A Closer Look at Contemplative Prayer and Lectio Divina

Recently, I needed to do some study on the BE STILL DVD which was put out on the “Christian” market a few years ago. Basically, it is a teaching of contemplative prayer and lectio divina taken directly from the practices of Buddhism, Hinduism and Catholicism and taught to non-suspecting Christians as ways of meditating and gaining deeper knowledge of God. (Attention x-charismaniacs, haven’t we heard this before…??? Yes! This is another push for “hearing the voice of God”.)

I believe a correct definition of divination is the attempt to connect with God or the “divine” to gain knowledge in a practice outside standard Christian methods given to us in the bible. Divination is forbidden by our God. We call that result Gnostic.

Here’s Miriam Webster’s take on it –

Main Entry: div·i·na·tion
Pronunciation: \ˌdi-və-ˈnā-shən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English divinacioun, from Latin divination-, divinatio, from divinare
Date: 14th century

1 : the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers
2 : unusual insight : intuitive perception

di·vi·na·to·ry \də-ˈvi-nə-ˌtȯr-ē, də-ˈvī-nə-, ˈdi-və-nə-\ adjective

My article shows a little of the history of these mystical practices and the connection with eastern mysticism as taught by Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Dallas Willard and Richard Foster.   If Foster is such a great Christian teacher, what’s he doing messing with this stuff? As for that matter what about Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Priscilla Shirer, and Dr. Henry Cloud, all of who claim to stand for and teach the word of God? Jesus warned many would come in His name(Matthew 24:5).  Again, as I have often pointed out, it is not enough for me that they do, the catch is what they say next. In other words ALL of their teaching should point back to Jesus and should be easily identified in the bible. If not, they are bringing another doctrine or another gospel and should not be received (2 John 1:10).

The teaching on this DVD is not in accordance with biblical meditation and prayer. They are not even close!

Concerns regarding the Be Still DVD

 

  • The main scripture Psalm 46:10 is taken out of its true meaning.
  • It is produced by Fox Entertainment, having no connection with Christianity.
  • Speakers are only quoted and the thoughts are completely disjointed; many of whom are not Christians. The biggest problem lies in what is not said. The context is very misleading as Fox has capped all these people and their thoughts together and labeled it Christianity, which it is not. (A note if you have not seen the DVD, a good portion of the recording is made up of snippets of conversation taken from 11 or so different people.
  • Contemplative prayer/lectio divina have no basis in the word of God
  • Much attention is given to Catholic Mystics, again no connection with scripture but rather subjective supernatural experiences, some of which are of the occult.
  • The practice of meditation taught at the end of the DVD is not one of the Christian faith. Meditation is a very dangerous practice.
  • New believers or those who are not grounded in the word and those seeking an experience will be deceived.
  • Women will be exposed to the phrases contemplative prayer and lectio divina and seek other resources.
  • Some will seek out other books and teachings by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster

It doesn’t appear that the scripture, “Be still and know that I am God”  taken from Psalm 46:10 has the same biblical meaning as the stated in the DVD. It is not to be still as in silence or meditation, but to recognize who God is, and is a warning to His enemies and hope to His people.  So the connection between the words “Be Still” and the claim to be silent, quiet or mediate is not a valid one.

NKJVNIV

ESV

10 Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! 
NASB 10“Cease striving and (A)know that I am God;
I will be (B)exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 
AMP 10Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!  Cross references:  
  1. Psalm 46:10 : Ps 100:3 Know that the LORD, He [is] God; [It is] He [who] has made us, and not we ourselves; [fn] [We are] His people and the sheep of His pasture.
  2. Psalm 46:10 : Is 2:11, 17 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, And the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.   v.17 The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; The LORD alone will be exalted in that day,

 

Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 46:10  from Blue Letter Bible dot com-http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=4&contentID=1169&commInfo=5&topic=Psalms

1. For his own glory (v. 10): Be still, and know that I am God. (1.) Let his enemies be still, and threaten no more, but know it, to their terror, that he is God, one infinitely above them, and that will certainly be too hard for them; let them rage no more, for it is all in vain: he that sits in heaven, laughs at them; and, in spite of all their impotent malice against his name and honour, he will be exalted among the heathen and not merely among his own people, he will be exalted in the earth and not merely in the church. Men will set up themselves, will have their own way and do their own will; but let them know that God will be exalted, he will have his way will do his own will, will glorify his own name, and wherein they deal proudly he will be above them, and make them know that he is so. (2.) Let his own people be still; let them be calm and sedate, and tremble no more, but know, to their comfort, that the Lord is God, he is God alone, and will be exalted above the heathen; let him alone to maintain his honour, to fulfil his own counsels and to support his own interest in the world. Though we be depressed, yet let us not be dejected, for we are sure that God will be exalted, and that may satisfy us; he will work for his great name, and then no matter what becomes of our little names. When we pray, Father, glorify thy name, we ought to exercise faith upon the answer given to that prayer when Christ himself prayed it, I have both glorified it and I will glorify it yet again. Amen, Lord, so be it.

Quotes from the Be Still DVD

Beth Moore – “God’s word is so clear that if we are not still before Him we will never truly know to the depths and marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness, we’ve got to have time to sit before Him and know that He is…… If we aren’t careful we are going to lose the art of meditation”

Those who believe Beth Moore to be a great bible teacher may think again at this comment. Spending time in prayer and bible reading/study is the way we come to know the Lord. However, this is not the teaching on the Be Still DVD that Beth Moore is agrees with and supports in these comments. Yes, Jesus did leave the crowds and taught his disciples to do the same thing. But that was to have a time of rest and to pray, not enter into “stillness” or even practice an “art of meditation”.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, Philosopher, quoting Kierkegaard – “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world I would prescribe silence. Because even if the word of God was proclaimed in all of its fullness it would not be heard. There’s too much noise. So begin with silence.”

For all the ills of the world, the remedy is the Messiah Jesus Christ, not silence! John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

In preaching the gospel, we are told to do it, not enter into silence, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

It is through the work of the Holy Spirit in the power of God that the world “hears the gospel”, not through an altered state of consciousness in silence.

These quotes sound good, but have no basis in scripture and instead support and encourage contemplative prayer or mediation.

  • Contemplative methods have been learned from a group of men known as and referred to as “desert fathers”.

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=1126

The Desert Fathers were Early Coptic who lived in the Egyptian Nitrate desert and had some deep insights, but they were immersed in some Eastern methodologies that troubles a great many past and current scholars. Here is an excerpt from my 2006 article found here: http://www.eternalpath.com/comtemprayer.html.

In the early Middle Ages during the 4th through 6th centuries, there lived a group of hermits in the wilderness areas of the Middle East. They were known to history as the Desert Fathers. They dwelt in small isolated communities for the purpose of devoting their lives completely to God without distraction. The contemplative movement traces its roots back to these monks. They were the ones who first promoted the mantra as a prayer tool. “The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist enunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East … the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.’” From A Time of Departing, p. 42, 2nd ed. (Ray Yungen)

  • Contemplative prayer is not a method of biblical prayer as taught by Jesus in which we ask the Father for what we need.  It is found in other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Catholicism and practiced in transcendental mediation and yoga – meditation, mantra, breathing, breath prayers and becoming one (at-one-ness) with the divine/consciousness. This practice has found its way into many churches that now practice and teach this type of prayer even though it has no root in scripture.  According to Richard Foster, the practice can prove to be very dangerous, as spirits who do not respond to God can play a part. In truth, God would not want His people to be subject to such danger. Rather than encourage us, He warns against the practice of divination and the occult.

 

http://www.gotquestions.org/contemplative-prayer.html

Contemplative prayer, also known as “centering prayer,” is a meditative practice where the practitioner focuses on a word and repeats that word over and over for the duration of the exercise. While contemplative prayer is done differently in the various groups that practice it, there are similarities. Contemplative prayer involves choosing a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. Contemplative prayer usually includes sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settling briefly and silently, introducing the sacred word. When a contemplative pray-er becomes aware of thoughts, he/she is to return ever so gently to the sacred word.

Prayer  is always addressed to the Father God using words

Matthew 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father,…

Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Meditation from a Christian standpoint

Matthew 22:37 Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your  mind.’

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things [are] noble, whatever things [are] just, whatever things [are] pure, whatever things [are] lovely, whatever things [are] of good report, if [there is] any virtue and if [there is] anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

Psalm 119:15 I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways.

Often quoted by evangelical contemplatives such as Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen, this 14th century book of contemplation is described this way:
“A BOOK OF CONTEMPLATION THE WHICH IS CALLED THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, IN THE WHICH A SOUL IS ONED WITH GOD”

From The Cloud of Unknowing: “Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two … With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.”

“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.”

The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced–the mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing, where the presence of God awaits, can be experienced. Practitioners of this method believe that if the sacred words are Christian, you will get Christ–it is simply a matter of intent even though the method is identical to occult and Eastern practices.

“Each being has as his god only his particular Lord; he cannot possibly have the whole.” The whole reality of God is unknowable on the particular Word spoken in our own being in what Al-Arabi called “The Cloud of Blindness, ” comparable with the 14th Century, unknown Christian Mystic who wrote, “The Cloud of Unknowing.”
IBN EL-ARABI

  • The practice of Lectio Divina is not found in the bible and according to those who teach and practice this form of meditation it can be done using any kind of book or inspirational writing. The push for experiences with God is the same as those practiced in the false hyper charismatic and the false prophetic who draw from “hearing the voice of God” for themselves and on the behalf of others. The idea behind LD is to experience the “divine” to gain knowledge through a supernatural experience initiated by the person and used in conjunction with contemplative methods or meditation. It encourages the person to use what they can from the reading. From a biblical standpoint this method teaches the person to take the bible out of context and personalize its message. Simply put, we can make the bible say whatever we need it to say at that moment. In addition, if using a text other than the bible it is assumed that “God” speaks through that particular text. This is not true, as God only speaks to us through His Word.

http://www.gotquestions.org/lectio-divina.html

Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading,” “spiritual reading,” or “holy reading” and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and to provide special spiritual insights. The principles of lectio divina were expressed around the year A.D. 220 and practiced by Catholic monks, especially the monastic rules of Sts. Pachomius, Augustine, Basil, and Benedict.

The practice of lectio divina is currently very popular among Catholics and gnostics, and is gaining acceptance as an integral part of the devotional practices of the Emerging Church. Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech, “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart.” Lectio is also said to be adaptable for people of other faiths in reading their scripture—whether that be the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, or the Koran. Non-Christians may simply make suitable modifications of the method to accommodate secular traditions. Further, the four principles of lectio divina can also be adapted to the four Jungian psychological principles of sensing, thinking, intuiting, and feeling.

Lectio – Reading the Bible passage gently and slowly several times. The passage itself is not as important as the savoring of each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to the practitioner.

Meditatio – Reflecting on the text of the passage and thinking about how it applies to one’s own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and very personal application.

Oratio – Responding to the passage by opening the heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but is thought to be more of the beginning of a conversation with God.

Contemplatio – Listening to God. This is a freeing of oneself from one’s own thoughts, both mundane and holy, and hearing God talk to us. Opening the mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God.

Naturally, the connection between Bible reading and prayer is one to be encouraged; they should always go together. However, the dangers inherent in this kind of practice, and its astonishing similarity to transcendental meditation and other dangerous rituals, should be carefully considered. It has the potential to become, and often does become, a pursuit of mystical experience where the goal is to empty and free the mind and empower oneself. The Christian, on the other hand, uses the Scriptures to pursue the knowledge of God, wisdom, and holiness through the objective meaning of the text with the aim of transforming the mind according to truth.

  • Emergents/Contemplatives- I’ve listed some here that apply to the information on the DVD and to show the connectivity between them, eastern religions, which is New Age Thought, and to each other– Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Foster. (FYI, other names are Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen, Leonard Sweet, Tony Campolo, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Sue Monk Kidd, Phyllis Tickle)

Thomas Merton http://www.mertoninstitute.org/

We are already one.  But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity.  What we have to be is what we are. Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton is one of the most influential American spiritual writers of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Merton wrote over seventy other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of sixteen. On December 10, 1941, he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), one of the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic orders.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani prior to his untimely death in 1968 stimulated profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing transformation impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960’s. Referring to racism and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called “certainly the great example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States.” For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk’s trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dalai Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known.

—————————————-

Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: “It is now no longer that I live but Christ lives in me.”

Hence contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment, and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom is can always return.

Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite Being at the roots of our own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present from God, as free gift of love. This is the existential contact of which we speak when we use the metaphor of being “touched by God.”

Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are word of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo.

We ourselves become His echo and His answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question and in awakening us to contemplation He answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 3, 5

Thomas Keatinghttp://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_people_keating

Fr. Thomas Keating is a founding member and the spiritual guide of Contemplative Outreach, LTD. He has served on Contemplative Outreach’s Board of Trustees since the organization’s beginning and is currently serving as the Chairman of the Board. Fr. Keating is one of the principal architects and teachers of the Christian contemplative prayer movement and, in many ways, Contemplative Outreach is a manifestation of his longtime desire to contribute to the recovery of the contemplative dimension of Christianity.

Fr. Keating’s interest in contemplative prayer began during his freshman year at Yale University in 1940 when he became aware of the Church’s history and of the writings of Christian mystics. Prompted by these studies and time spent in prayer and meditation, he experienced a profound realization that, on a spiritual level, the Scriptures call people to a personal relationship with God.

During Fr. Keating’s term as abbot at St. Joseph’s and in response to the reforms of Vatican II, he invited teachers from the East to the monastery. As a result of this exposure to Eastern spiritual traditions, Fr. Keating and several of the monks at St. Joseph’s were led to develop the modern form of Christian contemplative prayer called Centering Prayer. Fr. Keating was a central figure in the initiation of the Centering Prayer movement. He offered Centering Prayer workshops and retreats to clergy and laypeople and authored articles and books on the method and fruits of Centering Prayer.

http://in.integralinstitute.org/contributor.aspx?id=38
The contemporary form of centering prayer was initially developed during Keating’s tenure as abbot at St. Joseph’s, where he was inspired by the Second Vatican Council’s call for spiritual renewal in the Catholic Church. Keating would soon seek ways to keep young Catholics from leaving the Church in search of more contemplative—and Eastern—paths.

With the help of Keating and other Christian contemplatives like Thomas Merton, John Main, and Basil Pennington, the movement struck an obvious chord, drawing thousands of Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and others to workshops and retreats, especially the ten-day retreats at St. Benedict’s, which often fill up a year in advance.

It helps that Keating also has an unusually open-minded attitude towards the meditative practices of other traditions and has studied with spiritual teachers from a variety of Hindu and Buddhist lineages, for this lead to the creation of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference in 1982, where teachers from diverse paths meet regularly to compare notes and evaluate the successes and failures of their respective practices. Other organizations graced by the presence of Keating include the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (which sponsors exchanges between the monks and nuns of every religion), and the International Committee for Peace Council.

Richard Foster  – Quaker Mystic, biggest claim in earlier years is his book “Celebration of Discipline” published 30 years ago. He is said to have picked up the “mantle” of Thomas Merton. Foster may use the name of the Lord, but his teachings clearly do not reflect that of the gospel or sound biblical teaching. He is founder of Renovare, a non- profit organization which supports and teaches methods of spiritual formation. He was the lead editor for the Life with God bible. http://www.renovare.us/ Foster believes in, practices and teaches the use of guided imagery or visual imagination. See article from CIC at the end of this document.

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=2152

To capsulate, Richard Foster believes that anyone can practice the spiritual disciplines, including the discipline of going into the silence, and become more like Christ. Foster, who emulates the late panentheist monk, Thomas Merton, would agree with Merton who believed that divinity resides in every human being. That is why Foster did not hesitate to include panentheist Thomas Kelly in his book, Streams of Living Water. Foster quoted Kelly as saying “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return” (A Testament of Devotion, p. 29). It is in that same book, Kelly says that “[i]n that abiding yet energizing Center we are all [all human beings] made one” (p.38).

It is this belief that all is one and that this oneness can be realized through meditation that makes Foster’s spirituality so dangerous and contrary to biblical Christianity. In Streams of Living Water, Foster talks about “a vision of an all-inclusive people.” This vision would fit Henri Nouwen’s calling who said: “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”(From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book, page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition)

No one can argue that Celebration of Discipline and Richard Foster have had a tremendous influence in Christian spirituality today. But what must come to the table of discussion in Christian circles is is this influence for the better or for the worse?

http://apprising.org/2008/11/28/richard-foster-contemplative-prayer-the-wordless-baptism-into-the-silence-of-god/

Contemplative Prayer immerses us into the silence of God. How desperately we in the modern world need this wordless baptism… Contemplative Prayer is the one discipline that can free us from our addiction to words. Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence… It is recreating silence to which we are called in Contemplative Prayer…

A Warning And A Precaution

At the outset I need to give a word of warning,… Contemplative Prayer is not for the novice. I do not say this about any other form of prayer… Contemplative prayer is for those who have exercised their spiritual muscles a bit and know something about the landscape of the spirit. In fact, those who work in the area of spiritual direction always look for signs of a maturing faith before encouraging individuals into Contemplative Prayer…

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.

Richard Foster, (Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home, 155, 156, 157)

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/fosterquotes.htm

“Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood … his interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion …[he is] a gifted teacher …” (Spiritual Classics – p.17)

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=3071

The Christianity Today article defines Spiritual Formation as:

Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.

Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place, and who is eligible to participate in such a process.

The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, mainly through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through mantra meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will hear from God, and He will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist — anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ).

____________________________

A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you

http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue112.htm

Richard Foster—Celebration of Deception

by Bob DeWaay

In February 2008, Christianity Today ran a glowing cover story about Evangelicalism’s recent embrace of medieval Roman Catholic mysticism entitled The Future lies in the Past.1 The article traced the beginning of the movement as follows: “The movement seems to have exploded in a 24-month period in 1977-1978, which saw the publication of Richard Foster’s bestselling Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and Robert Webber’s Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity.”2

The article views Foster as one who continues to guide the movement: “From Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and living practicing monks and nuns, they [those going back to Roman Catholic mysticism] must learn both the strengths and the limits of the historical ascetic disciplines.”3 So Foster was instrumental in starting a movement that is still growing 30-plus years later.

The irony about this particular CIC regarding Foster’s 1978 book is that in 1978 I myself was living in a Christian community committed to practicing much of what he promotes in Celebration of Discipline (even though we had not learned it from him directly). So I am not criticizing a practice about which I know nothing (or one in which I have no experience). I am criticizing a practice I foolishly allowed to deceive me for a significant portion of my early Christian life. When it comes to being deceived by mysticism, I have had abundant involvement. The only way I escaped it was through discovering and adopting the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.

In this article I will show that Foster’s “journey inward” is unbiblical and dangerous. I will show that most of the spiritual disciplines that he calls “means of grace” are no means of grace at all—but a means of putting oneself under spiritual deception.

The Journey Inward

The Bible nowhere describes an inward journey to explore the realm of the spirit. God chose to reveal the truth about spiritual reality through His ordained, Spirit-inspired, biblical writers. What is spiritual and not revealed by God is of the occult and, therefore, forbidden. We have discussed this in many articles and have produced DVD seminars on the topic. But the concept of sola scriptura is totally lost on mystics such as Richard Foster. They, like the enthusiasts that Calvin and Luther warned against, believe they can gain valid and useful knowledge of spiritual things through direct, personal inspiration.

Foster describes the idea of the disciplines that are the topic of his book: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.”4 So Foster has conceptually repudiated sola scriptura on page one to replace it with a journey inward to explore the realm of spirits. Something must have been seriously amiss in evangelicalism already in 1978 to render this book a bestseller! It ought to have been repudiated on the spot. In a footnote to that statement Foster writes, “In one form or another all of the devotional masters have affirmed the necessity of the Disciplines” (Foster: 1). The devotional “masters,” by the way, are mostly Roman Catholics who never were committed to the principle of sola scriptura. It is not surprising that they looked for spirituality through experimentation. But as an “inner light” Quaker, Foster never was committed to sola scriptura either.

Forgetting that the Bible forbids divination, Foster explains what he is after:

[W]e must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. . . . They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. (Foster: 13)

Realizing that his readers would likely take this as an endorsement of Eastern religions, he makes a disclaimer that it is not Transcendental Meditation (TM) or something of that ilk: “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it” (Foster: 15). But what Foster wishes us to fill our minds with are personal revelations from the spirit realm that we naively are to think are the voice of God. This sort of meditation is not meditating on what God has said, but uses a technique to explore the spirit world. In other words, it is divination.

What we learn about the spirit realm either is revealed by God (once for all in Scripture) or gleaned by man-made techniques. That distinction is the difference between Christianity and paganism. Only Bible believers know what God has said about Himself and what He wishes to reveal about the unseen spirit world. Foster’s material continues to be popular because we live in an age where being spiritual pioneers on a journey into the unseen realm of the spirits is the essence of popular piety. It is the spirituality of secular talk shows.

To fully understand the degree of Foster’s deception, he even calls these techniques to the inner journey “means of grace”: “They [the Disciplines] are God’s means of grace” (Foster: 6). As with all who teach spiritual disciplines, there are no boundaries to these false “means.” For example, consider this recommended practice: “After you have gained some proficiency in centering down, add a five- to ten-minute meditation on some aspect of the creation. Choose something in the created order: tree, plant, bird, leaf, cloud, and each day ponder it carefully and prayerfully” (Foster 25). This after he had just taught breathing exercises (a means of “centering down”). Then he makes a startling claim: “We should not bypass this means of God’s grace” (Foster: 25). And there we have it: meditating of a leaf can be a means of grace!

Foster’s journey inward is to discover a spirit world that is available for any who search for it: “How then do we come to believe in a world of the spirit? Is it by blind faith? Not at all. The inner reality of the spiritual world is available to all who are willing to search for it” (Foster: 18). He claims that this spiritual search is analogous to scientific experimentation. Never mind that every pagan culture that has existed has believed in the “spiritual world.”

Spirituality of the Imagination

The Bible does not have anything good so say about the imagination. For example: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the Lord'” (Jeremiah 23:16). A search of the KJV for “imagination” yields 14 verses, and in each case it is a bad thing. According to the Bible, the imagination is where people go when they do not want to listen to God.

However, for Foster the imagination is central: “The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. We fail today to appreciate its tremendous power. The imagination is stronger than conceptual thought and stronger than the will” (Foster: 22). Some of the authorities he cites on this point are C. G. Jung, Ignatius of Loyola, and Morton Kelsey. Jung is famous for his concept of the collective unconscious, and Kelsey was an Episcopal priest committed to Jungian principles. Kelsey wrote many books promoting mysticism. The advice Foster gleans from these teachers is that we must learn to think in images and take our dreams to be a possible doorway into the spirit world. Foster claims that dreams are something we already have and can help us develop the use of the imagination. He says, “Keeping a journal of our dreams is a way of taking them seriously” (Foster: 23).

There is, Foster warns, a danger to this process: “At the same time [that we ask for dreams to be God speaking to us], it is wise to pray a prayer of protection, since to open ourselves to spiritual influence can be dangerous as well as profitable” (Foster: 23). I would say that is asking God to protect us as we use various techniques to go where He does not want us to go (into the world of the spirits to gain information). The danger he warns of is far greater than Foster imagines. Those who take the journey inward will be deceived—every time! We are not equipped to gain spiritual information from that realm. That is why God speaks to us through His ordained mediators (the inspired Biblical writers); otherwise we would be fishing in the dark in a medium we are not suited for.

Foster teaches his readers to use their imaginations to experience Biblical stories with the five physical senses. Here is what he claims will happen:

As you enter the story, not as a passive observer but as an active participant, remember that since Jesus lives in the Eternal Now and is not bound by time, this event in the past is a living present-tense experience for Him. Hence, you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by His voice and be touched by His healing power. It can be more than an exercise of the imagination; it can be a genuine confrontation. Jesus Christ will actually come to you. (Foster: 26)

Showing that Foster’s ideas are still influential in our day, Greg Boyd cites some of Foster’s words here to support what he calls “cataphatic prayer” which uses the imagination and images as a means to contact God and gain spiritual information.5 Those who endorse this practice assume they are not being deceived by spirits, but I cannot see on what grounds.

Foster prescribes a practice using one’s imagination that mimics astral projection to the degree that he actually includes a footnote disclaimer stating that it is not astral projection (Foster 28). It begins by telling his readers to imagine themselves going out into nature into a beautiful place (Boyd describes how he practices this, as well as its results6). After enjoying the sights and smells (in your imagination) these are the next steps:

In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily. Imagine your spiritual self, alive and vibrant, rising up through the clouds and into the stratosphere. . . Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given. With time and experience you will be able to distinguish readily between mere human thought that may bubble up to the conscious mind and the True Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart. (Foster: 27, 28)

I must ask how one knows whether “True Spirit” is not a deceiving one? Mysticism’s fatal flaw is that it naively assumes that Christians having subjective religious experiences must therefore be having Christian experiences that are truly from God—even if the experiences were provoked through unbiblical practices similar to those used by pagans.

Mental Alchemy

Foster’s approach to prayer is laced with mysticism as well. He claims that prayer needs to be learned from people who have the right experiences and are “masters” who know what they are doing. Foster does not teach ordinary prayer, whereby we bring our needs and requests to the Lord and know that He hears us (because He promised that He does). Here is why he thinks such prayer fails:

Often people will pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they were not contacting the channel. We begin praying for others by first centering down and listening to the quiet thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition (Mt. 6:7). Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession. (Foster: 34)

Of course this means we have to become mystics if we want to pray.

He teaches that we first must hear personal revelations from God, using meditation techniques such as he teaches, before we pray. He says: “The beginning point, then, in learning to pray for others is to listen for guidance . . . This inner “yes” is the divine authorization for you to pray for the person or situation” (Foster: 35). No! Foster is wrong! The only authorization we need to pray is the Biblical command to pray—not personal revelations.

For Foster, meditation (mystical style) is necessary but not sufficient. He also brings the imagination into the process: “As with meditation, the imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer” (Foster: 36). He credits Agnes Sanford7 for helping him see the value of using the imagination in praying. Foster writes, “Imagination opens the door to faith. If we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it is only a short step to believing it will be so” (Foster: 36). Sanford got her ideas from Theosophy, New Thought, Jung, and Emmet Fox. These ideas, echoed by Foster, come from the unbiblical “mind over matter” thinking of that era. That kind of thinking uses creative visualization to change reality or channel spiritual power. Foster suggests, “Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day” (Foster: 39).

In his 1985 book, The Seduction of Christianity, Dave Hunt labeled creative visualization such as what Foster promotes, “mental alchemy.”8 Hunt warned the church that Foster promoted such mental alchemy in Celebration of Discipline, and as we have shown, he, in fact, does. So how is it that 24 years after Hunt’s warning Foster is more popular than ever with Evangelicals? The answer is end times deception. Now, a huge movement that claims to be a reformation promoting Foster, Willard and their versions of mysticism does exist (i.e., The Emergent Church). Things have gotten so very much worse.

Spiritual Directors

Once mysticism and the supposed need to gain personal revelations from God are embraced, there arises a need for new “masters” who are better at navigating the spirit world. Pagan societies have always had such persons. They are called “shamans.” Eastern religion calls them “gurus.” Deceived Christians call them “spiritual directors.” Foster explains, “In the Middle Ages not even the greatest saints attempted the depths of the inward journey without the help of a spiritual director” (Foster: 159). The problem, according to Foster, is that the churches (in 1978) lacked “living masters”:

No doubt part of the surge of interest in Eastern meditation is because the churches have abrogated the field. How depressing for a university student, seeking to know the Christian teaching on meditation, to discover that there are so few living masters of contemplative prayer and that nearly all of the serious writings on the subject are seven or more centuries old. No wonder he or she turns to Zen, Yoga, or TM. (Foster: 14)

Foster’s dream has come true. Today people can even practice Yoga in a Christian church. We have Christian TM; it is called contemplative prayer. Yes, Eastern religion has come right into the church, and Foster has helped usher it in.

But what about “living masters” or spiritual directors? In 1972 Morton Kelsey lamented their lack: “Indeed I would suggest that everyone who is serious about relating to the spiritual realm find himself a spiritual director, if there were more men trained and experienced in this way.”9 That “problem” has been solved in a huge way. Evangelical theology schools are now offering masters degrees in “spiritual formation” in order to equip people to be “spiritual directors.” Here is what Biola University says about its program: “This degree is designed to equip men and women for the ministry of spiritual direction, discipleship, formation and soul care in the local church and for further academic training in spiritual formation.”10 Spiritual Directors International will help you find a spiritual director regardless of your religion.11 Richard Foster’s own Renovare, which purports to “encourage renewal in the Christian church,” has a list of spiritual direction programs.12

Foster explains the purpose of the spiritual director: “He is the means of God to open the path to the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit” (Foster: 160). Apparently, in a full-blown rejection of sola scriptura where the Holy Spirit’s teaching is mediated to the church through the Biblical writers only, we need mediators for personal revelations beyond scripture.

Foster explains how spiritual directors lead: “He leads only by the force of his own personal holiness” (Foster: 160). In Roman Catholicism the Pope is called “his holiness” and in Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama is called “his holiness” but now evangelicals are developing a class of people who evidently deserve the title. How exactly are we to judge when someone has gained “personal holiness” sufficient to be a spiritual director and mediate spirituality to others? Foster says, “Though the director has obviously advanced further into the inner depths, the two [master and disciple] are together learning and growing in the realm of the Spirit” (Foster: 160). Foster cites Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton about how this works: “The spiritual director was something of a ‘spiritual father who begot the perfect life in the soul of his disciple by his instructions first of all, but also by his prayer, his sanctity and his example. He was . . . a kind of ‘sacrament’ of the Lord’s presence in the ecclesiastical community” (Foster: 161).

End Times Delusion

When it comes to end times deception, Foster is on the cutting edge of embracing it. Consider what he wrote: “In our day heaven and earth are on tiptoe waiting for the emerging of a Spirit-led, Spirit-intoxicated, Spirit-empowered people. . . . Individuals can be found here and there whose hearts burn with divine fire” (Foster: 150). Such inclinations have led to massive deception. They smack of the Latter Rain deception, now embodied in such false teachers as Rick Joyner and Mike Bickle. They are elitist. They are in line with the beliefs of the Emergent Church as well. He also says: “Our century has yet to see the breaking forth of the apostolic church of the Spirit” (Foster: 150). Now we have the New Apostolic Reformation claiming to be just that. Foster’s ideas now embody the massive apostasy and end times deception that characterize our age.

Foster’s teachings have taken the church as far away from the Reformation principle of sola scriptura as the Roman Catholic Church ever was. The only thing left is for them to bring us all the way back to Rome. Christianity Today praises Foster for pointing us in that direction.

In early 2008 I wrote a CIC article about how abandoning the principle of sola scriptura would lead evangelicals back to Rome.13 It was partly a response to the CT article praising mysticism. The response I received was rather unexpected. I was contacted by former evangelicals who had rejected sola scriptura and had gone back to Rome! They wanted to debate me about sola scriptura. Sadly, my point was proven. As a response to their misguided challenge our church hosted a seminar on sola scriptura, called Faith at Risk 4. In the seminar Gary Gilley and I defended the scriptures as the sole authority for the church.14

The aforementioned CT article discusses a new monasticism, former evangelical leaders converting to Roman Catholicism, and mystical practices like lectio divina—and they call all of it a good and hopeful thing. Chris Armstrong, the author of the article, concluded, “That they [evangelicals] are receiving good guidance on this road from wise teachers [Foster and Willard] is reason to believe that Christ is guiding the process. And that they are meeting and learning from fellow Christians in the other two great confessions, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, is reason to rejoice in the power of love.”15

Who is left to defend the principles of the Reformation? One would think Reformed theologians are, but they aren’t doing their job. In the last CIC article we mentioned Reformed theologian Donald Whitney who wrote: “Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline has been the most popular book on the subject of the Spiritual Disciplines in the last half of the twentieth century. The great contribution of this work is the reminder that the Spiritual Disciplines, which many see as restrictive and binding, are actually means to spiritual freedom.”16 That from a teacher in a Reformed seminary?

If a book that teaches Christian TM, Christian astral projection and mental alchemy by means of the imagination is a “great contribution,” then something is seriously wrong here. The delusion is so widespread that I see no other explanation for it than the end time deception predicted by Paul: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” (1Timothy 4:1). Another passage warns: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2Timothy 4:3, 4).

That time now is here. We are accountable to God for what we believe and practice. Those who wish to persevere in the faith in this age of delusion must base their beliefs and practices only on the truths found in Scripture. Foster’s journey into the world of the spirits will deceive all who enter it.

Issue 112 – May / June 2009

End Notes

  1. Chris Armstong, “The Future lies in the Past” in Christianity Today, February 2008.
  2. Ibid. 24.
  3. Ibid. 29.
  4. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper & Row, 1978) 1. All subsequent citations from this book will be bracketed within the text in this fashion: (Foster: 1).
  5. Greg Boyd, Seeing is Believing, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). Boyd cites Foster to prove that the Lord will actually come to us through our use of “imaginative meditation.” I deal with this issue more fully in CIC issue 83 July/August, 2003: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue83.htm
  6. Ibid. 111-125.
  7. I write about Sanford’s inner healing theories in CIC Issue 96: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue96.htm
  8. Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity (Eugene: Harvest House, 1985) 138.
  9. Morton Kelsey, Encounter With God, (Bethany Fellowship: Minneapolis, 1972) 179.
  10. http://www.biola.edu/spiritualformation/programs/
  11. http://www.sdiworld.org
  12. http://www.renovare.org/journey_training_direction.htm
  13. CIC Issue 105; March/April 2008: http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue105.htm
  14. That seminar is available here: http://www.cicstore.org/servlet/the-60/Faith-at-Risk-4/Detail
  15. Armstrong, Future
  16. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991) 23.

Published by Twin City Fellowship
Critical Issues Commentary
P.O. Box 26127
St. Louis Park, MN 55426
952-935-3100
pastorbob@twincityfellowship.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995 The Lockman Foundation.

2 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Contemplative Prayer and Lectio Divina

  1. Pingback: Christians – is such things as meditation and healing a sin? | Spiritual Center

  2. Pingback: Building the Sphere of Media Influence | m'kayla's korner

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