"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
It is always so interesting to me to see where my random research leads. It's amazing how one thing, or name, can lead to another. This morning I was reading an article on Rick Warren, and through a series of links that I'm not even sure I could trace again, I found myself reading about the author and speaker Gary Thomas. Maybe I'm just totally out of the loop (more than likely), but I hadn't heard of him before. In case you haven't either, books he has written include Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, and Sacred Pathways. It didn't take long to realize that Thomas teaches and encourages contemplative prayer, and is in fact, pretty candid about his beliefs. Glancing through the home page of his website I found this:
Gary’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and won numerous awards. His writings have established him as a thought-leader in the areas of marriage, parenting, and spiritual formation. Church leaders and pastors appreciate [...] Gary’s ability to challenge and encourage the spiritual depth of an audience. He has spoken at conferences, retreats, and college campuses in 49 states and eight countries, including appearances at the Focus on the Family National Marriage Simulcast, the Gaithers’ Praise Gathering, and several National Pastor’s Conventions.The terms "spiritual formation" and "contemplative spirituality" are commonly synonymous. Lighthouse Trails gives concise definitions of what these phrases mean.
Contemplative Spirituality: 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). Common terms used for this movement are "spiritual formation," "the silence," "the stillness," "ancient-wisdom," "spiritual disciplines," and many others.
Now that the little alarm bells in my head were going off, my attention was drawn to the short list provided on some of his appearances. The names Focus on the Family and the Gaithers immediately jumped out at me. I don't listen to Focus on the Family, myself, but I am definitely very familiar with it.Spiritual Formation: A movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case you will find contemplative spirituality. In fact, contemplative spirituality is the heartbeat of the spiritual formation movement.
As for the Gaithers..... :( it is a sad, sad day for Ally. If it is the same Gaithers that I can only assume he is referring to, (and it is, I looked it up) then excuse me for a moment while I go have a little cry. I love the Gaithers' music. I've been listening to them since I was a kid. I wasn't able to find much about the Gaithers, but unfortunately, a little digging on that topic brought to light a very concerning fact. In 2005 the Gaithers hosted what I discovered was a 3 day event, called the Gaithers' Praise Gathering. It was a combination event of concert and speakers. According to the web page where tickets were sold for the event "Authors Ken Gire and Brian McLaren will keynote the three-day event, which also features 15 speakers and three dozen entertainers..." These men, in particular McLaren, are leading the Emergent Church movement. I also discovered that, other well-known names in the Emergent movement such as Leonard Sweet and Donald Miller were among the 15 speakers. Of course, contemplative Calvin Miller and Gary Thomas were also participants. Folks, that's quite a line-up that can't be ignored. To me, by hosting the event, they endorsed these men and their teachings. Suffice it to say....I'm sad. Brian D. McLaren is a prominent, controversial voice in the Emerging Church movement. He was recognized as one of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America,"
..... Click the link for more information. three-day event
a competition in the pleasure horse sport comprising usually one day each for dressage, cross country and show jumping.
..... Click the link for more information.
After I had dug as deep as it seemed possible on the Gaithers, I moved on to see what I would find about Focus on the Family. Sadly, there was quite a bit more material available in regards to their involvement in connection to Gary Thomas, and the contemplative movement as a whole. But, before we look at that, I want to tell you a little bit more about what Thomas teaches and why promoting his books/teachings are dangerous. In his book Sacred Pathways, Thomas gives directions about how to practice mantra meditation, or what he calls centering prayer. He says,
It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing.(p. 185)This is not the type of prayer that is taught to us in Scripture. This is a mystical type of 'prayer' and meditation that has been cloaked in a few Christian sound words. But it doesn't end there. In another of his books, Sacred Marriage, Thomas introduces his readers to author Mary Anne McPherson Oliver, specifically her book Conjugal Spirituality. He quotes her several times throughout the book, and even again in the epilogue. He writes in the epilogue,
I'm inspired by Mary Anne McPherson Oliver's words:Obviously, this small segment has issues enough to discuss, but it is important to also point out why finding Mary Anne McPherson Oliver's name in the book is so frightening. In an Article on the Lighthouse Trails blog, they go into detail on Oliver.
"Conjugal saintliness is clearly an ideal from which most of what we see and experience is far removed...If there are couple-saints around, we might not recognize them, and if we have never looked for the work of the Spirit in sexuality, we might not have noticed it. Besides, saints are rare, and holy couples should be statistically rarer still. Logically, one would expect at three-to-one ratio, since there are not only two human beings but their relationship to perfect."
What if a few Christian couples took this pioneering challenge seriously and made it their goal to become a "couple-saint"?
Who is Mary Anne McPherson Oliver and why should Christians be concerned about Gary Thomas’ promotion of this woman’s book, Conjugal Spirituality?
On the back of Oliver’s book, it states that “[r]eligious practice as we know it today remains, in effect, ‘celibate.’ Mary Anne Oliver proposes an alternative … she examines the spiritual dynamics of long-term relationship.” Some may be wondering, “What does that all mean?” To put it simply, Oliver believes that sexuality and spirituality go together and that couples are missing out because they have not incorporated the two but rather have practiced what she calls a celibate spirituality.
Oliver received her doctorate in mystical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and her book permeates with her mystical persuasions. She describes her “discomfort” regarding present views on sexuality and religion and says she hunted for answers by talking to monks, going on retreats and even spending an entire (“liturgical”) year at Taize, an ecumenical, meditation-promoting community in France. Eventually, she came to identify what she termed “conjugal spirituality” (p. 1).
Oliver says that “negative attitudes” and “walls” toward sex have inhibited people and says: “Although the walls are coming down, the separation of sex and spirituality which has been operative since the 4th century has yet to be completely eliminated” (p. 16).
What exactly is Oliver proposing couples do to remove these “walls”? Very clearly, her message to couples is to turn to mysticism. In dismay, she says that “spiritual counsellors [sic] and writers” have not begun to teach the “Upanishads and Tantric writings as the basis for moral theology for couples” and that [s]ome still refuse to grant that mystical experience can be associated with erotic love” (p. 18). Oliver says that changes in mainstream theology have prepared the way for “the emergence of conjugal spirituality.” She adds: “An upsurge of interest in the spiritual life and a renaissance in mystical studies have widened the domain of spirituality” (p. 27). [...]
In Conjugal Spirituality, Oliver talks favorably about mystic Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point and the “Indian Tantric Yoga tradition … spoken of as kundalini potential energy” (p. 97). She describes public sexual ceremonies in which couples practice “Taoist visualizations and meditations, accompanied by breathing exercises” and talks of “[i]nvoking the gods and goddesses.” Oliver says that society may frown on such public displays of sexual mysticism at this time and couples may have to improvise until restrictions are lifted. She says that “sexual union celebrated [is] an eschatological sign of God’s kingdom where all will be one” (p. 101).This does not seem to be someone that is worthy of being quoted several times throughout a Christian book. And it is disturbing to realize that Thomas agrees with Oliver's beliefs enough to not only promote her work, but find her words inspiring. So, with that brief glimpse into Gary Thomas and his obvious contemplative spirituality, it already begs the question why would Focus on the Family have anything to do with him, much less sell/promote his books on their website? Back in 2006 Lighthouse Trails wrote a letter to Focus on the Family regarding their concern about their promotion of Thomas. They received back THIS letter. (Take a second to read it, it's short!)
I know, it's small writing and hard to read. So for those of you with bad eyes (mom! lol)... After the initial "thank you for your concern" paragraph, it goes on to say,
Allow me to come straight to the point, Ms. Dombrowski. After a careful review, our staff has found nothing within the pages of Sacred Parenting that contradicts the Christian faith or Dr. Dobson's philosophy of child-rearing in any way. As a matter of fact, we feel strongly that this book will be a tremendous help and a great inspiration to those moms and dads who choose to take advantage of its message. We are not in a position to to address the contents of Mr. Thomas' other writings, of course, but this much we can tell; there is and always has been a strong tradition of contemplative prayer in the Christian church that has nothing to do with mantras and Eastern meditation. To confuse the two, as you have done, is to jump to unwarranted conclusions based on a misunderstanding of certain features they appear to share in common.A misunderstanding of features they share in common? In my mind this shows a lack of discernment on the part of Focus on the Family. And I can't help but wonder exactly what they are referring to when they speak of the strong tradition of contemplative prayer in the church. It is certainly not Scriptural. And as for whatever "tradition" they refer to, if it doesn't line up with the Word of God then it should hole zero weight, and immediately be thrown out. This is not the only letter in which Focus on the Family has defended it's connection with contemplative prayer and/or Gary Thomas. This is the reply that a concerned Christian that recently contacted them about contemplative prayer:
We hope this reply has clarified our perspective for you. [...]
Dear Friend: Thank you for writing to Focus on the Family. It was good of you to contact us with your candid concerns about our ministry’s involvement with what has sometimes been called “contemplative prayer.” Thoughtful, honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters. We’re happy to have this opportunity to respond to the thoughts you’ve shared.Read the full article HERE. It has other links throughout it that you might find interesting. As for their claim that they are not promoting the speakers and books that teach contemplative prayer, I do not think that it is true. As a outreach ministry, as soon as you attach your name with theirs, it necessarily means that you agree and recommend that teacher or book. Because, if you disagreed or were seriously concerned about the content of their teaching you would not have allowed them on your program to begin with. In addition, whatever books you sell on your website indeed indicates that you promote the teachings therein. There is no way around that.
While we appreciate your input, we also feel bound to inform you that you are mistaken on a couple of different fronts. To begin with, your assertion that Focus on the Family is “promoting” contemplative prayer and spirituality is neither fair nor accurate. Yes, we have occasionally referenced speakers and authors who deal with subjects of this nature – individuals such as Richard Foster, Larry Crabb, and Beth Moore. But none of this, in our opinion, amounts to “promoting” contemplative prayer. The truth of the matter is that we have far too much else on our plate to become involved in any such activity. The heart of our outreach is practical family ministry.
That said, we also find it hard to understand why any particular method of prayer should be regarded as “a dangerous deviation from sound Bible practices.” After all, there are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people offering prayers. Besides, there is nothing unbiblical or anti-Christian about solitude, silence, and contemplation. Far from it! After all, it was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire that the Lord spoke to Elijah, but rather in the “still, small voice” of intimate, personal communion (1 Kings 19:12). David highlights the value of this type of spiritual discipline in Psalm 4:4, where he writes, “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” Another Psalmist similarly represents the Lord as exhorting His people to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And Jesus Himself, who lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures, often retired to quiet, secluded spots in the wilderness or on the mountain where He could converse with His Father apart from the noise and distraction of the crowd (see Mark 1:35). In time, His disciples learned to follow His example in this regard.
On the basis of this firm biblical foundation, a strong tradition of Christian contemplation and mysticism has grown up within the church over the past 2,000 years – a tradition that has nothing whatsoever to do with “dangerous” New Age spirituality. Many of the early church fathers of the first three centuries of the Christian era – men like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, and Anthony of Egypt – were contemplatives who had mystical experiences in prayer. It is even possible to trace this strain of spirituality to the apostles themselves: Peter, for example, who saw visions on the roof of the house of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:9-16), or Paul, who speaks of having been “caught up to the third heaven” where he “heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), or John, whose encounter with the risen Christ while “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” gave us the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9). In our view, it’s not the form or style of such experiences, nor the methods or techniques of prayer that precede them, that should determine their legitimacy, but rather their content and the degree to which they either do or do not bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We hope this reply has clarified our perspective for you. Thanks again for caring enough to contact us. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you.
Focus on the Family
One more article HERE of an FOF reply to a concerned Christian, in which they say that, "we would mention that we are familiar with the group you’ve quoted; it’s not the first time we’ve heard such allegations, it probably won’t be the last, and we take whatever we hear from that quarter with a healthy dose of salt." (The group that they are referring to is the discernment website Lighthouse Trails Research) It would seem that Focus on the Family is determined to turn their head away from recognizing the dangers that they are either wittingly, or unwittingly, promoting. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it should be the other way around, and we should be taking what they teach with a healthy dose of salt.
Sometimes I wonder if there is anything left that has been untouched by some kind of deception. It's everywhere. I hope that when you read these things that you take some time to go through it and test it in light of Scripture. That can be our only litmus test. No person, teacher, group, or ministry is above the Word of God.