Question: I've heard that Awana is drifting toward mysticism in the way they are ministering to children. What do you know about that?
Response: Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation is offered by the Rorheim Institute, Awana's leader and parent development network. The book presents four different models on "how faith is cultivated in children," with each author critiquing the three other models. Awana's participation in this "debate" is through Greg Carlson and John Crupper, executives at the Rorheim Institute. They present the "Instructional-Analytical Model," which is basically how Awana goes about teaching children: encouraging them to read, study, and memorize the Scriptures.
Concerns that Awana is "drifting" toward mysticism stem not from what Carlson and Crupper present regarding their organization's approach; that approach is solid and biblical. However, their critique of the "Contemplative-Reflective Model" is far too conciliatory, especially in a book that showcases Catholic mysticism.
In the explanation of the Contemplative-Reflective Model (C-RM), we're told, "This school [of thought] is dominated by contemplative prayer. Centering prayers are typical. Their purpose is to occupy and free the mind so that one can dwell with God" (p. 37). Wheaton professor Dr. Scottie May, the author of the C-RM, is commended by the editor for "an excellent book [that she co-authored, teaching the] use of contemplation...and guided imagery in programming children's ministry" (p. 38). In Perspectives she writes, "The model seeks to assist them in finding the quiet place within themselves-a place that all children have-where they can sense the presence of God and hear his voice" (p. 46). May recommends "purposefully altering traditional religious education by introducing connatural knowing [i.e., through feelings and intuition] to young children so that they may encounter [emphasis in original] God rather than initially being taught about him" (p. 59).
Although Carlson and Crupper rightly object to some key points in May's mystical model, they naïvely give the impression that the Contemplative-Reflective model has something to offer, even quoting favorably Richard Foster, arguably the foremost advocate of Catholic mysticism in the church. Compounding the confusion, they commend "the Contemplative-Reflective Model [as an] important tool in helping provide a balanced development of the Christian spiritual life" (p. 87). Here they are showing their ignorance of the occultism rooted in mysticism.
Since the Rorheim Institute offers the book to prospective Awana leaders and parents, there's also a grave concern that these leaders and parents will select some of the unbiblical content of the models (including the child-development psychobabble) as helpful to their local programs.
Yet in spite of all of the miscues of Awana's involvement in Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation, based upon our correspondence with the organization, we're encouraged that the ministry wants no part of mysticism, other than to be better informed so that it can better defend against it. Hopefully, it will stay true to the Scriptures, which it has done admirably on behalf of our children for six decades.