Lutzer, Falwell, and Kennedy Endorse Contemplative Promoting Book
Trusted Christian leaders, ones many would never suspect, have endorsed a book by contemplative proponent Larry Crabb, a “spiritual director” for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and a popular Christian author. Three pages of endorsements inside the book have several obvious names: Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Brennan Manning, Bob Buford, Chuck Smith Jr. and John Ortberg. This is like a who’s who of evangelical contemplative proponents. But then there are names that would be the last ones you would expect to see in a book that comes right out and condones centering and contemplative prayer: Dr. James Kennedy, Erwin Lutzer and Dr. Jerry Falwell.
The new book that these leaders have endorsed promises to teach readers a revolutionary way to pray. The book, The Papa Prayer (Integrity Publishers, 2006), boasts that this new kind of prayer will “shatter your view of prayer as it used to be” (back cover). The author, a board member of the Spiritual Formation Forum, does not hesitate to let readers know that, while his Papa Prayer is something new and different, he also currently practices both contemplative prayer and centering prayer (which are really one and the same):
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).
And then on page 22, Crabb says, “Other forms of relating to God that have unique value in connecting us to Him include contemplative prayer and centering prayer.”
Some may say that Larry Crabb doesn’t mean actual contemplative prayer or centering prayer, that this is just a mix up of definitions. But in a 2003 Christianity Today article, it reveals Crabb’s sympathies towards contemplative spirituality:
Christian counselor and popular author Larry Crabb took the trouble to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. But now he believes that in today’s church, therapy should be replaced by another, more ancient practice–“spiritual direction.”
This “ancient practice” is the same ancient practice that Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating teach – contemplative prayer. A year before the Christianity Today article came out, Crabb wrote the foreword for David Benner’s book, Sacred Companions: “The spiritual climate is ripe. Jesus seekers across the world are being prepared to abandon the old way of the written code for the new way of the spirit.” Benner’s book is clear about what that “new way” is when he talks about a “Transformational Journey” needed in the Christian’s life, which includes the teachings of Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Martin Buber, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington and several others, all of whom promote a panentheistic, New Age view of God. For Crabb to write the foreword of Benner’s book, it leaves no speculation of his affinity towards this same spirituality. His book, The Papa Prayer, is no exception; and he comes right out and says so! The Papa Prayer is nothing more than a union of mysticism and psychology, and the insights of this “revolutionary” prayer spring from Crabb’s contemplative experiences.
And for leaders like Erwin Lutzer, James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell to endorse this book is a downright tragedy to Christendom.
We called both the offices of James Kennedy and Erwin Lutzer to ask each of them if they realized what Larry Crabb was promoting, both in the book and in his ministry as well. We hoped we might be able to shed some light on the matter and that each of them would realize endorsing such a book would spiritually harm a lot of people. Perhaps they would want to issue a retraction. We received a call back from one of these men on the same day we called. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of The Moody Church and popular and respected author and speaker, listened to our concerns but told us that when he read the terms “contemplative prayer” and “centering prayer” in Crabb’s book, he did not think of it as any kind of New Age prayer. He said he absolutely does not endorse or promote the New Age at all. While we were happy to hear this, we told Pastor Lutzer that Larry Crabb does promote New Age beliefs and Lutzer’s name in the book will lead many who trust him to think Crabb’s book and other work are acceptable. Pastor Lutzer asked us to please remember to love all the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. He felt this was more important than criticizing others and naming names, and he said that we (Lighthouse Trails) may not really be qualified to identify spiritual deception within the church.
It is difficult for us to understand how a leader like Erwin Lutzer, who has many educational and ministry qualifications, did not have concern over endorsing a book that actually condones centering and contemplative prayer. In a google search, the term “centering prayer” comes up nearly 200,000 (update: 480,000 in 2011) times. At www.centeringprayer.com it describes centering prayer as:
[A]a method of prayer, which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence, traditionally called contemplative prayer…. [and]is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina, (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist Abbey, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. (from 2006 website)
Our research over the last five years has confirmed that this “method of prayer” that Keating and Pennington teach is subversive to biblical Christianity and is panentheistic (God in all things) and pantheistic (all things are Divine, or God).
It is disheartening to see Christian leaders endorse books like The Papa Prayer and then deny that there is problem. While we realize the difficulties and expense it causes to have to retract something that is already in print, it seems that the welfare of readers should take precedence over money and inconvenience. And while it certainly may be a bit embarrassing at first, a great deal of respect will be gained such as in the case of Chuck Smith Sr., who recently removed one of his own books from the market after finding out that an editor had added some contemplative and New Age references. In doing this, Pastor Smith became an example that other leaders should follow. Regrettably though, once a book has gone to print, it seems nearly impossible to get a retraction. Last year, the 2nd edition of David Jeremiah’s book, Life Wide Open, was released. In the book, we reported that Jeremiah had numerous favorable quotes by mystical proponents like Sue Monk Kidd and Peter Senge. To our knowledge, the book has not been pulled from the market, and Jeremiah has made no public statement correcting his errors.
In the case of The Papa Prayer, we hope and pray that Erwin Lutzer, James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell will issue a retraction of their endorsement and thus show the body of Christ what true leadership and humility is.