Thomas Kelly was born in 1893 to Quaker parents. He died 48 years later. But his book A Testament of Devotion lives on, and Kelly is frequently quoted by Christian authors. What did Kelly believe in, and what is it in his book that has attracted many who promote contemplative spirituality?
As we have often said, the premise of contemplative spirituality is that all paths lead to God and that God (or Divinity) is within every human being. This, of course, completely negates the gospel message of Jesus Christ and the belief that man is utterly sinful and can only be saved through faith in Christ. All paths will not lead to God, and there is no divinity within man unless that Divinity is the person of Jesus Christ who lives in the heart of the born-again soul.
Thomas Kelly begins his Testament of Devotion with the following: “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, A Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.” He calls this the “Light Within” and says it “is the beginning of true life…. the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened … And He is within us all.”
Thomas Kelly says there is more than one level of our mental life, a “profounder level” with a “gentle receptiveness to divine breathings,” and says that in this “energizing Center, we are all made one.” Kelly asks how we can life the life of prayer without ceasing, and as Rick Warren suggests in his book Purpose Driven Life, there are habits we can practice that will help us do that. Both Kelly and Warren refer to Brother Lawrence as one who can give us guidance in this area of unceasing prayer. And yet, according to Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Lawrence “danced violently like a mad man” when he went into the meditative state of prayer (see A Time of Departing). Kelly says, “Mental habits of inward orientation must be established.” It is interesting to note that neither Jesus nor the Apostles gave such advice and certainly did not dance violently like mad men.
A Testament of Devotion is not a book that should be quoted favorably by Christians. Doing so can lead readers towards a spirituality that is contrary to biblical Christianity and that ultimately rejects the gospel. Kelly does not beat around the bush about his beliefs. On the first page of the book, he comes right to the point … God is in all. So anyone reading that book and then quoting favorably from it may indeed have strong affinities towards contemplative and New Age spirituality, and when Richard Foster wrote the foreword for a 1996 Harper Collins edition of A Testament of Devotion, perhaps this is his way of saying he agrees with such persuasions. Either way, if you are reading one of your favorite Christian authors and you come across a quote by Thomas Kelly, you might want to let that author know of your concerns.