By Dr. James Maxwell III
President Faith BaptistBible College and SeminaryAnkeny, Iowa
Like many false teachings, The New Spirituality uses Christian terms and practices but infuses into them meanings far different from what we find in Scripture. Even some evangelicals have embraced various forms and teachings of this movement. In this article Dr. James D. Maxwell III, the president of Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary, exposes the dangers of The New Spirituality and offers suggestions for how believers should respond to it.
What Is The New Spirituality?
The New Spirituality as a paradigm for devotion and spiritual formation that utilizes forms and approaches originating from the Bible and from traditions and sources other than the Bible. It emphasizes individual autonomy and focuses on experience rather than on indoctrination. It is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology. The premise of The New Spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).1
The New Spirituality goes by many names: The Spiritual Formation Movement, Contemplative Spirituality, and The Spiritual Disciplines, to list a few. High on the list of leaders of this movement are Richard Foster, a Quaker and former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Brian McLaren, who is a leading theologian, or as he would say “anti-theologian,” in the Emerging Church movement.
In 1974 Father William Menninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, found a dusty little book in the Abbey library titled The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it, he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.
He quickly began teaching contemplative prayer according to The Cloud of Unknowing at the Abbey Retreat House. One year later his workshop was taken up by his abbot, Thomas Keating, and by Basil Pennington, both of whom had been looking for a teachable form of Christian contemplative meditation to offset the movement of young Catholics toward Eastern meditation techniques.2
In the opening chapter of his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster states, “The classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world. John Woolman counsels, ‘It is good for thee to dwell deep, that thou mayest feel and understand the spirits of the people.'”3
The main goal of this movement, particularly among those within the Roman Catholic Church, is to recapture something that they believe was important to the church in the past but has been lost to the present generation. Dallas Willard reports,
In recent years there has been an attempt to recover the disciplines because, in fact, they were lost, by and large. That is true in places you wouldn’t expect it. I have found many Roman Catholics to whom the spiritual disciplines were almost unknown, lost. There’s a wonderful priest in Pittsburgh who has a telephone program. He’s called me occasionally when my books have come out, and one time we were on the air discussing The Spirit of the Disciplines, when someone called in and asked angrily, ‘Why don’t you people teach these things any more? When I was young, Sister So-and-So taught us to fast, and taught us to contemplate and be silent, and now it’s not taught any more.’ It’s true. In many quarters of the Catholic Church it isn’t taught, or at least not effectively. In Protestant churches, with very little exception, it was totally lost, until back in the ’70s, some writings began to appear.4 Click here to continue reading.
LTRP Note: Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary is one of the few Christian colleges that Lighthouse Trails lists as not promoting spiritual formation or contemplative spirituality. We pray it will always remain that way.