By Ray Yungen
Contemplative advocates propose that there has been something vital and important missing from the church for centuries. The insinuation is that Christians have been lacking something necessary for their spiritual vitality; but that would mean the Holy Spirit has not been fully effective for hundreds of years and only now the secret key has been found that unlocks God’s full power to know Him. These proponents believe that Christianity has been seriously crippled without this extra ingredient. This kind of thinking leads one to believe that traditional, biblical Christianity is merely a philosophy without the contemplative prayer element. Contemplatives are making a distinction between studying and meditating on the Word of God versus experiencing Him, suggesting that we cannot hear Him or really know Him simply by studying His Word or even through normal prayer—we must be contemplative to accomplish this. But the Bible makes it clear that the Word of God is living and active, and has always been that way, and it is in filling our minds with it that we come to love Him, not through a mystical practice of stopping the flow of thought (the stillness) that is never once mentioned in the Bible, except in warnings against vain repetitions.
Thomas Merton said that he saw various Eastern religions “come together in his life” (as a Christian mystic). On a rational, practical level Christianity and Eastern religions will not mix; but add the mystical element and they do blend together like adding soap to oil and water. I must clarify what I mean: Mysticism neutralizes doctrinal differences by sacrificing the truth of Scripture for a mystical experience. Mysticism offers a common ground, and supposedly that commonality is divinity in all. But we know from Scripture “there is one God; and there is none other but he” (Mark 12:32).
In a booklet put out by Saddleback Church on spiritual maturity, the following quote by Henri Nouwen is listed:
Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists, but that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention.1 (emphasis mine)
When we understand what Nouwen really means by “time and space” given to God we can also see the emptiness and deception of his spirituality. In his biography of Nouwen, God’s Beloved, Michael O’ Laughlin says:
Some new elements began to emerge in Nouwen’s thinking when he discovered Thomas Merton. Merton opened up for Henri an enticing vista of the world of contemplation and a way of seeing not only God but also the world through new eyes. . . . If ever there was a time when Henri Nouwen wished to enter the realm of the spiritual masters or dedicate himself to a higher spiritual path, it was when he fell under the spell of Cistercian monasticism and the writings of Thomas Merton.2 (emphasis mine)
In his book, Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic, Nouwen talks about these “new eyes” that Merton helped to formulate and said that Merton and his work “had such an impact” on his life and that he was the man who had “inspired” him greatly.3 But when we read Nouwen’s very revealing account, something disturbing is unveiled. Nouwen lays out the path of Merton’s spiritual pilgrimage into contemplative spirituality. Those who have studied Merton from a critical point of view, such as myself, have tried to understand what are the roots behind Merton’s spiritual affinities. Nouwen explains that Merton was influenced by LSD mystic Aldous Huxley who “brought him to a deeper level of knowledge” and “was one of Merton’s favorite novelists.”4 It was through Huxley’s book, Ends and Means, that first brought Merton “into contact with mysticism.”5 Merton states:
He [Huxley] had read widely and deeply and intelligently in all kinds of Christian and Oriental mystical literature, and had come out with the astonishing truth that all this, far from being a mixture of dreams and magic and charlatanism, was very real and very serious.6 (emphasis mine)
This is why, Nouwen revealed, Merton’s mystical journey took him right into the arms of Buddhism:
Merton learned from him [Chuang Tzu—a Taoist] what Suzuki [a Zen master] had said about Zen: “Zen teaches nothing; it merely enables us to wake and become aware.”7
Become aware of what? The Buddha nature. Divinity within all.That is why Merton said if we knew what was in each one of us, we would bow down and worship one another. Merton’s descent into contemplative led him to the belief that God is in all things and that God is all things. This is made clear by Merton when he said:
True solitude is a participation in the solitariness of God—Who is in all things.8
[Chuang Tzu] awakened and led him [Merton] . . . to the deeper ground of his consciousness.9
This has been the ploy of Satan since the Garden of Eden when the serpent said to Eve, “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:4). It is this very essence that is the foundation of contemplative prayer.
In Merton’s efforts to become a mystic, he found guidance from a Hindu swami, whom Merton referred to as Dr. Bramachari. Bramachari played a pivotal role in Merton’s future spiritual outlook. Nouwen divulged this when he said:
Thus he [Merton] was more impressed when this Hindu monk pointed him to the Christian mystical tradition. . . . It seems providential indeed that this Hindu monk relativized [sic] Merton’s youthful curiosity for the East and made him sensitive to the richness of Western mysticism.10
Why would a Hindu monk advocate the Christian mystical tradition? The answer is simple: they are one in the same. Even though the repetitive words used may differ (e.g. Christian words: Abba, Father, etc. rather than Hindu words), the end result is the same. And the Hindu monk knew this to be true. Bramachari understood that Merton didn’t need to switch to Hinduism to get the same enlightenment that he himself experienced through the Hindu mystical tradition. In essence, Bramachari backed up what I am trying to get across in A Time of Departing, that all the world’s mystical traditions basically come from the same source and teach the same precepts . . . and that source is not the God of the Old and New Testaments. The biblical God is not interspiritual!
Evangelical Christianity is now being invited, perhaps even catapulted into seeing God with these new eyes of contemplative prayer. And so the question must be asked, is Thomas Merton’s silence, Henri Nouwen’s space, and Richard Foster’s contemplative prayer the way in which we can know and be close to God? Or is this actually a spiritual belief system that is contrary to the true message that the Bible so absolutely defines—that there is only one way to God and that is through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the Cross obtained our full salvation? In my book, A Time of Departing, I endeavored to answer these questions with extensive evidence and documentation showing the dangers of contemplative prayer.
If indeed my concerns for the future actually come to fruition, then we will truly enter a time of departing. My prayer is that you will not turn away from the faith to follow a different gospel and a different Jesus but will rather stay the course and finish the race, so that after having done all you can, you will stand.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13).
1. Henri Nouwen, cited in Saddleback training book, Soul Construction: SolitudeTool (Lake Forest, CA: Saddleback Church, 2003), p. 12.
2. Michael O’ Laughlin, God’s Beloved (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 178.
3. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1991, Triumph Books Edition), p. 3.
4. Ibid., pp. 19-20.
5. Ibid., p. 20.
7. Ibid., p. 71.
8. Ibid., pp. 46, 71.
9. Ibid., p. 71.
10 . Ibid., p. 29.
Dear Lighthouse Trails Editors,
I recently found your website and have been glued to it everyday, reading all the articles. I admit, I have been in the dark about a lot of the information I’ve read thus far. My husband and I recently left our little country church in rural ________ about 6 months ago. The pastor there is practicing “Spiritual Formation.” He began as a co-pastor, but when the other pastor had to resign due to health reasons, it became evident something wasn’t quite right ever since the co-pastor assumed the position of lead pastor.
On the surface, everything seemed OK, but then we noticed some of the deacons resigned and left church. Some of these folks were friends, whom we had been in Bible studies with, small groups etc. At first, we thought they left because the pastor left. But there was something else we just couldn’t put our finger on. It was Good Friday, and we went to church that evening to be reminded of what Good Friday was really about and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. Instead, the pastor asked the church a question, something like: “What does Jesus look like to you.”
I have never been at a loss for words and never shy about sharing my testimony. But this was an odd question. As folks around the room shared, I thought to myself, this makes no sense. Awaiting for him to get to the Good Friday message, he ended the service with, “that was great! You were the service tonight!”
After that first “flag,” another one popped up when the pastor introduced “Breath Prayers,” going into the silence, emptying your mind, etc. I thought this sounded a lot like “vain repetitions” to me, and this is not quite right. In my years of sitting under expository preachers, I had never heard the term “breath prayers.”
Attendance was continuing to dwindle; we started to make some phone calls to the deacons who resigned. As our calls were returned one by one, the common thread was the pastor wanted them to read a book by Ruth Haley Barton. I am not sure which one it was, but from what we were told by these deacons, they thought it bordered on occultism.
One friend clarified what the problem was: She told us to look up Spiritual Formation and Ruth Haley Barton. Keeping in mind, the pastor, after being asked to leave a pastoral position at a local multi-site community church, opened his own Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation locally.
So we Googled “Spiritual Formation” and Ruth Haley Barton. The pieces of the puzzle came together quickly. I was referred to your website by a friend and and our eyes were opened, WIDE! The deacons addressed their concerns to the pastor. They felt it was like talking in circles with him. We phoned one of the current sitting deacons and explained the information we researched on Spiritual Formation, etc. He said they [he and the other sitting deacons] read the book by Ruth Haley Barton and loved it. We then told them we will not be attending the church anymore.
We received a phone call from the pastor on a Saturday evening; he was away leading an “SF retreat” and said he “heard” we had a problem. We explained our new found wisdom and told him we did not like his links to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Mysticism, Universalism etc.. that it was not biblical and was occultic. He asked us for a meeting. At first, we agreed but then he asked us not to speak to anyone about our findings before meeting with us. We told him we would not be silent and would share this new-found information with as many as we could. We stand on the Solid Rock, and we know the Truth!
He phoned my husband during the week and left a voice mail to meet. We waited to return the call as we needed time to think and pray about this meeting. A few days later, he called again, and we declined the meeting. After a few more calls to godly folks who had left the church who had tried themselves to convince the pastor of his erroneous ways, we thought our meeting would also be in vain and more like casting pearls before swine.
I have been sharing your articles on my Facebook, and some “church friends” e-mailed me and told me I was being divisive and stirring up strife. We wrote a letter to the current sitting deacons, stating our reasons for leaving and to withdraw our names from the membership. They responded with a letter that the pastor was teaching and practicing “Christian” Spiritual Formation, which is not the same as Spiritual Formation, and we were wrong in our assumptions.
We have been searching for another church in our area. Now that we are on our toes and know what to look for, it has become quite difficult to find a good church home. We are in an area with many churches including many Baptist and community churches and a large Baptist College nearby. Knowing what we know now about SF and Emergent, Contemplative etc., it has proven difficult to settle down anywhere. It’s like choosing the lesser of the evils. One multi-site church is seeker sensitive and Purpose Driven and offers Karate and Yoga. In the other community church, in the next county over, you are in a rock concert during worship, the lights down and the band on the stage singing “to” you not with you.
Anyway, that’s where we are at. I was thinking and praying about doing a Bible study on the Emergent church and SF and Contemplative. Folks in our area have not heard of this. We didn’t until six months ago, and it’s been a revelation. There is only a few of us here who are aware of this movement slithering into our local churches.
In Christ Jesus,
A concerned couple
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Courtesy Christian News Network
(Article from ABC News – posted for research and informational purposes only)
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for an immediate expansion of same-sex “marriage” by unexpectedly and tersely turning away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit homosexual unions. The court’s order effectively makes same-sex “marriage” legal now in 30 states.
Without comment, the justices brought to an end delays in in five states— Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Chief Justice John Roberts did not say a word about the matter as he began the court’s new term.
Homosexuals in six other states—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming—will now likely move forward with obtaining licenses. Those states would be bound by the same appellate rulings that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review. Click here to continue reading.
By Phil Young, M.D.
(Guest writer and missionary)
To grasp fully the temptation involved in contemplative prayer, one needs to go back to the beginning and look at man’s first temptation, that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and its implications. In Genesis chapter one, we are told that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Theologians have argued just what is meant by “created in the image of God.”
Whatever else it means, it is an indication that Adam and Eve were meant to be God’s representatives on planet earth. Following the completion of creation, Adam and Eve were given dominion over that creation, over all animal life on the planet. The creation of Eve from Adam’s body further illustrates what is indicated by this idea of image. Before Eve was created, all the animal world was paraded before Adam, but no animal was found that was “suitable” to be his companion. The idea in the Hebrew word translated “suitable” is that Adam needed a companion who was created in such a fashion that if that individual was standing in front of Adam it would be just as if Adam himself was standing there. In other words, Eve, when she was taken and created from Adam’s body was created in Adam’s image, created as Adam’s perfect representative. Before the fall, one would have received the same answer if one asked the “image” question to either Adam or Eve. Just as Eve was to faithfully represent Adam when he was not present, Adam and Eve were to give a visible presence of God’s character to the creation that had been placed under them. They were to be the representatives of God on planet earth. The more they fellowshipped with God, the better representatives they would become.
Adam and Eve were not created in the image of Yahweh or Jehovah, the word for God that speaks of His essence, but in the image of Elohim, a word for God which hints of the trinity and the interrelationship of that trinity, their creativity and goodness. It was God’s character that Adam and Eve were to represent, not God’s essence. What Adam and Eve were meant to do is seen in the life of Christ. Following the incarnation, as He lived his life here on earth, he never used the power he had as God to meet any of his human needs. Christ used His power as God in His ministry to others. As we see Christ starting his ministry, He was tempted by Satan to change the very rocks in the wilderness into bread when He had been without food during forty days and nights in the wilderness. Satan was tempting Christ to use his power as God to meet his real human hunger. If Christ had done so, if He had used his power as God to meet his own needs, all that his life on earth would have proved is that God can live a life here on earth that is fit for heaven, not that any mere man can be good enough to live a life fit for heaven. Since God cannot die, there would not have been any perfect sacrificial lamb. In other words, Christ had to live as a perfect man to be God’s perfect sacrifice. He could not use His godhood to meet his needs. He answered Satan’s temptation by saying that man is not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Mankind is to be molded by every single word of God. Christ’s life was a life of complete obedience to God.
Christ as the second Adam was a perfect representation of the character of God. In John 14: 8 when Philip asked Christ to show us (the disciples) God the Father, Christ answered that he who has seen me has seen the Father. Christ, as He lived as a man, was the perfect representation of God’s character here on earth. And as Christians, we seek to be fit vessels to represent Christ to a fallen world to give a picture of God’s character though it is marred through our human weakness.
Look again at the temptation of Adam and Eve. The gist of the temptation was that Adam and Eve would become more like God by disobeying Him. “You shall be as gods knowing good and evil, ‘’ if you will just eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which God has told you not to eat. Adam and Eve were already created in God’s image, in His character. How could they become more like God? By constantly walking in God’s will the character that God had given them would gradually truly became their own unshakable character. The temptation from Satan was to divorce themselves from God and to do just as they pleased–to live so that that they would ‘know both good and evil’ while ignoring all moral consequences. In the Hebrew Satan told them, “dying, you shall not die.” In other words, when separated from God due to sin, they would not die, they would continue to exist but they would just be divorced from the only source of true life, God. Hell, which is permanent separation from God, is a place of permanent degradation: “Their worm dieth not.” The whole universe is gradually degrading, and in scientific terms, this is called entropy. This is likely because the universe is no longer connected to God in the same way it was before sin. The universe cannot create life and is not life or a living being, the thesis of many Eastern religions, a belief which is in exact opposition to this process of degradation which is seen taking place in the universe. In fact, any system that is degrading had to be created, had to have a beginning; so the universe cannot have existed forever.
We as Christians are sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gradually transforms us to be like Christ until the day, we, in character, will be like Christ, when “we see Him as He is” in heaven. The temptation of Contemplative Prayer is in a sense the same one that Adam and Eve faced–to be more like Christ, like God; to be more like Him in character by going outside the provisions of his Word. We already have been given God’s character as we are born again through the provision of Christ’s Calvary sacrifice and obedience to the Word of God. We have God’s character restored through our faith in the second Adam, Christ, and we grow to be more like Him as we are obedient to the Scripture He has given us. The temptation in Contemplative Prayer is to take a path not endorsed by Scripture, a path that ignores the provisions God has given in an effort to draw closer to Christ, an effort to become more like Him through disobedience to His Word. This is parallel to the temptation Adam and Eve faced. In both cases, the temptation involves a good goal—to be more like God. Unfortunately, the result is the same in both cases. We come under Satan’s sway, under his dominion.
We become more like Christ by renewing our mind through God’s Word, not by trying to empty our mind of all rational thought, not by following the same practices the heathen world has used for years. The very process they use involves vain repetition of words in prayer, repeating a word over and over again, a practice which is forbidden by Christ’s admonition to His disciples, not to use vain repetitions. It makes no difference if Christian words like “Jesus” are used. It is the practice of using repeated words to empty one’s mind that is wrong [see Matthew 6:7]. It is evident this practice does not bring the heathen world closer to the true God, so how can Christians think that the practice will draw them closer to Christ? The false spirituality that results is based on an experience, which is divorced from God’s Word. A good goal “to be closer to Christ” can never trump obedience to the Word of God.
Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t) by the editors at Lighthouse Trails is our newest Lighthouse Trails Print Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 16 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklet Tracts are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t), click here.
Is your church involved in a Spiritual Formation program? If so, you might want to ask the question, what exactly is Spiritual Formation? It’s a fair question, and one that, if not asked, could end up surprising you when your church changes in ways you never imagined.
A Christianity Today article states: “Spiritual Formation is in.” The article defines Spiritual Formation in this way:
Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.1
Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place and who is eligible to participate in such a process.
The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, primarily through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through a mantra-like meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will eliminate distractions (thoughts) and be able to hear God’s voice. He in turn will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Spiritual Formation pioneer Richard Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist—anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ?).
Richard Foster, the “Father” of the Evangelical Spiritual Formation Movement
Now many evangelical seminaries offer programs in spiritual formation. Renovare, which Richard Foster and others founded in 1989 to cultivate spiritual formation (especially among evangelicals), today offers retreats and resources worldwide.2
In 1989, Richard Foster began an organization called Renovare, but eleven years earlier (1978) his book Celebration of Discipline first came out, and that has been a Spiritual Formation primer ever since. The following quote by Foster, written in a “pastoral letter” sheds light on the roots of Spiritual Formation (the Catholic Church) as well as how prolific it is today:
When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction.3
Countless evangelical leaders have gotten on Foster’s Spiritual Formation bandwagon. One example is Rick Warren who considers the Spiritual Formation movement to be a worthy wake-up call to the evangelical church:
From time to time God has raised up a parachurch movement to reemphasize a neglected purpose of the church. . . . [the] Spiritual Formation Movement. A reemphasis on developing believers to full maturity has been the focus . . . authors such as . . . Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have underscored the importance of building up Christians and establishing personal spiritual disciplines. . . . [this] movement has a valid message for the church . . . [it] has given the body a wake-up call.4
There are some who are deeply concerned about this movement. Author and missionary Roger Oakland expresses concern about this supposedly “valid message” and says Spiritual Formation came upon the church like an unsuspecting avalanche:
A move away from the truth of God’s Word to a mystical form of Christianity has infiltrated, to some degree, nearly all evangelical denominations. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, most do not realize it has even happened.5
Oakland explains how this paradigm shift has come about:
As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise in mystical experiences escalates, and these experiences are presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling, and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for fostering Spiritual Formation. This term suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God and to emulate him.6
So exactly what is Spiritual Formation, and what is its premise? In this booklet, we hope to answer these questions.
The Merton Effect
When Richard Foster told research analyst and author Ray Yungen that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people,”7 what he meant was that Thomas Merton saw one element missing within Christianity—the mystical element. Merton had learned from a Hindu swami named Dr. Bramachari that one could obtain mystical properties from Catholic mystics like the Desert Fathers and didn’t need to leave one’s own tradition to do it.8 But Merton realized that most Christians didn’t know about this. So, he set out to bring mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer) to the Catholic and Christian world. However, Merton died a sudden early death in 1968 and was unable to accomplish his goal. But somewhere between 1968 and 1978, Richard Foster picked up the mantle of Thomas Merton and carried it forward.* Now today, untold numbers of churches (and millions of people) are going forth with Thomas Merton’s (and Richard Foster’s) message of Spiritual Formation. To understand the true nature of Spiritual Formation, consider the following quotes by Thomas Merton, Richard Foster’s mentor:
I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.9
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.10 (emphasis mine)
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.11
The most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation . . . Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind.12
This “Spirit of contemplation” is what fuels the Spiritual Formation movement. Merton believed that God dwelled in all people and that we are, in fact, all a part of God. Richard Foster has done much to carry forward Merton’s message through the Spiritual Formation movement. The question you must ask yourself is, do you believe what Merton said? If not, then Spiritual Formation does not belong in your church or in your family’s spiritual structure.
In essence, Spiritual Formation is carrying on the Hindu message of: God is in all things (panentheism), and God is all things (pantheism). If such a message is true, then the Gospel message of Jesus Christ—that man is sinful, that he is heading for eternal destruction because of sin, and that he needs a Savior—would become null and void.
Richard Foster’s Meditative Prayer
For more insight into the backbone of Spiritual Formation, let us turn to a small book Richard Foster wrote called Meditative Prayer. Foster says that the purpose of meditative prayer is to create a “spiritual space” or “inner sanctuary” through “specific meditation exercises”13 Foster references several mystics in the book who can point the way to these exercises: Madame Guyon, Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton. Foster breaks the contemplative process down into three steps. He says:
The first step [into meditative prayer] is sometimes called “centering down.” Others have used the term re-collection; that is, a re-collecting of ourselves until we are unified or whole. The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly centered, until we are truly present where we are.14
Foster suggests that practicing visualization methods helps us center down. In the second step of meditation, Foster suggests that mystic Richard Rolle experienced “physical sensations”15 (kundalini) during meditation which perhaps we may or may not experience as well.16 Step three of meditation, Foster says, is that of “listening” to God. Once the meditative exercises have been implemented and the “spiritual ecstasy” is reached, this entered realm is where the voice of God can be heard.17 However, as any New Age meditator knows, this ecstatic state is an altered state of consciousness where everything is supposed to be unified and one with God. Foster acknowledges the interspiritual attribute linked to contemplative prayer when he states: “[Jesus] showed us God’s yearning for the gathering of an all-inclusive community of loving persons.”18 Foster defines more of what he means by “all-inclusive” in his book Streams of Living Water when he says this “all-inclusive community” includes everything from a “Catholic monk” to a “Baptist evangelist.”19
Two Spiritual Formation Practices:
Oftentimes, Richard Foster has made favorable reference to the practice of lectio divina, which is being heralded in many Christian settings as a Christian, biblical practice. People are persuaded to believe that repeating words and short phrases of Scripture over and over again is a deeper way to know God. They believe that since it is Scripture being repeated (and not just any words), then this validates the practice and that this sacred reading is sacred because it is the Bible being used. But Foster himself proves that it has nothing to do with Scripture. It’s the repetition that is effective, not the words. He states:
[L]ectio divina includes more than the Bible. There are the lives of the saints and the writings which have proceeded from their profound [mystical] experiences.21
Foster obliterates the supposed premise of lectio divina by saying this. That is because as a meditation proponent, he knows that meditation has nothing to do with which words are repeated over and over; it is the repetition itself that puts one into an altered state. Thus whether you say “Jesus,” “Abba,” “Buddha,” or “OM,” it produces exactly the same effect.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are named after the founder of the Catholic Jesuit Order and have typically been used by Catholics. However, according to one source, “[b]eginning in the 1980s, Protestants have had a growing interest in the Spiritual Exercises. There are adaptations that are specific to Protestants which emphasize the exercises as a school of contemplative prayer.”22 Traditionally, Ignatian Spirituality is practiced in a retreat center setting usually with the assistance of a spiritual director. As with other Spiritual Formation exercises, it is believed that if the Ignatian exercises are practiced, the practitioner can conquer self and become more Christ-like (this is why Ignatian Spirituality is often included in Spiritual Formation programs).
When the Catholic church elected their new pope (Pope Francis), a statement was issued from the AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) reaffirming the pope’s “Ignatian spirituality,” stating that:
All Jesuits share the experience of a rigorous spiritual formation process marked by a transformative experience with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.23
Spiritual Formation—A Dangerous Substitute For the Life of Christ
Sometimes we think of spiritual formation as formation by the Holy Spirit. Once again. That’s essential. . . . But now I have to say something that may be challenging for you to think about: Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit. . . . We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake . . .There has to be method.24—Dallas Willard
Aside from the fact that Spiritual Formation incorporates mystical practices into its infrastructure (remove the contemplative aspect and you don’t have “Spiritual Formation” anymore), Spiritual Formation is a works-based substitute for biblical Christianity. Let us explain.
When one becomes born again (“that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9-10), having given his or her life and heart over to Christ as Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ says He will come in and live in that surrendered heart:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27)
[I]f the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11; emphasis added)
When God, through Jesus Christ, is living in us, He begins to do a transforming work in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18). Not only does He change us, He also communes with us. In other words, we have fellowship with Him, and He promises never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
This life of God in the believer’s heart is not something we need to conjure up through meditative practices. But if a person does not have this relationship with the Lord, he may seek out ways to feel close to God. This is where Spiritual Formation comes into play. Rather than a surrendered life to Christ, the seeking person begins practicing the spiritual disciplines (e.g., prayer, fasting, good works, etc.) with the promise that if he practices these disciplines, he will become more Christ-like.
But merely doing these acts fails to make one feel close to God—something is still missing. And thus, he begins practicing the discipline of silence (or solitude), and now in these altered states of silence, he finally feels connected to God. He now feels complete. What he does not understand is that he has substituted the indwelling of Christ in his heart for a works-based methodology that endangers his spiritual life. Dangerous because these mystical experiences he now engages in appear to be good because they make him feel close to God, but in reality he is being drawn into demonic realms no different than what happens to someone who is practicing transcendental meditation or eastern meditation. Even mystics themselves acknowledge that the contemplative realm is no different than the realm reached by occultists. To understand this more fully, please read Ray Yungen’s book A Time of Departing.
Bottom line, it is not possible to be truly Christ-like without having Christ inside of us because it is He who is able to change our hearts—we cannot do it without Him.
It is interesting to note that virtually every contemplative teacher has a common theme—they feel dry and empty and want to go “deeper” with God or “become more intimate” with God. But if we have Christ living in us, how can we go any deeper than that? How can we become more intimate than that? And if going deeper and becoming intimate were so important, why is it that none of the disciples or Jesus Himself ever told us to do this? As Larry DeBruyn states:
Why are Christians seeking a divine presence that Jesus promised would abundantly flow in them? . . . Why do they need another voice, another visitation, or another vision? Why are some people unthankfully desirous of “something more” than what God has already given to us? Why is it that some Christians, in the depth of their souls, are not seemingly at rest?25
Dallas Willard and the “Fruit” of Spiritual Formation
As we mentioned earlier, Rick Warren identified Dallas Willard as a key player in the Spiritual Formation movement. Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines has become a classic within the movement. The book is filled with references to and quotes by numerous contemplative mystic figures including universalists and interspiritualists (e.g., Nouwen, Merton, Meister Eckhart, George Fox) as well as some names that would fall in the New Age/New Spirituality camp (e.g., Agnes Sanford and M. Scott Peck). And in the bibliography, there is The Cloud of Unknowing, (an ancient primer on contemplative prayer), the Desert Fathers, atonement denier Harry Fosdick, Ignatius of Loyola, Carl Jung, the mystic philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Evelyn Underhill, and Teresa of Avila. All of these names are in Willard’s book for one reason only—because he resonates with their spiritual viewpoints. And while The Spirit of the Disciplines was released back in the late 80s, Willard maintained his affinity with most of these figures. On his website, many of these names are recommended as viable resources for spiritual growth.
A Lighthouse Trails article titled “The ‘New’ Emerging Theology Breeds Atheism in a Generation of Young People” tells about a young man who after sitting under Dallas Willard for four years at university declared himself an atheist. We asked the question, how could a young man raised in a solid Christian home change his views so drastically? It happened, and it is happening to countless young people who are sitting under the feet of bridgers—people like Dallas Willard who point their protégées to panentheists, universalists, and mystics. Another young man, whom we came across who was looking for answers, found them by turning to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Listen to what he found:
I bumped into the classic spiritual disciplines while taking a course called “Dynamics of Christian Life” in my second year of Bible school. One of our textbooks was The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. The course and textbook only touched on the actual disciplines, but the concept captivated me. The following spring, I found a copy of Richard Foster’s spiritual classic Celebration of Discipline in a used bookstore. Opening it and discovering each discipline [including the contemplative] detailed chapter by chapter, I felt a profound sense of joy and excitement. I’d found a real treasure.26
Later, this young man became a free-lance writer for the emergent organization, Youth Specialties. Listen to where the spirituality of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster led him:
I built myself a prayer room—a tiny sanctuary in a basement closet filled with books on spiritual disciplines, contemplative prayer, and Christian mysticism. In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating.27
For those not familiar with what the “alpha brain patterns” are, here are two descriptions:
Mystical states of consciousness happen in the alpha state . . . The Alpha State also occurs voluntarily during light hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, day dreaming, hypnogogic and hypnapompic states.28
Alpha is the springboard for all psychic and magical workings. It is the heart of witchcraft.29
And from Richard Foster himself:
If you feel we live in a purely physical universe, you will view meditation as a good way to obtain a consistent alpha brain wave pattern.30
What happened to Perschon and others like him is tragic. And we just cannot fathom the idea that not only will Willard’s influence continue on long after he has been gone from this planet (he died in 2013), but Christian leaders who should understand the dynamics of this movement will continue promoting him.
Is There a “Good” Spiritual Formation?
One of the most common arguments we hear defending Spiritual Formation is that there is a “good” Spiritual Formation done without contemplative prayer. To that we say, we have never yet seen a Spiritual Formation program in a school or a church that doesn’t in some way point people to the contemplative mystics. It might be indirectly, but in every case, if you follow the trail, it will lead you right into the arms of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and other contemplative teachers.
Think about this common scenario: A Christian college decides to begin a Spiritual Formation course. The instructor has heard some negative things about Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning, and he figures he will teach the class good Spiritual Formation and leave those teachers completely out. But he’s going to need a textbook. He turns to a respected institution, Dallas Theological Seminary, and finds a book written by Paul Pettit, Professor in Pastoral and Education Ministries. The book is titled Foundations of Spiritual Formation. The instructor who has found this book to use in his own class may never mention Richard Foster or Dallas Willard, but the textbook he is using does. Within the pages of Pettit’s book is Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Thomas Aquinas, Lectio Divina, Ayn Rand, Parker Palmer, Eugene Peterson, J.P. Moreland, Klaus Issler, Bruce Dermerst, Jim Burns, Kenneth Boa and Brother Lawrence’s “practicing God’s presence.” You may not have heard of all these names, but they are all associated with the contemplative prayer movement and the emerging church.
Another example of this is Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Whitney is Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While his book does not promote contemplative mysticism, he says that Richard Foster has “done much good”31 in the area of Christian spirituality.
Our point is that even if there is a sincere attempt to teach Spiritual Formation and stay away from the mystical side, we contend that it cannot be successfully accomplished because it will always lead back to the ones who have brought it to the church in the first place.
Spiritual Direction with Spiritual Directors
Basically, the term “spiritual direction” is part of the contemplative prayer movement (i.e., Spiritual Formation movement). Contemplative teachers say that one must have a “spiritual director” to “teach” or guide him or her how to enter into the silence of contemplative prayer. The spiritual director will provide books and resources by contemplative authors and direct his or her student on how to implement these authors’ spiritual practices. Ruth Haley Barton, a contemplative advocate who teaches thousands of pastors and Christian leaders about Spiritual Formation said this about her own spiritual director:
I sought out a spiritual director, someone well versed in the ways of the soul . . . eventually this wise woman said to me . . . “What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” . . . I decided to accept this invitation to move beyond my addiction to words.32
A Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?,”33 confirms two things, one that spiritual direction is contemplative, and two that it is on its way to becoming an integral part of evangelical Christianity. The article explains that popular Christian author Larry Crabb changed his views. Once a believer in psychology, he switched to spiritual direction. He is just one of many who have done this.
The article credits contemplatives (mystics) such as John Cassian and Ignatius of Loyola for getting spiritual direction into the church and suggests that we can learn more about it from Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard.
In Ruth Haley Barton’s* book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Barton admits that panentheist Catholic priest Thomas Keating helped her to understand the contemplative idea of “the true self” (man’s divinity):
The concept of the true self and the false self is a consistent theme not only in Scripture but also in the writings of the church fathers and mothers. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen (particularly Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart) and Father Thomas Keating are contemporary authors who have shaped my understanding of this aspect of the spiritual life.34
Merton, Nouwen, and Keating believe that man can attain to his “true self” (perfect self) through mystical practices. This is actually the crux of the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement, that man realizes his divinity through mystical experiences.
Spiritual formation is sweeping quickly throughout Christianity today. It’s no wonder when the majority of Christian leaders have either endorsed the movement or given it a silent pass. For instance, in Chuck Swindoll’s book So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get Your There, Swindoll favorably quotes Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Swindoll calls Celebration of Discipline a “meaningful work”35 and Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines “excellent work.”36 In chapter three,”Silence and Solitude,” Swindoll talks about “digging for secrets . . . that will deepen our intimacy with God.”37 Quoting the contemplative poster-verse Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” Swindoll says the verse is a call to the “discipline of silence.”38 As other contemplative proponents have done, he has taken this verse very much out of context.
Roger Oakland sums it up:
The Spiritual Formation movement . . . teaches people that this is how they can become more intimate with God and truly hear His voice. Even Christian leaders with longstanding reputations of teaching God’s word seem to be succumbing. . . .
We are reconciled to God only through his “death” (the atonement for sin), and we are presented “holy and unblameable and unreproveable” when we belong to Him through rebirth. It has nothing to do with works, rituals, or mystical experiences. It is Christ’s life in the converted believer that transforms him.39
What Christians need is not a method or program or ritual or practice that will supposedly connect them to God. What we need is to be “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:30) and Christ in us. And He has promised His Spirit “will guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).
In Colossians 1:9, the apostle Paul tells the saints that he was praying for them that they “might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” He was praying that they would have discernment (“spiritual understanding”). He said that God, the Father, has made us “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (vs 12) and had “delivered us from the power of darkness [i.e., power of deception]” (vs. 13). But what was the key to having this wisdom and spiritual understanding and being delivered from the power of darkness? Paul tells us in that same chapter. He calls it “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (vs. 26). What is that mystery? Verse 27 says: “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
For those wanting to get involved with the Spiritual Formation movement (i.e., contemplative, spiritual direction), consider the “direction” you will actually be going.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2: 8-10)
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1. Even Howard, Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation (Christianity Today, 12/9/2002)
3. Richard Foster, “Heart to Heart: On Christian Spiritual Formation” (Renovare, May 2003, http://blog.renovare.org/2003/05/20/heart-to-heart-on-christian-spiritual-formation).
4. Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), p. 126.
5. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2007), pp. 90-92.
7. Richard Foster to Ray Yungen at a seminar in Salem, Oregon in the 1990s.
8. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2006, 2nd ed., 5th and later printings), p. 199.
9. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
10. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
11. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
12. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York, NY: Image Books, Doubleday Pub., 1989), pp. 115-116. (These 4 Merton quotes are originally cited by Ray Yungen in A Time of Departing).
13. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1983), p. 9.
15. Ibid., p. 17.
16. Ibid., p. 18.
17. Ibid., p. 23.
18. Ibid., p. 5.
19. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water ( (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1st HarperCollins Paperback ed., 2001), p. 12.
20. Berit Kjos, How to Protect Your Child From the New Age & Spiritual Deception (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 1st Lighthouse Trails ed., 2013), p. 267.
21. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer, op. cit., p. 25.
24. Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation: What it is, and How it is Done” (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=58).
25. Larry DeBruyn, “The Practice of His Presence” (http://herescope.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-present-of-his-presence.html).
26. Mike Perschon, “Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life” (http://web.archive.org/web/20070206150740/http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/topics/spirituality/desert.php).
28. Dr. Andre Eggelletion, as told by Dr. Lee Warren, B.A., D.D.
29. Laurie Cabot, Power Of The Witch, (New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1989), p. 183.
30. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1998 ed.), p. 22.
31. Donald Whitney, “Doctrine and Devotion: A Reunion Devoutly to be Desired” (http://web.archive.org/web/20080828052145/http://biblicalspirituality.org/devotion.html).
32. Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words” (Discipleship Journal, Issue #113, September/October, 1999, http://www. navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.113.13.html), p. 35.
33. Chris Armstrong and Steven Gertz, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?” (Christianity Today, April 1, 2003, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/aprilweb-only/4-28-51.0.html).
34. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downer Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004), p. 160.
35. Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get You There (Nashville, TN:W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 15.
36. Ibid., p. 13.
37. Ibid., p. 55.
39. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, op. cit., pp. 91-92.
To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t), click here.
To better understand the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer movement, read A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.
By Patrick Goodenough
(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration does not share Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s view that the forces of militant Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, have in common an ultimate goal “to dominate the world,” a State Department spokeswoman said Monday.
In a hard-hitting speech at the United Nations, the Israeli leader said that entities such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), Hamas, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram share that eventual goal.
Jen Psaki was asked at the State Department daily briefing later whether the administration agreed with Netanyahu’s argument that those various groups “are all part of the same kind of militant Muslim – Islamic attempt to rule the world.”
“We would not agree with that characterization, no,” she replied. Click here to continue reading this article and for two videos.