Archive | October 2015

RICHARD ROHR’S ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTICISM IN THE CHRISTIAN & MISSIONARY ALLIANCE CHURCH

(367) EMERGING TRENDS IN YOUR CHURCH TODAY:  ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTICISM AT YOUR DOORSTEP – Part 2.

=> RICHARD ROHR’S ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTICISM IN THE CHRISTIAN & MISSIONARY ALLIANCE CHURCH

As a continuation of Part 1, an example of how the Evangelical church is racing towards syncretic practices of combining various types of mystical practices from Eastern religions and ancient Roman Catholic mysticism, the following example is taken from the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church (picking on my denomination first – to be fair).  What makes this so concerning is that the denomination’s colleges (e.g. Nyack) and Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS) are increasingly exposing their students (i.e. future pastors of the denomination) to this mysticism. In this case, we will look at a popular Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr.  Several professors within the C&MA are assigning Rohr’s works as part of the requirements for completing courses.

=> Let me first stress that I have no intention to question the motives of the following people, nor do I question their dedication to their calling and their faith.  God uses all of us in spite of our limitations and mistakes – thank God.  But we are called to judge what is being taught in light of Scripture – especially when it involves protecting the flock from potential false teaching.

Let’s look at one example from Learn to Discern

=> Dr. James DanaherProfessor of Philosophy at Nyack – B.A. Ramapo College; M.A. Montclair State University; M.A. New School; M.Phil., Ph.D. City University of New York

Front and center on the “Nyack’s College of Arts & Sciences January 2014 Facebook Page & Blog” is Dr. James P. Danaher’s newest book: The Second Truth complete with Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico endorsement.

Note also that Danaher’s new book is also endorsed by one Maggie Ross. Ross, a mystic Anglican solitary, is the author of several books including Writing the Icon of the Heart, which in turn, was endorsed (no surprise) by James P. Danaher, author of Contemplative Prayer: A Theology for the Twenty­first Century; Fr. Richard Rohr, Founding Director, Center for Action and Contemplation; and John H. Armstrong, President.

For more Rohr scroll down the Nyack Arts & Sciences Facebook Page to find a prominent photograph of the Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy (The Perennial Tradition) explored by 21st. century thinkers including: Richard Rohr, Mark S. Burrows, Ilia Delio, David G. Benner, John L. Esposito, Diana Butler Bass, Mary Beth Ingham, James P. Danaher, Robert Sardello, Jamie L. Manson, James D. Kirylo, Cynthia Bourgeault, and James Finley.

Exactly who are these other authors? While researching these authors, whom I’d dub: “Rohr’s Radicals,” I’ve found most of this group to be the cream of the crop of vocal liberals who’ve embraced Rohr’s “we are all one” mantra. And just who are the “who’s who” of Rohr’s ardent admirers? To begin there’s Mark S. Burrows, mystic poet and scholar, who translated Rilke poetry from German to English. There’s Sr. Ilia Delio OSF, an outspoken theologian scientist and author, who reimagines Christ by teaching evolutionary Catholicism or cosmic Christology. There’s David G. Benner, an ex­evangelical depth psychologist and soul care author, who left his former faith for mystical practices (contemplative prayer, lectio divina, icons) and interfaith dialog (Buddhists, Taoists). There’s John L. Esposito, once a monk, who now is an expert on world religions and a spokesperson for Muslim & Christian understanding. There’s Diana Butler Bass, Episcopalian feminist, who is a contributing editor for JimWallis’ Sojourner Magazine, and a friend of such Emergents as Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, and Tony Jones. There’s Sr. Mary Beth Ingham CSJ, philosophy professor and author of a book with Richard Rohr, as well as numerous books on Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus.

There’s James P. Danaher, Nyack College Philosophy Chair, postmodern and contemplative author of four Rohr  ­endorsed books, and advisor to and writer for Rohr’s Oneing journal. There’s Robert Sardello, a leading philosopher of the soul revered by authors James Hillman and Thomas Moore, who as co­founder of the School of Spiritual Psychology has authored such books as Steps on the Stone Path: Working with Crystals and Minerals as a Spiritual Practice and Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness. There’s Jamie L. Manson, a Catholic feminist and defender of the homosexual agenda, and columnist for The National Catholic Reporter. There’s James D. Kirylo, professor of education and defender of “Liberation Theology,” who authored the book Paulo Freire: The Man from Recife. Finally, there’s James Finley, once a monk mentored by Thomas Merton, now turned clinical psychologist who teaches such retreats as: “The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha for Us All,” “The Interior Castle of St. Theresa of Avila, ” and “Zen as a Path of Spiritual Fulfillment.

On the opening page you can also find the meaning of the old English word “oneing as used by mystic Lady Julian of Norwich. It is defined this way: “Oneing describes the encounter between God and the soul. The Rohr Institute proudly borrows the word to express divine unity between all divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms in the world. We pray and publish with Jesus’ words, ‘that we may be one.'” Ponder this statement!! For “oneing’s” meaning unlocks the reason for Rohr’s purpose in promoting these mostly Roman Catholic, mystical, often radical writers. Yes, “oneing’s” meaning is what Rohr and his cohorts are all about!

Think! Dr. James P. Danaher, Philosophy Chair at “evangelical” Nyack is part of this group of writers promoting we are all one, and we are all divine. And then notice the members that comprise “The Rohr Institute Advisory Board:” James Danaher; David Benner; Ilia Delia, OSF; Sheryl B. Fullerton; and Marian Kustenmacher. This “five some” includes: Danaher, the contemplative philosopher; Benner the mystical depth psychologist; Delio the evolutionist nun; Fullerton the mind, body, and soul literary agent; and Kustenmacher the occult enneagram specialist. Once again the question must be raised: “How can an evangelical philosophy professor be associated with such a board?”

At the CAC web site we additionally find the “Living School for Action & Contemplation” whose all­star teachers each bear witness to the Christian voice of universal awakening, grounded firmly within its mystical and transformational tradition. Hoping to open Christianity to more inclusive theological visions a core faculty (Rohr, Bourgeault, & Finley) and invited master teachers (Rob Bell, David G. Benner, Walter Brueggemann, Paula D’Arcy, Ilia Delio, Ruth Patterson, and Robert Sardello) will teach deep and grounded practices in contemplative prayer, chanting, and kenosis. CAC writes: “In the joined presence of these faculty, this School is at its heart a Mystical Christian Living School.”

One can find Oneing and many more Rohr products featured on the New Age “Contemplative­Life” page with a “Mandala” icon at the top left corner of its web page. Read Rohr’s clear and concise definition of Oneing’s “Perennial Tradition Theme”, which is in all the world’s religions, is all about:

* There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things.
* There is in the human soul a natural capacity, similarity, and longing for this Divine Reality. * The final goal of all existence is union with this Divine Reality.

In conclusion, with the above description firmly in your mind, I would ask why Dr. James P. Danaher can continue to teach at Nyack College, and at the same time be part of this heretical organization? I would ask why Dr. Danaher’s newest book gets top billing on Nyack’s “Arts & Sciences” page and blog? I would ask why such a completely unbiblical and radical journal would be pictured as news worthy? I would ask exactly who it is that is responsible for allowing Danaher to be part of Rohr’s organization? Surely, not just Danaher will be held accountable; for those over Dr. Danaher will also give account for their encouragement, their endorsements, and their allowing him to continue to spread Rohr’s teachings to CMA students as well as the CMA denomination and beyond.  Let’s provide more context on Richard Rohr – Ray Yungen states the following –

Who is Richard Rohr?

Richard Rohr
Without a doubt, Catholic priest Richard Rohr is one of the most prominent living proponents of contemplative prayer today. His organization, The Center for Contemplation and Action, is a bastion for contemplative spirituality. And like our other contemplative prayer “school” masters, he has been embraced by numerous popular evangelical authors. Richard Foster, for example, had Rohr on an advisory board for a 2010 book Foster edited titled 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Devotional Classics.22

Rohr has essentially become the new Thomas Merton to an entirely new generation of evangelical Christians. In an interview, Rohr said:

[O]ne of my publishers . . . told me that right now my single biggest demographic is young evangelicals—young evangelicals. Some of my books are rather heavy. I’m just amazed.23

Rohr’s statement is correct about young evangelicals. A case in point is an organization called IF: Gathering. The leaders of IF are dynamic energetic women who hold large conferences geared primarily toward young evangelical women. While these women may be sincere in what they are trying to do, they promote figures such as emergent leaders Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, as well as Richard Rohr.

To further understand the significance of this, Rohr is a prominent champion for the idea of a global religion that would unify the world. He says that “religion needs a new language.”25 And that language to bring about this one-world religion is mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer)! Rohr stated:

Right now there is an emergence . . . it’s coming from so many different traditions and sources and parts of the world. Maybe it’s an example of the globalization of spirituality.26

This view ties in perfectly with the emerging church’s perspective that is so popular among younger evangelicals today. It’s no wonder that Richard Rohr and emerging church leaders (such as Brian McLaren) are so supportive of each other and endorse each other’s books.

In echoing Merton and Nouwen, Rohr also advocates the concept of dharmakaya. This is the recurring theme of the “school” of contemplative prayer. Rohr states:

God’s hope for humanity is that one day we will all recognize that the divine dwelling place is all of creation. Christ comes again whenever we see that matter and spirit co-exist. This truly deserves to be called good news.27

To dispel any confusion about what Rohr is saying, he makes it clear in the same paragraph what he means by God dwelling in all creation. He uses a term that one finds throughout contemplative literature, which signifies that Christ is more of an energy than a personal being. Rohr explains the term “cosmic Christ, telling readers that everything and everyone belongs to God’s kingdom.28 That’s even the name of one of his books, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.

In his 2011 book, Falling Upward, Rohr implies that we (humanity) are all an “immaculate conception.”29 If these things are true, then there was no need for Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for the sins of mankind. We would not need a Savior because we would already be divine ourselves. In truth, contemplative spirituality is the antithesis of the Gospel. That is why there are countless mystics who claim to know God (or Jesus) but will have nothing to do with the Cross.

Coming up next in Part 3:

  • Can You Trust Richard Rohr – from a Roman Catholic perspective
  • Other Contemplative Mysticism promoted by seminary professors within the C&MA (Nyack, ATS,….etc.)
  • Contemplative Topics Promoted at the Deeper Life Conference 2015

THE UNEXPECTED MONKS – AT YOUR CHURCH’S DOORSTEPS

(366) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: ROMAN CATHOLIC MONASTICISM AT YOUR DOORSTEP (Part 1)

Picking up from our previous posting on the growing inlufence of Eastern contemplative and mystical traditions on the church – similar news can be seen in Roman Catholicism monasticism affecting Evangelicals like never before.  We will begin to look at the growing influence of the mystical side of Roman Catholicism and its effect on the Evangelical Church.  The folllowing is an Boston Globe article that we will start our invstigation with –

The unexpected monks

Some evangelicals turn to monasticism, suggesting unease with megachurch religion – and the stirrings of rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo: of S. G. Preston. (Copyright 2008) Photo by Leah Nash (leahnash.com).

Evangelical S. G. Preston has committed about 50 Psalms to memory, and starts each day with a prayer.  (Leah Nash/For The Boston Globe)

By Molly Worthen

February 3, 2008

S.G. PRESTON IS a Knight of Prayer. Each morning at his Vancouver, Wash., home, he wakes up and prays one of the 50-odd psalms he has committed to memory, sometimes donning a Kelly green monk’s habit. In Durham, N.C., Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and fellow members of Rutba House gather for common meals as well as morning and evening prayer based on the Benedictine divine office. Zach Roberts, founder of the Dogwood Abbey in Winston-Salem, meets regularly with a Trappist monk to talk about how to contemplate God. Roman Catholic monastic traditions loom large in their daily routines – yet all three men are evangelical Protestants.

The image of the Catholic monk – devoted to a cloistered life of fasting and prayer, his tonsured scalp hidden by a woolen cowl – has long provoked the disdain of Protestants. Their theological forefathers denounced the monastic life: True Christians, the 16th-century Reformers said, lived wholly in the world, spent their time reading the Bible rather than chanting in Latin, and accepted that God saved them by his grace alone, not as reward for prayers, fasting, or good works. Martin Luther called monks and wandering friars “lice placed by the devil on God Almighty’s fur coat.” Of all Protestants, American Evangelicals in particular – activist, family-oriented, and far more concerned with evangelism than solitary study or meditative prayer – have historically viewed monks as an alien species, and a vaguely demonic one at that.

Yet some evangelicals are starting to wonder if Luther’s judgment was too hasty. There is now a growing movement to revive evangelicalism by reclaiming parts of Roman Catholic tradition – including monasticism. Some 100 groups that describe themselves as both evangelical and monastic have sprung up in North America, according to Rutba House’s Wilson-Hartgrove. Many have appeared within the past five years. Increasing numbers of evangelical congregations have struck up friendships with Catholic monasteries, sending church members to join the monks for spiritual retreats. St. John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota, now makes a point of including interested evangelicals in its summer Monastic Institute.

Photo: Members of Rutba House, Durham, North Carolina. Photo Copyright 2008 Davis Turner. Used by permission.Members of the Rutba House in Durham, N.C., gather for meals and morning and evening prayer.  (Davis Turner/For The Boston Globe)

“I grew up in a tradition that believes Catholics are pagans,” said Roberts, who was raised Southern Baptist and serves as a pastor in a Baptist church. “I never really understood that. Now I’d argue against that wholeheartedly.”

In an era in which televangelists and megachurches dominate the face of American evangelicalism, offering a version of Christianity inflected by populist aesthetics and the gospel of prosperity, the rise of the New Monastics suggests that mainstream worship is leaving some people cold. Already, they are transforming evangelical religious life in surprising ways. They are post-Protestants, breaking old liturgical and theological taboos by borrowing liberally from Catholic traditions of monastic prayer, looking to St. Francis instead of Jerry Falwell for their social values, and stocking their bookshelves with the writings of medieval mystics rather than the latest from televangelist Joel Osteen.

The New Monastics come from a variety of religious backgrounds, from Presbyterian to Pentecostal. All share a common frustration with what they see as the overcommercialized and socially apathetic culture of mainstream evangelicalism. They perceive a “spiritual flabbiness in the broader church and a tendency to assimilate into a corrupt, power-hungry world,” writes New Monastic author Scott Bessenecker in his recent book “The New Friars.”

New Monasticism is part of a broader movement stirring at the margins of American evangelicalism: Evangelicals disillusioned with a church they view as captive to consumerism, sectarian theological debates, and social conservatism. Calling themselves the “emerging church” or “post-evangelicals,” these Christians represent only a small proportion of the approximate 60 million evangelical Americans. Yet their criticisms may resonate with more mainstream believers. A recent study by Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois – one of the most influential megachurches in the nation – discovered that many churchgoers felt stalled in their faith, alienated by slick, program-driven pastors who focus more on niche marketing than cultivating contemplation. The study suggested that megachurch members know how to belt out jazzy pop hymns from their stadium seats, but they don’t always know how to talk to God alone.

Many New Monastics live and worship together, and their practices sometimes resemble the communes and house churches associated with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. Like the hippies who were “high on Jesus,” New Monastics tend to favor simple living, left-leaning politics, and social activism. However, they are quick to cite the intellectual seriousness and monastic forms of prayer and study that set them apart. “I doubt most of the Jesus Movement people were reading the philosophers of their day in the way I have friends reading Zizek and Derrida,” said Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of Missio Dei, a New Monastic community in Minneapolis. Van Steenwyk’s group has also compiled its own breviary, a book of scriptural texts that guides the group’s abbreviated version of the divine office sung in monasteries.

“The real radicals aren’t quoting Che Guevara or listening to Rage Against the Machine on their iPods,” writes Wilson-Hartgrove in a forthcoming book, “New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church.” “The true revolutionaries are learning to pray.”

Photo: Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove of Rutba House, Durham, North Carolina. Photo Copyright 2008 Davis Turner. Used by permission.Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House in Durham, N.C.  Wilson-Hartgrove is author of a forthcoming book about New Monasticism.  (Davis Turner/For The Boston Globe)

In their countercultural orientation, the New Monastics are true to the oldest monastic precedent. The founding father of monasticism, fourth-century Egyptian St. Anthony, gave away his worldly possessions and fled the temptations of the Roman Empire for desert solitude. Monasticism’s subsequent history is a complicated story of both extreme asceticism and descent into decadence, of the Vatican’s alternate promotion and suppression of charismatic holy men and women who criticized and compromised with the church hierarchy. Though by the 16th century there was much truth in the Reformers’ charges of monastic depravity and corruption, the religious orders made up a diverse culture still home to rebels and critics: Martin Luther himself was an Augustinian friar.

Though New Monasticism is not entirely a product of the evangelical left – the Knights of Prayer, for example, are not interested in liberalizing movements within the church – most  are trying to create an alternative to conservative mainstream evangelicalism. They embrace ecumenism over doctrinal debate, encourage female leadership, and care far more about social justice and the environment than about the culture wars. Shane Claiborne, founder of one of the best-known New Monastic communities, the Simple Way of Philadelphia, asks that churches that invite him to speak offset the carbon emissions produced by his visit by “fasting” from fuel.

Photo: Celebrating Communion with YWAM Portland. (Copyrighted) Photo by Leah Nash (leahnash.com). Used by permission.YWAM Portland (Oregon) members visit The Prayer Foundation Knights of Prayer housemonastery Chapel and celebrate Holy Communion with S. G. Preston and his wife, Linda(Photo by Leah Nash)

More fundamentally, New Monastics consider themselves “monks in the world.” They are not interested in extreme isolation or asceticism (though there are stories about the occasional Protestant “hermit” living in the Mountain West). Nearly all have regular jobs and social lives. From the traditionalist perspective, many break the most essential monastic rule: they are married. Most groups support those who choose a celibate lifestyle, and a few have a member or two who do so, but it happens rarely.

Five centuries of Protestant heritage have alienated most New Monastics from the notion of religiously motivated celibacy. More importantly, these groups do not aim to separate themselves from society – on the contrary, they see New Monasticism as a means to better integrate core Christian values into their lives as average citizens. This is the fundamental difference between old monks and the new. New Monastics often quote one of their heroes, Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who captured the ambitions – and the ecumenical limits – of the movement when he wrote in 1935, “the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new kind of monasticism which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ.”

Missio Dei is one of many groups that have deliberately made their homes in struggling urban neighborhoods. In addition to their routine of prayer and worship, they serve vegan meals to people on the street and offer hospitality to those who need it. Van Steenwyk sees hypocrisy in churches that preach social justice from the pulpit, but ignore their struggling neighbors for the rest of the week. “You can be involved with your church, but never really experience brokenness in another human being. Jesus lived with other people,” he said. “So we ask, what are the resources throughout church history that can equip us to live life that way?”

Serving the poor is not a new impulse among evangelicals, but serious contemplation is. American culture has never placed a high priority on solitude, and historically, self-denial has gone hand in hand with bustling capitalist productivity, not contemplation (though the Puritans did balance their active lives with a heavy dose of journaling and soul-searching). America has produced a few geniuses of contemplative life – Henry Thoreau and Emily Dickinson come to mind – but we have no indigenous contemplative tradition comparable to that of Catholic Europe or Buddhist Japan. Yet contemplation is the heart of what it means to be a monk: the root of the word, monos, means “alone” in Greek.

Evangelicals have been tentatively exploring that side of Christian tradition since at least the 1978 publication of “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, a Quaker theologian who recast fasting and meditative prayer for an evangelical audience. His book sold nearly 2.5 million copies and launched a cottage industry of evangelical contemplative literature – a phrase that, 30 years ago, was a contradiction in terms. Some evangelicals made pilgrimages to the handful of older ecumenical monastic communities abroad, such as the Taizé Community (founded in Burgundy, France, in 1940), and the Iona Community, founded in 1938 at St. Columba’s landing place in the Inner Hebrides. They brought back what they learned, and have tried to make it their own.

Not all of their co-religionists, however, are pleased with these new spiritual ventures. Van Steenwyk received e-mails from friends concerned about his “fringe activities,” including accusations that he’d “gotten into bed with the apostate Catholic Church.” Deborah Dombrowski, along with her husband, David, founded Lighthouse Trails Publishing and Research Project in 2002 to counteract the “infiltration” of evangelicalism by “mystical spirituality.” She fears that New Monastics’ contemplative prayer is no different from Eastern meditation, and their openness to Roman Catholicism is only the beginning: “where it’s going is an interspiritual, interfaith, one-world religion, where it all blends together.”

Though many Roman Catholics have mixed feelings about evangelicals who adopt a hodgepodge of watered-down monastic practices and call themselves “monks,” some are supportive of New Monasticism. They view the movement as part of a wider rapprochement between Protestantevangelicals and Rome. A half-century of theological shifts on both sides of the divide – Vatican II’s liberalizing impact on the Catholic Church, and the waning of Protestant fundamentalism – as well as the decline of traditional ethnic resentments and an emerging pattern of political cooperation have all prepared the way. Father Jay Scott Newman, a priest in South Carolina, said that the New Monastic movement suggests a profound shift in evangelical identity.

“Until very recently, an evangelical of whatever stripe included in his self-definition not just opposition to, but violent rejection of everything Catholic,” he said. “That’s no longer true.  That’s dramatic, revolutionary, and, I think, lasting.”

To some Catholic observers, it is no shock that evangelicals have begun to feel the lack of organized contemplative life and yearn for a bond with religious tradition – they’re only surprised that it took them so long. “Monasticism has been such a powerful thing in the West and the East for so long that it would be very peculiar if it didn’t, at one point or another, erupt in evangelical circles,” said William Shea, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross.

“It’s just too long, too deep, too creative a tradition.  You could call this movement ersatz monasticism, but I would hold back and ask, where might this lead?”

Molly Worthen, a New Haven-based writer, is working on a book about evangelical intellectual life.

EASTERN MYSTICISM & RELIGIONS IN YOUR CHURCH TODAY

(365) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: EASTERN MYSTICISM & RELIGIONS, IN YOUR CHURCH TODAY.

As we continue our look at the influence of Eastern Mysticism on Christianity in the church today, included are the covers of several popular books blatantly showing the interest and blending of Christianity and Eastern religions.

In one of the books, JESUS & BUDDHA by MARCUS BORG, this author is popular in many mainline denominations. Friends of mine who attend a local United Methodists church have read several of his books in study groups lead by the pastor.  I don’t get the sense that they are reading his material critically – if anything, they have been quick to show me the latest book that they are reading from his collection along with many other EMERGING CHURCH authors.  We have talked about Marcus Borg in the past – you can see the previous post on his beliefs. His unbiblical beliefs in Christ as well other unbiblical writings make it difficult to see value in reading his works.

Another popular way of thinking today is seeking how to incorporate teachings from Eastern religions into Christianity with the stated goals which go something like this – “since some of these religions use similar practices (e.g. meditation, contemplative prayer, breathing techniques….etc.), we can learn from these other religions which have been practising these for a very long time…..” (WITHOUT BUDDHA I COULD NOT BE A CHRISTIAN by PAUL F. KNITTER).  As stated previously, there are several problems with this approach, not the least of which come from the many warnings in Scripture to avoid practices from other religions (Exodus 20:2-5; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Kings 11; Romans 1:24-32; Deuteronomy 4. 27. and 29….etc.)

Getting back to a previous posting on THOMAS MERTON, he was a Roman Catholic Trappist monk and very popular writer with many of his books sitting in church libraries, on Pastor’s books shelves, and in individual book collections purchased from the local Christian book store.  While he claimed to hold on to his Christianity, by the end of his life, it is not difficult to read from his writings his syncretic blending of beliefs from Eastern religions including Buddhism.  He became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and popular author.  A multifaith review of the both of them includes –

Thomas Merton, the Catholic contemplative and social prophet, met Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist peace activist on May 26, 1966, and the two men from different religious traditions realized they were kindred spirits. Both were convinced that their spiritual practices had relevance to the problems of the contemporary world. Both believed that what Thich Nhat Hanh would later call “engaged spirituality” meant combining contemplation and action. Their interreligious dialogue would prefigure later talks between Catholics and Buddhists — especially the Gethsemane Encounter.

Robert H. King, a recently retired professor of philosophy and religion, sees in Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh “a new kind of spirituality that I believe may be the best hope for religious renewal in our day.” With great enthusiasm, the author summarizes the unique aspects of their writings with special emphasis upon Merton’s love of contemplation and Thich Nhat Hanh’s focus upon mindfulness, the practice of being totally present in the here and now.

The forerunner to their inspiring brand of engaged spirituality was Mahatma Gandhi whose social activism and nonviolence grew naturally out of his devotional life of mantra, silence, and retreat. As King points out, the nonviolence of these three spiritual practitioners was founded on their faith in the underlying unity of all beings. We affirm the author’s salute to Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh as global heroes who have bequeathed to us the lineaments of a slowly burgeoning engaged spirituality and interfaith dialogue movement.

Christians should be concerned with several issues in this review of Merton.  In a blog, it would be too long to go into much detail, but I hope it would be safe to say that these concerns would include the following –

  • having a “kindred spirit” with a Buddhist
  • “engaged spirituality” – combining contemplation with action
  • an emphasis of “mindfulness”
  • reference of Mahatma Gandhi as a forerunner to their beliefs.  Gandhi practiced MANTRA, SILENCE and RETREAT.
  • the “underlying UNITY of ALL beings”
  • interfaith dialogue

This is just from a brief review on Merton and Hanh.  There are several concerns – but let’s just pick out one to keep this blog brief.  What does “the UNITY  of ALL beings” sound like to you? Well, a common trend spreading today within Postmodern Christianity is a belief of universalism, unity, discouragement of absolute truth….etc.  In many respects, UNIVERSALISM represents a huge departure from biblical and historic Christianity.  Huge and irreconcilable?

Examples of how prevalent these authors are and the potential spreading of their beliefs within Evangelicism include several perspectives.

  1. Pastors, Elders, leaders in the church as well as Christians in general, don’t have a clue as to how far Merton merged his beliefs with Eastern religions.  The subtle hints in his writings turn out to be very blunt revelations in his later books.  It is no accident that he stated that to understand Christianity, one must first understand Buddhism.  Really?  Is this remotely biblical?
  2. Merton’s book on CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER is in itself a topic that syncretically blends Christian practices with Eastern Mysticism.  Related titles such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION, CENTERING PRAYER, and even SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES originate in these practices.  Unfortunately today, this language is commonly included in the church lingo that one hears among Christians today that few of us question what is the true meaning of these words.  What is truth? Well, I’m not talking about relying on what we are told these words should mean today but rather how the actual meaning of the words originated and are used today by many around the world engaging in various contemplative practices.
  3. Merton’s book by the same title, CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER begins with an introduction by the Buddhist monk, THICH NHAT HANH.  Now, why would you begin your book on prayer by using a Buddhist to influence the reader?  In some editions of the book, it is not obvious that Hanh is a buddhist.  Does the Bible have anything to say about promoting other religions, philosophies, practices from false religions?  Do we really need to debate this and look at what the Bible says about this?

What is unfortunate, in a recent seminar at my church, we had two speakers who teach at Alliance Theological Seminary referring to CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, THOMAS MERTON, BEING CENTERED….etc., not just once but on several occasions during the seminar.  Sad to say, most in the congregations blindly soaked it all in.  I want to make it very clear, I have no ill will against the speakers – some of what they taught was very good, biblical and practical for all of us to hear.  But, does that mean we can depart from the Bible in promoting people and practices such as Thomas Merton and Contemplative Prayer?  We are not talking about a difference in doctrine between various denomination but rather a difference in religion!  No small difference.  Especially since these other religious beliefs can open one up to unbiblical influences.  And even though these trends are becoming more popular among seminary professors across the country, these educated folks should know better – it is difficult to excuse a leader who is promoting beliefs that don’t come from Scripture.

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