A number of Christian apologists are finally warning against the New Age ideology of Oprah and other New Age teachers. However, a vital element is missing in this attempt to warn against the onslaught of the New Age. Lighthouse Trails is compelled to address this concern.
Recently, popular apologist and author Erwin Lutzer was featured on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio broadcast. The two-part series was actually taken from the 2008 National Conference on Christian Apologetics where Lutzer spoke. Since the Focus on the Family broadcast took place, Lighthouse Trails has been contacted because of our past coverage regarding Lutzer’s and Focus on the Family’s promotion of contemplative authors. One person contacting us inquired as to whether we would do an update saying that now Lutzer and Focus on the Family are NOT promoting contemplative anymore but are coming against it. One of the letters we received states:
You have mentioned Erwin Lutzer as a possible sympathizer to Contemplative Theology. I heard him on Focus on the Family on 7/14 and 7/15. In his message he had scathing remarks for Oprah, Marianne Williamson and Helen Schucman and the entire New Age/Contemplative theology. … [H]e gave a very definite gospel message that was completely Christian. He sounded like he could very easily have been a writer for your project. I believe it would be a good idea to contact him for a refresher because I definitely think from what I heard, it should not even be hinted that he is a contemplative. To me, it looks like he inadvertently got booked with some wrong people, or got unknowingly tangled up somehow. I would definitely try to contact him to clear things up and clear up his name. Also, Dobson concluded on the first night with sentiments that agreed with Dr. Lutzer on how bad the contemplative movement is. He didn’t sound contemplative at all either.
First of all, we must correct this writer’s letter–there was no mention of contemplative either by James Dobson or Erwin Lutzer on the two-part program.
While it is commendable when Christians identify and issue warnings against New Age teachers like Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle (which Lutzer did), it is troubling when those same Christian leaders who warn against the New Age do not mention at all those who are teaching and promoting contemplative in the church. In fact, by listening to this two-part series by Lutzer, one would get the impression that the New Age is a problem the world has, not the church. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dear reader, before you might think that we are being unfair to Erwin Lutzer, not giving him credit for speaking up against Oprah and Eckhart Tolle, please consider this. In A Time of Departing, researcher Ray Yungen points out something the late New Age follower Marilyn Ferguson (author of The Aquarian Conspiracy) stated. Astoundingly, Ferguson revealed that 31 percent of New Agers she quizzed said it was “Christian mysticism” [i.e., contemplative] that got them involved in the New Age!1
We cannot emphasize enough the importance for Christians to understand the nature and essence of contemplative spirituality. And for Christian apologists to warn against New Age proponents, such as Oprah, but not even mention that this same spirituality is pervasive within certain sectors of Christianity and increasing within others, is lamentable. What’s more, Erwin Lutzer and James Dobson did not even mention the practice of meditation, which is at the heart of the New Age movement. What they said was merely on an intellectual level, which reduces New Age spirituality to a mere philosophy, like being a liberal or conservative. The problem with that approach is that it leaves out a connection to what the Bible calls “principalities” and “powers” (Ephesians 6:12).
And herein lies a problem. Many people, including many Christians, do not really believe there is such a thing as mysticism. That’s why you often hear people say that the New Age is just a bunch of nonsense or silliness. They aren’t taking it seriously. But clearly, from Scripture, we know that there is a spiritual world, one that is filled with both demonic beings and heavenly beings (angels). When someone practices contemplative prayer (i.e. mantra-style meditation, centering, lectio divina, etc), they are allowing themselves to go into altered states of consciousness. Some believe that if the intent or motive is to reach Jesus, then the method is OK. In other words, it’s all right to do the same practices as those of eastern religions as long as the intent is to reach the God of the Bible. But this is faulty reasoning. A person jumping out of a window may have the intent to fly, but the results will be the same as the person whose intent is to fall to the ground. That may be a simplistic example, but the premise is logical.
Thomas Keating, the number one authority in centering/contemplative prayer, makes some astounding remarks in the foreword of Philip St. Romain’s book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. Keating states: “[T]his energy [kundalini] is also at work today in numerous persons who are devoting themselves to contemplative prayer.” He refers to the “physical symptoms arising from the awakening of kundalini.” Carolyn A. Greene, in her cutting-edge novel, Castles in the Sand, lists some of the kundalini symptoms:
Muscle twitches, prickly feelings, tingling, intense heat or cold, shaking, jerking, feeling a force from within moving one’s body in unusual ways or pushing one into postures, hyperactivity, altered eating or sleeping patterns, fatigue, racing heartbeat, chest pains, headaches, numbness in the limbs (often the left foot or leg)
Keating and other mystics acknowledge that these symptoms are experienced by those who practice deep contemplative meditation and are the same as what is experienced in Buddhism, Hinduism, and the New Age.
Ironically, the conference Lutzer spoke at last year, the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, is including a contemplative proponent in this year’s speaking line-up. Ken Boa, who has been discussed in Lighthouse Trails articles because of his propensity toward contemplative, is joining a number of evangelical figures such as Kay Arthur at the conference.(*see note below) In Boa’s book, 2 Boa also, numerous times, in his book refers to Henri Nouwen in the context of the “prayer of the heart.” In Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart, one that Boa promotes, Nouwen states: “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence.”3 This is exactly what Eckhart Tolle would tell you to do (see Stillness Speaks). A skeptic might say that Nouwen was a Christian and his repetitive prayer would lead him to a “Christian” understanding of God. Not so. Of this “Christian” contemplative prayer, Nouwen says:
This prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one, … It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is.4
This is exactly what Oprah and Eckhart Tolle teach! Not only the same method but the same theological outcome! For those who think we may have twisted Nouwen’s words, consider the following statement by him: “The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being.”5
The question must be asked, why is a contemplative proponent speaking at a national apologetics conference, one in which possibly there will be warnings against Oprah and the New Age but not against contemplative? How can this be so? The answer is really quite simple: it appears a large number of Christian leaders, like Dobson and Lutzer, don’t understand that the essence of the New Age is not just intellectual but is based on mysticism. And to warn against New Age and not even mention mystical practices is incomplete, to say the least.
While we certainly mean no disrespect to Christian apologists who have much educational background, we do mean to challenge them in what they are not doing. The very fact that Boa will be a speaker at this year’s event is evidence that such a challenge should be put forth by the body of Christ.
Keep in mind that Focus on the Family has been promoting contemplative Gary Thomas and Richard Foster for some time now, and Erwin Lutzer, with whom we spoke, placed his endorsement inside Larry Crabb’s book, The Papa Prayer, in which Crabb made a strong and obvious declaration for contemplative spirituality. In Crabb’s book, also endorsed by Brian McLaren, Crabb acknowledges he practices centering prayer (i.e., contemplative prayer): “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” (The Papa Prayer, p.9).
What Crabb means by this kind of prayer is clarified in a 2003 Christianity Today article, which reveals Crabb’s sympathies 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.”
This “ancient practice” is the same ancient practice that Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating teach–contemplative prayer. A year before the Christianity Today article came out, Crabb wrote the foreword for David Benner’s book, Sacred Companions. In that foreword, Crabb said: “The spiritual climate is ripe,” Crabb stated. “Jesus seekers across the world are being prepared to abandon the old way of the written code for the new way of the spirit.” Benner’s book is clear about what that “new way” is when he talks about a “Transformational Journey” needed in the Christian’s life, which he believes includes the teachings of Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington and several others of similar propensity, all of whom promote a panentheistic, New Age view of God. For Crabb to write the foreword to Benner’s book leaves no speculation as to his affinity towards this same spirituality. And for Erwin Lutzer to place his endorsement inside The Papa Prayer leaves little room for doubt that Christianity at large is headed in the wrong direction.
As stated earlier in this report, Keating sees contemplative prayer as a catalyst for “numerous persons” to experience kundalini awakening, which is at the very heart of the New Age movement. Keep in mind that Henri Nouwen himself wrote that he listened to tapes on the seven chakras while doing exercises.6 Kundalini and the chakras are synonymous. Anyone can look this up on the Internet to verify this.
We urge Christian leaders, teachers, authors, and pastors to begin to publicly denounce the contemplative prayer (i.e., spiritual formation) movement rather than accept or ignore it. Focus on the Family, in numerous correspondence with Lighthouse Trails and Lighthouse Trails readers has stated that they see nothing wrong with the contemplative tradition. 7 Thomas Keating and other mystics would be ecstatic if they knew this. But believers should be heartbroken.
1. Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy (Los Angeles, CA: J.P. Tarcher Inc.,1980), p. 419, from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 55.
3. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991), p. 81, from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 62.
4. Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1997), Jan. 15 and Nov. 16 daily readings, from A Time of Departing, p. 63.
5. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997 edition), p. 22, from A “Wonderful” Deception, p. 63.
6. Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p.20.
7. Letter from Focus on the Family Tim Masters to Lighthouse Trails Publishing
* Note: There is a Warren Smith speaking at this conference, but it is not the Lighthouse Trails author Warren Smith who is author of Deceived on Purpose and A “Wonderful” Deception
Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!