John Mark Comer stepped down from his pastorate at Bridgetown Church, Portland, Oregon, to run his non-profit Practicing the Way, an enterprise he started while still a pastor. The stated mission of Practicing the Way is to


“create spiritual formation resources for churches and small groups learning how to become apprentices of the Way of Jesus…<snip>…we help people learn how to be with Jesus, become like him, and do as he did through the practices and rhythms he and his earliest followers lived by.”  From the back pages of Practicing the Way (WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, 2024).


Comer’s theme is that Christians must pursue the “practices of Jesus,”  or the “Way of Jesus,” which are the spiritual disciplines. However, there is no evidence that the spiritual disciplines as taught by Comer and others are taught in Scripture, nor are meditation and prayer modeled in Scripture anything like what is taught by Contemplatives.


One might ask are not the teachings about living as a follower of Jesus given clearly in Scripture, especially in the epistles, and are they not sufficient? The full title of the book, which is written to teach this “Way,” is Practicing the Way: Be with Jesus, Become like him, Do as he did. (A workbook for the book is also available, but I did not examine it.) Due to space and time, this article could only address selected issues, so keep in mind that there are areas of concern that are not included.


“Western” Christian vs. Apprentice

The first pages of the book attack a lot of straw men (also later in the book). Comer points out that the word “Christian” is found only three times in the Bible while “apprentice” (really, “disciple” but Comer claims it is the same thing) appears 269 times. Comer thinks that “disciple” is a noun, not a verb, and that Western Christianity has messed this up. Therefore, Christians in the West do not understand what it means to be an apprentice (disciple) of Jesus.


One attack is worded this way. Speaking of Jesus, Comer writes


To a large number of Western Christians, he is a delivery mechanism for a particular theory of atonement, as if the only reason he came was to die, not to live.” (8)


The words “a particular theory of atonement” (which he refers to again later in the book) brings to mind many recent attacks in the church on penal substitutionary atonement. Could Comer have an issue with penal substitutionary atonement? What is his beef with a “particular theory of atonement,” one wonders.


Comer is wrong to write critically “as if the only reason” Jesus came was to die and not to live. While it is true Jesus did not come just to die, it is also true that that was his main mission. Jesus himself said


From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Matthew 16:21 and many others.


And when it came time to go to Jerusalem:


And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51, NASB 1977


Many Bibles translate this as “Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem,” but that does not capture what my New Testament professor, the late Dr. Barry Leventhal, taught us. He said that Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem indicated an unwavering, stalwart determination. Dr. Leventhal spent several minutes impressing the significance of this wording on us and I have never forgotten it. The word used means “to make fast, establish.”


Jesus taught he had come to lay down his life, and right before his arrest, in his high priestly prayer, he said to the Father the hour is come.”


Jesus died so that “he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2.9). He tasted death for man so that all who believe in him can have eternal life.


Certainly, some of Comer’s criticisms of the church are merited, but Comer’s angle is that he can fill in the blanks missing in “Western” Christianity.


“Follow Me”

Comer writes about how Jesus said to Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him, and they “immediately left their nets” to follow Jesus (Mark 1:17-18). Comer writes about this as though this was the first time they met Jesus, though that is not the case. As CARM points out:


“In John 1:35ff, John the Baptist was with his disciples. He tells them that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (v. 36) and they stay with Jesus a while (v. 37). In John 1:40-42, Andrew goes and gets Simon Peter and they follow Jesus. Why? Because Andrew had spent time with Jesus and told Simon that Jesus was the Messiah (v. 41). Later, in Matt. 4:18, Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and He sees Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. He had not asked them to follow Him until this point in verse 4:19.”


This may seem trivial, but I need to point out some things like this since Comer seems to claim he can correct the church, and because I have heard Comer bring this up in interviews. (Correcting the church is reminiscent of Pete Scazzero’s teachings and of his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and, not suprisingly, Comer quotes Scazzero in this book). The point about Peter and Andrew is also important when Comer discusses the gospel.


New Meaning on Jesus and Sin

Comer quotes John 14:6 (“I am the Way and the truth and the life”) and then comments:


“People misread this as a statement about who’s in or out and who’s going to hell and who’s on route to heaven, but that’s not likely what Jesus meant. It’s far more likely he was saying the marriage of his truth (his teaching) and his way (his lifestyle) is how to get to the truth-with-God-life he offers.” (26)


Comer’s words “about who’s in or out” gave me a giant flashback to heretic Richard Rohr because those words have been said by Rohr numerous times. Comer became interested in the Enneagram due to Rohr’s book, has said positive things about Rohr, and even used Rohr’s definition of sin, which Comer quotes in this essay:


“On the road to discovery our identity and calling we quickly bump up against the wall of sin. Sin is a bit of a loaded, religious word, but all it means is to ‘miss the mark,’ to fall short of the life that God has for you. 

Richard Rohr defined sin this way: ‘Sins are fixations that prevent the energy of life, God’s love, from flowing freely. (They are) self-erected blockades that cut us off from God and hence from our own authentic potential.’

So if we want to experience God – the source of life – and reach our full potential, we have to find a way past the ‘blockades”’in our life, i.e. our sin. But our ‘sin’ is more than just our behavior; it’s our shadow side, which Pete Scazzero defined as ‘the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.’ 

The tricky thing is that we are often blind to our own shadow side. The human capacity for self-deception is staggering. 

One tool that followers of Jesus have used for over a millennia and a half to reveal and repent of our shadow side is the Enneagram: a theory of personality test that deals with your root sin and root motivation.”  (The essay is also found here under “Calling: The Inward Journey”).


Although the above excerpt is not in this book, it is relevant since Comer is discussing the gospel. His attempt is first to make sin not such a big deal because it is a “loaded religious word” and “all it means is to miss the mark.” “All?” To sin against a righteous, holy God is left out. Furthermore, for Rohr and Comer, sin is something that blocks God’s love and “our authentic potential.” So it is really about us, not God, and what humanity is missing out on.


Comer then brings in the “shadow side” which he probably got from Rohr though he quotes Scazzero (who likely got it from Rohr as well), and Rohr got it from occult psychotherapist Carl Jung. I am very familiar with the so-called shadow side from having practiced astrology because Jung was a huge influence on contemporary astrology and many astrological writers were Jungians (many New Age counselors are Jungian as well).


The shadow side is also part of the Enneagram teachings which both Comer and Scazzero have embraced (although Comer has removed all the promotions of the Enneagram on his new site still found on his old Practicing the Way site, but it is not because he rejects the Enneagram).


Later in the book, Comer offers yet another faulty outlook on sin.


Jesus believes in you

If this is Comer’s view of sin, then his discussion of the gospel will be off. Comer writes that Jesus invited everyone to be his apprentice. It is true that anyone can believe in Jesus but that is not what Comer means. He is focused on being an apprentice of Jesus and he reverses the words “believe in,” as seen in the what follows.


Comer circles back to his incorrect view about Peter and Andrew suddenly leaving their fishing nets to follow Jesus (as though they have not already met him). Comer writes that before Peter and Andrew believed in Jesus, Jesus “believed in them” (29). Comer reiterates this with a line from a movie (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) and repeats his point about Jesus believing in you:


“We talk a lot about the call to believe in Jesus – to put your trust and confidence in him to lead you to life. This is good and fitting. But it also must be said that Jesus believes in you [the words “believes in you” are italicized in the book]. He believes that you can become his apprentice. Starting right where you are, you can follow him into the kingdom that fulfills your deepest desires.”


In this way, the real gospel is downgraded to become a false gospel about Jesus believing in you for you to fulfill “your deepest desires.” This gave me flashbacks to Rob Bell who wrote something similar in Velvet Elvis. (Comer does quote from Bell in this book).


Jesus did not “believe in” Peter and Andrew nor does he believe in anyone. Jesus does not need to believe in someone or something; he knows men already! Believing in someone is putting trust in somebody. Why would Jesus need to do this?


 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:24-26


“For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” John 6:64


And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” Matt. 9:3


Jesus would hardly believe in men who did not even fully understand who he was. He did not believe in them nor did he need to.


Jesus did give the gospel, to believe in him for eternal life and it was later given by Paul.


The Contemplative Teachings Begin

Contemplative Practices are the heart of Comer’s teachings. Comer states he had a Jesuit spiritual director (34). In this section and throughout the book, Comer quotes mystics such as St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Madame Guyon, several Jesuits, Brother Lawrence, Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly, Roman Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen, Vineyard mystic and former Quaker John Wimber (d. 1997), mystic writer Gary Thomas, contemplative Peter Greig, Mormon Steven Covey (d. 2018), Quaker mystic Richard Foster, contemplative Eugene Peterson (d. 2018), the late Dallas Willard (d. 2013; there are many quotes from Willard in this book because Comer considers him a mentor), Willard’s disciple John Ortberg, mystic James. A. Connor (former Jesuit priest who drew on Zen Buddhism for meditation), and too many others to list.


I suggest reading the CANA articles that include disturbing information on Willard here and here.


The Con of Contemplative

Contemplative teachings are about seeking to have experiences of and with God based on methods from mystics, medieval monasticism, Eastern meditation methods, and unsound doctrine.


Comer even illustrates this, writing that


“It’s not that words in prayer are bad; they aren’t. It’s just that you reach a point in any relationship, especially with God, where words and even thoughts no longer carry you forward toward intimacy. They bring you far but not all the way. They may even hold you back.”


Note the subtle putting down of prayer as it is modeled in the Bible, which is always verbal. How can words in prayer hold anyone back? This would mean God either got it wrong to give us prayers in words or God is keeping something from us (that Comer and others discovered). Comer’s next words make the usual false dichotomy between what is often termed head versus heart by contemplatives though Comer does not use those words:


“God is not a concept or emotion, and he’s certainly not a doctrine in a statement of faith or a chapter in a theology book…<snip>…there is a kind of knowledge that goes beyond words, a kind you can get only by direct person-to-person experience.” (52)


What kind of knowledge about God is beyond words? I guess Comer cannot tell us because it is “beyond words.” That means it is esoteric, a Gnostic type knowledge that cannot be communicated. Moreover, Comer is using words to say there is a knowledge beyond words.


Note that Comer uses the word “knowledge,” not “experiences.” He states the knowledge comes from experience, which means one must have the experience. But God gave us his revelation in words. Scripture does not tell us we must have a certain experience to get more knowledge. And how would this “person-to-person experience” arise? For Comer and other contemplatives, it is the experiences resulting from doing contemplative practices.


Spiritual experiences are not bad, but they should – and do — result from walking in faith with Christ, reading Scripture, serving God, and from worship. They cannot be manufactured.


Comer puts his finger on some valid problems in the church although he also presents a lot of straw man arguments. Comer writes that there is a false assumption that as one’s knowledge of the Bible increases, spiritual maturity increases. While it is true that knowing the Bible does not automatically turn one into a spiritually mature Christian, he neglects to add that God’s word is living and active and therefore has the power to transform one via the work of the Holy Spirit acting through God’s word.


The Christian Mystic

Comer says he is “with” theologian Karl Rahner, who has been viewed as a panentheist   (most mystics seem to have a panentheistic view) and quotes him:


“The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” (51)


My response is that no Christian should be a mystic, because mysticism is experience-oriented, not scripture based, and the overall teachings either denigrate or even mock guarding sound doctrine and studying God’s word or render these as inferior.


In fact, Comer’s words confirm these concerns when he makes the point that mystics want to “experience” God’s love and be “transformed.” That means that the Bible and the Holy Spirit have not given us the information nor the means to experience and know God’s love and be transformed. We need additional teachers (like Comer and the hordes of Contemplatives in the church) and methods to produce experiences to get us there. This is one reason this a counterfeit Christianity. Despite Comer arguing for dependence on the Holy Spirit and that the “practices” are not a self-improvement program, it ends up being sanctification by manmade means, by the flesh, as warned about in Galatians 3:3:


Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?


The Spiritual Masters

To get a bigger context for Comer’s ideas in this book, it is helpful to examine other things Comer has taught, as in the example given earlier where Comer uses Rohr’s definition of sin.


In Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (named after advice given by Dallas Willard to his disciple John Ortberg, to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”), Comer writes:


“All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.” (Source)


It is that very quote that motivated me in 2020 to look into Comer more deeply after I was asked about him. There are no valid spiritual masters outside of Christ – who would they be? I can think of many teachers regarded as spiritual masters by non-Christians. But all teachings of non-Christian “spiritual masters,” even if containing some truths, are based on man’s wisdom, not God’s.


Comer’s reference to Mindfulness reveals Comer has succumbed to the Mindfulness propaganda and either did not investigate it or is okay with it. Mindfulness is Buddhist meditation, one which I did for 12 years as a New Ager.


“Present to the moment” is a concept in secular culture and in the New Age that stems directly from Buddhism as well, and is part of Mindfulness. But the goal of being present to the moment is not relaxation or to “eliminate hurry.” It is a technique to detach from the mind, from time, and from all feelings and desires in the moment, because attachment continues rebirth. Ultimately, the goal is to realize the self does not exist. Practices of mindfulness have led to depression, dissociation, and even psychotic breakdowns, because the goal is to deconstruct self and reality.


This segue into Comer’s statement in another book is necessary to get a bigger picture of Comer’s thinking because it raises serious questions about his worldview.


A Patchwork of Disturbing People

Comer writes about how we are formed and influenced by those around us and by our environment. This is true, but ironically, one should then consider who Comer admires, quotes, was mentored by, draws ideas and inspiration from, and this adds up to a pile of problematic people. Several people quoted or recommended by Comer have already been mentioned. More examples:


Comer writes about attending the last public lecture given by Richard Foster (apparently in 2020 at Renovare, the organization founded by Foster and Dallas Willard), and states that Foster’s Celebration of Discipline


“arguably inspired the renaissance of the spiritual formation movement in the Western, Protestant stream of the church.” (83)


Comer calls Foster a “sage,” and enthuses that being there to hear Foster “was a holy moment for me.” Due to Foster’s influences from his Quaker teachings and his mentor Agnes Sanford, Foster is not a teacher or author who should be recommended.


Another theologian Comer enthuses about is M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. (d. 2015), a contemplative who wrote a book with contemplative teacher Ruth Haley Barton. Barton, who had a Buddhist mentor at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Direction, was influenced by Mulholland and has incorporated some of his teachings at her Transformation Center. Barton’s teachings are deeply problematic and display misuse of Scripture. Apparently, but not surprisingly, Mulholland’s book exalts monastic methods as the way to mature in Christ.


Kallistos Ware’s definition of original sin is given by Comer. This is just part of it but it gives enough to cause concern:


“The doctrine of original sin means…that we are born into an environment where it is easy to do evil and hard to do good; easy to hurt others, and hard to heal their wounds…we are each of us conditioned…by the human race in its wrong-doing and wrong-thinking….and to this….we have ourselves added by our own deliberate acts of sin.”


Ware (d. 2022), an Anglican who became an Eastern Orthodox theologian, was influenced by the problematic Robert Webber (d. 2007) (the Eastern Orthodox faith is mystical and does not view the Bible as authoritative). Ware’s take on sin does not mention sin as a rebellion against God, nor that sin is inherent in man as part of man’s nature. Instead, it sounds almost like men are victims. Being wounded is a major theme in contemplative teachings and often replaces the concept of sin. Needing to heal wounds dominates the ideas of redemption and true Christian growth.


Comer writes more on sin (keep in mind his quote of Rohr’s definition of sin). Stating that sin is being guilty before God’s “law of justice,” he then offers a paradigm for spiritual formation, that sin is a “kind of disease,” and he quotes progressive Dan Allender. Among other issues, Allender embraces the Enneagram and had Progressive Ian Cron as a guest on his podcast . Allender is yet another troubling person in the patchwork of Comer’s sources, teachers, and recommendations.


Even more disturbingly, Comer quotes Contemplative Perennialist (and therefore not a Christian but an anti-Christian) David G. Benner (49). Benner, although published and taught as a Christian writer, is not a Christian because he is a follower of Perennial Wisdom which is incompatible with Christianity.


Let us not forget Richard Rohr, Peter Scazzero, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen, and the others listed earlier that Comer recommends, admires, or learned from.


Adding a Trellis

Comer references Jesus speaking of being the vine and his followers the branches, then claims that early “teachers of the Way” (he does not name them) used a word picture of a trellis to take Jesus’ metaphor of the vine “to its logical conclusion” (160). As a support for the vine, the trellis lifted the vine up so that it could grow in the right direction and bear fruit. Comer concludes:


“In the same way, for an apprentice of Jesus to abide in the vine and bear much fruit, we also need a trellis – a support structure to make space for life with God.”


The trellis is support for the vine, and Jesus as the vine does not need any support. This trellis, asserts Comer, is the “rule of life.” Comer maintains that Paul was referring to this in First Corinthians 4:17 and this is this is the Rule of Life that Benedict came up with for monastic life. (See the section “The Rule of Life” in the CANA article on Peter Scazzero’s book).


Looking at the passage, Paul’s words are that this “way” is what he teaches in all the churches. Undoubtedly, this refers to teachings Paul recorded in Scripture. This is not a special “rule of life” that Paul is talking about but simply the sound teachings that were taught by Paul and written as God-breathed words in the Bible.


A Mormon cannot know inner peace or how to tell anyone to achieve it, yet Comer quotes Mormon Steven Covey on it (170).


There is no need for a trellis when one has the True Vine, Jesus, because Jesus is hardly in need of a trellis. Yet Comer and all Contemplatives want to convince Christians that these spiritual practices are necessary to live the Christian life and mature in the faith.


The Practices


Comer gives advice about stewardship of one’s time, but “the rule of life” turns out to refer to spiritual disciplines, which Comer prefers to call “the practices of Jesus” (footnote 22, 250-51). He offers this definition:


“The practices are disciplines based on the lifestyle of Jesus that create time and space for us to access the presence and power of the Spirit and, in doing so, to be transformed from the inside out.” (177)


This statement raises two questions:


Access? The words “to access the presence the presence and power of the Spirit” assume a Christian can and should do this. I am not sure what is meant by accessing the presence of God but Christians have immediate access to God through prayer, no special practices are needed. But what right do Christians have to “access” the Spirit’s power? Practices to “access” the Holy Spirit are not only not taught in the Bible, the concept goes against the Bible.


Lifestyle of Jesus? What is mean by the “lifestyle of Jesus” – did Jesus have a lifestyle?


Comer is claiming in this section that the spiritual disciplines are 1) designed by Jesus; 2) will lead one to access the power of the Holy Spirit and to draw on God’s grace; and 3) that these practices are “non-negotiable” for those who want to be with and be like Jesus.


Comer refers to the way Jesus lived on earth and quotes several mystics but offers no biblical text in support of these claims. But note that similar to the claim of contemplative teacher Donald Whitney, these practices are necessary for Christian growth.


The lack of scriptural support for these claims and for such practices is the main reason to reject them. Aside from the lack of biblical support is the fact that scriptures used to support these practices are always misused, either taken out of context, misapplied, or other meanings are poured into the text. This is documented in CANA articles herehereherehereherehereherehere, and here, as well as in a two-part article on two popular books by Contemplative teacher Ruth Haley Barton here and here.



Comer asserts that anything Jesus did, such as walking in nature or climbing a mountain could be a spiritual discipline and used for formation, but he offers nine practices that should be core disciplines:


Sabbath, Solitude/Silence, Prayer, Fasting, Scripture, Community, Generosity, Service, and Witness.


Prayer may or may not be a discipline, depending on how it is defined, but Comer claims prayer has four dimensions, the last two being listening and being with God.


Listening is hearing God “through quiet listening, lectio divina, the prophetic, and more” (184). However, prayer in Scripture is never presented as any of those. Prayer is always modeled as verbal speaking to God.


Comer includes Lectio Divina as part of the Scripture discipline as well. But Lectio Divina is reading the Bible subjectively as an esoteric book using a man-based method to allegedly get a word from God. See the section “Scripture and Lectio Divina” in this article.


Being with God, according to Comer, is “looking at God, looking at you, in love.”


The problem with prayer as a so-called spiritual discipline is that not only do Contemplatives redefine it, but they imply or outright claim that the contemplative forms of prayer are superior to normative verbal prayer.


Silence and solitude are not prescriptive in the Bible. In fact, many times when silence is referenced, it is the silence of shame when God’s people do not speak because they have no way to defend their actions. Other times, it is a silence of awe in the face of God’s majesty and power.


Solitude is also not taught. It is not wrong to be alone to pray, read Scripture, or contemplate who God is, but it is not prescribed nor is it taught as necessary to know God or to be close to God.


Comer claims Jesus taught the practices of prayer, fasting, and generosity in Matthew 6:1-18 but this does not show Jesus teaching disciplines. Rather, Jesus prefaces each with “when you”  as a clear contrast to what the Pharisees were doing. It is a fallacy to extrapolate Jesus’ words to the spiritual discipline teachings of Comer and others. And if these disciplines are so essential, it is odd that they are not given in any of the epistles.


Find Your Inner Monk

Comer urges his readers (and there are many because the Practicing the Way materials are being distributed in churches across the country) to find their “inner monk.”


Comer quotes an ascetic, and avows that the “invitation of Jesus is to live as desert mothers and fathers in the middle of the city” (204). What wisdom can come from an ascetic when God’s word speaks against ascetism?


Comer urges readers to take this journey of what he calls “the way of Jesus,” which is his term for the contemplative practices. The fact that so many in the church do not react negatively when someone like Comer speaks of finding your inner monk, or going to monasteries (which many Contemplatives have done and do), or doing medieval practices blended with Eastern spiritual meditation techniques, speaks to a growing ignorance of, apathy toward, and/or turning away from Scripture to manmade practices.


While Comer gives some good advice in the book, it is swallowed up by the plethora of references to and quotes from mystics and Contemplative teachers. This book will go far in furthering the Contemplative agenda which at its heart diminishes the Bible and sound doctrine.


Contemplative Spirituality is a counterfeit Christianity and I think this book is evidence for that.



Sidenote on the “Do Like Jesus” section: While Comer’s points about dependence on the Holy Spirit are true, Comer claims that Christians can literally replicate the miracles Jesus and the apostles did, including healing, casting out demons, knowing what people are thinking (which he calls prophecy), and other such things. In a footnote (251-52) Comer expresses support for inner healing, deliverance, and other dubious or unbiblical practices. This article will not delve into that, and it is off topic from the Contemplative issues. I disagree with Comer’s reasoning that he uses to support these ideas, and offer a few links that address some of the issues:

Bob DeWaay on Deliverance


Apostles and Prophets in the New Testament and today


Evaluation of Wayne Grudem’s view on New Testament Apostles and Prophets


Further Information

Book Review of Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey. Although the reviewer recommends the book, the review gives important information on the content, such as Mulholland’s use of Jungian psychology about the “shadow side,” and his promotion of medieval mystical practices. Therefore, I provide the link for informational purposes only, not as agreement with the review.


First published April 2024


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