Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. It’s great to have you tuned in. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest Ray Yungen as they address the topic “Contemplative Spirituality Goes Mainstream?” Here’s TBC’s executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. My guest for today’s program is Ray Yungen. Ray is the author of A Time of Departing and For Many Shall Come in My Name.” In addition to his excellent books, he also writes articles for the Lighthouse Trails blog site. Today and next week, the Lord willing, we’re going to address the issue of Contemplative Spirituality. So, Ray, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Ray: Thank you very much, Tom. I’m glad to be here.
Tom: Ray, as you know, contemplative spirituality has greatly increased in its acceptance among those who profess to be evangelical Christians – that is, when I use that term, I’m referring to those who at least would acknowledge that the Bible is their authority in matters of faith and practice. It’s also a major part of the Emergent Church movement, which has appealed to multitudes of evangelical youths, and now we’re seeing it promoted by what I would call the elder statesmen of evangelicalism: names such as David Jeremiah and Chuck Swindoll. So, Ray, we need to get to the question of whether or not the contemplative approach to drawing closer to God is truly biblical.
But before we go there, give us, as best you can, a concise definition of contemplative spirituality.
Ray: Certainly. The word “contemplative” is originally found in the Roman Catholic Church, and it comes from the Latin word, “contemplar,” which means “in the temple.” And the connotation would be, this would be in ancient Rome that various professional mystics or seers would go into various temples and they would commune with the god of that particular temple mystically.
And as the centuries rolled on, the word “contemplation” developed a secular mindset where you just kind of ponder things, and that’s where most of our listeners would put that word – you know, you just think about things. But there is a hidden, or esoteric, side to that word, and that means kind of a mystical communion. Not just intellectual but mystical. And that’s what we’re dealing with here. Contemplative prayer has nothing to do with, you know, using your intellectual aspect of your mind. It’s actually switching off your mind.
In fact, one of the major proponents of contemplative prayer said that the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
Now, whenever I quote that in my talks, people start laughing. You hear all this chuckling out in the audience, but that’s what we’re talking about: mysticism is not something that pertains to your normal way of thinking about things. You actually switch off your conscious mind and you go into altered states of consciousness, known as the alpha state. When you’re basically in kind of a trance…
Tom: Ray, this relates to it, and we might as well throw it in right now. This relates to meditation, as certainly we have a biblical view of meditation, but we also have Eastern meditation, so…
Ray: The type of “meditation” used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Muslim mysticism, shamanism – it all pertains to stopping the normal flow of thought through repetition, whether it’s a word or phrase, or focusing on the breath, or a percussion sound – the view is that you have to stop your normal thought process. You have to kind of block it. And that’s what contemplative prayer is. You take a word or phrase that has a religious or a Christian connotation, you know, something that sounds religious, and the intent of it is that if you do this for twenty minutes, like one that Ruth Haley Barton uses (which, they call it a “prayer word”: “I am here.” But actually it’s a mantra, and that’s what meditation is called in the Hindu/Buddhist world, “we’re using mantras,” which means to be liberated from thought.
Well, in contemplative spirituality, you’re equally liberated from thought, but since the words being used are “Christian,” they say, “Well, that’s not a mantra. A mantra is something like ‘Om’ or something that comes from the Buddhist or Hindu world.” But if you say, “You are my Lord over and over again for twenty minutes,” they say that’s not a mantra, but in essence it is.
Tom: Sure. Well, Ray, we’ve probably answered the next question I had, but it’s probably worth discussing a little bit more. The definition – what you’ve gone over – we’re told that this is going to help you grow in your spirituality, draw you closer to God. But that begs the question. Wait a minute! Is comtemplative spirituality as an approach to God – is it biblical? Now…
Ray: Oh definitely not.
Tom: You’ve basically answered that.
Ray: It is certainly unbiblical, because nowhere in either the Jewish scriptures or the New Testament do you find anybody using the equivalent of mantras – saying the same thing over and over again. As you know, the Apostle Paul said in Acts, “I have not failed to declare unto you the whole counsel of God,” right?” So everything we need for faith is found in the Bible, right?
Ray: And there is nothing in the Bible about taking sacred words and repeating them over and over and over again. In fact, this is the standard comeback to people such as ourselves to the contemplative camp that where Jesus said, “Don’t use vain repetition as the heathen do (or the Gentile nations).” Contemplatives will say, “Well, that means ‘vain repetition,’ meaning ‘empty repetition.’” The repetition they’re doing, they say, is meaningful. In other words, Godly repetition.
But if you say the same word over and over again, Tom, that is…you’re not talking to God! If you say, “Jesus is Lord” over and over again, after half a minute or so it just becomes tahe sound. And that’s what’s meant by “vain repetition.” True prayer is, like we did at the beginning of the show, before we started, we actually expressed our love and desire and will to God out of the heart. The kind of repetition involved in contemplative prayer, the actual meaning of it becomes void after just a relatively short period of time. Because you’re supposed to do this for like 20 minutes! In fact, the standard word is not “contemplative prayer.” The standard word for it is “the silence.” You know, “You can seek God in the silence.”
And by that, they don’t mean being in a silent place, like in an office where there are no sounds, or out in the country, where there’s no distraction. By silence, they mean mental silence, where your thinking has completely come to a stop.
I used to use the term “emptying your mind,” but I don't think you actually empty your mind. You more or less stop the thinking process and it seems to be emptied. In other words, there’s no thought still in your mind. Therefore it creates a “sacred space,” and they believe this is where God comes in, and you encounter God at this so-called deep level.
Tom: Ray, we’re going to…as we move on with this, we’re going to deal with how this works practically. But if there’s no support for it in Scripture, as you’ve articulated, it’s not the biblical way of increasing one’s spirituality, what, then, is its source? Where is its roots? Where does this come from?
Ray: Well, the actual roots of it, there’s the Christian roots of it, or the religious… Christian–religious roots of it - but the actual roots go back to the mystery schools, you know…the earliest religious elements of human history, which Paul called the Mystery of Iniquity – ancient Babylon. And, of course, modern elements would be the Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. And since you don’t find this anywhere in the Scriptures, it’s apparent that it had to come from somewhere. Some, or many, of your listeners may dismiss this as just mumbo jumbo. But there actually are real encounters. There actually is a real presence that you get with this in all mystical practices.
And I believe they’re real for two reasons: 1) there’s conformity. In other words, right across the board, everybody has the same experience, no matter where you are; whether you’re in India, or if you’re in DesMoines, Iowa, you know. Wherever you are, you have the same experience. 2) Then also, there’s continuity, which means when you go back to the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, the Sutras – the Buddhist Sutras – you find the exact same experiences. So when there’s continuity and conformity, you know that this is not just somebody’s imagination, something that’s just silly. There actually is a supernatural power that is being encountered.
Tom: Ray, the interesting thing about that is, and I would say, in defense of our listeners – most of them know this is not mumbo jumbo. They’re recognizing it and seeing it not only in the world but in their churches. But I’ll go back to shamanism, because as you mentioned, this stuff not only goes back to ancient Babylon, [but] we’ve seen it through the various religions down through history. But the interesting thing about shamanism, which all of these things that you’ve been mentioning deal with an altered state of consciousness. The whole idea is that the person is opening up themselves to hearing from the gods, or from the spirits.
Tom: And, as you say, the term “shamanism” comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Now, that’s Siberia. But you can go to Fiji or to South America or to some obscure islands and look to the tribes there, and they’re doing exactly the same thing as the people in Siberia, who are into shamanism!
Ray: Well, that was my point earlier, that there’s a commonality to all mysticism.
Tom: Yeah, and it proves itself just because, how did these guys on this obscure island – how is it their religion and their approach to the gods, to the spirits, is the same as those in Siberia, or as I said, it isn’t just shamanism, but altered states of consciousness, which, if you get into that, there’s so many different ways, but basically, as you articulated, they’re clearing their minds. They’re ceasing to have rational thoughts, but opening up to hear - that’s the silence part: to hear - whatever these spirit entities or their gods or whatever it might be, whatever they have for them.
Ray: Precisely. Exactly, yeah. Not only is contemplative prayer unbiblical, it’s anti-biblical.
Tom: Yeah, Ray, that takes us to the next question, which is, okay, if this is the process – if these are the methods and techniques of non-Christian religions, how did this stuff get into Christianity?
Ray: Well, it’s like I said earlier, that it found its way into the early desert fathers, the monks that lived out in the deserts in North Africa and the Middle East. And they had contact - even though a lot of them were hermits – they had contact with Gnostic elements in Alexandria, Egypt. Practically all writers say that this was not something they found in the Bible. They got this from – obviously you had to go into a city sometimes just to get supplies or whatever. And you’d find your way there and you would see that there were Hindu gurus in Alexandria. There were Buddhist monks, because Alexander the Great, which Alexandria was named after, had conquered this huge empire stretching clear into India. He brought back Hindu gurus.
So anyhow, the desert fathers started doing this type of “prayer.” Saint Anthony – many people have heard of Saint Anthony – he was a major figure, and I’ve read that he encountered “strange and terrifying forces” while at prayer. And that this mirrored – what he experienced mirrored – what Hindus experience in yoga. And this is not from critical sources but from sympathetic sources, pro-contemplative prayer sources.
So, anyhow, I’ve never heard this man’s last name pronounced by someone who’s a professor or whatever, so I don’t know how it’s actually said, but there was a man named John Cassian (I’ve just seen it in print) who took this - he traveled around the places the desert fathers were, and he took this prayer method back to Europe and spread it all through the monastic systems in Europe, and it became entrenched among nuns and monks throughout the centuries there. Many of these people became somewhat famous: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross. In the 1300s, there was a book written, honestly, called The Cloud of Unknowing, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. This was found mainly in monastic settings, you know, convents and monasteries – up until the 1960s…
Tom: Ray, there’s another aspect of this, which I find fascinating. As you know, I had a Roman Catholic background for some thirty years, but here’s the thing. These individuals – these desert fathers so-called, they were guys who wanted to go out and duke it out with the devil, as it were.
Ray: Yeah, that’s true. They wanted to engage in the…yeah, part of the monastic theme was to engage in all sorts of extreme behavior.
Tom: But what happened was – and this is really clear, if you just think about it: so they’re hanging out; number 1, they’re individuals, they’re in caves. They’re thinking they’re doing something very highly spiritual. And not only are they battling, so called, the devil – and not that the devil’s not a real entity; he is, and his minions are real. But the point is that these are spirit entities, now, that these individuals, because of their isolation, they’re going to get into altered states of consciousness; they’re going to be put into ways in which they’re going to hear from these spirit entities. Some, they would think, for good, and some they would battle against evil. But the point is, they’re getting information from these spirit entities, and that’s how many of these techniques got back to people, as you mentioned, Teresa of Avila, all of these Catholic mystics, who are also practicing these things in the same kind of situation, but not in caves – now in monasteries!
Ray: Yeah, exactly!
Tom: And then, it fits in with the whole Catholic issue of dealing with things that are not Scriptural, not biblical…
Ray: Like devotion to Mary and…
Tom: Yeah, but even more than that, the whole idea is that this is extra-biblical information, now, that they’ve turned into methods and approaches within the Catholic Church. This is – to me, this is what it’s all about.
Ray: Exactly. I believe it.
Tom: So, Ray, you’ve given our listeners a definition of contemplative spirituality, but let me apply one of my favorite questions regarding the practice of one’s religious beliefs. And the question is: How does this work? You see, it’s being promoted among evangelicals now, but we’ve got to get back to “How is this stuff supposed to work? How is it supposed to increase someone’s spirituality?” Do you find any reason for that?
Ray: It certainly is being promoted, and that’s why we’re doing this show. Anyhow, this is being promoted across the board in many different branches of Christendom, but particularly, this was in Charisma magazine in October 2004 by a man named Jim Goll, and the name of his article is “Be Still and Know.” And the title says, “Contemplative prayer has often been relegated to ancient church history…” (that’s the monasteries) “…but God is restoring as a means to develop intimacy with Him.” Mr. Goll starts out, “I have found that the most direct road to greater intimacy with God has come through the practice where discipline is an almost lost art in the fast-paced church of today: something called Contemplative Prayer.” He says that “God is restoring this now, and these experiences are God-ordained,” and this is becoming one of the central features of his walk with God. And then he makes reference to some of these Catholic mystics, like Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross… And then he says, “This is how you do it.” He actually lays it out here. He says, “First you practice centering.” (By the way, this is also called centering prayer, you know. There’s a number of names for this. “The prayer of the hearth,” “the prayer of silence…”
Tom: The Jesus prayer…
Ray: Things like that. So he says, “You have to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly present with Him.” And by “competing distractions” he means normal thinking, or, you know, your normal state of consciousness. And then, if you do this, he says, if you keep saying a favorite word for…20 minutes is always the time, they say, and you keep doing this, and pretty soon, you go into a trance. He actually calls it that. He says, “The ultimate goal is spiritual ecstasy. This a supernatural trance state initiated by the Holy Spirit in which one is caught up into the realm of the Spirit to receive the revelations, visions, and other experiences God desires to impart.”
See, that’s how it works. That’s the…
Tom: Well, that’s the claim, Ray, and as you said at the beginning of the program, this is subjective, experiential, there’s no objective basis for it, and plus, Ray, it’s ridiculous! In other words, if I’m going to use a technique (and we’re going to talk about this next week as well), Lectio Divina. If I’m taking a word, and I’m repeating it over and over and over again, number one, we just eliminated communication, okay? Prayer is supposed to be communication with God, whereas you’re just throwing that out by, ask you’d call it and rightly so, a mantra. It’s repeating something over and over, again, to move into an altered state of consciousness in which you are supposed to, then, hear from God.
Ray: Well, see, here’s the rub, though. There’s like a carrot here. People who are doing this would say that we just don’t understand. We’re just bigoted against Roman Catholicism and we’ve never done this, so we don’t really understand how beneficial this is. Because he goes on to say (this is Goll again), “Then He takes me… [this is supposedly God] …then He takes me into rooms permeated with the light of His love and fills my being with vision. He desires me to see. At times I am so captured by His love that He leads me up higher into a heavenly place where my spirit seems to soar.” Another way to describe the ecstatic state is to be inebriated with God’s presence. This is one of (supposedly) the outcome of contemplative prayer, that you’re actually in the presence of God. He’s actually imparting knowledge and wisdom to you. You know, you bypass the Bible and preaching and going to church, and this is supposedly the wave of the future that there’s going to be this big revival and it’s going to sweep the world, and everybody is going to be communing with God in this manner. Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he or she won’t exist at all.”
Tom: Well, that’s his counsel, that’s his advice, but as we said earlier in the program, give me chapter and verse. Give me how Paul introduced this or promoted this biblically. So, what we have here is this man’s opinion, but what we don’t have is a biblical basis. We don’t have scripture; we don’t have instruction in the Word to go about these things. Now, as great as it may sound – at least to this guy and to people who are reading him (and he’s not the only one. This is not just Charisma magazine. I mean we could go down the line and spend hours giving you examples of other individuals influential within conservative Christianity who are promoting this very same thing). Again, this is not biblical! It is subjective, experiential. You have only the basis of somebody’s experiences, who say “This is what happened to me,” and “That’s what happened to me.” But we’re Bereans. We need to search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so. And, as Ray has mentioned, and as I’ve pointed out, there’s no biblical basis for it.
Now, we’re out of time in this session of our program, but we’re going to have Ray back next week. We’re going to pick up right where we left off. We’re going to talk about some of the methods, the techniques, that Ray has alluded to, get some definitions of it, because they are coming into the church, folks!
So, Ray, we look forward to next week where we can get into more of this, so thanks for being with us.
Ray: Well, thank you very much!
Gary: You have been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7, featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Ben, OR, 97708; call us at 800-937-6638; or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for joining us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. In the meantime, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.