PRIOR TO READING THE BOOK, Emotionally Healtlhy Spirituality, I had been asked for a few years about the author, Peter Scazzero, former pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and about this book, which is widely used in churches across the country. Due to the questons about it and its popularity, I decided to read it.
My first investigations into Scazzero, before reading the book, yielded a number of concerns. He approvingly has quoted heretic Richard Rohr ; he heavily endorses mystical contemplative practices, even to the point of having the late Trappist monk William Meninger, one of the three co-founders of the modern Contemplative Prayer Movement speak at his church; and he has enthusiastically endorsed the Enneagram. (I wrote Facebook posts on all of these topics, which could comprise another article or two, should I have time to put them on the site).
I also watched several videos of Scazzero’s messages, including one sermon in which he misinterpreted the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. He said that their problem was that they wore “masks.” Scazzero is very much into the idea that we all wear masks because he states he wore one for many years.
Biases and Anecdotes
Scazzero has a habit of imposing his own experiences and feelings on Scripture as well on all Christians. In this book, he makes broad generalizations, such as all Christians “wear masks,” Christians do not know how to deal with their emotions, and most Christians were not raised in healthy families. It was hard not to write, “speak for yourself!” in the margins of many pages in this book.
There are so many serious issues with this book, it is quite distressing that it is being recommended by many pastors and church leaders. I am not addressing all content of the book, only points related to my areas of my ministry or of obvious concern. Scazzero does offer some good insights in the book, but they are overshadowed by too many troubling statements. These are just some of the issues; all are not listed due to time and space reasons:
- Scazzero is very subjective and writes from his own experiences. His experiences become the basis for his advice and for some of his interpretations of Scripture. He is anecdotal-based.
- Scazzero writes that God speaks to us through our feelings: “through a knot in the stomach, muscle tension, trembling and shaking, the release of adrenaline” (p. 46) . He offers no scriptural support for this amazing claim.
- Scazzero has bought into the “true self/false self” model and dichotomy that he seems to have absorbed from Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and/or the Enneagram teachings.
- Scazzero bases some claims on false premises.
- Scazzero approvingly quotes and, in some cases, recommends as authoritative works by spiritually sketchy or even New Age people including mystic Buddhism-loving possible Perennialist Thomas Merton; heretical Richard Rohr; Buddhist-New Ager M. Scott Peck (d. 2005); Progressive Dan Allender of the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology; mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross; the Contemplative mystic Gerald May (d. 2005); contemplative M. Basil Pennington (d. 2005), one of the 3 Trappist monk co-founders of the Contemplative Prayer Movement (along with Thomas Keating [d. 2018] and William Meninger [d. 2021]); Enneagram author and spiritual director Adele Calhoun; Buddhist-leaning psychiatrist and admirer of the Dalai Lama, Daniel Goleman; Progressive Tony Jones; contemplative author and leader Richard Foster; the late Emergent leader Phyllis Tickle; Richard Rohr associate and follower of Perennial Wisdom, James Finley; Contemplative leader, possible Perennialist, and founder of the spiritual direction training school, the Shalem Institute, Tilden Edwards; contemplative Eugene Peterson; ecological activist Wendell Berry; contemplative Dallas Willard (d. 2013); and more.
I have written on most of these people on Facebook (some several times) and a few on this site. I have researched, read material by, and written on Rohr, Merton, Keating, Pennington, Meninger, Peck, Goleman, Finley, Calhoun, Foster, Willard, and Edwards, and I have researched the others in the course of my ministry prior to reading this book. Quoting problematic people is not necessarily an issue, depending on the quote and the person. However, to approvingly cite so many who are, at the very least of serious concern, is a red flag. These people promote spiritual views inharmonious with Scripture, yet Scazzero appears to admire them and has no problem recommending them.
- Scazzero writes as though our emotions and God’s “emotions” are alike. This is a serious mistake. God does not have emotions/passions like man; in fact, there is a term for this, the impassibility of God. God does not react or have feelings that come and go. God is not vulnerable to anyone or anything. Man’s emotions are normal and good but they change and are subject to outward events. Man also can be misled by emotions. Please research impassibility since this topic is too complex to discuss here (nor would I want to tackle it since others more qualified have done so). Some resources are listed at the end.
- Scazzero uses dubious and/or secular psychological methods and systems to give advice to readers and to interpret Scripture, such as the psychotherapeutic tool called the Genogram, Goleman’s iffy and heavily criticized Emotional Intelligence, and the Bowen Family Systems. Although Scazzero does not refer to the Enneagram in this book (probably because this book was published before 2016, the year the popular book,, The Road Back to You, which brought the Enneagram into the evangelical church, came out), he has discussed the Enneagram in videos and endorses it.
- He makes some unbiblical assertions about Jesus
Scazzero does not back most of his claims and assertions with Scripture. If he does try to use Scripture, it is usually mishandled.
Scazzero refers to and recommends the Genogram in this book, and offers an online Genogram workbook as part of his ‘emotionally healthy discipleship” program. The Genogram is a complicated tool that supposedly maps family patterns from the past that affect you. Whether this is valid or not is another issue. What one should know is what Scazzero has said about it (outside of this book) since he has recommended it.
In a video Peter Scazzero talks about the Genogram and asserts that:
“The blessings and sins of our family going back three to four generations impact us. It’s one of the biblical principles found in Scripture.”
Whether this is true or not, it is false that this is a biblical principle. If Scazzero is thinking of Exodus 20:5, which is repeated in part in Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9 then let us look at the first passage, which gives the full context:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them nor serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, inflicting the punishment of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing favor to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments..” Exodus 20:4-6
God is forbidding the people from making idols and worshiping false gods. If such worship happens, then God will “inflict punishment” on “the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.”
Please note the words “of those who hate me.” God warns that worship of false gods will lead to God’s punishment on those of the third and fourth generations. Many believe this does not mean generations in the future but present generations that were traveling together, which certainly makes sense. Families had fled Egypt together, and several generations would be living together. So if the parents or family heads were worshiping false gods, this rebellion would likely spread to their children and grandchildren, who would suffer God’s punishment. In fact, after 40 years in the wilderness, those over age 20 did not enter the land God had for them as a result of disobedience, which could have included the worship of false gods during the wilderness sojourn (Hebrews 4:1-8).
Even if this prohibition referred to future generations, there are three clear limiting conditions to this:
- The punishment is for idol worship/worship of false gods.
- The punishment is inflicted on the descendants of “those who hate me.”
- This warning was given specifically to the Hebrews traveling with Moses in the wilderness and not to anyone else.
This warning has no application today. It has nothing to do with Uncle Harry’s alcoholism, Grandma’s mental illness, family patterns of abuse, or other such issues (or “generational curses” which is not a biblical concept ; see this article). While alcoholism, abuse, or other problems may be passed on, that is not what these Bible passages are addressing.
Believers in Christ are redeemed from the curse of the law and sin so that they can inherit the blessing of Abraham (Galatians 3:13-14); curses are God’s punishments for sin. To apply this biblical warning today and/or to such family problems is a distortion of the text. Yet this is what Scazzero does.
While the worship of false gods is repeatedly forbidden in Scripture, the specifics of punishment given in Exodus 20:4-6 and similar passages only applied to the Hebrews traveling in the wilderness. Whatever family patterns may affect one now, it has nothing to do with those passages.
How would one get the information for these Genograms is one of the first things I wondered. And how could one trust the information? Whatever a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent, or cousin may recall could be based on a misunderstanding, a rumor, a false tale, something taken out of context, or otherwise misleading or wrong information. Memory is biased and often incorrect.
I think a Christian should be thinking more of the indwelling Holy Spirit and that
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4
A focus on the past to the extent of creating intricate charts according to complicated rules is unhealthy. View how incredibly byzantine the process of doing Genograms is; there are many rules (see this one example).
Getting information about family for health reasons or to research family names and origins is legitimate. Beyond that, what is the point of doing complicated maps of family trees based on what could be speculative or faulty data? Moreover, this is not connected to the biblical texts Scazzero refers to.
Comments the First Two Chapters by JH
This is an excerpt from some concerns written up in response to the first two chapters of the book by someone who now would like only his initials given due to a sensitive situation. I am including this in my article with his permission. I divided his comments into smaller paragraphs. The excerpt from JH is in italics with the quotes from the book in italics and quotation marks:
< What I cover here is the main thematic problem with Scazzero’s work that is contrary to Christian orthodox doctrine.
“Christian spirituality, without an integration of emotional health, can be deadly—to yourself, your relationship with God, and the people around you.” Ch. 1. Pg. 11
Peter [Scazzero] makes matter-of-fact assertions like this throughout the text based on his anecdotal experiences, He then concludes one of his main themes “emotional health” is the missing element that somehow can make said spirituality safe. In reality, ANY “spirituality” can be dangerous if not based on sober-minded biblical doctrine or just basic common sense.
His assertion suggests that the emotional experience of his daughter Faith almost drowning was directly related to an emotionally immature and dangerous “Christian” spirituality, and then uses that as an authoritative experience. He concludes this:
“I was stuck at an immature level of spiritual and emotional development. And my then present way of living the Christian life was not transforming the deep places in my life. And because of that, Faith almost died. Something was dreadfully wrong with my spirituality—but what?” Ch. 1 pg. 14
This conclusion is problematic in too many ways to express here. Emotional Health is the missing element in place of abiding faithfully in Jesus the Vine who bears his fruit in us. Our maturity is based on self-awareness emotionally vs. our faithfulness in God’s Word, the truth that Jesus said will set us free.
Another problem is his use of Scripture. He is not exegeting the Scripture. Instead, he takes individual verses and pits them against each other and then uses his experience as an authority for his conclusions. For example:
“I believed the power of Christ could break any curse… After all, didn’t Paul teach in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when you become a Christian, old things pass away and all things become new? But crisis taught me I had to go back and understand what those old things were in order for them to begin passing away.” Ch. 1 pg. 14 -15
I am not sure if he has an issue with Pauline teaching specifically or Christian doctrine in general because, in this same section, he appears to disqualify Paul’s teaching with an eisegetical assertion using Genesis 3 as proof text in opposition to 2 Corinth. 5:17:
“But one thing I’ve learned after thirty years of working closely with families is this: your family, like mine, is also marked by the consequences of the disobedience of our first parents as described in Genesis 3.”
Once again his experiences are the authority vs. the Scripture. If I am reading him correctly, the regeneration of the Spirit in a Christian’s life is insufficient, and powerless against generational curses due to the fall of man in Genesis 3. Where is this precept in Christian Orthodoxy?
Romans 5:12-21 speaks directly in opposition to his conclusion.
We were all marked as dead in our sin due to the fall under Adam… but Jesus. “ For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)
There are numerous troubling eisegetical problems along these lines in chapters 1 and 2 alone. It begs the question, where do his conclusions originate from? Many of the concepts such as “contemplative spirituality” and becoming your “Authentic Self” have roots in Catholic mysticism prevalent in Thomas Merton’s theology as a Trappist monk. Peter describes his experiences while he spent time with the Trappist monk society in Kentucky.> End of excerpt from JH.
I think the problems pointed out here are enough to initiate warnings on the book. But that is just the beginning, because it is only about the first two chapters.
False Premise: Know Yourself to Know God
Chapter 2 is titled, “Know Yourself That You May Know God.” This idea is not supported in Scripture but it is a popular claim today due to the rise of the Enneagram in the church. This claim is repeated by numerous Enneagram teachers in order to support the false New Age Enneagram.
Scazzero, as the Enneagram teachers do, takes Augustine and Calvin out of context. This issue was researched for our Enneagram book, Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret, so I am familiar with it.
Augustine and Calvin were talking about knowing who we are as sinners in comparison to a holy and righteous God. They were not saying we need to analyze ourselves or get to know who we are in order to know God. God is not just a larger-than-life human who reflects us, which is the implication. God is uncreated and is other. Although we are made in his image, man is a fallen creature. We do not go from that which is corrupted to learn about that which is perfect and incorruptible. Moreover, there is no teaching in the Bible of this man-centered notion; Scripture must be misused, and is, to try to support it.
God reveals who he is in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Jesus said,
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:7-9
We know who God is from Scripture and we know him in relationship through faith in Jesus Christ. One is adopted into God’s family upon faith in the true Jesus (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15; Galatians 3:26).
Recasting Satan’s Temptations of Jesus
Skipping over some unbiblical or dubious assertions about feelings and some mischaracterizations of God’s emotions for the sake of time, the section about the temptations of Jesus needs mention.
First, Scazzero avers that God’s affirmation of love for Jesus at his baptism “is the foundation of his understanding and the root source of how he feels about himself.” (50).
Jesus was certainly aware of God’s love because Jesus and God the Father were/are not separated, although Jesus was living as the God-man on earth. How Jesus felt about himself is not a topic raised in Scripture and seems very anachronistic, almost as though Scazzero is psychoanalyzing Jesus. Jesus demonstrated he was the promised Messiah and pointed this out to others, fulfilling many prophecies from Hebrew scriptures, which is enough. I found this idea of how Jesus “feels about himself” very strange.
With nothing to support his assertion, Scazzero claims that Satan offers Christians three false identities or masks and applies this to the three temptations Jesus faced from Satan in the wilderness (50-53). He writes regarding the first temptation:
Jesus had apparently done nothing for thirty years. He had not yet begun his ministry. He seemed like a loser. Nobody believed in him. He was hungry. What contribution had he made to the world?
This is Scazzero’s characterization of the temptation to turn stones into bread which, Scazzero claims, has to do with performance. He then quotes Merton about how he (Merton) never wanted success, a quote which is meaningless and has nothing to do with anything biblical or with this temptation.
What Scazzero means by the way he talks about Jesus here is not clear, but it is troubling because it sounds like he is claiming this is what Jesus was thinking, that he was a loser. Or maybe it is what others were thinking of Jesus? But there is no biblical support for either of these ideas, and whatever status Jesus had in the eyes of others had no impact on him anyway.
The second temptation has to do with possessions, Scazzero avers, when Satan tempted Jesus with the kingdoms of this world. Scazzero writes:
The devil played on profound issues of fear and the source of his (Jesus’) security.
So Jesus had profound issues of fear and was insecure? I have to wonder what Bible Scazzero is reading.
The third temptation is about popularity, Scazzero writes, when Satan challenged Jesus to throw himself down from the highest spot on the temple. According to Scazzero:
At this point, people did not think anything of Jesus. He was, in effect, invisible. How could people think he had worth and value?
It sounds like Scazzero is saying Jesus was thinking these things because, after all, it is implied that this was the basis for Satan’s tempation. So Jesus was feeling down about himself, that he had no worth or value? This is false because Jesus knew who he was. In fact, the Holy Spirit had driven him into the wilderness to face a testing (see also Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1). Jesus was tempted and tested, but not due to fear, insecurity, or lack of self-worth.
In truth, Scazzero completely misrepresents the meaning of the temptations in the context of Scripture. This incredible passage, found in all three synoptic gospels (with the last two temptations reversed in Matthew and Luke) is robbed of its profound meaning and beauty. Jesus responds to Satan with the sword of Scripture each time and demonstrates that he resisted Satan’s temptations with no food or water in stark contrast to Israel, who, while fed and clothed by the Lord in the wilderness, rebelled against God over and over. Jesus’ resistance also is in contrast to Adam and Eve, who, within the paradise of Eden had all the advantages of a close relationship with the Lord, but still were willing to lose all by succumbing to the serpent’s tempation.
It is a stunning passage, a showdown between the most ancient and fiercest enemy of Christ and the Son of God, highlighting almost with blazing lights how Jesus is able to resist Satan, and Scazzero uses it to insert his mundane and superficial pet psychological theories about the self. This destroys the meaning and impact of God’s words. It is evidence that one can make Scripture all about you and not much about God. Reading this made me want to cry.
Jesus’ “True Self?”
Scazzero applies the theory of differentiation from Murray Bowen (please look up Bowen if interested) to Jesus, saying that Jesus
…left his family of origin and their expectations of a carpenter’s son and became an inner-directed, separate adult. (56-57)
This is the language from the Bowen family systems theory. Scazzero writes about this theory, which I only skimmed as it did not interest me and, frankly, I did not want those ideas in my head, either. He then moves onto to Merton again and the “true self.” We are to shed our “false layers to reveal our authentic self” and “to awaken the seeds of the true self” God has planted in us. He speaks of the “true self in Christ” but the Bible talks about the new self in Christ (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) , and the new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17; see also Romans 6:4 and Galatians 6:15).
The new self is the one born from a spiritual birth (John 1:13, 3:5-8) upon faith in Christ, and enterst the process of sanctification, being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49)
Scazzero applies the modern and non-Christian concept of a “true self” to Jesus himself:
Jesus was not selfless. He did not live as if only other people counted. He knew his value and worth. He had friends. He asked people to help him. At the same time, he was not selfish. He did not live as if nobody else counted. He gave his life out of love for others. From a place of loving union with his Father, Jesus had a mature healthy “true self.” (57; “self” is emphasized in the original in italics and boldfaced here to show that).
It is hard to know where to begin with this. Was Jesus struggling to find his “true self?” It makes it sound like Jesus had gone to self-help classes to find his worth and yet still be able to do good things. It is demeaning to Jesus to talk about him as though he was seeking some kind of balance in knowing his worth with going to the cross. These statements do not make sense for Jesus at all, who lived a perfect life as the God-man in order to be the sacrifice for sins. The concept of a “true self” is ludicrous applied to Jesus. Jesus had no”true” or “false” self because there is no such thing anyway.
The “true self” is an idea concocted by man that goes back to the Gnostics who taught that they were spirits from God trapped in human bodies. The idea of a “true self” is found the New Age, Hinduism (as the Atman, or divine self), Perennial Wisdom, Contemplative Spirituality, and in countless esoteric teachings, including deceptive books that appear to be Christian (the “Christ-self” of Perennialist David Benner).
Scazzero tries to shoehorn Jesus into these pseudo-categories to make his ideas appear biblical. But there is no “authentic” or “true self” in biblical Christianity, only the fallen self in need of redemption and the new creature in Christ as a result of the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Daily Office
Scazzero spent a week in a Trappist monastery, which is where he learned about the Daily Office. It is crucial to keep in mind a statement that Scazzero makes for this discussion. He writes that
“The Daily Office and the Sabbath are essential to a mature prayer life as well as emotionally healthy spirituality.” (136)
Note the word “essential.” Scazzero talks about the “blizzard” of our lives, meaning the rushing around and demands we deal with. We need a “rope” to keep us from “getting lost” (140). He claims that the Daily Office and the Sabbath are the “ropes that lead us back to God in the blizzards of life” (141). This is the same tactic as found in the Be Still DVD put out by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. The DVD shows a mother trying to get dinner ready hindered by demanding children, a father rushing to work, and other busy life scenes. Then a picture of a lovely lake with trees around it pops up, with words about needing to find rest, peace, and time with God.
Yes, most people are busy and probably need rest and more time with God to read Scripture and/or pray. But that does not mean that what Scazzero or the Be Still DVD offers is the answer. In fact, what they offer is not the answer.
Scazzero gives more anecdotes from his life, writing that after setting limitations “something was still missing.” He names what he calls “spiritual disciplines” and includes dubious practices such as “the prayer of examen, spiritual direction, centering prayer, lectio divina” (142).
There are problems with all those on that list. Three come from mystics and from monastic traditions, while centering prayer (now usually called contemplative prayer ) comes from three Trappist monks, Basil Pennington (d. 2006), Thomas Keating (d. 2018), and William Meninger (d. 2021). They admitted in a video that their method came from Thomas Merton, the very obtuse Cloud of Unknowing, and Eastern meditation methods. Keating had Buddhist monks and a former monk turned Trancendental Meditation teacher come to his abbey to teach and meditate with the Trappist monks.
Scazzero claims that the Daily Office (the monks meeting together at specific times of the day to read and sing Scripture) offers a “key to unlocking the secret of paying attention to God and being carried in his presence.” (145).
Scazzero gives scriptures that supposedly back up the idea of praying at certain hours of the day While these passages tell us that Daniel prayed three times a day, and calls the ninth hour, “the hour of prayer,” the Acts 10 passage is about Peter’s vision on the roof and his understanding that God was reaching the Gentiles as well as the Jews with the gospel. None of this is about a time to pray is prescriptive; it is all narrative. It is fine to have certain hours to pray if one so desires, but there is no biblical direction to do so, nor is it a “rope” that rescues us from any “blizzard.”
But remember that Scazzero has told us that having set times to pray is “essential” to a mature prayer life and to being spiritually healthy! It is not just suggested or recommended, nor does he merely state that it is helpful. Rather, it is “essential.” However, if it essential, why has God left it out of Scripture? Why don’t the letters to the churches instruct the Christians that they need to have set times of prayer?
Scazzero recommends certain books to use for the content of prayers or reading in the Daily Office, such as the Divine Hours series by Episcoplean Emergent/Progressive Phyllis Tickle (d. 2015); the Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community; a guide to prayer series from two Methodists; and/or the Daily Examen from St. Ignatius.
On the home page of the Northumbria Community , I saw this strange thought labeled as “This Week’s Rule Reflection:”
We trust in God, living in the paradox of being purposefully lost, deliberately uncertain, and resolutely confused.
I would never recommend any book by Tickle, and after seeing the above weekly reflection on the Northumbria Community’s site, I would not recommend them, either. Examining several pages of their large website, it was difficult to form a clear view of their beliefs, which is troubling. After investigating the Prayer of Examen on several sites, I would never recommend the Examen, either.
Scazzero writes that there are four elements of the Daily Office: Stopping; Centering; Silence; and Scripture. The last three are all problematic.
The misuse of Psalm 37:7 and 46:10 are given. Psalm 37 is about trusting in the Lord in the face of Israe’s enemies. The wicked will perish and those who trust in the Lord will endure, even if it looks like the wicked are doing well. It is about trusting the promises of a faithful God and taking refuge in him, not about “centering.”
There is already a CANA article on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God” in the KJV) explaining that this Psalm is not about prayer or meditation.
Worst of all, Scazzero recommends a book on Christian meditation by James Finley. Finley, who is a follower and advocate of Perennial Wisdom, is also one of the founding members of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. Rohr, like Finley, is a Perennialist. Perennial Wisdom and Christianity are in conflict and are not compatible. Panentheism, the view that God is in all and all is in God (this is not pantheism), is part of Perennial Wisdom. We see this in this excerpt from a blog by Finley for Rohr’s site:
“Imagine you are out walking on the beach and God says, “Go ahead, pick a grain of sand, any grain.” No matter what grain of sand you choose, God is present in it. Since God is not subject to division or diminishment of any kind, God is completely present in that one little grain of sand. Furthermore, since the whole universe flows from God, is sustained by God, and subsists in God, you are holding in your hand a grain of sand in which you, along with the whole universe and everyone and everything in it, is wholly present.”
Finley means that God is lterally in the grain of sand. He and Rohr believe in “embodied” spirituality, that creation is literally the body of God. Both Rohr and Finley believe all need an inward journey to discover the True Self which has never been separated from God. So to recommend Finley is like Paul telling the Galatians to read works by the Judiaizers or like John advising Christians to listen to the early Gnostic heretics.
Scazzero gives advice on Centering that is similar to what I was taught in practicing Buddhst meditation. This includes sitting still, breathing naturally, and if your mind wanders, “let your breathing bring you back.” He also advises:
“As you breathe in, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. As you breathe out, exhale all that is sinful, false, and not of him.” (148)
That makes no sense. When one has put trust in Christ, one is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not come into you by breathing, and breathing out does not get rid of sin or anything false. Christians have access at every moment to the peace given by Christ (John 14:27; Rom. 5:1, 8:6; Eph. 2:14; Phil. 4:7). Inhaling cannot cause the Holy Spirit to do anything because the Holy Spirit is not composed of physical particles one can breathe, and He is not at man’s command. Additionally, breathing in such a way over a period of time can induce self-hypnosis.
To top it off, Scazzero then recommends saying the “Jesus Prayer,” a repetitive prayer traditional to Eastern Orthodoxy. The words come from the prayer said by the tax collector in a parable given by Jesus in Luke 18:12-14. This is not given as a prayer for others; it is part of a parable showing the contrast between the pride of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector. Tax collectors were looked down by the Jews since they served the Romans, so Jesus uses an outcast figure as the good example. Saying the prayer almost as a magical chant is to ignore and denigrate the point of the parable.
This section begins with these words:
“Dallas Willard calls silence and solitude the two most radical disciplines of the Christian life.”
Radical? Maybe. Unbiblical? Definitely. Nothing in scripture supports either of these as practices or as disciplines. I have examined every verse or passage used by contemplatives to support these as disciplines. I have looked up every passage using the words “silent, “silence,” and “still,” and none of them are directives to be silent or still in order to pray or in order to know or hear God. (See two-part CANA article on two books by Ruth Haley Barton, one of which is Invitation to Silence and Solitude).
Scazzero refers to 1 Kings 19:2 about Elijah hearing the “sound of sheer silence” (also translated as a “still, small voice” “a gentle whisper” or “gentle blowing”), although Scazzero states that the first is the best rendering. In context, this silence is in contrast to the noise of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire that precede it. When Elijah hears the silence or the “gentle blowing,” he stands at the mouth of the cave and then God speaks to him. It seems the silence was to get Elijah’s attention.
Nothing in this passage makes silence special or a sign of God’s presence to be recognized by anyone outside of Elijah, and an attempt to do is dislocating the text from its context.
Scripture and Lectio Divina
In this section, Scazzero promotes Lectio Divina, which he calls a meditation on Scripture. But Lectio Divina as taught by Contemplatives today is not true meditation on Scripture. It is a technique that does not allow taking the context of the passage into consideration.
The majority of Lectio Divina teachings seem to involve choosing a Bible passage and reading it silently and very slowly several times; noticing a word or portion that speaks to you or “jumps out” at you; repeating that portion aloud over and over but without thinking about it; and then “listening” for what God is saying through the text to you, often ending with a prayer.
This method differs from normative Bible reading and study since Lectio Divina is not based on thinking about or analyzing Scripture in context. Rather, it uses Scripture to lead one into an Eastern-style meditation (i.e., a state achieved by bypassing — not emptying — the mind). In recent years, forms of Lectio Divina have become increasingly linked and promoted with Contemplative Prayer as part of a larger “Contemplative Spirituality.”
The method taught here appears to use God’s word as a mystical and subjective tool rather than reading Scripture as the objective word of God, letting the text speak for itself, and then allowing the personal application to flow from that. The Holy Spirit aids Christians as one reads and studies the Bible in the normal fashion; that is, one can derive both comprehension of the words and at the same time experience God’s presence without practicing a technique. One should not be looking for personal messages in the Bible, but personal applications of the message. (Some content here is from CANA’s article on The Be Still DVD.)
Scazzero moves on to the Sabbath which he treats as a command.
I am convinced that nothing less than an understanding of the Sabbath as a command from God, as well as an incredible invitation, will enable us to grab hold of this rope God offers us. (151; the word “command” is emphasized by Scazzero).
Scazzero reminds the reader that observing the Sabbath was given along with commands not to murder, steal, or commit adultery. He quotes Contemplative Eugene Peterson saying that “to live appropriately in the creation we must keep the Sabbath.”
Scazzero’s suggestions on keeping the Sabbath are good ones. This is a part of the book I had no objections to. What I do object to is the idea that observing the Sabbath is a command. To observe the Sabbath was given to Israel as part of the conditional Mosaic covenant, which was eventually broken by Israel and no longer had effect. Jesus gave those who believe in him a new covenant (Luke 22:20; Romans 6:14, 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:6-13, 9:11-15, 12:24).
Several of the commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai are repeated in the New Testament, but not the one about the Sabbath. Yet, Sabbath keeping has become a trendy teaching from Contemplatives.
I think it is wonderful if some would like to follow this Sabbath keeping idea, but it should not be taught as a command, or as necessary to find a “rhythm” that matches “God’s rhythm” (as though God can even have a “rhythm” or needs one).
The true and superior Sabbath is the rest in Christ (Hebrews 4) for all who have believed in him. After Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12b; also, Hebrews 1:3 and 12:2). Christians have the eternal rest in an eternal Christ, who completed the work of atonement on the cross. Hebrews chapter 4 explains this beautifully.
Those who want to observe a Sabbath (which can be any day) should do so, but should not judge those who do not do so. It is a choice. But Sabbath keeping is not a “rope” for anything, unless it is used legalistically, and then it is a rope that binds. Scripture is the “rope” that pulls us back to Christ if we are distracted or anxious.
The Rule of Life
One chapter is devoted to the idea of having a “Rule of Life.” This is based mainly on the Rule of St. Benedict from the 6th century, although Scazzero states that John Cassian developed one earlier. Cassian (360-433), who spent time with the Desert Fathers and “codified and transmitted the wisdom of the Desert Fathers of Egypt,” was a mystic and ascetic, and not one whose ideas seem to comport with Scripture.
The Benedictine Rule of Life was a rulebook for the monastic life and included obedience to the Abbot, and practices of silence, humility, the Divine Office, prayer, no personal possessions, work, hospitality, and more (see “Benedict’s Rule” ).
Scazzero gives suggestions for developing one’s own “Rule.” The problem is that several of his suggestions include Contemplative practices such as silence, solitude, using Tickle’s Divine Hours, and asking how God is speaking through your feelings (201).
While some of the suggestions are fine, nothing about this comes from Scripture, but from men. Including the contemplative practices exacerbates and underlines the problems with this book.
In Appendix B, Scazzero writes that Contemplative Spirituality (his term) integrated with emotional health offer a “spiritual revolution.” The problem is Contemplative Spirituality, an issue addressed already in this article and in several other articles, as well as in some online interviews.
In his list of what comprises Contemplative Spirituality, are several problematic items:
“Communing with God, allowing him to fully indwell the depth of our being” (the Holy Spirit already indwells believers in Christ, and what does the “depth of our being” mean?)
Practicing silence and solitude
“Finding the true essence of who we are in God”
Being aware of “the sacred in all of life” (raises questions about what is meant here)
Adapting historic practices of spirituality that are applicable today (which I would assume from the book would include the Daily Office; Contemplative Prayer; the Rule of Life; the Prayer of Examen, which is in Appendix C; and whatever “historic” practices seem good, such as spiritual direction).
As to the last point, why not adopt what God tells us on how to live from the New Testament letters, especially those like Ephesians; Colossians; Philippians; 1, 2, and 3 John; and others? God has graciously and generously provided all the information needed for Christians to live the Christian life in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ). Did God leave something out? It would seem so according to Scazzero’s book, which piles onto Christians practices and traditions from monastic life and Contemplative Spirituality, none of which are harmonious with Scripture, and which only add a burden to those who have been freed in Christ from such burdens.
Following what God gives as letters to the churches is to follow inerrant instructions and information from God to build up the body of Christ. Being perfect, God cannot leave anything out or include anything harmful. There is already a blueprint for living the Christian life, and that is the whole counsel of God’s word. All areas of life are addressed throughout Scripture, written by the breathing of the Holy Spirit on the biblical authors. What more is needed for the Christian life and what could be more wonderful?
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:19-21
The Doctrine of God by Norman Geisler
All That is In God by James Dolezal
Lectures on Divine Impassibility by James Dolezal
Critiques of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence theory: