Pepperdine University “Bible Lectures” Go Contemplative!

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Pepperdine University is a Christian school located in California. Since the 1940s, Pepperdine University has been presenting their “Bible Lectures” series. This year the university presented the “65th Annual Bible Lectures,” a four-day event. On three of the four days, a session titled “An Introduction to Contemplative Prayer” was given.1 The three workshops were titled: Through Imaging Prayer (guided imagery), Lectio Divina, and The Process of Examen (Ignatius exercises).

Jackie Halstead, an assistant professor at Abilene Christian University Texas was the presenter. Halstead has a special interest in spiritual formation. Abilene University is listed on the Lighthouse Trails “Colleges that Promote Contemplative.” 2 The school uses textbooks by several emergent and contemplative figures and has a strong spiritual formation program. Some of the authors representing textbooks used in classes are: Doug Pagitt, Henri Nouwen, Tony Jones, Lauren Winner, Richard Foster, Walter Brueggemann, Robert Webber, and Duffy Robbins, all of whom are contemplative/emerging proponents. Abilene is also using a book (in UNIV 203: Prof. Tate) by New Age Gerald Jampolsky (a proponent of A Course in Miracles, the New Age “bible”). Abilene’s spiritual formation section lists several emerging/contemplative resources for students including The Ooze, Worship Leader magazine, and Willow Creek. 3

Part of the reason Pepperdine University is going in this direction may have to do with its Provost, Darryl Tippens(“chief academic officer” of Pepperdine University), who lists the following people as those he admires: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Soren Kierkegaard, Kathleen Norris, and Anne Lamott (all promoters of mysticism). In Tippens own book, Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life, Tippens references Thomas Merton a number of times and encourages the use of contemplative practices such as lectio divina, going into the silence (the outcome of mantric-style practices), attending “silent retreats,” and repeating the Jesus Prayer. Tippens book is riddled with favorable quoting or referencing of contemplative authors; some of those are Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast), Kathleen Norris, Donald Miller, Julian of Norwich, and Flannery O’ Conner. These all have contemplative propensities. With a line up like this, there is no question that Tippens resonates with the contemplative prayer movement. Unfortunately, this will have a profound (in the negative sense) impact in the oveall spiritual outlook at Pepperdine University. The Introduction to Contemplative Prayer at Pepperdine’s Bible Lectures this past spring is proof of that.

To understand the spirituality that Tippens is promoting, a look at Marjorie Thompson’s book, Soul Feast (which Tippens says will “greatly enrich one’s understanding and practice” (of contemplative silence) is vital (please click here to read our book review of Soul Feast).

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