Another Popular Christian Leader , Tim Keller, Takes Church into Contemplative

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Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in New York City, is a popular Christian pastor and speaker. The June 2009 Christianity Today cover story is about Tim Keller. The cover article, “How Tim Keller Found Manhattan,” talks about Keller’s 5000+, 3-location church and their vision to help Manhattan. Since Keller began his ministry in Manhattan, police records show that certain aggravated crimes have dropped substantially. Of Keller and his wife, the CT article states:

Tim always preaches with a non-Christian audience in mind, not merely avoiding offense, but exploring the text to find its good news for unbelievers as well as believers. The church emphasizes excellence in music and art, to the point of paying their musicians well. And it calls people to love and bless the city.

According to the article, Redeemer has helped to plant 65 churches. But with all these seemingly high recognitions and while Keller has become a sought after speaker at Christian conferences, (such as Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit 2009 and the Gospel Coalition (with D.A. Carson, John Piper and Erwin Lutzer), Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian, is bringing contemplative spirituality to their congregants.

This past Spring, under the church’s School of Gospel Foundations program, one of Redeemer’s staff, Susan Castillo, introduced centering prayer and a number of other contemplative practices and beliefs through “The Way of the Monk” day-long workshop. The description for one of the three classes reads:

In this session, we will focus on Centering Prayer, an age-old practice of authentic Christian meditation. We will cover history, technique, obstacles, and how to overcome them. We will also devote ample time to actual practice and Q &A. We will learn how to properly prepare by grounding ourselves in God’s Word. As a prelude, we will consider the purpose, power, and biblical precedent for silence, solitude, and contemplative practice.

The other two classes that day were “Prayer Rope” and “The Divine Office/ Liturgy of the Hours,” both of which have the contemplative essence. According to Keller’s church website:

[Castillo] “wholly espouses Reformed Presbyterian theology while continuing to embrace her ‘inner monk.’ Sometimes referred to as ‘The Retreat Lady,’ she has been fleeing to monasteries to ‘honeymoon with Jesus’ for over ten years.

The “inner monk” is another term for “inner self.” On the Way of the Monk website, it describes the inner self as such:

The awakened inner Self now goes in search of the Supreme Self. This is the purpose of monastic life. It is a search, a diligent search for higher consciousness, which culminates in discovering the ‘eternal relation’ that exists between the reality in you and the reality behind all creation [classic Hinduism]. (You have emptied yourself of yourself so that yourself settles totally into the self.)

Redeemer Presbyterian’s Way of the Monk workshop is not an isolated incident at their church. On the website, there are several other indications: an article on meditation written by contemplative advocate and spiritual director Jan Johnson who talks in the article about lectio divina and Ignatius exercises.1 Ray Yungen discusses Johnson’s contemplative viewpoint in A Time of Departing:

Jan Johnson in her book, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, is a perfect example of an evangelical Christian who endorses and promotes this practice. She leaves no doubt about what this type of prayer entails:

Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.

Johnson’s explanation of the initial stages of contemplative prayer leaves no doubt that “stilling” your thoughts means only one thing; she explains:

In the beginning, it is usual to feel nothing but a cloud of unknowing…. If you’re a person who has relied on yourself a great deal to know what’s going on, this unknowing will be unnerving.

(ATOD, 2nd ed., p. 82)

This cloud of unknowing is from a book written by an anonymous monk centuries ago called The Cloud of Unknowing, a primer on mantra-type meditation.

Another instructive article on the Redeemer site called “Lectio Divina – “Divine Reading” is written by staunch contemplative proponent David Benner, author of Sacred Companions.2 And under leadership on their church website, Redeemer recommends Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, where Nouwen says that Christian leaders must move from the “moral to the mystical.”3

In The Cloud of Unknowing, it states: “Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two … With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.” In The Cloud of Unknowing, as with other contemplative authors, it says that this form of prayer will unite the soul with God. That is said because it is believed by mystics that God and man are one and that God dwells in all humanity and all creation–and through meditation, man comes to this realization that he cannot see without meditation. Thus, the fruit, if you will, of contemplative prayer is interspirituality and panentheism.

And herein lies the problem. As an increasing number of proclaiming Christian leaders and pastors move their followers toward this mystical spirituality wherein a word or phrase is repeated until a state of silence is reached (or that place of unknowing) or the breath is focused upon to gain the same results as the repeated word or phrase, the question must be asked and answered, is this a legitimate form of biblical meditation, or is it no different than transcendental meditation and Hinduism (with Christian spray paint) where the soul is said to be brought into unity with the Divine? We hope and pray that discerning Christians will study this matter and come to realize contemplative spirituality is a doctrine of demons (I Timothy 4:1), leading practitioners away from the true Gospel and toward an earthly deceptive gospel that says man is God.

If Tim Keller’s church continues to incorporate the way of the mystic, they will, in time, absorb the essence of mysticism if that hasn’t already even happened.