Posts Tagged ‘celebration of discipline’
Letter to the Editor: Please Add BiblicalTraining.Org to Colleges/Schools Promoting Spiritual Formation (Contemplative Prayer)
To Lighthouse Trails:
I have been studying Bill Mounce’s “Basics of Biblical Greek” textbook. It is an excellent course of study, but Mr. Mounce puts a plug for his website biblicaltraining.org. Though they are a Calvinist-based ministry, there are some good apologetic things and history things that I’ve looked at. I was shocked though when in their Foundations area (designed for new or young Christians) they have an entire course on Spiritual Formation. I thought it might just be a bad choice of words so I checked the syllabus. It turns out the instructor quotes Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and references the “Nine Sacred Pathways.” I have e-mailed Bill Mounce twice to see if he is aware of it (because he is the head of it, I believe) and have yet to receive a response. I included some links to Lighthouse Trails articles on Richard Foster and Spiritual Formation. Pending Mr. Mounce’s response, is there any way you could see if Lighthouse Trails could add the BiblicalTraining.org website to its list of schools that teach contemplative practices and spiritual formation? It concerns me because of the influence that Mr. Mounce has. He was on the NIV committee and the ESV committee, and I believe his Greek grammar is one of the most used in the country in seminaries. The website does not have an e-mail that I’ve found to reach the teacher who is teaching it directly. His name is Gary Thomas. He apparently wrote a book called, Sacred Pathways: Discover your soul’s path to God. I honestly can’t tell if he really understands what the terms “spiritual formation,” “spiritual disciplines,” and so forth really mean. In Lecture 8: Spiritual Formation: Three Pathways to Grow Part 2, time marker 32:41, he makes a plug for Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, and Dallas Willard’s book also, and also a Donald Whitney (who I’m not familiar with).
Thank you for your e-mail. It seems that we do need to add the school to our list of schools that promote contemplative prayer, ie.,spiritual formation. We are very familiar with Gary Thomas and had correspondence with him several years ago. He very much understands the term spiritual formation, and he is a strong advocate of contemplative prayer. We would say that the school is in big trouble. We would like to post your e-mail to give a heads up to our readers, but we will refrain until you give us permission. We don’t want to hurt any of your efforts. But from our experience, it is most likely Bill Mounce is fully aware of what is going on there at that school.
(Lighthouse Trails did receive permission to post this e-mail; we have also added Biblical Training to our list of Christian colleges and seminaries that promote/teach Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative spirituality.)
“Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality with millions of copies sold since its original publication in 1978.”—Publisher description
LTRP Note: Keep in mind three things as you read this article: 1) a strong link exists between Thomas Merton and the evangelical church, and that link is Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline); 2) Richard Foster once said Thomas Merton “stands as one of the greatest twentieth-century embodiments of spiritual life as a journey”(1); 3) the current “Spiritual Formation” movement within Christianity was spawned by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, and both men were ignited by Thomas Merton.
As you read this account of Thomas Merton, know that this same spiritual outlook that is described below has entered the church in no small way. Maybe it’s time you ask your pastor, “What do you think about Richard Foster and Celebration of Discipline?”
By Ray Yungen
What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to, and popular with, the masses. I personally have been researching Thomas Merton and the contemplative prayer movement for over 20 years, and for me, hands down, Thomas Merton has influenced the Christian mystical movement more than any person of recent decades.
Merton penned one of the most classic descriptions of contemplative spirituality I have ever come across. He explained:
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. 2 (emphasis mine)
This panentheistic (i.e., God in everyone) view is similar to the occultic definition of the higher self.
In order to understand Merton’s connection to mystical occultism, we need first to understand a sect of the Muslim world—the Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam. They chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances, and experience God in everything. A prominent Catholic audiotape company promotes a series of cassettes Merton did on Sufism. It explains:
Merton loved and shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam. Here he shares their profound spirituality.3
To further show Merton’s “spiritual kinship” with Sufism, in a letter to a Sufi Master, Merton disclosed, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana.”4 So what is fana? The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult defines it as “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness”5 (meaning all is one and all is God).
Merton saw the Sufi concept of fana as being a catalyst for Muslim unity with Christianity despite the obvious doctrinal differences. In a dialogue with a Sufi leader, Merton asked about the Muslim concept of salvation. The master wrote back stating:
Islam inculcates individual responsibility for one’s actions and does not subscribe to the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption.6 (emphasis added)
To Merton, of course, this meant little because he believed that fana and contemplation were the same thing. He responded:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs [the atonement]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.7 (emphasis mine)
Merton himself underlined that point when he told a group of contemplative women:
I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism.8
And he elaborated elsewhere:
Asia, Zen, Islam, etc., all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk.9 (emphasis mine)
When we evaluate Merton’s mystical worldview, it clearly resonates with what technically would be considered traditional New Age thought. This is an inescapable fact!
Merton’s mystical experiences ultimately made him a kindred spirit and co-mystic with those in Eastern religions because his insights were identical to their insights. At an interfaith conference in Thailand, he stated:
I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions.10
Please understand that contemplative prayer alone was the catalyst for such theological views. One of Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East.11
This was the ripe fruit of the Desert Fathers, the ancient monks who borrowed mystical methods from Eastern religion, which altered their understanding of God. This is what one gets from contemplative prayer. There is no other way to put it. It does not take being a scholar to see the logic in this.
(This is an excerpt from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing.)
1. Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 84.
2. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
3. Credence Cassettes magazine, Winter/Lent, 1998, p. 24.
4. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), p. 115, citing from The Hidden Ground of Love), pp. 63-64.
5. Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 85.
6. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 109.
7. Ibid., p. 110.
8. Ibid., p. 69.
9. Ibid., p. 41.
10. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
11. Ibid., p. 281.
For many years now, Lighthouse Trails has been trying to warn the body of Christ about the book that first introduced contemplative spirituality into the evangelical/Protestant church. That book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, was released in 1978, and in that first edition, Foster said, “we should all without shame enroll in the school of contemplative prayer.” Since then, and largely because of the influence of that book, contemplative spirituality has saturated the church in no small way, and many Christians have truly “enroll[ed] in the school of contemplative prayer.” Through our research, we have determined that over 90% of the Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities (the places our future pastors are trained at) have, to one degree or another, accepted Richard Foster’s spirituality via their Spiritual Formation programs (which always use textbooks either by Foster or ones that point to him). What’s more, from years of research and correspondence from believers, we estimate that a copy of Celebration of Discipline sits on the bookshelves of the majority of Christian pastors and leaders today.
While we have dedicated ourselves day and night for 15 years to bringing this issue to the table of present-day Christianity, hoping to see Christian leaders at least acknowledge that there is an issue here, our message has, for the most part, been rejected or simply ignored by the evangelical leadership. And yet, one of the most prominent, well-known, and respected evangelical leaders has himself put into print that Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline promotes New Age practices. Here are Jeremiah’s own words from his book, The New Spirituality in the chapter titled “New Age Influence in the Church” (subtitled: In this lesson we see how the New Age movement is changing the church):
Sometimes false doctrine—and in the case of this present study, New Age ideology—gets into the church from within, and sometimes from without the body. Once it infects the church it can spread like an infection. . . .
Dr. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist, was attending one of the most respected, and largest Baptist churches in the country. He was astounded to hear the huge choir singing a song whose lyrics included: “I [meaning God] am the grass you walk in, I am the air you breathe, I am the water you swim in.” That is pure pantheism. God is not the grass, nor the air, nor the water. Those are all elements He created, and He is totally distinct from them. It is shocking that someone in the leadership either didn’t have the discernment to recognize what the lyrics were saying, was too busy with musical things to notice. But that’s how New Age influence enters the church—when no one is watching.
Dr. Geisler has also made some notes on the contents of one of the best-selling Christian books of our day, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Geisler noted some 15 different places in the book where New Age and Eastern practices were recommended for Christians—thing such as Transcendental Meditation, turning from “manyness” to “oneness,” meditating on the void (nothing), and others. (The New Spirituality, David Jeremiah, Turning Point, 2002, pp. 106-107; emphasis added)
David Jeremiah acknowledges that once New Age ideology “infects the church it can spread like an infection.” And surely, we have seen this take place.
Two things are sad and confusing: First, Christian leaders must not share David Jeremiah’s concerns about Celebration of Discipline because 14 years after Jeremiah stated wrote this, Foster’s influence has only escalated within the church and Christian colleges. Second, and this we find most confusing, one year after The New Spirituality was published, Jeremiah’s book Life Wide Open was released. In that book, as we have written about in the past on a number of occasions, Jeremiah says there are a handful of people who have learned the secret to living a passionate life (for God), and then he proceeds to name a number of these people which include New Age sympathizers, a Buddhist sympathizer who converted to Catholicism, ecumenist and contemplative advocate Rick Warren, and a Catholic contemplative mystic. You can read about this in our article “David Jeremiah’s Book Life Wide Open – Still Sold on His Website – Still Includes New Agers.”
While we cannot understand how David Jeremiah could favorably point to those with New Age persuasions shortly after warning about the New Age in The New Spirituality, nevertheless, a major player in today’s Christian church warned about Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and the practices that book endorses.
Perhaps not too many pastors and leaders read David Jeremiah’s book, The New Spirituality. Perhaps they have no idea what David Jeremiah (and Norm Geisler) think about Richard Foster’s book. If you have a pastor, and you think he might have a copy of Celebration of Discipline in his pastor’s library, you might consider printing this article and giving him a copy. Tell him, this time it isn’t Lighthouse Trails saying it but rather is a leader whom they most likely respect saying it.
First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with mystical contemplative prayer and the New Age. Most likely, your pastor has a copy of this book sitting on his library shelves. He may even have it sitting on his desk for easy reach and reference. Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal), wrote the book and even he may have had no idea the impact this book would have. But 38 years later, it is still being read, and in fact, Christian leaders and organizations continue promoting the book.
Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “contemplative prayer” is the eastern style mantra meditation to which mystic monk Thomas Merton adhered. In fact, Richard Foster once told Ray Yungen (author of A Time of Departing) that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people” (at a conference in Salem, OR).
Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “become as good a Buddhist” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing . . . mysticism and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 17) And yet, Thomas Merton once told New Age Episcopal priest Matthew Fox that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the mystical (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. (Interview) We couldn’t agree with him more. Both altered states are the same, and neither lead to God.
Listed under “excellent books on spirituality,” in some editions of Celebration of Discipline, Foster says of Tilden Edwards’ book, Spiritual Friend that it helps “clear away the confusion and invites us to see that we do not have to live the spiritual life in isolation.” And yet, Tilden Edwards, founder of the Christian/Buddhist Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, said that contemplative spirituality was the “Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”(Spiritual Friend, p. 18). On the Shalem Institute website you can find numerous quotes, references, articles, and recommendations to panentheism, universalism, interspirituality, New Age, and Eastern thought.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us “we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation” (COD, p.13.) He goes on to say that the “masters of meditation beckon us.” Just prior to that remark, he quotes Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.
Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people. The late Henri Nouwen, a popular contemplative who also followed the teachings of Thomas Merton, made a telling statement towards the end of his life:
I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God (emphasis added – Sabbatical Journey, p. 51).
Today, countless ministers and ministries are promoting and endorsing Celebration of Discipline. If they really knew what Foster’s “celebration” was all about, we think many of them would race away from the teachings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster and back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Note: If your pastor or someone you know has a copy of Celebration of Discipline or quotes Richard Foster, be sure and give him a copy of Ray Yungen’s new booklet A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer. Also, want to know what Spiritual Formation is (and its dangers), read this: Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t
NEW BOOKLET TRACT Provides Irrefutable Evidence: A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer
LTRP Note: For thirteen years, Lighthouse Trails has been warning about the contemplative prayer movement. In this new booklet tract, Ray Yungen has provided new information that makes the contemplative argument (against it) irrefutable. We intend to send a copy of this booklet to all of the major Christian leaders whom we have challenged including Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Focus on the Family, Dr. George Wood (AOG), and Erwin Lutzer. If these leaders will read this evidence, we do not see how they can continue to promote contemplative spirituality or Richard Foster’s “school” of contemplative prayer.
A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer by Ray Yungen is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 14 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklet Tracts are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer, click here.
A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer
[W]e should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.1—Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth
Christianity is not complete without the contemplative dimension.2—Richard Foster
In Portland, Oregon there is a large bookstore devoted entirely to New Age spirituality. Every Eastern mystical and metaphysical topic under the sun is found there. Interestingly, there is a sizable section on contemplative prayer with Catholic monk Thomas Merton having a whole shelf devoted just to his writings. Why would a New Age bookstore give valuable space to a topic that purports to be Christian? That is a legitimate question. May I suggest the reason is that the “Christian” mystical tradition (i.e., contemplative prayer) shares a sense of profound kinship with the Eastern mystical tradition. There is ample evidence to support this claim.
In this booklet, we are going to examine a few of the major players in the contemplative prayer movement to show that Richard Foster’s “school” of contemplative prayer does not belong in Christianity. In fact, as you will see, the message behind it is the very opposite of biblical Christianity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the “School” of Contemplative Prayer?
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says “we should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.” What does he mean when he says “school” of contemplative prayer? When Foster uses the word school, he does not mean, of course, a building or an institution somewhere. For example, Webster’s New World College Dictionary has nine different definitions for the word school. The one that fits what we are trying to get across is:
. . . a group of people held together by the same teachings, beliefs, opinions, methods, etc.3
When one examines the spiritual context of this definition, one can see what kind of spiritual “fruit” it produces. The only way you can ascertain the real essence of a movement is to look at the leaders or prominent individuals in that “school” to see just where their practices have led them, what conclusions they have come to, and what propels their vision of truth.
Let’s first establish what is meant by the word contemplation. Carl McColman in his Big Book of Christian Mysticism explains the context of it in the following way:
[Contemplation] comes from the Latin word contemplare, which means “to observe” or “to notice.” The word is also rooted in the word “temple,” however, relating it to sacred space. . . . Once Christianized, contemplation lost its association with divination [soothsaying] and came to signify the prayerful practice of attending to the presence of God.4
So if Foster is correct, the leaders of this movement are those who have turned to the presence of God in a unique and profound way, and their methods should be followed to achieve the same results.
Now let’s look at the spiritual perspectives of these leaders in the “school of contemplative prayer.”
Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, is the most widely recognized of the modern-day contemplative writers. His influence is enormous in the contemplative field. Richard Foster quotes Merton over a dozen times in Celebration of Discipline and in other books as well, and many other evangelicals also quote Merton. The following entry from Merton’s published work, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (written during his last trip to Asia*) speaks volumes as to Merton’s spiritual sympathies:
We went looking first for Chatral Rimpoche [a Tibetan holy man] at his hermitage above Ghoom. . . . We were told he was at an ani gompa, a nunnery, down the road. . . . So off we went toward Bagdogra and with some difficulty found the tiny nunnery . . . and there was Chatral, the greatest rimpoche [a Buddhist teacher] I have met so far and a very impressive person.
. . . We started talking about dzogchen and Nyingmapa meditation and “direct realization” and soon saw that we agreed very well. . . . The unspoken or half-spoken message of the talk was our complete understanding of each other as people who were somehow on the edge of great realization . . . and that it was a grace for us to meet one another. I wish I could see more of Chatral. He burst out and called me a rangjung Sangay (which apparently means a “natural Buddha”) . . . He told me, seriously, that perhaps he and I would attain to complete Buddhahood in our next lives, perhaps even in this life, and the parting note was a kind of compact that we would both do our best to make it in this life. I was profoundly moved, because he is so obviously a great man, the true practitioner of dzogchen, the best of the Nyingmapa lamas, marked by complete simplicity and freedom. He was surprised at getting on so well with a Christian and at one point laughed and said, “There must be something wrong here!” If I were going to settle down with a Tibetan guru, I think Chatral would be the one I’d choose.5 (emphasis added)
An equally revealing aspect of Merton’s Asian trip is what he experienced at a Buddhist shrine in Ceylon:
. . . an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. . . . All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya [the unity of all things and all people]. . . I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely . . . my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I . . . have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains.6 (emphasis added)
Why would someone who was so heavily involved in “Christian” mysticism be so entwined in and enthusiastically embracing of Buddhist mysticism? I considered titling this booklet Something’s Wrong Here because even though Chatral meant it in a positive way, when he said those words to Merton, he himself was shocked that Merton, a professing Christian, was basically on the same page as him and that they were able to fellowship.
One of Merton’s biographers, William Shannon, made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East.7
What Merton meant by “dharmakaya” is actually what the New Age and eastern religions call cosmic consciousness (i.e., God is in everything and everybody.) But Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, guarantees the reader that what he’s promoting will not lead to cosmic consciousness. He states, “It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.”8
Foster’s attempt to assuage any suspicion of practicing contemplative prayer is countered by William Shannon’s assertion that it was precisely contemplative prayer that brought Merton into his embracing of this Buddhist worldview.
A skeptic might say, well, Merton was just an anomaly who got off track, but in general the contemplative leads to the God of the Bible. I beg to differ. To show this is not the case, we need to look at other teachers in the “school of contemplative prayer.”
Dutch Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, would probably rank second to Merton in influence and admiration. Popular evangelical author Tony Campolo calls Nouwen “one of the great Christians of our time,” stating:
[Nouwen’s] writings have guided and inspired Christians of all persuasions . . . whose life was a brilliant example of twentieth-century saintliness.9
Campolo’s admiration is widely mirrored in the evangelical world; just as Merton is quoted in many evangelical books these days, so also is Nouwen. Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife, is one of the popular evangelicals who sees great value in Nouwen’s work:
My wife, Kay, recommends this book: “It’s a short book, but it hits at the heart of the minister. It mentions the struggles common to those of us in ministry: the temptation to be relevant, spectacular and powerful. I highlighted almost every word!”10 (emphasis added)
The book Kay Warren recommends is In the Name of Jesus by Nouwen, who devotes an entire chapter of that book to contemplative prayer, saying:
Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love . . . For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required.11 (emphasis added)
But just as Merton had absorbed eastern spirituality so too had Nouwen, which is no surprise because he was a disciple of Merton. Nouwen wrote the foreword to a book that mixes Christianity with Hindu spirituality, in which he says:
[T]he author shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian . . . Ryan [the author] went to India to learn from spiritual traditions other than his own. He brought home many treasures and offers them to us in the book.12
Nouwen apparently took these approaches seriously himself. In his book, The Way of the Heart, he advised his readers:
The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart . . . This way of simple prayer . . . opens us to God’s active presence.13
But what “God’s active presence” taught him, unfortunately, stood more in line with Hinduism than evangelical Christianity. He wrote:
Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one, . . . It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is.14 (emphasis mine)
Again, a Christian admirer of Nouwen may think the previous quotes could fit into a legitimate Christian experience of God’s love and grace and that I am just taking these out of context. But this is certainly not the case. Nouwen himself revealed his spiritual influences in his diary, Sabbatical Journey, which he wrote shortly before his death:
On our way to the health club I had bought a Walkman to listen to an audiotape with a talk by Matthew Fox called “Creation, Spirituality, and the Seven Chakras.” So, while working up a sweat on the trotter, I tried to make my time useful listening to Matthew Fox.15
This piece of information reveals that Nouwen was connected to the idea that the chakras, (which the previous quotes are based on) are integral to spiritual development. The crown chakra, in particular, is the one that is tied to the idea that all is one and the unity of everything that is.16
In the book, The Essential Henri Nouwen, which is published by Shambhala Publications (a Buddhist publishing house), Nouwen said contemplative prayer “opens our eyes to the presence of the divine Spirit in all that surrounds us.”17 That is exactly the same as what Merton meant by dharmakaya, that God is in everything that exists (panentheism, which mirrors occultism).
Thomas Keating, a trappist monk like Merton, is head of an organization called Contemplative Outreach. He is closely identified with the contemplative prayer (which he calls centering prayer) movement. Keating has written numerous books on the subject of contemplative prayer; in fact, one of evangelical Christianity’s most popular teachers, Ruth Haley Barton, considers Keating to be a strong spiritual influence in her life.18
Keating actually makes this point when he informs his readers that “‘meditation’ means to people exposed to Eastern methods what we Christians mean by contemplation as a way of disregarding the usual flow of thoughts for certain periods of time.”19
As with the others, Keating went in a Hindu or New Age direction, and he wrote the foreword to a book devoted to what practitioners of Yoga call the Kundalini or serpent power:
Since this energy [kundalini] is also at work today in numerous persons who are devoting themselves to contemplative prayer, this book is an important contribution to the renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition. It will be a great consolation to those who have experienced physical symptoms arising from the awakening of kundalini in the course of their spiritual journey . . . Most spiritual disciplines world-wide insist on some kind of serious discipline before techniques of awakening kundalini are communicated. In Christian tradition . . . the regular practice of the stages of Christian prayer . . . contemplation are the essential disciplines.20
To show how far someone can stray using contemplative prayer as a way to reach God, Keating is a perfect example. Keating enthusiastically endorses a book titled Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey in Christian Hermeticism. Fortune-telling Tarot cards are one of the major tools for divination in occultism; and Hermeticism is a set of ancient esoteric beliefs based on the writings of Hermes Trismegistus, the one who coined the occult term “as above so below.” Keating said the book is one of the “great spiritual classics of this century.”21 He drifted so afield from even Catholicism that it is difficult to comprehend.
Without a doubt, Catholic priest Richard Rohr is one of the most prominent living proponents of contemplative prayer today. His organization, The Center for Contemplation and Action, is a bastion for contemplative spirituality. And like our other contemplative prayer “school” masters, he has been embraced by numerous popular evangelical authors. Richard Foster, for example, had Rohr on an advisory board for a 2010 book Foster edited titled 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Devotional Classics.22
Rohr has essentially become the new Thomas Merton to an entirely new generation of evangelical Christians. In an interview, Rohr said:
[O]ne of my publishers . . . told me that right now my single biggest demographic is young evangelicals—young evangelicals. Some of my books are rather heavy. I’m just amazed.23
Rohr’s statement is correct about young evangelicals. A case in point is an organization called IF: Gathering. The leaders of IF are dynamic energetic women who hold large conferences geared primarily toward young evangelical women. While these women may be sincere in what they are trying to do, they promote figures such as emergent leaders Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, as well as Richard Rohr. Lighthouse Trails has published a booklet on IF that I encourage you to read to understand the full scope of this growing women’s movement.24
To further understand the significance of this, Rohr is a prominent champion for the idea of a global religion that would unify the world. He says that “religion needs a new language.”25 And that language to bring about this one-world religion is mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer)! Rohr stated:
Right now there is an emergence . . . it’s coming from so many different traditions and sources and parts of the world. Maybe it’s an example of the globalization of spirituality.26
This view ties in perfectly with the emerging church’s perspective that is so popular among younger evangelicals today. It’s no wonder that Richard Rohr and emerging church leaders (such as Brian McLaren) are so supportive of each other and endorse each other’s books.
In echoing Merton and Nouwen, Rohr also advocates the concept of dharmakaya. This is the recurring theme of the “school” of contemplative prayer. Rohr states:
God’s hope for humanity is that one day we will all recognize that the divine dwelling place is all of creation. Christ comes again whenever we see that matter and spirit co-exist. This truly deserves to be called good news.27
To dispel any confusion about what Rohr is saying, he makes it clear in the same paragraph what he means by God dwelling in all creation. He uses a term that one finds throughout contemplative literature, which signifies that Christ is more of an energy than a personal being. Rohr explains the term “cosmic Christ,” telling readers that everything and everyone belongs to God’s kingdom.28 That’s even the name of one of his books, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.
In his 2011 book, Falling Upward, Rohr implies that we (humanity) are all an “immaculate conception.”29 If these things are true, then there was no need for Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for the sins of mankind. We would not need a Savior because we would already be divine ourselves. In truth, contemplative spirituality is the antithesis of the Gospel. That is why there are countless mystics who claim to know God (or Jesus) but will have nothing to do with the Cross.
The New Age Connection
Lighthouse Trails Publishing’s main endeavor since its inception has been to show the strong connection between the contemplative prayer movement and the broader spectrum of New Age spirituality as pointed out at the beginning of this booklet. One can prove the overwhelmingly strong parallels. The authors I have just profiled are not unique in what they say. I could list several pages of other contemplative authors that say the identical things.
I want to showcase one other author who represents the typical contemplative viewpoint. Tom Harpur, a well-known author, broadcaster, and Anglican priest in Canada sums up what you would find in virtually every contemplative book from the Roman Catholic and Anglican tradition. In talking about his upbringing in the traditional Anglican church, he explains the radical difference between his former Christianity and his contemplative Christianity:
There was much more emphasis on our basic sinfulness and depravity than there ever was on the possibility of God already being present in our souls or “hearts.” I was told to again accept Christ and “let him come in” instead of being helped to acknowledge the fact that all I had to do was to open my inner eye and realize God was already there waiting to be known and followed. We were taught little, if anything, about the great mystics and about the long tradition of meditation in our own Christian faith.30 (emphasis added)
Harpur makes Lighthouse Trails’ point very succinctly that the mystical tradition that is coming to the forefront now does not correspond to the biblical Gospel that has been at the heart of Christianity.
Let me say this: If the contemplative prayer movement was not connected to historically respected denominations, that if it was an independent organization such as the ones found in books on cults, then the contemplative prayer movement would be labeled a cult by most evangelical organizations because of the extreme aberrations one finds concerning the Gospel. Merton’s dharmakaya cannot be reconciled with justification through faith by the blood of Christ.
The Age of Enlightenment
Another good example to show that contemplative prayer shares the same view as known occultists can be found in a book called Tomorrow’s God by New Age author Neale Donald Walsch, in which he presents the coming world religion that will unify mankind in what is called the Age of Aquarius or Age of Enlightenment (i.e., the New Age). He says the first step is to “[b]egin a schedule of daily practice in meditation, deep prayer, silent listening.”31 After giving the mechanics of the new spirituality, Walsch gives the theology which is: “In the days of the New spirituality the unity of all things will be experiential.”32
This is what the contemplatives experience in their mystical sessions. Walsch again says, “The Big Idea is that there is only One God, and this one God does not care whether you are Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Mormon, or have no religion at all.”33 This is basically what Richard Rohr is saying in Everything Belongs. And this is the reason why Richard Foster’s “school” of contemplative prayer is not, and never will be, compatible with traditional biblical Christianity or the Gospel message proclaimed by Jesus Christ and his disciples.
If I were to ever meet someone who asked me, “why are you out to destroy Richard Foster?,” I would tell them: I actually care about Richard Foster. The things I write about him are not out of malice or ill-will but out of a deep sense of commitment to his and his readers’ spiritual well-being. Celebration of Discipline is at the heart (both directly or indirectly) of the majority of Spiritual Formation programs in Bible schools, seminaries, Christian colleges, and universities. What the Tibetan holy man said in response to Thomas Merton’s belief—“There must be something wrong here!”—is the same sentiment that propels the writing of this booklet. There is something wrong here!
Contrary to what the contemplatives teach, there is duality, and the Bible teaches it—there are the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, the saved and the unsaved, and the righteous and the unrighteous. New Age thinkers would reject this because they believe all is God. In the contemplative camp when Richard Rohr says everything belongs, this is what makes it New Age. The golden calf and Yahweh are not the same God. It was the cause for God’s anger. Simply put, everything does not belong!
My prayer is that people can see the logic in this. And what makes it even more imperative is that this contemplative view comes from supernatural sources. We are not dealing with just human perspectives and ideas.
Richard Foster’s “school” of contemplative prayer employs the same methods as those of Richard Rohr and Thomas Merton that lead to a certain perception. The following quote by Foster further illustrates this:
We shut out every other source of stimulation—sensual, intellectual and reflective—in order to focus on God alone. At this level, we even move beyond our thoughts of God in order to dwell in his presence without thought or distraction.34
This is exactly the contemplative prayer that Thomas Merton embraced, which led Episcopal priest Brian C. Taylor to say:
The God he [Merton] knew in prayer was the same experience that Buddhists describe in their enlightenment.35
What we conclude is that Thomas Merton’s spirituality has come into the evangelical church through Richard Foster’s “school” of contemplative prayer. And this is one school where no Christian should enroll.
To order copies of A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer, click here.
1. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978 edition), p. 13.
2. Interview with Richard Foster, Lou Davies Radio Program (KPAM radio, Portland, Oregon, Nov. 24, 1998).
3. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, p. 1283.
4. Carl McColman, Big Book of Christian Mysticism (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Road Publishing, 2010), p. 222.
5. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1975), pp. 234-236.
7. William Shannon, Silence on Fire (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1991), p. 99.
8. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (HarperCollins, 2009, Kindle Edition), p. 17.
9. Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind (Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2004), p. 72.
10. Rick Warren quoting Kay Warren on the Ministry Toolbox (Issue #54, 6/5/2002, http://web.archive.org/web/20050306004007/http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/?ID=54).
11. Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 2000), pp. 6, 31-32.
12. Thomas Ryan, Disciplines for Christian Living (Mawah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), pp. 2-3 (the foreword by Henri Nouwen).
13. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991), p. 81.
14. Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1997), Jan. 15 and Nov. 16 daily readings.
15. Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 496-497.
16. These two thoughts are found in the writings of Matthew Fox and many other New Age advocates.
17. Robert A. Jonas (Editor), The Essential Henri Nouwen (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2009), p. 38.
18. Lighthouse Trails Editors, “More Evidence and a Final Plea as Assemblies of God Conference with Ruth Haley Barton Begins August 5th” (Lighthouse Trails blog: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=12401).
19. Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994), p. 117.
20. Philip St. Romain, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (Crossroad, 1995). This excerpt is in the foreword by Thomas Keating.
21. Thomas Keating, review: http://www.allthingshealing.com/Tarot/Book-Review-Meditations-on-the-Tarot/9699#.VeGxISLbKos.
22. Lighthouse Trails Editors, “Richard Foster’s Renovare Turns to Panentheist Mystic Richard Rohr and Emerging Darling Phyllis Tickle For New Book Project” (September 14, 2010, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=4986).
23. Kristen Hobby, “What Happens When Religion Isn’t Doing Its Job: an interview with Richard Rohr, OFM” (Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, Volume 20, No. 1, March 2014), pp. 6-11.
24. You can read the entire booklet at: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=17334 or purchase it as a booklet at www.lighthousetrails.com.
25. Kristen Hobby interview with Richard Rohr, op. cit. , p. 6
27. Rich Heffern, “The Eternal Christ in the Cosmic Story” (National Catholic Reporter, December 11, 2009, http://ncronline.org/news/spirituality/eternal-christ-cosmic-story).
29. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2011), p. ix.
30. Tom Harpur, Prayer: The Hidden Fire (Wood Lake Publishing, Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 1099-1102.
31. Neale Donald Walsch, Tomorrow’s God (New York, NY: Atria Books, 2004), p. 223.
32. Ibid., p. 263.
33. Ibid., p. 241.
34. Richard Foster, Gayle Beede, Longing for God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), p. 252.
35. Brian C. Taylor, Setting the Gospel Free (New York, NY: Continuum Publishing, 1996), p. 76.
To order copies of A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer, click here.
Mark Driscoll Resigns From Mars Hill Church For Social Failures – But Media Silent on Controversial Doctrinal Issues
On October 14, 2014, Mark Driscoll, the senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington for the past 18 years, formally resigned from his position after numerous accusations came against him from former members and others. As is the case with most mega-church pastors these days when they do just about anything different than usual, Driscoll’s resignation received widespread attention from both Christian and secular news media. Unsurprisingly, none of these news stories are talking about Driscoll’s unbiblical and faulty doctrinal beliefs but are rather reporting primarily on his moral and social failures, minimizing these failures and emphasizing his apologies.
According to one media source:
Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll has resigned from Mars Hill Church, stating that he does not wish to continue to be a distraction to the ministry although a six-week review of charges lodged by others within the church cleared him of moral wrongdoing.1
Charges include plagiarism, misuse of church funds, authority abuse against other members, “creating a climate of fear,”2 derogatory remarks made in the past about women, and rude, angry, and unkind behavior toward others who were in submission to him. Driscoll had temporarily stepped down in August for a six-week period while an investigation by Mars Hill board members took place. These events led to his resignation where Driscoll apologized for his past sins.
According to the Christian Post:
Driscoll made headlines earlier this week when he publicly released his resignation letter from Mars Hill, a church he founded in Seattle, Washington, in 1996 and has served as lead pastor since then.
His decision comes shortly after a letter from some Mars Hill Church elders was issued asking Driscoll to step down from leadership. These elders were later fired. . . .
Driscoll grew a small Bible study to a 13,000-member campus with 15 other locations in five states. Mars Hill was recognized as the third fastest growing and 28th largest church in the country by Outreach magazine in 2012.3
In a statement, Mars Hills’ board of overseers said Driscoll hadn’t committed any acts of “immorality, illegality or heresy” — sins that have felled many a powerful pastor.4
Religious News Service’s report stated:
Driscoll, who came into evangelical prominence as multisite churches and podcasts rose in popularity, found a niche within a largely secular Northwest culture. Though he has been controversial for years for statements on women and sexuality, several tipping points likely led up to Driscoll’s resignation.5
In addition to the reports above, other media outlets that reported on Driscoll’s resignation include: Huffington Post, Washington Post, Christianity Today, Fox News, ABC News, New York Observer, and numerous television stations.
Doctrinal Deficiencies Ignored
But in all of these reports, not one that we are aware of has addressed Driscoll’s serious doctrinal deficiencies. What the media, both Christian and secular, has failed to report is that Driscoll has many beliefs and affinities that are contrary to the Word of God. However, neither Christian leaders nor Christian media seem the least bit concerned about that.
To begin with, one of the most serious doctrinal deficiencies is that Mark Driscoll is a proponent of contemplative spirituality and has been for many years. For example, in an article written by Driscoll, ironically titled “Obedience,” Driscoll tells readers to turn to contemplative advocates Richard Foster and Gary Thomas. Driscoll states: “If you would like to study the spiritual disciplines in greater detail … helpful are Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, and Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas.” But these two books that Driscoll has recommended are two of the most damaging books within Christianity today! In Celebration of Discipline, Foster says that everyone “should enroll in the school of contemplative prayer (p. 13, 1978 ed.), and in Sacred Pathways, Thomas tells readers to repeat a sacred word for 20 minutes in order to hear God. Another article written by Mark Driscoll on the Mars Hill Resurgence site is titled “Spiritual Disciplines: Worship.” For those who do not understand the underlying nature of contemplative prayer (and the spiritual disciplines), read this article, “5 Things You Should Know About Contemplative Prayer.” The roots behind the contemplative prayer movement are panentheism (God in all) and interspirituality (all paths lead to God).
In addition to Driscoll’s contemplative leanings, Driscoll publicly mocks and derides Christians who believe in the biblical account of the end times, who homeschool, who believe in a rapture, and who talk about an antichrist coming on the scene one day.
Mark Driscoll’s 2008 book, Vintage Jesus, has some noteworthy quotes that further illustrate Driscoll’s faulty beliefs. When that book came out, we contacted the late Chuck Smith (founder of Calvary Chapel) and warned him about Driscoll’s book because some Calvary Chapel pastors were trying to bring Driscoll’s teachings into the Calvary Chapel movement (which has been successfully done in some CC churches).
Calls Christians Little Christs – (page 120):
“To be a Christian is to be a ‘little Christ.'”—Mark Driscoll
Mocks Homeschooling and Armageddon: – (page 157):
“Unlike today where Christians have largely fled the cities in favor of homeschooling about the rapture amidst large stacks of canned goods readied for a hunkering down at the unleashing of Armageddon, Christianity has historically been an urban religion. A reading of the history book of early Christianity, Acts, reveals that Christianity began as an urban movement led by Paul, whose itinerant church planting ministry was almost exclusively urban as he moved from city to city and bypassed the rural areas.”—Mark Driscoll
The Rapture is Dumb – (page 44):
“One of the most astonishing things about Jesus is that as God he actually chose to come into our fallen, sick, twisted, unjust, evil, cruel, painful world and be with us to suffer like us and for us. Meanwhile, we spend most of our time trying to figure out how to avoid the pain and evil of this world while reading dumb books about the rapture just hoping to get out.”—Mark Driscoll
(LT Note: In Vintage Jesus, Driscoll favorably quotes Walter Wink, whom Driscoll refers to as “insightful.” But Wink was a liberal theologian who would fall in the emergent camp because of his anti-biblical beliefs. For instance, in Wink’s 1998 book The Powers That Be, Wink denies a “violent” atonement, which is the emerging way of saying that he rejects the idea that God, the Father would send His Son to a violent death as a substitute for the sins of man. This is the exact same thing that Brian McLaren, Harry Fosdick, and other atonement deniers have said, and Wink is in this same category (see our article “A Slaughterhouse Religion.)” We are not saying that Driscoll is denying the atonement, but his favorable reference to an atonement denier shows a serious lack of discernment, at best.)
In addition, Driscoll has promoted what we term “the new sexuality.” Please refer to our 2009 article “A Pastor Speaks Up: Mark Driscoll and the New ‘Sexual Spirituality’”and this Baptist Press article titled “Driscoll’s vulgarity draws media attention.” Radio host Ingrid Schleuter (formally of VCY America) documents Driscoll’s “new sexuality” in her article “Sexpert Pastor Mark Driscoll is Told, ‘Enough is Enough.’”
The “fruit” of Mark Driscoll’s teaching can also be seen in one of Mars Hills’ congregants, a young author named Jeff Bethke, who shares Driscoll’s sentiment regarding Christians who believe the Bible about the last days.
Bethke echoes Driscoll’s distain in his book Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough (Thomas Nelson, 2013) in a chapter titled “Religion Points to a Dim Future/Jesus Points to a Bright Future.” Bethke puts down the kind of believers who see a dismal future for earth (according to Scripture) and says things like:
“God actually cares about the earth, but we seem to think it’s going to burn. God actually cares about creating good art, but we seem to think it’s reserved for salvation messages.” (Kindle Locations 2107-2109, Thomas Nelson).
And just to prove that when Bethke says “religion,” he means biblical Christianity, what other religion is there that “points to a dim future” for planet earth and its inhabitants? Biblical Christianity is the only one that says that the world is heading for judgement because of man’s rebellion against God and because of God’s plan to destroy the devil and his minions. Jesus does point to a “bright future,” but the Bible is very clear that this will not come before He returns; rather He promises a blessed eternal life to “whosoever” believeth on Him. The Jesus Christ of the Bible did not promise a bright future for those who reject Him (and even says that the road to destruction is broad – Matthew 7:13); in fact, Scripture says Jesus Himself was a man of sorrows rejected and despised (Isaiah 53:3). He knew what awaited Him, and He knew what was in the heart of man. But across the board, emergents reject such a message of doom and teach that the kingdom of God will be established as humanity realizes its oneness and its divinity (this realization will be accomplished through practicing meditation—enter contemplative prayer in the Christian church to help bring about a great falling away).
While Mark Driscoll has resigned because of social and moral failures, there is absolute silence coming from Christian leaders, Christian media, and secular media on the real heart of Driscoll’s problems—his beliefs. Perhaps nothing illustrates the nature of Driscoll’s beliefs more than his recent comments about the 2014 Hollywood movie, Noah. A Lighthouse Trails article titled “Mark Driscoll’s Distorted View on Noah and Salvation . . . (And How Some People Have a Very Strange Idea as to the Meaning of God’s Salvation),” shows Driscoll’s very distorted view of salvation (the Gospel). In Driscoll’s so-called defense of the biblical account of Noah, he says that the Noah account was an example of God’s grace and that it had nothing to do with Noah’s righteousness or even Noah’s faith in God. And in fact, in a sermon by Mark Driscoll (see video clip below), he says that Noah was “bad all of the time.” This is a commonly believed and twisted view of God and salvation that says God loves and chooses some and hates and rejects others based on nothing more than God’s own personal whim rather than on one’s faith or trust in God (“without faith it is impossible to please [God]“—Hebrews 11:6). Could it be that Driscoll’s view of salvation and of a God who does not love all of mankind is at least in part the reason for his social and moral failures (e.g., anger, abuse, ridicule, and mockery)? In actuality, the story of Noah is about God saving the one man on the earth who had faith in God.
Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:9)
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. (Genesis 6:22)
And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. (Genesis 7:1)
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
You can click here to read a short piece by Dr. Harry Ironside on Noah that will help dispel the confusion that Mark Driscoll has brought.
The accusations of plagiarism, misuse of church funds to manipulate one of his books to get on the New York Times best-seller list, authority abuse, and crude and demeaning talk about women certainly is enough reason for Driscoll to resign from the pulpit; however his beliefs and “doctrines” are being completely ignored, and it is our guess that in time (and probably not too much of it) Driscoll will resurface with a new ministry or a “restoration” to his old ministry, and this contemplative, emerging pastor will not have changed at all in the areas most important. He has publicly apologized for getting angry and being mean to people, and that’s all people seem to care about. And why not? Many of today’s Christian leaders share Driscoll’s contemplative, emerging propensities. They’ll be the last ones to speak up.
In short, the saddest thing of all is the lack of discernment and integrity of the church at large to stem the tide of apostasy that has already flooded our midst.
By Berit Kjos
(author of How to Protect Your Child From the New Age and Spiritual Deception)
The Spiritual Formation movement is widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the greatest way to become a spiritual leader. It teaches people that this is how they can become more intimate with God and truly hear His voice. Even Christian leaders with longstanding reputations of teaching God’s word seem to be succumbing.1—Roger Oakland
Spiritual Formation has become a widely used term that was introduced to the evangelical church in the 1970s, primarily through a Thomas Merton disciple named Richard Foster and his longstanding, best-selling book, Celebration of Discipline. Today, there are few venues in the church that have not been influenced by the Merton/Foster model of Spiritual Formation.
While at first glance, the Spiritual Formation movement seems profitable and spiritual at best, harmless and benign at worst, that is only because it has been disguised with Christian language and out-of-context Scriptures all the while making grandiose claims that through Spiritual Formation, you can really know God.
In a nutshell, Spiritual Formation teaches that in order for someone to have an intimate relationship with God, he or she needs to practice certain “spiritual disciplines” that will help one to become more Christ-like. Sounds good so far, right?
What many people don’t really know, however, is that the driving force behind the Spiritual Formation movement is a mystical prayer technique called contemplative or centering prayer. The Spiritual Formation leaders, such as Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning, have told their followers for years that we must get rid of distractions in our minds or else we cannot hear the voice of God.
In order to reach a state of silence or stillness (where the mind is basically put into neutral), a word or phrase is repeated (or the breath is focused on) and a meditative (altered) state can then be achieved. But while contemplative advocates insist that this is not the same thing as Eastern-style meditation because their intent is different (they repeat Jesus Jesus, not om om), the results are the same as practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) and demonic realms are experienced in this silence. One meditation writer explains:
The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics; it is no accident that both traditions use the same word for the highest reaches of their respective activities: contemplation [samadhi in yoga].2
That’s a little background of the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement. Although the dangers of this mystical spirituality should be obvious to most Christians, it appears this is not the case, and children have not been exempt from the impact. Evangelical youth groups, children’s organizations, Sunday School curriculum, books, and so forth are introducing contemplative spirituality (i.e., Spiritual Formation) to children.
For instance, in a book titled, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation, Greg Carlson and John Crupper (executive leaders of the Awana’s children organization at the time the book was written) praise Richard Foster’s contemplative-promoting book Streams of Living Water. Carlson and Crupper also say that the contemplative “tradition” is an important contribution to Christians:
In his excellent overview, Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster outlines six different spiritual traditions that are present within the Christian faith. They are the contemplative tradition, the holiness tradition, the charismatic tradition, the social justice tradition, the evangelical tradition, and the incarnational tradition. Each of these has played an important part in the larger history of the Christian church. . . . Each of these traditions has made significant contributions to Christian spirituality and each has weaknesses when isolated from other traditions.3
When Carlson and Crupper say “weaknesses,” they mean they don’t have a problem with contemplative as long as it is used in conjunction with other spiritual practices or “traditions.” They say that each of these models can learn from the other.4 Clearly, this gives the green light on contemplative. Carlson and Crupper add:
[W]e would see many of the techniques [from the Contemplative-Model] of teaching as valuable tools for learning . . . the ideas of repetition and routine . . . are important; and we affirm them.5
Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation identifies some of these “techniques” and “tools” as lectio divina, centering prayer, labyrinths, the Jesus Prayer, and breath prayers, all of which are part of contemplative spirituality.
Incidentally, in one section of the book, it favorably references the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, who once said that he “intend[ed] to become as good a Buddhist”6 as he could and that he “was impregnated with Sufism.”7 Merton never hid his admiration for Eastern-style meditation or his panentheistic beliefs (that God was in all humanity). For Awana leadership to co-author a book that speaks highly of Thomas Merton shows little discernment or understanding.
Even though Carlson and Crupper are no longer in executive leadership roles with Awana, the book is still on the market today. Plus, Awana is referred to several times in the book so someone reading it would believe that Awana itself has given an OK to contemplative.
While it is troubling to see this kind of pass on contemplative spirituality by Awana leadership, calling it a “significant contribution” that has “played an important part” in the church, I believe there are many local Awana leaders who are not compromising their teachings and are staying true to God’s Word. Perhaps they will be the ones to help Awana stay on the right path.
One Christian group that has pushed contemplative spirituality onto children is NavPress. In one issue of their PrayKids! publication, an article titled, “Contemplative Prayer” states:
Contemplative prayer is a form of meditative prayer that focuses on communing with God. Although sometimes confused with its Eastern (and non-Christian) counterpart, true Christian meditation has been practiced since Bible times.
This issue of PrayKids! helps kids learn to slow down their fast-paced lives long enough to experience a meaningful relational encounter with their Heavenly Father.8
In one feature article in Pray!, “Empowering Kids to Pray,” Brad Jersak is referenced in relation to kids and prayer. Jersak’s book, Stricken by God (endorsed by emergent church figure Brian McLaren) is a compilation of essays by various authors including Eastern-style meditation proponents Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg. Borg rejects basic foundational tenets of Christian doctrine (such as the virgin birth of Christ and the atonement),9 and Rohr is a panentheistic Catholic priest who embraces interspirituality and mysticism.
Considering that NavPress, the publishing arm of the Navigators, has a publication for children specifically to teach children contemplative prayer illustrates how integrated the New Spirituality has become within Christianity. Children in the church are being targeted. This is tragic—church is supposed to be one of the safest places for our children.
And it doesn’t get better as they get older. Unaware parents who are anticipating their children attending “good” Christian colleges when they are old enough may be very surprised and rudely awakened to find that Spiritual Formation has now entered almost every accredited Christian college, seminary, and university. My publisher, Lighthouse Trails, has been following this trend for over 12 years now and has discovered that some of the top accreditation associations for Christian schools are requiring Spiritual Formation programs to be implemented in schools now before they can be accredited!10 Students in Christian colleges are now being required to study the works of Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster and to take practicum courses in contemplative and centering prayer where they may be required to practice contemplative prayer for a passing grade.
Pray for discernment and guidance, and use the ideas on how to protect your children from spiritual deception that I have laid out in my book to make sure your child is equipped and “armored” to face what is now so prevalent in evangelical/Protestant Christianity.
1. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007), p. 91.
2. Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), p. 7.
3. Michael Anthony, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), p. 82, quoting Carlson and Crupper.
4. Ibid., p. 83.
5. Ibid., p. 85.
6. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
7. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 69.
8. “Contemplative Prayer” (PrayKids, NavPress, issue #25).
9. Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew (New York, NY: HarperCollins, First HarperCollins Paperback Edition, 1998), p. 25.
10. “An Epidemic of Apostasy—Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate ‘Spiritual Formation’ to Become Accredited” (Lighthouse Trails Special Report, November 2011, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=7733).