Moody Bible Institute has been around for a very long time and has enjoyed a respected reputation in the Christian community at large. Their mission statement admirably says they exist “to equip and motivate people to advance the cause of Christ through ministries that educate, edify and evangelize.” However, as with so many Christian colleges and seminaries, MBI is more than dabbling with contemplative, thus putting the school at risk of falling into that seductive trap that looks and feels so right but in actuality is so deceptive and spiritually harmful.
Midday Connection, a ministry of Moody Bible Institute, is featuring an author (and a guest on their show) who promotes contemplative spirituality, Keri Wyatt Kent. Wyatt Kent is a writer for Willow Creek Community Church and often speaks on spiritual formation. Her recent book, Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life (published by the emerging/contemplative promoting publisher, Jossey-Bass), teaches readers to “listen” to God through “spiritual practices,” including the practice of silence. The author quotes extensively throughout the book both contemplatives and New Agers, including Henri Nouwen, M.Scott Peck, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Rick Warren, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, and Eugene Peterson.
When Midday Connection (MBI ministry) was recently asked about their obvious promotion of Wyatt Kent and of contemplative spirituality, they stated that they were committed to spiritual formation and named “solid guests” like Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard who were teaching people “spiritual disciplines.” They said they were just “re-stating some old truths in new ways.” It makes sense that they would use Larry Crabb as an example of these “new ways.” Crabb, in the foreword of a book (Sacred Companions) by contemplative-promoting David Benner, said that it was time to get rid of the old written code and replace it with new ways of practicing spirituality. Even still, it is surprising that Moody would call Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard “solid guests … “who recognize the need to teach people spiritual disciplines.” We know that spiritual disciplines, according to Crabb and Willard, include the silence (i.e., contemplative).
Moody Conferences (another ministry of MBI) has a list of several speakers they use at their various conferences. One of them, Dan Allender (Mars Hill Graduate School)promotes contemplative spirituality and the emerging church. Another speaker, Robert Webber, has the Ancient-Future Worship ministry and is a strong promoter of the emerging church. In an upcoming conference presented by Webber, he includes Brian McLaren as a speaker.
Unfortunately, Moody’s promotion of contemplative doesn’t stop there. In the July 2006 issue of Moody Publisher’s magazine, Today in the Word, there is favorable mention of Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways, (in which Thomas recommends repeating a word or phrase for 20 minutes) and Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines by Valerie Hess. On Amazon, it states that Hess’s book is based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
Moody Bible Institute Graduate School has joined in too — there is a Department of Spiritual Formation, (p. 14) and a Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship (MASF/D). A number of contemplative authors are used in these programs (Nouwen, Benner, Willard, Foster, etc.).
While it may seem that Moody has just recently come to the contemplative table, that is not actually so. In 1987, Moody Monthly wrote an endorsement for Sue Monk Kidd’s book, God’s Joyful Surprise. In this book, one of Monk Kidd’s earlier books, she unfolds her journey into contemplative spirituality, largely from reading Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors. Once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, today she promotes neo-paganism and goddess worship. This is what Moody Monthly wrote on the back cover of God’s Joyful Surprise nearly two decades ago:
Carefully avoiding a how-to approach [Kidd] suggests some disciplines for cultivating an interior quietness and a richer personal experience of God’s love. Her writing, well-balanced by the wisdom of writers like Brother Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Henri Nouwen is alive with humorous anecdotes. (more on this )
We can only hope that Moody Bible Institute will not stray any further along the contemplative path but will return to the foundation that its founders set.