Rick Warren’s “Fasting” Book Points to Mysticism and Interspirituality

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In Rick Warren’s August 1st newsletter, there is an article by Presbyterian USA minister, Lynne Baab. Her book, Fasting, is also featured in the newsletter. In the article, Baab calls fasting “an ancient spiritual discipline” and when we fast we “clear away distractions.” She says, “We need all the help we can get to keep our lives centered on Christ and to clear away the clutter so we can pray and listen to God.”

What the article doesn’t say is that Baab is a proponent of contemplative spirituality, and as most contemplatives believe, the most effective way to “clear away distractions” is through an eastern-style meditation practice (e.g., centering, lectio, breath prayers, etc.; in other words repetition on one thing). Does Baab promote that kind of prayer? The answer to that can be partly found in the book Rick Warren lists. While Fasting by Lynne Baab cites the usual Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen, Baab takes the reader right into a host of mystics and panentheists. In the back of the book, under “A Few Wonderful Books on Prayer,” Baab recommends several advocates of mysticism like Richard Foster, Jan Johnson, Tony Jones (emergent leader), and Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God.

In this report, we would like to draw your attention to two other authors that Baab recommends: David Steindl-Rast and Thomas Ryan. Both men are Catholic priests and both are staunch supporters and teachers of panentheism (God in all) and mystical meditation. While some skeptics may be saying right now, just because Rick Warren recommends Baab’s book, which recommends these authors, that doesn’t implicate Rick Warren. Really? When 400,000 pastors and church leaders get Warren’s weekly newsletter, the likelihood that at least a few thousand of them will pick up a copy of Fasting based on Warren’s promotion of it is probable. And some of those may see the recommended names at the back of the book and turn to these authors for deeper teachings. So yes, Warren’s recommendation of this book does indeed implicate him. But he has been doing this for over a dozen years now at least as far back as Purpose Driven Church when he said that Richard Foster’s spiritual formation movement was a valid message for the church and a wake up call (see ATOD, chapter 8).

But while Rick Warren has been consistent in promoting contemplative spirituality, he has taken this recent promotion to a new level by indirectly pointing people to David Steindl-Rast and Thomas Ryan. Ryan, a Catholic priest, is also an avid Buddhist promoter, typical for Christian contemplatives. In one article (click here), he is described as a “certified Kripalu Yoga instructor” who teaches Yoga to Buddhists. Ryan is known for his interfaith, interspiritual ecumenical efforts 1. Interestingly, Henri Nouwen (also touted by Warren) wrote the foreword for one of Ryan’s books: Disciplines for Christian Living. Nouwen explained:

[T]he author [Thomas Ryan] shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian … Ryan went to India to learn from spiritual traditions other than his own. He brought home many treasures and offers them to us in the book.

David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic priest (who was also a close friend and confidant of Thomas Merton), is of similar spiritual persuasions as Thomas Ryan. Steindl-Rast’s view of the Cross and the atonement is anti-biblical and heretical. In a book he co-authored titled The Ground We Share, he states:

Unfortunately, over the course of the centuries, this [Christianity] has come to be presented in almost legal language, as if it were some sort of transaction, a deal with God; there was this gap between us and God, somebody had to make up for it-all that business. We can drop that. The legal metaphor seems to have helped other generations. Fine. Anything that helps is fine. But once it gets in the way, as it does today, we should drop it. (from ATOD, p. 70)

He is referring to the atonement here (Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross for our sins) and he echoes many of the emergents on this issue (see Faith Undone, chapter 11).

It is obvious that Lynne Baab sees these authors we’ve just quoted as being valuable, otherwise she wouldn’t recommend them. This is not guilt by association–this is guilt by promotion and endorsement. In conclusion, the question must be asked, Should a book such as Lynne Baab’s be in a newsletter that represents itself as advancing Christian orthodoxy? If Rick Warren is successful in his efforts, then the church in the future will resemble the spiritual dynamics of Thomas Ryan and David Steindl-Rast.

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