Mysticism on the March Again — Mantra-Based Book Offered to Calvary Chapel Pastors

At the recent Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors Conference in Murrieta, California, attending pastors were each given gift bags that contained an assortment of books, teaching CDs, and other items. At least some of the bags contained a copy of a book written by David Timms, a professor at Hope International University who puts an emphasis on spiritual formation and teaches a course in lectio divina.1 Timms’ book, titled Living the Lord’s Prayer, is one that strongly promotes contemplative spirituality and includes favorable mention of the use of mantras as well as reference to panentheistic mystic Thomas Merton.

The publisher of the book, Bethany House Publishers, says Living the Lord’s Prayer “examines the Lord’s prayer as a simple but profound framework for the journey toward Christian maturity” (copyright page). This “maturity” is described in the introduction of the book (titled “The Lord’s Prayer and Spiritual Formation”) as spiritual formation. Rick Warren recognized this connection between “maturity” and “spiritual formation” in his own book, The Purpose Driven Church, when he stated that the “Spiritual Formation Movement” (ala Richard Foster and Dallas Willard) would develop “believers to full maturity” through “spiritual disciplines” (p. 126). When contemplative teachers say “maturity,” they mean that Christians who want to go deeper with God or develop more intimacy must implement the practice of contemplative prayer (i.e., they must go into the silence where all distractions are removed and where they can hear the voice of God). Thus, the prerequisite for “maturity” is not merely being born-again and having Christ in us (Colossians 1:27) as our Lord and Savior but is more so putting aside doctrines, as Thomas Merton encouraged (see note below) and entering the mystical realm through contemplative prayer practices. Ray Yungen offers some interesting insights:

In a booklet put out by Saddleback Church on spiritual maturity, the following quote by Henri Nouwen is listed:

Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists, but that He is actively present in our lives–healing, teaching, and guiding–we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention.2

When we understand what Nouwen really means by “time and space” given to God we can also see the emptiness and deception of his spirituality. In his recent biography of Nouwen, God’s Beloved, Michael O’ Laughlin says:

Some new elements began to emerge in Nouwen’s thinking when he discovered Thomas Merton. Merton opened up for Henri an enticing vista of the world of contemplation and a way of seeing not only God but also the world through new eyes…. If ever there was a time when Henri Nouwen wished to enter the realm of the spiritual masters or dedicate himself to a higher spiritual path, it was when he fell under the spell of Cistercian monasticism and the writings of Thomas Merton.3 (from A Time of Departing, pp. 192-193)

In the book by David Timms that was passed out to Calvary Chapel pastors, Timms is not shy about showing his unsurpassing admiration for such mystics and their spirituality. Of Thomas Merton, he fondly identifies Merton as “one of the most influential Roman Catholic authors of the twentieth century” and “an acclaimed spiritual author” (p. 225). Timms uses Merton and Henri Nouwen as examples of those who helped others develop “intimacy” with God through their writings (p. 18). “If we summarize these saints of the past [Merton and Nouwen], we develop quite a catalog of pathways [to intimacy with God],” Timms states. “We draw nearer to God through: … Spiritual disciplines of silence … Meditative prayer” (p. 18). In a section Timms titles “A Mantra,” he encourages the use of a “repeated word or phrase.” He footnotes this section, saying:

Many people associate the term with Hinduism or New Age practices. However, the idea of a repeated word or phrase has a long and meaningful history in the church. For a helpful discussion, see John Main (Word into Silence). (p. 226)

John Main (a Catholic mystic) is most known for the “way of the mantra.” Richard Foster recognized the eastern influence of Main’s spirituality when he said: “Dom John Main understood well the value of both silence and solitude … Main rediscovered meditation while living in the Far East.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 155). Out of India says this of John Main:

Main “rediscovered meditation” from his Hindu guru, Swami Satyananda from whom he “recognized the practice of the mantra” and came to use it in prayer sessions three times a day. Main died in 1982, but he left a “legacy” known as the way of the mantra, and many have been influenced by his beliefs (OIA, p. 177)

For David Timms to recommend readers to turn to John Main can leave no doubt as to Timms’ conviction that mantra-style meditation is a legitimate form of prayer for the Christian. Even emerging church leader Tony Jones, on page 215 of his book The Sacred Way makes the unmistakably clear statement that “Benedictine monk John Main combined Christian teaching with Hindu meditation to form a mantra-type meditation.”

Timm’s book is filled with many other references to those who promote this type of spirituality: St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila (see Castles in the Sand for information on Teresa of Avila), Madame Jeanne Guyon, Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, David Benner (author of Sacred Companions), Parker Palmer, and Dallas Willard.

There may be some reading this article who do not understand the true nature of mantra meditation and why it isn’t compatible with biblical Christianity. The following quotes will clarify the dynamics behind mantra usage:

“When one enters the deeper layers of contemplative prayer one sooner or later experiences the void, the emptiness, the nothingness … the profound mystical silence … an absence of thought.”–William Johnson (Letters to Contemplatives, p. 7)

“[S]ilence, appropriate body posture and, above all, emptying the mind through repetition of prayer–have been the practices of mystics in all the great world religions. And they form the basis on which most modern spiritual directors guide those who want to draw closer to God.”–Newsweek (“Talking to God” 1/6/92)

“A form of Christian meditation [contemplative], its practitioners are trained to focus on an inner symbol that quiets the mind…. When practitioners become skilled at this method of meditation, they undergo a deep trance state similar to auto-hypnosis.”–Jacquelyn Small (Awakening in Time, p. 261)

“[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer….. [C]ontemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness … we must come to see reality differently…. Choose a single, sacred word … repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.”–Brennan Manning (Signature of Jesus, pp. 212, 216, 218) (quotes from A Time of Departing)

This is the spirituality of which David Timms resonates with. For Calvary Chapel to hand Living the Lord’s Prayer out in pastors’ gift bags is an indication that the Calvary Chapel organization is being impacted by proponents of contemplative spirituality, as are most other evangelical denominations and organizations today. Calvary Chapel Distribution (the resource arm of Calvary Chapel) added Living the Lord’s Prayer to their store website in March of 2009 and is currently selling the book to Calvary Chapel pastors and leaders. 1

What will happen to the Christian of the future if this move toward the mystical continues? Will Karl Rahner be right when he says the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will be nothing at all? Ray Yungen expresses his concern for the Christian of the future:

Evangelical Christianity is now being invited, perhaps even catapulted into seeing God with these new eyes of contemplative prayer. And so the question must be asked, is Thomas Merton’s silence, Henri Nouwen’s space, and Richard Foster’s contemplative prayer the way in which we can know and be close to God? Or is this actually a spiritual belief system that is contrary to the true message that the Bible so absolutely defines–that there is only one way to God and that is through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the Cross obtained our full salvation?

If indeed my concerns for the future actually come to fruition, then we will truly enter a time of departing….

[However] there is hope for the Christian of the future. In Christ, we do have a sure hope, and we have His promise in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not prevail against us. Yes, there will be a time of departing as the Bible predicts, and we can be sure an apostate church will help usher in the “man of sin” at the appointed time, but there will also be the Bride who makes herself ready for the Lord’s return.(ATOD, p. 193)

While many pastors, like Calvary Chapel’s Chuck and Paul Smith, have tried to stand against the new mystical spirituality, a new generation of pastors are having a major influence and taking many Christians right into the contemplative camp. These younger pastors have often been trained at contemplative/emerging-promoting colleges (ones like Biola University and Wheaton College) and have come to believe that their ancient/future way of spirituality is the right path to follow. And often, because many of the evangelical churches’ more established pastors have not maintained a steady habit of learning about, warning against, and standing against spiritual deception, they don’t even recognize what the newer trained pastors are presenting to the body of Christ.

The Bible tells us not to be ignorant of the devices of the devil (II Corinthians 2:11). While no believer wants to have to think about such devices, we are instructed to understand them, identify them, and warn about them. A case in point, the fact that Rick Warren is rarely criticized or challenged by mainstream Christian leaders, and yet is one of the biggest and most influential advocates of contemplative emerging spirituality, speaks volumes to the condition of most Christian leaders and pastors today. Thomas Merton would be rejoicing today to know that David Timms book is being offered to Calvary Chapel pastors. But remember what that same Thomas Merton said about contemplative experiences: “Isn’t it a pity that people are going into LSD to have spiritual experiences, when we have a tradition in the Church [contemplative prayer] which no one knows anything about?”4 Merton was likening the contemplative experience to a drug trip. He further indicates the culmination of practicing this altered state of consciousness (which makes one feel one with the universe, one with God, in short a part of God Himself) when he states:

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race … now I realize what we all are…. If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth…. This little point … is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.5

Is this really the message that Christian pastors want to convey to their congregations?

Notes:
2. Henri Nouwen, cited in Saddleback training book, Soul Construction: SolitudeTool (Lake Forest, CA: Saddleback Church, 2003), p. 12.
3. Michael O’ Laughlin, God’s Beloved (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 178.
4. Click here for source to Merton quote.
5. Taken from chapter 3 A Time of Departing, quoting Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.

Note on Merton and doctrine: Ray Yungen documents correspondence Merton had with a Sufi master. The two were discussing fana (eastern mysticism). Merton asked the Sufi leader what the Muslim view of salvation was. The Sufi answered that Islam “does not subscribe to the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption.” Merton replied:

“Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs [doctrines] differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas … in words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution…. 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.” (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 110.

Those who study contemplative spirituality from a critical point of view come to understand this is pure contemplative spirituality – doctrine stands in the way of unity and oneness; mysticism eradicates that problem. (from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed. pp. 59-60.)

More information on the Calvary Chapel situation, click here.

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