Ravi Zacharias, What Part of Contemplative Prayer Don’t You Understand?

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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?

Zacharias answered:

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.

Current Situation

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.


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.

Related Reading:

Booklet: BIG NOISY GOD—Dispelling the Rumor that God Can Be Found “Only in the Silence”

(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)


  1. LTRP wites:

    “The headline of this article may seem disrespectful at first glance, but we say it with all sincerity and not meaning to sound derogatory. ”

    Imagine Paul having used the same introduction of “respect” in his epistle to the Galatians. “Listen up guys, I don’t want to sound disrespectful but I say it with all sincerity and not meaning to sound derogatory”

    But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preaches any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9).

    I get angry when people demean, belittle, deride and depreciate Jesus Christ and his Gospel in public and we are so “respectful” of the rascals who dare to do it in public. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Finito.

  2. chuck

    listen to ravi at time square church in new york city
    he never gave the pure gospel of salvation
    it was twisted distorted view of history of the
    Bible never spoke on repentance of sin and hell
    never even read from the Bible just memorized
    passages very sad please listen the cross was left
    out the blood eternal life was left never given
    a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ
    just fancy words to get applause from the crowd
    people pleaser how sad.

  3. Heidi Lavoie

    Ravi also sat down with Joyce Meyer in an interview and told her “God is doing some great things (through) people like you on television”, and “God has used you”.
    People like Joyce Meyer who hold to the Faith Movement teachings, hold to a false gospel and a false Christ which equals a false religion.

  4. Heidi Lavoie

    Ravi Zacharias was one of the original signers of the Manhattan Declaration. The Declaration was drafted by Robert George, Timothy Georg and Chuck Colson. The list of original signers included prominent evangelicals like Randy Alcorn, Leith Anderson, Kay Arthur, James Dobson, Tim Keller, Josh McDowell, Al Mohler, J.I. Packer, Ron Sider and Joni Erickson Tada among others.
    The Declaration states: “We are Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike to join us in defending them.
    It is beyond my ability to comprehend how a man who is a Christian apologist and who knows the Bible, cannot seem to understand the simplicity and clarity of the Word when it states “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness , but rather reprove them.”
    Ephesians 5:11

  5. Heidi Lavoie

    Here are some facts I discovered about Ravi Zacharias about 15 years ago. He spoke at a gathering of New Evangelicals with the Mormons at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. At this conference Richard Mouw (Pres. of Fuller Theological Seminary) apologized to the Mormons for the Evangelicals’ “criticism” of them in the past, saying they had sinned against them (by exposing the errors of Mormonism). The conference was to foster unity and fellowship between Evangelicals and the Mormons.
    He is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance which has fallen into serious apostasy and endorses Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven agenda. An article on pastors.com, Rick Warren’s web site, revealed that Ravi is working with many New Evangelical leaders who are spear-heading the apostate “Christian” movement which is calling for “Christians to work for the transformation of both individuals and institutions”.
    An article from Ravi’s website (rzim.org), “Through Muddy Lenses” by Dale Fincher, advocates the use of imagination. The view in the article sounds more like eastern mysticism than Christianity. The use of imagination and visualization are powerful occult techniques now widely used in the apostate movement.

  6. CW

    I too used to really enjoy Ravi Zacharias’s teaching regarding apologetics, etc. Even went to see him in person one time. But not long ago I heard him say that he did not disagree with the theory of evolution. I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, I didn’t hear details, but that was enough to cause concern.

    I truly believe that either you believe the Bible or you don’t. To say one believes God’s Word, but then contradict Him on any point, is not belief.

  7. Brenda

    How is someone supposed to “hear a word from God” in the “silence,” when, by its very definition, silence is the absence of sound (including words)? Silence is silence, whether in one’s mind or in the physical realm.

    “… Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music.”[i]

    The cognitive dissonance (simultaneously accepting two contradictory ideas) required to think that you can “hear anything” in silence is alarming!

    It harkens me back to 2 Thess 2:11 ~~ “And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false [the lie]…”

    Thank you, LT, for your stand for truth. God Bless & protect you in these perilous times. ~Brenda

  8. 23 May 2019 / 19 Iyar 5779 / 34th Day of the Omer

    To the Editors of Lighthouse Trails:

    You said: “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.”

    Yes, I Am greatly discouraged by what I have been reading and hearing from those who claim to be “men of God.” I have heard sermons whereby the minister will say that “the blood of lost souls are on your hands if you don’t go out and witness…” but I just see that as manipulation. A true Christian that has met the LORD, will have a burning desire within their soul to share what they know about the LORD, and direct others to Him, as they are led by His Holy Spirit.

    And for those who are in positions to warn God’s people about the false teachers, the counterfeit “gospel,” and the false teachings that are leading so many people astray, God WILL hold them accountable–and even more so if God appointed them to be a “watchman!”

    I encourage you to read the whole chapter, but I would like to reference a passage from a great prophet of God. (Please realize the Old Testament is just as relevant for us today. It is just as Paul said in Romans 15:4 “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (By the way, this kinda of blows away the OSAS Theory that the SBC churches has held onto.)

    Ezekiel 33:7 “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.

    Ezekiel 33:8 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

    Ezekiel 33:9 Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.”


    Ezekiel 33:18 When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.

    Ezekiel 33:19 But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.

    Ezekiel 33:20 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal (or fair). O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.”

    What we do in this life is of the utmost importance, especially what you do with the name of Jesus… “Woe, woe be unto those who call themselves Christians, yet do not follow Christ!”

    Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    Revelation 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

    I pray your name will be found in the Book of Life!

    With the love of Christ,
    C. Read

    • To the Visitors of Lighthouse Trails,

      I just want to clarify a few of my statements. I addressed the editors of LHTB in relation to their stated discouragement that the “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,” as I am also greatly discouraged with men like J.D. Greear, Ronnie Floyd, Russell Moore, David Jeremiah, Rick Warren, Ravi Zacharias, and others who are actually leading God’s people away from the truth, rather than warning about the evil influence that is taking over in the churches.

      Lighthouse Trails is one of the very few ministries that ARE warning about the false teachers who are teaching a counterfeit “gospel.” I believe Deborah and David are true “watchman” who are faithfully sounding the alarm on many different fronts, and I am very encouraged by their work for the LORD.

      To all those who love God too, please keep them in your prayers that God will give them the desire, courage, and strength to keep doing this vital work.

      And I pray that they will continue to be a “Light shining in the Darkness,” through the ministry that the LORD God has given them, all the way to the end!

      I know their names ARE in the Book of Life, and on that Day when we all stand before God, I earnestly pray that my name, and yours, will be found there too!

      With the love of Christ,
      C. Read

  9. T. I. Miller

    A tale of two stewards of the God of the Bible. On the one hand we have the defender of the faith Elijah. Elijah summoned the false prophets of Baal and Asherah. He proved his case to all the people and had them glorify God and slay all of the 850 false prophets.
    On the other hand we have Aaron who did the opposite. He did not take a stand for God. he capitulated to the sinful rebellion against God. he hammered out a golden calf to replace the one true God.
    Every Shepherd is either an Elijah or an Aaron.
    Every Shepherd must decide before their congregation to either [stand against heresy] or set up a golden calf of apostasy.

  10. John J

    There’s one mediator between God and us: Jesus Christ. Not a single man/woman is worth following; not one.

  11. charles

    ravi is an apostate with the roman catholic church
    he quotes cs lewis who was not a born again
    beliver, he quotes malcolm muggeridge who
    was a lost roman catholic, he was at a conference
    with Mormons he uses corrupt bible versions and is very ecumenical
    the bible says to test the spirits whether they are from GOD

  12. Mat Taos

    I used to enjoy Ravi and the Christian apologetics he would do. One day, not but a few years ago, I was searching his ministries website and I came across a statement along the bottom of the website page that stated they were in service to the RCC, I couldn’t believe my eyes but it was there, clear as day. After that, I started really listening to some of his videos and I realized he was, in fact, serving the RCC.

  13. Marilyn B.

    People who participate in these so-called Christian meditative processes often think they have communicated with Jesus. But they haven’t. It is just what their own unconscious mind has told them. Or if they have a practitioner guiding them in the process what the practitioner’s own guidance has led them to will shape the Jesus they encounter in the meditation. It is all a very fake process, but in an altered state of consciousness, it all seems so very authentic. In prayer, real prayer, we communicate with the real God and that experience is always consistent with the Bible. The ”meditation Jesus” can take you anywhere in directions totally against the Word of God.

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