Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) has always maintained that while they teach Spiritual Formation, they only teach the “good” kind and that they are not a school that promotes contemplative spirituality. Lighthouse Trails has always challenged these suppositions. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when Lighthouse Trails editors had some correspondence with two different DTS faculty members (one a dean) who insisted that DTS was not promoting contemplative spirituality and that Lighthouse Trails should not include their name in our Contemplative College list or in our booklet An Epidemic of Apostasy – How Christian Seminaries Must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to Become Accredited” that names several evangelical seminaries (including DTS) that promote contemplative spirituality.
One example of how DTS is promoting contemplative spirituality is through their textbook Foundations of Spiritual Formation written by Paul Pettit. While instructors at DTS who use this book may or may not ever mention Richard Foster or Dallas Willard, the textbook by Pettit does. Within the pages of Pettit’s book is Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Thomas Aquinas, 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,” plus the practice of Lectio Divina. These are some of the heavy weights in the contemplative prayer movement. Paul Pettit teaches in DTS’s Spiritual Formation department. One course that uses Pettit’s book at DTS is Mentored Spiritual Formation. If DTS isn’t promoting the contemplative prayer movement, why use a textbook that includes teachers and writers who do?
There is more to this Spiritual Formation saga at Dallas Theological Seminary. Take a look at this page for the DTS Doctor of Ministry (DMIN) Spiritual Formation Cohort. Scroll to the bottom of the page and see the names of the two faculty members for this program. One of them is Gail Seidel (you can view her professional credentials here and here.) Last month (June 2017), she wrote a blog article titled “Soul Noticing 101,” in which she shows an obvious affinity for contemplative spirituality. She speaks, as all the contemplatives do, of Christians who feel depleted, tired, and neglected (which is how they convince people they need to do contemplative prayer).
Seidel quotes enthusiastically from several contemplatives in the article. One quote is by Cindy Caliguire. Lighthouse Trails wrote about Caliguire in 2009 because of her advocacy for contemplative prayer. The following is an excerpt from that article:
With all these contemplative connections, it’s no surprise that Soul Care founder Mindy Caliguire’s teaching sessions are also based on contemplative spirituality and the spiritual disciplines. This is clearly evident if one listens on-line to her sessions. Caliguire is a good speaker, and she does quote and reference the Bible, but for those who understand and recognize contemplative spirituality, it becomes obvious in listening to her that Caliguire is in that camp.
In Practicing Silent Prayer [a 2009 workshop at Willow Creek], Caliguire teaches about mantras, silence, and finding a quiet place undistracted. She also mentions that this kind of prayer is “difficult to do. In Practicing Solitude Part 1, she teaches on how to prepare an undistracted quiet place or retreat, and explains what things to bring to connect with God. Oddly, she recommends bringing an alternative Bible translation that is less familiar to you, a journal, and The Way of the Heart by Henry Nouwen. The following is from Nouwen’s book: “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).
This “repetition of a single word” is intended to put the practitioner in an altered state of consciousness. Gail Seidel goes on to quote Dallas Willard from his book Renovation of the Heart (remember, Willard and Richard Foster are the two main pioneers in bringing contemplative spirituality into the church and were inspired to do so by Catholic mystic Thomas Merton). After quoting Willard, Seidel quotes psychotherapist and meditation advocate Thomas Moore from his book Care of the Soul. The book is actually endorsed inside the cover by New Age author Larry Dossey, and in a section at the back of Moore’s book for further recommended reading, he includes Carl Jung! According to the New Age website Spirituality & Practice, Moore is “a leading lecturer in the fields of archetypal psychology, mythology, and imagination” and a columnist for Spirituality & Health magazine. How can a faculty member at DTS be promoting such a book unless she is resonating with the author? She never gives any indication that she disagrees with any of these quoted figures; on the contrary.
After quoting Willard, Caliguire, and Moore, Gail Seidel continues on her contemplative-author escapade by quoting “spiritual director” Alice Fryling from her book Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction. This book is a who’s who of contemplative, New Age, panentheistic mystics: Thomas Merton, Gerald May, Shalem Institute found Tilden Edwards, not to mention Henri Nouwen, Richard, Foster, and David Benner (all of whom you can read about in Ray Yungen’s A Time of Departing).
It cannot be ignored that one of two Spiritual Formation faculty members at Dallas Theological Seminary is so taken with so many hard-core contemplative prayer advocates. Dating back to 2010, in Seidel’s DTS Soul Care Lead Lab, she is recommending books by David Benner, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, Mindy Caliguire, Leighton Ford, Fil Anderson, Thomas Moore, and Dallas Willard (all contemplative teachers).
This brings us to the 2017 summer issue of DTS Magazine (see cover to the right) that one of our readers brought to our attention recently. There are a number of innuendos and hints (including the cover) of contemplative spirituality in this issue. But we will focus on one particular article written by Brandon Geilla titled “Patterns of Prayer: Ancient and Modern Tools for Reading Scripture and Communing with God,” which states:
Ancient words like liturgy can seem scary for modern, nondenominational evangelicals. Liturgy and words like lectionary, or guides like the Book of Common Prayer, often bring up feelings of empty ritual. Are they hollowed out forms of true Christian faith from which we broke away during the Reformation? We often believe so and we make subconscious vows to never return to dead habits.
Yet, this year—the 500th since the Reformation—looking back to more traditional roots of our Christian practice can prove fruitful for our spiritual growth. In the last several years, in fact, many articles have explored why millennials are returning to mainline, traditional denominations because of their formal liturgy. (emphasis added)
What the millennials are “returning” to is a mystical form of prayer developed by the Desert Fathers and other monastics. Geilla’s article elaborates on the “lectionary,” stating, “Within a more structured worship environment, people hear the Scriptures as part of a more multisensory, whole-body experience” (emphasis added). The article insinuates that DTS founder Lewis Sperry Chafer would approve of this “multisensory” kind of Christianity and stretches Chafer’s apparent willingness to work with those of other denominations into a willingness to embrace these liturgical sensory experiences as well. By the way, we believe the practices being recommended in this article have the potential to be like gateway drugs to full-blown contemplative prayer (in a similar way as lectio divina is used in the contemplative prayer movement). In fact, this article is a gateway article. For example, it quotes (and recommends) a man named Drew Dickens and a group he is part of called Abide. Dickens heads the spiritual formation department at Abide. The Abide website promotes meditation calling it “Christian meditation.” But by the descriptions (such as it relieves stress), they are talking about something much different than meditating (pondering or thinking about) on Scripture. Abide links to a particular website to make their point that mediation is beneficial (when the world says meditation, it is not talking about reading Scripture and pondering on it – it’s talking about mantra-like meditation). Just take a look at some of the books on that site (that Abide recommends to view), and you will see clearly what Abide means by “meditation.” For an example of one of Abide’s mediation exercises, click here (but please use caution). The monotone woman’s voice is an earmark of New Age meditation exercises. In addition, she instructs the listener to breath in slowly and breath out slowly. For those who are familiar with New Age meditation, you will recognize the similarity.
The article by Brandon Geilla in DTS Magazine would never appear in a magazine that understood the dangers of contemplative prayer. Interestingly, Geilla favorably references Bishop Ray Sutton in his article, who was mentioned in a Lighthouse Trails article where we stated:
Bishop Ray Sutton of The Gathering is Dean of the Province and Ecumenical Affairs of the Anglican Church in North America and is involved in a number of ecumenical (road to Rome) activities. Sutton also advocates for the Catholic transubstantiation of the communion elements (a re-crucifixion of Christ) (click here and here for some more information on Sutton).
We know our critics, including those at DTS who defend the school no matter what, will say we are using guilt by association in our article to implicate DTS, but what it is guilty of is guilt by promotion and guilt by proxy. There’s a big difference! We do not believe these are isolated incidents at DTS. And it has not just started. Like others who have gone down the contemplative/emergent path, DTS started off slowly years ago building momentum over the years. At the very least, DTS needs to come clean and admit what they are doing for the sake of unsuspecting students who will later become pastors and teachers of today’s Christian church and will have been greatly influenced in a manner that does not align with the biblical Gospel.
What’s really troubling about Dallas Theological Seminary is that they deny they are promoting contemplative spirituality. Yet, one of two faculty members for their Spiritual Formation Cohort is gleaning heavily from outright contemplative mystics. At least with some schools, they admit that is what they are doing – it’s out in the open. But not so with DTS. Their hands are in the cookie jar, but they are denying it. What would their older Christian donors do if they knew the school has willfully entered a spirituality that negates the Gospel of Jesus Christ?