Posts Tagged ‘Richard Foster’
Guest Post: Albert Mohler Gives Air Time to Author of “The Benedict Option” (A Monastic/Catholic Promoting Book)
LTRP Note: This is another example of a major Christian leader laying aside the integrity of biblical faith and giving credence to the Roman Catholicism and contemplative mysticism for the sake of “unity” and “morality.”
By Cathy Mickel
(Author of Spiritual Junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth)
Where is the wisdom in Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, giving air time to Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option (a book highlighting the way of Saint Benedict, Catholic “saint” and founder of the monastic Benedictine order)? (Other evangelical leaders who support the book are Matt Chandler; https://twitter.com/villagechurchtx/status/839994280101961729, Russell Moore; http://www.russellmoore.com/2017/03/10/signposts-conversation-rod-dreher/, and John Piper; https://twitter.com/JohnPiper/status/839647675364622336 )
In the interview, Mohler says, “[T]he book is very important. I want to commend it to every thinking Christian. We ought to read this book and we ought also to read far beyond the title.” (http://www.albertmohler.com/2017/02/13/benedict-option-conversation-rod-dreher)
The following are a few quotes from what the author of The Benedict Option said to Albert Mohler in the interview.
[T]he West owes an incalculable debt to those Benedictine monks.
So this is nothing new. We’re just rediscovering an old tradition, things that our ancestors knew. And look, I think that whether we’re evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox, we need to go back to the early church to see how our ancestors did it, see what they did, see how they embodied the faith and culture and practices [contemplative prayer].
. . . time for Christians to take seriously the times we’re in, to read the signs of the times and to respond in a responsible way, in a clear way, in a patient way. And I use Saint Benedict of Nursia [considered the “father of western monasticism”], the 6th century saint, who was a Christian who lived through the fall of the Roman Empire; he was born four years after the Empire officially fell. And he went down to Rome to get his education and saw it was completely corrupt, it was falling apart. He went out to the woods to pray; he lived in cave for three years, and asked God to show him what to do with his life. He ended up coming out and founding a monastic order. That monastic order he founded ended up over the next few centuries spreading like wildfire throughout Western Europe. And what they did was prepare the way for civilization to return to Western Europe. They tendered within those monasteries the Scriptures, the prayers, the liturgies, and the old ways of doing things. So they became a sort of ark that traveled over the dark sea of time until it found dry land, and there was light after the darkness.” [see John Caddock’s article “Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” & Their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticism”]
One of the stories I tell in the book is about going to the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a small town in the mountains of central Italy, that was where say Benedict was born. He was a son of the Roman governor. Well, there’s still a monastery there today. Napoleon closed it down in 1810, but in the year 2000 some American monks went there and reopened it. And they wanted to sing the traditional Latin mass, and it’s become a real oasis of Christian peace and beauty. Well, it’s the sort of place where you go there up in the mountains, and you really envy these men, their peace, where they can worship and meet visitors.
[I]n my own case, my life is shaped around liturgy that’s been in our church for 1500 years. My life is shaped around the chanting of Psalms and on all kinds of sensual ways that embody the faith. Of course you can have smells and bells and go straight to hell, that doesn’t change you and lead to greater conversion. But for me as an Orthodox Christian and me as a Catholic, the faith had more traction and it drew me in closer and closer. (emphasis added)
Here is Amazon’s description of Benedict Option:
In a radical new vision for the future of Christianity, NYT bestselling author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher calls on American Christians to prepare for the coming Dark Age by embracing an ancient Christian way of life [contemplative prayer] . . .
In The Benedict Option, Dreher calls on traditional Christians to learn from the example of St. Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century monk who turned from the chaos and decadence of the collapsing Roman Empire, and found a new way to live out the faith in community. For five difficult centuries, Benedict’s monks kept the faith alive through the Dark Ages, and prepared the way for the rebirth of civilization. What do ordinary 21st century Christians — Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox — have to learn from the teaching and example of this great spiritual father? That they must read the signs of the times, abandon hope for a political solution to our civilization’s problems, and turn their attention to creating resilient spiritual centers that can survive the coming storm. Whatever their Christian tradition, they must draw on the secrets of Benedictine wisdom to build up the local church, create countercultural schools based on the classical tradition, rebuild family life, thicken communal bonds, and develop survival strategies for doctors, teachers, and others on the front lines of persecution. . . .
Added section from Lighthouse Trails editors—Here are a few quotes from the book, The Benedict Option:
Imagine that you are at a Catholic mass in a dreary 1970s-era suburban church that looks like a converted Pizza Hut. The next Sunday you are at a high Catholic mass in New York City, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Scripture reading is the same in both places, and Jesus is just as present in the Eucharist at Our Lady of Pizza Hut as at St. Patrick’s. Chances are, though, that you had to work harder to conjure a sense of the true holiness of the mass in the suburban church than in the cathedral—though theologically speaking, the “information” conveyed in Word and Sacrament in both places was the same. This is the difference liturgy can make. (Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, pp. 106-107, Penguin Publishing Group; emphasis added)
I told the priest how, in response to a personal crisis, my own orthodox priest back in Louisiana had assigned me a strict daily prayer rule, praying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for about an hour each day. It was dull and difficult at first, but I did it out of obedience. Every day, for a seemingly endless hour, silent prayer. In time, though, the hour seemed much shorter, and I discovered that the peace I had conspicuously lacked in my soul came forth. (The Benedict Option, p. 59)
For the monks, prayer is not simply words they speak. Each monk spends several hours daily doing lectio divina, a Benedictine method of Scripture study that involves reading a Scripture passage, meditating on it, praying about it, and finally contemplating its meaning for the soul. (The Benedict Option, pp. 58-59)
The Reformation broke the religious unity [with Rome] of Europe. In Protestant lands, it birthed an unresolvable crisis in religious authority, which over the coming centuries would cause unending schisms. The Benedict Option, p. 45, emphasis added)
If you don’t control your own attention, there are plenty of people eager to do it for you. The first step in regaining cognitive control is creating a space of silence in which you can think. During a deep spiritual crisis in my own life, the toxic tide of chronic anxiety did not began to recede from my mind until my priest ordered me to take up a daily rule of contemplative prayer. Stilling my mind for an hour of prayer was incredibly difficult, but it eventually opened up a beachhead in which the Holy Spirit could work to calm the stormy waters within. (The Benedict Option, pp. 227-228, emphasis added)
In a 2017 Christianity Today article titled, “The Benedict Option’s Vision for a Christian Village” by Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, Dreher says the following. Our deciphering is in brackets:
I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself [unify by removing the barriers between Protestantism and Catholicism], while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith [not biblical roots, monastic roots of the desert fathers and other mystics], both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart [contemplative prayer practices – Nouwen called it moving from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical] forgotten by believers in the West [that’s what Merton taught]. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs [the cost is going to be the death of biblical truth]. (source)
These remarks by Dreher are reminiscent of the contemplative pioneer and disciple of Thomas Merton, Richard Foster, when he said: “I see a Catholic monk from the hills of Kentucky standing alongside a Baptist evangelist from the streets of Los Angeles and together offering up a sacrifice of praise. I see a people.” (Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water, San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1998, p. 273) We need not look very far to know how such an ecumenical unifying will take place. The contemplative prayer movement is the vehicle, and it is in our midst waiting for the unaware and undiscerning to hop on for the ride.
One can only wonder, will there be any Christian leaders left standing when the battle is over? Remember the words of Jesus when He said,
[W]hen the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)
Dear Lighthouse Trails:
I read the story behind Lighthouse Trails a couple of times, and it hit me that we are going to reach only a fraction of evangelical believers because the movement has progressed so much farther into Contemplative Spirituality (CS) than I had realized. I became aware of CS five years ago, so when I read that Ray Yungen wrote his book (which I am re-reading currently) in 2002, it occurred to me that the battle is nearly won by the forces of evil. Out of all the people I have tried to reach, only two have been receptive to my warning. Of course, your ministry can reach many more than any one individual. Jesus told us we would see this apostasy in the end.
I sent the link for your story of LHT to a friend, who said she had the very same reaction I had—that is, CS has infiltrated the Church more than she realized and that she felt it is too late. Neither she nor I will give up on trying to warn believers—if only a few have their eyes opened, we will have done what Jesus commands.
I do wish you would do some research on Pastor Brian Zahnd, my former pastor. His church went emergent, and he is deep into Contemplative Spirituality. He teaches seminars on Contemplative Prayer at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO. He is now taking his prayer school on the road. And like Roger Oakland says, he’s on the “road to Rome.” He is currently writing his sixth book. https://brianzahnd.com/books/
If you were to read his blog and his Twitter account, you’d see just how far he has gone into apostasy. https://twitter.com/BrianZahnd
He has said he is a friend of Eugene Peterson. He quotes Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and many other CS authors and “theologians” on Twitter. One tweet said: “The future of Christianity belongs to the Thomas Merton kind of Christian, not the heirs of Jerry Falwell.”
Recently he had a reply to one of his tweets from Ann Coulter, so he is not an unknown.
He has jettisoned the OT (though he says not, but then he says he’s not Emergent) and is against substitutionary atonement.
I sent my current pastor your booklet on Brennan Manning and got no response. So I guess I’ll be looking for a new church again.
May God bless you in your vital work.
Lighthouse Trails Comments: As Ruth has perceived, Brian Zahnd is a mystic. If you asked him if he was, he would proudly tell you yes. He’s not ashamed of it. His book Water to Wine tells of his mystical experiences and the outcome of those experiences. It’s in that book that Zahnd made the Merton/Falwell quote. Here is a little more of that quote:
The way forward is far less political and far more mystical. A generation ago the great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner famously predicted, “The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’, one who has ‘experienced’ something, or he will cease to be anything at all.” The future of Christianity belongs to the Thomas Merton kind of Christian, not the heirs of Jerry Falwell. This should be seen as a welcome change. It is only our false hopes that are being disappointed in the death of Christendom. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 1606-1610). Spello Press. Kindle Edition)
During the course of our author Ray Yungen’s adult life, he studied the New Age, occultism, and mysticism, their connection to each other, and their influence in the world and in the church. He frequently mentioned Karl Rahner’s quote that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will be nothing. That is how the mystics view their belief that a Christian must engage in mystical practices if he really wants to be spiritual. They believe these practices will produce esoteric experiences that if practiced by enough of mankind, the earth and the world can be saved. They believe that real love and a change of heart can only come from these experiences. The mystics believe that this mystical transformation can happen to anyone, of any belief, of any religion, or of no religion at all. That’s because it isn’t about Jesus Christ (though they may say they like him) and man realizing he is a sinner in great need of a Savior. It can’t be about that—that would take away from the mystic’s belief that divinity dwells in all people and in all things. Though a bit obscure in the following quote by Zahnd, he puts it this way:
Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 1897-1900). Spello Press. Kindle Edition, emphasis added)
As Ray Yungen often pointed out, the “fruit” of contemplative prayer (which Zahnd refers to over 40 times in the book) is interspirituality (all paths lead to God) and panentheism (God in all). Zahnd explains in his book that when he moved from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical, he became interspiritual:
When I was converted from sectarian to eclectic [mystical], I obtained a passport that allowed me to travel freely throughout the whole body of Christ. In my theological travels I have discovered a Christianity that has both historical depth and ecumenical width. Now I can’t imagine not being able to access all the great contributors to contemporary Christian thought. Orthodox thinkers like Kallistos Ware and David Bentley Hart. Catholic thinkers like Richard Rohr and William Cavanaugh. Anglican thinkers like Rowen Williams and N.T. Wright. Mainline thinkers like Walter Brueggemann and Eugene Peterson. Without them my Christianity would be horribly impoverished. (Zahnd, Brian. Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Kindle Locations 459-463). Spello Press. Kindle Edition)
Water to Wine is filled with interspiritual statements like the one above. Using words such as “tribalism,” he says we must get rid of this notion that traditional (biblical) Christianity is more true or right than other religious traditions. Just prior to the statement above, Zahnd quoted Thomas Merton saying:
If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians… If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division [doctrine] upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ. (Kindle Locations 454-459, quoting Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Colorado Springs, CO: Image Books, 1968, 14).
You may recall when Thomas Merton spoke via letter with a Sufi master (an Islamic mystic) and told him that doctrinal differences needed to be laid aside, and we must turn to esoteric experiences as a common ground for unity and fellowship between all . He actually used the Cross as an example of one of those doctrines that had to be laid aside. (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999, p. 109)
While Zahnd’s book is filled with examples of his “new life” as a mystic, we’d like to bring out just one more point about Zahnd because it reveals some insight that affects a huge percentage of today’s Christian culture, and it is the person who initially pointed the way for Zahnd to become a mystic. You will know the name. Most likely, your own pastor has read at least one of his books. Read what Zahnd has to say:
On a summer afternoon I was at home browsing my bookshelves. I was deliberately looking for a book that would “give me a breakthrough.” I couldn’t settle on anything. So I prayed, “God, show me what to read.” And I sensed…nothing. I went downstairs feeling a bit agitated and slumped into a chair. Within a minute or two my wife, Peri, walked into the room, handed me a book and said, “I think you should read this.” She knew nothing of my moments ago prayer, but she had just handed me a book, and told me to read it. This was my Augustine-like “take and read” moment. It sent chills down my spine. Somehow I knew it was the answer to my prayer. The book was Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. The strange thing was Peri had not read this book and had no more idea who Dallas Willard was than I did. (As I said, I was embarrassingly ignorant of the good stuff.) Neither of us were sure how the book had even made its way into our house. But, oh my, was it ever an answer to prayer! The next day I was flying somewhere and I took out the book providentially given to me by an angel. I began to read. And my life changed forever. Hyperbole? No. Stone cold fact. Reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy was like having a door kicked open in my mind. It opened my eyes to the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is, well, everything! In his foreword to The Divine Conspiracy, Richard Foster writes: “The Divine Conspiracy is the book I have been searching for all my life. Like Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, it is a masterpiece and a wonder… I would place The Divine Conspiracy in rare company indeed: along-side the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wesley, John Calvin and Martin Luther, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, and perhaps even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. If the parousia tarries, this is a book for the next millennium.” That’s exactly what I needed! Augustine and Aquinas for the twenty-first century! Dallas Willard was my gateway to the good stuff. Directly or indirectly reading Willard led me to others: N.T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, René Girard, Miroslav Volf, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, David Bentley Hart, Wendell Berry, Scot McKnight, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and so many more. (Kindle Locations 116-133)
Sadly, the spirituality that Brian Zahnd found in those authors cannot save souls and does not point to the Cross of redemption through Jesus Christ. Like so many mystics before him, Zahnd has discarded the idea that Christianity is dualistic in that it is separate from all other belief systems (and that there is a right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, etc), and the doctrines that the mystics so readily dismiss are the very framework of our Christian faith. Within those rejected doctrines is the doctrine of the Cross that says man is not divine and he desperately needs a Savior who is just one Person, Jesus Christ who died a violent death on behalf of mankind. He took our place. To reject dualism (two sides) is to reject the Cross. The contemplative emergent Episcopal bishope Alan Jones illustrated this in his book Reimagining Christianity. In Roger Oakland’s book, Faith Undone, Oakland states:
[Alan] Jones carries through with this idea that God never intended Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to be considered a payment for our sins:
“The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.”
“The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution [the Cross] was the name of this vile doctrine.” (Faith Undone, Lighthouse Trails, 2007, p. 193, quoting Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons, 200, pp. 132, 168)
Jones calls the doctrine of the Cross a “vile doctrine,” similar to Brian McLaren who said the doctrine of the Cross and Hell are “false advertising” for God.* Brennan Manning did the same thing when he said that the God who exacted the last drop of his blood to appease His anger for our sins does not exist. (Above All, Manning, p. 58) Brian Zahnd says it this way:
Over time I began to see the cross in a much deeper way—not as a mere factor in an atonement theory equation, but as the moment in time and space where God reclaimed creation. I saw the cross as the place where Jesus refounded the world. Instead of being organized around an axis of power enforced by violence, at the cross the world was refounded around an axis of love expressed in forgiveness. (Water To Wine, Kindle Locations 305-308, emphasis added)
It’s a perfect ploy of Satan to get people to stop believing in that atonement. Remember, our adversary hates the atonement. And once a person begins down that road of mystical experiences, entering esoteric realms (really demonic realms), Satan will even allow that mystic to think he has become a fully evolved enlightened person who loves everyone and everything. All the while that person, who is being seduced by familiar spirits, is moving further and further away from the only path God has provided for salvation. And he will share this “mystical revolution” with as many people as he can. This is what happened with all the “great” mystics, and tragically, it appears to have happened to Brian Zahnd and who knows how many other evangelical pastors.
* Interview by Leif Hansen (The Bleeding Purple Podcast) with Brian McLaren, January 8th, 2006); Part 1: http://bleeding purple podcast .blog spot.com/2006/01/brian-mclaren-interview-part-i.html; Part II: http://bleeding purple pod cast. blog spot.com/2006/01/interview-with-brian-mclaren-part-ii.html).
To Lighthouse Trails:
I have been going to a non-denominational church for years, and last year I noticed the term “Spiritual Formation” being used in the website of the Bible camp this church sponsors. I brought it to their attention, only to be met with indifference and the impression that I was somehow “over the top” to even suggest that Spiritual Formation was in fact Roman Catholic mysticism. They say they are doing a “good” Spiritual Formation yet have teachers at this camp who are from all sorts of New Age churches. Most of these teachers are linked with Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and a host of other contemplative teachers. The church I have been going to actually originated at this Bible camp over 50 years ago and was for many years very biblical and evangelistic. Now it’s united with different denominations and a overload of New Age ideas.
So last year, because no one was listening to me, my wife and I left this assembly, and to this day, no one there seems none the wiser about SF having set up roots in this Bible camp. Nor do they care; no one even calls us, though we were dedicated in doing our part in this assembly for years and years.
Other than Lighthouse Trails and few other online ministries, why is it that no one seems to see this danger, and why are they so indifferent about even talking about this deception? Most of the folks in this assembly, I believe are true born-again believers, yet have blinders on.
This Bible camp offers credits to colleges locally, and these colleges also teach Spiritual Formation with the likes of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I actually wrote to these colleges and asked them if they teach SF that embraces the “silence,” repetition of words, Lectio Divina etc. etc., and they proudly admitted to teaching such!
So where have all the Christians gone, and why are the majority of them not even willing to understand this RC deception? I just don’t it.
“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.
LTRP Note: We find it noteworthy that on the eve of our going to press with Roger Oakland’s new book, The Good Shepherd Calls, we read this letter to the editor that arrived in our inbox this morning. The things this letter talks about are some of the same things Roger discusses in the book. What’s more, this letter to the editor is more proof that it isn’t just Lighthouse Trails, Understand The Times, and a handful of other discernment ministries that see what is coming about. (Those whom we challenge and critique want people to think that it is indeed just a handful, but it isn’t.) Based on the phone calls, e-mails, letters, and social media comments for nearly 15 years, it is clear that many Bible-believing Christians understand the times in which we live and see the apostasy coming upon the church. As for the letter below, we commend this woman for speaking up and warning her church members.
Dear Lighthouse Trails:
My small Southern Baptist church recently finished Beth Moore’s “Entrusted” series which includes articles from her daughter Melissa Moore. Not having experienced Beth Moore I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Being informed by Lighthouse Trails and other discernment websites, I approached the class with a good deal of wariness. I love Beth and Melissa Moore as sisters in Christ. I was hoping to find nothing of concern in “Entrusted.” This was not the case. Following are some of my concerns.
Quite a lot of this study had to do with unity. Beth had several pages of praise for the unbelieving “hero,” Rabbi Gamaliel and his speech that unified the Sanhedrin, holding him up as an example for church leaders to follow. She then contrasted Gamaliel with believers Paul and Barnabas and expressed dismay that they should split in a disagreement over John Mark, as though it was an avoidable incident over a minor problem. She had a strong emphasis on not “compromising fellowship,” with a major criteria for unity being that we join together for evangelism regardless of denomination, and with the assumption that we all believe the same basic Gospel message. All other major doctrines seemed to be a minor concern. There was a quick negative comment about what divides us, the inerrancy of Scripture being one of them. She read Acts 14:3 concerning God’s use of signs and wonders through Paul and Barnabas, saying that she wants and expects wonders and indicated we should as well. Before one of her grandchildren was born, “a word had been spoken” that led them to believe the child would be a boy, but it was instead a girl . . . a false prophecy. . Her daughter Melissa wrote approvingly about traditions of the early church (i. e., Roman Catholic), the liturgy and especially the creeds, with a desire to see all churches united in incorporating these traditions in weekly worship. There was a personal story from Melissa about how comforting she found this form of worship, as she was sharing the same worship experience with churches all over the world at the same time. Lastly, Beth switched among at least eight Bible versions, including The Message.
There were other comments scattered throughout the videos and written materials with which I disagreed mixed in with a majority with which I did agree, making it difficult to sift through it all. However, at the inerrancy of Scripture comment, I couldn’t hold my tongue. When I told the ladies’ Bible study group that I couldn’t agree with Beth on this, as well as her subtle comments promoting ecumenism, I was met with defensive hostility and warnings about division in the church. I never intended to cause waves or division, but I love those ladies and I couldn’t let this pass. There was obvious tension and discomfort at the next church service.
How can we unite in evangelism when we don’t even agree on how to be saved? How can we unite with those who hold unscriptural views on marriage, sexuality, abortion, health-and-wealth, etc.? Doesn’t it matter what a new believer is taught? Is being safely in the fold all that matters? Most importantly, the world appears to be nearing Christ’s return and we are warned about the increase of apostasy and deception. The experiential emergent movement, Chrislam, etc. are rapidly transforming the world’s religions by incorporating Roman Catholic traditions and encouraging religious unity. Aren’t Bible studies like this one leading in the same direction? Yet churches like mine seem completely oblivious. Should we not warn them, or at least raise suspicion?
I haven’t been back. I don’t want to be the focus of the problem. My hope and prayer is that these brothers and sisters whom I love will instead focus on the major issue of discerning apostasy. I pray they don’t trust anything that comes from any source without doing a thorough evaluation. And I pray they discuss everything before admitting it into the church, perhaps electing a trusted group of Bereans to act as a defense against apostasy.
Thank God for Lighthouse Trails Research and similar discernment websites, speaking the truth, and shining the light in the darkness. Thank-you, LTR!
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.
In 2006, a DVD film was released by Fox Entertainment called Be Still. Lighthouse Trails wrote extensively about it at the time, warning our readers that the DVD was an infomercial for contemplative prayer. Recently, a caller who very much understood the deceptive dynamics of the contemplative prayer (i.e., Spiritual Formation) movement, reminded us about the film, and we e-mailed her a copy of all the transcripts (we had transcribed the entire film in 2006). The film includes Richard Foster, Buddhist-sympathizer Catholic convert Peter Kreeft, Dallas Willard, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Michelle McKinney Hammon, Max Lucado, and Calvin Miller. You can read some of our previous coverage here.
You can be sure that in the last 10 years since Be Still was released, the contemplative prayer movement has grown by leaps and bounds, and we have no doubt that this film has had a lot to do with this spread.
Below we have posted portions of the transcript from three of the segments (there were six altogether) of the Be Still film. You may need to read between the lines to understand the message that is being promoted because the film was a seductive and enticing infomercial to draw people into the practice of contemplative prayer without coming right out and saying what contemplative prayer really entails. (After all, viewers could get specific instructions later by reading the writings of these people in the film). For those not familiar with the contemplative prayer movement, it may be a good idea to read this article by Lynn Pratt, “So You Want to Practice Contemplative Prayer? What’s Wrong With That?”
Within these quotes, the italicized words are added by LT for emphasis.
“Contemplative Prayer: The Divine Romance Between God and Man”
We live in frenzied chaotic world under a constant siege of business and noise. The weapons of mass distraction are everywhere. We are bombarded by millions of advertisements daily. The Christian community is not exempt. We were designed to experience fullness of joy, yet many only experience fullness of schedule. Where can we go to find rest and peace?
Be still and know that I am God. We find peace in God’s presence. We get to know God better through prayer. Prayer is relationship and two-way communication with God. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But how can we experience abundance if we don’t learn to slow down? We need to stop and quiet ourselves to spend time in real relationship with God.
Contemplation is different from other types of Christian prayer. Contemplative prayer involves less telling God what we want to happen in our lives and more listening for God’s call to us in our heart through Scripture. As we develop the inward attentiveness to God’s divine whisper, we begin to experience His presence more throughout the day.
“What is Contemplative Prayer?”
Richard Foster, author “Prayer”:
Contemplative prayer is listening prayer. It is attentiveness. You know how our children will talk with us and sometimes we wish that they would just listen to us. Now, that’s what contemplative prayer is. It’s being all ears to what the Father has to say to us.
[French Catholic mystic] Nicholas Grou said, “O Divine Master, teach me this mute language which says so much.” That’s the idea. It’s very simple, isn’t it? That we become attentive to God. God’s interested in us, what we have to say. We learn to become interested in what God has to say to us.
Priscilla Shirer, author of “He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear the Voice of Go”:
Most of my prayer time is filled up with what I’m saying to Him, as opposed to just being quiet and actually giving him an opportunity to speak to me. And of course I’ve thought about hearing the voice of God all my life, and I’ve thought about wanting to hear Him, but it never occurred to me that I needed to consciously go into His presence with my mouth closed, giving Him an opportunity to get a word in edgewise. And so I’ve just begun in my prayer life over the past year of my life to make a conscious effort to be in a time of prayer, and yes, to speak to Him, but to consciously say, okay, I’m done talking now, because I’m just gonna sit here in the stillness and wait to see what it is that you want to say to me.
Dallas Willard, PhD.,former Director, School of Philosophy, USC:
It is somewhat like, uh, the story of electricity with Benjamin Franklin. And actually, we know now that electricity’s everywhere. I mean, our blood cells wouldn’t work without electricity. But it was Franklin who made the effort to contact it, as it were. So the famous story about the kite in the electric storm, and the current running down the line and jumping the gap and causing the spark and so on. And of course it’s a wonder that the old fellow wasn’t killed on the spot with it, because lightning has been doing that for a long time.
Buddhist-sympathizer Catholic convert, Peter Kreeft:
It’s easy to allegorize it. The key is Franklin’s own ego. And the sky is God. And the electricity is grace and the kite line is prayer. And he’s sending himself up to God in order to get charged.
When my son and I, Jackson, when we play sports or when we play baseball or when he kicks the ball, I always want to try to instruct him on how to do it and what to do. This is how you do it, Son. You do it this way. Well, it hit me. Where Jackson doesn’t want to be with me to receive instruction necessarily. He just wants to be in my presence. And that was the amazing thing. He goes, “You know, Dad, don’t—I don’t need your instructions. I don’t need this. Dad, I’m just happy just being with you.” You know? And that was the thing for me. And that just, you know, made me understand my relationship with Christ. It’s not about me speaking or saying, Lord, this is what I want. He goes, “Jerry, just spend time with Me.”
Contemplative prayer can be experienced everywhere, in small groups of people, when you’re alone, when you’re at work, in all kinds of situations. You take a passage of Scripture, a very simple passage, and you simply lean into the passage and you allow the Lord to teach you.
Churches, small groups and individuals around the world have structured a spiritual life around the practice of Christian contemplation.
Very interesting that even Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, thought the highest human good was contemplation. But he thought it was contemplation of truth, not contemplation of God. Still, he was onto something big. And it was later on the Christians came along because Aristotelian contemplation turned out not really to do a lot for people. But Augustine, for example, corrected Aristotle and taught that it was God that we contemplate, because He is the only final good and we lift our minds and hearts to Him through Christ, and that gives us the kind of life-giving joy and sufficiency that Aristotle understood to be true happiness.
One of the lives that has affected me deeply is Saint Augustine, that after wrestling with God for such a long time, and God just chasing him and hunting him down, I remember thinking to myself, I want to be that way about God. When God’s hunting me down, I wanna slow down and be caught by Him. If He’s chasing me, I want Him to catch me. And that’s what God did with Saint Augustine. And he knew the fiery passion of God’s love, not just a God of the law, but a God of the heart, a God that chases the heart of man, to pick up all its pieces and make it whole.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College:
[The mystic] Kierkegaard, probably the greatest Protestant Christian mind of all time, said many times something like this—This is almost the last page of his journal shortly before he died. He said, “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. Because even if the word of God were proclaimed in its fullness, it would not be heard. There is too much noise. So begin with silence.”
The stresses we live with are so invasive, we begin to believe we’re nothing but these things. We believe they have the power to define who we are and how we live. We must learn to desire a oneness with God that transcends all these things.
“The Need for Contemplative Prayer”
Max Lucado, Pastor, Author, “Cure for the Common Life”:
You know, people are in such a hurry all the time. I talked to a man recently who had completed 60 ironman triathlons. And the guy’s in his 60s. I said, What’s the secret? He said, “Start slow and taper down.” That’s my new motto in life. He said, “Everybody gets out on these races, and they start running as hard as they can, and they wear out. They can’t finish.” He said, “The secret’s to start slow and taper down.” I thought, you know, that’s right. Cause really in life, we start slow. And Jesus said, “Anybody who would know the kingdom of God needs to come like a child.” Children start slow, in our parent’s lap, at our mother’s breast, sleeping a lot, thinking a lot, learning a lot, but then somewhere along the line we think we gotta ratchet up. And so, yeah, I think it’s time to slow it all down a little bit.
I’m reminded of Matthew, chapter 17, during the Transfiguration, Jesus was there with Peter, James and John and it says that God called out from the heavens, God the Father, called out from the heavens. And here’s Jesus standing in front of them with His face shining. And I mean, they are just amazed at what they are seeing and God the Father calls out and says, “This is My Son whom I love, and I am well pleased.” And this is the command that God the Father gives. He says, “Listen to Him.” Here’s Jesus in all of His glory, and the one thing the Father says that He’s, we’re supposed to do is listen to Him. And so, if that’s the one command that God the Father would give at this point, at this incredible point in biblical history, that we listen to Him, then I think we oughta be making some time to come aside from our busyness and listen to what it is that our Father has to say to us.
Calvin Miller, Professor, Author, “Into the Depths of God”: [Miller is a proponent of Marcus Borg who openly denied many tenets of the Christian faith.]
One of the great things that silence does, it gives us a new concept of God. God is not just somebody there to hear us, a doting grandfather who puts his arms around us and says, “Honey, I’ll see what I can do for you.” God is an activist. That’s why I believe in praying the Scriptures. When you open up the Bible and you pray the Scriptures back to God, you’re experiencing something really wonderful, and what you’re experiencing is, you’re reading back to the Author of the Word of God His own words. Now I’m not, I’m not a great writer. But when somebody says to me, “I read your book,” that’s a great gift to give me.
God’s Word is so clear that if we are not still before Him, we will never truly know, to the depths of the marrow in our bones, that He is God. There has got to be a stillness. We’ve got to have a time to sit before Him and just know that He is. We live in such an attention-deficit culture, and we’re so entirely over stimulated, so much coming at us at once, one image after another, that if we are not careful, we are going to lose the art of meditation, to just sit before God and know His peace, that He really is in control, and that nothing is happening that’s not being sifted through His fingers, and He is God upon the throne.
The wonderful thing about contemplative prayer is that it can be found everywhere, anywhere, any time for anyone. [Foster believes that contemplative prayer is for anyone, not just believers in Christ.] We become a portable sanctuary, so that we are living our life, wherever it is, aware of the goodness of God, the presence of God.
If there ever was an age that the church—and a time period when the church needed the practice of solitude and silence, it’s now. We live in the information age. And I love it. I love the technology. I love the opportunities it gives us. But I also recognize that every day there’s hundreds of emails. We’re connected to a world wide web. We have cell phones. We, whether we’re in a car, or on an airplane or at our home, somebody can be in contact with us. And all those are great resources, but if in the middle of it we don’t stop, if we don’t get silent and practice that and be alone with God, all that becomes just a drain on us. And so the very people you’re trying to connect with and minister to, you have no energy for.
Now because silence is such a radical thing, and it does mean that you give up control of your situation, you can see what a tremendous impact that would have on the American church, in their services, in their meetings of various kinds. Suppose they practice silence in some of their meetings. That would actually give a place for God to break in. And who knows, He might have something to say even to a committee meeting, if they would be silent long enough. It would mean that, for example, the pastors and the leaders in the services would not feel like they have to control everything, that again, God is in control. And that’s the way God is. He more or less waits for us to get tired of running things and then He’s glad to help.
Katherine A. Brown-Satzman, [promotes guided imagery] Executive Director, UCLA, Healthcare Ethics Center:
And in the process of that, physiologically, everything begins to shift. Blood pressure comes down. Breathing changes. Our mind quiets. And we can actually get to this state of where our body can heal in a much better way, because it’s not fighting all of this, right? It’s not amped up.
“Fear of Silence”
If silence is a condition of this experience, a lot of people really are not going to undertake it. It’s very difficult to get anyone to be silent. And I think it’s because in silence they really do surrender their control over how they appear. One of the things we do in talking is to adjust our appearance. And to abandon that as a project is really major. So we keep jabbering. You go to the ordinary church service, you can hardly find 15 minutes of silence. But silence is one of the great spiritual disciplines. And in fact you’re not going to get very far in contemplative prayer unless you know how to be silent. And by that I mean that you really are comfortable with it and you’re practiced in it.
Christian meditation is the practice of being in the presence of God. Its ultimate goal is to seek only God and receive His guidance and grace.
Let me give just a little example of contemplative prayer for an individual. I was using Scripture—one of the Psalms, a brief Psalm, like recently I used Psalm 9. And first I would read it through, just out loud to myself, and just become aware of the texture of the Psalm. And then I’d do a second reading. And there I would highlight whatever passage seemed to strike me in any way—a phrase or a sentence. And then I would do a third reading, and there I’m coming—I’m reading only the highlighted passages, and I look for any phrase, any sentence that speaks particularly to my condition. And that particular day, Psalm 9, the passage was, Be gracious to me, O Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? And I was going through some difficult time, and it was so helpful then, for the entire day, to utilize that particular passage. Be gracious to me, O Lord. Whatever I’m doing, whatever work it is, whatever situation with the children or with my wife or whatever—Be gracious to me, O Lord. See? That’s contemplative prayer.
LT: [Richard Foster is describing lectio divina here; but while he’s trying to make contemplative prayer sound very innocent here, we know from years of studying his writings, that he believes contemplative prayer to be much more than just picking out a passage of Scripture and thinking about it throughout the day. He and other contemplative figures teach that in order to go into the contemplative stillness, that special word or phrase needs to be repeated over and over to help eliminate thoughts and distractions.]
“The Difference Between Eastern and Christian Meditation”
What I see in Christian meditation—it’s not escape from the world. It’s an escape to something and to someone. And so it’s an opportunity to stop, and you’re getting away from the world, but you’re moving toward God and connecting with Him.
The loss of self that is meant in the Eastern traditions, really does mean that the individual dissolves. And that solves the problems of desire and passion, which is the curse of human life on that view of things. See, the Christian and Jewish teaching, and for that matter the Islamic teaching, is that the distinctness of the individual is a good thing. And that God has intended that and means to preserve it. So the response to the human condition is not the disappearance of desire but the dominance of love.
That’s the difference with meditation. We’re not just speaking to our inner selves. We’re not just speaking to a more positive thought process that day. We pray to the God of the universe, the king of all creation, is my Abba, Father. That’s who I’m talking to. And when I have that kind of attitude—that I’m talking to somebody that really can change my circumstances, that really can change my heart, that really can empower me to be different than I’d be, to do what I cannot do, to know what I cannot possibly know—I’m gonna tell you something—My approach is gonna be transformed. I’m not just talking, I’m not just trying to get my head together, I’m talking to someone. And I happen to be talking to the God of the universe.
LT: [What Beth Moore and Dallas Willard are saying here is that the method is the same but the intent is different; but we say that if the method is the same, you are going to get the same results. As Ray Yungen has said, two people can jump out of a ten story building with one saying “fly, fly,” and the other saying “fall, fall,” but the results will be the same.]
There’s a peace that surpasses understanding. We know that stress will always be there, but we ground our hearts in such oneness with God that His power can transform our lives.
“How God Speaks Through Scripture”
Learning to distinguish the voice of God from just human voices within us comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. You know, there’s a tone to a voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference. And then there’s a spirit in a voice, isn’t there? Remember it was said of Messiah that He would not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick. You see, Jesus would never snuff out the smallest hope, never crush the needy. And that’s the spirit that we look for in the voice of God. And then, third, there’s the content of the voice. And in the final analysis, that is the most clear evidence. You see, the voice of God, the Davar Yahweh, is always consistent with the way God has spoken in the past. And so Scripture, then, becomes a primary means by which we understand God speaking to us today. It will always be consistent with the way He has spoken in the past.
LT: [Satan comes as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness. This “test” by Richard Foster is very flawed.]
Sometimes the longest distance in our spiritual journey is that 18 inches from our head getting it down into our heart. And the power of this contemplative prayer, this inner life, is it takes the knowledge which is all the facts and figures, and it makes it wisdom by applying it.
LT: [What contemplatives mean when they say from the head to the heart is what contemplative Henri Nouwen meant when he said: “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 [doctrine] to the mystical is required.” (from Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus)]
Can you think about how God must feel when a Christian comes into His presence reading the 23rd Psalm? Lord, You are my shepherd. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters, all for Your name’s sake. I think when we say those things back to God, as the author of those words, He’s delighted. And the silence confirms that we are people, and we’re talking and God’s listening. But the best times are when God starts talking and we’re quiet enough to hear Him.
Second Timothy 3 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed, and that means that every single word on that paper has come fresh out of the mouth of God. What I try to remember every single time I read Scripture is that it still has the warmth of God’s breath on it. You can’t separate the words of God from the mouth of God, or you’ve just got sterile words sitting on a page. God’s Word is different than that. It’s the very word out of His mouth. Therefore it comes with fresh breath. Because it’s eternal, that means time is not attached to it. So it’s as fresh today to me as it was the day it came out of His mouth and onto the paper. That’s the way I look at it.
LT: [According to this statement by Beth Moore, without the contemplative aspect, the Word of God is “sterile.” We are not taking what she said out of context. This is totally typical of the contemplative mindset. Remember what she said above, without the stillness, you can’t really know God. She also says that “you can’t separate the word of God from the mouth of God,” but the Bible says in Psalm 138:2 that God’s Word is magnified above His name, so surely His Word is magnified above His “breath.” If you stop and really think about what she is saying here, you will see how distorted this thinking is.
The practice of contemplative prayer can be a vital part of our everyday lives. But we must make time for it.
“The Fruit of Contemplative Prayer”
A true lover of God once spoke about practicing God’s presence. To me, that’s such a part of contemplative prayer. That we are able to absorb the reality, that as we commune with God through prayer, that He is with us, that His Spirit, for those of us who are in Christ, fills us, that we are drawn near to Him, that our souls find rest in Him, that we’ll realize that it’s not just words on a page, but it’s the presence of God, the voice out of His mouth, that calms us, or perhaps stirs us, gives us peace or perhaps brings us into a holy passion, that we respond to His presence.
But if we don’t do it, all we are is an inner wrangling that never ceases. We move from hassle to hassle to hassle. One may stick a little Jesus in here or there, but without the silence, there’s no healing. There’s no healing.
From the segment called “Cloud of Witnesses: Contemplative Figures Throughout History”
Beth Moore, Author “A Heart Like His”:
You know one of the things that time gives us is that it erases the lines between so many different sections of the people of God. Because many years later it doesn’t matter any longer that this person was of this practice in the Christian faith and this person of another. Time somehow blurs those lines, and we are profoundly moved by the historical narratives of all of their lives of so great a cloud of witnesses that we can look back on and see what kept them running the race, what kept them running toward the face of Christ at the end of that finish line.
Dr. Mark Brewer, Pastor, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles:
Through the ages a lot of us as Christians think that the Holy Spirit’s been on sabbatical since the first century and now He just showed up. But He’s been very active in the lives of all of His people. I think of some of the desert fathers—they called themselves God’s athletes in the third and fourth century. They left this corrupt Roman Empire to go and to seek God and they made what they called this holy place for God. That’s why they fasted and why they lived such simple lives, was so the Lord could encounter them.
Richard Foster, Author, “Prayer”:
[The mystic] Madame Guyon was a French lady of the 17th century. She had children. She had an ordinary life experience. But she learned, you see, how, in that, to live with God. Her book, “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” is one of the sweetest little books on contemplative prayer. And she wrote it for people who couldn’t read themselves. Her book was meant to be read to them.
[Mystic] Teresa of Avila was a Spanish lady in the 16th century, a contemporary with [panentheist] Saint John of the Cross. An incredible leader, administrator. A woman of immense skill and ability and a woman of deep prayer.
Jerry Root, PhD, Professor, Wheaton College:
One of my favorite stories relates to the medieval contemplative Julian of Norwich. She was from England. And she claimed to have had revelation from God and she wrote about it shortly after she had these experiences. She was in her early 20s. Twenty-five years later she wrote about it again. She hadn’t had a new experience with God, revealing Himself to her, but she wrote about it 25 years later, having allowed 25 years of contemplation to inform what this meant to her. There’s one story that occurs in both accounts. She said that God spoke to her and told her to pick up a chestnut. She picked it up and God spoke to her and said, “All the great truths can be found even in a chestnut. God made it. God sustains it. God loves it.”
And I think all of the great contemplative writers have present application, if we’ll look for it.
[The mystic] Evelyn Underhill would be a relatively modern contemplative. She died in the early 1940s. At Oxford University you had to be a male to teach, until Evelyn Underhill came along. She was the first woman given lecture-wide status throughout the university. She was towering intellect. She wrote 39 books on Christian spirituality [i.e., contemplative spirituality] and philosophy of religion. And Evelyn Underhill tells a great story about a friend of hers who had been to Scotland, to the island of Iona. Iona is an island that’s sacred for the Scots because it’s where Columba first brought Christianity to Scotland. Every Scot needs to make the pilgrimage to Iona sometime in their life because the roots of Scottish Christianity are there. Well, Underhill’s friend had been to Scotland and had been to Iona, and when she returned her Scottish gardener said to her, “Where did you go for your vacation?” And Underhill’s friend said, “I’ve been to Iona.” And he says, “Oh, Iona’s a thin place.” She said, “What do you mean?” He said, “It’s a thin place because there’s not much between God and Iona.”
And all of life, properly looked at, in some senses, is a thin place. Everywhere we look, in a world made by God, a world inhabited by God, God is calling us to worship Him. . . . There’s another medieval contemplative named Brother Lawrence. He was responsible for the book “Practicing the Presence of God.” Many people don’t realize that Brother Lawrence was a pot scrubber in a monastery. He wasn’t a full-fledged monk. He was a brother who would come in and scrub pots for the monks so that they could spend their time in prayer. And it was while he was washing pots at a kitchen scullery that he practiced the presence of God. In essence, Brother Lawrence would tell us the kitchen’s a thin place. Scrubbing pots is a thin place. All of life—especially the struggle of life—is a thin place. God wants to meet us in those places.
Brother Lawrence’s experiences were rather different. They involve some things that are quite like this type of prayer. But for example, a major experience for him was viewing a tree that had lost its leaves in the winter and was all stripped bare, and the realization that this tree still had life in it, and that this life would flourish again in the spring. His sense of that seemed to bring him into a kind of unity with that life that he began to practice. And of course, he had a very lowly, menial position, caring for the kitchen and the needs of the monastery. So he learned then to see God in all things.
Brother Lawrence, in his wonderful book, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” said, “Those who have the gale…” He means the wind. “…of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep.” Isn’t that wonderful, that we can move forward in our spiritual life even when we’re sleeping? I often try, as I am entering sleep, to just give my life to God—my heart, my mind, my thinking, my dreams, whatever they might be. And then you wake up in the morning and you’ve advanced in the Spirit. You see, that’s part of contemplative prayer as well.
From the segment, Alone With God:
Find a simple and quiet place where you can be comfortable for about 20 minutes. But you don’t want to get so comfortable that you miss your intimate time with God because you’ve fallen asleep. If I’m in bed, I prop up on a pillow and try to sit up as straight as possible, not in the counting sheep position.
Take a few deep breaths. Begin to relax and slow yourself down. As you inhale, think of the Holy Spirit breathing life and peace into your body. And as you exhale, remember the verse that says to cast all your cares upon Him.