THE DARK HOLE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICES AND MISUSE OF SCRIPTURE

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Several typical examples of misuse of the biblical text are examined.

 

The Growth and Problem of Contemplative Practices

This is not a general critique of Contemplative practices. Many issues have already been addressed in CANA articles herehereherehereherehere, here, here, and here. This is a specific look at the misuse of biblical texts in an attempt to justify Contemplative practices.

 

I have yet to see a biblical text used correctly to promote Contemplative Prayer or one of the so-called Spiritual Disciplines. An article from a print copy of NavPress’ “Discipleship Journal” dated Sept/Oct, 1996, Issue 95, cites passages typically used for promoting Contemplative practices (“The Listening Side of Prayer,” by Stacey Padrick, p. 56). These examples serve as illustrations of how such texts are misused. This NavPress article is not being singled out as worse than any other promotion of Contemplative practices; it simply serves as a good example of the issues.

 

Note that the NavPress article is from 1996 which might be surprising. However, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline first appeared in 1979 and Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, came out in 1988 (I have read Foster’s book and I read the first third of Willard’s book and a few other parts; it was too obtuse and oppressive for me to read the whole book).

 

Therefore, this influence has been in the evangelical church for awhile but it took time to infiltrate. Now it has accelerated to such a degree that it is not difficult to find churches that embrace Lectio Divina (called “sacred reading” but this term is not always used), contemplative practices usually presented as the Spiritual Disciplines, and/or what is called Spiritual Formation. Spiritual Formation almost always includes some or most of the contemplative practices (the Disciplines, contemplative prayer, lectio Divina, a spiritual director, and the recommendation of writings by mystics).

 

False Assumption

The false assumption for the article’s topic, “listening prayer” (which in this case is a form of Contemplative Prayer), appears in the third paragraph where Padrick writes that God

 

“continues to speak to us, if only we have ears to hear”

 

God spoke and is speaking through Scripture. Scripture is sufficient. While the Holy Spirit guides in various ways, we are not to expect God to keep speaking. We are not prophets or apostles chosen by God to receive new revelation.

 

This kind listening prayer to hear from God apparently

 

“demands active listening, focused attention, and confident expectation that God will speak”

 

The logical conclusion is that if we are not actively listening with focused attention, we might miss what God is saying? This would mean that God is not powerful enough to get our attention. This has always bothered me about being told we must be still and quiet to “hear” God – in what universe is God unable to get someone’s attention should he decide to speak to that person? In Scripture, there are people who ignore God (Pharoah, Jonah) but they hear him or get the message relayed to them with no problem, usually in spades.

 

The other point in the article is that one should have “confident expectation that God will speak.” Why would one have this expectation? Is the fact that one is waiting and ready to hear from God reason enough to get God to do what one wants or expects? It is disconcerting that the writer wrote this seemingly unaware of what she was actually saying.

 

Out of Context Bible Passages

As in other pro-Contemplative writings, Scripture quoted or referred to is always taken out of context (such as First Timothy 4:7, used as a rationale for the Spiritual Disciplines and written about in a CANA article here). The NavPress article appeals to the following passages as support for being quiet and/or still before the Lord: Psalm 62:1, 42:2, 46:10, 119:78; and Lamentations 3:25-26, 28 .

 

I have seen some of these passages cited by others promoting Contemplative practices and I have looked them up before, but I looked them up again as I read this article.

 

The most well-known one is Psalm 46:10, the famous “Be still and know that I am God” (in the King James and some other versions). There is a CANA article about it:

 

“The New American Standard has, ‘Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ Young’s Literal renders it, ‘Desist, and know that I [am] God, I am exalted among nations, I am exalted in the earth.’

This is clearly talking about the power and might of God to the nations who have disregarded Him.

Another commentary renders the literal meaning of verse 10 as:

‘Leave off to oppose Me and vex My people. I am over all for their safety’  This is a warning from God to His enemies (from Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871).

The earlier verses in chapter 46 tell those who trust in the Lord not to fear:

‘Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change; And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.’

Why not fear? Because God is there and He is mighty. Therefore, the passage goes on to say, those who fight against God should cease and realize His might, and that He will be exalted over all. Verse 10 is a warning to those warring on God; it is a rebuke.

From the context of the passage, without even consulting commentaries, one can clearly see that verse 10 has nothing to do with meditation, but is rather a reprimand to those who are ‘striving’ against God. <snip>…Much confusion today comes from various meanings of the word ‘meditation.’ When we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word, it means to ponder, to deeply reflect, and to contemplate the meaning of a passage. The word translated as ‘meditation’ in several verses in the Psalms means to meditate in the sense of reflecting upon.”  – End of excerpt from CANA article

 

Other passages in the Psalms that are listed do not relate to prayer or to hearing God. One commonly used to discuss is Psalm 62:1. Here is a partial context for it:

 

My soul waits in silence for God only;

From Him is my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will you assail a man,

That you may murder him, all of you,

Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?

They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;

They delight in falsehood;

They bless with their mouth,

But inwardly they curse. Selah.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,

For my hope is from Him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. Psalm 62:1-6

 

The context is the Psalmist waiting on the Lord and trusting him. The Psalmist is silent in contrast to those who “bless with their mouth but inwardly they curse.” Silence can also imply that one has nothing to say to God because he is the one who imparts wisdom and one is seeking that wisdom. The Psalmist is affirming God as his stronghold.

 

The passage has nothing to do with praying a certain way, with needing to be silent in order to hear God, or with any other method used in Contemplative practices.

 

The Lamentations verses cited are also used by others to justify Contemplative practices. Here is a partial context:

 

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“Therefore I have hope in Him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,

To the person who seeks Him.

It is good that he waits silently

For the salvation of the LORD.

It is good for a man that he should bear

The yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone and be silent

Since He has laid it on him.

Let him put his mouth in the dust,

Perhaps there is hope.

Let him give his cheek to the smiter,

Let him be filled with reproach.  Lamentations 3:24-30

 

Waiting for the Lord means trusting in God. Waiting silently and being silent is plainly explained further down in the verse where it states, “Let him put his mouth in the dust.”

 

In other words, God has disciplined his people for not listening to his prophets and for going after false gods; they have no excuses. Lamentations is about God’s people needing to turn to him in repentance and humility and to trust in God’s mercy and lovingkindness. Putting one’s mouth in the dust is also a sign of submission to God’s will:

 

“The mouth in the dust is the attitude of suppliant and humble submission to God’s dealings as righteous and loving in design (compare Ezr 9:6; 1Co 14:25).”

 

“The expression is derived from the Oriental custom of throwing oneself in the most reverential manner on the ground, and involves the idea of humble silence, because the mouth, placed in the dust, cannot speak.” From Commentaries at Bible Hub

 

But one does not even need the commentaries. The context and knowing what Lamentations is about give the picture that this is about waiting in humility before God, realizing his justice and rebuke.

 

Waiting on God in silence usually expresses the need for humility and submission. So far, no biblical passage cited as support for these practices has held up under scrutiny. What God’s word does do is that it supremely sheds light on the misunderstanding or misuse of such passages.

 

Lectio Divina

Although the term “Lectio Divina” is not used, the article’s writer describes a similar technique. She advises that one should choose “a verse, phrase, or word” to ponder, and should repeat it slowly. Then one should “ask the Lord what he wants to speak to you through it.”

 

Reading the passage in context will tell the reader what the Lord is saying through it! No need to use a subjective technique such as choosing a word or phrase and repeating it slowly, which is not a sound hermeneutic. Rather, it is is a mystical pagan method.

 

In many Lectio Divina instructions, one reads a passage from the Bible several times without thinking about the meaning or context, letting a word or phrase “jump out at you.” Then one should repeat this word or phrase and use it to keep from being distracted in order to hear God and/or in order not to think about anything.

 

This likely comes from the teachings of the three Trappist monks who founded the modern Contemplative/Centering Prayer Movement, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and William Meninger (I read books by Keating and Pennington; to my knowledge, Meninger did not write a book).

 

They based some of the techniques on Eastern meditation practices from Hinduism and Buddhism, and admitted it in a video. Eastern meditation is based on Buddhist and Hindu teachings that the mind, being part of the material world, is a barrier to spiritual understanding and progress, so it must be set aside. The meditation techniques do just that.

 

The Mushrooming Movement

Since this NavPress article, others aside from Foster and Willard have propagated or defended contemplative practices, such as John Mark Comer, Peter Scazzero (who had the late William Meninger speak at his church), Tim Mackie, Ruth Haley Barton (see two part article on Barton here and here), Focus on the Family (see CANA Facebook post on FOF’s defense of Contemplative practices), many organizations for “soul care,” spiritual direction schools, various ministries dedicated to the mystics and contemplative spirituality, and now countless pastors and churches.

 

Some of these people have been influenced by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who runs the Center for Action and Contemplation. Rohr openly admits to being a follower of Perennial Wisdom, a belief system that teaches in order to discover the True Self, one must go an inward mystical journey. The Contemplative movement is bringing in followers of Perennial Wisdom, which is one of the dangers.

 

Does NavPress still promote this kind of thing today? I found a 2018 article from NavPress’ “The Disciple Maker” that even gives specific breathing advice for prayer:

 

Your breath must be diaphragmatic, which means that your stomach visibly rises when you inhale and falls when you exhale <snip>…For this practice, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth….Inhale as you count slowly from one to five, about once per second, then pause for a second, and exhale as you count from one to five again. Once you’ve established a pattern of inhaling and exhaling from the diaphragm, move on to simple movement.

While any repetitive movement can work here, one of the simplest is to place your hands with palms together in a prayer pose, fingers touching. As you exhale, you tap your fingers together one at a time, beginning with your thumbs. In the beginning when your exhales are shorter, you will probably only tap through the hand once. However, over time as you begin to inhale and exhale more deeply, you can repeat the movement as many times as necessary while exhaling. Once you feel comfortable with this, move on to vocal sound.”

 

How one breathes has nothing to do with prayer, but increasingly using the breath as is done in Eastern meditation, or breath prayers (there are many variations of it) are becoming a part of so-called prayer in the church. Prayer should be modeled in Scripture and it is always verbal (silent prayer is still verbal if words are used) and usually consists of honoring or praising God, petitioning, confessing, and/or thanking God. It is not a technique nor is it done to evoke experiences, or even worse, to evoke God or Christ as is being done in imaginative prayers or guided visualizations. I think that these latter pagan methods are a result of the Contemplative movement.

 

The article also offers advice given over 300 hundred years ago from “a Jesuit priest named Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote a series of letters on the spiritual life to the nuns under his spiritual direction.”

 

What does that tell us? Answer: that this advice and thinking is not from Scripture, it is from men, specifically mystics.

 

In 2017, NavPress published When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, by Jan Johnson, a Spiritual Director who admires Richard Rohr (see here  and here), and is President of Dallas Willard Ministries. Johnson is deeply enmeshed in the Contemplative movement and has been for a long time.

 

The Warnings

I started warning about these practices in 2005, specifically Contemplative Prayer, which initially was the most prevalent. However, we now have additional practices connected to it that usually come as a package under the rubric of Spiritual Formation or Spiritual Disciplines.

 

Few have noticed and even fewer have critiqued this Contemplative invasion. One who has done so is Bob DeWaay, who has written on Foster, Willard, and Donald Whitney (see articles here), and another is the late Ken Silva. The late Ray Yungen wrote a book on it, A Time of Departing; Gary Gilley authored Out of Formation: Spiritual Disciplines of God and Men; and more recently there is a book from Theology Think Tank, Silent God, Silent Man.

 

Considering the flood of Contemplative Spirituality in the church, those are not many voices shedding light on it. One voice that raised questions and a warning in 2016 is this one:

 

What is being taught today is not historical Christianity. Practicing spiritual disciplines has felt normal for years because it has been cunningly slipped into the evangelical church as biblical. What was once deemed Roman Catholic and anti-gospel is now fully accepted and taught to be necessary for spiritual growth. The end of Foster’s quote states, “Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits.”9 It is shocking to most people when I bring up my objections. We have assumed what we have heard is biblical…because it sounds biblical.

The goal of these articles is to show how Foster and Willard have adopted a non-biblical view of spiritual growth and how it has spread throughout Christianity in the last 40 years. Many of the sources Foster and Willard use and encourage their readers to engage in are Roman Catholics, Jesuits, Mystics, and open theists (we will be reviewing this material closely in upcoming articles).

Sadly, in recent history, the reformed (and what is known as the Calvinistic crowd) have embraced this misleading theology as well. The most well-known and accepted book among many conservative and reformed Christians today is Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life. Whitney wrote that, “the only road to Christian maturity and Godliness passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.” (Thanks to Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach for bringing attention to this article in his blog).

 

I have maintained for the past few years that Contemplative Spiritual practices are a counterfeit Christianity, so I was heartened to see this article calling it out as unbiblical. However, because biblical texts are appealed to and quoted (even though they are misused), it is a crafty deception that may cause a Christian

 

 

This inhibition and reluctance to ask questions or speak out has kept the Contemplative movement in business. It has now become a monster too welcomed and prevalent to be slain with mere warnings, yet warnings need to continue. The Lord is in charge and will allow it or stop it according to his will and purposes. I must rest in that.

 

More Information

Selected CANA Articles

Spiritual Disciplines Revisited (focus on misuse of First Timothy 4:7)

 

Contemplative Prayer

 

Thomas Keating

 

The Be Still DVD (used successfully by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard to promote the Contemplative movement into the evangelical church)

 

Others (aside from those referred to in the CANA article)

Critique of Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines by Mike Ratliff

People and terms connected to Contemplative Spirituality: (Just a sampling of the most influential)

Terms:
Consciousness
The Divine
Inner Life
Presence
Spiritual Formation
Spiritual Disciplines
Spiritual rhythms
Soul Care
Spiritual Director/Direction
Silence
Solitude
Being Still
The Still, Small Voice
Lectio Divina
Ancient practices
Thin Place
Labyrinth

 

 

Short link for article: http://tinyurl.com/bdf7zcfn