One year ago, Lighthouse Trails contacted Focus on the Family to share concerns about their promotion of contemplative author Gary Thomas in a FOF magazine. Shortly after, we received a letter from Mr. Tim Masters of the FOF Office of the Chairman, which stated:
[We] found nothing within the pages of Sacred Parenting [by Gary Thomas] that contradicts the Christian faith or Dr. Dobson’s philosophy … we are not in a position to address the contents of Mr. Thomas’s other writings … but this much we can tell you: there is and always has been a strong tradition of contemplative prayer in the Christian church that has nothing to do with mantras and Eastern meditation. To confuse the two, as you have done, is to jump to an unwarranted conclusion based on a misunderstanding of certain features they appear to share in common
In our May 10, 2006 newsletter, we responded to Focus on the Family’s defense of contemplative prayer stating:
In light of Master’s apparent conviction that the two camps (Christian and Eastern contemplative) are distinct and unrelated, it is important to note here that Tilden Edwards, the founder of the largest and most influential contemplative school in the US, would disagree that the two are indeed different. Edwards revealed that contemplative prayer is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality in his book, Spiritual Friend (of which Richard Foster endorsed, calling it an excellent spiritual book).
While FOF states they are “not in a position to address” Gary Thomas’ other books (which clearly promote contemplative), the book that FOF does promote, Sacred Parenting, devotes an entire chapter to contemplative spirituality, calling it the “active discipline” of “true listening,” and saying it is the way we can “seize heaven and invite God’s presence into our lives” (pp. 58-59). In that chapter, Thomas names two people who had a major impact in his prayer life: contemplative/mystic Teresa of Avila and Frank Buchman, initiator of Moral Re-Armament, now called Initiatives of Change, an inter-faith organization working towards globalization. Buchman was a controversial figure, partly due to his 1930s public statements showing admiration for Adolph Hitler. And according to cult expert Dave Hunt, Buchman was involved in both mysticism and the occult:
MRA founder Frank Buchman … embraced new revelations through occult guidance [and]helped to set the stage for the New Age movement…. He inspired thousands on all continents to meditate … decades before Maharishi Mahesh Yogi left India. (Hunt, Adaptation of Occult Invasion, 1998)
Gary Thomas devoted three entire pages to Buchman in Sacred Parenting. All things considered, this book hardly seems like it will be a “tremendous help and a great inspiration to those moms and dads who choose to take advantage of its message.” On the contrary.
The question must be asked, when Masters states that “there is and always has been a strong tradition of contemplative prayer in the Christian church that has nothing to do with mantras and Eastern meditation,” which authors have or do teach contemplative prayer excluding the mantra and Eastern-like meditation? Richard Foster, whom Focus on the Family now promotes? Gary Thomas? Thomas Merton? Brennan Manning? Henri Nouwen? (All of whom can be found on FOF websites and all of whom teach mantra-style meditation)
We must also ask, can Focus on the Family rightfully disregard the contents of Gary Thomas’ other writings, writings in which he tells readers to repeat a word or phrase for 20 minutes until the “word becomes part of you.” Did the Apostle Paul, or the Psalmist or Jesus Christ ever give such instructions? Of course not. Gary Thomas’ website clearly promotes practices such as lectio divina and centering prayer all the while encouraging visitors to read the works of Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington, both of whom wholeheartedly and without reservation embraced Eastern mysticism. Incidentally, Thomas teaches Spiritual Formation at Western Seminary. By promoting one of Thomas’ books, FOF is directly promoting contemplative prayer.
Focus on the Family has entered into an unbiblical territory that can spiritually harm many people, including children. It is our prayer that Dr. Dobson and other Christian leaders will look at the facts fairly before proceeding any further down this path.
At the time Focus on the Family wrote to us, they said that they could not speak for Gary Thomas’ other writings, just Sacred Parenting. However, it has come to our attention that they are now spotlighting Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways (mentioned above), which promotes mantric-style prayer. An article on FOF’s TrueU.org website is written by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways, named for the book. The article has a link to Thomas’ own website, in which he lists a number of “Christian Classics” by several contemplative mystics.1
It looks like Focus on the Family is holding to their views on contemplative. One year later, in addition to continuing to promote Gary Thomas, they are still promoting Richard Foster in their Spiritual Formation series by H.B. London2, Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen (and the silence)3, lectio divina4, and Thomas Merton5. And earlier this year, an article on From the Lighthouse blog titled “Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey – Promoting Contemplative?” showed more evidence of the contemplative proclivities of Focus on the Family.