Is Rick Warren Promoting Contemplative Prayer?

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Is Rick Warren promoting contemplative spirituality? We believe the answer to that is a wholehearted “yes.” The first clue came many years ago in Warren’s first book,The Purpose Driven Church, where he said that the Spiritual Formation movement had a “vital message for the church,” and has “given the body of Christ a wake up call” (p. 127). He named Richard Foster and Dallas Willard as key players in the Spiritual Formation movement. Since then, a repeated promotion of contemplative prayer has taken place through Rick Warren and his ministries.

In the March 29th 2006 issue of Rick Warren’s “Living the Better Life” e-newsletter lies another example. Under the section titled “Insights for the Better Life,” is an article written by Saddleback Pastor of Maturity, Lance Witt. The article called, “Enjoying God’s Presence in Solitude,” says that we are “designed to enjoy the presence of God, but that’s easier said than done.” In the article, Witt uses Thomas Merton as an example of someone who knew about solitude. But Merton’s solitude was connected to his Buddhist sympathies. Merton likened contemplative prayer to an LSD trip.

Witt finishes his article with,

“The goal of solitude is not so much to unplug from my crazy world, as it is to change frequencies so that I can hear the Father. Richard Foster has said, ‘Solitude doesn’t give us the power to win the rat race, but to ignore it altogether.'”

What does Witt mean by “changing frequencies”? Three years ago, I spoke with Lance Witt, via email, and asked him if the kind of contemplative prayer he taught was a practice in which words or phrases are repeated over and over. He told me that it was indeed this type of prayer he taught. This “changing frequencies” is contemplative language and means going into an Alpha state of mind (an altered state of consciousness) in order to stop distractions. It’s like putting the mind in neutral. Contemplatives believe this is how they can hear the voice of God.

In light of Pastor Witt’s email to me, and his article, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to know that Rick Warren has promoted a book called Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. In A Time of Departing, Ray Yungen brings this out. He quotes Warren who says of Thomas’ book:

“Gary has spoken at Saddleback, and I think highly of his work … he tells them [readers] how they can make the most of their spiritual journeys. He places an emphasis on practical spiritual exercises” (see pg.151 ATOD, 2nd ed.).

Yungen then quotes from Thomas’ book:

“It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing” (p. 152 ATOD, 2nd ed.).

It is through this twenty minute long repetition that frequencies can be changed.

In Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, Issue 226,09/2005, his feature article is titled: “De-Mystify Spiritual Growth.” He begins the article with: “Mention the term ‘spirituality’ today and many people will conjure up images of wearing white robes, sitting in a yoga lotus position, burning incense, and chanting ‘ommmmm’ with their eyes closed.” This opening sentence gives the reader the impression that the article is going to condemn Eastern or New Age mysticism. It is, however, a misleading introduction, for Warren goes on to say that spiritual maturity can be obtained through various “practical, everyday habits” or “certain exercises” or disciplines that “Saddleback places a great deal of emphasis on.” While the article itself does not say what these disciplines are, information that Rick Warren has provided throughout that issue does indeed show that these disciplines are none other than Eastern or New Age mysticism.

In the “Book Look” section of the newsletter, Warren features Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart. In this book, Willard tells readers they must apply “spiritual disciplines” to their lives. Willard, who is a spiritual partner with Richard Foster, is an advocate for contemplative spirituality. Earlier this year, Willard spoke at the Ancient Wisdom conference. Ancient Wisdom is a term used by New Agers referring to ancient mystical practices.

Both Willard and Richard Foster, author of
Celebration of Discipline
, believe those disciplines to include the teachings of Thomas Merton who said he wanted to be the best Buddhist he could be. Willard not only agrees with Richard Foster on these “spiritual disciplines” but also with Sue Monk Kidd, whose endorsement sits on the back cover of Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Monk Kidd, an author of various contemplative-promoting books said the following:

I am speaking of recognizing the hidden truth that we are one with all people. We are part of them and they are part of us … When we encounter another person, … we should walk as if we were upon holy ground. We should respond as if God dwells there.”

Monk Kidd, once a conservative Baptist Sunday School teacher, is now a strong advocate for the spiritual disciplines as described by Willard and Foster. She promotes and teaches about the feminine goddess within, mantra meditation and more. In one book, she states that God is everywhere, even in excretement.

Rick Warren continues (in that same newsletter) promoting the contemplative disciplines by making mention of a recent conference put on by the Spiritual Formation Forum that features Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Larry Crabb and Todd Hunter (North American president of the Alpha Course and a supporter of the emerging church and Renovare). Warren then proceeds to quote Brennan Manning and Rob Bell, both believers in incorporating Eastern mystical prayer practices into Christianity.

In the new edition of A Time of Departing (March 2006) Yungen wrote an entire chapter on Rick Warren’s promotion and endorsement of contemplative spirituality. By the time you finish reading that chapter, we think you will be convinced beyond doubt that Rick Warren is an advocate for the very spirituality that Thomas Merton claimed made him feel deeply impregnated with Sufism (Islamic mysticism). The following is another excerpt from the new edition of A Time of Departing:

The question you may be asking right now is, “Why is Rick Warren included in a book that is covering New Age interspirituality and exposing the dangers of contemplative prayer? Are you saying that Rick Warren is heading in that direction too? Not America’s pastor! Surely not.” If that were the case, we’d hear about it from Christian leaders. Right? … If indeed Rick Warren is promoting contemplative prayer, as I believe he is, this guarantees that contemplative prayer will be promoted on an enormous scale. Through Rick Warren, Richard Foster’s vision could enter fully into mainstream evangelicalism both in North America and around the world; and with the unprecedented following and support Warren has gained, we could be heading towards a crisis in the church that might possibly lead to the falling away that the Apostle Paul warns about (pp. 142-143, ATOD, 2nd ed.).

Like a volcanic mountain that has simmered silently in the background for years, building pressure and waiting to explode, so too is contemplative spirituality. As many of you have already witnessed, this mystical, dangerous belief system is now everywhere, even in the teachings and ministries of “America’s pastor,” who is influencing millions of people around the world. According to Ray Yungen, Rick Warren is going to do with contemplative prayer what Richard Foster could not … take it and spread it throughout the world on a massive level. We are watching it happen with our very eyes. In view of the fact that the premise of contemplative spirituality is all paths lead to God, this blatant promotion is a tragedy.

New Agers believe that the world will be unified and brought to peace through a majority of people practicing meditation. What surprise they must be experiencing now to see evangelical Christendom join ranks and leave behind a solid, bible-based faith in Jesus Christ and exchange it for their own spirituality.

If your pastor and church elders have not read A Time of Departing, we encourage you to ask them to read it. It not only lays out solid documentation on Rick Warren’s promotion of contemplative but also discusses the emerging church, New Age meditation and shows just how widespread contemplative really is.