Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here is this week’s question: “Dear Dave and Tom, I’m intrigued by a growing movement in the church that seems to be sincerely promoting deeper relationship with God. It’s called the contemplative movement, and there are many well-known evangelical Christians who are either leaders in this or encouraging it, people like Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, Brennan Manning, and Rick Warren. Are you saying that this is bad stuff?”
Tom: Well, Dave, I think we ought to explain for some of our listeners, what the contemplative approach to Christianity is all about. It’s very experiential. At the heart of it is that we can’t really know God. I’m not saying everybody who practices this buys into all of this, but basically, it’s experiential; you don’t use your intellect; they don’t have a great affinity for the Word of God. It’s more the impressions that you get from reading, it’s more going into a time of quietness, of listening to your heart and listening to your mind. It’s very, as I said, very experiential and problematic. It’s much related to what we talked about: the imagination is important in it. I think it is bad stuff.
Dave: Well, Tom, as we said already in the last segment, I guess, anything that takes you away from reliance solely upon the Word of God for truth, we’re going to, somehow, get into ourselves, meditate—this is what they call meditation. Meditation in the West always was thinking deeply—I almost hesitate to use the word “contemplation,” but that’s what contemplation means.
Tom: That’s what it truly means.
Dave: Right. I’m thinking deeply about something. It’s objective. But meditation today and contemplative prayer today is… ou kind of get these feelings about something. It’s not factual, it’s not objective, but it’s very subjective. It really comes from within you, it’s not something that God is revealing.
Tom: Or worse, it may come from another spirit…
Dave: Of course!
Tom: …but certainly not the Holy Spirit. Tom: Dave, one of the frightening things about it—and I selected that term because we see our youth today being brought back into these forms of approaching God, and they are drawing upon…they call it “authentic” or “vintage” Christianity, but they are really drawing upon the Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages, and in that process the kids are turning to, as I mentioned before, incense, ritual, imagery, icons, candles. It’s incredibly Orthodox and Roman Catholic, yet we are finding it in evangelical churches today.
Dave: Well, they are always looking for something. “Give us a different kind of music,” whatever, and this is the next stage along the line, something new—“Oh wow,” you know, “I can light candles, or I can have some icons to pray through, or whatever. It gives me something else to do, it’s different.
Tom: Gives feelings of spirituality, which is part of the problem, a major part.
Dave: Right, but it has nothing to do with truth. That is a tragedy. In fact, it takes you away from the truth.
Tom: Dave, as an example of that: my daughter is involved with a large group of young Christian women. They have a testimony, they are truly evangelicals, and so on, but some of them approached her on a Sunday—this is in a college situation—about where they were going to go to church that Sunday, and a number of them wanted to go to the Roman Catholic Church, and my daughter said, “Why would we do that?”
Their response was, “Well, at the Catholic Church we have a sense of reverence, we have a sense of liturgy—there are so many things that are going on that seem holier and more spiritual.” And we are seeing this all over, whether it be to an Orthodox or Catholic Church or High Lutheran, or to what’s called the emerging church—they are being drawn by sensuality, in effect.
Dave: Well, Tom, it’s not the way to go. It takes us, literally, away from God. We talked about what does it mean to hear and to see the Word of God. We need a deepening understanding of Him. I often wake in the night, and I could say that some of my best times with the Lord are lying there in bed and just thinking about Him and letting Him reveal Himself to me—not some visual image, but through scriptures that come to mind that tell me about God and His love and what He has done and what He desires and particularly, about the cross of Christ. There are people that even in evangelical churches now, they are making the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross isn’t going to do you any good. A cross, a crucifix, to wear around your neck—that’s not going to do you any good. That will really cause you to have a false faith and perhaps a false experience, false feelings.
Dave: Right, but when God reveals Himself through His Word— Wow, you come to a deeper understanding of who He is, His desire for us, His love for us, and so forth.
Tom: Now Dave, doesn’t the Holy Spirit then take those things of God—not the things of our imagination and try and make it into something—but He’s the Spirit of truth; He works with the truth of God’s Word.
Dave: Amen, and that’s what we need.