by Rev. Clete Hux –
To varying degrees, all human beings seek their own autonomy or independence. This is especially true when it comes to a relationship with God our Creator. Suffice it to say that when we come into this world, we don’t come in running toward God. On the contrary, we come in running away from the God in whose image we are made. Shall we call it escape from reason? Frances Schaeffer did when he talked about a “natural theology” defined as man going his own independent way, not seeking the God of the Bible, nor taking the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.
What Schaeffer meant by this “natural theology” and independence of man forsaking God is different from the revelation of God in nature. One is man driven. The other is God given. We have the general revelation of God’s existence through creation and conscience which Paul speaks of in the first chapter of Romans. All men are consciously aware of our Creator’s existence. Yet, man’s fallen nature wants to suppress this knowledge. For example, a pickpocket picks pockets, but resents his own pocket being picked. The same suppression goes for the knowledge of God salvifically through the special revelation of His word and His Son. Instead, man would rather seek God on his own terms, making himself the point of reference for life’s interpretation and application.
With this independent bent often being described as a thirst for spirituality, some people will gravitate to occult mysticism in hopes of having an experience with God. What He has provided in His word through a relationship with His Son and the guidance of His Holy Spirit seem never to be enough when confined only to what can be found within the scriptural context of the Bible.
The writer of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” knew that our tendency is to “lean to our own understanding.” Because of the subjective nature of individual spiritual experiences, we are encouraged to trust in the unchanging God and the objectivity of His word. Church history is replete with people going after experiences outside biblical parameters and our day is no exception.
It has been said that the various charismatic movements over the years are attempts to experience God, and it could be argued that there is both legitimacy and illegitimacy to such. However, we would admit that a relationship with God through His Son’s intervention for us is experiential, yet, grounded in the proper bounds of His word. After all, is not the reason why the Father sent the Son…to pay our sin dept so that we can have an experiential relationship with Him? Of course, it is!
The problem is that mankind is forever devising ways to experience God unsanctioned by the one and only rule of faith and practice, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Instead, the idea of experiencing God has led to many subjective ways of being spiritual, which oftentimes has led to mysticism.
I mentioned occult mysticism, which can be defined as the attempt to obtain power through secret wisdom. This is the point where mysticism and gnosticism meet. This so-called secret occult knowledge has been around a long time through various forms such as Alice Bailey’s Esoteric Astrology (involving the horoscope), Madame Helen Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, many forms of parapsychology and other secret societies too numerous to count.
In our day we have the whole gamut of the contemplative prayer movement and lately, the Enneagram is spreading into the church. Years ago, while in seminary training, I became curious about Christian mysticism. So, I decided to ask one of my favorite professors, Frank M. Barker, Jr., one of the PCA’s founding fathers. He told me that in his opinion mysticism was nothing more than mythism. I will never forget his statement. With this in mind, let’s look briefly at the worldview of the two topics I mentioned: Contemplative Prayer and Richard Rohr’s version of The Enneagram.
One of the most popular names associated with the contemplative movement is Richard Foster. Although having Quaker roots, which is problematic because of Quakerism’s “inner light” leading some toward neo-orthodoxy believing the Bible becomes the word God when one has a spiritual experience, Foster’s contemplative practices are really indebted to Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk. Merton’s mysticism resources can be found in the Catholic Church, much of the Evangelical Church, the Emergent Church Movement, and the New Age Movement. Indeed, many interfaith dialogues not only are promoting religious pluralism, but using some contemplative practices to do so.
Beyond Foster and Merton, there is Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, touted by Tony Campolo as one of the great Christians of our time.1 Then there is Thomas Keating, another Catholic monk. And, while we’re at it, we need to mention Matthew Fox, former Catholic priest turned Episcopalian with his Creation Spirituality in which he teaches a panentheistic worldview. Panentheism is the belief that “all is in God/God is in all.” It is akin to what is known as Process Theology. A rudimentary illustration: God is in the world the way a soul is in the body and as the world processes, evolves and changes, so does God process, evolve and change. Obviously, this is not the God of Holy Scriptures who does not change regardless of what evolution-minded people might say.
The biggest danger to which one is exposed in the contemplative movement is a subtle erosion of the Creator/creature distinction toward a monistic or “synthesis of all things” understanding. This has much in common with Eastern mysticism that basically teaches all is one and all is divine by nature. Consider what Catholic monk Basil Penninton said in his book, Thomas Merton, My Brother: “The Spirit enlightened him [Merton] in the true synthesis [unity] of all and in the harmony of that huge chorus of living beings. In the midst of it he lived out a vision of the new world, where all divisions have fallen away and the divine goodness is perceived and enjoyed as present in all and through all.” 2
Merton, who is often quoted by Richard Foster, tells about a trip to Asia where he met Chatral [a Tibetan holy man] whom Merton regarded as the greatest Buddhist teacher he had met. In their conversations, Merton found that he agreed with this Buddhist regarding Dzogchen meditation, which promotes a non-dualistic worldview. This relates to the so-called “mindfulness meditation” curricula that exists in some public schools and other venues throughout the country. What I find interesting about Merton’s time with Chatral is that Merton records Chatral being surprised at getting on so well with a Christian, so much so, that Chatral said that something had to be wrong! Chatral was so surprised by their common meditation understanding that he called Merton a natural Buddha. In other words, there was harmonious agreement that their respective meditative practices were the same. Perhaps, this is the reason why Merton said that he would not be able to understand Christian teaching the way he did if it were not in the light of Buddhism.3
Another name is Brennan Manning, who in the past, endorsed Beatrice Bruteau as a “trustworthy guide to contemplative consciousness”. Bruteau founded two different schools of contemplative practices, both incorporating Hindu and Buddhist approaches to spirituality. This is understandable since Bruteau studied with the Ramakrishna order, named after famous Hindu swami Sri Ramakrishna.4
Richard Rohr’s Version of the Enneagram
For many in evangelicalism, the contemplative movement is enhanced by the growing practice of the Enneagram in the church. I know it sounds anti-Catholic, but it is from such background that the contemplative movement has come, and Richard Rohr with the Enneagram is no exception. Rohr has said that “Until someone has had some level of mystical inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow in any life changing way the ethical ideas of Jesus or the mystery of the Christian doctrines like the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, Salvation, or Incarnation. We simply don’t have the power to really understand or follow any of Jesus’ ideals such as loving others, forgiving enemies, nonviolence or the humble use of power except in and through a mystical union with God.” 5
To many young evangelical Christians, Rohr has become the new Merton. One of his publishers told Rohr that his single biggest demographic is young evangelicals. Rohr himself was amazed because some of his books were philosophically heavier than that which is typical of young evangelicals! 6
As with other contemplatives, Rohr appears to embrace religious pluralism by championing the idea of a global religion that would unify the world. Basically calling for a religion that needs a new language, he would advocate a one-world religion of mysticism. Using some of the same verbiage of emergent leaders such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, Rohr stated “Right now is an emergence…it’s coming from so many different traditions and sources and parts of the world. Maybe it’s an example of the globalization of spirituality.”7
Rohr has promoted new agers such as Marianne Williamson who wrote the very well-known New Age text, A Course in Miracles. This is very understandable because the New Age Movement embraces the same non-dualistic worldview as Rohr. As is pointed out by Peter Jones, this is the same worldview that mystics of all religions embrace and is Eastern in origin, promoting a one is all/all is one worldview. Jones further points out that Rohr, in the fall of 2010, taught a course, “SP761: Action and Contemplation” in the D. Min program at Fuller Theological Seminary.8 Since that time, further penetration of Rohr’s teachings has flooded evangelicalism.
Last year Sean McDowell did an interview with Dr. Chris Berg, a graduate of the Biola/Talbot Apologetics program, who did his doctoral dissertation on the Enneagram. Berg dismissed the belief that the Enneagram came from Christian mystic sources. Instead, he, like others such as Marcia Montenegro, an expert on the occult, show its roots originate with early founders of the New Age Movement which is both pantheistic and panentheistic. In comparing it to the New Age, Berg told McDowell that the advice the Enneagram gives is virtually indistinguishable from advice given by horoscopes, astrology, and numerology. In addition, Berg also shared that Rohr denies a number of essential Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, and of Jesus as the unique Messiah, instead asserting that all people can attain Christ-consciousness (recognition of one’s own status as being a Christ).9
I mentioned earlier that the biggest danger one is exposed to in mysticism is the subtle erosion of the Creator/creature distinction. Consequently, God is viewed as the oneness of all things and synonymous with or dwelling in all things. This is pantheistic, panentheistic, and pagan, not Christian. Doug Groothuis points out Rohr’s panentheistic error as Rohr takes Col. 3:11 out of context as saying “There Is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything.” Groothuis corrects Rohr’s error by sharing the biblical text in context saying, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” As Groothuis points out, the text refers to the unity that all believers have in Christ, not their deity, because believers are not divine. To assert we are divine would mean that one does not need the wisdom of a transcendent Creator who exists apart from His creation, because you have all the divinity you will ever need already within you. 10
Rohr, like others promoting the Enneagram, presents that there are nine ways people get lost and nine ways back to God. However, in looking at Rohr’s theological and Christological views, one would have to say that Rohr’s view of God and his Cosmic Christ is not that of true Christianity. In her blog, Alisa Childers has recorded Rohr saying that the universe is the body of Christ, that it is the second person of the Trinity in material form.11 Rohr’s views about God and Christ are perhaps the reason he authored books such as Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer and Falling Upward.
Consistent with his panentheism, it would mean that everything exists in God and God exists in everything. As if discounting original sin, his book, Falling Upward, takes on new meaning because he seems to imply that we (humanity) are all an “immaculate conception”.12
What Shall We Say About All This/How Shall We Then Live?
If the teachers of the contemplative movement are consistent with their pantheistic/panentheistic worldview, then there is no need for God or Christ, because we’re all the manifestation of the same. Furthermore, the Enneagram, in being a “road back to God” would become a “road to yourself.” This is mysticism and nothing more than “do it yourself divinity.” It has been said that in the beginning God created man in His image and ever since the fall man has attempted to return the favor. Sometimes the hiss of the serpent from the garden, “thou shall be like God” is loud and becoming louder.
In contradiction to what is being taught in the contemplative movement, the biblical worldview of God’s relationship to man and creation is clearly defined by separation, distinction, and duality. We see this from the start: “In the beginning God…”, not in the beginning all is one or all is divine, or all things (good or bad) fit together as one. Furthermore in scripture there is a clearly taught separation of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the righteous from the unrighteous, and those saved and from those not saved. This is so because of the separation of Creator and the creature. In the beginning God created us and yes, we’re made in His image. So, by His grace, let us run toward Him. Let us heed His admonition to come reason with Him!
Perhaps those who are drawn to the contemplative movement ought to listen to what A. W. Tozer, who has been looked at as a mystic, had to say: “Some of my friends good-humoredly–and some a little bit severely–have called me ‘mystic.’ Well I’d like to say this about any mysticism I may suppose to have. If an archangel from heaven were to come, and were to start giving me, telling me, teaching me, and giving instruction, I’d ask him for the text. I’d say, ‘Where’s it say that in the Bible? I want to know.’ And I would insist that it was according to the scriptures because I do not believe in any extra-scriptural teachings, nor any anti-scriptural teachings, or any sub-scriptural teachings”. 13
- Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind (Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2004), p. 72
- M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), pp. 199-200
- See: Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1975), pp.234-236.
- See: Contemplative Prayer or the Holy Spirit—It Can’t Be Both! – Lighthouse Trails Project
- Kristen Hobby, “What Happens When Religion isn’t Doing it’s Job: an interview with Richard Rohr, OFM” (Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Directions, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2014), pp. 6-11.
- See: “Christians and the Enneagram”(An Interview with Dr. Chris Berg) by Sean McDowell, 4/10/2021.
- See: A Heretic’s Christ, a False Salvation: A Review of the Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See. By Doug Groothuis
- See: alisachilders.com/blog/Richard-rohr-wise-sage-or-false-teacher-the-alisa-childers-podcast-90
- Richard Rohr, Falling Upward (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2011), p.1x.
- See: gotquestions.org/Christian-mystics.html.