As many of you may know, we received a letter in May from Focus on the Family after asking them why they were promoting and endorsing author Gary Thomas, who is a promoter
of contemplative prayer. Thomas, in his book Sacred Pathways, lists different ways people can draw near to God incorporating contemplative prayer. In a section titled “Centering Prayer,” he explains:
It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing.
Since receiving the letter from Focus on the Family in May, we have been told by several people that they too wrote to FOF and received similar type responses. This week, we received an email from someone who corresponded with Focus on the Family. This person had asked FOF why they are promoting the work of Richard Foster, who is currently on the Spirituality & Practice website, listed as one of the Living Spiritual Teachers. With permission, we are posting the FOF response to this question. It is from Timothy Masters (from the Office of the Chairman), FOF:
Focus on the Family has nothing to do with the Spirituality & Practice Web site and cannot be held accountable for its content or the viewpoints of its sponsors. It was not our decision to group Richard Foster with the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, and Neil Douglas-Klotz. As for Rev. H. B. London’s references to Foster in Spiritual Formation, it should be obvious that when a writer quotes another author, this does not necessarily imply full and complete agreement with or endorsement of everything that author says or does.
Second, we can’t help feeling that you may need to rethink your position on what you call “man-made religious practices.” This subject is not necessarily as simple and straightforward as you seem to suppose. As I’m sure you must realize, saving faith in Jesus Christ is not just a question of mental assent. Faith, to be authentic, has to entail action. How does a person actively express his or her faith without doing something? And how does a person do something without becoming liable to the charge that he or she is simply engaging in “man-made religious practices?” For instance, do you go to church on Sundays? Pray and study the Bible on a regular basis? Read devotional literature? Listen to sermons? Sing hymns or praise choruses during worship? If so, would you agree that you have thereby become guilty of participating in “man-made religious practices,” thus nullifying the grace of God which is extended to us through Christ alone? Why or why not? The point I’m trying to make is that “contemplative prayer” as we understand it â€“ “contemplative prayer” in the best, most Christian sense of the term â€“ is just another way of “approaching the throne of grace” in an active, practical way.
I hope this response has been helpful and trust you will be so kind as to receive it as our final word on the subject. Thanks again for writing back. Grace, peace, and blessings to you.
(Office of the Chairman)
Focus on the Family
Our Commentary: We find it incredible that Focus on the Family likens contemplative prayer (which has roots in Hinduism and other eastern religions) to attending church services, reading the Bible, singing hymns and listening to sermons? This is a preposterous statement. Has Focus on the Family slipped so far down the contemplative spirituality slope that they do not at all see this? How can they in any measure endorse the writings of Richard Foster who teaches that anyone at all can be a sanctuary for God by practicing contemplative prayer and who says we should all without shame enroll in the school of contemplative prayer? What a grievous time this is!