The headline in this article may seem preposterous – Brian McLaren and two other contemplative prayer proponents (Richard Rohr and Phyllis Tickle) agreeing with what Lighthouse Trails has been trying to say for eight years now? That the same contemplative prayer which is advocated by mainstream Christian leaders (Beth Moore, Chuck Swindoll, Rick Warren, Focus on the Family, etc) is the very same thing as eastern mysticism (i.e., Hinduism/Buddhism). How can we say such a statement?
In a book that was released this year titled The Big Book of Christian Mysticism,author Carl McColman (a former self-proclaimed pagan who converted to contemplative Catholicism) states that “no absolutely clear distinction can be drawn between Christian and non-Christian mysticism” (p. 64). In others words, they are basically the same thing. This is exactly what Lighthouse Trails has been attempting to warn against for many years.
First, regarding the quote by McColman that there is no distinction between Christian and non-Christian mysticism, some may ask whether McColman is referring to “contemplative prayer” when he says “Christian mysticism.” He absolutely is. Even the subtitle of the book illustrates this: “The essential guide to contemplative spirituality.” And throughout the book, he has included the writings of many well-known and often-read mystics of the contemplative prayer tradition, some of which are: Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Madame Guyon, Brother Lawrence, and Evelyn Underhill. You will find these names quoted and referenced in most “evangelical” contemplative prayer promoting books. A few examples of such books would be The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero, and most of the writings by Brennan Manning.
Of McColman’s book, Brian McLaren states:
Before I heard about The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, I had been thinking about how such a book has been needed for a long time. Now, having read it, I’m glad we waited for Carl McColman to come along to write it. It’s accessible, human, well-informed, balanced, broad … just what we needed.1
It’s no wonder that Brian McLaren, a pioneering leader in the emerging church, endorses the book–McColman says on page 147 that “Emergent communities [are] discovering for the first time the long-forgotten practices of contemplative spirituality” and they are “finding new meaning and purpose in practices like the Daily Office, contemplative prayer, [and] working with a spiritual director.” McColman says that the emergent church is a “congenial community for exploring the mystical dimension of the Christian faith” (please see Roger Oakland’s book, Faith Undone to further understand the emerging church).
Where does Richard Foster’s editorial team come into the picture? Richard Rohr andPhyllis Tickle (part of a newly formed editorial team at Renovare) have heartily endorsed the back cover of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism as well. Writing in glowing terms, Tickle says the book is “a big…even an enormous…contribution to our current literature on the subject. Highly recommended.”2 Catholic priest Richard Rohr, the founder and director of The Center for Action and Contemplation, says McColman’s “much needed book will allow you to experience this [mystical experience] for yourself. Christians and all Seekers will find both meat and dessert in such a full meal.”3
For those who regularly practice contemplative mysticism, ultimately they come to the conclusion that contemplative prayer is the same as Eastern mysticism. But without question, few who are in evangelical leadership roles acknowledge it. In fact, they will tell you, they aren’t the same. They will tell you that in Eastern mysticism you empty your mind and in Christian mysticism you fill it. But that is flawed because the Eastern mystic hopes to fill his mind too. And both hope to eliminate distractions in order to go into an inner stillness of the mind. What’s more, while the intent of the two are different (the Christian mystic says he hope to hear from the God of the Bible, not a Hindu god), the method is exactly the same. Exactly. In Eastern mysticism, one repeats a word or phrase over and over; in contemplative prayer, one repeats a word or phrase over and over. Gary Thomas, in his Focus on the Family endorsed book, Sacred Pathways, tells readers to repeat a word for twenty minutes (p. 185). And you will find such similar instruction in the books of Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and countless others. Ask any Hindu, and he will tell you that this is the precise way they enter the silence or altered state of consciousness. You may recall, when Lighthouse Trails wrote about Ken Blanchard’s endorsement of Vijay Eswaran’s book In the Sphere of Silence? Eswaran clearly promotes mantra meditation – after all he is a Hindu. Even Blanchard realized that contemplative prayer and Hinduistic prayer are the same. Blanchard, who was asked by Rick Warren to help train leaders around the world for Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan, also wrote the foreword for a book called What Would Buddha Do At Work?
For those who still question what we are saying, consider this. McColman’s book is a book on “Christian mysticism” but why is world famous psychic and occulist, Caroline Myss (pronounced Mace), promoting this book? On the front cover, she calls the book “a masterpiece of scholarship and wisdom.” Scholarship means intellectually sound and trustworthy. Here is a woman who is clearly involved with occultism (i.e., chakras, paranormal guidance, etc); and yet, she sees McColman’s book as something that people should turn to.
The point we are wanting to make here is this: Christian leaders need to understand there is a difference between contemplative spirituality and true biblical meditation (Psalm 5:1). Many of the Christian figures and leaders are saying that contemplative prayer is not the same as Eastern mysticism and can safely be practiced by Christians. Numerous Christian leaders are promoting contemplative prayer today, either directly or indirectly. We have documented this time and time again. But don’t take our word for it -see for yourself. Which leader are you following right now? Beth Moore? She was on the very contemplative promoting Be Still DVD and told viewers that you must have the contemplative stillness if you really want to know God. In her book, When Godly People do Ungodly Things, throughout the book, she tells readers how much she values contemplative pioneer Brennan Manning. Rick Warren? He points over 30 million readers to Brother Lawrence (PDL, pp 88-89), who said of himself he “danced violently like a madman” when he was in the “presence of God.” (Image Books edition, 1977, p. 34). Warren also tells readers to practice breath prayers (PDL, pp. 89, 299) (a type of contemplative prayer). And the Saddleback website carries numerous contemplative authors, including Adele Ahlberg Calhoun who promotes mantra meditation and outright New Age mystics (such as panentheists Basil Pennington and Tilden Edwards) in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (currently on Rick Warren’s website). How about Focus on the Family? Are you following them? They have continued to promote Richard Foster and Gary Thomas. And what about Bill Hybels, Leonard Sweet, Max Lucado, Larry Crabb, Rob Bell (his book, Velvet Elvis and Nooma films are in countless Christian high schools and colleges), J.P. Moreland, Mark Driscoll, John Ortberg, John Eldredge, and so many others. Yes, it is a lot of names, and they all have promoted contemplative spirituality to one degree or another! Can you not see how this occultic mystical spirituality has disguised itself as Christian and entered into the church tremendously?
If your pastor or youth leader is reading Richard Foster, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, or others with contemplative propensities, ask him if he realizes that the very spirituality he is reading about is embraced by rejectors of the Cross, eastern mystics, and occultists because as Carl McColman stated, this “Christian” contemplative prayer is the very same practice that these bona fide mystics are experiencing. It is true – there is no distinction.
In McColman’s book, he states:
“Christian mystics have displayed an unusual openess to the wisdom of non-Christian philosophy and religion. In other words, Christian mysticism seems, from the beginning, to have had a intiutive recognition of the way in which mysticism is a form of unity that transcends religious difference” (emphasis added, p. 63).
This reminds us of Tony Campolo’s book, Speaking My Mind, when Campolo suggests that the link between Islam and Christianity is mysticism (pp. 149-150). Or Tilden Edwards (Shalem Prayer Institute) when he says: “”This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality” (Spiritual Friend, p. 18). The reason that mysticism, be it contemplative or Eastern, is “a form of unity” among all the world’s religions is because at the root of mysticism is panentheism, the believe that God is in all things. As Ray Yungen explains, once someone begins practicing mysticism, over time, his or her spiritual outlook changes and resembles more of a Hindu or Buddhist viewpoint than a biblical Christianity viewpoint. Henry Nouwen is a perfect example of this. After embracing mystical practices for many years, at the end of Nouwen’s life he no longer held to the view that Jesus Christ was the only way to salvation. He stated:
Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”—From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book, page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition
In The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Carl McColman states the following: “[I]t is precisely in this dimension of mystery that people of different faiths and different wisdom traditions can relate to each other” (p. 64). This “dimension of mystery” he refers to is what the apostle Paul calls the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2) or what is commonly called the occult. That is why the endorsement of one of the world’s major psychics (Caroline Myss) sits on the front cover of this book!
To those who know and embrace the glorious Gospel of Christ, there can be no fellowship with religions that reject the very foundation of the biblical Christian faith. Something is radically wrong when someone who claims to be a Christian has a sense of solidarity with someone who has a view that man is divine (i.e., man is God). Shear logic should point out the truth of what we are trying to say. Lighthouse Trails’ hope is that you look at this issue with an open mind and honest discernment. The truth is in plain view.
P.S. If you have had family members or friends who have rejected or ridiculed you for speaking up against contemplative spirituality (i.e., spiritual formation), show them this article.