How do we understand the pervasiveness of the Spiritual Formation movement? Perhaps in listening to those who have been warning of the dangers of this man-made system that is sweeping through so many churches with its roots in New Age mysticism. The following article is an eye-opener, and you’ll want to pay special attention to the last sentence.
On May 20-23, Moody Bible Institute held its annual Pastors’ Conference (this year called re|Focus). Keynote speakers included Alistair Begg, Voddie Bauchman, Michael Easley (former Moody Bible Institute president) and a number of other evangelical pastors and speakers. On Tuesday, during one of the breakout sessions, Peter Spychalla, Director of Prayer Ministries, East White Oak Bible Church in Illinois gave a teaching on the contemplative practice called lectio divina (see page 35 of brochure): The description for the lectio divina workshop reads:
Reading and Praying Scripture for Spiritual Transformation
Revive your devotional life by learning to read and pray Scripture for spiritual transformation rather than reading merely for information. Learn how historic traditions and contemporary practice of lectio divina (spiritual reading of Scripture) can help you meditate on Scripture, pray Scripture, apply Scripture, and grow in life changing intimacy with God.
To understand what lectio divina is, read our article (which is also a booklet), “Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Should Christians Practice it?
While the news that Moody is promoting lectio divina is going to come as a shock to some, Lighthouse Trails wants to make one thing very clear: Moody Ministries, which includes Moody Bible Institute , Moody Publishing, Moody Radio, and Moody Conferences, has been going down the contemplative path for many years. In fact, this is not the first time Lighthouse Trails has written about Moody’s contemplative openness. We are also going to include The Moody Church in this article. While Moody Ministries and The Moody Church are under two separate corporations, they do share the same founder. Also The Moody Church’s senior pastor, Erwin Lutzer, is an author of Moody Publishers.
The History of Our Warnings to Moody
In 2006, while reviewing Larry Crabb’s book The Papa Prayer, where Crabb makes the claim that “centering prayer” has greatly benefited him, we were stunned to see a number of respected Christian leaders names’ on the endorsement pages in the book. We wrote an article warning our readers about Crabb’s book and attempted to warn a couple of the men who had endorsed the book. Here is an excerpt from our article, “Trusted Evangelical Leaders Endorse The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb!”:
We called both the offices of James Kennedy and Erwin Lutzer to ask each of them if they realized what Larry Crabb was promoting, both in the book and in his ministry as well. We hoped we might be able to shed some light on the matter and that each of them would realize endorsing such a book would spiritually harm a lot of people. Perhaps they would want to issue a retraction. We received a call back from one of these men on the same day we called. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of The Moody Church and popular and respected author and speaker, listened to our concerns but told us that when he read the terms “contemplative prayer” and “centering prayer” in Crabb’s book, he did not think of it as any kind of New Age prayer. He said he absolutely does not endorse or promote the New Age at all. While we were happy to hear this, we told Pastor Lutzer that Larry Crabb does promote New Age beliefs and Lutzer’s name in the book will lead many who trust him to think Crabb’s book and other work are acceptable. Pastor Lutzer asked us to please remember to love all the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. He felt this was more important than criticizing others and naming names, and he said that we (Lighthouse Trails) may not really be qualified to identify spiritual deception within the church.
In The Papa Prayer, Crabb states:
I’ve practiced centering prayer. I’ve contemplatively prayed. I’ve prayed liturgically….I’ve benefited from each, and I still do. In ways you’ll see, elements of each style are still with me . . . Other forms of relating to God that have unique value in connecting us to Him include contemplative prayer and centering prayer. (pp. 9, 22)
One week after we came out with our article on Erwin Lutzer’s endorsement of Crabb’s book, we wrote another article titled, Moody Bible Institute – What Ever Happened?” This article addressed Moody’s Midday Connection radio show, which was bringing in contemplative guests such as Keri Wyatt Kent, Larry Crabb, and Dallas Willard. Our article stated:
When Midday Connection (MBI ministry) was recently asked about their obvious promotion of Wyatt Kent and of contemplative spirituality, they stated that they were committed to spiritual formation and named “solid guests” like Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard who were teaching people “spiritual disciplines.” They said they were just “re-stating some old truths in new ways.” It makes sense that they would use Larry Crabb as an example of these “new ways.” Crabb, in the foreword of a book (Sacred Companions) by contemplative-promoting David Benner, said that it was time to get rid of the old written code and replace it with new ways of practicing spirituality. Even still, it is surprising that Moody would call Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard “solid guests … “who recognize the need to teach people spiritual disciplines.”
We also pointed out in this article that Moody Conferences was bringing in speakers such as emergent figures Dan Allender and the now late Robert Webber. Both Allender and Webber have shown affinity with emergent leader Brian McLaren. In addition, we showed how Moody Publisher’s magazine promoted Gary Thomas’ contemplative book, Sacred Pathways, where Thomas tells readers to repeat a word for 20 minutes. Our article also showed that Moody Bible Institute Graduate School has a Department of Spiritual Formation, and a Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship (MASF/D). A number of contemplative authors are used in these programs (Nouwen, Benner, Willard, Foster, etc.).
But Moody’s admiration for things contemplative goes back further than 2006. In 1987, Moody Monthly wrote an endorsement for Sue Monk Kidd’s book, God’s Joyful Surprise. In this book, one of Monk Kidd’s earlier books, she unfolds her journey into contemplative spirituality, largely from reading Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors. Once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, today she promotes neo-paganism and goddess worship. This is what Moody Monthly wrote on the back cover of God’s Joyful Surprise over two decades ago:
Carefully avoiding a how-to approach [Kidd] suggests some disciplines for cultivating an interior quietness and a richer personal experience of God’s love. Her writing, well-balanced by the wisdom of writers like Brother Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Henri Nouwen is alive with humorous anecdotes.
One year after our two initial articles on Moody, we posted one titled “Young Christian Woman Withdraws from Moody Bible Institute Because of Contemplative Promotion.” We stated:
The young woman learned that the college (and at least one of the classes she was registered for) was promoting contemplative spirituality. Upon learning this, she spoke with various school officials about the situation. After coming to the conclusion through these meetings that Moody would at this time continue in the direction it was going, the young woman prayerfully decided she could not compromise her faith by receiving a degree from an institution that was promoting these teachings. This week, she withdrew herself from this fall’s upcoming classes and will now search for another Christian college.
Two of the authors this young woman challenged that were being used at Moody were Henri Nouwen and John Eldredge. Within a few weeks of our posting the plight of the student, we received a call from Moody’s public relations office telling us they had posted a response (and sent us an email) to Lighthouse Trails. That response still sits on the Moody website today. You may access it by clicking here. We stated the following with regard to their response:
Moody states that they agree that according to our definition of contemplative spirituality, it is wrong. Our definition states:
“A belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology; the premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).”
Their email states that they do not endorse this type of spirituality. They say that although they use books by contemplatives authors in their courses, it does not necessarily mean they adhere to the teachings of these authors. They say they are using these books to possibly discuss the errors of these books and authors. But this defense is contrary to evidence in their ministries and on their web sites that show they are promoting these authors and their teachings.
Basically, Moody was denying that they were promoting contemplative spirituality even though they were using contemplative authors. We offered to send complimentary copies of A Time of Departing and Faith Undone to the Moody public relations office back in 2007, but we were told not to send them.
Two months later, in November of 2007, we wrote the following article: “Moody Bible Institute Recommends Richard Foster’s Meditation! – Lighthouse Trails Challenges MBI.” We stated:
MBI professor Dr. Winfred O. Neely tells readers that “deep and prolonged thinking about the Lord’s word, person, and work is biblical.” While he states that eastern style meditation is wrong and dangerous, he brings terrible confusion to the matter by also stating: “For more in depth reading about the vital practice of biblical meditation, I suggest that you pick up Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline.” . . . Once again, we beseech Moody Bible Institute to read A Time of Departing so professors and students alike will not be drawn into the deception of Richard Foster’s spirituality. Foster has and continues to uplift and emulate the late monk Thomas Merton who said that God dwells in every human being. Merton knew that the silent state one goes into through contemplative would lead the practitioner into a view that God is in all. Is this really what MBI wants to convey to their students when they continue to include Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Larry Crabb, and Dallas Willard in the lecture halls and publications of their institution?
It is vital to understand that the spirituality of these men is based on the same method that Thomas Merton used, and yet Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East. (Shannon, Silent Lamp, p. 281)
In other words, if we want to understand Merton’s conversion to eastern thought, it was contemplative prayer that was the catalyst! This isn’t complicated or does it take a doctorate degree in theology to grasp. It’s as clear as day.
In January of 2008, we posted the following: “Moody Bible Institute Favors Mystic Henri Nouwen.” We started off our article by stating:
Leaders at Moody Bible Institute have adamantly insisted they do not promote or endorse contemplative spirituality. And in spite of repeated promotion of contemplatives . . . they have publicly stated they are against contemplative. Lighthouse Trails offered on more than one occasion to send faculty and staff complimentary copies of A Time of Departing [by Ray Yungen] to help explain the dangers of this mystical belief system. That offer has not yet been accepted. Now, to kick off the new year, MBI’s “Today in the Word” January 5th and January 9th editions are favorably referencing mystic Henri Nouwen.
We pointed out that whoever at MBI quoted Nouwen from his book In the Name of Jesus perhaps did not read the section in Nouwen’s book called “The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer” where Nouwen says: “For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (p. 32). When Nouwen says “from the moral to the mystical,” he is referring to exactly that – the mystical. Nouwen personally practiced mantra-type meditation for many years, which led him to absorb the universalism and panentheism of the mystics he admired. We concluded our article by stating:
Nouwen’s propensity for the mystical elements of spirituality with panentheistic overtones, are quite evident when one studies his writings. Even one of his biographer’s noted that Nouwen was enamored with Sri Ramakrishna who believed that all the world’s religions were valid revelations from God. Yet Nouwen esteemed him as an important spiritual figure (from Wounded Prophet). There is ample evidence to show why Henri Nouwen cannot be considered a trustworthy source for biblical Christianity. Is it that MBI does not want to look at the evidence because they are attracted to the same spirituality as Nouwen, Crabb, Foster, and Kent? If this is not the conclusion that we should reach, then what is it?
In December of 2008, we posted “Confusion Over Moody’s Pastors Conference – Concern Over Contemplative Promotion.” In this article, we revealed that the 2009 Moody Pastors’ Conference was going to be including a break out session called Soul Care to be presented by a contemplative organization called Soul Care. After some correspondence between Lighthouse Trails and Moody’s public relations office, the break out session Soul Care was cancelled. However, our article also showed that on January 10th 2008, Moody’s Mi-Day Connection radio program interviewed Soul Care’s founder Mindy Caliguire and contemplative advocate Adele Ahlberg Calhoun to “talk about practices that can transform us.” Ahlberg Calhoun has been the subject of Lighthouse Trails articles because of her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. In the book, Ahlberg Calhoun promotes mantra meditation, giving detailed instructions on several types of contemplative practices. In addition, she quotes from many New Age sympathizers and New Age contemplatives and encourages the use of centering prayer, breath prayers, contemplative prayer, labyrinths, palms-up, palms-down exercises, and recommends for further reading a who’s who of mystics. One of those she lists is Shalem Institute’s co-founder Tilden Edwards (p. 62).
A year later, in 2009, we wrote another article, this one titled: “Keri Wyatt Kent Continues Leading Women Toward Contemplative – Moody Bible Institute Helps,” showing Wyatt Kent’s continued connection with Moody’s Midday Connection program.
In November of 2011, we wrote “Focus on the Family’s Adventures of Odyssey Has “Eugene” Going to a Monastery – Moody Radio Broadcasts Program” (headline is self explanatory).
In December of 2011, we wrote the following: “Moody Publishers Release Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer.” This seemed to be a big bold step Moody was taking toward contemplative. Regarding the contemplative prayer book that Moody published, we stated:
The book is a collection of various prayers by a wide assortment of writers (e.g. the prayer of confession, the prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer of renewal, etc). Near the end of the book, Kurt Bjorklund, the author, has a section titled “Works Cited.” He lists ”the sources for prayer utilized in this book.” There are around 70 sources. It is from these sources that the prayer collections are gathered.
At least a dozen of these are books by contemplative authors who Lighthouse Trails has written about in the past: Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Ken Boa, Leighton Ford, Max Lucado, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa, all strong advocates of contemplative prayer. In addition, there is a book by emerging hero N.T. Wright, one by atonement denier Harry Fosdick (who suggests the Cross is barbarian), a book called the Catholic Prayer Book, one titled Celtic Daily Prayers, and The Book of Common Prayer.
Bjorklund also turns to a number of ancient and contemporary Catholic monks and priests. One such contemporary priest, the abbe Huvelin, once said, “I want all the inhabitants [of this place – his hermitage] whether Christians, Moslems, Greeks, Jews, or idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, their universal brother.” [Based on our research, what he means is not brothers in the social sense but rather brothers in the spiritual sense.] Such is an underlying sentiment in contemplative circles. The abbe Huvelin is a fitting choice for Bjorklund’s book. Other books in this list of 70-some sources by Bjorklund include A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God, and Harper Collins Book of Prayers (and there are others), all of which are brim full with prayers, references, and quotes by contemplative mystics.
It is a sad dilemma for us at Lighthouse Trails that try as might, Moody has dug in their heels and refuses to look at the evidence we present in our work. We are not asking them to take our word for it. We offer well-documented research, right out of the mouth of the mystics themselves. One year ago, in the spring of 2012, we posted “The Moody Church of Chicago Welcomes Contemplative Advocate Larry Crabb As Guest Speaker.” It appeared that Lutzer’s Moody Church was going to stay in step with Moody Ministries. After watching the “sermon” that Larry Crabb gave at The Moody Church last spring, we made these observations:
In this message, Larry Crabb is introducing Jesus as more of an example or model to us (one that we can be like) than a Savior to us. This is the crux of the contemplative/emerging message. This is where spiritual formation comes in. Since to be truly Christ-like is not possible without Christ in us (born-again), the contemplatives turn to the disciplines (with the emphasis on the mystical), and this gives them the illusion of being close to God (the mystical experience produces this euphoric feeling).
His conclusion is that we need to search for our own “center[s].” His psychology-filled, Scripture-starving sermon did not point to Jesus Christ and His magnificence but rather pointed to how the attributes of God can make us a great community and have great relationships. . . .
Lest some think we are speaking inaccurately about Crabb’s propensities toward contemplative spirituality, take a look at his connection with Richard Foster (Renovare) and Dallas Willard, two of the main pioneers in the modern day contemplative prayer movement: http://store.renovare.us/search.aspx?searchterm=crabb.
And in Crabb’s book, Real Church, he makes the following revealing statement: “I’m glad that as a conservative evangelical who still believes in biblical inerrancy and penal substitution, I’ve gotten over my Catholic phobia, and I’ve been studying contemplative prayer, practicing lectio divina, valuing monastic retreats, and worshipping through ancient liturgy. I appreciate Bernard of Clairvaux’s [a panentheistic] provocative insights. I’m drawn to Brother Lawrence’s profoundly simple ways to practice God’s presence. I’m intrigued and enticed by Julian of Norwich’s [also a panentheist] mysterious appearings of Jesus (p. 41). (Crabb does say he is against “false mysticism” in the book, but clearly advocates what he considers legitimate mysticism, that of the contemplative mystics.)
This brings us full circle and leads us to answer the question, is the prayer of occultic mystics the same as the prayer of “Christian” contemplatives? We believe we answered that question in our recent article regarding Ruth Haley Barton’s invitation to the Assemblies of God General Council conference coming up this summer, “Lighthouse Trails Statement to Assemblies of God Response Regarding Invitation of Ruth Haley Barton” We hope you will read that article, and then, if you are persuaded as we are in knowing that contemplative prayer is a dangerous, occultic practice, contact Moody and beseech them to study this matter and find the truth on it.
Incidentally, last month, Eric Targe, a Senior student at MBI and a Pastoral Intern at The Moody Church wrote a blog article promoting lectio divina called “Reclaiming Tradition – Lectio Divina.