In what appears to be a sweeping phenomenon, Christian leaders are embracing practices and a new spirituality that borrows from Eastern mysticism and New Age philosophy. The changes are taking place worldwide and involve many of the most popular evangelical leaders including Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, Richard Foster, Tony Campolo, and Eugene Peterson.
In Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life, on Day Eleven, he encourages people to practice “breath prayers” by repeating words and phrases over and over in a mantra-style prayer, a practice used centuries ago by a group of mystical monks known as the Desert Fathers. This so-called “prayer” is identical to that found in Hindu yoga and Zen Buddhism.
Brian McLaren, leader of the emerging church movement has been caught with his hands in the contemplative cookie jar too by endorsing the back covers of some more-than-questionable books. One in particular, Reimagining Christianity by Alan Jones says that the doctrine of the Cross is a vile doctrine. Alan Jones is an interspiritualist and mystic in every sense of the words. Take a look at the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, of which Jones is involved. This group of about twenty includes Zen and Buddhist monks, New Agers and even Marianne Williamson and her Course in Miracles. The goal of this group is to integrate other world religious beliefs into Christianity.
McLaren has also endorsed the back covers of Dave Fleming’s The Seeker’sWay and Tony Campolo’s Speaking My Mind, both of which belief that Christianity is too limiting, and a union between other religions is necessary. In Speaking My Mind, Campolo states: “[M]ysticism [contemplative prayer] provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam.” (p.149)
Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church (with forewords by Rick Warren and Brian McLaren), encourages practices such as lectio divina, (p. 223) a form of mantra-style meditation and the use of labyrinths, maze-like structures. Historically and in most labyrinths today, a chanting prayer is used while walking the labyrinth with the purpose of connecting to God or what many call Divinity. According to most who promote labyrinths, it is not necessary to be a born-again Christian to reach this inner Divinity.
Bruce Wilkinson, author of Prayer of Jabez, does his part in bringing this new spirituality into Christendom by accepting universalist Robert Schuller’s invitation to speak at the Robert Schuller Leadership Institute this past January. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek and Foursquare President Jack Hayford joined Wilkinson at this year’s event. Incidentally, Hayford has no problem placing his name on the cover of Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, in which Foster quotes universalist Thomas Kelly as saying all human beings have a Divine Center.
Zondervan Publishing hopped on the band wagon too. A couple years ago they formed a formal partnership with Youth Specialties, host of the National Pastor’s Convention which brings in an array of New Age practices from labyrinths, contemplative prayer and yoga. Last year Rick Warren spoke immediately after the yoga workshop. This year Warren is incorporating into his Purpose-Driven Life youth ministry speakers from Youth Specialties and the pro-contemplative Group Publishing.
Ruth Haley Barton, formerly of Willow Creek and trained at the very contemplative Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation inWashington D.C., wrote Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and teaches contemplative prayer through her Transforming Center. Barton co-authored with John Ortberg Ordinary Day With Jesus, which clearly instructs readers in mystical prayer practices. And as if that were not enough to show Ortberg’s sympathies to this New Age spirituality, he will be speaking this year at the National Pastor’s Convention where labyrinths, contemplative prayer exercises, and yoga workshops will take place.
Do not think that the infiltration stops there—Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, endorsed the back cover of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits. Monk Kidd, once a conservative Baptist, began practicing contemplative prayer and has now become a major promoter of the practice and of feminine spirituality. When the Heart Waits clearly shows her descent into this belief system. What was Peterson thinking when he put his name on that book?
Christian magazines such as Christianity Today, Charisma, Youth Worker Journal and Discipleship Journal find nothing wrong with producing article after article written by those who promote this Buddhist-style New Age spirituality. Last October, Charisma magazine, carried an article called “Be Still and Know” in which contemplative prayer is described as a trance-like state of mind. According to Ray Yungen, author of A Time of Departing, this trance-like state is an altered-state of consciousness that the Bible warns about.
Others who have helped to propel contemplative spirituality include the late Henri Nouwen who said he was uncomfortable with those who said Jesus was the only way and Richard Foster who says we should “all enroll in the school of contemplative prayer” (Celebration of Discipline) but then warns us it could be so dangerous that prayers of protection should be said first (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home). In Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child he tells readers that Dr. Beatrice Bruteau is a “trustworthy guide to contemplative consciousness. ”What many may not realize when they read Abba’s Child is that Bruteau, founder of the School of Contemplation, believes that God is in every human being and that we can reach this Divinity through the conduit of contemplative prayer. According to Bruteau, “We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM.” (A Song That Goes On Singing - Interview with B.B.)
Evangelicalism is being redefined, reimagined and reinvented, and while many of these evangelical leaders seem to be rallying behind this redefining, a growing number of Christian believers are beginning to take notice, and a legitimate concern mounts. Will evangelical leaders continue in the direction they are heading or will there be an about-face and a return to the simplicity and purity of the Christian faith? For the sake of the gospel, may that be the case.