SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

by Roger Oakland
Understand the Times

Promoters of the emergent conversation say we are on the verge of a new spiritual awareness. New “spiritual disciplines” are being touted as the avenue to spiritual formation that will take Christianity to a new and higher level. Where is this concept in the Bible?

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J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler are both professors at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in southern California. Moreland is professor of philosophy and Issler is professor of Christian education and theology. In 2006, Navpress published a book they co-authored titled The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life. [1] On the back cover, the following statement is made:

Authors J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler illustrate how we are happy only when we pursue a transcendent purpose – something larger than ourselves. This involves a deeply meaningful relationship with God through a selfless preoccupation with the spiritual disciplines. The Lost Virtue of Happiness takes a fresh look at the spiritual disciplines, offering concrete examples of ways you can make them practical and life transforming.[2]

The title gives a good overview of what the book is about. Apparently, Moreland and Issler believe they have rediscovered important spiritual principles that have been lost.

One of the spiritual disciplines the authors have recovered is outlined in a chapter titled “Gaining Happiness by Losing Your Life.” Under the subheading “Two Friends: Solitude and Silence” the authors state:

The disciplines of solitude and silence are absolutely fundamental to the Christian life, and they are naturally practiced in tandem. In solitude we choose to be alone and to reflect on how we experience the facets of life (family, job, relationship with God, finances) and what they mean to us while in isolation. We unhook from companionship with others; we take ourselves physically and mentally out of our social, familial, and other human relationships. [3]

This spiritual discipline that Moreland and Issler suggest will bring true happiness requires a quiet state of mind and sounds like a good thing to do if one is attempting to get closer to God. However, there are some concerns. Further in the chapter the authors quote Henri Nouwen, a well known Roman Catholic mystic in support of this spiritual discipline that is being recovered. Nouwen said:

The man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center. [4]

This “quiet inner center” Nouwen mentions is suspect, especially in light of spiritual disciplines practiced by those involved in the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Further, it seems Nouwen’s Roman Catholic mystical beliefs have strongly influenced the authors. Continuing to develop their idea of the importance of rediscovering the lost art of finding the “quiet inner center,” they state:

Go to a retreat center that has one of its purposes the provision of a place for individual sojourners. Try to find a center that has gardens, fountains, statues, and other forms of beautiful artwork. In our experience, Catholic retreat centers are usually ideal for solitude retreats… We also recommend that you bring photos of your loved ones and a picture of Jesus… Or gaze at a statue of Jesus. Or let some thought, feeling, or memory run through your mind over and over again. [5]

I have searched the scriptures. Staring or gazing at a picture or statue of Jesus or concentrating on a thought or feeling in order to establish “a quiet inner center” just isn’t there! For endnotes and also an audio version of this article by Roger Oakland, click here. If you have not yet read Roger Oakland’s powerful expose on the emerging church, Faith Undone, we highly recommend it.  This book shows how the panentheistic, anti-biblical spirituality of the emerging church is entering the evangelical church through many of the popular movements today including the Purpose Driven movement and the spiritual formation movement.

Related to this article:

Book Warning: Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland

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