Posts Tagged ‘contemplative prayer’
Letter to the Editor: Brennan Manning Book Review by John Caddock Saved Me From Years of Wandering in the Wilderness
LTRP Note: This week, we received the following letter to the editor referring to a book review about Brennan Manning’s book, The Signature of Jesus. The review was written by John Caddock and was the first piece we ever read on the Internet refuting contemplative prayer shortly after we met Ray Yungen and read his then-unpublished manuscript A Time of Departing over fifteen years ago. This book review by Caddock has opened the eyes of many people and is still doing so today as this letter reveals. Below the letter is the full review. As with all our blog articles, you can print it freely. It is also available in booklet format for those needing that.
Dear John Caddock,
I am 65 year old Christian man who has run ahead of Jesus most of my Christian experience. Hence I feel the lack of instruction that my years should show.
I have a good friend who I can talk to about anything. He is a believer but has always seemed to have strange ideas about God. Long story short, after watching Brennan Manning and starting to run ahead of Jesus again, the Lord led me to your never-ending review [about Brennan Manning]
Thank you very much for this review; you saved me from who knows how many years of wandering in the wilderness.
I really can’t thank you enough.
God bless you and yours,
Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” & Their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticism
A review of The Signature of Jesus
By John Caddock
The Never-Ending Review
Little did I know when I began to read The Signature of Jesus, the time and effort that would be involved in understanding it. I am not a theologian by training. My background is in technical management in electronic component manufacturing. However, I stumbled onto something that I became convinced was very dangerous and little understood.
One reading was not enough for me to understand The Signature of Jesus. I found it was like reading a book in a foreign language. I read many new expressions like contemplative prayer, centering prayer, centering down, paschal spirituality, the discipline of the secret, contemplative spirituality, celebrating the darkness, practicing the presence, the interior life, inner integration, yielding to the Center, notional knowledge, spiritual masters, masters of the interior life, false self, and the Abba experience.1
I also encountered many writers I had never read before, including Kasemann, Burghardt, Merton, Van Breemen, Brueggemann, Moltmann, Nouwen, Küng, Steindl-Rast, Rahner, Kierkegaard, and Camus.
I had to read the book three separate times before I was confident that I understood what Manning was saying. I even read it a fourth time for good measure.
Reading this book led me to read a number of other books and articles by and about leading mystics/contemplatives. I learned about the heart of Manning’s message—centering prayer.
Ultimately, I felt I had to meet the man. I attended one conference he conducted. In addition, I purchased the tapes of another conference he conducted and pored over them. Manning conducted many speaking engagements for many years. He died in April 2013 at the age of 79.
Altogether, I spent hundreds of hours trying to understand what Manning was saying. Why did I do this? Well, I began this study because three Christian leaders whom I know endorsed Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. These men are bright, well educated, experienced in ministry, and heads of major works. Yet, I had read a cautionary review of that book,2 and I wanted to read Manning for myself.
I continued the study because what I found frightened me and because I felt others needed to be warned. I came to the conclusion that the teachings of Brennan Manning are very dangerous.
There is a seductive quality to his writings. He reports grappling with and overcoming fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties, including alcoholism. He gives the impression that he had a very intimate relationship with God and that he had insight to a superspirituality. He regularly meditated and reports having many visions and encounters with God. He was an extremely gifted writer who was able to tug at the emotions of the reader while at the same time introducing ideas that the reader would immediately reject if they were not cloaked under this emotional blanket.
He promises his readers that if they apply his teaching, they too will gain this same intimacy with God as well as freedom from fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties. This is very attractive. Manning’s prescription to achieve this is not by traditional prayer and the reading and application of the Bible. Rather, the means to this end is a mixture of Eastern mysticism, psychology, the New Age movement, liberation theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism. This mixture will not deliver intimacy with God. It no doubt will lead to special feelings and experiences. Those practicing Manning’s methods will likely feel closer to God. Ironically, in the process they will actually move away from Him as a result of a counterfeit spirituality.
Ordained a Franciscan priest, Manning earned degrees in philosophy and theology. He had training with a monastic order, which included seven months of isolation in a desert cave. Years later, after a collapse into alcoholism, he shifted direction and focused on writing and speaking. He became persona non grata among the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a result of his marriage in 1982. He began writing and speaking mainly to Protestant audiences.
What Is Contemplative Spirituality?
The Signature of Jesus is actually a primer on what Manning calls paschal spirituality, which is supposedly, but not actually, spirituality centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Another name for this, a more accurate one, is contemplative spirituality. Indeed, one entire chapter is a call to “Celebrate the Darkness,”3 and another teaches about centering prayer, an Eastern religion, mind-emptying meditation technique.4
Manning indicates that The Signature of Jesus is about radical discipleship and authentic faith. Radical discipleship sounds good. So does authentic faith. Unfortunately, the book isn’t about following Jesus Christ or having faith in Him. It is about following “the masters of the interior life.”5
In Manning’s view, many Christians have been raised in a devotional spirituality, which focuses “more on behavior than on consciousness; more on doing God’s will and performing the devotional acts that pleased Him than on experiencing God as God truly is.”6 Contemplative spirituality, on the other hand, “emphasize[s] the need for a change in consciousness, a new way of seeing God, others, self, and the world,”7 which leads to a deeper knowledge of God.
Thus, Manning sets up a battle between two views of the Christian life. One he paints as traditional, cold, intellectual, ritualistic, unemotional, unloving, uncaring, insensitive, unattractive, and obsessive. The other he presents as new, warm, free, emotional, loving, caring, sensitive, attractive, and liberating. While he acknowledges there is a place for Bible study and corporate worship, he argues that the key is “practicing the presence” through a special form of prayer we will discuss more fully later, centering prayer. Manning writes:
Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ’s communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed his vision of reality, enabling him to perceive God’s love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work, especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. (You may wish to try it right now. Lower the book, center down, and offer yourself to the indwelling Spirit of God.)8
Daily devotions consisting of Bible study, meditation, memorization, and traditional prayers are of limited importance in the contemplative spirituality of Manning. His substitute—a type of prayer derived from Eastern mysticism, is what is really important—Practice the presence—Center down—What is really needed is freeing the mind and having an existential experience with God.
The Origins of Contemplative Spirituality
This movement began in the Roman Catholic Church, where there has been an important shift over the last few decades. Devotional spirituality is a pejorative term coined by some within Roman Catholicism who reacted against the prewar, pre-Vatican II Church, with a devotion to saints, doctrine, frequent reception of the sacraments, and approved devotional practices.
Some Roman Catholics began to advocate the “new theology,”9 which Francis Schaeffer warned of in his classic The God Who is There. Schaeffer pointed to Hans Küng and Karl Rahner (both influential in shaping Manning’s views) and Teilhard de Chardin as the leading progressive thinkers who were following in the path of Heidegger, the existentialist philosopher. To the new theology or new spirituality, language is always a matter of personal interpretation, and therefore the language of the Bible can be used as a vehicle for continuous existential experiences. A given verse has thousands of different interpretations as each person has an encounter with God. Scripture now becomes a triggering device for mystical experiences rather than a source of sound doctrine.
Schaeffer warned that if the “progressives” consolidated their position within the Roman Catholic Church, they would have both its organization and linguistic continuity at their disposal. They would then be in the position of supplying society with an endless series of religiously motivated “arbitrary absolutes” applying any sociological or psychological theory at their discretion.
Schaeffer predicted that the new theology would lead to mysticism. Karl Rahner showed the truth in Schaeffer’s prediction when Rahner wrote, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all.”10
The New Monks
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning quotes Catholic saints, medieval mystics, and monks, including Charles de Foucauld, Francis De Sales, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena. The most frequently cited sources are part of the community of Roman Catholic clergy who are instrumental in promoting modern contemplative spirituality: Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, William Shannon, Henri Nouwen, Peter Van Breemen, William Reiser, David Steindl-Rast, and Basil Pennington. Although the word contemplation brings to mind a monastic life dedicated to pence and cloistered within the walls of the monastery, not so with these New Monks.11
The New Monks critique the current state of Christianity by arguing that since God is holy and is a “wholly other,” He cannot be defined by systems of doctrine. They maintain that western rationalism has crushed the knowledge of God and that we must return to a more intuitively received knowledge. We must move beyond the intellect, beyond doctrine, and beyond words to a deeper union with God. Their writings contain rather complex discussions on the nature of being and share common themes of universality, mystical union with God through contemplation (wordless “prayer”), social justice, and non-violence.
The New Monks maintain that all religions should immerse themselves in the myths of their tradition because there is power in the “collective unconscious”12 of the tradition to shape the experience of its followers. So, for the New Monk, the use of biblical language has great power within the Christian tradition. For example, the call to salvation13 is actually a call to a transformation of consciousness to be psychologically awakened to the unity and oneness of all creation. For the New Monks, all religions at their deepest mystical level use myth and symbol to say the same thing.
The New Monks believe we are born into a duality between self (the ego) and oneness (being). The ego is driven by fear of death and alienation and is the source of all suffering and woundedness. The fall, a mythical story, has a deeper more “universal truth,” which is intended to shed light on present human experience. We have fallen from oneness and harmony of paradise into alienation and a sense of separation. We must simply realize that the gulf that appears to separate “sinful” humanity from a righteous God has never existed; we are and always have been one with God. For the New Monks, this is God’s unconditional love and grace.
Thomas Merton, who is frequently cited by Manning, is the forerunner of the New Monks. Having accepted so much of the new theology, Merton remained involved in the Roman Catholic Church only by a thin affirmation of a God in Nature and a reverence for tradition. He popularized Jungian Psychotherapy in his writings about spiritual healing, agreeing with Jung’s mythic perspective of biblical doctrines.
Merton traveled to Asia on a quest to redefine what being a monk entailed and found it in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. There he discovered great similarities between monastic contemplation and Eastern meditation and determined that they were both in touch with the same mystical source. He felt the emphasis on experience and inner transformation rather than doctrine would be the ecumenical meeting place between East and West.
Merton advocated moving the practice of contemplation from its marginal state of use by only the Catholic monks behind the cloistered walls to a broader use by the common man. Dedicated to civil rights, antiwar, and liberationist activism, he came to call his fellow activists “true monks.” In The Signature of Jesus, Manning precisely echoes the themes of contemplative spirituality. It appears his intention was to bring to Protestants what Thomas Merton brought to many Roman Catholics.
Contemplative Spirituality Promotes Universalism
Both the new theology and contemplative spirituality emphasize ecumenism. Hans Küng (whose book On Being Christian, Manning says is “the most powerful book other than Scripture that I have ever read,”)14 is the author of the document, “Declaration of a Global Ethic,” which personifies the push toward religious pluralism among progressives. The document, intended to be an agreement among the world’s religions, does not contain the word God, Küng explains “because including it would exclude all Buddhist and many faith groups with different views of God and the divine.”15 Most evangelicals are familiar with ecumenism within Christianity only. However, those who hold to the new theology and more explicitly those who hold to contemplative spirituality believe in an ecumenism that includes non-Christian religions and all “faith groups.” This is a logical step for those who divorce themselves from the Gospel of Scripture and who adopt the view that all are saved (universalism).
Since universalism has traditionally not appealed to many evangelicals, and Manning is attempting to reach them, he does not make blatant statements advocating it. He shows, however, that he is indeed a universalist in two ways.
First, the people whom Manning approvingly cites believe in universalism. David Steindl-Rast is a Roman Catholic priest who promotes contemplative theology. In a 1992 article, he said, “Envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle. At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphasis.”16 Manning cites him approvingly twice in The Signature of Jesus.17
The New Monks frequently use the term “unconditional love” to express universality. Their push to a beyond-words, beyond-thoughts meditation experience in order to fully experience a loving deity misses entirely that apart from faith in Christ for eternal life, there can be no adequate discussion of experiencing God’s love.
Matthew Fox, cited approvingly in Manning’s books Lion and Lamb18 and A Stranger to Self-Hatred,19 is an excommunicated Catholic priest and a contemplative. He gives us another example of the universalism of the contemplatives Manning cites:
God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells—many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom. All of us have to go down a well today; we all have to do spiritual practice to find divinity. But whether your well be Buddhist, or Christian or Sufi or Jewish, when you do your work, you will come to the same source of wisdom.20
Merton says one can work within the Christian traditions but view universalism as the broader truth:
[The contemplative] has a unified vision and experience of the one truth shining out in all its various manifestations . . . He does not set these partial views up in opposition to each other, but unites them in a dialectic or an insight of complementarity.21
Second, Manning makes statements that imply universalism. For example, he says that contemplative spirituality “looks upon human nature as fallen but redeemed—flawed but, in essence, good.”22 For Manning, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that all are redeemed. There is nothing to be done to gain the life of God. Everyone already has it:
He has a single, relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace.23
Manning says that God loves “all.” He is not speaking here merely of the compassion God has for the world, which moved Him to send His Son to die for us (John 3:16). He is saying that God has already restored all people to a right relationship with Him. Notice that he first says “he loves us” and then “he loves all.” Clearly “us,” the first person plural pronoun, in this context includes everyone. Then, in the same context Manning goes on to say that “we have been restored to a right relationship with God.” “We” mentioned here is the same group as the “all” mentioned earlier. All have been restored to a right relationship with God. Manning wants us to overcome our psychological fog so that we can realize it. The Good News is that everyone is already saved. The biblical view that all are lost and that only when a person trusts Jesus Christ as Savior does he pass from death to life (John 5:24) is foreign to Manning and contemplatives.
The last chapter of The Signature of Jesus is all about a revelation, which Manning supposedly received from God about final judgment. The illustration mentions by name some of the most vile men of all time, including Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein, and implies that all of them, indeed all who have ever lived, will get into heaven.24
It should be noted, however, that there are statements in The Signature of Jesus and in the writings of other contemplatives that can be easily misconstrued to imply that there is salvation only for those who believe in Jesus. For example, Manning writes, “In any other great world religion it is unthinkable to address almighty God as ‘Abba.’” He then supports this point by approvingly quoting Peter Van Breemen:
Many devout Moslems, Buddhists, and Hinduists are generous and sincere in their search for God. Many have had profound mystical experiences. Yet in spite of their immeasurable spiritual depth, they seldom or never come to know God as their Father. Indeed, intimacy with Abba is one of the greatest treasures Jesus has brought us.25
It is important to realize that when contemplatives speak of knowing God as Father or Abba, they are not referring to regeneration. They are referring to achieving a level of intimacy with God, “intimacy with Abba.” They view all people as heaven bound. The issue for them is becoming a mystic whose experience of God transforms the life and hence the world. Their ultimate aim is to usher in a new world.
There are statements in The Signature of Jesus which could be misconstrued as well. He denounces “cheap grace”26 and says:
In the last analysis, faith is not the sum of our beliefs or a way of speaking or a way of thinking; it is a way of living and can be articulated adequately only in a living practice. To acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord is meaningful insofar as we try to live as he lived and to order our lives according to his values. We do not need to theorize about Jesus; we need to make him present in our time, our culture, and our circumstances. Only a true practice of our Christian faith can verify what we believe .27
However, Manning is not talking about salvation from Hell. He is speaking of deliverance from fear and shame. He is speaking here of coming into an intimate knowledge of God in one’s experience, not of how we gain eternal life through biblical salvation.
As mentioned above, the key to spirituality, according to Manning, is a special type of prayer, which he calls “contemplative prayer” or “centering prayer.” For the uninitiated, this may not seem ominous. It may sound like what God calls us to do in His Word. It is not. It is ominous. It is a practice derived from Eastern mysticism.
Manning writes, “The task of contemplative prayer is to help me achieve the conscious awareness of the unconditionally loving God dwelling within me.”28 He also says, “What masters of the interior life recommend is the discipline of ‘centering down’ throughout the day.”29
Manning attempts to head off the charge that centering prayer comes from Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement by saying:
A simple method of contemplative prayer (often called “centering prayer” in our time and anchored in the Western Christian tradition of John Cassian and the desert fathers, and not, as some think, in Eastern mysticism or New age philosophy) has four steps.30
He instructs the reader in the practice of centering prayer, which is a type of contemplative wordless “prayer” a technique that involves breathing exercises and the chanting of a sacred word or phrase. Manning begins “the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer”!31 What biblical support is there for this idea?
The second step, according to Manning, is to “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.”32 Once again, where is the biblical support for this practice? None is cited, because none exists.
The third step concerns what to do when inevitable distractions come. The answer is to “simply return to listening to your sacred word . . . gently return to your sacred word.”33
Finally, “after a twenty-minute period of prayer [which Manning recommends twice daily] conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, a favorite psalm, or some spontaneous words of praise and thanks.”34 While he doesn’t say how long this concluding recitation or spontaneous words might last, it seems he only expects this to be a minute or two, since the Lord’s Prayer and most of the Psalms are short and easy to read in a minute or so. This concluding recitation seems to be an afterthought, something put in to make the “prayer” seem Christian. Yet even this fourth part is biblically suspect. Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7). Any routine prayer repeated each prayer session will soon fall into the category of “vain repetition,” even if it is Scripture. The Lord’s Prayer is a sample of the way we should pray that Jesus gave when He said “use not vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7).
The instruction utilizes odd jargon such as the “false self” and “crucifixion of the ego” and a curious mix of spiritual and psychological terms. To understand his language, one would need to have a more candid overview of centering prayer.35
Chapter seven is titled “Celebrate the Darkness” (a title that is decidedly not only unbiblical, but even anti-biblical; darkness is always presented negatively in Scripture (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:8, 11; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5-10). Manning, quoting atonement rejector, Alan Jones, writes “the ego has to break; and this breaking is like entering into a great darkness. Without such a struggle and affliction, there can be no movement in love.”36 He goes on:
With the ego purged and the heart purified through the trials of the dark night, the interior life of an authentic disciple is a hidden, invisible affair. Today it appears that God is calling many ordinary Christians into this rhythm of loss and gain. The hunger I encounter across the land for silence, solitude, and centering prayer is the Spirit of Christ calling us from the shallows to the deep.37
In centering prayer, the word sin becomes a religious word attached to a method of psychological therapy, and the biblical presentation of true moral guilt is omitted.38 It is a system completely open to the manipulation of the inventors who feel the liberty to use the biblical language any way they see fit. Manning attempts to give it the validity of tradition by saying that it has been rooted in Catholic monastic practices since the 5th century.
The result of this mystical practice is that the practitioner becomes less interested in objective spiritual knowledge found in the Bible and more interested in the subjective experience, which is found through centering prayer. This may account for the antagonistic attitude toward traditional forms of faith. Manning speaks of “several local churches [he has] visited, [in which] religiosity has pushed Jesus to the margins of real life and plunged people into preoccupation with their own personal salvation.”39 Of course, centering prayer requires no interest whatsoever in one’s own personal salvation since it presupposes that all are already saved. That is what we discover when we “center down.” Manning’s attitude toward the Bible seems to be markedly different from anyone who has a high regard for it as the very Word of God:
I am deeply distressed by what I can only call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word—bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.40
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning rarely cites Scripture. Why should he, when the truly important knowledge of God comes from his experience of centering down and not from the Bible? Remember “God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book.” While Manning would acknowledge that some elementary truths of God can be found by reading the Bible, intimate knowledge of God only comes through centering prayer.41
Manning speaks much of God’s grace and love but these precious biblical concepts are actually replaced by vague notions of wholeness through an eastern religious meditation technique, Centering Prayer. Many contemplatives assert that this constitutes the spiritual journey and is the same process as integrating the conscious with the unconscious as described by Jungian psychotherapy. Manning has reinterpreted some of the most crucial biblical truths such as sin and forgiveness. The irony is that a clear biblical Gospel, if believed to be true, will produce assurance that has truly profound psychological benefits. There is no place for centering prayer in discipleship. Meditation is to be on God’s Word, not on nothingness.
Contemplative spirituality is dangerous. Christian leaders should warn their people about it. Those who are interested in a comprehensive biblical understanding of true biblical spirituality and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be warned that Brennan Manning traveled on a wholly other path and took countless people with him.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
1. Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996 edition). See pp. 209-27, 218, 94, 115-36, 185-96, 216, 137-58, 58-59, 58, 94, 94, 170, 102, 111, 112, 30, 29, 219, 94, 224, 224, 231, 65, and 168 respectively.
2 Reviewed by Robert N. Wilkin in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1994, pp. 74-75.
3. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 131-150. Manning tells of literally sitting in a dark room with one solitary spotlight shining on a crucifix (p. 46): “Prostrate on the floor, I whisper, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ over and over.”
4. Ibid., pp. 195-212
5. Ibid., p. 89.
6. Ibid., p. 201.
8. Ibid., p. 90.
9. Schaeffer seems to have used the term broadly to avoid clumsiness in his discussion of how modern shifts in philosophies have effected theology. The expression “new theology,” as Schaeffer uses it, encompasses neo-orthodoxy, strongly rationalistic liberal theology, theologies following Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and theologies following in the footsteps of the religious existentialism of Heidegger. Since Manning and the contemplatives drink from all of these fountains, I have used this expression.
10. John B. Healey, “The Journey Within” (America, February 19, 1994).
11. I coined this term since these priests promote mysticism for the common man through the use of their interpretation of monastic ideas and meditation. For them every man should be a mystic and every man should be a true monk. A “true monk” is a social activist.
12. This term is from Carl Jung, whose teaching is highly influential to the New Monks. Manning also favorably cites him in The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173 (2005 ed.) and Abba’s Child, p. 44 (2002 ed.). Jung, a psychologist who was a disciple of Freud, believed one could become whole by integrating the unconscious with the conscious; however, this process requires embracing the darkness of the unconscious. Jung was known to even use occultic techniques to facilitate this.
13. A further example of how biblical language and themes are distorted by the New Monks is found in the writings of Alan Jones (who calls the doctrine of the atonement a vile doctrine in his book Reimagining Christianity), favorably cited by Manning in The Signature of Jesus, pp. 14, 132, 141, 184 and in Abba’s Child, p. 55.
14. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 153.
15. John R. Coyne, Jr., “Ultimate Reality in Chicago” (National Review, October 4, 1993).
16. David Steindl-Rast, “Heroic Virtue” (Gnosis, Summer, 1992).
17. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 196, 199.
18. Lion and Lamb (p. 135).
19. A Stranger to Self-Hatred (pp. 113, 124).
20. Matthew Fox, “In honor of Dr. Howard Thurman” (Creation Spirituality, Spring 1997, http://creationspiritualitymag.org/wp-content/uploads/1997/02/vol-13-howard-thurman.pdf). (Fox believes that the “second coming” of the Cosmic Christ, an awakening to mysticism, will usher in a global renaissance that can heal Mother Earth and save her by changing human hearts and ways.)
21. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965), pp. 207-208.
22. The Signature of Jesus op. cit., p. 118 (this is italicized in original).
23. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2005 ed.), p. 20. See also his approving citation on the previous page of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s suggestion that God will accept into heaven sinners of every stripe (drunkards, weaklings, vile beings), including those who have taken the mark of the beast. The latter is a direct contradiction of Revelation 14:9-11. The former is only true of those who have been washed in the blood of Christ by faith. Yet Dostoevsky and Manning put no qualifier on which sinners get into heaven. All go to heaven.
24. In a 1995 sermon given at Greenbelt Seminars in Sheffield, England, titled “In Bed with God” (what kind of title is this!), Manning says, “Do you see why the revelation of Jesus on the nature of God is so revolutionary? [Do you see] why no Christian can ever say one form of prayer is not as good as another or one religion is not as good as another?” If all religions are equally good, then universalism must be true.
25. The Signature of Jesus, p. 158. Manning indicates that our “mission” is “building the new heavens and the new earth under the signature of Jesus” (p. 180). While this is a startling claim for those who know the biblical promise that it is God who will introduce the new heavens and the new earth (e.g., Rev 21:1ff.), it is consistent with the emphasis of contemplatives.
26. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 112, 121, 134, 172.
27. Ibid., p. 33.
28. Ibid., p. 197.
29. Ibid., p. 89.
30. Ibid., p. 203.
31. Ibid., p. 198.
32. Ibid., p. 204.
35. To understand how the contemplatives view these terms, read Cynthia Bourgeault’s article “From Woundedness to Union” (Gnosis, Winter 1995, pp. 41-45).
36. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 139.
37. Ibid., p. 142.
38. Manning gives us better insight into the contemplatives’ view of sin in his book Abba’s Child (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002 ed.), pp. 153-154.
39. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 178.
40. Ibid., p. 174.
41. In his first chapters of an earlier book, Gentle Revolutionaries, Manning indicates that we all have seven “centers,” three bad (security, sensation, and power) and four good (love, acceptance, self awareness, and unitive). The unitive center is the “highest level of consciousness” (p. 104). None of this, of course, is found in the Bible. It is all consistent with centering prayer and contemplative spirituality, neither of which depends on being anchored in the Word.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
“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.
Since early 2016, Lighthouse Trails has been sending out short letters and topical booklets that we publish to dozens of Christian leaders in America. Thus far, we have received a few responses, usually short notes from the ministry office thanking us for sending the materials. This week, we received an e-mail from Chuck Swindoll’s ministry telling us to remove him from our list and to no longer send him materials. The e-mail stated:
Please remove Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living Ministries at PO Box 5000, Frisco, Texas 75034, from Lighthouse Trails Publishing’s mailing list.
As a not-for-profit ministry, we strive to use every penny wisely and imagine that you do too. Because of the time and effort required to process the huge amount of correspondence we receive, we respectfully request that you remove our organization from your mailing list. This may also help you save some printing and postage costs. Thank you for taking the time to update your records. We sincerely appreciate your prompt assistance with this matter.
While we do not want to be presumptuous in thinking that busy successful Christian leaders would even want to give Lighthouse Trails a moment of their time, we do find it disconcerting (though not really surprising) that Chuck Swindoll has refused our booklets. Swindoll is discussed in Lighthouse Trails articles partly because of a book he wrote titled So You Want to Be Like Christ: Eight Essential Disciplines to Get You There (see Ray Yungen’s article below). It’s a sad state of affairs when leaders have the time to read Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard, and other contemplative authors but not enough time to read material that questions the contemplative prayer movement.
Nevertheless, at their request, we will remove Chuck Swindoll’s name from our leader’s list. But this does not remove him or other Christian leaders from being responsible for what they are doing and teaching or from having to answer one day to the one Who judges all things.
We told Chuck Swindoll’s office that we would let our readers know of its request.
So You Want to Be Like Christ
by Ray Yungen
Charles (Chuck) Swindoll has a popular radio program called Insight for Living. In a September 2005 radio broadcast, Swindoll favorably quoted Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster. But it wasn’t until I saw Swindoll’s 2005 book So You Want To Be Like Christ: Eight Essentials to Get You There that I realized Swindoll had been influenced by contemplative authors. In the book, Swindoll quotes Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen, as well as Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard. He states that he “sensed a genuine need … for the cultivation of intimacy with the Almighty.”1 He says, “There is a deep longing among Christians and non-Christians”2 for intimacy with God and that intimacy with God should be our goal, and “discipline is the means to that end.”3 Chapter three of Swindoll’s book is called “Silence and Solitude.” In it, he tells readers there are “secrets … that will deepen our intimacy with God,”4 so we can see “what others miss.”5 As he attempts to explain what these secrets are, he refers to the Scripture so often quoted by contemplatives, Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He goes on to say:
As we continue our journey toward intimacy with the Almighty, Psalm 46:10 calls us to the discipline of silence…. What happens when you and I commit ourselves to periods of absolute, uninterrupted silence?6
Swindoll refers to an interview between Mother Teresa (a contemplative and interspiritualist) and former anchorman Dan Rather where she explains to Rather the concept of the silence. Swindoll then exhorts his readers to “discover its secrets for yourself.”7 Yet he avoids describing the actual method of contemplative prayer, saying, “You’re on your own with this one,” referring to it as “the mystery of godliness”8 (which actually is a reference in the Bible to the deity of Jesus Christ, not the silence, I Timothy 3:16). He brings the proverbial horse right to the water by favorably quoting [Richard] Foster, Nouwen, and [Dallas] Willard throughout the book.
Swindoll goes so far as to imply that without the silence we cannot really know God, [stating]:
Sustained periods of quietness are essential in order for that [becoming like Christ] to happen … I encourage you to experience this for yourself.9
He finally quotes from Henri Nouwen’s, The Way of the Heart and then reflects, “I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person [intimate with God] without stillness and silence.”10
This is really quite a misleading statement. It is not the silence that draws us closer to God and allows us to become a “deep person” as Swindoll and the contemplatives insist. Scripture clearly teaches that it is only through the blood atonement of Jesus Christ that we can gain access to Him. We cannot add or take away from that. When we are born again, we are as united to Him as we will ever be. Atonement by the blood is the only direct and truly genuine means of meeting with God. The Old Testament speaks of the “mercy seat” wherein the Lord says “there I will meet with you” (Exodus 25:22). How awesome! A Holy God meets with man, but only when there is blood to atone for man. Hebrews 10:19-22, a clear reference to the Old Testament passage says that Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, is the fulfillment. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart, signifying that now in Christ (the new covenant), the Holy Place, God’s presence is open to ALL who believe. We do not need to go into a meditative, self-induced state [as Nouwen suggests in his writings] to be in God’s presence.
Some may say that Swindoll is only referring to a quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of life when he speaks of silence. If that were the case, then why does he differentiate between silence and solitude? He refers to solitude as getting away from it all, an external quietness, and makes it clear that silence is an internal stillness like Henri Nouwen described in The Way of the Heart.
While at this point, Swindoll does not actually teach mantras or altered states, his promotion and extensive quoting of contemplatives gives every indication that he is moving toward the contemplative camp. Typically, those who begin following the teachings of the authors I have warned about, and begin promoting the silence, continue steadily on a downward spiral into outright mysticism and deception. It is vital to understand that Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is a virtual primer on the practice of contemplative prayer. For instance, in the 2005 radio broadcast, Swindoll read a portion of The Way of the Heart where Nouwen makes reference to the silence of the mind contrasting it with regular silence as in not speaking. (This has been an excerpt from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., pp. 190-192)
QUOTES FROM SWINDOLL’S BOOK:
“So you want to be like Christ? Me too. But that kind of godliness won’t just happen … Disciplining ourselves will require the same kind of focused thinking and living that our Master modeled.” Introduction
“Let’s commit ourselves to these eight spiritual disciplines.” Introduction
“Henri Nouwen … longed to get away from all those words … So how do we pull it off? How, in a world bent on distracting us from growing deeper? … How do you and I become more godly? … The word is discipline. The secret lies in our returning to the spiritual disciplines.” p. 9, 10.
“I have sensed a genuine need–in my own life–for the cultivation of intimacy with the Almighty…. God requires spiritual disciplines … essential in our pursuit of godliness. … I came across Dallas Willard’s excellent work The Spirit of the Disciplines.” p. 12
“Richard Foster’s meaningful work Celebration of Discipline …” p. 15
“Discipline. This is the means for having intimacy with God. … Discipline is control gained by enforced obedience. It is the deliberate cultivation of inner order. So how are intimacy and discipline connected? … Discipline is the means to that end.” p. 21
In September 2005, Lighthouse Trails was informed that Chuck Swindoll was favorably quoting Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster on his Insight For Living program. We contacted Insight for Living and spoke with Pastor Graham Lyons. We shared our concerns, then later sent A Time of Departing to him and also a copy to Chuck Swindoll.
In a letter dated 10/3/05 from Pastor Lyons, we were told, “With his schedule I doubt he will read it.” We are sorry that Chuck Swindoll has time to read Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster but no time to read A Time of Departing, especially in light of the fact that thousands of people will read Chuck Swindoll’s book, listen to his broadcasts, and now believe that the contemplative authors are acceptable and good.
1.Charles Swindoll, So You Want To Be Like Christ? (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 12.
2. Ibid., p. 14.
3. Ibid., p. 21.
4. Ibid., p. 55.
6. Ibid., p. 61.
7. Ibid., p. 62.
9. Ibid., p. 63.
10. Ibid., p. 65.
By Ray Yungen
The Bible says that in the last days, many will come in Christ’s name. If one examines the “prophecies” of occulist Alice Bailey, one can gain insight into what the apostle Paul called in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 the falling away. Bailey eagerly foretold of what she termed “the regeneration of the churches.”1 Her rationale for this was obvious:
The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which world illumination may be accomplished.2
In other words, instead of opposing Christianity, the occult would capture and blend itself with Christianity and then use it as its primary vehicle for spreading and instilling New Age consciousness! The various churches would still have their outer trappings of Christianity and still use much of the same lingo. If asked certain questions about traditional Christian doctrine, the same answers would be given. But it would all be on the outside; on the inside a contemplative spirituality would be drawing in those open to it.
In wide segments of Christianity, this has indeed already occurred. One Catholic priest alone taught 31,000 people mystical prayer in one year. People are responding to this in large numbers because it has the external appearance of Christianity but in truth is the diametric opposite. This has all the indications of the falling away of which the apostle Paul speaks.
Note this departure is tied in with the revelation of the “man of sin.” If he is indeed Bailey’s “Coming One,” then both Paul’s prophecy and Bailey’s prophecy fit together perfectly—but indisputably from opposite camps and perspectives.
This is very logical when one sees, as Paul proclaimed, that they will fall away to “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The word mystery in Greek, when used in the context of evil (iniquity), means hidden or occult!
This revitalization of Christianity would fit in with Bailey’s “new and vital world religion”3—a religion that would be the cornerstone of the New Age. Such a religion would be the spiritual platform for the “Coming One.” This unity of spiritual thought would not be a single one-world denomination but would have a unity-in-diversity, multicultural, interfaith, ecumenical agenda. Thomas Merton made a direct reference to this at a spiritual summit conference in Calcutta, India when he told Hindus and Buddhists, “We are already one, but we imagine, we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity.”4
One can easily find numerous such appeals like Merton’s in contemplative writings. Examine the following:
The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others.5 —Vivekananda
It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced.6—Basil Pennington
The new ecumenism involved here is not between Christian and Christian, but between Christians and the grace of other intuitively deep religious traditions.7—Tilden Edwards
What is happening to mainstream Christianity is the same thing that is happening to business, health, education, counseling, and other areas of society. Christianity is being cultivated for a role in the New Age. A spirit guide named Raphael explains this in the Starseed Transmissions:
We work with all who are vibrationally sympathetic; simple and sincere people who feel our spirit moving, but for the most part, only within the context of their current belief system.18 (emphasis mine)
He is saying that they “work,” or interact, with people who open their minds to them in a way that fits in with the person’s current beliefs. In the context of Christianity, this means that those meditating will think they have contacted God, when in reality they have connected up with Raphael’s kind (who are more than willing to impersonate whomever they wish to reach so long as these seductive spirits can link with them).
This ultimately points to a deluded global religion based on meditation and mystical experience. New Age writer David Spangler explains it the following way:
There will be several religious and spiritual disciplines as there are today, each serving different sensibilities and affinities, each enriched by and enriching the particular cultural soil in which it is rooted. However, there will also be a planetary spirituality that will celebrate the sacredness of the whole humanity in appropriate festivals, rituals, and sacraments. . . . Mysticism has always overflowed the bounds of particular religious traditions, and in the new world this would be even more true.9
What we are warning about is not some unprovable conspiracy theory. In fact, far from it. In March of 2016, Newsweek magazine put out a special edition called “Spiritual Living.” This glossy publication presented page after page of pure Alice Bailey spirituality. The entire issue was devoted to the mystical perception that man is divine:
The key to positive change—both internal and external—is present in everyone, and it also exists all around us. Whether through meditation, energy healing or a full-on spiritual awakening, you can transcend the physical world to better your mind, body and soul.10
That may sound kind of benign, but numerous articles in the magazine promote the idea of spirits that can indwell people. If this had been put out by the National Enquirer, then this could be dismissed as nothing more than sensationalistic or exaggerated. But Newsweek is one of the oldest and most respected news magazines in the world. When they make this kind of an effort, then we need to sit up and take notice that Alice Bailey’s religion has now come to the forefront of mainstream society. What this means according to those who are sympathetic with this is that if we are to be “spiritual,” we need to partake of Alice Bailey’s “new vital world religion.” Sadly, more and more churches are doing just that.
1. Alice Bailey, Problems of Humanity (New York, NY: Lucis Publishing, 1993), p. 152.
2. Alice Bailey, The Externalization of the Hierarchy (New York, NY: Lucis Publishing, 1976), p. 510.
3. Alice Bailey, Problems of Humanity, op. cit., p. 152.
4. Joel Beversluis, Project Editor, A Source Book for Earth’s Community of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: CoNexus Press, 1995, Revised Edition), p. 151.
5. Swami Vivekananda’s “Addresses at the Parliament of Religions” (Chicago, September 27, 1893, http://www.interfaithstudies.org/interfaith/vivekparladdresses.html, accessed 12/2005).
6. M. Basil Pennington, Centered Living (New York, NY: Image Books, 1988), p. 192.
7. Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Friend (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 172.
8. Ken Carey, The Starseed Transmissions (A Uni-Sun Book, 1985 4th printing), p. 33.
9. David Spangler, Emergence: The Rebirth of the Sacred (New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1984), p. 112.
10. Newsweek magazine, Special Edition: Spiritual Living, March 2016, p. 7.
The video below is a tribute to Lighthouse Trails author Ray Yungen who passed away on October 16, 2016 by Spiritual Research Network founder and director Chris Lawson. Chris has put together a special YouTube tribute page for Ray with several lecture videos by Ray. Click here for that page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrnkfIeSWQFG8uqkR3bfVng/featured.
By Ray Yungen
Catholic priest William Shannon in his book, Seeds of Peace, explained the human dilemma as being the following:
This forgetfulness, of our oneness with God, is not just a personal experience, it is the corporate experience of humanity. Indeed, this is one way to understanding original sin. We are in God, but we don’t seem to know it. We are in paradise, but we don’t realize it.1
Shannon’s viewpoint defines the basic underlying worldview of the contemplative prayer movement as a whole. One can find similar quotations in practically every book written by contemplative authors. A Hindu guru or a Zen Buddhist master would offer the same explanation. This conclusion becomes completely logical when tracing the roots of contemplative prayer. Let us look at the beginnings of this practice.
In the early Middle Ages, there lived a group of hermits in the wilderness areas of the Middle East. They are known to history as the Desert Fathers. They dwelt in small isolated communities for the purpose of devoting their lives completely to God without distraction. The contemplative movement traces its roots back to these monks who promoted the mantra as a prayer tool. One meditation scholar made this connection when he said:
The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East … the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.2
Many of the Desert Fathers, in their zeal, were simply seeking God through trial and error. A leading contemplative prayer teacher candidly acknowledged the haphazard way the Desert Fathers acquired their practices:
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.3
Attempting to reach God through occult mystical practices will guarantee disaster. The Desert Fathers of Egypt were located in a particularly dangerous locale at that time to be groping around for innovative approaches to God, because as one theologian pointed out:
[D]evelopment of Christian meditative disciplines should have begun in Egypt because much of the intellectual, philosophical, and theological basis of the practice of meditation in Christianity also comes out of the theology of Hellenic and Roman Egypt. This is significant because it was in Alexandria that Christian theology had the most contact with the various Gnostic speculations which, according to many scholars, have their roots in the East, possibly in India.4
Consequently, the Desert Fathers believed as long as the desire for God was sincere–anything could be utilized to reach God. If a method worked for the Hindus to reach their gods, then Christian mantras could be used to reach Jesus. A current practitioner and promoter of the Desert Fathers’ mystical prayer still echoes the logical formulations of his mystical ancestors:
In the wider ecumenism of the Spirit being opened for us today, we need to humbly accept the learnings of particular Eastern religions … What makes a particular practice Christian is not its source, but its intent … this is important to remember in the face of those Christians who would try to impoverish our spiritual resources by too narrowly defining them. If we view the human family as one in God’s spirit, then this historical cross-fertilization is not surprising … selective attention to Eastern spiritual practices can be of great assistance to a fully embodied Christian life.5
Do you catch the reasoning here? Non-Christian sources, as avenues to spiritual growth, are perfectly legitimate in the Christian life, and if Christians only practice their Christianity based on the Bible, they will actually impoverish their spirituality. This was the thinking of the Desert Fathers. So as a result, we now have contemplative prayer. Jesus addressed this when he warned His disciples: “And when you pray, do not
use vain repetitions, as the heathen do.” (Matthew 6:7)
It should be apparent that mantra meditation or sacred word prayer qualifies as “vain repetition” and clearly fits an accurate description of the point Jesus was making. Yet in spite of this, trusted evangelical Christians have often pronounced that Christian mysticism is different from other forms of mysticism (such as Eastern or occult) because it is focused on Jesus Christ.
This logic may sound credible on the surface, but Christians must ask themselves a very simple and fundamental question: What really makes a practice Christian? The answer is obvious–does the New Testament sanction it? Hasn’t Christ taught us, through His Word, to pray in faith in His name and according to His will? Did He leave something out? Would Jesus hold out on His true followers? Never!
Understanding this truth, God has declared in His Word that He does not leave it up to earnest, yet sinful people, to reinvent their own Christianity. When Christians ignore God’s instructions in following Him they end up learning the way of the heathen. Israel did this countless times. It is just human nature.
The account of Cain and Abel is a classic biblical example of spiritual infidelity. Both of Adam’s sons wanted to please God, but Cain decided he would experiment with his own method of being devout. Cain must have reasoned to himself: “Perhaps God would like fruit or grain better than a dead animal. It’s not as gross. It’s less smelly. Hey, I think I will try it!”
As you know, God was not the least bit impressed by Cain’s attempt to create his own approach to pleasing God. The Lord made it clear to Cain that God’s favor would be upon him if he did what is right, not just what was intended for God or God-focused.
In many ways, the Desert Fathers were like Cain—eager to please but not willing to listen to the instruction of the Lord and do what was right. One cannot fault them for their devotion, but one certainly can fault them for their lack of discernment.
1. William Shannon, Seeds of Peace, p. 66.
2. Daniel Goleman, The Meditative Mind 1988, p.53.
3. Ken Kaisch, Finding God, p.191.
4. Father William Teska, Meditation in Christianity , p.65.
5. Tilden Edwards, Living in the Presence , Acknowledgement page.
A list of ancient mystics (taken from Chris Lawson’s A Directory of Authors: Three NOT Recommended Lists booklet)
Mystics from the past oftentimes favorably endorsed by “Christian” authors today
Middle Ages (Medieval Times) and Renaissance
Angela of Foligno (1248–1309)
Anthony of Padua (1195–1231)
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
Catherine of Siena (1347–1380)
Desert Fathers, The
Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th century)
Henry Suso (1295–1366)
Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
Hugh of Saint Victor (1096–1141)
Jacopone da Todi (1230–1306)
Johannes Tauler (d.1361)
John of Ruysbroeck (1293–1381)
John Scotus Eriugena (810–877)
Julian of Norwich (1342–1416)
Mechthild of Magdeburg (1212–1297)
Meister Eckhart (1260–1327)
Richard of Saint Victor (d.1173)
Richard Rolle (1300–1341)
The Cloud of the Unknowing (anonymous, instruction in mysticism, 1375)
Theologia Germanica (anonymous, mystical treatise, late 14th century)
Thomas a’ Kempis (1380–1471)
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
Walter Hilton (1340–1396)
Renaissance, Reformation, and Counter–Reformation
Brother Lawrence (1614–1691)
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1822)
George Fox (1624–1691)
Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556)
Jakob Böhme (1575–1624)
Jean Nicolas Grou (1731-1803)
John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes) (1542–1591)
Joseph of Cupertino (1603–1663)
Madame Guyon (1647–1717)
Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582)
Theophan the Recluse (1815–1894)
William Law (1686–1761)
Modern Era (19th—20th Century)
Alexandrina Maria da Costa (1904–1955)
Bernadette Roberts (1931–)
Berthe Petit (1870–1943)
Carmela Carabelli (1910–1978)
Domenico da Cese (1905–1978)
Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941)
Flower A. Newhouse (1909–1994)
Frank Laubach (1884–1970)
Frederick Buechner (1926–)
Karl Rahner (1904–1984)
Lúcia Santos (1907–2005)
Maria Pierina de Micheli (1890–1945)
Maria Valtorta (1898–1963)
Marie Lataste (1822–1899)
Marie Martha Chambon (1841–1907)
Martin Buber (1868–1965)
Mary Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938)
Mary of Saint Peter (1816–1848)
Mary of the Divine Heart (1863–1899)
Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887–1968)
Pierina Gilli (1911–1991)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881– 1955)
Simone Weil (1909–1943)
Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)
Thomas Merton (1915–1968)
Thomas Raymond Kelly (1893–1941)
Dear Lighthouse Trails Editors:
It seems that a new phrase might be in order to describe what’s going on in the church. When we see or hear someone endorse a practice that goes contrary to the Word within the church especially, I guess we could call that “a biblical emergency” for lack of a better term. We could call those who are out on the front lines warning us about these practices “first responders” in a certain sense, similar to the terminology that applies to those responding to a fire, a robbery, etc.
With contemplative prayer, mantra meditation, and other unbiblical practices having entered into the church, I would say the church has that kind of emergency situation. It’s a very unusual way to describe that.