The Moody Church in Chicago Illinois has an impressive history. It was named after its founding pastor, the famous Dwight L. Moody. It’s been through a number of pastors and buildings since the early 1800s, and if Dwight Moody were here this coming Sunday to listen to the guest speaker, we think he might find himself shocked to learn that this speaker is a strong advocate of contemplative spirituality and the spiritual formation movement.
On March 11th, Larry Crabb will be addressing the large congregation at The Moody Church. Senior Pastor, Erwin Lutzer, is familiar with Crabb. He should be – he wrote a glowing endorsement, (which sits inside the book today), of Larry Crabb’s book, The Papa Prayer. Lutzer actually spoke with Lighthouse Trails about that endorsement. At that time in 2006, when we shared our concerns with him by phone regarding his endorsement, he told us that we at Lighthouse Trails may not be qualified to spot spiritual deception in the church and that it was more important to love our brothers and sisters than to criticize them. He was defending Crabb’s proclamations about centering prayer in The Papa Prayer when he said this statement to us, insisting that Crabb was not promoting an eastern-style prayer when Crabb told readers in The Papa Prayer that “centering prayer” had been very beneficial to him:
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 (Crabb, The Papa Prayer, p.9).
“What is centering prayer?” some may ask. According to one of the “father’s” of the modern day contemplative prayer movement, Thomas Keating, centering prayer is defined as follows:
[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, www.centeringprayer.com)
Our 2006 story regarding Crabb’s book and Lutzer’s endorsement, Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!, may be six years old, but given the fact that Crabb is speaking at Lutzer’s church this Sunday, the report is as relevant today as it was then.
Larry Crabb has a PH.D. in clinical psychology, but somewhere along the line, he switched his focus from psychology to “spiritual formation. In a 2003 Christianity Today article, it reveals Crabb’s move away from psychology 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” [spiritual formation].
In an interview, Crabb reiterated this:
I have a lot of appreciation for Richard Foster and for Dallas Willard. I think it was a really personal thing that I just wanted to do. I pretty much gave up on insight as producing the transformation that I really longed for. I had a greater interest in spiritual formation. It had to be union versus your insight…. the whole idea of purgation, illumination and union. I became aware of a tremendous hunger for knowing the Lord after being a Christian all my life. So that was a personal reason why I moved away from counseling to spiritual direction.
(Original source link deleted July 7, 2016. A virus threat was attached to this original link.)
Larry Crabb may not use the term centering prayer or contemplative prayer at The Moody Church this coming Sunday, but there’s a good chance some of those hearing him will check out his books afterward and pick up a few of them. Possibly, he’ll even have a book table there, where The Papa Prayer would mostly be. If some are wondering what Crabb would have to say today, six years after the book’s release, about The Papa Prayer, on his website he lists it as a book that will help people “join the Spirit’s movement.” He also sells the book on his webstore too.
Perhaps one of the most sure tell indicators of where Larry Crabb’s spiritual sympathies lie and why he’s not a good match for Dwight L. Moody’s church can be found in a book Crabb wrote the foreword to. The book, Sacred Companions (written by David Benner), heartily recommends a plethora of contemplative mystics: Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington, Richard Foster, John of the Cross, Gerald May, John Main, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Alan Jones and several others Many of these are panentheistic (God is in all), universalist (all are saved), and interspiritual (all paths lead to God). Ray Yungen talked about Benner’s book in the first edition of A Time of Departing. Yungen stated:
[C]ontemplative prayer stands on the threshold of exploding worldwide. Dr. Larry Crabb . . . has written the foreword to a book [Spiritual Companions] that expounds on the future of spiritual direction in the evangelical church. . . . It is safe to assume then that we are looking at a contemplative approach. With that in mind, Dr. Crabb predicted [in 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.” (ATOD, 1st ed., p. 137)
In view of Crabb’s statement about “the new way of the Spirit,” it makes sense that he would place The Papa Prayer under a category on his website called “join the Spirit’s movement.” No doubt, Crabb would like to see the “way of the written code” abandoned and replaced with “the way of the Spirit” (i.e., he means contemplative spirituality). Just considering how panentheism, universalism, and interspirituality – the three elements represented by the recommended names in Sacred Companions – all negate the Gospel message, it should send chills up the spine of Bible believing Christians that Larry Crabb will be speaking at The Moody Church on March 11th. And it shows just how accurate Yungen’s prediction was in 2002 when he said that “contemplative prayer stands on the threshold of exploding.” We are watching this take place before our very eyes, and virtually no Christian leader in mainstream Christianity is doing a thing about it.
MARCH 17TH UPDATE: Our comments after watching the March 11th message with Larry Crabb – In this message, Larry Crabb is introducing Jesus as more of an example or model to us (one that we can be like) than a Savior to us. This is the crux of the contemplative/emerging message. This is where spiritual formation comes in. Since to be truly Christ-like is not possible without Christ in us (born-again), the contemplatives turn to the disciplines (with the emphasis on the mystical), and this gives them the illusion of being close to God (the mystical experience produces this euphoric feeling).
His conclusion is that we need to search for our own “center[s].” His psychology-filled, Scripture-starving sermon did not point to Jesus Christ and His magnificence but rather pointed to how the attributes of God can make us a great community and have great relationships.
Sadly, Lutzer has done something harmful to his congregation by bringing in Crabb.But in view of Lutzer’s strong endorsement of Larry Crabb’s book, The Papa Prayer, which promotes centering prayer, it isn’t surprising.
Lest some think we are speaking inaccurately about Crabb’s propensities toward contemplative spirituality, take a look at his connection with Richard Foster (Renovare) and Dallas Willard, two of the main pioneers in the modern day contemplative prayer movement: http://store.renovare.us/search.aspx?searchterm=crabb.
And in Crabb’s book, Real Church, he makes the following revealing statement: “I’m glad that as a conservative evangelical who still believes in biblical inerrancy and penal substitution, I’ve gotten over my Catholic phobia, and I’ve been studying contemplative prayer, practicing lectio divina, valuing monastic retreats, and worshipping through ancient liturgy. I appreciate Bernard of Clairvaux’s provocative insights. I’m drawn to Brother Lawrence’s profoundly simple ways to practice God’s presence. I’m intrigued and enticed by Julian of Norwich’s mysterious appearings of Jesus (p. 41). (Crabb does say he is against “false mysticism” in the book, but clearly advocates what he considers legitimate mysticism, that of the contemplative mystics.)