According to the April 2011 issue of Pray!, the online magazine of NavPress, the organization is still promoting contemplative prayer. In 2005, Lighthouse Trails informed readers that NavPress (part of the long-standing Navigators) “has become a leading publisher for contemplative spirituality books” such as:
- When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson, Dallas Willard
- Soul Guide by Dr. Bruce Demarest/Henri Nouwen
- Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, endorsed by Dan Kimball
- The Message “bible” by Eugene Peterson
- Meditative Prayer: Entering God’s Presence by Richard Peace
- Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning
The April issue of Pray!shows solid signs that NavPress is still advocating contemplative spirituality. For example, there is an article by contemplative Tricia Rhodes. Rhodes’ book, The Soul at Rest, “introduces a step-by-step journey of learning contemplative prayer.”1 In that book, Rhodes says:
Take deep breaths, concentrating on relaxing your body. Establish a slow, rhythmic pattern. Breathe in God’s peace, and breathe out your stresses, distractions, and fears. Breathe in God’s love, forgiveness, and compassion, and breathe out your sins, failures, and frustrations. Make every effort to “stop the flow of talking going on within you—to slow it down until it comes to a halt.” (p. 28) (also see our research on “breath prayers.”)
In this quote, Rhodes is quoting Episcopalian priest Morton Kelsey. To “stop the flow of talking going on within you” is classic mystical prayer. This inner stillness of the mind that is sought by the mystic is different than an outer quietness, such as sitting by a stream or turning off the television and radio. One cannot naturally turn off thoughts, and since thoughts are the enemy of mysticism, so to speak, they must be turned off.
As with many contemplative figures, Kelsey has come to believe in a panentheist (God in all) view of God. As Ray Yungen points out in A Time of Departing, Morton Kelsey (whom Rhodes quotes from his book, The Other Side of Silence), states:
You can find most of the New Age practices in the depth of Christianity . . . I believe that the Holy One lives in every soul. (“In the Spirit of the Early Christians,” Common Boundary magazine, Jan./Feb. 1992, p. 19)
Kelsey’s book is a primer on eastern-style mysticism. For Rhodes to quote him clearly shows her resonance for his contemplative spirituality. Nine years after Rhodes wrote The Soul at Rest, she wrote another contemplative-promoting book, Sacred Chaos (2008), with a foreword by popular contemplative author Gary Thomas. In Thomas’ own book, Sacred Pathways, he tells readers to repeat a word for 20 minutes in order to draw near to God (p. 185). Thomas suggests repeating words like “Jesus” or “Father”; however, doing this would be no different than what is done in eastern meditation. How sad that popular ministries such as Focus on the Family, Calvary Chapel, and Rick Warren have promoted Thomas’ writings (even after they were made aware of what he said in Sacred Pathways – Lighthouse Trails contacted both Focus on the Family and Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith and discussed Thomas’ books on different occasions).
Back to NavPress. Also in the April issue of Pray! is an announcement about a “Deeper”prayer retreat with Pray!editor Cynthia Bezek. In a link to an interview with Bezek, she tells readers that she turns to people like Henri Nouwen to “stimulate [her] conversations with God.2 While it states on NavPress’ website that this prayer retreat is only for those 18 years and older, don’t be mistaken in thinking that NavPress doesn’t push contemplative for kids too. They also publish a magazine called PrayKids!. Issue #25 titled “Contemplative Prayer” states:
Contemplative prayer is a form of meditative prayer that focuses on communing with God. Although sometimes confused with its Eastern (and non-Christian) counterpart, true Christian meditation has been practiced since Bible times.
This issue of PrayKids!® helps kids learn to slow down their fast-paced lives long enough to experience a meaningful relational encounter with their Heavenly Father.3
There is a reason that contemplatives often give a disclaimer that contemplative prayer isn’t the same as eastern meditation – it’s because it is done the very same way. Their reasoning is that if the intent is good then it doesn’t matter about the method. But as Ray Yungen points out, if you jump off a building and say fly,fly, fly, you are going to get the same results as if you said fall, fall, fall. (ATOD, p. 86). Good intentions isn’t a safeguard against deception. Mantra-type meditation brings about an induced altered state that leads the practitioner into demonic realms . . . regardless of the word that is repeated.
In the feature article in the April issue of Pray!,“Empowering Kids to Pray,” Cynthia Bezek references Canadian Brad Jersak. Jersak is a strong proponent of contemplative spirituality. His book, Stricken by God (endorsed by emergent leader Brian McLaren) is a compilation of essays by various authors. Two of those authors are Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg. Borg, a mystic proponent, rejects basic foundational tenets of Christian doctrine (such as the virgin birth of Christ), and Rohr is a panentheist who wrote the foreword to a 2007 book called How Big is Your God?by Jesuit priest (from India) Paul Coutinho. In Coutinho’s book, he describes an interspiritual community where people of all religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity) worship the same God. Cynthia Bezek’s favorable reference to Jersak speaks volumes about NavPress’ dangerous fall away from biblical truth through their embracing of contemplative spirituality. And considering that they have a publication specifically for children to learn contemplative prayer is very troubling.
Examples of NavPress’ view toward contemplative/emerging spirituality are countless. They also produce the Discipleship Journal, which has been addressed in several Lighthouse Trails articles because of its propensity toward the contemplative/emerging. And NavPress’ publishing arm includes numerous contemplative authors such as: Brennan Manning, Elisa Morgan (M.O.P.S), Bill Hull, Catholic convert Jay Budziszewski, Michael Card, David Crowder, J.P. Moreland, Gary Thomas, Eugene Peterson, Jan Johnson, Dallas Willard, and emerging figure Tony Jones (use our search engine to find research on these names).
Few could argue that NavPress has had a lot of influence in the direction that much of the Christian church has gone with regard to spiritual formation (i.e. contemplative spirituality) over the last couple decades. The names listed above are some of the most popular authors on the market today.
One of the books listed on NavPress’ Best-Selling list is Brennan Manning’s book, Abba Child. Manning is a devout admirer of Beatrice Bruteau, founder of The School for Contemplation. Bruteau believes that God lives in all creation, stating:
We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM. (source)
And yet in Abba’s Child, Manning says that Bruteau is a “trustworthy guide to contemplative consciousness.” Manning, whose view of the Cross is very similar to that of Brian McLaren, states:
[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
Choose a single, sacred word or phrase that captures something of the flavor of your intimate relationship with God. A word such as Jesus, Abba, Peace, God or a phrase such as “Abba, I belong to you. . . . Without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.
When distractions come, … simply return to listening to your sacred word. . . . [G]ently return [your mind] to your sacred word. (The Signature of Jesus, Manning, pp. 212-218)
In the back of Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning makes reference to Basil Pennington saying that Pennington’s methods will provide us with “a way of praying that leads to a deep living relationship with God.” However, Pennington’s methods of prayer draw from Eastern religions. In his book, Finding Grace at the Center, Pennington says:
We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices. (from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p.64)
Sadly, one of the most popular women’s Bible study teachers, Beth Moore, says that Brennan Manning’s contribution to “our generation of believers may be a gift without parallel” (When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, p. 72).4
It is apparent that NavPress would share Ms. Moore’s sentiments about Brennan Manning. But is the contribution that Manning and these other contemplatives offer really a “gift” to the Christian church? We think not; on the contrary they are bringing to the church a panenthestic, mystical spirituality that by its very nature negates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, NavPress hopes to bring this not only to adults but to children as well.