Is Charles Stanley trying to tell Christians something but doesn’t want to come right out and just admit, “Hey, I’m a contemplative, and I am using my In Touch magazine to let everybody know it.” A Lighthouse Trails January 2010 article titled “Letter to Charles Stanley: Is In Touch Getting Out-of-Touch With the True Gospel?,” discussed the January 2010 issue of Stanley’s In Touch magazine, which included an article by Joseph Bentz. In that article, Bentz highlighted the spiritual journeysof two women. Bentz claimed both were converted to the Christian faith, however, each of the women would fall in the “new spirituality/New Age” camp. One of the women highlighted is Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies). Most In Touchreaders are probably not familiar with any problems associated with her name. But Lamott, mentioned in several Lighthouse Trails articles, reveals her true spiritual sympathies when she endorsed the back cover of the made-popular-by-Oprah book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is about Gilbert’s search for spirituality, which took her to India and into eastern meditation. Her book is a virtual primer on New Age thinking. Lamott not only endorsed the back of her book but also has spoken with Gilbert at various events. Of Gilbert’s book, Lamott states: “This is a wonderful book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight.”1 Lamott hardly seems like one that In Touch should be promoting.
In January 2010, Lighthouse Trails received a letter from a LT reader who, out of concern, wrote a letter to Charles Stanley about Joseph Bentz’ article. She stated:
[I] expressed my concerns that the two women Mr. Benz focuses on in the article, Anne Lamott and Sara Miles, both authors, by their own words, deeds, and indeed, lifestyles do not show a biblical conversion. In fact, the copies of interviews given by Lamott and Miles since their “epiphanies” which I am enclosing with this letter portray no such Christian conversion. In fact, Sara Miles is a lesbian in a 14+-year “marriage” relationship with her lesbian lover. Gay and proud of it she is. Your caller seemed surprised at that, even though it was mentioned in my previous letter, and you can read Ms. Miles own declaration of that fact and her other unbiblical beliefs in the enclosed materials. Anne Lamott, on the other hand, is braggadocios in the fact that in each of her books she uses the “F” word in describing her “conversion,” and states she was “F* by Jesus.”
Lighthouse Trails had hoped that once this situation was brought to Charles Stanley’s attention, he would retract the article and also publicly renounce the contemplative prayer/new spirituality movement. Sadly, no sign of this took place. Some Lighthouse Trails readers may remember our 2006 coverage of the Be Still DVD where Beth Moore teamed up with contemplative Richard Foster in this Fox Entertainment infomercial for contemplative prayer. When the DVD was first released, we learned that the DVD stated at the end of it that Charles Stanley was one of the supporters of the project. Lighthouse Trails contacted both the producer of the film and Charles Stanley’s personal assistant. Fox told us that originally Stanley was going to narrate the film, but those plans changed, for undisclosed reasons, toward the completion of the project. Stanley’s assistant told us that they knew nothing about the contemplative prayer movement. The assistant told Lighthouse Trails that we could send a copy of A Time of Departingto them, but he did not think Charles Stanley would have enough time to read the book.
In June of 2011, Lighthouse Trails free lance writer Mike Stanwood wrote “Contemplative Spirituality Lands on Charles Stanley’s In Touch Magazine . . . Again.” In this article, it was revealed that in the January 2011 In Touch magazine, a man named Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was featured in an article written by In Touch Managing Editor Cameron Lawrence. The article called “The Craft of Stability: Discovering the Ancient Art of Staying Put” highlights the “ intentional Christian community” at the Rutba House (Wilson-Hartgrove’s home) and their “daily prayer routine.” The In Touch article states that Rutba House is an evangelical community rooted in the Protestant tradition, and that Wilson-Hartgrove is an ordained Baptist minister. The In Touch article also reports that Rutba’s community principles are borrowed from Benedictine monks and that all of their efforts are based on St. Benedict’s “rule of life.”
In Stanwood’s article, he points out that Wilson-Hartgrove is part of the “New Monasticism” movement within the emerging church. So that you can understand just how serious this situation is with Charles Stanley and his ministry, read this following section of Stanwood’s article:
Wilson-Hartgrove is most recently known for co-authoring Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals with new monastic activist Shane Claiborne. Other books he has authored may also fall into the emerging/contemplative category. For example, one such book called New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (1) has been endorsed by mystic proponents Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Campolo, and Catholic priest Richard Rohr. The mystics resonate with the “new monasticism” – this is plain to see. While on the surface, the new monasticism may look ok with its many good works of helping the poor and the needy. But the underlying belief system does not line up with biblical doctrine; rather it is about establishing an all inclusive kingdom of God on earth now where individual salvation is replaced with a community salvation for the whole world. Atonement has less emphasis on Jesus Christ as the only atonement for man’s sins and instead becomes an at-one-mentwhere all of creation is “being” saved by coming together as one (and yes, seeing the divinity of man). This is the kind of “atonement” that McLaren, Tickle, and Rohr would resonate with. It is important to see that they don’t just resonate with the good works coming out of the new monasticism – born-again Christians have been performing good work by helping the poor and needy for centuries and continue to do so. While this new monasticism supposedly distinguishes itself by its good works, in reality it is mysticismand the foundational beliefs of mysticism (i.e., panentheism, kingdom now, etc) that distinguish it. And it is that element that Tickle, McLaren, and Rohr embrace.
Additional resources on Wilson-Hartgrove’s website include a DVD called Discovering Christian Classics: 5 Sessions in the Ancient Faith of Our Future, a five-week study with contemplative advocate Lauren F. Winner (Girl Meets God) for high school or adult “formation.” A description of this DVD states:
You will discover the meaning of conversion and prayer from the Desert Fathers and Mothers; how to love from the sermons of St. John Chrysostom; St. Benedict’s Rule of Life and how it became one of the foundations of Western Christian spirituality; how to have an intimate relationship with God according to The Cloud of Unknowing; and what it means to “pick up your cross” in the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis.”
Another book Wilson-Hartgrove has authored, called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, refers readers to the wisdom of Lao-tzu, the desert monastics, Thomas Merton, Benedictine spirituality, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister.
In a Beliefnet interview one year ago, Wilson-Hartgrove shared how “we need the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us.” This wisdom he is referring to comes not from the Bible, but from the contemplative “Benedictines (who) taught us to start the day with common prayer.” (2)
After seeing what is at the core of Wilson-Hartgrove’s spiritual wisdom, it is not surprising to learn that he recently made an appearance at the Wild Goose Festival (3). According to an article in the Christian Post, the Wild Goose Festival was a “four-day revival camp in North Carolina featuring music, yoga, liberal talk and embracing of gays and lesbians.”
This brings us to the most recent issue of In Touch (October 21011) titled “The Prayerful Life.” We received an e-mail this week by a LT reader (also an In Touch reader). Our reader stated:
Just wanted to give you a heads up on Charles Stanley’s latest In Touch magazine. . . . Many articles on prayer and peppered throughout are hints of spiritual disciplines, conversational prayer, sacred space, even a quote from Brother Lawrence, and Augustine of Hippo. On the back page with “Ask Dr Stanley” the question is (p 48): Whats the difference between loneliness and solitude? And why is solitude so important?
Dr. Stanley’s answer: “Loneliness is the anxious feeling of longing for a personal connection that isn’t presently possible or available. But solitude is a deliberate choice to spend time with God and give Him your undivided attention. From this perspective, solitude becomes something we look forward to. As you spend time with your heavenly Father, the joy of His friendship defeats loneliness and paves the road for victorious living. This is how Jesus met challenges on a daily basis. Before ministering to the masses, He would spend focused time alone with the Father. (Mark 1:35)
“Still, many people shy away from solitude because they’re not sure what to expect or how to go about it. My first suggestion is to find a silent place that’s free from distractions. Once you’re there, the next step is to do nothing but make yourself available to the Lord, In that moment, God is not necessarily expecting you to read through a prayer list or study a devotional . Simply invite Him to meet with you in the stillness and speak to you through His Word, however He chooses. Depending on your point of need, He may speak words of encouragement or instruction, or simply surround you with His love. Don’t be discouraged if sensing His presence doesn’t happen right away. With time you’ll experience it in ways that are transforming and unforgettable.
“Practicing the discipline of solitude is important to daily life because it calms our hearts in a demanding world and lightens the load on a busy schedule. With a deeper awareness of God, we find that what was previously overwhelming is now manageable. Solitude helps us develop an abiding sense that He’s there with us every step of the way, guiding our conversations and activities.
“Whatever the task, we can turn to the Lord and receive strength, creativity, and wisdom for every responsibility. This saves a lot of time and reduces stress, which also benefits our health. But most importantly through solitude we become intimate with God, and nothing in this world compares with knowing Him deeply.”
On page 23, an article called “Out of the Din, The necessity of silence” by [In Touch Managing Editor] Cameron Lawrence states: “From the churches early days, the discipline of keeping silence has been an important tool for growing in oneness with God. The discipline of keeping silenceextends to every aspect of life. . . . But growing in Christlikeness requires we embrace silence as an essential component of our spiritual lives, not run from it . . . try setting aside just a few minutes each day, and gradually increase as you build endurance . . . eventually long periods of silence will become comfortable, and you will experience a deeper life with God in prayer.
On page 21, “Wordless Prayer” by Tony Woodlief: “Jesus has a very special love for you” wrote a wistful [contemplative advocate] Mother Theresa” …. ” It’s not getting the words right that matters, its coming to Him. And what a shame to tarry before coming, or to quit His presence too soon, all because we cant find the “right” words. Far better to whisper “please” or “help” or still better, “Jesus” over and over on our knees, than to not come to Him at all.”
While these references may appear somewhat benign to the reader who is not familiar with what contemplative spirituality is, these references are not only the language of contemplative mystics, they also allude to the idea that we cannot really know God (or hear from Him) unless we go into this silent state where we can remove thoughts (distractions) and then and only then hear the voice of God. The contemplative mindset is that we need to go into this self-induced state of silence because that is the only way we can hear the voice of God. So the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are no longer the avenues but rather repeating a word or phrase (the earmark of contemplative spirituality) to enter silence is. True, Charles Stanley himself has not come out (that we know of) and told his readers to repeat a word or phrase. But he is inadvertently pointing people to that by allowing In Touchto promote people like Anne Lamott, Sara Miles, Brother Lawrence, Mother Teresa, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, as well as by using the language that has been primarily used by mystics.
In our own evaluation of this most recent issue of In Touch magazine, in addition to what our reader above stated, we find other troubling aspects of the October issue, a few of which we are mentioning below:
Page 8:In Charles Stanley’s article titled “Conversation with God,” he states that “[i]ntimacy[with God] will not happen any other way” than to “experience His awesome presence.” We find this attitude with virtually every contemplative we have examined over the last ten years.
Page 14:An article titled “The Attentive Life” features Leighton Ford’s book by the same name. We wrote about Ford (vice president of the Billy Graham Association) and his book in 2008stating: “The book offers a collection of quotes by and references to some of the most prolific eastern-style meditation teachers, including Thomas Keating, David Steindl-Rast, Gerald May, Kathleen Norris, and atonement rejector and Episcopal priest Alan Jones (Reimagining Christianity). It is Steindl-Rast who suggested that the Gospel “gets in the way” between Christian and Buddhist dialogue.” Leighton Ford wrote the foreword toPete Scazzero’s very contemplative book The Emotionally Healthy Church. Gary Gilley reviews Ford’s The Attentive Life and states: “First, he [Ford] equates his attentive practices with centering prayer as explained by Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Keating, “We wait quietly in God’s presence, perhaps repeating a ‘sacred word,’ [mantra] and let go of our thoughts…. Centering prayer is not so much an exercise of attention as intention.”
Page 19: An article titled “Seven Creative Ways to Pray as a Family” is written by contemplative advocate Mary DeMuth, author of Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture(Harvest House). In the In Touch article, DeMuth tells readers to visit “prayer rooms – sacred spaces where you can experience different aspects of praying.” DeMuthtells readers to “[r]esearch online to find a prayer room near you.” Try this experiment: go to Google and type in “prayer room” and “sacred space.” One of the first entries you’ll come up with is http://www.stillpoint.org/SP/Home/index.cfm where a higher consciousness and New Age thought is promoted.
It does not seem out of place to be questioning the direction that Charles Stanley’s ministry appears to be going. So we ask, “Just what are you trying to tell us Dr. Stanley?”