Leaders at Moody Bible Institute have adamantly insisted they do not promote or endorse contemplative spirituality. And in spite of repeated promotion of contemplatives, such as Larry Crabb, Dallas Willard, Keri Wyatt Kent, and Richard Foster, they have publicly stated they are against contemplative. Lighthouse Trails offered on more than one occasion to send faculty and staff complimentary copies of A Time of Departing to help explain the dangers of this mystical belief system. That offer has not yet been accepted.
The quote by Nouwen on both days is taken from his book In the Name of Jesus:
Henri J. M. Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, has many insights into leadership and humility, and we’re quoting it a second time (see Jan. 5): “[Christian leadership] is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest….
Whoever at MBI quoted Nouwen from his book perhaps did not read the section in the book called “The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer” where Nouwen says: “For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (p. 32). Since the faculty and staff at MBI find it perfectly acceptable to quote from someone who believed that Jesus was not the only path to God (which Nouwen said), in hope that we might be able to persuade some MBI students who may read this column, the following is a statement by Ray Yungen about Henri Nouwen:
Unfortunately, this widely read and often-quoted author, at the end of his life, stated in clear terms that he approached God from a universalistic view. He proclaimed:
Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God. (Sabbatical Journey, p. 51)
Nouwen’s endorsement of a book by Hindu spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, teaching mantra meditation, further illustrates his universalistic sympathies. On the back cover, Nouwen stated, “This book has helped me a great deal” (Easwaran,Meditation)
Nouwen also wrote the foreword to a book that mixes Christianity with Hindu spirituality, in which he says:
[T]he author shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian … Ryan [the author] went to India to learn from spiritual traditions other than his own. He brought home many treasures and offers them to us in the book. (Ryan, Disciplines for Christian Living, pp. 2-3)
Nouwen apparently took these approaches seriously himself. In his book, The Way of the Heart, he advised his readers:
The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence.(p. 81)
But what God’s “active presence” taught him, unfortunately, stood more in line with classic Hinduism than classic evangelical Christianity. He wrote:
Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one, … It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is. (Bread for the Journey, 1/15/97 & 11/16/97)
It is critical to note here that Nouwen did not say all Christians are one; he said “all is one,” which is the fundamental panentheistic concept of God–the God in everything unites everything. Like Thomas Merton, it was Nouwen’s intent to make mystical prayer a pervasive paradigm within all traditions of Christianity. He felt the evangelical church had many admirable qualities but lacked one vital one: mysticism. He sought to remedy this by imploring, “It is to this silence [contemplative prayer] that we all are called.” (The Way of the Heart, p. 66)
One of the most classic examples I’ve ever encountered that reveals Nouwen’s spiritual mindset is from his autobiographical book, Sabbatical Journey. In it, he speaks glowingly of his encounter with author and lecturer, Andrew Harvey, in April of 1996. Nouwen exclaimed, “I had the deep sense of meeting a soul friend [mentor].” (p. 149)
What makes this comment so revealing about Nouwen’s belief system is the fact that Harvey is a world-renowned advocate of interspirituality through mysticism. He has written thirty books on this subject, one of which bears the following declaration that sums up the meaning of this term:
When you look past the different terminologies employed by the different mystical systems, you see clearly that they are each talking about the same overwhelming truthâ€”that we are all essentially children of the Divine and can realize that identity with our Source here on earth and in a body. (Harvey, The Direct Path, p. 34)
It is important to note here that Andrew Harvey is one of the teachers in … the Living Spiritual Teachers Project. The project’s main goal is to promote mysticism as a bridge to interspirituality. Members include Catholic and Buddhist nuns and monks as well as Zen masters and the bestselling New Age author, Marianne Williamson.
A skeptic might respond with the comeback that Nouwen liked Harvey as a person, but didn’t necessarily agree with his views. Nouwen himself put this possibility to rest when he said:
Before driving home, Michael, Tom and I had a cup of tea at a nearby deli. We discussed at some length the way Andrew’s mysticism had touched us.” (SJ, p. 149)
The ramifications of Nouwen’s thinking are truly alarming and are foretold in I Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving [seducing] spirits and doctrines of demons.” Yungen connects the dots:
The operative word here is “deceiving” or seducing which means to be an imposter or to mislead. It is plain to see a real delusion is going on or, as Paul called it, a seduction. How then can you tell if you are a victim yourself? It is actually not that difficult.
The doctrines (instructions) of demons–no matter how nice, how charming, how devoted to God they sound–convey that everything has Divine Presence (all is One). This is clear heresy–for that would be saying Satan and God are one also (i.e., “I [Lucifer] will be like the Most High,” Isaiah 14:14). If what Henri Nouwen proclaimed is true when he said, “[W]e can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is,” (Bread for the Journey, op. cit.) then Jesus Christ and Satan are also united. That is something only a demonic spirit would teach!
An even more subtle yet seductive idea says: Without a mystical technique, God is somehow indifferent or unapproachable….
And, we must not forget the most decisive indication of the Deceiver’s handiwork: the belief or doctrine in question will undermine the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as both God and man and His atoning work on the Cross.
For MBI to give such credence to Henri Nouwen really doesn’t make any sense. Nouwen’s propensity for the mystical elements of spirituality with panentheistic overtones, are quite evident when one studies his writings. Even one of his biographer’s noted that Nouwen was enamored with Sri Ramakrishna who believed that all the world’s religions were valid revelations from God. Yet Nouwen esteemed him as an important spiritual figure (from Wounded Prophet).
There is ample evidence to show why Henri Nouwen cannot be considered a trustworthy source for biblical Christianity. Is it that MBI does not want to look at the evidence because they are attracted to the same spirituality as Nouwen, Crabb, Foster, and Kent? If this is not the conclusion that we should reach, then what is it? That’s the question. What conclusion should we draw?
Quotes by Ray Yungen take from A Time of Departing, 2nd edition.