Doctors Look to Mysticism
In a profession that prides itself on evidence based medicine the introduction of mysticism is quite ironic. However, recent reports indicate that medical schools are now pushing "spiritual practices" and meditation:
Now 100 of the approximately 150 U.S. medical schools offer some variation of spirituality-in-medicine course work. And 75 of those 100 require their students to take at least one course on the topic.What is it that qualifies a medical doctor to give spiritual counseling and what is the basis for spiritual beliefs? The diversity of "ultimate meanings", expressed through naturalism, humanism, etc., indicates a meaningless relativism is embraced that is far from absolute truth. Where is the comfort in this?
"Spirituality is a part of caring for patients," said Dr. Puchalski, director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health. "It goes to the very root of who we are."
According to the MSOP, "spirituality is recognized as a factor that contributes to health in many persons. It is expressed in an individual's search for ultimate meaning through participation in religion, and/or belief in God, family, naturalism, humanism and the arts. All of these factors can influence how patients and health care professionals perceive health and illness and how they interact with one another."
The power, as it turns out, is in the mind. "If a patient believes ...." then they will be helped. Humanism repackaged. Yet, much of the contemplative teaching is not far from this and would likely be consistent with what a humanist or naturalist espouses.
In an ultimate sense, what we do believe does matter. Belief is not an end to itself.
The Golden Compass: An Honest Critique?
Another Christian writer (Holly Vicente Robaina) supports the message contained in the Golden Compass:
I view Pullman’s work as an honest critique of the church, and an opportunity to assess areas needing improvement.Is it at all possible that the root of Philip Pullman criticism is hatred rather than an "honest critique"? Jesus was quite clear in John 7:7 - "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil." Why do Christians trust the assessment of an individual who is quite forthright in his denial of God and feel they have to accept the guilt of whatever accusations are brought forward?
Pointing out the hypocrisy of the church is not a justification for denying Christ and applying the guilt of some within the church to the corporate body is an inaccurate and unjust attack on the Bride of Christ.
On the otherhand, I do agree with Robaina closing remarks, which summarize the theme of the article:
It’s no surprise some of the best opportunities to share our faith spring from the greatest challenges to our faith.
The Failure of Seeker Friendly Churches
It's hard to objectify spiritual growth but a new study of Illinois based Willow Creek attempted to do just that. The conclusion is that activities and love for God do not necessarily correlate:
The findings, based on research at Willow Creek and similar churches, showed that involvement in church activities did not carry with it a boost in spiritual growth, defined as "increasing love for God and others."The question is whether or not seeker friendly churches will attempt to solve the crisis with new programs or seek their answers in Scripture. The response reported seems a bit contradictory and shallow:
The findings were not only enlightening for Willow Creek and it's 20,000 weekend worshipers, but also for the more than 12,000 churches in the Willow Creek Association that look to the church for guidance on meeting the needs of spiritual "seekers."
"They (church activities) don't seem to be lifting them up the spiritual ladder to a new level," said Cally Parkinson, who helped manage the evangelical church's research effort.
"It is causing me to ask new questions," Hybels acknowledged in the foreword to "Reveal," the 110-page book that detailed the research results. "It is causing me to see clearly that the church and its myriad of programs have taken on too much of the responsibility for people's spiritual growth."What questions should these churches be asking and where should they seek their answers? The situation is not easy but the solutions are available.
Willow Creek is now building an online "next-step tool" that will direct people to books, videos and other activities based on answers to questions about their spiritual path.
Bush Honors Buddhist
Last week a "born-again" President stated that all religions pray to the same God. This week in front of the United States House of Congress, Tibetan monks were chanting to the gods and a "man of peace" (HT: Understand the Times):
President Bush and the leaders of Congress put aside their differences Wednesday to bestow the nation's highest civilian honor upon the Dalai Lama, calling the exiled Tibetan religious leader a "warrior for peace."Is it possible to honor the Dalai Lama without endorsing the belief system he represents? I don't think so and neither do the politicians who capitalized on the occasion to get in front of the camera:
The Dalai Lama said he was "deeply touched" by his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal, which he received in an ornate ceremony under the U.S. Capitol dome — but not before having a hearty laugh over his inability to speak perfect English.
"It is a great honor for me to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. This ... will bring tremendous joy and encouragement to the Tibetan people, for whom I have a special responsibility," the Dalai Lama said, reading from his prepared remarks
"It is a rare privilege to share this stage and this day with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. He is a one-man warrior for peace. He is a one-man warrior for spirituality," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sad.
"The efforts of this blessed man are not limited to Tibet. His wisdom and his compassion transcend international boundaries," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
"At a moment in world history when nothing is as short as a supply as moral authority, this humble Buddhist monk has an inexhaustible supply," Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said.
From a Reader on Contemplative Prayer
I've read several of your entries on Contemplative Prayer and mysticism and would like to thank you for posting these concerns. I, too, as a former astrologer and New Ager now in full time ministry, have the same concerns because I'm aware of the Eastern influences on Merton, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington and others. I have noticed the similarities of some of these prayer techniques to Buddhist meditation (which I practiced for many years).Thanks for the email. I hope our readers find benefit in your articles.
I have been following the surging popularity of this mysticism in the evangelical church for the past 10 years. I also heard Thomas Keating speak in person at a church near me in May, 2005, and spoke with him personally afterwards.
I thought you might be interested in my article on Contemplative Prayer on my website. I also have an article on the misuse of Ps 46.10 ("Be Still") to promote a mystical silence as the way to know and "commune" with God.
I also have an article on Christian concerns about labyrinths, "The Labyrinth: A Walk By Faith?"
True Christian life
The true Christian life, true spirituality, is not merely a negative not -- doing of any small list of things. Even if the list began as a very excellent list of things to beware of in that particular historic setting, we still must emphasize that the Christian life, or true spirituality, is more than refraining from a certain external list of taboos in a mechanical way.
We do not come to true spirituality or the true Christian life merely by keeping a list, but neither do we come to it merely by rejecting the list and then shrugging our shoulders and living a looser life.
- Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality
Making the Message Relevant
Slice of Laodicea reports that VCY America has dropped Chuck Swindoll from its programming line-up as a result of his use of crude illustrations and, at times, questionable theology. I don’t share all of VCY’s objections but noted with alarm Swindoll’s response to an objection raised regarding his use of a vulgar and crude movie during a particular program:
Chuck feels that we must be real, in order to meet real people in their real world. In other words, if people won’t come to the sanctuary because ‘it’s not relevant to my life these days,’ then we must make it relevant by delivering a message with which they can identify. Whether they live in the mansion on the hill or the inner city, the message must be capable of reaching BOTH or it misses the very souls who have the greatest needs.Scripture, as the very Word of God and the means that God uses to reveal Himself to man to ultimately and inherently relevant. In fact, it contains the most relevant message of all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the "good news". The significance of the message is not dependent upon either messenger, the mode of communication or the circumstances. Instead, the relevancy of the message is tied to the authority of its author and the glorious truth it contains: Jesus died for our sins.
Consequently, it is quite deplorable that a man of Swindoll’s stature would believe that the relevancy of Scripture is dependent upon the the use of a vulgar and profane movie - or any other illustration. Of course, I’m assuming that the "message" that Swindoll desires to deliver is indeed a direct product of the Word of God.
The Prayers of the Believer
An excerpt from "Being Human" which discusses the influences of platonic thinking on the church:
In the mystical tradition, not surprisingly, prayer using words becomes a means to achieve a state of passionlessness. This verbal prayer is said to be only the frontier of prayer. When the state of passionlessness is reached, then begins the wordless, contemplative prayer in which the heart lays itself open before God in total silence. A state of ecstasy is the result, but even this is only the beginning. “The expert,” so it is claimed, moves into a state of constant experience of the divine reality.
In order to achieve these states, techniques for prayer are proposed. An example is the Prayer of the Heart — the continual repetition of “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” Nicephorus wrote of this prayer:
In every man inner talking is in the breast. For, when our lips are silent, it is in the breast that we talk and discourse with ourselves, pray and sing psalms, and do other things. Thus, having banished every thought from this inner talking (for you can do this if you want to), give it the following short prayer: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!"- and force it, instead of all other thought, to have this one constant cry within. If you continue to do this constantly, with your whole attention, then in time this will open for you the way to the heart which I have described.But what about Jesus' warning against prayers of vain repetition (Mt. 6:7)? The Prayer of the Heart is really no different from the mantra of Eastern thought. Some Christians use this prayer today, but we should see that the framework in which the use of this prayer and other techniques like it arose, has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. These techniques may certainly produce intense experiences (as does the use of a mantra), but they are quite unrelated to genuine Christian prayer.
Emphasis on this sort of meditation and the mysticism of union with God became, unhappily, a broad stream in the history of the Christian church. The medieval work The Cloud of Unknowing betrays in its title the influence of the negative way and of Dionysius. This stream is still with us and its tributaries continue to flow through the evangelical church in unexpected places.
Is Contemplative Prayer Christian Prayer?
The origin of contemplative prayer and its spread from catholic mystics into protestant circles was recently discussed in a revealing article published by a number of media outlets (click here):
While contemplative prayer has been taught over centuries by Catholic mystics like St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton, its most recent revival came through people like the Rev. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, and the Rev. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who died in 1996.Foster, Warren, and Manning - common names in many evangelical circles. But is the type of prayer promoted in the article above really "Christian"? The Westminster Catechism, a product of the protestant reformation defines prayer this way:
Its spread to non-Catholic corners has been spurred by Protestant thinkers like Richard Foster, a Quaker teacher; the Rev. Rick Warren of "Purpose-Driven" fame; and Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest popular among evangelicals.
"This is really a very old Christian form of prayer which does not use words or active intellectual meditation," said Sister Marianne Burkhard, who leads a class in contemplative prayer at Holy Family Catholic Parish. "It is what is often called the 'receptive form of prayer' which cultivates stillness and interior silence."
The head of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria's tribunal isn't surprised that Protestant interest in contemplative prayer has grown.
"It's really a Christian prayer," she said. "It was developed mostly before the Reformation and it's based on Scripture. You can practice this from whatever denomination you come from. (Protestants) have found that this spirituality coming from the old Catholic tradition or even the newer one is very compatible with their own expression of their own denominational faith."
Q. 98. What is prayer?Contemplative prayer, on the otherhand, is thought to be a way of obtaining knowledge of God by emptying one's mind and receiving/experiencing:
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Burkhard defined contemplative prayer as "the growing and deepening knowledge of God."How is it that one knows without thinking or understands by repetitious utterances which have no meaning? The method may give the individual a temporary inner peace or calm the emotions, but the Bible, received through faith, is the means for knowing God.
"At some point, you realize you're starting to understand faith better or that you get insight into your life or the difficulties of your life, so that contemplation is often something that works slowly in you. At some point, you realize, 'Oh my goodness, I have really learned a lot and see things differently.'"
Contemplative prayer is usually preceded by centering prayer, Burkhard said, a period typically lasting 20 minutes during which the person praying clears away active thinking.
"You try to get away from all your thoughts and emotions and perceptions and images that float constantly through our minds," Burkhard said. "The teaching is that you choose a word which is called the 'sacred word,' which can be something like 'Jesus,' 'Mary,' 'Let go,' 'Listening,' anything that is simple and signifies my intention to be present to God."
The person praying then silently says that word in order to "let these other thoughts go," the sister said.
How did we come to know God except through the Gospel, revealed in His word? [1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.]
We can only know God as He makes Himself known to us. God has communicated Himself in person, words and propositions which have been recorded for us in Scripture. He is not silent but has accommodated Himself to our lowly capacity that we might apprehend His purpose. Our faith is not based in any speculation or man-made philosophy but is based on the historic Christian faith which is recorded in the completed canon of Scripture. The Scriptures are without error (inerrant and infallible) in the original manuscripts, and represent the supreme and final authority for our faith and practice. The Bible is our guide in all matters regarding doctrine, church practice, counseling and individual behavior. We should, therefore, always be reforming our thoughts of God in order to be more God-honoring & consistent with the Word of God. The Scriptures were written by divinely inspired humans and are Godss revelation of Himself to everyone. (Exodus 24:4;Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21) - Monergism