By Mike Stanwood
Free-Lance Writer and Defender of the Faith
Wilson-Hartgrove is most recently known for co-authoring Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals with new monastic activist Shane Claiborne. Other books he has authored may also fall into the emerging/contemplative category. For example, one such book called New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (1) has been endorsed by mystic proponents Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Campolo, and Catholic priest Richard Rohr. The mystics resonate with the “new monasticism” – this is plain to see. While on the surface, the new monasticism may look ok with its many good works of helping the poor and the needy. But the underlying belief system does not line up with biblical doctrine; rather it is about establishing an all inclusive kingdom of God on earth now where individual salvation is replaced with a community salvation for the whole world. Atonement has less emphasis on Jesus Christ as the only atonement for man’s sins and instead becomes an at-one-ment where all of creation is “being” saved by coming together as one (and yes, seeing the divinity of man). This is the kind of “atonement” that McLaren, Tickle, and Rohr would resonate with. It is important to see that they don’t just resonate with the good works coming out of the new monasticism - born-again Christians have been performing good work by helping the poor and needy for centuries and continue to do so. While this new monasticism supposedly distinguishes itself by its good works, in reality it is mysticism and the foundational beliefs of mysticism (i.e., panentheism, kingdom now, etc) that distinguish it. And it is that element that Tickle, McLaren, and Rohr embrace.
Additional resources on Wilson-Hartgrove’s website include a DVD called Discovering Christian Classics: 5 Sessions in the Ancient Faith of Our Future, a five-week study with contemplative advocate Lauren F. Winner (Girl Meets God) for high school or adult “formation.” A description of this DVD states:
You will discover the meaning of conversion and prayer from the Desert Fathers and Mothers; how to love from the sermons of St. John Chrysostom; St. Benedict’s Rule of Life and how it became one of the foundations of Western Christian spirituality; how to have an intimate relationship with God according to The Cloud of Unknowing; and what it means to “pick up your cross” in the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis.”
Another book Wilson-Hartgrove has authored, called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, refers readers to the wisdom of Lao-tzu, the desert monastics, Thomas Merton, Benedictine spirituality, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.
In a Beliefnet interview one year ago, Wilson-Hartgrove shared how “we need the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us.” This wisdom he is referring to comes not from the Bible, but from the contemplative “Benedictines (who) taught us to start the day with common prayer.” (2)
After seeing what is at the core of Wilson-Hartgrove’s spiritual wisdom, it is not surprising to learn that he recently made an appearance at the Wild Goose Festival (3). According to an article in the Christian Post, the Wild Goose Festival was a “four-day revival camp in North Carolina featuring music, yoga, liberal talk and embracing of gays and lesbians.” (See the footnotes below for more information about this event.)
With a background like all of this, what many will find very surprising and disappointing, to say the least, is that on Wilson-Hartgrove’s website we learn that Wilson-Hartgrove was recently profiled in Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine. The January 2011 article called “The Craft of Stability: Discovering the Ancient Art of Staying Put” written by Cameron Lawrence highlights the ” intentional Christian community” at the Rutba House and their “daily prayer routine.” The In Touch article states that Rutba House is an evangelical community rooted in the Protestant tradition, and that Wilson-Hartgrove is an ordained Baptist minister. The In Touch article also reports that Rutba’s community principles are borrowed from Benedictine monks and that all of their efforts are based on St. Benedict’s “rule of life.”
However, these two statements are completely contradictory: A “Protestant tradition” and “principles” “borrowed from Benedictine monks” completely contradict each other if we are talking about a biblical tradition when we say “Protestant tradition.” The contemplative beliefs promoted by Wilson-Hartgrove are not biblical.
Is this the kind of example of biblical Christian living that Charles Stanley’s readers have come to expect to see in his magazine? Unfortunately, this is not the first time an article promoting contemplative/emerging figures has emerged from the In Touch magazine. On January 18th, 2010, Lighthouse Trails reported in their article, “Letter to Charles Stanley: Is In Touch Getting Out-of-Touch With the True Gospel?” that In Touch magazine carried an article written by Joseph Bentz. Bentz’s article featured two women (both contemplative proponents, one a practicing lesbian). Bentz highlighted the spiritual journeys of these two women, whom Bentz claimed were both converted to the Christian faith. Both women today can be considered significant proponents of the new spirituality. In one article Lighthouse Trails wrote after Bentz’s article, it stated:
While we are not suggesting that Charles Stanley is a contemplative now because of the inclusion of this article, we believe it is a perfect example of a steady blending of contemplative and New Age to the point where eventually no one will notice the difference, and what will be known as Christianity will be mystical.
If this truly happens, then the observance of Leonard Sweet will be true:
Mysticism, once cast to the sidelines of the Christian tradition, is now situated in postmodernist culture near the center.… In the words of one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, Jesuit philosopher of religion/dogmatist Karl Rahner, “The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing.” [Mysticism] is metaphysics arrived at through mindbody experiences. Mysticism begins in experience; it ends in theology. (from p. 160, A Time of Departing, quoting Sweet from Quantum Spirituality, p. 76
It appears that ancient contemplative spirituality and those who promote it are no longer creeping into the church. They are in it! Through and through. As a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (Galatians 5:9), this spiritual infiltration has become a commonly accepted component in so many once reputable and trusted ministries. This example of Charles Stanley’s ministry is one more reason why Christians need to be diligent to know the truth and defend God’s Word and not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).
(1) In this youtube interview, Wilson-Hartgrove talks about the concepts in his book; the new monastic movement, desert vision, desert fathers, and redistribution of wealth, here: Lesson #18 – Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (New Monasticism) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUs0ojx-pM8
(2) New Monasticism & The Emergent Church: FS Talks with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/2010/06/new-monasticism-the-emergent-church-fs-talks-with-jonathan-wilson-hartgrove.html
(3) Learn more about the Wild Goose Festival here: