(364) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – EASTERN MYSTICISM & THE NEW AGE AT YOUR CHURCH’S BACK DOOR
Have you ever considered how much of our society today is being influenced by practices from the East? Think about it. There are many areas of our life that involve these influences – some of which include:
- Alternative medicine
- Medical & health related treatments
- Fitness programs (e.g. Yoga)
- Meditation – public school programs involving children participation in meditation
- Language – words such as Yoga, Kharma,…etc., are commonly used today
- The increasing popularity of Eastern religions and philosophies (Eastern Mysticism, Buddhism…etc.)
Does your church have YOGA classes? If we focus on just one aspect of this increasing influence of Eastern philosophies on religious beliefs and experiences, over the last 20 years (+/-), Christianity in this country has gradually but steadily shifted to being more open and inclusive to these beliefs. Years ago, there was damage done by Liberalism in tearing down the authority of the Bible in mainline denominations. More recent history shows the effect of groups such as the Emerging Church and their inclusion of ancient Roman Catholic monasticism and Eastern Mystical beliefs in with Christian practices. This has been subtle and has not been paraded in the front doors of your church. Like many types of aberrant teachings being exposed to the church today, there has been a gradual syncretic blending of terminology, practices, theology…etc., from Eastern philosophies in with historic Evangelical practices. This commonly occurs through authors who write books sounding very Christian-like but including other terms and beliefs not found in the Bible. These trends are stated so matter-of-factly that they have become part of the vernacular within the church today. Topics such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION, MEDITATION, CENTERING PRAYER, GOING DEEP WITHIN YOURSELF TO UNITE WITH GOD, FOCUS ON BREATHING TECHNIQUES, STILLNESS, YOGA, SILENCE & SOLITUDE,…etc, have taken on meanings with Christian-sounding jargon but actually have minimal biblical support.
I think we will be seeing the next phase of this TRANSFORMATION of the CHURCH. This phase may not be as subtle in combining other religious beliefs in with Christian practices. Instead, they may include a more bold and wide scale – “front-door” approach. They will be endorsed by what used to be solid Evangelical institutions, teachers, authors,….etc. Just one example of this can be seen in this last months CHRISTIANITY TODAY magazine. The article is titled – CHRISTIAN, MEET CONFUCIUS. It goes into detail on how Christians could benefit from learning about what this ancient Chinese worldview can teach us as Christians. I’m not saying that as Christians we do everything right and know everything. But, for the popular Christian magazine (Evangelical) to promote this religion and say it is for our benefit to learn how this false teaching can benefit Christians violates much of what we are warned about from the OT and the NT.
Pagan beliefs are compared to sexual adultery in 2 Chronicles 21:11-13; Isaiah 57:3; Romans 1:24-32. The Bible in many places expressly commands us to NOT worship other gods or idols or not to engage in practices from other religions. It is mind boggling how today, Christians RATIONALIZE their justification of including these other beliefs. CHRISTIANITY TODAY continues its slide away from its original purpose and intent (grounded in an EVANGELICAL foundation) to expose many Christians to beliefs that may not always line up with the Bible. Now, so blatant, it is recommending directly going to these other belief systems to learn from them and apply their views in with Christianity. What? Here it is –
Evangelicals are sometimes suspicious of Eastern philosophy, viewing it as a major worldview competitor to Christianity. Gregg Ten Elshof, professor of philosophy at Biola University, wants to push back against this mentality, at least when it comes to the most prominent Chinese philosopher in history. In Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ (Eerdmans), Ten Elshof examines how the Confucian tradition can shed new light on Christian theology and moral teachings. Derek Rishmawy, who pastors students and young adults in California, spoke with Ten Elshof about the book.
What kind of belief system is Confucianism? And why should Christians pay attention?
It’s a matter of some serious, academic controversy whether Confucianism is a religion, like Islam, or more of a philosophy, like Stoicism or Aristotelianism. Religion or not, it’s one of the great wisdom traditions on life’s big questions. It studies the road to flourishing in personal, interpersonal, and political contexts, and how to locate yourself in the world. Since it’s been deeply formative for much of human history, it warrants careful attention.
What distinguishes Confucius from Aristotle?
The similarities outstrip the differences. They were both interested in the formation of good people, but both opposed a codified list for right behavior. From the good person, good behavior will come naturally. Confucius, though, is clearer on the distinction between moral goodness and a “well-styled” life. Aristotle discusses various moral virtues, but Confucius envisions a life that attractively and fully expresses human capabilities, including moral virtues.
You highlight Confucian insights that can sharpen Christian faithfulness. Which one is most urgently relevant for Christians in the modern West?
In a word, it’s relationality. The contemporary West has this standard conception of the person as an autonomous unit, a thing unto himself: We believe ourselves to be free-standing individuals who can choose to enter into relationships to make our lives better.
That is foreign to the Confucian way of thinking. Confucianism highlights the significance of relationships for understanding who we are, our place in the world, what we ought to do, and what the good life looks like. If there’s one place where the Confucian tradition can helpfully correct the contemporary Western mindset, it is here.
How can this emphasis on relationships affect the life of the church?
We often think of the church as a loose collection of autonomous individuals who are there to help each other grow in Christ or do the Christian life better. But we don’t equate belonging to the church with belonging to a family, at least as someone in ancient Near Eastern culture would have understood the family bond. People in that culture wouldn’t have been able to understand themselves, or their place in the world, apart from their families.
We’re grateful for our families, and we wouldn’t be here without them, but we can imagine living apart from them. Indeed, we very often choose to do so. The way we in the West think about family shows up in the way we think about the church. When Jesus (and Paul) call the church to be a family, though, it’s a call to something like the more relationally integrated, Confucian conception of family. You get a much different picture.
The Confucian emphasis on relationality can also help us better understand the dynamic of shame in Scripture. We think primarily in terms of guilt, which is almost inherently individualistic: I can’t be guilty for something you have done. But the category of shame is relational. If we are relationally connected, I can suffer shame for something you have done. Shame is helpful for understanding the social dimensions of the Fall.
Is there something particular about Jesus that reading Confucius has helped you better understand?
I’ve gained a more nuanced view of Jesus’ teachings: his command, for instance, to love our enemies. Before reading Confucius, I thought more or less that loving your enemies is about treating them exactly as you would a friend. Confucius helped me see that even though we should love our enemies, pray for them, and seek their flourishing, treating them identically to friends would be unwise in some circumstances. You might need to protect yourself from enemies, or create some distance, all the while continuing to love and pray for them. I read that injunction (and others) from Jesus with greater nuance and less rigidity than before.
(363) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – EVE BY WILLIAM P. YOUNG
Eve by William P. Young
A book review ty Tim Challies
On the positive side, I think [William] Paul Young has become a markedly better writer since The Shack. On the negative side, he continues to use his writing to undermine and redefine Christian theology. By my reckoning, that’s a net loss. Where The Shack was meant to revolutionize our understanding of God, his new novel Eve is meant to revolutionize and rescue our understanding of the relationship between men and women. And it is no less troubling.
Now, obviously Eve is fiction, which means it can be tricky to determine exactly what the author actually means to teach through his story. There is a lot in the novel that is complex and symbolic and that awaits the author’s authoritative interpretation. But what is clear is that Young’s novel is a retelling of the creation narrative through which he means to right a great wrong.
The story begins when a shipping container washes ashore on an island that exists somewhere between our world and the next. John the Collector finds a young woman named Lilly trapped inside. She is beaten, bruised, broken, and only barely alive. With the help of others—Scholars and Healers—he helps her to recover, to remember who she is, and to understand her importance in history. Lilly, it turns out, is a Witness, one who has the privilege of watching past events unfold so they can be properly understood and interpreted in the present time. Her privilege is to witness creation and the fall into sin, and in that way to provide an account that corrects all our false understandings.
What she witnesses varies significantly from the account we are accustomed to hearing. A sampling of the differences includes:
- She sees that the world began with a big bang and that this involved the passing of billions of years (“I can’t believe all I saw happened in six days.” … “What you witnessed, especially the Days of Creation, likely took billions of years.”). (Note: In the book’s acknowledgements section Young thanks Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe for helping him “craft the days of creation in a way respectful to both the text and to science,” suggesting he may hold to the day-age view and, perhaps, the existence of an historical Adam.)
- She sees Jesus create Adam as an infant from the dust of the ground, and sees God personally nurse Adam from his breasts (“Here in my arms and nursing at my breast is the highest expression of my creation.” “Mythology is responsible for many odd ideas. … Did your Storytellers think that Adam was created as a young man with no capacity, a brute ready to be programmed?”).
- She sees that Adam falls into sin before Eve was even created, and that the naming of the animals is an infuriating kind of penance for Adam (“Spinning away, the young man raised his fists and screamed fury into the sky, one word. It reverberated and echoed back as time and place and beast stood still. ‘Alone!’”).
- She sees that Eve is not taken out of Adam as much as she grows within Adam and is birthed from him (“Adam’s belly grew, expanding with a pregnancy. … In nine months God fashioned the feminine side of Adam’s humanity, the female who slept within…”).
- She sees that Adam and Satan (in the guise of a snake) conspire together to take advantage of Eve’s naïveté, so that Eve is an innocent party in her own downfall (“She had been betrayed and now was being blamed by Adam for what he had conceived in his own heart.”).
- She sees that God is triune and genderless and, therefore, best referred to with gender-neutral, third-person pronouns (“God turned Their face to the woman and gently spoke with words of sorrow…”).
In short, she sees a whole new and “corrected” view of humanity’s origins and depravity. Through this character, Young means to show that the story of humanity’s fall into sin has been co-opted and perverted by men in order to gain power over women. Eve’s role in offering Adam the forbidden fruit is a fable men use to dominate and control women.
“But it’s all just a story,” you say. True, but in this case, Young insists that his story, and the truth it contains, is the result of decades of thought and research. He insists that the truth embedded in this story has the power to free us from faulty interpretations of the Bible that have long corrupted human relationships. In an interview with Publishers Weekly he says, “Ultimately, the inspiration for Eve is the Scriptures themselves. The more I studied and pondered and conversed, the more I was driven back to Genesis and the iconic saga of Beginnings, and it was there I began to find answers to the big, system-shaking questions I was asking. Eve is my attempt to express some of what I discovered.” In that way he plays a character within his own work—the character(s) he calls the Scholar.
Now, it’s not like the book is all bad. In fact, there are points where it is downright moving. Young’s descriptions of God’s joy over his creation, and especially his joy in the creation of man, is powerful and stirring. Man’s response to God’s love is equally sweet. Young’s compassion in describing the agonizing abuse endured by Lilly can only come out of the heart of an author who has himself suffered. And the story, while perhaps too complicated at times, is well-written and well-told.
And yet it is, in the final assessment, a troubling, faulty, and even dangerous story. There is much I could say here, but for the sake of brevity, let me target the book’s big point.
Whatever else Young means to accomplish in his work, it is clear that he means to undermine the traditional accounts of creation and human depravity. As he reinterprets those two doctrines, he then reinterprets the relationship between the sexes, teaching that any pattern of authority or submission is necessarily a product of sin. Even Adam naming Eve is, in Young’s retelling, a display of his longing for power and dominance over woman. Young goes so far in his desire to show the sinful dominance of man that he eventually elevates woman over man, femininity over masculinity, as if one is the antidote to the other. “[Women] is Adonai’s invitation to embrace frailty and softness, to be whole and unashamed, to return fully from his turning.” In this way man’s solution for sin is not only the promised offspring of the woman, but woman herself.
Ironically, Young’s insistence on complete egalitarianism is inconsistent with his own story. His Witnesses, Scholars, and Collectors are all equals, yet each with his (or her) own role. Young’s world and his story only work when each of his characters freely and joyfully plays his or her role. In the same way God, in his creative work, assigned separate roles to men and women. In God’s world no role is better or greater or higher than another, but each is critical to the story he is telling.
God tells us that God created men to take positions of leadership within the church and family, and for women to joyfully submit themselves to this leadership. In this way God provides a much fuller display of who he is and what he is like. His image is shown not in uniformity but in complementarity. After all, the relationships within the Trinity display this very same pattern of leadership and submission. What is ultimately at stake here is not the relationship of man to woman, but our understanding of God as he displays himself in our relationships.
Behind Young’s retelling of this portion of the Bible is the question of the Bible’s authority. The only way he can teach what he teaches is by radically altering the biblical narrative. So has the Bible been wrong all along? Is the Bible only a figurative count and Eve a faithful interpretation? Were the authors such a product of their time, place, and culture that they biased their work with chauvinist ideas? As the dust settles, what exactly is true anyway? Read Eve and you won’t have much certainty.
In that same interview with Publishers Weekly Young says, “There are also some who will read it and won’t ‘see’ her, sometimes because the timing isn’t right and their life’s journey has not granted the gifts inherent in suffering, or because their assumptions are too overwhelming and powerful to allow them to hear.” More condescending words have rarely been uttered. He seems unwilling to consider that perhaps it’s not that our assumptions are too overwhelming, but that God’s Word is too clear.
(362) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY –
Why Don’t Protestants Have a Pope?
With the visit by the Pope, it is easy to get caught up in the festive nature of the events taking place to greet the Pope. Some Evangelicals today tend to ignore differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Kevin DeYoung looks at just one aspect of these differences.
This is one of my favorite URC stories.
Back in our old building–located on a busy street and right across from MSU–people would park in our parking lot without permission. While we tried to be gracious and as slow-moving as possible, sometimes we would have to tow vehicles parked on our property. On one occasion, a young man came into our building looking for his car. Our building manager kindly and patiently informed him that as per the signs in the parking lot, his car had been towed. The man was not happy. Our building manager continued to calmly explain the situation, but this man was having none of it. Even though he saw the sign which clearly stated his car would be towed, he just couldn’t believe a church would do this. Finally, he stomped out of our building and told our building manager exactly what was on his mind: “You guys aren’t very good Catholics!”
By definition Protestants do not make very good Catholics. (Or to be more precise, we are not good Roman Catholics, though I’d like to think a robust Protestant is a small-c catholic in the best sense of the word.) However much Protestants and Catholics can work together on social issues, and however much we may share an early creedal tradition, there are still many significant issues which divide us. One of the most important of those issues is how we understand the government that Christ gave to his church. In his massive four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) gives six reasons Protestants reject the primacy of the Pope and the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession.
1. The distinction between clergy and laity that underlies the Roman Catholic hierarchy is neither taught in the New Testament nor exhibited in the organization of the first-century church. To be sure, the Bible distinguishes between shepherds and flock. Church offices are manifestly biblical, but in Catholic theology “clergy” and “laity” refer to more than just “pastor” and “church member.” As Bavinck explains, “In the Roman Catholic Church ‘clergy’ has become the word for a special class of ecclesiastical persons who by being tonsured and consecrated have been separated from all others, constitute a unique class of ‘clerics,’ are in a very special sense the Lord’s possession” (4:358). By contrast, the Scriptures teach that the people as a whole are the kleros, the Lord’s possession and inheritance (Exod. 19:5-6). There is no special priestly class in the New Testament, for all true believers are filled with the Spirit, led by the Spirit, share in the Spirit’s anointing, are a royal priesthood and God’s treasured possession. Pastors and elders are shepherds who serve the flock, not priests who make sacrifices or hierarchical bishops who rule over the people. “Office in the church of Christ is not a magisterium but a ministerium” (4:359).
2. The New Testament knows no episcopacy that is different from the presbyterate. Acts 20 is the classic text, for there we see Paul using the Greek words for overseer (episkopoi) and elder (presbyteroi) interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28). Peter even calls himself an elder (1 Pet. 5:1). “Aside from the extraordinary offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist, there are only two ordinary offices, that of deacons and that of presbyteroi (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8): pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:17), those with gifts of administration (1 Cor. 12:28), those in positions of authority (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12), and leaders (Heb. 13:7, 17)” (4:360).
3. The apostolate was an exceptional and temporary office in the New Testament church. Granted, there should be a succession of apostolic truth, and there is a sense in which overseers/elders care for churches like the apostles did. But in the strictest sense, the apostles have no successors. They are a part of the non-repeatable, once-for-all foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). “The apostles had been the ear-and-eye witnesses of Jesus’s words and deeds. They were directly called by Christ himself to their office, received a special measure of the Holy Spirit, and were called to a unique task, that is, to lay the foundation of the church and to offer in their message the permanent medium of fellowship between Christ and his church. In all these things they are distinguished from all others, are situated on a level far above all their successors, and hold an office that is nontransferable and nonrenewable” (4:362).
4. There is no scriptural proof that Peter had a unique authority different from or superior to the other eleven Apostles. Even if we take Matthew 16:18 to mean that Jesus promised to build his church upon Peter (and not simply upon his confession), the fact is that Jesus only makes such a promise in view of Peter’s confession. Peter would be foundational to the early church, but so would the rest of the Apostles (Eph. 2:20), for they too confessed Jesus as Christ (Matt. 16:15-16). Moreover, the power of the keys was extended to all the apostles in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 (4:363). The picture of Peter in the rest of the New Testament is never one of a man who has been given (or understands himself to have been given) authority over the whole church. He is rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11) and had no jurisdiction over Paul (Gal. 2:6, 9). He is sent along with John to Samaria by the other apostles (Acts 8:14). He is never mentioned as prince of the apostles (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Rev. 21:14) and refers to himself meekly as a fellow elder (1 Peter 5:1, 3).
5. Even if Peter had been given unique authority over the church (which is not the case), this would still not establish the primacy of the bishop of Rome. For the Catholic understanding of the papacy to be true, it would have to be the case (1) that Peter spent some twenty plus years in Rome, (2) that he was the bishop there and primate over the entire church, and (3) that he consciously and intentionally transferred the authority in these two offices (bishop and primate) to Linus his successor. In Paul’s letter to Rome, and in his several letters from Rome, there is no mention of Peter’s ministry there, let alone a pontifical one. According to the oldest documents from the early church, the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, not by a monarchical episcopate (4:365). It was until the middle of the second century that the legend of Peter’s lengthy ministry in Rome began to circulate, a legend that Eusebius and Jerome would later make a part of the definitive Roman tradition (4:365-66).
6. The premise of the Catholic Church as run by a pontiff in Rome rests on a history that, even at its best, is filled with unfounded assumptions. As Bavinck points out again and again, if the primacy of the Roman bishop is true, then we must demonstrate that Peter spent decades in Rome, that he held the office of bishop and primate, and that he deliberately transferred this office to his successor at Rome. But later church tradition says Peter appointed overseers in other cities besides Rome. How do we know, if he meant to transfer supreme authority to any bishopric, that he meant to pass this primacy on to Rome? And if he transferred such power, where is the historical evidence for such a succession? And by what authority did he do so? “There has to be a divine law underlying this episcopal papal structure,” Bavinck notes. “But this is where the shoe pinched: it does not exist. Christ never said a word about Peter’s episcopacy at Rome nor about his successor. Neither according to Scripture nor according to tradition has Peter ever breathed a hint that the bishop at Rome would be his only true successor. The link between the primacy and the Roman episcopate is therefore only based on the fact that Peter did spend time in Rome and on the unhistorical assumption that he held the office of bishop and primate there” (4:367) With the entire foundation and unique authority of the Roman Catholic Church cobbled together by such dubious history, it’s no wonder that Bavinck remarks: “Eternity, here, hangs on a cobweb” (4:366).
So, that irate college student of yesteryear was right: I’m not a very good Catholic. The more important point to consider is whether the biblical and historical evidence suggests that I should be.
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(361) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: PRAYER by TIM KELLER
Author and pastor Timothy Keller has had a big impact within Evangelicalism over the last several years and after writing several best-selling books such as ‘The Reason for God’. One of his recent books is on the topic of PRAYER.
On many issues, Keller usually takes what would be considered a conservative position on many issues that fall in line with most other Evangelical doctrines. However, he occasionally writes about a topic or answers an interview question from a perspective that reaches further out on the spectrum resulting in conclusions that are at least questionable with respect to Scripture. These include topics such as homosexuality – where his core belief lines up with most but usually contain a few nuances that may lie outside the common Evangelical view. Another area has to do with the influence of early church Roman Catholic monasticism and Eastern Mysticism that has invaded the church – more commonly seen in the Emerging Church.
Tim Keller takes up the horn in his newest book, Prayer – in which he makes several good points but also in which he rides the fence on a few of these issues. Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, IL, reviews Keller’s book on Prayer. I don’t necessarily agree on every point made, but he identified the issue of MYSTICISM and ROMAN CATHOLIC MONASTICISM that has creeped into the Evangelical Church
Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,by Timothy Keller (New York: Dutton, 2014)
Popular pastor and author Timothy Keller is influential in evangelical circles today and his views on prayer will shape the understanding of many on the subject. Therefore it was reassuring to find that Keller’s take on prayer is biblical, for the most part. It was encouraging, for example, to find he often challenged both the “soft” mysticism of traditional evangelicals and the classical mysticism found in the Spiritual Formation Movement (pp. 51-52. 57-59, 181-182).
He also gives illustration warnings of such illuminaries as George Whitfield who elevated impressions to the level of revelation to his own harm (pp. 63, 995-96, 295). And he rejects what he calls “mantra” meditation (p. 51) and Roman Catholic mysticism (pp. 13, 38-40, 56-59, 149-150, 291). Keller rightly proclaims that God speaks to us through Scripture and we speak to Him in prayer (pp. 45, 52-54, 64, 66, 123-124), and that Scripture is sufficient (pp. 275-276). He includes an interesting historical perspective regarding the struggle between the Puritans, who modeled the above view, and the Quakers who sought revelation from God more from an “inner light” than from the Bible (pp. 123-124, 305).
Given this biblical foundation Keller suggests the Lord’s Prayer as our model (pp. 108-119) and then offers numerous practical insights and methods to aid the reader in their prayer life. As is common with Keller’s writing he draws as much, if not more, from famous Christian leaders as from the Bible. Luther, Calvin, C. S. Lewis, Martin Lloyd-Jones, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards are given much attention (pp. 22, 90, 97-107, 111, 152-162, 264-266). Along the way Keller identifies many types of prayer (p. 60) and what he calls the touchstones of prayer which explain what prayer is (pp. 120-141). This is one of the most helpful and practical sections in the book.
There is much to commend in Prayer, but there are concerns as well. Keller often, in his writings, affirms the teaching of highly questionable individuals. In Prayer he touts Roman Catholic author Flannery O’Connor (pp. 10, 276), existentialist Soren Kierkegaard (p. 138), emergent leader Phyllis Tickle (pp. 244, 247, 319), and even to some extent Carl Jung (pp. 38, 282-284). These individuals may on occasion give interesting quotes but their overall teachings need to be exposed as spiritual poison, not passed off as those who can teach us something about prayer.
I appreciated Keller’s honesty in not overly elevating experience, and he even admits that dryness in prayer is common. On the other hand, and without biblical support, he claims that prayer brings us into the presence of God (pp. 101, 134) and even tells us to ask the Lord for His presence (pp. 252-253). He apparently is not speaking positionally (for we are always in the presence of God who indwells the Christian), but experientially. In support of this understanding Keller quotes Edmund Clowney who writes “God does not merely speak…he is present. Prayer is steeped in the awareness, often an awe-filled awareness, of the presence of God,” (p. 132). Couple this statement with illustrations from Pascal and Moody (p. 167) and we have the makings for unrealistic expectations for our prayer life that could easily lead to disappointment and prayerlessness.
Keller repeatedly distanced himself from the mystics of the Spiritual Formation Movement, including contemplative prayer (pp. 13, 27) and Lectio Divina (pp. 149-150). He even demonstrates the similarity of Buddhist and Roman Catholic mysticism (p. 291). He believes, with Luther, that meditation is the bridge from the Bible to prayer (p. 40)) and offers John Owen’s stages of meditation as a model (pp. 152-162), carefully distinguishing Owen’s method from Lectio Divina (pp. 308-310). Yet sadly he does not close the door on mysticism altogether. He seems to speak positively of Lectio at one point (p. 144) and tells us to read the mystics with caution (pp. 284-286). But then buried in footnote number 300 he in essence claims that the modern “centering prayer” movement gets it wrong because its leaders have attempted to dumb down the true mystical system found in The Cloud of Unknowing. The implication is that modern mysticism has gutted the original of its depth. If the believer will but turn to the earlier teachings of this fourteenth century book they will find helpful insights on prayer and connection with God. To that end Keller recommends a handful of books supportive of contemplative spirituality (p. 274). This is highly disappointing.
Perhaps Keller’s philosophy is best understood when he claims that it is better to be doctrinally imbalanced and have a vital prayer life (p. 182). Of course the biblical approach is to be theologically astute and committed to prayer, so Keller’s statement is short-sighted at best. While temporally a seemingly passionate prayer life may trump doctrinal soundness, eventually theological error will morph prayer into something dishonoring to God (witness the modern centering prayer movement). Theology must inform and guide prayer, not the other way around.
Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God has a number of excellent features, but it is plagued with the concerns mentioned above. It should be read with discernment.