Mark Driscoll is a name that has grown in popularity among evangelicals especially over the past few years. Somewhat known for his vulgar and crass language in public, he has been invited to speak at conferences by a wide assortment of Christian leaders–John Piper and Robert Schuller to name two. Driscoll also shared a platform this year at the Gospel Coalition National Conference with a number of respected Christian evangelical figures such as D.A. Carson, Erwin Lutzer, and Joshua Harris. Coming up in 2010, Driscoll has been invited by Rick Warren to speak at the Radicalis conference.
Although Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Fellowship in Seattle Washington, is said to have denounced certain aspects of the emergent church, Driscoll is a proponent of the main element behind the emerging church – contemplative prayer.
Presently, on Driscoll’s website, The Resurgence (see whois info) is an article titled “How to Practice Meditative Prayer.” The article is written by an Acts 29 (Driscoll’s network of churches) pastor, Winfield Bevins. A nearly identical article on Driscoll’s site, also by Bevins, is titled Meditative Prayer: Filling the Mind. Both articles show a drawing of a human brain. In this latter article, Bevins recognizes contemplative mystic pioneer Richard Foster:
What do we mean by meditative prayer? Is there such a thing as Christian meditation? Isn’t meditation non-Christian? According to Richard Foster, “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind” (Celebration of Discipline). Rather than emptying the mind we fill it with God’s word. We must not neglect a vital part of our Judeo-Christian heritage simply because other traditions use a form of meditation.
Bevins has got this very wrong, as does Richard Foster. Contemplative proponents say that, while the method practiced by Christian contemplatives and eastern-religion mystics may be similar (repeating a word or phrase over and over in order to eliminate distractions and a wandering mind), the Christian variety is ok because the mind isn’t being emptied but rather filled. But in essence, both are emptying the mind (i.e., stopping the normal thought process). That is where the contemplatives say making a space for God to fill.
The Bevins’ reference to Richard Foster is not the only contemplative marker on Mark Driscoll’s site . In an article written by Driscoll himself, ironically titled Obedience, Driscoll tells readers to turn to Richard Foster and contemplative Gary Thomas. Driscoll states:
In Celebration of Discipline (1978 ed., p. 13), Richard Foster says that “we should all without shame enroll in the school of contemplative prayer.” To understand Foster’s meaning of “contemplative prayer,” he has written a number of books that clearly show his propensity toward the mystics (such as John Main and Thomas Merton). Devotional Classics, Spiritual Classics, Meditative Prayer, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home are a few. His founding organization, Renovare, has a vast number of resources, articles, etc. that further substantiate our claims that Foster is a contemplative proponent.
As for Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Pathways (the one Driscoll recommends), Thomas tells readers to repeat a word for 20 minutes in order to still the mind. This is the basic principle in all Eastern and occultic methods. This is not an idle charge. Anglican mystic Richard Kirby astutely observes in his book The Mission of Mysticism that with this spirituality the method differs little than that of occultism:
“The meditation of advanced occultists is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics; it is no accident that both traditions use the same word for the highest reaches of their respective activities: contemplation (samadhi in yoga).”
Driscoll is just one of many Christian figures whose contemplative propensities is being completely ignored or overlooked. For the sake of the Gospel, which contemplative spirituality negates by its very nature, we pray that believers will not look to those who follow and promote this spiritual deception.