On October 22, Multnomah University (formerly Multnomah School of the Bible) held a chapel service for their students titled Lectio Divina. The chapel was led by Dr. Roy Andrews of Multnomah, a Lighthouse Trails reader told us this past week. The Lighthouse Trails reader, who attended the service for observation purposes, was given a flyer at the service that explained what Lectio Divina was. Thomas Aquinas, a contemplative mystic, was referred to in the service, and students were encouraged to “ask God to open [their minds]” using Lectio Divina. The following statement is posted on Multnomah’s website:
If you aren’t sure what Lectio Divina is, we encourage you to read our article “Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Why it is a Dangerous Practice” to better understand this contemplative gateway practice. This excerpt from our article states:
Contemplative mysticism pioneer Thomas Keating explains what lectio divina is not. It is not traditional Bible study, not reading the Scriptures for understanding and edification, and not praying the Scriptures (though praying the Scriptures can be a form of lectio divina when a word or phrase is taken from the Scriptures to focus on for the purpose of going into “God’s presence.”). Keating says that lectio divina is an introduction into the more intense practices – contemplative prayer and centering prayer. [Taken from “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina” by Thomas Keating.]
While some people think lectio divina is just reading Scripture slowly, and what’s wrong with that, it is the focusing on and repeating a word or small phrase to facilitate going into the “silence” that is the real danger.
October 22nd wasn’t the first time that Lectio Divina has been taught at a chapel service at Multnomah University. One was held earlier this year on May 8th with Stan Campbell leading. One was also held on September 18th with Stan Campbell, on October 2nd with Dr. Joseph Zichtermann, and three will be held in November: on November 1st of this year with Professor Greg Burch officiating, on November 12th, and on November 27th with Dr. Debi Miller facilitating. Incidentally, on Dr. Miller’s website, she states the following: “I love several Catholic writers—Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, to name two.” 1 This may explain why she was willing to lead a Lectio Divina service at Multnomah. But nevertheless, it is disheartening to know that Multnomah is using professors that “love” Catholic mystics, Nouwen and Merton being two of the most prolific and influential Catholic contemplatives in our modern day.
Multnomah University is on the Lighthouse Trails “Contemplative Colleges” list as they have been promoting spiritual formation for some time. Just type in the term “spiritual formation” into the school search engine dozens of entries come up. As we worked our way through the Multnomah website while researching for this article, we were dismayed as we saw just how integrated contemplative spirituality has become at Multnomah. One university donor officer at the school included Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Parker Palmer, and John Eldredge (all contemplative advocates) in his list of “favorite authors.” A professor said Henri Nouwen was someone who “inspire[s]” him.
For what it’s worth, on a Wikipedia page for Multnomah University, “notable” alumni students of Multnomah include emerging church author and pastor Dan Kimball. Interestingly, in the spring of 2011, the school held a high school “theology” retreat with Kimball as the keynote speaker. That’s a bit hard to swallow for those who know Kimball’s “theology” learned from his books, which include The Emerging Church and Emerging Worship. His books are discussed in Faith Undone by Roger Oakland and A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen; also, Lighthouse Trails has a book review on Kimball’s book “They Like Jesus But Not the Church.” And an expose titled “Dan Kimball’s Emerging Church and Eastern Mysticism” describes Kimball’s “vintage Christianity.” In a radio interview titled “Beware the Bridgers,” Ingrid Schlueter discusses how emerging figures such as Kimball are being used as bridges between traditional Christianity and the emerging church. Seeing that Multnomah brought Kimball in to train high school students “theology” is, frankly, quite troubling. In reading all three of his books, we find his “theology” riddled with contemplative/emerging practices and would wish that no high school student would be introduced to these ideas. Oh, and by the way, in his book, The Emerging Church, Kimball encourages the practice of Lectio Divina.
Lighthouse Trails has been talking and warning about the infiltration of contemplative spirituality into the church for ten years. The acceptance and embracing of Lectio Divina is going to help surge the movement fast forward because of its seemingly benign nature but in reality a very dangerous practice, and more and more Christians will be practicing contemplative prayer than ever before. Contemplatives, such as Richard Foster, will delight in knowing this. But for those who understand the nature of contemplative – that it is panentheistic, interspiritual, and ultimately anti-atonement – it will concern them deeply.
Let us close with this statement by Ray Yungen. In reading this, it may help to explain why contemplative spirituality should not be entertained at Multnomah or any other Christian school:
Those who have studied [Thomas] Merton from a critical point of view, such as myself, have tried to understand what are the roots behind Merton’s spiritual affinities. [Henri] 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.” It was through Huxley’s book, Ends and Means, that first brought Merton “into contact with mysticism.” 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.”
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.”
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.”
“[ChuangTzu] awakened and led him [Merton] . . . to the deeper ground of his consciousness.”
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. (From Chapter 9, “The Christian of the Future” in A Time of Departing, 2nd ed. by Ray Yungen)
Times have changed. If Lectio Divina had been introduced to an evangelical university in the 1980s, everyone would have been up in arms. But today it is considered perfectly normal and legitimate. We attribute much of this acceptance to the rise of general mysticism in the culture (e.g., yoga, Oprah Winfrey, and the popularity of Christian authors such as Brennan Manning who says in his book The Signature of Jesus that if you want to have the signature of Jesus on your prayer life you need to “Choose a single, sacred word . . . repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often” (p. 218) and says, ” the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer” (p. 212).
The quotes in the section from A Time of Departing are taken from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book, Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1991, Triumph Books Edition), pp. 3, 19, 20, 46, 71.