PETER SCAZZERO, RICHARD ROHR, AND CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICES

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Due to being asked about Peter Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a number of times, I watched three videos for this post, and looked at a number of sites.
Below is a quote from Richard Rohr in Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey with the Daily Office:
“Now, believe it or not, we are threatened by such a free God because it takes away all of our ability to control or engineer the process. It leaves us powerless, and changes the language from any language of performance or achievement to that of surrender, trust and vulnerability. . . . That is the so-called “wildness” of God. We cannot control God by any means whatsoever, not even by our good behavior, which tends to be our first and natural instinct. . . . That utter and absolute freedom of God is fortunately used totally in our favor, even though we are still afraid of it. It is called providence, forgiveness, free election or mercy. . . . But to us, it feels like wildness — precisely because we cannot control it, manipulate it, direct it, earn it or lose it. Anyone into controlling God by his or her actions will feel very useless, impotent and ineffective. — Richard Rohr” –  Excerpt found here
There is nothing “wild” about God. God is the most stable and controlled One in existence because he is not subject to any change, to time, or to any action from anyone or anything. Rohr often manufactures straw men to knock down and I suspect that might be the case here.
“Wildness” denotes savagery, or being untamed. God cannot be controlled, of course, but that does not make him wild.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuequerque, New Mexico, in 1986. Rohr holds views that are incompatible with Christianity, which include these beliefs: God is in creation and creation is in Christ/God (panentheism); sin does not separate man from God so there is no need for salvation; the True Self has never beens separated from God; Jesus and the Universal Christ are distinct; Jesus did not die on the cross for sins; Jesus is not coming back. It is accurate to state that Rohr’s views are heretical.

Scazzero and the True You

I listened to this sermon by Scazzero on the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship site though the podcast is no longer there. He uses Acts 5:1-11 as his text.
On the sermon page, Scazzero writes:
Ananias and Sapphira were disconnected internally and, for all intents and purposes, stopped the great move of God in the book of Acts (see Acts 5:1-11).
Scazzero tells us that he (Scazzero) pretended all his life and wore a “mask” all the time. This is a pretty amazing confession. Moreover, he seems to assume that everyone wears “a mask.” He bases his whole message on this unproven subjective premise.
Inside all of us is a “true you” that requires courage to reveal, according to Scazzero. He claims that Ananias and Sapphira were not allowing their “true selves” to come out and that is why they lied. He asserts that Ananias and Sapphira were “pretending.” They were wearing “masks.”
However, Scripture tells us:
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Acts 5:3-4
Peter tells Ananias that he gave in to the temptation from Satan to lie. Ananias “conceived this deed” in his heart. This has nothing to do with not being his “true self” or “pretending.” Scazzaro tries to tie the Holy Spirit into the idea of being your “true self.”
If one redefines deliberately lying as “pretending” or “wearing a mask,” then one might claim that is what Ananias and Sapphira did, but that is not the definition of telling a lie. Scazzero is simply taking a non-Christian idea about “wearing a mask” and the  “true self” and and trying to make it biblical.
Scazzero reads part of a poem called, “Now I Become Myself” by Mary Sarton. He attempts to tie this totally secular poem to the Holy Spirit.
Scazzero talks about how we need silence to become who we need to be, to be our “true selves.” This idea of “true self’ started with Contemplative practices, notably the Centering Prayer movement of Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and William Meninger (now called Contemplative Prayer though some still make a distinction). That idea about the “true self,” or as it is sometimes presented, the “true Self,” has spread via many venues.
This paved the way in the church for the Enneagram’s “True Self/False Self” teachings which are biblically critiqued in the book, Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret.

Scazzero and Rohr in the Sermon

In the message, Scazzaro says,
I like the way Richard Rohr says it well, ‘I don’t know anyone who becomes their true self without great suffering.”
I am not sure if Scazzero knows what Rohr means by this, but since he quotes and seemingly admires Rohr, it is only reasonable to assume he knows what Rohr teaches. After all, it is ridiculously easy to find out what Rohr believes. For Rohr, suffering is, at least in part, getting rid of what he calls the false ideas that have been taught about Jesus and the Bible (i.e., historic Christianity).
Quoting Rohr implies an endorsement of Rohr to whomever hears it, and so Scazzero is leading his audience to a false teacher. For Rohr, the true self includes realizing you have “divine DNA,” that you have never been separated from God, and that you are in Christ already. Salvation is not necessary. Rohr is a self-admitted follower of Perennial Wisdom (see CANA article on Perennial Wisdom to learn more).
Scazzero summarizes his three main points, the first two of which are:
1. Space. We need times of letting go of our roles and our work life in order to listen deeply to our true selves in God. Nobody can do that inner work for us.
2. Suffering. Richard Rohr reminds us that there is always great suffering to come into our true self. Welcome and listen to it.
His point about “space” is to use contemplative practices. Scazzero is a heavy pusher of these. Why listen “deeply to our true selves in God” when we can “listen” to God by reading God’s word? For Scazzero, the Bible must not be enough. Moreover, there is no scriptural support for listening to our selves, whether they are categorized as true or not.
The second point with Rohr’s quote I addressed above.

The Contemplative Con

Scazzero’s New Life Church’s website gives several suggested books as resources, most of which appear to be Contemplative, and include books by New Thought-influenced Quaker Richard Foster; Buddhism-loving Thomas Merton; contemplative leader Ruth Haley Barton; mystic Henri Nouwen; Progressive (one of the original Emergents) Phyllis Tickle; follower of Perennial Wisdom David G. Benner; Adele Calhoun, a spiritual director and one of the Enneagram authors of Sacred Rhythms for the Enneagram; and Richard Rohr:
Peter Scazzero had as a guest at his church,Trappist monk William Meninger (d. 2021). Meninger is one of the three co-founders of the modern Centering Prayer movement along with Thomas Keating and M. Basil Pennington.

Interlude

In connection to Meninger, this is a video of all three founders of the modern Centering Prayer Movement: the late Thomas Keating (d. 2019), the late William Meninger, and the late M. Basil Pennington (d. 2005), discussing how they started the Centering Prayer movement (see CANA article on Thomas Keating).
Around 14:35 of this video, Pennington recounts how it came to be called Centering Prayer. He states that he used Thomas Merton’s ideas a lot, and that Merton said:
If you really want to come to God, you go to your own center, pass through that center, and go into the center of God.
What does this even mean?
🔘 First of all, there is no such thing as “going to your own center” except in the minds of people who have a fantasy about what it means. If it means the inner person, the spiritual person, then going there involves the contemplative practices advocated by these men and their movement (see CANA article on this topic).
🔘 Secondly, how does anyone “pass through” the “center?”
🔘 Third, there is no “center of God” to go to.
🔘 Fourth, you do not get to God this way.
However, this is how this method came to be called “Centering Prayer” (later many used the term “Contemplative,” including Keating and Pennington). It reveals Merton’s influence from Buddhism because Buddhist ideas often sound nonsensical but hold supposed deep meanings for the initiates.
Meninger admits right after this discussion that they incorporated Eastern meditation methods into Centering Prayer. Keating later states that they used the Eastern techniques but they were not inspired by the theological content of Eastern spiritualities. However, the techniques are based on Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and are designed to suspend thinking for one’s spiritual awareness to supposedly be open. Both Pennington’s and Keating’s books promote concepts and practices from Eastern spirituality.

Scazzero and Meninger

In the video interview with Meninger, Scazzero blunders in his opening remark by asserting that at one time the only church was the Roman Catholic church. The early Christians were not Roman Catholics, a church which did not begin until around 500 A.D. This is a serious historical error.
Scazzero then makes positive statements about the Desert Fathers and monasticism and how he has always wanted to bring a Trappist monk to New Life Church. He states he brought Meminger to his church so that his congregants could learn from Meningner about communion with God. This point is disturbing in that:
🔘 It suggests people cannot learn this from the Bible
🔘 It implies that a Contemplative teacher (who worked with Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, both of whom taught many non-Christian ideas) can tell Christians who have God’s word about how to have communion with God
At one point, Meninger states that when you practice Contemplative Prayer, you are loving God and everyone on the planet (I have heard Keating and others say this as well).

Background on Meninger

This is information on Meninger from a site called “Silence Teaches Us Who We Are:’
In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.
This form of meditation, recently known as ‘Centering Prayer’ (from a text of Thomas Merton) can be traced from and through the earliest centuries of Christianity. The Centering Prayer centers one on God.
The Cloud was written, not in Latin but in Middle English – which means that it was intended for laymen as well as priests and monks. Father Meninger saw that it was a simple book on the ultimate subject, with only 75 brief chapters.
He quickly began teaching contemplative prayer according to The Cloud of Unknowing at the Abbey Retreat House. One year later his workshop was taken up by his Abbot, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, both of whom had been looking for a teachable form of Christian contemplative meditation to offset the movement of young Catholics toward Eastern meditation techniques. 
It took me two years to read “The Cloud of Unknowing” because of its difficult language and obtuse mystical concepts. I did not find it edifying or compatible with Scripture. It was like reading a Gnostic understanding of prayer although it is not really prayer.
Elements and concepts of Transcendental Meditation were added into the Centering/Contemplative Prayer method. In 1994, Thomas Keating started Contemplative Outreach (a link to his site used to exist from Dallas Willard and Richard Foster’s Renovare site).

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr has said that doing Contemplative practices is “unlearning.” Rohr believes we need to unlearn all we have believed, especially about the Bible and Jesus, so that we can understand what Rohr offers as truth:
🔘 that we are all in Christ
🔘 that we do not need salvation
  • that Jesus did not die for sins
🔘 that society and everything is evolving towards a point of perfection, pulled there by the Universal Christ
Scazzero, knowingly or not, is serving Rohr’s purposes by favorably quoting Rohr and by heavily promoting the Contemplative practices. As a pastor, he is bound by Scripture to investigate what he endorses and protect the flock. However, it seems he has been deceived in two major areas: by Rohr and by the Contemplative teachings. It is one thing to make mistakes but it quite another matter to promote and/or teach major erroneous doctrines.

The Way To God

The way to God was made through the death of Jesus on the cross when he paid the penalty for sins and bodily resurrected the third day:
 …fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Hebrews 8:1
The simple truth about Jesus and eternal life is obscured and distorted, and sometimes undermined, in Contemplative teachings.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  2 Corinthians 11:3
Deception has never abated and will not end until Jesus returns. Let be vigilant, sober-minded, and discerning (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8)
Critiques of Scazzero’s book, “The Emotionally Healthy Church”
It is in his the cure, however, that Scazzero makes the most fundamental errors. Instead of directing the readers to Christ, his word, and the Work of the Holy Spirit to bring “maturity”, he in fact down plays the impact of these vital means of grace and tells the reader to look inside himself and to look back to his past.> and <What is most striking here is the way that Scazzero is promoting emotion and reason as authorities in the life of the Christian. He tells us that we will mature through introspection and reflection. From review by Chris Ambridge
 Scripture completely ignores emotional health and contemplative spirituality as necessary factors to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). This means that Scazzero’s emotional health and contemplative spirituality are irrelevant and superfluous to comply with Jesus’ two commands. Even worse, Scazzero’s views are idolatrous because they lead us away from following Jesus Christ as our Lord (God-centered) and into focusing on our own feelings and void spirituality (man-centered).  From article by Pieter Bouma
Short link for article: https://tinyurl.com/3pcd6a7e