The headline of this article may seem disrespectful at first glance, but we say it with all sincerity and not meaning to sound derogatory. At Lighthouse Trails, we won’t pretend it isn’t discouraging when after 17 years of ministry, evangelical leaders (those men and women with all the influence and platform – the ones who are followed by millions) will not speak up and warn about contemplative spirituality. Many of them can’t because they are promoting it. But then there are those who don’t outright promote and might even say if asked, “Oh no, I don’t adhere to any kind of New Age mystical prayer practices.” But those very ones who say such things turn around and allow contemplative spirituality to be promoted in their very own organizations.
A case in point is Ravi Zacharias.
First some background
In 2007, Lighthouse Trails reported that Zacharias’ website had numerous articles by him and his ministry writers which favorably pointed readers to mystics such as Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, and Thomas Merton. Lighthouse Trails tried to reach out to Zacharias. At one point, a Lighthouse Trails reader (the wife of a pediatrician in southern California) told us she would be attending a dinner party where Zacharias would also be attending and she asked if we thought it was a good idea to hand deliver him a copy of one of our books. She had a copy of Out of India by Caryl Matrisciana and decided to give him that since Zacharias was born in India. He promised our reader that he would read the book on a soon upcoming long-distance flight. We never heard from him, but if he did read the book, here is an excerpt of what he would have read:
Unfortunately, many Christians are experimenting with mysticism through what New Age author of The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson, calls “Christian mysticism.” This so-called Christian mysticism leads people into New Age thinking through an experience often referred to as cosmic consciousness, unity consciousness, or god-consciousness. This is the same all-is-one experience that I first ran into while using drugs and then later while practicing Yoga.
Having practiced Eastern meditation through Yoga, I honestly believe Christian (i.e., contemplative) mediation is a treacherous counterfeit and an absolute deception. Christians are being led to practice Eastern-style meditation through contemplative prayer, centering prayer or entering the silence. These practices can lead a Christian to contact a spirit guide disguised as one of God’s angels, or as Jesus Himself.
One of the foremost teachers of contemplative spirituality is Richard Foster, a Quaker speaker and writer who emulates the beliefs of Catholic mystics like Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington (the forerunners of the modern-day contemplative prayer movement). In his best-selling book, Celebration of Discipline, Foster tells readers to “enroll” in the practice of contemplative prayer, saying we “should stop to reflect and to treasure the words, to turn them over and over in our minds, repeating them” [p. 13, 1978 ed]. To understand more fully Foster’s view of contemplative prayer, read what he says about a Benedictine monk named John Main:
“Dom John Main understood well the value of both silence and solitude. . . . Main rediscovered meditation while living in the Far East.” (emphasis added) [John Main, Essential Writings, p. 26]
Main “rediscovered meditation” from his Hindu guru, Swami Satyananda from whom he “recognized the practice of the mantra” [p. 26] and came to use it in prayer sessions three times a day. Main died in 1982, but he left a “legacy” known as the way of the mantra, and many have been influenced by his beliefs. Richard Foster is one of those, and he has carried on with the contemplative message to millions of Christians.
Since the release of Celebration of Discipline in 1978, contemplative spirituality has entered countless mainstream and evangelical churches and organizations. While Foster and Main understood the Eastern roots of this kind of prayer, most Christians practicing contemplative do not realize they are engaging in the very meditative practices that gurus in India have practiced for centuries. . . .
What is not understood by contemplatives is that: 1. Christian contemplative prayers and meditation are identical with Eastern mantras and Eastern meditation; 2. When Eastern meditation is practiced, and “silence” is achieved, it produces an altered state of mind; 3. Eastern meditative techniques, even if applied as “Christian” and called “contemplative prayer” etc., begin to change the meditators spiritual outlook. The practitioner’s altered state justifies any anti-biblical reasoning. . . . Because demonic realms are entered during the contemplative silence, over time meditators lose their confidence in God’s Word. . . . Thus, this form of meditation has become one of Satan’s greatest tools of deception, leading people away from Christ and toward a lie. (Caryl Matrisciana, Out of India, pp. 176-178)
Maybe Ravi Zacharias did read the book. In a 2012 interview, Zacharias was asked the question:
If in your book, you wrote how Eastern mysticism is completely erroneous, why did you state in one of your speaking engagements that Henri Nouwen was one of the greatest saints who lived in our time, when Nouwen is known to have been influenced by Thomas Merton and others who practice Eastern mysticism?
I regret having said that. At the time, I based my comment on Nouwen’s story of the prodigal son which I felt was on target. But later as I learned more about Nouwen and Merton, I found their writings to be very troubling. I believe that doctrinally, Nouwen lost his way.
This brings us to an article that a Lighthouse Trails reader recently brought to our attention. It is currently on Ravi Zacharias’ website, written by one of his ministry writers, Trina Dofflemyer, titled, “How to Practice the Spiritual Discipline of Silence.” Let’s take a look at the article.
The first section of the article is basically benign, describing the noise-filled world we live in today. It then refers to what it calls “the spiritual discipline of silence.”
One author defines the spiritual discipline of silence as, “A regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise. Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music.”[i]
In this practice, Christians intentionally place themselves in a quiet place to focus on God and His presence.
The author who is being referred to (as Dofflemyer’s footnotes show) is Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Dofflemyer is quoting from Calhoun’s book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Those who have been reading Lighthouse Trails for a while are probably familiar with this name because we have discussed Calhoun and her book on several occasions. The fact that the Zacharias website article is including Calhoun is enough in itself to not only discredit Dofflemyer’s article and warrant a warning, but it reveals that Ravi Zacharias has continued to allow his ministry to be infiltrated with contemplative sympathizers.
In our book review on Calhoun’s book, we state:
Calhoun’s book is permeated with references of and quotes by some of the most prolific contemplative mystics today. But she doesn’t just quote and reference these mystics – in her book, she reveals that these teachers are her “spiritual tutors.” 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 . . . 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)
This lengthy list of Calhoun’s “spiritual tutors” is a who’s who of New Age panentheistic mystics. Dofflemyer quotes from Calhoun’s book two more times in her article on silence. Please understand, Calhoun’s idea of silence is not just about turning off the television and sitting in the quiet – no. For the contemplative, that is just the first step because outer silence is not enough for them; the next (and the most important step in the contemplative’s mind) is to silence the mind. Calhoun and her tutors know that the only way you can turn off the thoughts (i.e., put the mind into neutral) is through some type of meditation exercise (e.g., breath prayers, centering prayer, lectio divina, or some other repetitive practice to “enter the silence”).
In Calhoun’s book, she recommends Gerald May’s book The Awakened Heart. Here’s what May says in that book,
It is revealed in the Hindu greetings jai bhagwan and namaste that reverence the divinity that both resides within and embraces us all. (The Awakened Heart, pp. 179-180)
When May said this, he was promoting a panentheistic, God-in-everybody view, which we know May fully embraced and which is the “fruit” of contemplative spirituality and is why we are so persistent in warning about this spiritual outlook that has entered the Christian church.
Calhoun also quotes Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating in her book. Listen to them:
We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible.
Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences. (Finding Grace at the Center, pp. 5-6)
In Trina Dofflemyer’s article, she quotes a woman named Susan Muto, a Catholic author and speaker for contemplative spirituality and the dean for the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality. In one of Muto’s CDs, John of the Cross on Contemplative Prayer, a description of the CD states: “According to Dr. Susan Muto, there is no better guide to prayer as a contemplative encounter with God than St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).” Muto has in fact been writing about John of the Cross for over thirty years so she obviously knows exactly who he is and what he believed. Catholic mystic Thomas Keating credits the mystical teachings of John of the Cross for the modern-day interest in contemplative prayer (Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 26).
We could go on and on. But we have said these things for so long. And we have done it because this is serious and continues to be ignored by the upper echelons of today’s Christian leadership.
CALL TO ACTION
Anyone reading this article who listens to or respects Ravi Zacharias should get on the phone, call his ministry, and request that they read A Time of Departing so Zacharias and his team of writers and speakers come to a true understanding of how dangerous and unbiblical the contemplative prayer movement is.
If you do call Ravi Zacharias’ ministry (800-448-6766) and can get some one there to agree to read A Time of Departing, let us know, and we will gladly send one or several copies of the book at no charge. We hope that one copy will be given to Trina Dofflemyer and one to each of the other writers and speakers there who write favorably about the contemplative prayer movement.
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)