Emergent Church Overview – EC and Mysticism

A factor in some of the EC movement is a tendency towards an embracing of mystical practices.   Some of the influential writers/speakers from the past include Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster.  EC churches often support “spiritual formation” retreats and similar emphases.  Typically the practice of “Contemplative Centering Prayer” (CCP) will be taught, wherein a mantra is used to help the person to (as Nouwen described it) “descend from the mind to the heart”, where you encounter God.   Nouwen suggested that a scriptural mantra would be best, maybe “The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd, …” etc.

At some point – maybe 20 minutes or so? – something peculiar happens.  The person’s brain waves actually change, and profound “spiritual” encounters are experienced.   What is somewhat alarming about this is, if some other person – say a Hindu – uses a mantra from their tradition, for example “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna…”, they get the same kind of experience!  What that leads to understandably is a movement towards a universalistic view – that Jesus is not the only way to God.  In fact, Nouwen at the end of his life essentially embraced universalism.

Consider the following quote from Tony Campolo, who apparently prefers the mantra, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”, where he proposes that mysticism be the common ground between Christianity and Islam:

“Beyond these models of reconciliation, a theology of mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have within their histories examples of ecstatic union with God … I do not know what to make of the Muslim mystics, especially those who have come to be known as the Sufis. What do they experience in their mystical experiences? Could they have encountered the same God we do in our Christian mysticism?” (ref)

In addition to CCP, there is also the introduction of prayer labyrinths into churches and Christian colleges/universities, with accompanying directions on how to use them “properly”.   Less likely is any discussion about the occult origin of such devices.  Nor in the case of CCP, is there a cautionary label: “Warning: this practice may also cause you to contact demonic spirits”.

The problem with the full-scale uncritical embracing of mysticism is that there are powerful, riveting experiences that have a profound influence on the person, and which tend to color and inform their cognitive life.  Where this really moves the person and collectively the EC movement is in a direction of Panentheism, which states among other things that God is both “in” and “above” all of creation.   According to Panentheism, the spiritual entity contacted at the end of the mantra would always be God.  Therefore, both the Christian and the Sufi are encountering that same God in their heart during CCP, even though the Sufi didn’t cognitively get there “through Jesus”.  This would seem to contradict John 14:6.  Further, there are testimonies from some that at the end of the mantra came into contact with powerful, unclean spirits.  Incidentally, it is entirely possible that the concept of Panentheism is simply a wrong theory, with no connection to reality in the spiritual realm.

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