As a Christ follower I find myself at a crossroads of sorts as to who I am going to listen to. There are so many voices within the church and sadly, not all are speaking truth. Recent reading has opening my eyes to what some respected voices are really saying and I find myself with a lot of questions.
For example, as a Christian, can I support the teaching of a belief system that encourages induced altered states of consciousness and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but is now wrapped in Christian terminology as "contemplative prayer"? A teaching that hints of pantheism (God is all) and panentheism (God is in all) and says that we need to empty our minds in order for "The Divine" to fill it up again?
Do I allow myself to be influenced by a teaching that says in order to truly connect with our spirituality and God, we must reconnect with ancient, mystical forms of worship that says we can only connect with God in complete silence? Or one that says if we all do this, no matter if we are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion, we will be connecting with the same god and thereby all be united which is what God intended all along?
Can I support a doctrine that says we can't know absolute truth and can only experience what is "true" for the community we live in, and since we cannot know absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine or morals?
Do I embrace a philosophy that says the Bible and the notion of heaven and hell is simply outdated for the emerging, more savvy generation of believers and everything we thought we knew needs to be reconsidered so that it is a better fit for where we are as a society? Or one that says in the end, everyone will eventually be saved and go to heaven even if they don't acknowledge Jesus as savior?
These are the root of the teachings of the popular contemplative spirituality and prayer movement and the "emerging church" which have influenced main stream denominations and many popular Christian authors and speakers.
I'm trying my best to not be reactionary but I guess it amazes me that some of the most sought after and quoted teachers, conference speakers, and authors in the Christian community support tenents of these teachings, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Some are all-out promoters of it knowing what it is and others are just dabbling in it but it's there just the same. It's even shown up in subtle ways in my own church, not as an outright teaching per se, but in referencing the works or words of some of these teachers in the sermons or Bible studies being taught.
But what amazes me more is that so few are questioning it, perhaps because they do not recognize it for what it is or are too enamoured with the messengers. My knee-jerk reaction is to use my mommy voice with one eyebrow raised and finger pointing, saying to those close to me, "Wake-up, little missy! Pay attention, little mister!" If the mommy voice doesn't work, I may have to resort to imitating the robot on Lost in Space: "Danger, Will Robinson!"
Consider the following quotes and decide, without being influenced by who said it, whether it would it be a teaching you would embrace as a Christian. (I'll let you know who said them following the quotes.)
1. "Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God."
2. "I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions."
3. "Every distraction of the body, mind, and spirit must be put into a kind of suspended animation before this deep work of God upon the soul can occur."
4."The ultimate authority in my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book. It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself. My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period."
5. "I'm looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what the church is doing."
6. "Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love...For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required."
7. "Mysticism, once cast to the sidelines of the Christian tradition, is now situated in postmondernist culture near the center....Mysticism is metaphysics arrived at through mindbody experiences. Mysticism begins in experience; it ends in theology."
8. "We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices."
9. ‘... if we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness."
10. “I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word--bibliolatry ... I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”
11. “If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or, either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition…. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.”
12. “God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells-many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom."
Who said it?
1. Henri Nouwen
2. Thomas Merton
3. Richard Foster
4. Sue Monk Kidd
5. Rick Warren
6. Henri Nouwen
7. Leonard Sweet
8. Basil Pennington
9. Beth Moore
10. Brennan Manning
11. Brennan Manning
12. Matthew Fox
Even if I don't actually study the works of these men and women, I can't ignore the fact that other contemporary authors not only study them, but endorse their teachings. Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) endorses the writings of Sue Monk Kid, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton, among others, in his books and joins alongside Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) for conferences promoting the emerging church and contemplative prayer. Rick Warren endorses Leonard Sweet. Beth Moore says of Brennan Manning in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things that his contribution to our generation "may be a gift without parallel" and calls his book Ragamuffin Gospel "one of the most remarkable books" and also shares the stage with Richard Foster and others at events. Brennan Manning frequently quotes mystics Matthew Fox and Thomas Merton. A few of them started out sincere in the faith but have since turned away from God as is the case of Sue Monk Kidd, formerly a devout Christian author who now worships a goddess named Sophia.
Even the online version of Today's Christian Woman magazine, endorses the contemplative prayer teaching as evidenced in this article in which the author quotes some of the authors mentioned above, and this article about Margaret Feinberg, a popular author and speaker at contemplative/emerging church conferences. In fact, several of the Christianity Today publications support these things.
Apparently, it's not just the popular teachers and pastors themselves whom I need to be discerning of, it's who they study and endorse that is important as well. Although some of the quotes are isolated from the actual writings they came from, they still reveal a lot about what the person believes. I guess what was most surprising to me as I started looking into this is how connected everyone was to the other. They study each other, they quote each other, so while I also want to give a measure of slack, we have to see that we each reflect the ideas and values of those we study. That's where the discernment is important. We need to know something about who they they are influenced by and who they follow before we join in.
I also have to mention the very popular yet questionable writings of authors such as Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts), Sarah Young (Jesus Calling), Margaret Feinberg (Hungry For God) and emergent church guru Rob Bell (Love Wins). Sadly, they are aligning themselves (knowingly or unknowingly) with teaching that isn't Biblical even if they put God's name all over it and it makes them feel closer to Him. I've had to understand that the "ancient ways" and "mystical union" they are speaking of come out of man's traditions, not from scripture. It is wise for us to be wary when a woman claims to have received words from Jesus during times of meditative contemplation and puts them in a book written in the first person tense as him speaking to us through her.
I know how it feels to really like a certain author or speaker or pastor and then find out something negative about him or her. Every part of me wants to protest and let the naysayer know how wrong they are. But I also know I have to at least take what is said and find out for myself whether it is true or not. That's what I hope anyone reading this will do. Don't take it on my say-so. Test anything you read or hear, no matter how endearing and popular the source, against what God really says in His Word, and decide for yourself who or what you will follow.
I have often used the quote "eat the fish, spit out the bones" when referring to things I read that make me feel good and sound "right" even though they may have some questionable teaching mixed in with truth. I'm questioning whether that is acceptable for me anymore. It doesn't do to pick out the bones if the meat itself is tainted. The only "meat" I can know is good and bone-free is the Bible itself and that has to then be the standard by which everything else is measured.
Recommended reading: A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen. And of course, the Bible.