See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world , rather than according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Brandon Medina et al. writes that love was the impetus for writing Silent God Silent Man: Revealing the True Heart of the Spiritual Formation Movement.1Chris & Adrienne Waner, Brandon & Janet Medina, Isaac & Stephanie Crabtree, Silent God Silent Man: Revealing the True Heart of the Spiritual Formation Movement; TheologyThinkTank; Kansas City, MO, 2018 After observing Christian Mysticism enter his local church, he became alarmed that Christians were not discerning the truth of the gospel from false teaching. So, he researched the topic in detail, seeking primary sources, both historical and contemporary, to trace the origins and philosophy of this mysticism and its overwhelming embrace by the Evangelical church.
Under the heading of Christian Mysticism are the subtopics of Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, Contemplative Mysticism, and Spiritual Direction. Medina begins by addressing the quick acceptance by Evangelicals of Spiritual Formation in the brief time of the past 40 years. What is Spiritual Formation? An early promoter, Richard Foster,2Author of Celebration of Discipline, 1978 describes it as “God-ordained” activities, practices, or methods designed to increase spiritual maturity and “take on the character and being of Christ himself.”
Medina et al. trace the roots of this movement which go through Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk.3See “Thomas Merton: The Contemplative Dark Thread,” Jackie Alnor, MCOI Journal 2006 His philosophy was a gnostic view called the Path of the Negative. He believed in the superiority of knowing God by direct experience over scripture. According to Merton, all religions worship the same god4Perennialism, the belief that all religions point to the same truth and can do so by altered states of consciousness achieved by the practices of Spiritual Disciplines. Merton joined Eastern Buddhist meditation with Eastern Orthodox prayer techniques to create Centering Prayer.
Later, another Catholic monk, William Menninger, made a discovery that led to the Evangelical Spiritual Formation movement as it is known today. He discovered a book, The Cloud of Unknowing, from the 14th century, which taught how anyone could experience union with God. This technique, combined with Merton’s Centering Prayer, produced Contemplative Prayer.5See “Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?,” Marcia Montenegro, MCOI Journal, 2005
Medina describes the principal teachings developed by other influencers of the movement. In summary, their theology is a denial of objective truth; all religions worship the same god; all of humanity has salvation; and although all are saved, one can be sanctified or transformed by Spiritual Disciplines. This is Encounter Theology, which takes the place of faith and Sola Scriptura to make salvation possible through emotional, spiritual, and physical experiences.
The remainder of Silent God Silent Man explores historical and contemporary examples of the methods and practices of Spiritual Direction that are overtaking Protestant churches. Medina et al. illustrate the profound shift in Evangelical thought away from the truth found in scripture to perceived truth found in personal experience. The practices of Spiritual Disciplines have few boundaries. Core ideas are silence, solitude, and stillness, as understood in Eastern and mystical practices, which empty or suspend the mind. Various practices encourage this. The result is a mind-altered state where the person is vulnerable to his or her own imagination or influence by outside evil spirits. The goal of all Spiritual Formation is soul detachment and absorption or union with the Divine.
Even if you haven’t heard of any of the techniques such as Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, and Breath Prayer, you may have heard of the Enneagram, yoga, and mindfulness, which are often utilized and promoted by Spiritual Directors, people who are trained in all aspects of the Spiritual Disciplines. It is easy to find Spiritual Directors. Many Evangelical and Reformed clergies are becoming Spiritual Directors and working with individuals, groups, retreat centers, and churches.
I found out about Spiritual Formation from my previous church leadership over a decade ago. They referred me to a Spiritual Director I met with a couple of times and then went on two retreats for Spiritual Direction. Like Medina’s congregation, my church had no discernment that this was in pursuit of false and even dangerous practices. I wowed the Director and my friends when I related to them the powerful vision I had while in an altered state of consciousness brought on by the Lectio Divina technique at the retreat.6For more on this, see “An Ode to Silence: An Evaluation of the Be Still DVD,” By Marcia Montenegro, MCOI Journal, 2006 It set me on a path of self-absorption, deception, and New Age practices that lasted many years. Now the leadership at that church is offering their own retreats in Spiritual Direction.
I highly encourage you to read Silent God Silent Man to know what is going on in Evangelicalism – perhaps even in your own church. Christians need to understand how harmful Spiritual Formation is and be prepared to fight it and defend the faith. This book is a free download from the Theology Think Tank by Chris and Adrienne Waner, Brandon and Janet Medina, and Isaac and Stephanie Crabtree.Ω
Gwendolyn Rodriguez is a believer in Jesus Christ who fell into deception for several years. She writes about her journey as a mother and wife into the darkness of mysticism and the New Age, and her deliverance from it in 2019. She and her husband, Rick, are helping a new church in Clarksville, Tennessee, Pathway Presbyterian Church, a mission of Vanguard Presbyterian Church, a new denomination. Her blogs can be found at To a 1000 Generations.
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|↑1||Chris & Adrienne Waner, Brandon & Janet Medina, Isaac & Stephanie Crabtree, Silent God Silent Man: Revealing the True Heart of the Spiritual Formation Movement; TheologyThinkTank; Kansas City, MO, 2018|
|↑2||Author of Celebration of Discipline, 1978|
|↑3||See “Thomas Merton: The Contemplative Dark Thread,” Jackie Alnor, MCOI Journal 2006|
|↑4||Perennialism, the belief that all religions point to the same truth|
|↑5||See “Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?,” Marcia Montenegro, MCOI Journal, 2005|
|↑6||For more on this, see “An Ode to Silence: An Evaluation of the Be Still DVD,” By Marcia Montenegro, MCOI Journal, 2006|