A Special Report: Christianity Today Treats Contemplative Controversy as Legitimate Issue in Cover Story About Beth Moore

In the August 2010 cover story of Christianity Today, the magazine has brought out two things that the major Christian media has thus far ignored – one, that Beth Moore, described as “the most popular Bible teacher in America”  by CT is a proponent of contemplative prayer, and two, that there is a debate over whether contemplative meditation is of Eastern religious origin or not. This Lighthouse Trails special report will look at both of these facets, Beth Moore’s contemplative propensities (incidentally, she is noted in CT  for influencing “millions” of women) and the vital question as to whether contemplative prayer is indeed rooted in Eastern mysticism. 

Christianity Today hit the nail right on the head when it informed its readers that:

“Critics argue that contemplative prayer is rooted in Eastern mysticism and thus not a practice that Christians should engage in.”

Lighthouse Trails has always warned that contemplative prayer is in fact rooted in Eastern mysticism, with a heavy emphasis on the word “rooted.” In Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing, Yungen brings out that contemplative prayer was created by the Desert Fathers, a group of monks who lived in the desert during the early middle ages. Quoting Ken Kaisch, A Time of Departing reveals:

It was a time of great experimentation with spiritual methods. Many different kinds of disciplines were tried, some of which are too harsh or extreme for people today. Many different methods of prayer were created and explored by them. (Finding God, p. 191).

At the time, the city of Alexandria, close to where the Desert Fathers existed, was a stronghold of Eastern mysticism through the connection of King Alexander’s link to India. It is believed that the Desert Fathers utilized Eastern style meditation practices (i.e., mantra meditation), but instead of using Hindu or Buddhist mantras, they tailored this Eastern style prayer to their Christian beliefs, using “Christian” mantras. As an early treatise on contemplative prayer written by an anonymous monk, The Cloud of Unknowing, describes:  ”Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two . . . With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.” This is why all the major icons of contemplative prayer (Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, etc) echo the same spiritual perceptions as Eastern meditation practitioners. Thomas Merton said as he was leaving on a trip to South Asia to address Hindu and Buddhist monks: ” We left the ground– I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wandering … I am going home, to the home where I have never been in this body. ” (Merton’s Asian Journal, pp. ). Henri Nouwen echoed this when he said that Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Muslim (i.e., Sufism) religion offered many treasures for the spiritual life of the Christian (in the foreword of Thomas Ryan’s Disciplines for Christian Living).

For those who are still skeptical, the co-founder of one of the largest centers for teaching contemplative prayer, Tilden Edwards of The Shalem Institute, said that contemplative prayer is “the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality” (Edwards, Spiritual Friend, p. 18). How much more clear can this be? We could go on and on to verify the link between Eastern religion and contemplative spirituality. We have documented over 200 pages in A Time of Departing, not to mention article after article with continued documentation.

Returning to Beth Moore, while it may come as a surprise to many Christianity Today readers that Moore is being identified with contemplative “mysticism,” it is no surprise to Lighthouse Trails because in the spring of 2006, Moore was included in our coverage of a Fox Home Entertainment film titled Be Still,* an infomercial for contemplative spirituality.  Shortly after the DVD was released, Lighthouse Trails spoke with Moore’s personal assistant who said that Moore did not have a problem with Richard Foster or Dallas Willard’s teachings. To reiterate this, Living Proof Ministries issued a  statement a few weeks after the release of the DVD that stated: “[W]e believe that once you view the Be Still video you will agree that there is no problem with its expression of Truth.” Living Proof offered to send a free copy of the DVD to anyone who receives their email statement and wishes to view the DVD, saying that, “[I]t would be our privilege to do this for you to assure you that there is no problem with Beth’s participation in the Be Still video.” This statement was issued because several women contacted Moore’s ministry after reading the Lighthouse Trail report on the Be Still DVD.

In the Be Still DVD, countless enticements, references, and comments clearly show its affinity with contemplative spirituality. For instance, Richard Foster says that anyone can practice contemplative prayer and become a “portable sanctuary” for God. This backs up other statements by Foster over the course of the past thirty years in which he believes that even a non-believer in Christ can participate in the “spiritual discipline” of silence and have an encounter with God. The assumption by all mystics is that God dwells in all people, and meditation will help them to realize their own Divinity. This panentheistic view of God is very typical for contemplatives. As Ray Yungen points out, those who practice contemplative prayer begin to view God through panentheistic (God in all) and interspiritual (all is united) eyes. Thomas Merton, whom Foster has admired publicly for many years, believed that all human beings have divinity within, and this divinity can be accessed through contemplative prayer, thereby making the Cross of Jesus unnecessary for union with God. We believe that the reason for this change in spiritual outlook for those who continue practicing contemplative meditation (i.e., mantra-like meditation) is that these altered states of consciousness actually engage the practitioner with demonic realms leading to spiritual deception.

The underlying theme of the Be Still DVD is that we cannot truly know God or be intimate with Him without contemplative prayer and the state of silence that it produces. While the DVD is vague and lacking in actual instruction on word or phrase repetition (which lies at the heart of contemplative prayer), it is very misleading, to say the least. What they don’t say in the DVD is that this state of stillness or silence is, for the most part, achieved through some method such as mantra-like meditation. The purpose of the DVD, in essence, is not to instruct in contemplative prayer but rather to make you and your family hungry for it. The DVD even promises that practicing the silence will heal your family problems.

The thoughtful and discerning Christian needs to ask whether the Be Still DVD is an accurate “expression of Truth,” as Beth Moore says it is, and is there truly “no problem with Beth’s participation” in this project? Considering the fact that Christianity Today calls Moore “the most popular Bible teacher in America,” these are fair questions to ask. Moore has the potential of leading  millions of women in a spiritually dangerous direction. Those women in turn will bring this mystical teaching home to their husbands, children, and churches. In the Be Still DVD, Moore states: “[I]f we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness.” Moore says that it is not possible to “truly know” that He is God without “a stillness.” She is not talking about a quiet place to pray and spend time in God’s word, but rather she is talking about a stillness of the mind – this is what contemplatives strive for – unless you practice this stillness of the mind, your relationship with the Lord is inadequate. According to Beth Moore, you don’t even know Him in the way you should.

Many reading this may be asking, is there any other evidence as to where Moore really stands with regard to contemplative. The answer to that may at least partially be found in a book she wrote in 2002 called When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. In a section about “Unceasing Prayer,” Moore states:

I have picked up on the terminology of Brother Lawrence [a Carmelite mystic who said he "cried out, singing and dancing  violently like a madman" when he went into the "presence"1], who called praying unceasingly practicing God’s presence. In fact, practicing God’s presence has been my number one goal for the last year. (p. 109)

Moore says: “A head full of biblical knowledge without a heart passionately in love with Christ is terribly dangerous–a stronghold waiting to happen. The head is full, but the heart and soul are still unsatisfied” (p. 60). This language is very indicative of contemplatives and echoes Richard Foster who said we have become barren within or Rick Warren who says the church is not fully mature without spiritual formation ala Foster and Willard (i.e., contemplative prayer)  (The Purpose Driven Church, p. 126-127 ). However, all of this talk leads one to think that the Word of God is little more than a philosophy and needs the help of contemplative prayer to be effective at all. The insinuation is that the Holy Spirit is dormant and ineffective without this vital stimuli.  Contemplatives are making a distinction between studying and meditating on the Word of God versus loving Him, suggesting that we cannot love Him or know Him simply by studying His Word or even through normal prayer–we must practice contemplative to accomplish this. But the Bible makes it clear that the Word of God is living and active, and it is in filling our minds with it that we come to love Him and know Him, not through a mystical practice that is never once mentioned in the Bible, except in warnings against vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7) and Old Testament warnings against seeking to make contact with the spirit world or going into altered states of consciousness (Deuteronomy 18:11).

In Moore’s book, she makes frequent references to contemplative pioneer Brennan Manning, stating that his contribution to “our generation of believers may be a gift without parallel” (p. 72). This is indeed a troubling statement made by “the most popular Bible teacher in America.”  No doubt, many of the women who follow Moore, in reading her comments about Manning and her quoting of him have turned to the writings of Manning for further insights. Why wouldn’t they when their favorite Bible teacher speaks so highly of him? When they do turn to him, they will find that Manning is a devout admirer of Beatrice Bruteau, founder of  The School for Contemplation. Bruteau wrote the foreword to a book called The Mystic Heart by New Age mystic Wayne Teasdale, a book that actually lays out that contemplative prayer will unite Christianity with all the world’s religions at a mystical level. And yet, in Manning’s book, Abba’s Child, he says that Bruteau is a “trustworthy guide to contemplative consciousness.”  Manning  backs his love for “contemplative consciousness” by stating the following:

[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. (The Signature of Jesus, p. 212)

Choose a single, sacred word or phrase that captures something of the flavor of your intimate relationship with God. A word such as Jesus, Abba, Peace, God or a phrase such as “Abba, I belong to you.” … Without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often. (SoJ, p. 218)

When distractions come, … simply return to listening to your sacred word…. [G]ently return [your mind] to your sacred word. (SoJ, p. 218)

[E]nter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard. (SoJ, p. 218)

This is the contemplative prayer that Beth Moore is promoting – Manning’s contemplative prayer. Furthering Beth Moore’s great admiration for Manning, she quotes him from his book Ragamuffin Gospel calling the book “one of the most remarkable books” (p. 290) she has ever read. But it is this very book that reveals Manning’s true affinity with contemplative spirituality. In the back of the book, Manning makes reference to Catholic priest and mystic Basil Pennington saying that Pennington’s methods will provide us with “a way of praying that leads to a deep living relationship with God.” However, most assuredly Pennington’s methods of prayer draw from Eastern religions. In his book, Finding Grace at the Center, Pennington says:

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices. (from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p.64, quoting Finding Grace at the Center, pp. 5-6)

Pennington also says that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the human family (Centered Living, The Way of Centering Prayer, p. 104).

In Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning cites Carl Jung as well as interspiritualists and contemplative mystics, Anthony De Mello (see note below), Marcus Borg (denies the Virgin birth and Jesus being Son of God), Morton Kelsey, Gerald May, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, Alan Jones (who denies the atonement), Eugene Peterson, and goddess worshipper Sue Monk Kidd. This is a list of mystics that any discerning Bible teacher would never point followers to either directly or indirectly!

For Moore to call Manning’s book “remarkable” and to say his contribution to this generation of believers is “a gift without parallel” leads one to conclude that Beth Moore has absorbed Manning’s spirituality. And if that is the case, which we believe it to be, then Moore, as nice and well intentioned as she may be, has become another conduit for a panentheistic spirituality.

 What makes the Christianity Today’s August issue noteworthy is that this is the first time to our knowledge since the beginning of Lighthouse Trails in 2002 where a major Christian media has publicly recognized that there is a “debate” going on about contemplative spirituality (i.e., spiritual formation). While they did not identify  Lighthouse Trails as one of the “critics” of this debate, nevertheless they have  helped to bring it to the table and give it a broader platform. We would like to note here that over the past eight years thousands of believers have contacted Lighthouse Trails and do see what is taking place. This is not just something that only a handful of people see, albeit a minority in the church.

Lighthouse Trails sincerely implores Beth Moore and all Christian leaders going in the contemplative direction to take an honest look at the evidence that contemplative prayer IS rooted in Eastern mysticism. Nothing else explains the affinity that so many practitioners have for Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. As Merton told a Sufi teacher, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana” (Thomas Merton, My Brother, Pennington, p. 115). Fana is the same as Hindu Samadhi and Buddhist nirvana. Merton went on to explain how mystical meditation even eclipses the need to believe in Jesus’ atoning and saving work on the Cross. To the Sufi teacher, Merton stated:

Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs differ, I think that controversy [“the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption,” said the Sufi teacher] is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas . . . . But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light, . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam. (Merton and Sufism, p. 109)

It is essential to grasp the significance of what is being said here: Merton believed that the doctrines that are the essence of Christianity (such as atonement and salvation) were irrelevant and actually, if taken seriously, were an  impediment to religious unity. The complete union of all the world’s religions cannot be accomplished  without a form of mysticism within Christianity-that form is contemplative prayer, the very thing that a growing and large number of Christian leaders are propagating today!

It is this that motivates Lighthouse Trails to continue issuing a warning. We are not haters, as some have supposed; in fact we love people,( including those who promote contemplative prayer) and feel compelled to warn them about the spiritual land mines buried within the mystical paths on which they have embarked.

Footnote:

1. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, translated by John Delaney, Image Books, 1977, p. 34


Note: The writer of the Christianity Today article, “First Came the Bible,” is Halee Gray Scott, a writer and a faculty member at Wesley Seminary and A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary. She is a Ph.D. candidate at Talbot School of Theology, where her research interests include leadership development and spiritual formation.

Many of the quotes in this report are taken from A Time of Departing. Click here for information on A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.

Also read: Richard Foster and the Be Still DVD

*To view a transcript of the entire Be Still DVD, please contact us.

Quote by ANTHONY DEMELLO ON CONTEMPLATIVE SILENCE:

To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all the other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: A Way to God (St. Louis, the Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1978), p. 28.

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