For many years, Lighthouse Trails has written about the slide that Biola University in Southern California has taken into contemplative spirituality. Our first indication that the school was heading that way was in February of 2006 when we learned that Biola was actively participating in a publication called Conversations Journal, a magazine whose primary purpose is to bring contemplative spirituality to the church, and editorial involvement includes names such as Richard Foster, Basil Pennington (a Catholic mystic), Tilden Edwards (co-founder of the panentheistic Shalem Institute), and others of the contemplative viewpoint. Since then, we have watched as Biola has gotten whole-heartedly on the contemplative band wagon with its own Institute for Spiritual Formation through Biola’s Talbot School of Theology.
Fast forward nearly twelve years to the fall of 2017 when the longstanding president of Biola, Dr. Barry Corey, took a month-long sabbatical leave starting with a week at the Glastonbury Abbey in Massachusetts (a Benedictine monastery) then wrote about his time of contemplative silence at the Abbey for the students of Biola in an article titled “The Abbey Makes Space for the Soul” in the school’s student-run newspaper Chimes.
Of course, it makes sense to us that the president of a strongly contemplative university would spend time in silence at a Catholic mystical retreat center. We have been explaining for many years now that contemplative prayer came to the evangelical church from the Catholic monasteries (e.g. Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky). So naturally, a contemplative proponent such as Corey would be drawn to a Catholic contemplative retreat center. It’s like going back to the roots of what has become the foundation of Biola’s “faith.” And with the president himself boasting of his time at the Glastonbury Abbey, no doubt, many students will wish to follow suit. Most of them probably won’t have the money to take a week off and fly across the country to Massachusetts (college students are generally strapped for funds – Biola’s yearly tuition runs over $40,000 a year). But with President Corey’s glowing report of his time at Glastonbury, students can at least order a few books from Glastonbury’s online bookstore.
Here are some titles Biola students might purchase from the Glastonbury bookstore: Becoming the Presence of God (Contemplative Ministry for Everyone) by Michael Ford, Finding Our Sacred Center by Henri Nouwen, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr, Christ in All Things: Exploring Spirituality with Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self by Rohr, and a multitude of other similar books. The majority of the books in Glastonbury’s bookstore radiates with the contemplative message that God is in everyone. For those who are new to understanding contemplative spirituality, THAT is the foundation of contemplative prayer (i.e., Spiritual Formation) – God in everyone, which of course, if was true, then Christ died for us in vain as man would not need a Savior separate from himself. This is why we have given our lives up to warn the church about the infiltration of this panentheistic spirituality that now affects over 90% of the Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries. If contemplative spirituality (as promoted at Biola) is legitimate, then the Gospel is not needed, and those of us who believe in it are the worst of fools.
Some reading this may be thinking, well, just because Dr. Corey visited a contemplative monastery doesn’t mean that Biola itself is promoting or teaching contemplative prayer. On that matter, we could give one example after the next (see links to some of our former research below). But let’s look at just a few recent things from Biola’s website:
First, in Biola’s Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, in the Fall 2017 issue is an abstract from an article titled “Evangelical Spiritual Disciplines: Practices for Knowing God” written by Dr. Tom Schwanda (Associate Professor of Christian Formation & Spirituality at Wheaton College). It reads:
Evangelicals are not known for their awareness of or appreciation for their own history. . . . “evangelicals . . . have never been introduced to the richness of their own spirituality. Many evangelicals, and more broadly Protestants, were unaware of spiritual disciplines until Richard Foster’s groundbreaking publication Celebration of Discipline first released in 1978. While Foster wrote as an evangelical he was recovering the classic spiritual disciplines that have been shaped by 2,000 years of the Christian church. As important as this was there is also both historical and practical value for evangelicals to recognize the rich spiritual treasures within their stream of Christian spirituality. This article seeks to redress this weakness in one limited way by examining the origin of evangelical spiritual disciplines and their development over the past three centuries. (source; emphasis added)
What Dr. Schwanda means is that evangelicals have been missing out on “classic spiritual disciplines” (primarily contemplative prayer), that is until Richard Foster brought them to us. He’s also saying that Christians don’t have to look for these disciplines from other religions or belief systems because we already have a heritage of Christian mysticism in our own backyard (i.e., a long line of Catholic mystics). Ray Yungen tried to explain this in his book, A Time of Departing. Read the section below, which should provide some insight:
In [Thomas] Merton’s efforts to become a mystic, he found guidance from a Hindu swami, whom Merton referred to as Dr. Bramachari. Bramachari played a pivotal role in Merton’s future spiritual outlook. [Henri] Nouwen divulged this when he said:
“Thus he [Merton] was more impressed when this Hindu monk pointed him to the Christian mystical tradition. . . . It seems providential indeed that this Hindu monk relativized [sic] Merton’s youthful curiosity for the East and made him sensitive to the richness of Western mysticism.”
Why would a Hindu monk advocate the Christian mystical tradition? The answer is simple: they are one in the same. Even though the repetitive words used may differ (e.g. Christian words: Abba, Father, etc. rather than Hindu words), the end result is the same. And the Hindu monk knew this to be true. Bramachari understood that Merton didn’t need to switch to Hinduism to get the same enlightenment that he himself experienced through the Hindu mystical tradition. In essence, Bramachari backed up what I am trying to get across in A Time of Departing, that all the world’s mystical traditions basically come from the same source and teach the same precepts . . . and that source is not the God of the Old and New Testaments. The biblical God is not interspiritual!
Evangelical Christianity is now being invited, perhaps even catapulted, into seeing God with these new eyes of contemplative prayer. And so the question must be asked, is Thomas Merton’s silence, Henri Nouwen’s space, and Richard Foster’s contemplative prayer the way in which we can know and be close to God? Or is this actually a spiritual belief system that is contrary to the true message that the Bible so absolutely defines—that there is only one way to God and that is through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the Cross obtained our full salvation? ( A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 199)
Second, to show that Biola is promoting contemplative spirituality, if you examine the editorial staff for the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, you will see numerous contemplative and/or emergent names (Ruth Haley Barton, Klaus Issler, Kyle Strobel, Larry Crabb, Bruce Demarest to name a few); there is no way that the Journal is not going to be promoting contemplative spirituality.
One more example, in Biola’s class SEED570 Introduction to Spiritual Formation, one of the textbooks being used is Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. In a Lighthouse Trails review of this book, we quote Calhoun from her book where she states:
I would be remiss not to mention the spiritual tutors that I know only through books: Dorothy Bass, Eugene Peterson, Gerald May, M. Basil Pennington, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, Fredrick Buechner, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Jonathan Edwards [not a contemplative], Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, St. Benedict, Julian of Norwich and many more. Their ideas, voices and examples have shaped my own words and experience of the disciplines. (Acknowledgment’s page)
If you are not familiar with these names, please take some time to study them. They are all mystical advocates. Calhoun’s book does not belong in any school that calls itself Christian. You can see on the Biola website that Calhoun spoke at the school in 2013 as well. In our review of Calhoun, we showed how she advocates the spirituality of Catholic panentheists Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington.
If there is a Biola student reading this article, we beseech you to weigh this matter out in light of Scripture. Your president is pointing you to a spiritual outlook that negates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is as New Age, panentheistic, and universalistic as it gets. Henri Nouwen, whom you have most likely heard about in some of your classes at Biola, said this statement near the end of his life after spending years practicing contemplative prayer:
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.”—From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book, page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition
Nouwen came to this conclusion after immersing himself in the very same contemplative silence that Glasonbury Abbey lives by. If the above statement by Nouwen were true, then everyone (even Hitler) will be saved, and it really doesn’t matter what belief a person holds to because every way, every path (be it Buddhism, Hinduism, even atheism) will be a path to God.
Biola University has been introducing students to the beliefs of Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and many other mystics for a long time. Forty thousand dollars a year is a lot of money to pay for an education like that!
Note: Any Biola student, professor, or staff member who would be willing to read A Time of Departing, the book we publish that explains contemplative spirituality, we will be happy to send a free copy. Please just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name will be kept confidential.
Some of our other coverage on Biola University since 2006: