The conservative Liberty University, a ministry of Jerry Falwell, is using contemplative/emergent books in their courses as textbooks.
Concerns began a few years ago when Falwell was a guest speaker at the National Pastors Convention. At the time, the convention was presented by the contemplative/emergent Youth Specialties. Lighthouse Trails contacted Falwell’s ministry to warn about the nature of the convention, but we were told that Falwell “would never attend something that wasn’t of God.” Then last year, Falwell wrote an endorsement for The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb. In our article, “Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!,” Crabb’s affinity for contemplative spirituality is illustrated through quotes he makes in his book such as:
I’ve practiced centering prayer. I’ve contemplatively prayed. I’ve prayed liturgically….I’ve benefited from each, and I still do. In ways you’ll see, elements of each style are still with me (The Papa Prayer, p.9).
Crabb is also part of the Spiritual Formation Forum, a conduit for contemplative. So when Falwell endorsed his book, concerns grew. Of that book, Falwell states:
Larry Crabb unlocks the key to genuine prayer, personal surrender, and a life-changing relationship with the living God. His insight about the state of the church and the needs of our hearts is right on target. Don’t miss his soul-searching appeal in The Papa Prayer. Get it … read it … live it!
Unfortunately, Crabb’s “insight” leads followers right into the spiritual arms of Richard Foster, Thomas Merton and a host of other contemplatives who believe that divinity is within reach of all human beings through the practice of contemplative prayer (being born-again is not a pre-requisite — the actual belief is that humanity already has divinity but just has to realize it).
Now, Falwell’s Liberty University is bringing contemplative into the classroom. For example, in Dr. David Wheeler’s Foundations in Youth Ministry II, Wheeler uses Mark Yaconelli’s book, Contemplative Youth Ministry. Yaconelli, the son of the late Mike Yaconelli (founder of Youth Specialties), is a strong advocate for contemplative. On Mark Yaconelli’s website, under Practices and Processes, Yaconelli lays out some “guidelines” for centering prayer and recommends Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, both of whom promote panentheism (God is in all things and people). In another course by Dr. Wheeler, he is using a book by Doug Fields (Saddleback Youth Pastor and on the Youth Specialties National Resource Seminar team ).
In another Liberty course, Evangelism 997, professor David Earley is using (for textbooks) books by Erwin McManus, Thom Rainer, Andy Stanley, and Rick Warren.
It is the hope that Liberty University and Jerry Falwell will take a close look at the very real dangers of the contemplative prayer movement and take into consideration that no person and no institution is above becoming victim to spiritual deception, and we should listen to the words of the apostle Peter when he said: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).