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Emerging Mysticism in New Evangelicalism (Part Two)

Emerging Mysticism in New Evangelicalism (Part Two)


By Ken Silva


In part one I established that Richard Foster is one of the "key mentors" in the Emerging Church movement. There is also no doubt that the spiritual disciplines/practices he promotes are a key factor in the mystic spirituality foundational to the EC. That Brian McLaren is one of the most prominent theologians in the EC is also beyond dispute, and most particularly in the more spiritually corrupt Emergent strain. We also saw that McLaren recommends both of his friends Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline (COD), and Emergent-US National Coordinator Tony Jones as authorities on these spiritual disciplines as practiced in the EC.


As our look at the emerging mysticism in new evangelicalism progresses it becomes imperative for you to understand more about the key figures who are involved. In his fine book A Time For Departing research analyst Ray Yungen shares with us some of the benefits of his in-depth study into Richard Foster's work when he informs us:


I discovered he was the founder and head of an organization called Renovare, from the Latin word meaning renewal. The goal of this group, as stated in their material, is to provide the evangelical church with a "practical strategy" for growing spiritually. "An army without a plan will be defeated," states one of Renovare's promotional materials. Renovare provides that plan or as they refer to it: "practical training for transformed living." [1]


Centering/Contemplative Prayer And Meditation

The key point to understand here is that "Christian" mysticism and its practices really are an integral part of the theology of the Emergent Church. In his 2005 book The Sacred Way Tony Jones gives us his version of the historical background concerning one of the spiritual disciplines currently taught by Foster and first practiced by what have become known as Christian mystics, one that Jones initially refers to as "centering prayer."


Like the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers. John Cassian (c.360-c.430) came from the West and made a pilgrimage to the desert to learn the ways of contemplative prayer. [2]


Lord willing another time we will return to what Cassian himself would go on to "instruct" people about this practice known as "contemplative prayer," but here we establish the root of this spiritual "discipline" which has now entered the mainstream evangelical community through Richard Foster. For the uninitiated "contemplative/centering prayer" (as you see above) is the interchangeable term these people are using for the practice of meditation. And by meditation we are not referring here to thinking about, or "contemplating" on, the texts of the Bible to ascertain their meanings with the illuminating assistance of God the Holy Spirit. No, contemplative prayer/meditation in this context is the same as that you will find in Zen and TM.


In COD, while he is discussing his views on the different forms of "meditation" that exist Foster gives us this description of contemplative/centering prayer as:


Another form of meditation is what the contemplatives [mystics] of the Middle Ages called "re-collection," and what the Quakers have often called "centering down." It is a time to become still, to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centered. [3]


Foster then explains that after "centering down" those who practice this form of meditation should "spend the remaining moments in complete silence." [4] No one is arguing that spending time alone with God is a bad idea for the regenerated Christian, nor am I saying it is necessarily wrong to spend time alone with the Lord silently contemplating in wondrous amazement just Whom it is that dwells within you. And this is what men like A.W. Tozer are talking about when they refer to being in silence before God. Unfortunately in a more innocent spiritual climate Tozer unwisely gave some credence to these so-called "Christian" mystics.


As one who has read much from Tozer and from the current "mystics" I can tell you with assurance that Tozer was not involved in the same type of contemplative prayer/mediation that is being encouraged by many leaders in the EmergingChurch movement. You will see when this series moves along that the easiest way to tell those who practice the type of neo-pagan mystic "disciplines" encouraged in the EC from those who simply silently spend time in God's presence is the message that each will come away with.


In closing this piece we take as examples Emergent spiritual director Brian McLaren and A.W. Tozer. The result thus far for McLaren as he's practiced his friend Richard Foster's version of mysticism has been his emerging message that the Christian faith should become "a welcome friend to other religions of the world." While Tozer, more of a "mystic" than I comfortable with, came forth from his moments of "silence" with the message that "the task of the Church is to spread New Testament Christianity throughout the world."


Undoubtedly these messages from McLaren and Tozer did not come from the same Spirit. The purpose of this study is to show you that the meditation practiced in the emerging mysticism in new evangelicalism most certainly does not lead to a mystical union with the one true and living God of the Bible.






[1] Ray Yungen, A Time Of Departing, (Lighthouse Trails, 2002), p. 71.

[2] Tony Jones, The Sacred Way, (Zondervan, 2005), p. 70, emphasis mine.

[3] Richard Foster, Celebrations of Discipline, (HarperCollins, 1998), p.30.

[4] Ibid., p. 31.