Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. It’s great to have you along! In today’s program, Tom wraps up a two-part series with guest Ray Yungen as they address the topic: Contemplative Spirituality Goes Mainstream? Here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. My guest for today’s program – actually, this is part two – is Ray Yungen. Ray’s the author of A Time of Departing and For Many Shall Come in My Name, and these are published by Lighthouse Trails. He also writes articles for them for their blog site. So what we’re going to do in this part two is pick up where we left off. We have been talking about the issue of contemplative spirituality, which is stunning to Ray, to me – although, you know what? The Word of God says that we’re in the Apostasy, these are the last days, and that error is going to increase, even exponentially.
So, one issue – and a major issue – is moving in the evangelical church and particularly the world, whether it be through yoga, through all kinds of methods and techniques and so on, they are moving into what we’re calling “Contemplative Spirituality,” which they say, they claim, the goal is to draw closer to God – to have greater experiences with God. And we’ve been asking the question: Okay, sounds good - but is it biblical? And I think we pretty much laid that point to rest in our first session.
But, Ray, you mentioned… oh, by the way, Ray, welcome back!
Ray: Well, thank you. Glad to be back.
Tom: Last week you touched upon some methods and some techniques, and the reason I want to go over this again is because all of a sudden – you know, maybe it’s an evangelical church, and fairly conservative, but whether it be through the youth group or whatever, we now have – whether it’s an elder or part of the church – introducing things like Lectio Divina. Or all of a sudden we look in the youth part of the church and we see, outside or inside, we see a prayer labyrinth.
Now, Ray, you gave the definition – a terrific definition – of contemplative spirituality but also Eastern meditation and meditation in general. Biblical meditation vs. Eastern meditation, which is being now introduced into the church. But let’s take some of these things that, for example, a person’s in church, and they’re at a Wednesday evening service, and one of the speakers is promoting Lectio Divina. What’s that, Ray?
Ray: Well, it’s a Catholic practice. I haven’t studied it really intently, but I know that it has to do with taking a verse and kind of focusing…and then you take one word or phrase out of the verse. You just kind of roll it over in your mind over and over again, and it’s kind of like using a mantra. And I think it’s pronounced “Lexio” Divina, from what I’ve heard, even though there’s no “x” in there. Anyhow, it supposedly is either contemplative prayer itself, from what I’ve read, or it’s an introduction to contemplative prayer. But it definitely involves repetition. It definitely involves the type of thing you were talking about earlier. And it seems to be one of the major ways…inroads, to getting into evangelical Christianity.
Tom: Ray, again, we’re hearing and being introduced as evangelical Christians, and I know that “evangelical” is almost meaningless any more…
Ray: It is…
Tom: …but I use that as a term to talk about Christians who at least believe that the Bible is their authority, or they would lean toward the Bible. Now, Lectio Divina simply means “divine word.”
Ray: Yes (…) divine reading. Divine word.
Tom: Yes, divine reading. But the deal is it’s supposed to be a prayer; it’s supposed to be a communication with God. But the way it functions, the way it works, is you take one word, and you repeat it over and over and over again. Tony Campolo, for example, says [that] in the morning when he wakes up he takes the word, either “Jesus” – one word - from the Bible, repeats it hundreds of times, okay?
Tom: Now, supposedly, that’s communication with God. Now, to give you an example: My wife Peg is right next to me. It’s early in the morning. I wake up, and I want to have communion, or communication, with her, and I say, “Peggy, Peggy, Peggy…Peggy, Peggy, Peggy…Peggy, Peggy, Peggy…”
Ray: Yes! Exactly!
Tom: And I do this for 200 times. Now, once I’m kicked out of bed, okay, and I get up, she says, “What was that all about?”
Well, it’s about nonsense!
Tom: The way it works out is supposedly, as you mentioned last week, this is a way to put yourself into a state of altered consciousness. You are opening – you’re not thinking rationally, but you’re not thinking and you’re opening yourself up to whatever thoughts or ideas, gods, spirits, may speak to you through this device.
Ray: Yeah, I guess the elements I’ve read about it – it’s evangelicals trying to put an evangelical face on it.
Tom: Yeah, and we’re seeing that over and over again with some of these things. Now, what about prayer labyrinths? What’s the story with that?
Ray: You probably know this, but labyrinths actually come from Sufism. The Crusaders during the Middle Ages discovered prayer labyrinths in Sufism and brought them back to Europe, and labyrinths are like mazes, and one does contemplative prayer while one is walking through these labyrinths. And again, this is just mysticism that comes from an eastern source. But you find it in many, many - especially in youth groups, who are being attracted to this now.
Tom: Supposedly, the idea of prayer labyrinth is [that] you’re going to move into a greater spirituality, a greater presence of God, and so on. Now, I’ll give you another aspect of its roots. In the Roman Catholic Church, rather than going on pilgrimages during the time of the Crusades, and so on, which was very dangerous, some of the churches set up a labyrinth within their cathedrals, and you could go through these prayer labyrinths, vicariously stating that this was your pilgrimage to Rome.
Tom: So this was picked up by a woman who visited one of the cathedrals in Europe and then brought it back to San Francisco. They set it up in their cathedral there, and it just took off like wildfire! And, as you said, you can go by some churches and just look out in the lawn, and they’ve put a maze or prayer labyrinth out there, or down in the basement – as I mentioned, it’s a huge part of spirituality and worship that you find in emergent church movements and so on, but basically, there’s no basis for it in Scripture. And it’s incredibly subjective and experiential. And that’s a problem, right?
Ray: Right. Well, just a couple of miles from where I’m sitting now, there’s a Baptist church with a prayer labyrinth. It is all over the place.
Tom: So, folks, what’s our concern here? Our concern is people who maybe sincerely want to draw closer to the Lord, are looking for these extrabiblical concepts and ideas that, as Ray mentioned last week, these are found in the ancient religions. And then within the Catholic Church, they’re found in the desert fathers, who were out trying to duke it out with demons in the desert as opposed to going to the Word of God and doing things God’s way. It’s a terrible thing. But it also brings us to the ultimate goal, whether it be Eastern meditation, Lectio Divina, prayer labyrinths, centering prayer, Jesus prayer – all of these different methods and techniques. We have to look and say, “Okay, what is the object?...what’s the goal…?”
Ray: What is the fruit? What is the fruit of contemplative prayer?...
Tom: Okay, but before we get to the fruits, isn’t the object to merging with God?
Ray: Well, yeah, to actually…we’ll get to “presence,” but there’s one word that really…there’s an organization called the Spiritual Directors International. They have 10,000 people who teach contemplative prayer. And you know what the name of their magazine is? Presence. Presence! You know, in other words, when you do this, you get a presence. Kind of like in a séance, kind of like in a mediumship type of thing. You get this “presence” with you, and this presence is a being, an intelligence. You get information, you know. This presence imparts information to you – knowledge.
Tom: But also, in the “presence,” when there are these manifestations and so on, the goal, the objective, is merging with God.
Ray: Yeah! Merging with God! In fact, I want to get into the fruit here, because you’ve heard the term Samadhi…
Tom: Of course…
Ray: …in yoga, where you actually merge with Brahman, or the Hindu concept of “God.” So a certain Catholic priest, Father William Johnson, called contemplative prayer “Christian Samadhi.” Because you actually, like you said, you actually merge with “God” doing contemplative prayer. But the thing is, is it God? Are you merging with the God of the Bible? That’s the question.
Tom: Well, obviously, then you would be God, which is the lie!
Ray: Yeah, I’d like to get into this now.
Tom: Go ahead…
Ray: It’s a perfect time to get into this. Somebody could say, “Well, just because it isn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s not good. The Bible doesn’t say anything about eating pizza, so does that mean we shouldn’t eat pizza?” I’ve actually heard the argument that just because something isn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s not actually beneficial. But when you look at the fruit of contemplative prayer, you find that it’s not just unbiblical, it’s anti-biblical, because you find doctrines, or belief systems, that are the antithesis of the Christian gospel. Many, many books are out there on contemplative prayer, and the people that promoted it for decades, they believe that God - not believe – they experience that “God is in everything and everybody,” which totally nullifies the gospel. That means that God was in the golden calf. That means that God was in the Canaanites. That means that Israel couldn’t have fallen away to other gods because there’s no such thing as other gods, because God is in everything and everybody. The theological term is panentheism – “God is in everything.”
St. Bernard de Clairvaux said that “God is the rock in the rock and the tree in the trees.” You know, i.e., “God is in everything that exists.”
And that’s what you find when people do contemplative prayer, that they experience that God is…you know, they experience Brahman, the god of Hinduism. And the other thing, if I may say, [that] is akin to it is “Interspirituality.” You suddenly see that mystics of other religions are your spiritual brothers and sisters, or bedfellows. Interspirituality. It’s as simple as that, Tom. Your listeners out there – you don’t have to have a doctorate in theology. You have to know that panentheism and interspirituality are anti-biblical! Remember in Corinthians Paul said, “The Gentiles that sacrifice to idols sacrifice to devils and not to God,” right? Well Hindus and Buddhists sacrifice to idols. So, therefore, if you supposedly merge with the God of Christianity, but you wind up having solidarity with Hindus and Buddhists, there’s something wrong.
Tom: Something really wrong, Ray. And, as you say, this is not theological rocket science, okay? Let me finish this thought: so, the point here is that this is not beyond anybody who’s using common sense, or just reason. For example, if (and we have stated this, and they state it over and over again – “they” being those who are promoting this contemplative spirituality) the object, the goal, is to merge with God – now, that goes back to Eastern mysticism. So the question is, that is not the God of the Bible. Ray, when you mentioned this guy that says “God is in everything, and in the rocks, and so on…”
Ray: Yes, St. Bernard de Clairvaux.
Tom: Okay. Now, folks, if God is in everything, and we know the world is flawed – we know it’s winding down - just check it out. And if God is a part of that, then that’s the character of God; that God is not only flawed and having issues with regard to the world, the material world – and if He’s in it and part of it, what does that say about God? That is not the God of the Bible.
Ray: Well, yeah! Certainly the God of the Bible is the one that promotes salvation, but by faith in the blood of Jesus, the cross. You do not find the preaching of the cross in contemplative prayer…
Tom: Yeah, and what happens is you have a different god.
Ray: Exactly! Precisely! This quote really sums it up. This is from Marcus Borg. I’ve seen him in person. He’s a…unfortunately, he passed away – I mean for him - but he was one of the major writers on contemplative prayer within the mainline denominations. He was an Episcopalian. And his wife ran a contemplative prayer center in Portland, Oregon. His wife was a rector at an Episcopal Church, and he wrote quite a few books. One of them is called, incredibly, The Heart of Christianity. And he did – I’ve seen him in person - he did contemplative prayer every single morning - just like you mentioned, Tony Campolo. Every single morning. But yet, this is what he wrote. Okay, first of all, he defines contemplation. He says, “Contemplation typically involves a silent repetition of a mantra, whether a single word, a short phrase, or a series of short phrases.” (So, we haven’t misconstrued anything. He does the type of prayer that we’re talking about.) But then he says “that Jesus is the only Son of God, born of a virgin, that He died for our sins, that He rose physically from the dead, that He will come again, and so forth…this image of Jesus no longer works for millions of people both within and outside the church. For these millions, its literalism and exclusivity are not only unpersuasive but a barrier to being Christian.”
Tom: Well, now we’ve got a huge problem, because he’s just kicked out the Word of God – God’s communication to mankind.
Ray: He’s kicked out everything that Christianity promotes and believes, and says that if you believe it, it’s a barrier to being a Christian. Now, because many, many denominations are actually moving fully into the contemplative camp…
Tom: All right, but here’s the problem: the problem is [that] that’s his opinion. Now you either have the Word of God – God communicating directly to us: the infinite God to His finite creation; you either have that, or you have man’s opinions, speculations, guesses, and so on. So, that’s where he’s taking us. He has no longer an authority – an authority based on God. God communicating to mankind. So, that’s what we’re left with. So, now, you’re going to take his word for it? Or are you going to go with the Word of God, which is the Word of God!
Ray: The thing here, Tom, is that I’m seeing his books in bookstores at once-conservative Christian colleges.
Tom: Ray, he’s one guy. But our great concern is those who have…he’s working his way into Christianity. Let’s say that. But what about those who are established within Christianity who are promoting this idea? And I’m not referring to unknowns in Christianity. Richard Foster, Beth Moore, John Piper, Rick and Kay Warren, Max Lucado, Larry Crabb, Dallas Willard, Brian MacLaren…I mean, I could go on and on and on. Now, I’m not saying that these people are into all of this, but, Ray, we have established that the belief system of contemplative prayer moves toward “merging with God.” It is so antichrist, it is so anti-biblical, how could they buy into this? That’s my question.
Ray: Well, I’ve pondered that myself. Either…I’ve always thought that perhaps they don’t know this other aspect. Perhaps they’re unfamiliar with the Marcus Borgs and the more radical types that populate the contemplative prayer scene, that they’re just unaware. But then, what if they’ve had experiences? It’s hard to pin down exactly why somebody like a Max Lucado or a Beth Moore would actually embrace this. Now, Beth Moore had a connection with the guy that I quoted from earlier, who said the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. And for some reason, that didn’t put her off; despite his contemplative proclivity, she saw it as being beneficial rather than negative.
Tom: Yeah, and all of these wouldn’t condone it – wouldn’t promote it - if they didn’t find some aspect of it that they’ve bought into. Now, one of the big names - you’ve written about people that have influenced Roman Catholicism – one of the individuals, certainly within the Catholic Church, was Thomas Merton.
Ray: Well, yeah.
Tom: But then we could take it to Richard Rohr, and other Catholic priests and so on, promoting this within Roman Catholicism. But one of the big names that has influenced many leaders within evangelical Christianity is Henri Nouwen.
Ray: Oh yes, Henri Nouwen.
Tom: All right. Tell us about him, Ray.
Ray: Yeah, Henri Nouwen was a (again, he’s deceased)…Henry Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest. He wasn’t a monk. He was a priest and highly regarded among the evangelical Christians. You’ll hear his name mentioned many times in evangelical pulpits around the country. But anyhow, he wrote a book called The Prayer of the Heart. He was a disciple of Thomas Merton. In this book he said you take a word and you repeat it silently over and over again until you descend from the mind into the heart. In other words, you go into a trance and your consciousness moves inward, and that’s where you find God. But again, one of his major problems was that he believed that God was in...you know, this is what we find in the Emerging Church, and Henri Nouwen was a favorite in the Emerging Church, and he said, “The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being.” In other words, it totally alleviates (and this is how you can tell this is not of God)…because it totally alleviates the necessity to be saved in the standard conventional way through faith. Because if God is already in everybody, then why do you need to be saved? So what salvation entails then, is realizing that you are part of God, merging with God.
Ray: But in reality, it’s a familiar spirit. Paul talks about doctrines of devils and seducing spirits. That’s what I want to get across to all your listeners out there: that “seducing spirits” means that you don’t know that you’re being seduced because seduction – well, you wrote that book The Seduction of Christianity. It’s not apparent; it’s not upfront. It’s not like, “Hey, there’s something fishy here.” It’s like you’ve got confidence in what’s being presented to you. Like women that are seduced. They think, This guy loves me. He wants to marry me. In reality, he doesn’t. He intends to use you.
Tom: Ray, one other thing about Henri Nouwen, he was, as you said, very influential in the Emerging Church movement. I was in an evangelical church for an emergent church service there, and I found an altar which was based on Nouwen’s book How to Pray through the Icons. And there it was, instruction for evangelicals in how to pray through icons, icons being these images that are found in Orthodox, or Russian Orthodox, or Eastern Orthodox churches, and so on. So here we have within a church an influence of training evangelicals with extrabiblical ideas, concepts, and methods, which, again, are not in Scripture. So it leads to another spirituality – a spirituality that’s demonic.
Ray: Aberrant spirituality. I was going to say that Henri Nouwen is Hilary Clinton’s favorite spiritual author.
Tom: Well, there we go. Now, Ray, what’s your counsel to Christians that would help them avoid being deceived by these contemplative practices that seem to be increasing daily. It’s overwhelming!
Ray: Well, you and I both believe that this is the end of the age, and we’re on the verge of the Great Tribulation, and the man of sin is going to come to power, which, by the way, “shows himself to be God.” I believe this is how he’s going to do it, not just through contemplative prayer but through the whole gamut. You’ve got to look at the big picture of what’s out there, the pervasiveness of yoga…
Tom: So, Ray, how does a Christian protect himself against this influence?
Ray: Oh, to me it’s very simple. Just weigh what these people are saying with the gospel.
Tom: Right. So, the answer’s in the Word. They’ve got to compare everything…they’ve got to be Bereans, don’t they? They have to…
Ray: Yeah, Bereans.
Tom: …search the Scriptures.
Ray: Yeah, your organization isn’t called The Berean Call for nothing!
Tom: Right. But it’s important, because much of this, because it’s subjective, experiential, it may have a “feel-good” side to it, but no matter how you feel, is it true to the Word of God? And that’s…
Ray: Well, not just feel good, but an ecstatic side to it. Remember, Foster says that when you do contemplative prayer you have euphoria to the nth degree.
Tom: And again, we don’t go by feelings. Certainly, we have feelings. We don’t go by emotions. Certainly we have emotions, but that’s the…
Ray: We go by truth!
Tom: Right. So all of those things are a byproduct, and we don’t want the byproduct – the cart - getting ahead of the horse. So, truth is the main thing, but we want to do things God’s way, to glorify Him, to have a testimony that we are pleasing Him. That’s what it’s all about.
Ray: Exactly! A testimony.
Tom: So, Ray, we’re out of time now, but I do want to thank you for…
Ray: Oh, my pleasure! I could talk for hours!
Tom: Yeah, well, you and I can talk together for hours, okay? Or we’ll have you back, because there’s so much more that we could cover. So anyway, Ray, thanks for joining us on Search the Scriptures 27/7.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with 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 Bend, Oregon, 97708; call us at 800.937.6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.