The Emergent Contemplative Prayer Model

This entry is part 17 of 23 in the series Wolves in Wool

The Emergent Contemplative Prayer Model

(Continued from the previous post)  This lengthy introduction to transcendental meditation is not the focus of this study, however.  The immediate concern is the fact that identical tenets, beliefs and practices to those of transcendental meditation have been repackaged under the Christian-sounding title of “contemplative prayer” and are being taught as biblical concepts by popular Emergent leaders.

I know of numerous Christians who maintain that contemplative prayer is not necessarily synonymous with transcendental meditation.  I find myself doubting that, yet will leave that argument for another day.  The focus of this portion of the series is specifically the contemplative prayer model practiced and encouraged by Emergent leaders, which is clearly nothing more than a warmed over demonic tradition, recast in Christian robes.

Brian McLaren, for example, defines his particular understanding of contemplative prayer in the vein of the work of Richard Foster and Tony Jones.  In a question and answer area of McLaren’s website he makes the following recommendations:

In some of my readings, both of books authored by you and others, I have read about Christian mystics. Who are the predominant Christian mystic authors?
Answer: If you pick up Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and his other work via Renovare, you’ll get a great exposure to the Christian mystical tradition. “The Spiritual Formation Workbook” is a great resource too. Tony Jones’ “The Sacred Way” is also a sturdy introduction to contemplative practices.
Online source: 

Tony Jones is a former national coordinator for Emergent Village, the ad-hoc denominational headquarters, as it seems, for the” non-denomination” of Emergent.  The current board of directors include Brian McLaren himself, along with Chris Seay, David Robertson and other like-minded “we-ologians,” lest anyone think these men are not like-minded.  Tony writes extensively about the nature of contemplative prayer in his book entitled, “The Quest for God.”  In this work, Tony informs his readers as to where he “found” his model for contemplative prayer.  To make short work of it, it was not the Bible.

Something occurred to me: People have been trying to follow God for thousands of years…Maybe somewhere along the line some of them had come up with ways of connecting with God that could help people like me…I could think of no better way to spend it [his three month sabbatical] than to travel and read about different ancient ways of prayer and devotion.
Tony Jones, “The Quest for God,” (pp. 16-17) (emphasis mine)

Jones’ search for a “connection”  with God (which he was unable to achieve through “typical” Christianity) took him to the Desert Fathers, Roman Catholic mystics of yore, from whose work he learned the ancient practices of meditation, repackaged by monks into a Christian container.  These people (Desert Fathers) who are the forerunners of those “trying” to follow God for thousands of years, supposedly found God in the practices of mystic meditation practices.

“The desert fathers believed as long as the desire for God was sincere–anything could be utilized to reach God. If a method worked for the Hindus to reach their gods, then Christian mantras could be used to reach Jesus .”
Ray Yungen, “A Time of Departing,” p. 43

And, Jones followed suit.  According to Jones,

As a Christian practice [meditation is] inextricably bound up with…silence, the Jesus Prayer, and Centering Prayer,… Further, it’s linked with the recent popularity in the West of Eastern religions, resulting in books with such titles as Christian Zen and Christian Yoga. While this makes some Christians nervous, others revel in the fact that God is revealed in all truth, no matter the religion of origin.
Tony Jones, “The Sacred Way,” pp. 79,80

Jones offers no disclaimer for the fact that his practices find their basis in the teachings of the Desert Fathers, who found their basis of practice in Hinduism and Pagan traditions.  Is God so hard to follow that we must resort to something other than his own substantial biblical testimony of Himself?  Must we attempt to reach God through the channels (no pun intended) of ancient Eastern mysticism?  The Emergent testimony to that question is a resounding, “yes.”

Jones demonstrates himself completely comfortable with the marriage of Zen and Christianity, as he references “Christian Zen,” a book by the late William Johnston, as something which is “linked” with Jones’ so-called “Christian practice” of meditation.  Johnston concurs, as he equates the mystical practices of Zen with those of the Christian mystics which Jones embraces.

(The Christian mystics)… are men and women whose meditation is more akin to that of the Zen Masters… [Thomas] Merton, too, belongs to the same tradition, and that is why he has such sympathy for Zen.
William Johnston, “Christian Zen,” p.25.  Emphasis, mine.

These ancient methods of prayer are further defined by McLaren’s second reference, Richard Foster, himself a borrower of the ancient practices, finding his own understanding of contemplative prayer through the work of his self-proclaimed mentor, Thomas Merton, the very Zen sympathizer referenced by Johnston. 

Of his mentor, Foster states,

Thomas Merton has ‘priceless wisdom’ for the spiritual life of the Christian.”
“Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood … his interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion …[he is] a gifted teacher …”
Richard Foster & Emilie Griffin, “Spiritual Classics,” p.17

So what exactly is the nature of this “life or prayer” which Merton has made widely known?  One would be hard pressed to find a difference between this contemplative prayer model and transcendental meditation at all.  Merton himself said,

“I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity … I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.”
(David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969)

Indeed, Merton’s view of contemplative prayer is so synonymous with transcendental meditation that Ray Yungen said,

What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to and popular with the masses. It is interesting to me that many people still think celebrity star Shirley MacLaine was the greatest influence in the New Age. But for me, hands down, Thomas Merton has influenced New Age thinking more than any person of recent decades.
Ray Yungen, “A Time of Departing,” p. 58

Yungen continues,

A prominent Catholic audiotape company now promotes a series of cassettes Merton did on Sufism.  It explains:
Merton loved and shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam.  Here he shares their profound spirituality. (Credence Cassettes magazine, Winter/Lent, 1998, p. 24)
In a letter to a Sufi Master, Merton disclosed, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana.”  (M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother, p. 115, citing from The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 63-64.
So what is fana?  The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult defines it as “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness.” (Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985)m o, 85
Ray Yungen, “A Time of Departing,” p. 59

And here is where the line between contemplative prayer of modern Emergents is completely blurred against the transcendental meditation techniques of the ancient mystics of paganism, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and modern New Age adherents.  At the end of one’s trip into contemplative practices, one finds not Jesus Christ, but the panentheistic “Divine Oneness” which causes Merton to see no visible difference between the worship of Christianity and Islam.  In his view, all are seeking the same God-in-all objective. 

The mystic traditions of paganism are the heart and soul of Thomas Merton’s prayer movement.  Merton’s prayer movement principles are likewise the heart and soul of Richard Foster’s prayer writings.  And, Foster’s prayer writings are what Brian McLaren refers to as “great exposure to the Christian mystic tradition.”

Contemplative prayer is reconstituted pagan mysticism.  It involves the use of mantras to invoke one into a meditative state of altered consciousness.  In that state, one has presumed fellowship with God, hearing his voice and experiencing his presence.

The Bible teaches that we have access to God through Jesus Christ, alone.  We pray to God in Jesus’ name and by his mediation.  Meditative practices have absolutely no benefit to “connect” one with God himself, as we pray through the indwelling Spirit of God with no need of an altered state of consciousness to “uplink” us to his ear.  In fact, we are instructed to pray and to meditate quite literally and actively in scripture, not passively from an entranced state.

In contemplative prayer practices, one opens himself up to direct contact from demonic beings, as the practices were originally designed to perform.  Lest one should find my admonition as somehow over reactive or misplaced, perhaps the cautioning of Foster, himself, should be heard on their own merits.

Contemplative prayer is for those who have exercised their spiritual muscles a bit and know something about the landscape of the spirit. In fact, those who work in the area of spiritual direction always look for signs of a maturing faith before encouraging individuals into Contemplative Prayer…
I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.
Richard Foster, (Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home, 155, 156, 157)

There is no methodology to be learned from ancient pagan practices necessary to engage one in true fellowship with God.  The requirements for such fellowship is that of a regenerated life, through the atoning work of Christ, alone.  Jesus said,

John 10:9 (NIV)
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.

God hears us because of the work of Christ; not Merton, Foster or the Desert Fathers.  We are promised God’s ear by merit of our position in Christ and without further “instruction” from men who seek truth outside of God’s word.

1 Peter 3:12 (NIV)
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Psalm 34:17 (NIV)
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

The repackaging of demonic practices will in no way serve to lead people to God.  It will serve its own original intent; to lead people further from the true God and into the hands of idolatry.  Do not be deceived by the exceptionally shrouded doctrines of this apostate group of people.  God’s warning to his own beloved Israel lends a chilling reminder to the true characteristics of even this modern group of Philistines.

Isaiah 2:5-6 (NIV)
5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD. 6 You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans.

Biblical prayer and meditation are mentally active practices; consciously engaging between man and the singular “spiritual guide” of God in scripture: the Holy Spirit.  True prayer and meditation stem from fellowship with the Lord alone, while shunning the masked promises of the enemy. 

Psalm 1:1-2 (NIV)
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

There is no room in the modern church for laxity in defending our faith.  In increasing measure we expect fully the necessary contention for the true faith of our Lord.  It saddens me deeply that such apostasy exists within the church, being championed by the very publishers which have given us so many good works.  It seems the church is currently its own worst enemy.

 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NIV)
14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Series Navigation<< Emerging MysticismThe Great Falling Away >>

Leave a Reply

Locations of visitors to this page Books