Ravi Zacharias on Henri Nouwen – “I regret having said that” “Henri Nouwen Was One of the Greatest Saints In Our Time”

Henri-NouwenIt is not often that Lighthouse Trails can report on a major Christian leader actually renouncing earlier endorsements of the contemplative mystics. Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, and many others have written books that have promoted contemplative teachers, and Lighthouse Trails has documented many of these situations. And in every case, even though each of these leaders learned about our challenge, none of them has ever come forth and admitted they were wrong. But in a 2012 online interview by an independent blog, Ravi Zacharias was asked the following question:

If in your book, you wrote how Eastern mysticism is completely erroneous, why did you state in one of your speaking engagements that Henri Nouwen was one of the greatest saints who lived in our time, when Nouwen is known to have been influenced by Thomas Merton and others who practice Eastern mysticism?
Zacharias answered the question thus:
I regret having said that. At the time, I based my comment on Nouwen’s story of the prodigal son which I felt was on target. But later as I learned more about Nouwen and Merton, I found their writings to be very troubling. I believe that doctrinally, Nouwen lost his way. I used to read Malcolm Muggeridge too until I read his book, “Jesus Rediscovered”. Muggeridge was morally and culturally a good thinker, but he was not theologically sound.
 A little background from our perspective: In 2007, Lighthouse Trails wrote “Ravi Zacharias Ministries Points to Nouwen, Merton, and Foster.”   Our article stated:

Ravi Zacharias International Ministry website is carrying numerous articles which speak favorably of Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen, Catholic monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, and contemplative Richard Foster.

In 2007, Lighthouse Trails was still in the stages of learning that contemplative spirituality (i.e., Spiritual Formation) was being endorsed by nearly every Christian leader and most of the Christian colleges. Thus, Zacharias was added to a long growing list.

A short time after writing that piece on Zacharias, a unique opportunity arose. One afternoon, a Lighthouse Trails reader from Southern California whom we had come to know through phone conversations contacted us and said she and her husband had been invited to a dinner party (the reader’s husband is a physician), and Ravi Zacharias was going to be there. Our reader said she was very troubled that Zacharias would promote Nouwen and Merton, and she would like to speak with him if the occasion offered itself at the dinner party. Because Zacharias was born in India and because our reader happened to have a copy of Caryl Matrisciana’s book Out of India, it seemed to be an opportunity from God. Once at the dinner party, our reader was not sure she would get a chance to give the book to Zacharias as he was involved with conversations with several people throughout the evening. But toward the end of the night, a moment came when she was able to approach Zacharias. She told him she was concerned about his endorsements of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, and she handed him the book and asked if he would read it. He said that he happened to be heading out on a long flight and that he would read the book.

We can’t know for sure that Zacharias read Out of India. But if he did, he would have learned that the contemplative prayer movement is rooted in Hinduism and the New Age movement and that Nouwen and Merton are part of that movement. But either way, it appears that Ravi Zacharias has changed his mind about Henri Nouwen and has been willing to acknowledge that publicly, something we have yet to see in other Christian leaders.

We must note that there are still numerous articles on Zacharias’ website promoting Henri Nouwen, such as one written  by Jill Carattini, the managing editor of Zacharias’ online publication A Slice of Infinity. That article is titled “I Am Absent.” It is interesting that just a few months after Zacharias made a public statement renouncing Nouwen, Carattini wrote an article for his website promoting Nouwen. Perhaps the two never discussed Zacharias’ changed opinion about Nouwen. Other articles on Zacharias’ website where Nouwen is favorably included are: “Flickering Minds” (2013-Carattini), “As Sure as the Sun” (2013, Carattini), “Free Lunch Economy” (2011, Carattini), “Culture of Absence” (2011, Carattini), “Waiting for Spring” (2011, Carattini), “Of Parables and Paradigms” (2010, Danielle DuRant), “September 11, 2001: Was God Present or Absent?” (2002, Zacharias), and “Lessons From War in a Battle of Ideas” (2000, Zacharias).

While it may seem picky to some that we are listing all these instances on Zacharias’ website, we believe it is important. According to Zacharias’ 2012 interview, he has come to understand the dangers of Henri Nouwen’s teachings. Yet readers at his site probably will never see that interview but they could very easily come across these articles giving Nouwen a pass.

We hold out hope that when Zacharias learns of these articles (and comes to understand the problem with having them on his site), he will have them removed (or edited) so as not to be responsible any longer for pointing people to a mystic who believed all paths lead to God and who talked about listening to cassette tapes on the chakras. We also hope that both he and his managing editor, Jill Carattini, will read A Time of Departing and come to understand that the contemplative prayer movement is dangerous and has become fully engaged with the evangelical church. Ray Yungen lays out the implications well:

If this mystical paradigm shift comes to complete fruition, what will the Christian of the future be like? If Christians develop into the spiritual likeness of Henri Nouwen, we will find them meditating with Buddhists as Nouwen did—which he called “dialogue of the heart.”1 We will also find them listening to tapes on the seven chakras 2 (which Reiki is based on) as Nouwen did, and above all we will find them wanting to help people “claim his or her own way to God”3 (universalism)  as Nouwen did. Nouwen wrote that his solitude and the solitude of his Buddhist friends would “greet each other and support each other.”4 In this one statement lies the fundamental flaw of the contemplative prayer movement—spiritual adultery.5

Endnotes:

1. Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey ( (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1998), p.20. Note: Sabbatical Journey is the last book Nouwen wrote. It shows the effect that years of practicing mysticism had on Nouwen.
2. Ibid., p. 20.
3. Ibid., p. 51.
4. Ibid., p. 20.
5. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2nd ed, 2006), p. 183.

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