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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.