Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Contemplate" This:
...the mantra of the new age is now considered Christian?

Guest blog by Carla Rolfe

This is not going to win me any popularity points, but that is not my primary concern. I care much more about biblical truth than falling in with the evangelical trend du jour.

It used to be that if you discovered a reformed/Calvinistic/sovereign grace website you could pretty much recommend that site to others without having read every word on the site. It used to be a given, in most cases, that if a person held to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men (i.e. Psalm 139), that they were promoting solid resources on their sites.

This is NOT the Case Anymore
More and more all the time I notice websites that are promoting and endorsing the very same authors, speakers, churches, books, seminars or conferences that are also embracing or promoting new age/eastern mystic "theology." This is just garbage; you heard me correctly, garbage. Contemplative/centering/breath prayers, mantras, labyrinths, mood altering-worship enhancing music or visuals or scents, etc. does not represent biblical Christianity. "Contemplative spirituality" represented as Christian is quite frankly... unthinkable. Yet, there are people sounding this warning that this movement is spreading quickly into all kinds of churches... Why it is making major inroads into evangelical circles these days and even being endorsed by evangelical leaders is the concern and theme of this article.

Are We Ready to Listen?
With those who biblically and boldly try to confront this issue, have we unwittingly written them off as crackpots who see demons behind every bush or embrace them who are simply trying to apply the biblical mandate of "test all things; cling to that which is good"? (1 Thess. 5:21). Do we continue to make excuses and say things like "well, let's not go overboard, because they're quite solid in other areas". Granted, some of the churches and ministries embracing this new Contemplative Spirituality may be biblically solid in other areas. But in my way of thinking this is all the more reason to exhort them away from the eastern mystic influences, rather than pacify them and give them the false idea that CS "is okay". And it's most certainly not okay.

Time and time again I see glowing recommendations for some of the leaders of this movement; such people as Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson and Thomas Merton - just to name a few. It's not as if folks who endorse these men are ignorant of what they held/hold to. They DO know and they endorse them anyway. That's the kicker. They see NOTHING wrong with endorsing those who embraced teachers for themselves that were either heavily involved in the occult, or Hinduism, or all kinds of other unbiblical "spiritual disciplines".

What does surprise me is that many of the websites and blogs I see out there that are promoting these guys (and gals - make no mistake, there are just as many contemplative women "leaders" out there as there are men) are sites that at the same time, strongly promote Sola Scriptura.

Question: let's back up the truck there: how can one endorse eastern mystic religious practices and defend Sola Scriptura at the same time?

Answer: YOU CAN'T. But they do; and many do it by saying "oh there's nothing wrong with this, it's been around for centuries, it's a good thing". Leprosy has been around for centuries too, but I wouldn't want it. Being "ancient" means nothing, if it's wrong.

What Sola Scriptura Really Means
The Cambridge Declaration gives a very good and concise definition of Sola Scriptura:

Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority

Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church's life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture . Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God . Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.

Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church's understanding, nurture and discipline.

Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God's truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God's provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher's opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.

The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture . Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God's grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.

Thesis One: Sola Scriptura
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation,which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
I fully agree with those statements; and more so now than when it was written in 1996 and signed by the executive council. The "Christian culture" of our day has nearly obliterated Sola Scriptura right off the evangelical map. Anymore, saying one affirms Sola Scriptura seems to be an empty claim. Just a nice thing to say in order to affirm in the eyes of others that you're orthodox in your theology.

As Christians, we should not be a people
who long to just "feel" our God,

but to know our God (Phil. 3:7-11).

Embracing authors who teach us all about chanting ourselves mantra-style into numbing our brains into silence so that we can attain some spiritual level of communication with God - unfortunateley appears to be acceptable in some evangelical circles today. This falls square into the category of personal spiritual experience and cannot be justified by one verse or one passage of Scripture at all. Nowhere is this "spiritual discpline" or "contemplative spirituality" to be found in the Bible; especially as it pertains to prayer. But hey, it's assisting me to achieve "a deeper relationship" with God, so it can't be wrong... right? Um... no, Very wrong.

Mainstream Mantra
To give a very real example of just how pervasive this is among "mainstream" Christian websites, let's use a very popular Christian book site: Christian Book Distributors. Truth be told, I love CBD. For selection and price I haven't found a better source for our homeschool books over the last 8 years I've been a homeschool teacher. With that said, take a walk over there and type in "contemplative" in the search box. No less than 166 to choose from. Do the homework: look at the titles; notice the authors; and then test it with Scripture.

Among the top 10 bestsellers at CBD is "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us" By Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. At the publisher's site you can find much more information about this book and what it contains. I'd strongly recommend you do that to see exactly what it is you're getting into when you pick up this book (or any of the others on this topic) to begin your "contemplative spiritual journey".

The Need for Discernment
The fact is, the local church is changing, and it's NOT all for the good. Unbiblical practices are being endorsed and taught and those who stand up and speak out for biblical discernment on this issue are being mocked, ridiculed, or just written off as someone who doesn't understand where the church is going and why these things are all part of a "personal transformational journey".

Personal spiritual experiences and disciplines must line up with the teachings of Scripture. If they do not, they must be rejected. And most importantly, the diligent student of the Word must ask themselves why they're participating in such things that cannot be supported by the written word of God (Acts 17:9-11; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9). In addition, such experiences and disciplines can certainly feel fulfilling and exhilarating AND they might even make you feel more spiritual. If they don't line up with God's Word, one must consider that such things are not of God at all, but another spiritual realm that Christians have no place dabbling in.

More from the Cambridge Declaration
A Call To Repentance & Reformation
The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ's kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.

We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the "gospels" of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God's saving work in Jesus Christ.

We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God's Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church's worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism.

For Christ's sake. Amen.

I couldn't agree with this more.


Sporous said...

You go, Carla!Great post.

Prayerbone said...

Hi a very timely article Carla thks..Its funny being away from church for so long,i think ive notice the change more then people who never left!!

I was a member of what i felt was a very solid church back in the 80s,i left at 21 i'm now 41..On my return its like everyone as changed amazingggg..

My old church seem to of jumped on every band wagon in the last 20 years..Now there fully on the completative wagon from preaching about ancient ways,labyrinths praying,middle ages practices or emergent..Their big thing at present is talking about breathing as a life style,breathing out is helping people,social gospel etc and breathing in is taking time for ourself to relax etc..

The real irony when i questioned my ex pastor he said "wowee u sound like a fundamentalist andy,church's have changed"!! You'd see the irony of that if you knew me !!

candyinsierras said...

Excellent article. I worked briefly for a "Christian" Chiropractor this summer. I needed a job and my sister who is a patient there said they had an office position. This Chiropractor attends a local Christian church. I was alarmed from the first day. They had an affirmation they stated as a group daily about being the "Master" and speaking positive things into our lives as an example. They used a consultant firm called The Master's Circle that supplied the affirmation. I refused to participate. They also had a lot of new agey stuff around and a screen that flashed new age suggestions such as doing yoga and all that. I couldn't wait to leave that job. God opened up a door to teach at a Christian school. I pick up on New Age stuff very easily because it was what I was into pre-Christian. I'm surprised that many Christians just don't seem to get it.

SJ Camp said...

I think the reason most Christians seem to get it, is that most are not skilled in the Word of God to be able to evaluate anything that comes into their respective churches.

The need for pastors to equip the saints biblically today is profound.

Thank you Carla for this excellent reminder to guard the trust and honor His truth.

Eph. 4:11-16

cyd said...

Excellent, Carla. Thank you!

This contemplative garbage is every Eastern Ism re-packaged for the western consumer. It's all in the clever marketing, making an appeal to the god within; or as the mystics like to say,
"realizing your inner I Am".

May we indeed be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Mt 10:16


cyd said...

BTW Carla,

I clicked on the book link you mentioned and noticed that the first endorsement for it was by Tim Keller, a noted Reformed pastor of a church I attended in NYC back in the day when it was first starting.

Now here he is recommending this book.

This is what he said:

"I have long profited from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's gifts in the field of spiritual development, and I am delighted that she has compiled her experience with spiritual disciplines into book form. I highly recommend it and I look forward to using it as a resource at our church."

—Dr. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC

This is disturbing. Have you had any dialogue with him about this?



jen elslager said...

Amen and amen. The growing lack of discernment today is quite alarming. Thanks for the article, Carla.

Carla Rolfe said...

Cyd: you asked re: Pastor Keller's endorsement of Calhoun's book "Have you had any dialogue with him about this?"

I have, but only briefly. I did email him when I first learned of it, but he never received the email. He later posted a comment at my blog on a completely unrelated topic and I took that opportunity to bring this up with him in hopes that he could clarify his endorsement.

The archives have the comment link blocked so you'll have to read the posts & comments seperately:

First post
Comment thread

Follow up post
Comment thread

I do hope Steve's readers have found this post useful, and I appreciate the kind words. It's encouraging to me that so many other believers do find this an important topic.


MarieP said...


Carla's attempt last year to speak with Keller can be found here

IIRC, Keller responded somewhere on Carla's blog but I can't seem to find it.

Terry Rayburn said...

A big part of the problem is that Christians often just don't understand what "inspiration" means, or "revelation" for that matter.

"Revelation" is what is given as truth from God, whereas "inspiration" is how it is given.

"Inspiration" Scripturally means "God-breathed" (Gk. theopneustos). This simple but profound concept has fallen by the wayside.

Poets say, "God inspired that poem of mine." Songwriters say, "God gave me that song." And contemplatives say, "God spoke to me, or revealed Himself to me as I 'centered' or emptied my mind."

But when the Scripture says that it was God-breathed, it refers to the very words of God. There are no wordless concepts inspired by God. Man does not live by bread alone but by every WORD that proceeds from God's mouth.

So when one attempts to "get" God's meaning, or "get" God's something-or-other, without God's words, they err.

"You shall know the TRUTH, and the truth shall make you free." Not, "You shall get the vibes, or get the feeling, or get the idea, and these shall make you free."

This is where the Charismatic Movement falls so short. It pretends to have Apostles and Prophets (or even "laymen") who "hear from God" and "speak for God", but they aren't willing to say that the words themselves are God-breathed. So you have a new phenomenon: the non-God-breathed "word" from the Lord. Or as the Kansas City prophets claim, 66% accuracy. Close enough for non-God-breathed.

What a mockery of Sola Scriptura.

Whether an Eastern mystical meditator, or a Pentecostal tongue-talker or "prophesier", the result is the same...the degrading of the authority of the Word of God.

There's a reason why it's in the last book of the Canon, Revelation, that God warns against adding to His Word. It's so we can't use the lame excuse that He only meant the book of Revelation itself, as though it's O.K. to "add to His Word" otherwise. To add to Revelation is to add to the Canon itself. But the Canon is closed.

To come full circle, our thoughts and meditations are not "inspired", any more than our poems and songs are. They are the imperfect "working out" of the truth which is in the Scriptures, which we have been renewing our minds with.

Josh Gelatt said...

In college (and after) I used to joke that I was going to start the "Christian Physic Network". Then one day a church (several years ago) I said the same thing and the group I was talking to thought it was a great idea. I was dumbfounded, and it took me a moment to comprehend that they REALLY saw no problem with it.

I have since decided to shelve that little piece of humor.

Grosey's Messages said...

Scarey stuff...and its prevalent everywhere... 2 Thess 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;


Michele Rayburn said...

Thank you, Carla, for this post.

I was surfing the net last night, looking at an article on Slice of Laodicea, when I came across a link to Herescope, and there I saw an article entitled "Radical Contextualization" (July 30, 2007), which gives some insight into how Hinduism has made its way into Christianity. It began with this quote by "missions" guru Ralph Winter:

Apparently our real challenge is no longer to extend the boundaries of Christianity but to acknowledge that Biblical, Christian faith has already extensively flowed beyond Christianity as a cultural movement just as it has historically flowed beyond Judaism and Roman Catholicism. Our task may well be to allow and encourage Muslims and Hindus and Chinese to follow Christ without identifying themselves with a foreign religion. The Third Reformation is here.
--Ralph Winter, "Twelve Frontiers of Perspective."

Here are more excerpts from "Radical Contextualization":

[Ralph] Winter's "Third Reformation," which actually may have quite a lot to do with Rick Warren's "Second Reformation," calls for a substantial paradigm shift....

...Winter then suggests, "We may need to go beyond mere radical contextualization." We need to go "beyond Christianity as we know it." He suggests a number of examples of "followers of Jesus" who "have not chosen to call themselves Christians nor to identify with the socio-ecclesiastical tradition of Christianity" but rather their pagan faith....

....He [Ralph Winter] is talking about pagan peoples who will be "followers of Jesus" but still live in their pagan religious system. He is talking about people who could very easily be manipulated or persuaded into following any "Jesus" that happens on the scene. A non-biblical "Jesus" could fit into any religious system in the world with ease. Which is probably what this is all about....

Winter's ideas of decontextualizing (deconstruction) to a "beyond Christianity" state indicates that this will be a de-Gospelized world in which there is no Context at all....

Sandy Simpson and Mike Oppenheimer, in their recently released book "Idolatry in Their Hearts", note the disastrous effects of this type of "radical contextualization" on biblical evangelism. They describe how cross-cultural evangelism has led to outright "cross-cultural syncretism with other gods" (p. 218).

Interfaith organizations have a main objective to promote syncretism. Interspiritualism, universalism, pluralism and other terms all describe the formation of this new world religious system. Religious syncretism is probably the most dangerous practice that can quickly leaven a church. Deceptive as it is, it has come through evangelism. (p. 221)

See for the rest of this fascinating article.

SJ Camp said...

Thank you for this article--very frightening stuff and enough reason for all of us to guard the trust in our day (1 Tim. 6:20).

To all:
Wonderful thoughts expressed by all--thank you for your words.

And let us also to remember Tim Keller in prayer; that if he has unwittingly embraced the false teachings of this movement that his eyes would be opened to error that exists in this movement regardless of how subtle. His voice is an important one today on so many levels and we should encourage him to sound doctrine in this area.

It just goes to prove that none of us have completely arrived in our theology yet and need to heed the loving criticisms of another so that we can avoid these kinds of doctrinal detours in our own lives.

kwilson said...

When you shake your head in amazement and say "How can they do this (in effect endorse the Gospel and the occult in the same breath)?", it brings to mind the interview with Larry King, John MacArthur and others in an earlier post. I am thinking of the Methodist Bishop, who articulated a completely relativistic belief system while stating that he believed the Gospel message. He said, in effect, that his God was correct but only for him, and others and their gods could be just as correct. That mindset can hold constructs that are quite opposite since it in effect says that there is no absolute truth and that the Bible is not inerrant. Once you quietly cast aside absolute truth and Biblical inerrancy it is short jump to the seemingly inexplicable endorsements of the occult, etc. by contemporaty Christian luminaries. The comments and endorsements of their people expose, or at least hint at, their underlying mindset. What the Bishops said is apostacy and more. Unpopular as it may be in our inclusive societal environment, this needs to be called out for what it is. In the case of the other 'leaders' it should serve as a large red flag pointing to the need for careful analysis before accepting other things that they might say...

Carla Rolfe said...

I have posted a follow up to this, in an effort to answer this blogger's comments. You can find my response at my own blog, here.