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.