Chuck Swindoll and Henri Nouwen’s Silence

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LTRP Note: The following is an excerpt from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing. We are posting this as a follow up to today’s press release on Oprah and the Silence. For those who think we should not have included Chuck Swindoll in our report, the following may shed some light.

So You Want to Be Like Christ
by Ray Yungen

Charles (Chuck) Swindoll has a popular radio program called Insight for Living. In a September 2005 radio broadcast, Swindoll favorably quoted Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster. But it wasn’t until I saw Swindoll’s 2005 book So You Want To Be Like Christ: Eight Essentials to Get You There that I realized Swindoll had been influenced by contemplative authors. In the book, Swindoll quotes Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen, as well as Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard. He states that he “sensed a genuine need … for the cultivation of intimacy with the Almighty.”1 He says, “There is a deep longing among Christians and non-Christians”2 for intimacy with God and that intimacy with God should be our goal, and “discipline is the means to that end.”3 Chapter three of Swindoll’s book is called “Silence and Solitude.” In it, he tells readers there are “secrets … that will deepen our intimacy with God,”4 so we can see “what others miss.”5 As he attempts to explain what these secrets are, he refers to the Scripture so often quoted by contemplatives, Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He goes on to say:

As we continue our journey toward intimacy with the Almighty, Psalm 46:10 calls us to the discipline of silence…. What happens when you and I commit ourselves to periods of absolute, uninterrupted silence?6

Swindoll refers to an interview between Mother Teresa (a contemplative and interspiritualist) and former anchorman Dan Rather where she explains to Rather the concept of the silence. Swindoll then exhorts his readers to “discover its secrets for yourself.”7 Yet he avoids describing the actual method of contemplative prayer, saying, “You’re on your own with this one,” referring to it as “the mystery of godliness”8 (which actually is a reference in the Bible to the deity of Jesus Christ, not the silence, I Timothy 3:16). He brings the proverbial horse right to the water by favorably quoting [Richard] Foster, Nouwen, and [Dallas] Willard throughout the book.

Swindoll goes so far as to imply that without the silence we cannot really know God, [stating]:

Sustained periods of quietness are essential in order for that [becoming like Christ] to happen … I encourage you to experience this for yourself.9

He finally quotes from Henri Nouwen’s, The Way of the Heart and then reflects, “I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person [intimate with God] without stillness and silence.”10

This is really quite a misleading statement. It is not the silence that draws us closer to God and allows us to become a “deep person” as Swindoll and the contemplatives insist. Scripture clearly teaches that it is only through the blood atonement of Jesus Christ that we can gain access to Him. We cannot add or take away from that. When we are born again, we are as united to Him as we will ever be. Atonement by the blood is the only direct and truly genuine means of meeting with God. The Old Testament speaks of the “mercy seat” wherein the Lord says “there I will meet with you” (Exodus 25:22). How awesome! A Holy God meets with man, but only when there is blood to atone for man. Hebrews 10:19-22, a clear reference to the Old Testament passage says that Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, is the fulfillment. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart, signifying that now in Christ (the new covenant), the Holy Place, God’s presence is open to ALL who believe. We do not need to go into a meditative, self-induced state [as Nouwen suggests in his writings] to be in God’s presence.

Some may say that Swindoll is only referring to a quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of life when he speaks of silence. If that were the case, then why does he differentiate between silence and solitude? He refers to solitude as getting away from it all, an external quietness, and makes it clear that silence is an internal stillness like Henri Nouwen described in The Way of the Heart.

While at this point, Swindoll does not actually teach mantras or altered states, his promotion and extensive quoting of contemplatives gives every indication that he is moving toward the contemplative camp. Typically, those who begin following the teachings of the authors I have warned about, and begin promoting the silence, continue steadily on a downward spiral into outright mysticism and deception. It is vital to understand that Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is a virtual primer on the practice of contemplative prayer. For instance, in the 2005 radio broadcast, Swindoll read a portion of The Way of the Heart where Nouwen makes reference to the silence of the mind contrasting it with regular silence as in not speaking. (This has been an excerpt from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., pp. 190-192)

QUOTES FROM SWINDOLL’S BOOK:

“So you want to be like Christ? Me too. But that kind of godliness won’t just happen … Disciplining ourselves will require the same kind of focused thinking and living that our Master modeled.” Introduction

“Let’s commit ourselves to these eight spiritual disciplines.” Introduction

“Henri Nouwen … longed to get away from all those words … So how do we pull it off? How, in a world bent on distracting us from growing deeper? … How do you and I become more godly? … The word is discipline. The secret lies in our returning to the spiritual disciplines.” p. 9, 10.

“I have sensed a genuine need–in my own life–for the cultivation of intimacy with the Almighty…. God requires spiritual disciplines … essential in our pursuit of godliness. … I came across Dallas Willard’s excellent work The Spirit of the Disciplines.” p. 12

“Richard Foster’s meaningful work Celebration of Discipline …” p. 15

“Discipline. This is the means for having intimacy with God. … Discipline is control gained by enforced obedience. It is the deliberate cultivation of inner order. So how are intimacy and discipline connected? … Discipline is the means to that end.” p. 21

LTRP Note: In September 2005, we were informed that Chuck Swindoll was favorably quoting Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster on his Insight For Living program. We contacted Insight for Living and spoke with Pastor Graham Lyons. We shared our concerns, then later sent A Time of Departing to him and also a copy to Chuck Swindoll.

In a letter dated 10/3/05 from Pastor Lyons, we were told, “With his schedule I doubt he will read it.” We are sorry that Chuck Swindoll has time to read Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster but no time to read A Time of Departing, especially in light of the fact that thousands of people will read Chuck Swindoll’s book, listen to his broadcasts, and now believe that the contemplative authors are acceptable and good.

Other Important Related Stories:
Rick Warren Says He Practices Silence and Solitude

Christian Leaders Network Together in a Dangerous Venture

Notes:
1.Charles Swindoll, So You Want To Be Like Christ? (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 12.
2. Ibid., p. 14.
3. Ibid., p. 21.
4. Ibid., p. 55.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 61.
7. Ibid., p. 62.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., p. 63.
10. Ibid., p. 65.

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