In the July 2012 issue of Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine, in an article titled “Welcome In, Reach Out,” the author writes glowingly of what is called “Celtic Spirituality, basing her article on George H. Hunter III’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism and John Finney’s book Recovering the past: Celtic and Roman Mission. The article talks about how to reach out to unsaved friends and associates and that Celtic Spirituality has some valuable insights from which we can learn to evangelize, calling it a “uniquely Celtic brand of faith.” Hughes elaborates, for a half a page no less, on Hunter’s affinity toward Celtic monasteries where “faith wasn’t even a prerequisite to enter into the fellowship with the community.”
At first glance, Hunter’s evangelistic focus seems commendable as he talks about reaching out to drug addicts, poverty stricken people, and others who have often been overlooked and neglected. But what exactly is Celtic Spirituality? Hunter differentiates between what he calls “Roman Christianity” (Catholicism), its “Reformation offshoots” (Protestantism), and “ancient Celtic Christianity,” saying they all have value but Celtic Christianity “could show the way ” (p. 10).
A good question would be, just what is Celtic Spirituality really promoting? Well, we believe it’s a cover for contemplative spirituality and panentheism. In an interview about his book, Hunter states: “Within the Celtic outreach model, people are being grounded in Christian truth and spiritual disciplines.” In his book, he identifies at least one of these disciplines – he says that the Celtic communities turn to “contemplative prayer” that “characterize[s] Celtic Christian piety” (p. 32). In that same book (the one featured in In Touch), Hunter references two key contemplative mystics, Pierre Tielhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton, saying they both drew from a “distinctly Celtic theological vision” (p. 108). From what we understand regarding Celtic Spirituality’s panentheistic undertones, we can believe Hunter when he says that Merton and Chardin drew from the Celtic way. It is Chardin who said:
What I am proposing to do is to narrow that gap between pantheism and Christianity by bringing out what one might call the Christian soul of pantheism or the pantheist aspect of Christianity. (Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p. 56)
And Thomas Merton who stated:
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, … now I realize what we all are … If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are. I suppose the big problem would be that we would bow down and worship each other…. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth….This little point … is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 157-158)
Hunter indicts all three – Chardin, Merton, and Celtic Spirituality – by linking them together. Chardin and Merton drew from it because they spiritually resonated with it. What’s more, Hunter acknowledges that the “new monasticism, the Taize community in France, and many of the emerging churches, missional churches . . . have conscious Celtic roots.” (Kindle edition, Location 1953). This too would go hand-in-hand.
We didn’t have an opportunity to review John Finney’s book, Recovering the Past: Celtic and Roman Mission, featured in In Touch, but Hunter makes an interesting observation in his book that identifies Finney as a pioneer of Celtic Spirituality coming into the Western church. He states:
A renaissance in Celtic music, Celtic art, Celtic dance, Celtic love of nature, and Celtic spirituality is already under way. John Finney’s Recovering the Past began the movement to help Western Christianity do evangelism and mission in more Celtic ways. (Kindle Edition, Locations 1755-1757)
And for sure, Celtic Spirituality is taking root here in North America. Christian colleges, such as Fuller, are teaching courses on it, a 2000 Christianity Today article titled Saving Celtic Spirituality gave the movement a big boost forward, books such as The Path of Celtic Prayer by contemplative advocate Calvin Miller (published by InterVarsity Press) came out in 2012. Bibles, such as the ESV, are coming out with Celtic Crosses on their covers. Holman Publishers has a new one that it calls a Celtic Bible saying it is “reflective of the growing interest modern Christians have in the ancient roots of their deepening faith.” But is Celtic Spirituality really reflective of our true biblical roots? We don’t believe it is. In future articles, we will write further about this growing direction within evangelical Christianity.
While the term may be fairly new to many Western Christians, like contemplative spirituality once was, Celtic Spirituality has been simmering for awhile, but it is starting to fast forward. That is evidenced just by seeing it featured in what was once a traditional evangelical magazine by one of the church’s most trusted pastors, Charles Stanley. However, we have witnessed In Touch magazine heading in the contemplative direction several times now in the last couple years, and we are becoming less surprised all the time by where the ministry is going.
When you see that term Celtic Christianity or Celtic Spirituality, be on the look out – contemplative spirituality is it’s kindred spirit, and they are walking hand in hand.
Incidentally, one of the terms used in Celtic Christianity is “thin places.” Roger Oakland talks about the Celtic thin places in his book, Faith Undone. We will close with this quote from that book and hope you will contact In Touch magazine and ask them to reconsider the direction they are heading:
Thin Places of “Oneness” in Celtic Spirituality
By Roger Oakland
Mantra-style meditation is actually divination, where practitioners perform rituals or meditation exercises in order to go into trances and then receive information from spiritual entities. [Tony]Campolo elaborates on the fruit of mysticism, an atmosphere he calls “the thin place”:
The constant repetition of his name clears my head of everything but the awareness of his presence. By driving back all other concerns, I am able to create what the ancient Celtic Christians called “the thin place.” The thin place is that spiritual condition wherein the separation between the self and God becomes so thin that God is able to break through and envelop the soul.1
This term “thin place” originated with Celtic spirituality (i.e., contemplative) and is in line with panentheism. Listen to one meditator:
I experienced a shift deep within me, a calmness I never knew possible. I was also graced with a sense of “oneness” with nature around me and with everyone else in the human family. It was strangely wonderful to experience God in silence, no-thingness.2
This “oneness” with all things is the essence of the ancient wisdom. Marcus Borg, a [former] professor at Oregon State University and a pro-emergent author, also speaks of “thin places.” One commentator discusses Borg’s ideas on this:
In The Heart of Christianity, Borg writes of “thin places,” places where, to use Eliade’s terminology, the division between the sacred and the profane becomes thin. Borg writes that he owes this metaphor of “thin places” to Celtic Christianity and the recent recovery of Celtic spirituality. As the following passage reveals, his understanding of “thin places” is deeply connected to his panentheism, his articulation of God as “the More,” and his—like Eliade—division of the world into layers of reality.3
Borg says these thin places (reached through meditation) are “[d]eeply rooted in the Bible and the Christian tradition,”4 but he, like others, is unable to show biblical evidence that God mandates meditation. . . . Thin places imply that God is in all things, and the gap between God, evil, man, everything thins out and ultimately disappears in meditation:
God is a nonmaterial layer of reality all around us, “right here” as well as “more than right here.” This way of thinking thus affirms that there are minimally two layers or dimensions of reality, the visible world of our ordinary experience and God, the sacred, Spirit.5
Mike Perschon [once a writer for Youth Specialities] also found these thin places as he went into the silence:
We held “thin place” services in reference to a belief that in prayer, the veil between us and God becomes thinner. Entire nights were devoted to guided meditations, drum circles, and “soul labs.”44
I believe that Campolo, Borg, and Perschon each experienced the same realm in their thin places, but the question is, what is that realm? (from Faith Undone, pp. 114-116)
1.. Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical (New York, NY: Perseus Books Group (Basic Books), 2006), p. 40. 37. Ibid., p. 25. 38. Ibid., p. 26. 39. Ibid.
2. Carol and Rick Weber, “Journeying Together” (Thin Places, April/May 2007, Year Eight, Issue Four, Number 46), p. 1.
3. Chris Baker, “A Positive Articulation of Marcus Borg’s Theology” (Sandlestraps Sanctuary blog, April 5, 2007, http://sandalstraps.blogspot.com/2007/04/positive-articulation-of-marcus-borgs_05.html.
4. Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins, First HarperCollins Paperback Edition, 2004), p. 155.
6. Mike Perschon, “Desert Youth Worker: Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life” (http://web.archive.org/web/20041204133251/http://youthspecialties.com/articles/topics/spirituality/desert.php).
More on In Touch’s move toward contemplative spirituality: