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(460.4) SPIRITUAL FORMATION – Part 4: BE STILL – Interpreting Key Passages in the Bible Used to Promote Contemplative Spirituality – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

BE STILL – PSALM 46:10


In the previous posting, we looked at how some misuse Scripture to fit its meaning to their own particular theology or belief.  In the case of SPIRITUAL FORMATION, there are many examples of this that affect both lay people up to authors, pastors and college professors.  

We will look at one of the most misused passages in the Bible relating to CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER under the guise of “good SPIRITUAL FORMATION”.  This passage is used to justify all types of interpretations which in some cases have nothing to do with what the passage is saying.

Psalm 46:10 –

Be still, and know that I am God;
mI will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! (New King James Version)

CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER proponents will use a passage like this and focus on the phrase BE STILL.  Does BE STILL imply for us to take a CONTEMPLATIVE approach to God?  Many Christians today will take this verse to mean that we should literally BE STILL and connect with God through some form of MEDITATION. They will say we need to engage in STILLNESS.  Even better, it is said that we can’t converse with God or even hear him except through SILENCE.  Let that phrase sink in a bit.

Is this what Psalm 46:10 is saying?  Again, read the passage in CONTEXT.  Read the entire chapter at a minimum to determine its context.  Read from alternate translations (literal) to understand the passage better.

Other translations of Psalm 46:10 –

  • 10 Desist, and know that I am God, I am exalted among nations, I am exalted in the earth. (Young’s Literal Translation) 

 

  • 10 “CEASE STRIVING and know that I am God; I will be bexalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (New American Standard Bible 1995 Update)

 

  • 10 “STOP YOUR FIGHTING —and know that I am God,  exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

 

The NASB says to CEASE STRIVING!  When you read the context of the chapter, you quickly realize that the passage does NOT have anything to do with STILLNESS and SILENCE in MEDIATION. It is a warning to the enemies of God’s people that God is mighty and He will crush them – therefore there is no reason for God’s people to worry.  God’s people need to settle down in light of this.

Commentaries include the following:

The Bible Knowledge Commentary states – “46:8–11. The psalmist exhorted the saints to observe the saving mighty deeds of God. These deeds portray how God brings peace to His people, destroying weapons throughout the earth. God Himself calls for the people to trust in Him and know that He is God, for He will be exalted throughout the earth. Verses 8–10 no doubt greatly encouraged the people of Jerusalem, as the final verse (v. 11) reiterates (cf. v. 7). Also to saints of all ages, the call for a silent trust in God’s saving power, in anticipation of universal peace, has been a source of comfort and strength.”

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states – “10 Second, the psalmist encourages the godly to “know” that the Lord is God. Though it was tempting to ally themselves with foreign powers, to rely on military strength, or to give themselves over to idolatry and pagan ways, the godly must learn to persevere to the end. The exhortation “be still” calls on them to stop doing one thing in favor of something else. What their temptation was may be implied from v. 2: “Therefore we will not fear.” Throughout the history of Israel and Judah, severe national distress brought the temptation to abandon true religion for the ephemeral security of political alliances, military strength, and worldly paganism (Realpolitik). Instead of choosing a negative option, the people of God distinguish themselves by the pursuit of godliness: “Know that I am God.” The “knowledge” of God includes a factual knowledge about him, his past acts, and his promises. But in this context the psalmist calls on them to commit themselves to the Lord and to seek his “refuge,” “strength,” and “fortress” (vv. 1, 7, 11). The life of faith is lived continually in commitment to God’s sovereignty, rule, and ultimate exaltation over all the nations (v. 10; cf. Hab 2:13–14). So Levenson writes, “In Jerusalem, there is peace and bliss” (p. 154; see appendix to Ps 98: Yahweh Is the Divine Warrior).

Matthew Henry states that  “Let his enemies be still, and threaten no more, but know it, to their terror, that he is God, one infinitely above them, and that will certainly be too hard for them; let them rage no more, for it is all in vain.”

Take a second and look at Psalm 46:1-9.  It is filled with language that talks about not fearing for God is great, He is our refuge, He is our strength…..etc.  In Psalm 46:10, those who go against God need to remember this of they will be reprimanded and rebuked by God.

Again, Psalm 46:10 – BE STILL has nothing to do about STILLNESS (as we commonly define it), SILENCE, MEDITATION….etc.  Many have used this verse to justify the inclusion of various techniques such as controlling your BREATHING during these times in order to FOCUS on GOD, repeating phrases (MANTRAS) over and over again to empty the mind and focus – MYSTICISM that has taken on the label of CONTEMPLATIVE or CENTERED PRAYER.

Where in the Bible does God command us to use repetitive phrases (mantras)?   It says the opposite –  

Matthew 6:7 – And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. (NKJV)

Where in the Bible does God command us to use BREATHING techniques?  SILENCE?…..etc.  It doesn’t.

God’s word doesn’t tell us to be SILENT in order to communicate with God.  Instead, God’s word tells us to think, be rational, to reason which originates from God and His word.  Techniques and practices from other religions (e.g. EASTERN MYSTICISM) are combined with Christian practices in the effort to focus more intently on God through various forms of mediation – again much of it originating in how one interprets PSALM 46:10.

Psalm 46:10 calls us to be in awe of an awesome God. We can take great comfort in that perspective – that is what Psalm 46:10 tells us to do.

We will most likely talk about this verse again in the near future – it is a pivotal verse that many Christians misuse today to justify the syncretic mish-mash of CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM that has crept into the church.  Even if SPIRITUAL FORMATION doesn’t seemingly include these perspectives (i.e. SILENCE, CONTEMPLATIVE, DISCIPLINES…etc.), they usually do in some fashion the deeper you probe into what is being taught.  In the end, there is a real potential of people moving away from God’s will and the desired closeness to God may be the last thing you experience 

=> In the end, there is a real potential of people moving away from God’s will and their desired closeness to God may turn out to be the opposite of what they expected.

(460.3) Spiritual Formation 2017.3 – Interpreting Key Passages in the Bible Used to Promote Contemplative Spirituality – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

Some of the key verses used to promote and defend CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY are usually taken out of context.  There are several contemporary authors/speakers who promote a Christian walk that moves further away from the Bible and prayer to a walk that looks INWARD and seeks to be drawn CLOSER to become UNIFIED with God in the DEEPEST part of our soul.  The problem is that Scripture discusses our sanctification and growth involving our dedication to God’s word and Biblical prayer – NOT in chasing after ancient mystical approaches that we find in the early church.   There are other religions that promote the idea of being unified with God by being unified with all of humanity – but Christianity is not it. To summarize – passages from the Bible are used to justify this seeking to be close to God in the DEEPEST part of the soul so that they can ultimately become unified with God.  But, the passages referred are usually taken out of context to arrive at their conclusion.

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In the following book, Relentless Spirituality: Embracing The Spiritual Disciplines of A.B. Simpson, by Dr. Gary Keisling illustrates a simple example of this.  The foreword was written by DALLAS WILLARD – a huge influence on the church accepting contemplative/spiritual formation.  

The book uses phraseology that quickly tips off the reader of the perspective that promotes a more mystical approach (e.g. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES).

First, let me say that my intention is not to be critical of Keisling but rather, my review is focused on how Scripture is used to come up with relentless alternative interpretations of the Bible that may not be justified when those passages are looked at in context.

Keisling discusses the disciplines such as SILENCE and SOLITUDE.  He states that “both have complimentary roles in SPIRITUAL FORMATION”.  Solitude unfolds in two dimensions.  First, there is solitude that is in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV Mark 6:31) .

Now, look at that verse again and ask yourself what is actually being said in the passage.  In context, look at the entire chapter to get an understanding of the context of verse 31.  Again, ask yourself, how should verse 31 be interpreted?

Keisling states that – “Christ’s disciples were invited to join Jesus in doing something they had seen Him do in the past and would certainly see Him to again in the future.  It was an invitation………..to be alone and draw close to God.”

Hold the phone.  Was that the reasons stated in this passage of Scripture?  Read the passage again.  Read it from another translation – NKJV: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”.  You can read in a number of both literal and dynamic translations and they say the same thing.

=> I would say that Jesus was inviting the disciples to literally “get some rest”.  Radical idea?  This passage doesn’t say or even imply that Jesus was calling them to engage in a Spiritual Discipline of drawing close to God.  Keisling states that we are to “draw close to the Presence of the Almighty.”  

He goes on to explain that “these steps of spiritual formation are an essential part of life in Christ”.  Really?  “These steps” are an essential part of our spiritual formation – yet Christiandom is just finding out about it now?

=> QUESTION: Where does the Bible instruct us to be in SILENCE and SOLITUDE with respect to our devotional life in our walk with Christ?

=> If you find a passage in the Bible, ask yourself first – are you interpreting the passage correctly?

=> Then ask yourself is the passage asking us to engage in SILENCE and SOLITUDE as a part of our normative walk in Christ?

In my opinion, the so-called disciplines of SILENCE and SOLITUDE find themselves to be silent in the Bible.  With the huge emphasis today on this topic, I think it very important to note that many look at early church traditions (that many consider being mystical) more so than look to see what Scripture actually says on these issues.  

There are other key passages that supporters of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER take out of context making their case for Spiritual Formation. We will look at a few in the near future.

 

 

(460) Spiritual Formation 2017.1 – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

We will begin a new series on the topic of SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  We have looked at this topic in the past but it was more along the lines of it being piecemeal.  I intend this series to be more comprehensive in scope.

I. INTRODUCTION – CONCEPTS & DEFINITIONS

One of the challenges in looking at this topic relates to the various definitions for the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  They range from the traditional, more common and more original meaning involving growth coming from a mystical & contemplative perspective.  Today, we find some combining this aspect with a more historical and biblical concept of discipleship or sanctification.

Here are few definitions by well-known authors today relating to this topic – the authors who have had a foundational impact on Evangelicals primarily include RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD, which we discuss further as we go along in this study. 

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Spiritual Formation – D.Simeone

=> Richard Foster  – Author of the Spiritual Formation Bible

“By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.” Spiritual Formation, A Pastoral Letter by Richard Foster

=> Larry Crabb

“The next reformation is due. It will focus on what it means to know God with a power that changes who we are and how we relate. I predict the Spiritual Formation Forum will play a vital role in the Spirit’s next great movement.” Larry Crabb, The Association of Christian Counselors, Willow Creek Association

“The Practice offers Saturday morning meetings which provide a rhythm of worship, teaching on a particular spiritual discipline and time to experience or “practice” that discipline. This practice time allows participants to get a fuller understanding of how to incorporate the discipline in their daily lives.” Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek.

RESEARCH: SPIRITUAL FORMATION

SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process of apparent spiritual development through engaging in a set of behaviors, termed disciplines. Advocates believe these disciplines help shape the character of the practitioner into the likeness of Christ.

Though superficially similar to discipleship, spiritual formation is not merely concerned with biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but also with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition”.1

The Renovaré website states:

Spiritual formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.2

HISTORY

1974
William Menninger discovers the book, The Cloud of Unknowing:

In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.3

Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and others who were students of Menninger disseminate these teachings.4

 

1978
Richard Foster writes THE CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE.=> This book launched spiritual formation into mainstream evangelicalism, and continues to be used today.

In The Celebration of Discipline, Foster shares the practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that originated with the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

=> The Celebration of Discipline presents spiritual formation as attainable through the “spiritual disciplines.”

=> These disciplines are seen as a means of growing in spiritual maturity and depth. “In fact, the implication was that without the use of these ancient contemplative methods true ‘spiritual formation’ was not possible.”5

1988
Dallas Willard, a close associate of Richard Foster, writes The Spirit of the Disciplines. This book “reveals how the key to self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest.”6 

The Spirit of the Disciplines is based on Willard’s understanding of Matt. 11:29–30. Willard teaches that the “yoke” spoken of by Jesus in this passage is to attempt to emulate the life of Christ in every way possible. Willard teaches that this emulation occurs through the practice of the disciplines.7 (For a comprehensive teaching on this passage in Matthew, read or listen to Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon, Jesus’ Personal Invitation, Part 2.)

Richard Foster founds Renovaré. This organization seeks “to resource, fuel, model, and advocate more intentional living and spiritual formation among Christians and those wanting a deeper connection with God. A foundational presence in the spiritual formation movement for over 20 years, Renovaré is Christian in commitment, ecumenical in breadth, and international in scope.”8

PRESENT
The ideas presented by Foster and Willard continue to be propagated through the works and teachings of others.
Spiritual formation is a primary teaching found in what has come to be known as the emerging church. Brian McLaren, a key leader in that movement, has acknowledged that both Foster and Willard are considered “key mentors for the emerging church.”9

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

According to proponents of spiritual formation, various “spiritual disciplines” must be practiced in order to experience true spiritual growth:

Christian spiritual formation is a God-ordained process that shapes our entire person so that we take on the character and being of Christ himself.

Properly employed…these disciplines help us attain increasing levels of spiritual maturity so that we respond to our life circumstances with the mind of Christ.10

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, as well as on his Renovaré website, Richard Foster lists these disciplines as:11

MEDITATION
Entering into a “listening silence” in order to “hear God’s voice.” Similar to the meditation of Eastern religions.
PRAYER
An “interactive conversation” with God. Practiced as contemplative prayer.
FASTING
“The voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
STUDY
“The mind taking on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon.”
SIMPLICITY
“The joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt 6:33).”
SOLITUDE
A “state of mind” for one to be “found by God and freed from competing loyalties.”
SUBMISSION
Letting “go of the burden of always needing to get our own way.”
SERVICE
“A pattern of service as a lifestyle…At the center is found a contentment in hiddenness, indiscriminancy.”
CONFESSION
Confession of sin to other professing believers.
WORSHIP
“Entering into the supra-natural experience of the Shekanyah, or glory, of God.”
GUIDANCE
Learning to “heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.” “It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.”
CELEBRATION
Celebrating God in all facets of life.

Since the disciplines are not defined in Scripture, no concrete, definitive list is available. Consequently, Willard notes that we should not “assume that our particular list will be right for others.”12 This confirms the subjective nature of these practices.

[Christian Research Network]

 

Part 2 (2017.2) will continue on this subject matter in the next posting.

(458) SPIRITUAL FORMATION – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

SPIRITUAL FORMATION & CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER BY JOHN MACARTHUR 

We will look at the topic of Spiritual Formation.  Additional postings are planned. This one is from John MacArthur.

I can’t say I always agree with John MacArthur, but I must also say that I respect his view of the Bible and his gift of teaching from the Bible.  A valuable and rare gem in today’s world of television personalities and among authors invited to speak at churches and seminaries.

He answers a question about CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and SPIRITUAL FORMATION in the church.  He brings up the point that in the Evangelical Church today, many are following after a so-called DEEPER path to becoming close to God.  They are “Digging DEEP to find their spiritual core and spiritual center” with Bible words thrown on top to make it all sound good.  The assumption is that Spiritual truth is something originating inside of you and found intuitively.  MacArthur is quick to say – Not true – it is outside of you.  It is in a book – God’s word.   Divine revelation is external to you.  Looking deep inside of you is not where God’s truth lives.

It is when that truth gets into our minds, then we can look at that truth inside of you (e.g. in your mind).

Popular teachings today are re-introducing MYSTICISM to the church. Ancient so-called wisdom from early church fathers, Roman Catholicism, and Emerging Church leaders such as Dallas Williard and Richard Foster have become popular today withing the church.

Christian leaders are confused themselves about this subject and it has embedded itself in Christian colleges, seminaries and now churches.  More to follow.

 

(457) 61% CHRISTIANS AGREE WITH ‘NEW SPIRITUALITY’ – Emerging Trends in the Church Today.

Practicing Christians Agreeing with ‘New Spirituality’

From several perspectives, this blog exists to inform Christians of some of the nonbiblical influences that have developed within Christianity from other religious philosophies. Even more so, it is important to understand that point out how much of these trends are occurring from within the church itself.  New practices are being combined with Christian beliefs and practices along with new words and phrases used to describe these practices that are not found in Scripture.

From my perspective, similar trends in the church today reflect a departure from the practice of biblical discipleship.  More and more churches seek to spread the latest fad for growing the church while leaving behind one of our most important callings from God’s word – discipleship. Christians today are less equipped, less knowledgeable, less experienced in the basics of the faith.  This has impacted all Christians but especially younger Christians growing up in a church that succumbed to these trends.

The book of Jude reminded believers of their duty to fight for the truth.  This is such an important issue to Jude when he took up his pen to write about our common salvation, he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to encourage us “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

3 aBeloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our bcommon salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you ccontend earnestly for dthe faith which was once for all edelivered to fthe 1saints. 4 For certain persons have acrept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand 1 bmarked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn cthe grace of our God into dlicentiousness and edeny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (NASB)

Survey: 61 Percent of Practicing Christians Agree With Some ‘New Spirituality’ Beliefs

BRANDON SHOWALTER , CP REPORTER

May 10, 2017 | 12:28 PM

A new survey reveals the scope of influence of non-Christian belief systems on the mindsets of practicing Christians, with large percentages of them agreeing with ideas from other faiths and secular philosophies.

The research from Barna in cooperation with Summit Ministries released this week measured how much the central beliefs of other worldviews like “new spirituality,” secularism, postmodernism, and Marxism have affected the beliefs of Christians about the world and how it should be.

Their “widespread influence upon Christian thinking is evident not only among competing worldviews, but even among competing religions,” the survey report reads.

In a web-based survey conducted in March of 1,456 practicing Christians, researchers asked the sample if they agreed with several statements that are rooted in so-called “new spirituality.Sixty-one percent of them affirmed at least one of the questions.

Nearly 30 percent agreed that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” About that same percentage of people said they believe that “meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is.”

The influence of this spirituality has also seeped into the thinking of Christians on matters of ethics, with approximately one third believing in a form of karma. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad,” which although not found in Scripture appeals to a sense of justice many have.

“This research really crystallizes what Barna has been tracking in our country as an ongoing shift away from Christianity as the basis for a shared worldview,” said Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research for Barna, in the report.

What Do Americans Think of Jesus: Man, Myth or God?

“We have observed and reported on increasing pluralism, relativism and moral decline among Americans and even in the Church. Nevertheless, it is striking how pervasive some of these beliefs are among people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith.”

Because fragments and similarities to Christian teachings exist within other systems of thought, this poses a challenge.

“[S]ome may recognize and latch on to these ideas, not realizing they are distortions of biblical truths,” Hempell noted.

“The call for the Church, and its teachers and thinkers, is to help Christians dissect popular beliefs before allowing them to settle in their own ideology.”

The survey also presented statements rooted in postmodernism, secularism, and Marxism, asking Christians if they agreed with them. Those numbers were lower than those who agreed with “new spirituality.” Still, overall, 54 percent agreed with some postmodernist views, 36 percent accepted ideas associated with Marxism and 29 percent said they believe ideas based on secularism.

More specifically, ten percent of practicing Christians said they believed the “secular” view that “a belief has to be proven by science to know that it is true.” The postmodern statement “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes” resonated strongly with 23 percent of practicing Christians. Eleven percent of respondents agreed with the Marxist statement “Private property encourages greed and envy.”

Demographically, men, often at a two to one ratio, were more open to these non-Christian worldviews than women in all categories. In about half of the survey’s questions, Americans of color were more likely than white Americans to lend credence to non-Christian worldviews.

Millennials and Gen-Xers, who came of age in a culture under considerably less influence of the Christian faith, were eight times as likely to embrace non-Christian worldviews than were respondents from the Baby Boomer and Elder generations, the study found.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-61-percent-of-practicing-christians-agree-with-some-new-spirituality-beliefs-183173/#5BXtXAbXgqsLD6ME.99

(456) THE BENEDICT OPTION (Part 2) – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

It is ironic that as the church celebrates the 500th anniversary of 41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_the Protestant Reformation, current trends today shows a church that has blended many of their differences, theological principles, and practices together. On the surface, that may seem like a good thing to see the church unified.  

In some respects, reality says that some of this actually has benefited the church. Interaction on several social issues that at times consume the headlines such as abortion and same-sex marriage have benefited from a unity in presenting a biblical view on these issues that otherwise usually gets silenced by the gatekeepers of a secular society.  I would hope that this unity continues to stand strong when based on biblical principles.  The unity isn’t always shared by Christians by and large.  Several Protestant denominations approve of either abortion and/or gay marriage.  Some will even go as far as approving gay ordination of ministers within their particular denomination.  On the Roman Catholic side, on some of these issues, the Church has been a strong tower with respect to upholding biblical principles.  But like some Protestants, the lay Catholic may hold a personal view that is far from what the church teaches.  In addition to that, we have a Pope today who routinely makes statements that imply (directly or indirectly) some difference of views on issues long held by the church for centuries.

That said, biblical unity shouldn’t depend on the views from various Christian denominations. Rather, biblical unity settles on Christ and a truly a biblical view of the issues.   The important consideration is not necessarily what your church believes but rather what does God say in His word.  There lies an important difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  Roman Catholicism upholds church tradition on equal authority with the Bible. Protestants hold the Bible as the ultimate authority.  It is a key difference between the two groups – insurmountable to many.  There are several other major differences, but just to state one more key difference is the view of how one becomes a Christian – a works-based versus grace through faith alone based approach.  Again, a huge difference between these two groups.  

Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option, was a Roman Catholic and now adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Dreher writes in his book about the need for Christians today to learn to apply the practices of the sixth-century monk, Saint Benedict. Benedict was the founder of the monastic Benedictine order.  The reason is that Dreher believes that there is no reverse of the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s and ended in the defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3,79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89). Dreher points to the time of Saint Benedict where the monastic community formed in the early centuries of the church with the intent of preserving the faith for future generations.  In his view, the monastic system preserved the faith through the medieval period (pp. 4,29,236).  He takes that further to state that in order for our faith to survive today, we must “learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West” (p. 4).  Therefore, the Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the alienation brought on by modern-day life.

Dreher traces the moral fall of modern society to five landmark events that rocked Western civilization:

  • In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or, in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality.
  • The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
  • The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy.
  • The Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760—1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • The Sexual Revolution (1960—present) (p. 23).
    • [G. Gilley @ tottministries.org]

I would agree that these events “rocked” society at the time, but I don’t necessarily attribute all of these events as responsible for the fall of society?  Some of these events clearly adversely affected society (e.g. sexual revolution) but with the others listed, one will need to ask what would the alternative have been if some of these events listed above didn’t take place?  In other words, the alternative would most likely have been far worse (alternatives to Democracy, Growth of Capitalism….etc.). 

Specifically, Dreher’s Catholicism comes out with his listing of the Protestant Reformation as being responsible for the collapse of religious unity and authority.  Again, a series of events that “rocked” society but in this case, a unity developed against the traditions of the church (Roman Catholicism), the authority of the Pope and instead focused more on God’s grace found in His word. People began looking at the Bible for truth – even to the point of giving up their life for the spread of God’s word. So much more could be said on this issue.

With little surprise to me, in addition to putting down the Reformation, Dreher introduces several aspects of contemplative mysticism, also found in early Roman Catholicism. Practices are recommended which have little similarity to Biblical practices and instead mirror mystical practices from other Eastern religious beliefs (e.g. Eastern Mysticism)

Check out a few of these in the following quotes from his latest book.

In this quote, contemplative practices such as praying the Jesus Prayer repeatedly, lectio divina, silent prayer, stilling the mind…..etc.

 

Imagine that you are at a Catholic mass in a dreary 1970s-era suburban church that looks like a converted Pizza Hut. The next Sunday you are at a high Catholic mass in New York City, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Scripture reading is the same in both places, and Jesus is just as present in the Eucharist at Our Lady of Pizza Hut as at St. Patrick’s. Chances are, though, that you had to work harder to conjure a sense of the true holiness of the mass in the suburban church than in the cathedral—though theologically speaking, the “information” conveyed in Word and Sacrament in both places was the same. This is the difference liturgy can make. (Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, pp. 106-107, Penguin Publishing Group; emphasis added)

I told the priest how, in response to a personal crisis, my own orthodox priest back in Louisiana had assigned me a strict daily prayer rule, praying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for about an hour each day. It was dull and difficult at first, but I did it out of obedience. Every day, for a seemingly endless hour, silent prayer. In time, though, the hour seemed much shorter, and I discovered that the peace I had conspicuously lacked in my soul came forth. (The Benedict Option, p. 59)

For the monks, prayer is not simply words they speak. Each monk spends several hours daily doing lectio divina, a Benedictine method of Scripture study that involves reading a Scripture passage, meditating on it, praying about it, and finally contemplating its meaning for the soul. (The Benedict Option, pp. 58-59)

The Reformation broke the religious unity [with Rome] of Europe. In Protestant lands, it birthed an unresolvable crisis in religious authority, which over the coming centuries would cause unending schisms. The Benedict Option, p. 45, emphasis added)

If you don’t control your own attention, there are plenty of people eager to do it for you. The first step in regaining cognitive control is creating a space of silence in which you can think. During a deep spiritual crisis in my own life, the toxic tide of chronic anxiety did not began to recede from my mind until my priest ordered me to take up a daily rule of contemplative prayer. Stilling my mind for an hour of prayer was incredibly difficult, but it eventually opened up a beachhead in which the Holy Spirit could work to calm the stormy waters within.  (The Benedict Option, pp. 227-228, emphasis added)

In a 2017 Christianity Today article titled, “The Benedict Option’s Vision for a Christian Village” by Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, Dreher says the following. Our deciphering is in brackets:

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself [unify by removing the barriers between Protestantism and Catholicism], while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith [not biblical roots, monastic roots of the desert fathers and other mystics], both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart [contemplative prayer practices – Nouwen called it moving from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical] forgotten by believers in the West [that’s what Merton taught]. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs [the cost is going to be the death of biblical truth]. (source)

Several remarks by Dreher show a promotion of contemplative practices & mysticism which today is a major concern and a major reason NOT to read or support his recommendations.  With Dreher’s turn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, mysticism plays into an even larger part of the religious practices that is promoted within the church.

Dreher’s ECUMENICAL unifying of the church glosses over why the church separated in the first place.  Even more concerning are that these are growing trends in the church today.  But the unification is in spite of Biblical truth instead of Biblical truth.  Issues ranging from how one is saved through a works-based system of man-made theology or a Scripture inspired view of grace alone is a critical difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.  It is disappointing to see some major Protestant leaders such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper…etc., come out stressing the importance of this book and recommending that we ought to read Dreher’s book.

Future postings will continue to look at the effect of mysticism in the church along with addressing the ecumenical trends in some parts of the church today.

(455) THE BENEDICT OPTION – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

THE BENEDICT OPTION

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A new book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, is getting a great deal of exposure and write-ups across many branches of Christianity.  It is promoting a strategy for Christians to engage in our post-Christian nation that we find ourselves today.

I will most likely be writing more about the book in the near future, but for now, I will give a few comments based on reading some reviews and listening to a podcast with Rod Dreher describing his book and why he wrote it.

I heard a podcast interview at the Impact 360 Institute –

http://impact360institute.org/podcasts/should-christians-take-the-benedict-option-an-interview-with-rod-dreher

My brief review from listening to Dreher’s comments in the interview include the following comments:

Rod Dreher does make some very good points. He identifies some of the problems that Christians in our society face today. His point is well taken – college kids and young adults just don’t know about the basics of the faith and have grown up in the church but still lack discipleship in their walk.

However, where I would disagree with Dreher is in what he recommends as a solution. 

Since the popularity of groups such as the Emerging Church…etc., there has been a trend to look negatively at the church today and instead look back to the so-called “early church” to see supposed “true Christianity” as a guide to how we should live out our faith today.  The problem with this approach is, although it is not their intention, they move further from God’s word and look instead to tradition. Worse, much of their tradition is along the lines of ancient Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox mysticism. It is a mystical approach to faith that aligns itself very closely with Eastern Mysticism and includes practices that mirror practices from Buddhism, Hinduism….etc. There are many examples of Catholic and Orthodox priests and scholars having Buddhist monks teach in their seminaries on how to meditate and pray according to these traditions that align very closely with Buddhism….etc.

They don’t abandon the faith and to their credit, they include prayer and Bible study as a part of their focus. But they introduce practices that have no basis in the Bible and mix in with Christian practices. The most dangerous perspective of this approach is how it is introduced to Christians – it’s done in a very subtle manner. The results of which show that it can be difficult to identify what these practices actually are to Christians. They then use Christian sounding terms to describe these practices and Christians today have become desensitized to their actual meaning.

For example, terminology that includes words and phrases such as “formation”. “rhythms”, “silence”, “stillness”, “solitude”, “contemplative”...etc. are included with concepts such as meditation and prayer. The problem is that these phrases describe Eastern Mystical practices, not biblical practices outlined in Scripture. Biblical meditation is different than mediation being promoted by those promoting a contemplative faith. Eastern Orthodoxy is filled with these types of mystical practices. The take even reading the Bible and use a practice called Lectio Divina which doesn’t encourage the participant to understand what Scripture is saying but instead through repetition of words, phrases, periods of silence….etc., they are to experience a closeness to God. What? Is that what the Bible calls us to do?

In addition, patterning our walk today after a monastic lifestyle makes no sense.  Granted, Dreher states that his intention is not to recommend living like monks lived in the 6th century.  But, much of what is presented is copying the lifestyle and theology of these monks who have left civilization to live as hermits – I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when giving us our marching order with the Great Commission.  That is biblical discipleship.  

The Evangelical Church today has been inundated with these practices. We would be wise to cut out the middleman and go directly to God’s word for our edification and spiritual growth. True discipleship has to focus on God’s word, not these alternative practices that have more similarity to Eastern Mysticism than they do the Bible.