Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and Tom: I don’t know if you guys are aware of the resurgence of mysticism that has come into many evangelical churches. It is based on the idea that some people can’t relate to God through preaching and teaching. They need a more experiential approach, which they refer to as ‘contemplative.’ Are red flags going up for you regarding this trend?”
Tom: I remember back when we were working on Seduction of Christianity the New Age, and certainly the mysticism involved in that was prevalent. You know, on the one hand, you don’t hear about it too much today, but it’s more popular than ever. A friend of mine likes to go to book stores like Barnes and Noble or Borders, and he likes to see the books—count the book shelves on religious subjects, and he says that it’s overwhelming the number of books that deal with mysticism, metaphysics, all of those things. And, Dave, as this writer is indicating, he sees a resurgence of it and so do I, which I will get to in a second. But mysticism—what’s that all about?
Dave: Well, it’s the idea that we were talking about: “I will be like the most High. I can create my own reality with my mind.” It’s an attempt to escape from the factual world—the visible world in which our bodies really function, and to imagine that—well, I can get off on some mystical cloud; I can go into a meditative state.
Now, Tom, meditation in the Bible means to contemplate: to think deeply about God’s Word; about who He is, His qualities and character and so forth. Meditation from the East is the opposite. You tune it all out; you get into a blank state; you repeat a mantra. And as you know, we have mantras in the church now—say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” you know, that will put you into an altered state so you lose touch with the real world and you begin to imagine you are creating your own reality. It’s a delusion, and the Bible is all about truth.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my Word, then are you my disciples; you will know the truth, [and] the truth will set you free.” You have to think about it. God says, “Come now, let us reason together.” And these people are turning away from reason, turning away from thinking, turning away from truth, and they think they are creating, somehow, a closeness with God, and that’s not how you approach God.
Tom: Dave, this is why people are confused, because they might say, “Well, okay, I know that Eastern mysticism is wrong.” But you know, again, growing up Roman Catholic—Catholic mysticism, that was a major part of, as you said, drawing closer to God, experiencing God, somehow knowing Him through our senses, knowing through…you know, our whole body now is given over to God to—well, some would say, in Catholic mysticism, union with God, but an evangelical wouldn’t push it that far. But they are still using these methodologies and techniques and so on.
Dave: So Tom, what does the “contemplative movement” attempt to create? The feeling that you are close to God; the feeling that you are becoming more spiritual, and so forth. But the Bible doesn’t go by feelings. I’m not opposed to feelings, but feelings have to follow reality; they have to come from truth. And the Bible doesn’t encourage us to try to make ourselves feel like we’re close to God. That is not going to help, The Bible presents the truth of God’s Word. Jesus is the Word, He is the truth, He is the life, and this is the only way we will really get to know God. So, they’re abandoning this and they’re getting into “feeling mode,” and it’s a delusion.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Dave, it concerns me—we’ve been talking about Purpose Driven Life. Outside of the Bible, Purpose Driven Life has sold more than any book in the history of printing, okay? In it, Rick talks about practicing the presence of God. Brother Lawrence, Catholic mystic—he gives a verse, Ephesians:4:6, but he quotes it from the New Century Version. He talks about—I’m quoting now: “He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything.” New Century Version, all right? The only reason I am going through this is that the writer says this is becoming popular and it’s in one of the most popular books around today. It talks about breath prayers: you choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath. Now, Dave, I don’t find that in the Scriptures.
Dave: Well, Jesus says the opposite: “Don’t fall into vain repetitions like the heathen.” You don’t just repeat something over and over.
Tom: Dave, he recommends Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways, in which Gary talks about “sensates” who love God with their senses and appreciate beautiful worship services that involve their sight, taste, smell, and touch, not just their ears. He talks about aesthetics—
Dave: Can I interrupt there, Tom? Jesus said, “We worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”
Tom: He talks about aesthetics who prefer to love God in solitude and simplicity, and contemplatives who love God through adoration.
Dave: Well, there is nothing wrong with simplicity and adoration. When I am focusing on Him—I mean, when I think of who He is and what He has done…wow! That awakens a love and a worship in me, but you don’t get that from a mystical technique; you get it through contemplating—focusing upon truth. Where does the truth come from? God’s Word. “You continue in my Word,” Jesus said, “you are my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”