritual mystics (Teasdale, Keating, Tilden Edwards, etc.) do not adhere to the biblical tenet that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. They believe that all religions can lead to God. So how can we take something from them that will improve or enhance our Christianity, give us more intimacy with God, or bring us into His presence when the very essence of Christianity (i.e., Jesus Christ is the only Savior of mankind and one must believe on Him to be saved) is rejected by these teachers? The Christ they worship is the cosmic Christ (i.e., the divine in all things). And this fundamentally negates the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
In Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Barton says that “all of us are in God” (p. 409). Barton does not specify between all Christian believers who are in God and all humanity. If Barton means all of humanity is with God, she would be right in line with all of the leaders she quotes in the contemplative prayer movement. One of the things that causes us to believe this could be the case is that on that same page she says this, she has a quote by contemplative teacher Basil Pennington who believes that the soul of all humanity is the Holy Spirit (Centered Living, p. 104).
Based on her affinity with all these writers, at some point Barton began to embrace and absorb their views to the degree that she quotes from them and acknowledges that she has grown spiritually from them.
If we want to understand where contemplative spirituality will lead someone, all we have to do is look at Sue Monk Kidd. She was once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher. She started reading Thomas Merton and doing what Barton refers to as “simple prayers.” After she had practiced contemplative prayer for a while, listen to what happened to Monk Kidd in her own words:
The minister was preaching. He was holding up a Bible. It was open, perched atop his raised hand as if a blackbird had landed there. He was saying that the Bible was the sole and ultimate authority of the Christian’s life. The sole and ultimate authority.
I remember a feeling rising up from a place about two inches below my navel. It was a passionate, determined feeling, and it spread out from the core of me like a current so that my skin vibrated with it. If feelings could be translated into English, this feeling would have roughly been the word no!
It was the purest inner knowing I had experienced, and it was shouting in me no, no, no! The ultimate authority of my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book. It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself. My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period. (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 76).
This is not the presence of God giving Sue Monk Kidd a “current” that her skin “vibrated with.” With the Holy Spirit, the result would be the opposite of what happened to her. The Holy Spirit would lead someone to cling to God’s Word, not repel it. Even still, Richard Foster used Monk Kidd as a favorable example in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home as someone who uses contemplative prayer (along with Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington).
What we are trying to get across here is that the entire contemplative movement is spiritually corrupt - its roots and its adherents. When you examine this, you have to come to the conclusion that this is not a Christian movement. Some contemplative proponents say they are merely taking back what was hijacked by the New Age or Eastern religion, but that is preposterous, and there is no evidence in Scripture to back up the idea that a mantra-type meditation is either needed or required in order to be in the presence of God. When we are born again, we are inhabited by God’s Spirit. Being born again through faith in Jesus Christ is both a prerequisite and a guarantee that we are in His presence and have fellowship with God. There is no esoteric path into the presence of God! When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He warned against praying “vain repetitions as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7), but the contemplatives teach the opposite of Jesus’ warnings to their own hurt and the hurt of the many who follow them.
Ray Yungen, the author of A Time of Departing, has been examining this issue for nearly thirty years now. It was he who brought this to the attention of Lighthouse Trails 11 years ago. Yungen began to see the connection between contemplative spirituality and Eastern mysticism when he was introduced to the teachings of Richard Foster and learned that Foster was a disciple of Thomas Merton. It was Merton who said he was “deeply impregnated with Sufism”* (Islamic mysticism). Is it possible that a good Christian can be indwelled by the same spirit as Muslim mystics who reject the Gospel, which is the foundation for biblical Christianity.
In order for the Assemblies of God leadership to neutralize our objections, they would have to explain a way our evidence. Keep in mind that basically all of our evidence springs from people who are promoters and practitioners of contemplative prayer. None of the evidence comes from those who are hostile toward it. So we are presenting first-hand documentation that is not taken out of the context in which the writers say it.
If this warning is ignored and Ruth Haley Barton is allowed to speak at the upcoming General Council conference of the Assemblies of God, we would suggest that people ask her what she thinks of Thomas Merton. Most likely, she will say she doesn’t agree with everything he wrote, but generally he has a lot to teach us (like Richard Foster, who once told Ray Yungen that Merton was trying to awaken God’s people). But the very thing that Merton has to teach us (or awaken us to) is the very thing that caused him to be heretical. What he has to teach us is how to enter the silence, but it is an ungodly silence.
In this latest response from Dr. George Wood, he says that Ruth Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Ministry, is the best book he has ever read on entering the presence of God. And yet, the majority of people Barton quotes or references in the book have the theological perspective that dovetails with Eastern religion -Teresa of Avila, Gerald May, Parker Palmer, Buddhist sympathizer Peter Senge, Richard Rohr – quoted twice, atonement rejector Alan Jones, Elizabeth Dryer, Tilden Edwards, Wayne Muller, Thomas Merton, Rosemary Dougherty, and Henri Nouwen. This book that Dr. Wood speaks so highly of is a who’s who of outright mystics.
There may have been a time in some of these people’s lives when they would have rejected or ignored Eastern religious thought and meditation, but at some point, they allowed themselves to be lured into meditative practices and the “presence” those practices bring with them rather than relying on a relationship with Jesus Christ that is genuine through the Word of God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In 1992, Newsweek magazine did a cover story called “Talking to God,” which made a clear reference to contemplative prayer:
[S]ilence, appropriate body posture and, above all, emptying the mind through repetition of prayer—have been the practices of mystics in all the great world religions. And they form the basis on which most modern spiritual directors guide those who want to draw closer to God.
Ruth Haley Barton has often talked about a time in her life a number of years ago when she was feeling empty and far from God. She said she had exhausted all her Protestant avenues of help and turned to a non-Protestant spiritual director (suggesting that she probably turned to someone in the Catholic church). This is what led Barton to embrace the kind of drawing closer to God of which the Newsweek article speaks.
It is worth noting that the Newsweek article said that most mainstream denominations (e.g., United Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran) and Catholic groups had now embraced mystical prayer. But today, it is becoming widespread in the traditional evangelical camp as well.
Ray Yungen makes this observation:
It is amazing to me how Newsweek clearly observed this shift in the spiritual paradigm over [twenty] years ago, while many Christians (including most prominent leaders) still live in abject ignorance of this change. Are the teachings of the practical Christian mystic actually being assimilated so well that even our pastors are not discerning this shift?
Dr. Wood, for the sake of the 65 million members worldwide in the Assemblies of God, it is not good to ignore the evidence if you think you can refute it.
* As quoted in Merton and Sufism by Baker and Henry, p. 69, citing Merton speaking at a women’s retreat at the Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky in 1968 (the year of his death).
LTRP Note: Just as we were about to post this letter to the editor, which in part talks about Vineyard churches, we received a phone call from a LT reader who warned us about a book written by Ken Wilson titled Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms In Prayer. Co-incidentally, according to the back of the book, Ken Wilson, is a senior pastor for a Vineyard church and a member of the national board for Vineyard churches. As the title indicates, his book, Mystically Wired, is advocating contemplative mystical prayer.
Dear Lighthouse Trails Editors:
I have followed your blog for over a year now, and I’ve ordered some of your booklets on Contemplative Prayer and Lectio Divina to pass on to others. I felt compelled to write you a short e-mail about your recent posts on Shalem-Trained “Christian” leaders/teachers. I have always admired your tenacity in speaking out for the truth and exposing these sham belief systems. First off, I was literally dumbfounded when I clicked the link to the Shalem Institute . . . right there on the front page is a depiction of a labyrinth, and then there was the advertisement for a speaker who is a Universalist and Unitarian!!? And Christians think that sitting at the feet of these teachers from the Shalem Institute is ok?
All I can say is I am more convinced than ever that we are in the end times. I am praying for our spiritual state.
Also, I wanted to mention that my son who is now ___ years old attended YWAM in _______ for 4 years and was a leader there. He is not the same man who left prior to joining YWAM. I do know he read books by Merton and thus was exposed to this evil. I am terribly grieved at how his beliefs have changed to be more universalist than Christian. He and his wife attend a Vineyard Church in __________ that teaches you don’t have to be a Christian to be a “follower of Jesus.” How inexplicably sad!
But thank you for all you do, and don’t give up sounding the alarm! I will pray for your continued blessing by God the Father and may the peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, be with you.
The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to allow gay youth to participate in scouting. The historic vote, with 60% in favor, signals another shift in American public opinion about homosexuality but still leaves the organization with many future hurdles.
“It brings the Boy Scouts back into the American mainstream,” said Beth Gazley, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington who studies non-profits.
The vote overturns a 22-year-old ban on openly gay scouts. It was based on a line from the 1911 Boy Scouts of America oath: “On my honor I will do my best….to keep myself physically strong, mentally alert and morally straight.” Click here to continue reading.
LTRP Note: Brian McLaren, one of the original “Terra Nova” emergent leaders, is asking followers to send substantial amounts of money for a mystery project that McLaren says will go toward a “broad-based, diverse, and deep Christian movement.” Lighthouse Trails has done extensive research on Brian McLaren for nearly 10 years. Please refer to the links below this article for some of that research or type “Brian McLaren” into one of our two search engines. McLaren has had a major influence in the social, political, and religious sectors of the Western world.
“Brian McLaren ask for significant cash for mystery project”
On his blog [on May 22, 2013], Brian McLaren is making a mysterious appeal for money. Not just a few dollars, but big, bodacious financial support from those with deep pockets.
What’s it for? Brian won’t say, but if you want to contribute, you could email him at a special “happy to help” address and let him know you’re rich, and he’ll get back to you by this weekend.
He explains that his calling as a “movement person” has been supporting broad-based movements that embody a “Christ-like ethos and leads to Christ-like action for the good of the world.” But he leaves out the part where he denies the substitutionary atonement of the cross and what Christ did to fully pardon our sins.
What I’m looking for is a team of partners to join me in a generous and strategic impulse.
If you believe in the kinds of things I write, say, and do, and would like to join me in making a significant financial investment over the next three years – to help a broad-based, diverse, and deep Christian movement rise to the next level, I am hoping we can come together in a joint project. Click here to continue reading.
**The New Missiology – Doing Missions Without the Gospel by Roger Oakland **
By Kristen Wyatt
DENVER (AP) — In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is asking a federal appeals court Thursday for an exemption from part of the federal health care law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill.
The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain argues that businesses — not just the currently exempted religious groups — should be allowed to seek exception from that part of the health law if it violates their religious beliefs. – Click here to continue reading.
Moody’s Pastors’ Conference Teaching Lectio Divina This Week – And Seven Years of Warning by Lighthouse Trails Go Unheeded
On May 20-23, Moody Bible Institute held its annual Pastors’ Conference (this year called re|Focus). Keynote speakers included Alistair Begg, Voddie Bauchman, Michael Easley (former Moody Bible Institute president) and a number of other evangelical pastors and speakers. On Tuesday, during one of the breakout sessions, Peter Spychalla, Director of Prayer Ministries, East White Oak Bible Church in Illinois gave a teaching on the contemplative practice called lectio divina (see page 35 of brochure): The description for the lectio divina workshop reads:
Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation
Revive your devotional life by learning to read and pray Scripture for spiritual transformation rather than reading merely for information. Learn how historic traditions and contemporary practice of lectio divina (spiritual reading of Scripture) can help you meditate on Scripture, pray Scripture, apply Scripture, and grow in life changing intimacy with God.
To understand what lectio divina is, read our article (which is also a booklet), “Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Should Christians Practice it?
While the news that Moody is promoting lectio divina is going to come as a shock to some, Lighthouse Trails wants to make one thing very clear: Moody Ministries, which includes Moody Bible Institute , Moody Publishing, Moody Radio, and Moody Conferences, has been going down the contemplative path for many years. In fact, this is not the first time Lighthouse Trails has written about Moody’s contemplative openness. We are also going to include The Moody Church in this article. While Moody Ministries and The Moody Church are under two separate corporations, they do share the same founder. Also The Moody Church’s senior pastor, Erwin Lutzer, is an author of Moody Publishers.
The History of Our Warnings to Moody
In 2006, while reviewing Larry Crabb’s book The Papa Prayer, where Crabb makes the claim that “centering prayer” has greatly benefited him, we were stunned to see a number of respected Christian leaders names’ on the endorsement pages in the book. We wrote an article warning our readers about Crabb’s book and attempted to warn a couple of the men who had endorsed the book. Here is an excerpt from our article, “Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!”:
We called both the offices of James Kennedy and Erwin Lutzer to ask each of them if they realized what Larry Crabb was promoting, both in the book and in his ministry as well. We hoped we might be able to shed some light on the matter and that each of them would realize endorsing such a book would spiritually harm a lot of people. Perhaps they would want to issue a retraction. We received a call back from one of these men on the same day we called. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of The Moody Church and popular and respected author and speaker, listened to our concerns but told us that when he read the terms “contemplative prayer” and “centering prayer” in Crabb’s book, he did not think of it as any kind of New Age prayer. He said he absolutely does not endorse or promote the New Age at all. While we were happy to hear this, we told Pastor Lutzer that Larry Crabb does promote New Age beliefs and Lutzer’s name in the book will lead many who trust him to think Crabb’s book and other work are acceptable. Pastor Lutzer asked us to please remember to love all the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. He felt this was more important than criticizing others and naming names, and he said that we (Lighthouse Trails) may not really be qualified to identify spiritual deception within the church.
In The Papa Prayer, Crabb states:
I’ve practiced centering prayer. I’ve contemplatively prayed. I’ve prayed liturgically….I’ve benefited from each, and I still do. In ways you’ll see, elements of each style are still with me . . . Other forms of relating to God that have unique value in connecting us to Him include contemplative prayer and centering prayer. (pp. 9, 22)
One week after we came out with our article on Erwin Lutzer’s endorsement of Crabb’s book, we wrote another article titled, Moody Bible Institute – What Ever Happened?” This article addressed Moody’s Midday Connection radio show, which was bringing in contemplative guests such as Keri Wyatt Kent, Larry Crabb, and Dallas Willard. Our article stated:
When Midday Connection (MBI ministry) was recently asked about their obvious promotion of Wyatt Kent and of contemplative spirituality, they stated that they were committed to spiritual formation and named “solid guests” like Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard who were teaching people “spiritual disciplines.” They said they were just “re-stating some old truths in new ways.” It makes sense that they would use Larry Crabb as an example of these “new ways.” Crabb, in the foreword of a book (Sacred Companions) by contemplative-promoting David Benner, said that it was time to get rid of the old written code and replace it with new ways of practicing spirituality. Even still, it is surprising that Moody would call Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard “solid guests … “who recognize the need to teach people spiritual disciplines.”
We also pointed out in this article that Moody Conferences was bringing in speakers such as emergent figures Dan Allender and the now late Robert Webber. Both Allender and Webber have shown affinity with emergent leader Brian McLaren. In addition, we showed how Moody Publisher’s magazine promoted Gary Thomas’ contemplative book, Sacred Pathways, where Thomas tells readers to repeat a word for 20 minutes. Our article also showed that Moody Bible Institute Graduate School has a Department of Spiritual Formation, and a Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship (MASF/D). A number of contemplative authors are used in these programs (Nouwen, Benner, Willard, Foster, etc.).
But Moody’s admiration for things contemplative goes back further than 2006. In 1987, Moody Monthly wrote an endorsement for Sue Monk Kidd’s book, God’s Joyful Surprise. In this book, one of Monk Kidd’s earlier books, she unfolds her journey into contemplative spirituality, largely from reading Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors. Once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, today she promotes neo-paganism and goddess worship. This is what Moody Monthly wrote on the back cover of God’s Joyful Surprise over two decades ago:
Carefully avoiding a how-to approach [Kidd] suggests some disciplines for cultivating an interior quietness and a richer personal experience of God’s love. Her writing, well-balanced by the wisdom of writers like Brother Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Henri Nouwen is alive with humorous anecdotes.
One year after our two initial articles on Moody, we posted one titled “Young Christian Woman Withdraws from Moody Bible Institute Because of Contemplative Promotion.” We stated:
The young woman learned that the college (and at least one of the classes she was registered for) was promoting contemplative spirituality. Upon learning this, she spoke with various school officials about the situation. After coming to the conclusion through these meetings that Moody would at this time continue in the direction it was going, the young woman prayerfully decided she could not compromise her faith by receiving a degree from an institution that was promoting these teachings. This week, she withdrew herself from this fall’s upcoming classes and will now search for another Christian college.
Two of the authors this young woman challenged that were being used at Moody were Henri Nouwen and John Eldredge. Within a few weeks of our posting the plight of the student, we received a call from Moody’s public relations office telling us they had posted a response (and sent us an email) to Lighthouse Trails. That response still sits on the Moody website today. You may access it by clicking here. We stated the following with regard to their response:
Moody states that they agree that according to our definition of contemplative spirituality, it is wrong. Our definition states:
“A belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology; the premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).”
Their email states that they do not endorse this type of spirituality. They say that although they use books by contemplatives authors in their courses, it does not necessarily mean they adhere to the teachings of these authors. They say they are using these books to possibly discuss the errors of these books and authors. But this defense is contrary to evidence in their ministries and on their web sites that show they are promoting these authors and their teachings.
Basically, Moody was denying that they were promoting contemplative spirituality even though they were using contemplative authors. We offered to send complimentary copies of A Time of Departing and Faith Undone to the Moody public relations office back in 2007, but we were told not to send them.
Two months later, in November of 2007, we wrote the following article: “Moody Bible Institute Recommends Richard Foster’s Meditation! – Lighthouse Trails Challenges MBI.” We stated:
MBI professor Dr. Winfred O. Neely tells readers that “deep and prolonged thinking about the Lord’s word, person, and work is biblical.” While he states that eastern style meditation is wrong and dangerous, he brings terrible confusion to the matter by also stating: “For more in depth reading about the vital practice of biblical meditation, I suggest that you pick up Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline.” . . . Once again, we beseech Moody Bible Institute to read A Time of Departing so professors and students alike will not be drawn into the deception of Richard Foster’s spirituality. Foster has and continues to uplift and emulate the late monk Thomas Merton who said that God dwells in every human being. Merton knew that the silent state one goes into through contemplative would lead the practitioner into a view that God is in all. Is this really what MBI wants to convey to their students when they continue to include Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Larry Crabb, and Dallas Willard in the lecture halls and publications of their institution?
It is vital to understand that the spirituality of these men is based on the same method that Thomas Merton used, and yet Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East. (Shannon, Silent Lamp, p. 281)
In other words, if we want to understand Merton’s conversion to eastern thought, it was contemplative prayer that was the catalyst! This isn’t complicated or does it take a doctorate degree in theology to grasp. It’s as clear as day.
In January of 2008, we posted the following: “Moody Bible Institute Favors Mystic Henri Nouwen.” We started off our article by stating:
Leaders at Moody Bible Institute have adamantly insisted they do not promote or endorse contemplative spirituality. And in spite of repeated promotion of contemplatives . . . they have publicly stated they are against contemplative. Lighthouse Trails offered on more than one occasion to send faculty and staff complimentary copies of A Time of Departing [by Ray Yungen] to help explain the dangers of this mystical belief system. That offer has not yet been accepted. Now, to kick off the new year, MBI’s “Today in the Word” January 5th and January 9th editions are favorably referencing mystic Henri Nouwen.
We pointed out that whoever at MBI quoted Nouwen from his book In the Name of Jesus perhaps did not read the section in Nouwen’s book called “The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer” where Nouwen says: “For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (p. 32). When Nouwen says “from the moral to the mystical,” he is referring to exactly that – the mystical. Nouwen personally practiced mantra-type meditation for many years, which led him to absorb the universalism and panentheism of the mystics he admired. We concluded our article by stating:
Nouwen’s propensity for the mystical elements of spirituality with panentheistic overtones, are quite evident when one studies his writings. Even one of his biographer’s noted that Nouwen was enamored with Sri Ramakrishna who believed that all the world’s religions were valid revelations from God. Yet Nouwen esteemed him as an important spiritual figure (from Wounded Prophet). There is ample evidence to show why Henri Nouwen cannot be considered a trustworthy source for biblical Christianity. Is it that MBI does not want to look at the evidence because they are attracted to the same spirituality as Nouwen, Crabb, Foster, and Kent? If this is not the conclusion that we should reach, then what is it?
In December of 2008, we posted “Confusion Over Moody’s Pastors Conference – Concern Over Contemplative Promotion.” In this article, we revealed that the 2009 Moody Pastors’ Conference was going to be including a break out session called Soul Care to be presented by a contemplative organization called Soul Care. After some correspondence between Lighthouse Trails and Moody’s public relations office, the break out session Soul Care was cancelled. However, our article also showed that on January 10th 2008, Moody’s Mi-Day Connection radio program interviewed Soul Care’s founder Mindy Caliguire and contemplative advocate Adele Ahlberg Calhoun to “talk about practices that can transform us.” Ahlberg Calhoun has been the subject of Lighthouse Trails articles because of her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. In the book, Ahlberg Calhoun promotes mantra meditation, giving detailed instructions on several types of contemplative practices. In addition, she quotes from many New Age sympathizers and New Age contemplatives and encourages the use of centering prayer, breath prayers, contemplative prayer, labyrinths, palms-up, palms-down exercises, and recommends for further reading a who’s who of mystics. One of those she lists is Shalem Institute’s co-founder Tilden Edwards (p. 62).
A year later, in 2009, we wrote another article, this one titled: “Keri Wyatt Kent Continues Leading Women Toward Contemplative – Moody Bible Institute Helps,” showing Wyatt Kent’s continued connection with Moody’s Midday Connection program.
In November of 2011, we wrote “Focus on the Family’s Adventures of Odyssey Has “Eugene” Going to a Monastery – Moody Radio Broadcasts Program” (headline is self explanatory).
In December of 2011, we wrote the following: “Moody Publishers Release Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer.” This seemed to be a big bold step Moody was taking toward contemplative. Regarding the contemplative prayer book that Moody published, we stated:
The book is a collection of various prayers by a wide assortment of writers (e.g. the prayer of confession, the prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer of renewal, etc). Near the end of the book, Kurt Bjorklund, the author, has a section titled “Works Cited.” He lists ”the sources for prayer utilized in this book.” There are around 70 sources. It is from these sources that the prayer collections are gathered.
At least a dozen of these are books by contemplative authors who Lighthouse Trails has written about in the past: Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Ken Boa, Leighton Ford, Max Lucado, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa, all strong advocates of contemplative prayer. In addition, there is a book by emerging hero N.T. Wright, one by atonement denier Harry Fosdick (who suggests the Cross is barbarian), a book called the Catholic Prayer Book, one titled Celtic Daily Prayers, and The Book of Common Prayer.
Bjorklund also turns to a number of ancient and contemporary Catholic monks and priests. One such contemporary priest, the abbe Huvelin, once said, “I want all the inhabitants [of this place - his hermitage] whether Christians, Moslems, Greeks, Jews, or idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, their universal brother.” [Based on our research, what he means is not brothers in the social sense but rather brothers in the spiritual sense.] Such is an underlying sentiment in contemplative circles. The abbe Huvelin is a fitting choice for Bjorklund’s book. Other books in this list of 70-some sources by Bjorklund include A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God, and Harper Collins Book of Prayers (and there are others), all of which are brim full with prayers, references, and quotes by contemplative mystics.
It is a sad dilemma for us at Lighthouse Trails that try as might, Moody has dug in their heels and refuses to look at the evidence we present in our work. We are not asking them to take our word for it. We offer well-documented research, right out of the mouth of the mystics themselves. One year ago, in the spring of 2012, we posted “The Moody Church of Chicago Welcomes Contemplative Advocate Larry Crabb As Guest Speaker.” It appeared that Lutzer’s Moody Church was going to stay in step with Moody Ministries. After watching the “sermon” that Larry Crabb gave at The Moody Church last spring, we made these observations:
In this message, Larry Crabb is introducing Jesus as more of an example or model to us (one that we can be like) than a Savior to us. This is the crux of the contemplative/emerging message. This is where spiritual formation comes in. Since to be truly Christ-like is not possible without Christ in us (born-again), the contemplatives turn to the disciplines (with the emphasis on the mystical), and this gives them the illusion of being close to God (the mystical experience produces this euphoric feeling).
His conclusion is that we need to search for our own “center[s].” His psychology-filled, Scripture-starving sermon did not point to Jesus Christ and His magnificence but rather pointed to how the attributes of God can make us a great community and have great relationships. . . .
Lest some think we are speaking inaccurately about Crabb’s propensities toward contemplative spirituality, take a look at his connection with Richard Foster (Renovare) and Dallas Willard, two of the main pioneers in the modern day contemplative prayer movement: http://store.renovare.us/search.aspx?searchterm=crabb.
And in Crabb’s book, Real Church, he makes the following revealing statement: “I’m glad that as a conservative evangelical who still believes in biblical inerrancy and penal substitution, I’ve gotten over my Catholic phobia, and I’ve been studying contemplative prayer, practicing lectio divina, valuing monastic retreats, and worshipping through ancient liturgy. I appreciate Bernard of Clairvaux’s [a panentheistic] provocative insights. I’m drawn to Brother Lawrence’s profoundly simple ways to practice God’s presence. I’m intrigued and enticed by Julian of Norwich’s [also a panentheist] mysterious appearings of Jesus (p. 41). (Crabb does say he is against “false mysticism” in the book, but clearly advocates what he considers legitimate mysticism, that of the contemplative mystics.)
This brings us full circle and leads us to answer the question, is the prayer of occultic mystics the same as the prayer of “Christian” contemplatives? We believe we answered that question in our recent article regarding Ruth Haley Barton’s invitation to the Assemblies of God General Council conference coming up this summer, “Lighthouse Trails Statement to Assemblies of God Response Regarding Invitation of Ruth Haley Barton” We hope you will read that article, and then, if you are persuaded as we are in knowing that contemplative prayer is a dangerous, occultic practice, contact Moody and beseech them to study this matter and find the truth on it.
Incidentally, last month, Eric Targe, a Senior student at MBI and a Pastoral Intern at The Moody Church wrote a blog article promoting lectio divina called “Reclaiming Tradition – Lectio Divina.
Fil Anderson is a name Lighthouse Trails has been acquainted with for several years because of his book Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and his involvement with organizations such as Youth Specialties and Young Life (Anderson had been in Young Life leadership for many years and is still involved with the organization). Anderson also speaks with Richard Foster’s organization, Renovare.
To say Anderson’s book is contemplative would be an understatement. The book is filled with contemplative names such as Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Evelyn Underhill, and John Cassian. Also favorably named in the book are: Thomas Merton, Soren Kierkegaard, Sue Monk Kidd, Tilden Edwards, Gerald May, and several others who fall into the panentheistic mystical camp. Contemplative prayer is clearly the theme of the book. In addition to the contemplative advocates referenced and quoted in the book, contemplative practices such as lectio divina, repetition of a word or phrase, and the Jesus Prayer are also promoted. One of the books that Anderson quotes from is Morton Kelsey’s book, The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation. Kelsey is a contemplative mystic who has influenced tens of thousands of people. Practicing mystical meditation led Kelsey to say: “You can find most of the New Age practices in the depth of Christianity. . . . I believe that the Holy One lives in every soul.”1 And also:
Each church needs to provide classes in forms of prayer. This is only possible if seminaries are training pastors in prayer, contemplation and meditation, and group process. . . . The church has nothing to fear from the New Age when it preaches, teaches, and heals.2
Like Ruth Haley Barton, Fil Anderson was trained at the Shalem Institute on Spiritual Formation. He spent two years in training there. In the acknowledgements of his book, Anderson thanks “[t]he magnificent people at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, for playing such a vital role in my spiritual formation, especially Rose Mary Dougherty, Tilden Edwards, and Gerald May.” This is not a surprising comment coming from someone who is totally sold on contemplative prayer. But it is disheartening to learn that Anderson is involved with Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. Anderson is a member of the Spiritual Care Team.
We called Samaritan’s Purse and were told that the Spiritual Care Team is a group of volunteers made up mostly of long-time “friends” of Samaritan’s Purse whose primary purpose is to do follow-up phone calls with people who have been in need. We asked the person we spoke with at Samaritan’s Purse if all the Spiritual Care Team members were Christians, and she told us that each team member was a “solid” Christian believer. We asked if a New Ager would be allowed to be on the Spiritual Care Team, and she said, “probably not.”
Obviously, to those who understand the dynamics of contemplative spirituality, it is troubling to know that Samaritan’s Purse is using a strong contemplative proponent to “minister” to people in need. If those people, in their time of great need, are directed in any way to the teachings of mystics like Thomas Merton, Tilden Edwards, Sue Monk Kidd, or Gerald May, how is this going to help them? In actuality, it can hurt them deeply. For one, these mystics believe that God dwells in everything (all creation and in every human being) and thus the message of the Cross (the Gospel) would not be needed. Secondly, should these people in need begin to practice contemplative mysticism, they will end up with occultism rather than with God’s Holy Spirit.
Like most contemplatives, Anderson describes a spiritual emptiness in his life: “In my deepest parts I knew that God was everywhere. Yet often I wondered and even doubted whether God was in my spirit” (Running on Empty, Kindle Locations 259-260). Anderson talks about being so busy with church activities when he was a young Christian man that he finally became burnt out – filled with despair and depression. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital where he received some temporary help.
After college, Anderson became a leader in the international Christian organization Young Life. He eventually slipped back into feeling burnt out and in despair until one day he attended a retreat where he read a book by panentheist Thomas Kelly. From there on out, Anderson’s life changed, and he became a contemplative, looking to the mystics he writes about in his book for his spiritual nourishment.
This is just another example of how contemplative spirituality has come into the church. We believe there are very few Christian organizations that have not been affected to some degree.
Samaritan’s Purse is an organization that helps people in dire need. On their Statement of Faith, they adhere to the basic fundamentals of the Christian Faith. We hope they can be alerted to the truth about contemplative spirituality and would reconsider allowing mysticism proponents to offer spiritual ”help” to people in need. Years ago, Lighthouse Trails sent a copy of A Time of Departing to Franklin Graham’s office. We don’t know if he ever read it. We are going to send a copy of this article and another copy of A Time of Departing to his office this week. Please pray that he will receive the book and will read it. On the Samaritan’s Purse website, it states that their mission is “to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel.” The hope of the Gospel and contemplative spirituality do not line up together. They are on two opposite poles.
1. Morton Kelsey cited in Charles H. Simpkinson, “In the Spirit of the Early Christians” (Common Boundary magazine, Jan./Feb. 1992).
2. Morton Kelsey, New Age Spirituality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1st edition,1992, edited by Duncan S. Ferguson), pp. 56-58.
First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with mystical contemplative prayer and the New Age. Most likely, your pastor has a copy of this book sitting on his library shelves. He may even have it sitting on his desk for easy reach and reference. Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal), wrote the book and even he may have had no idea the impact this book would have. But 35 years later, it is still being read, and in fact, Christian leaders and organizations are promoting the book like never before.
Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “contemplative prayer” is the eastern style mantra meditation to which mystic monk Thomas Merton adhered. In fact, Richard Foster once told Ray Yungen (author of A Time of Departing) that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people” (at a conference in Salem, OR).
Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “become as good a Buddhist” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing . . . mysticism and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 17) And yet, Thomas Merton once told New Age Episcopal priest Matthew Fox that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the mystical (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. (Interview) We couldn’t agree with him more. Both altered states are the same, and neither lead to God.
Listed under “excellent books on spirituality,” in some editions of Celebration of Discipline, Foster says of Tilden Edwards’ book, Spiritual Friend that it helps “clear away the confusion and invites us to see that we do not have to live the spiritual life in isolation.” And yet, Tilden Edwards, founder of the Christian/Buddhist Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, said that contemplative spirituality was the “Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”(Spiritual Friend, p. 18). On the Shalem Institute website you can find numerous quotes, references, articles, and recommendations to panentheism, universalism, interspirituality, New Age, and Eastern thought.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us “we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation” (COD, p.13.) He goes on to say that the “masters of meditation beckon us.” Just prior to that remark, he quotes Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.
Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people. The late Henri Nouwen, a popular contemplative who also followed the teachings of Thomas Merton, made a telling statement towards the end of his life:
I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God (emphasis added – Sabbatical Journey, p. 51).
Today, countless ministers and ministries are promoting and endorsing Celebration of Discipline. If they really knew what Foster’s “celebration” was all about, we think many of them would race away from the teachings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster and back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.