Wednesday, April 17, 2013

book review--Answering the Contemplative Call by Carl McColman

not very biblical

I received a free copy of this book from Speakeasy.

It's hard to escape the various flavors of contemplative practices out and about in the church nowadays. Whether its more refined versions of it like in this book, or the rough-and-tumble of the ways the New Apostolic Reformation folks do it, it's everywhere. Whether it's sitting alone doing mantra-like chants and lectio divina, like McColman recommends, or it's YWAmers practicing the supposed steps of prayer and intercession, then sitting around in a circle trying to get guidance from some inner voice, it's all the same and one.

The fact that none of it has much in the way of biblical support seems to be lost on all of these practitioners.

For the discerning Christian, there are plenty of things in this book that should cause alarms to go off. For example, while he makes a point of saying that he's teaching about Christian mysticism or spirituality, one gets the impression that the "Christian" part of that is much less valuable to him than the "mysticism" or "spirituality" part. "Saint Paul sees Christ on the road to Damascus. The Buddha achieves enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi tree. Mohammed takes the miraculous night journey of Isra and Mi’raj, carrying him from earth to heaven. And of course, Aquinas and Julian and Merton have their singular peak moments and their lives are forever changed." p 32. Experience trumps beliefs, one may well assume.

In fact, conversion seems to have become unnecessary. "He (Merton) also became increasingly interested in interfaith dialogue, and began to explore the points of connection between Christian monasticism and the spirituality of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism." p 24. And the author of this work is also involved in such dialogues.

And the Bible? Well, consider this. "Here’s a comment that Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a monk of the twelfth century and a renowned mystic, once made about nature—one I believe could just as easily be applied to any of life’s mysteries. “Believe me as one who has experience,” said Bernard, “you will find much more among the woods than ever you will among books. Woods and stones will teach you what you can never hear from any master."...Consider this: Bernard is not rejecting the kind of wisdom or under­standing that can be found in books or from a spiritual director. He just recognizes that nature—even the silence of “woods and stones”—is an even greater teacher. " p 7. If we are to believe that nature in superior to books, and the Bible is a book, would it be unfair to conclude that Bernard, and by extention this author, are saying that nature is a better teacher than the Bible? That God speaks better through woods and stones than throught the words He gave to the apostles and prophets?

"Jesus has been loved and accepted by the mystics, not as a way of appeasing an angry God, but as a joyful entry into the mysteries of love." p 77. Now, I can look in Scripture, and see passages which speak of Christ's death being a substitutionary atonement for us, to among other things appease the just anger of a righteous God directed at sinful rebellious humanity. For example, read the biblical book of Romans. I can't read the scriptures to find where Christ's death was "a joyful entry into the mysterities of love". Why bother with crucifixion, if that's all Christ was doing?

He engages in some shenanigans. "Jesus’s followers were called disciples, implying that disci­pline is an essential part of the Christian wisdom tradition." p 128. No problem with the statement itself, but when he tries to sneak in these contemplative practices, I have to ask where the Bible says that Jesus had the disciples sit around trying to experience God inside themselves.

"God’s Word emerged out of “the sound of sheer silence” (I Kings 19:12), and words of the Divine mystery have been emerging out of silence ever since." p 125. I'm calling shenanigans again. The prophet Elijah did not get a message from silence, he heard the voice of God, even if it was calm and gentle. The Bible nowhere says that God's language is silence. God used real words to communicate to real people so that they understand what He was saying to them.

Nor did Elijah hear a voice inside himself. The voice He heard was outside himself, outside of even the cave he had been in.

In his book Broken, Jonathan Fisk writes "The plain words of Holy Scripture are the antidote to the poisoned dish of Mysticism. Reading those words carefully and learning their context is to inwardly digest the faith that God is not only real but also gives us real, pure, true answers. God is far more generous to us than to force us to endlessly seek Him in the flurries of the wind and the palpitations of our hearts. He wants us to do far more than merely imagine what His will for us might be. He wants us to be certain." (Kindle Locations 510-514). When I read works by these modern-day NAR contemplatives, I'm simply appalled by how bad they are theologically. Something seems very wrong with the people who practice these things. When people put the voices they hear inside themselves above the words plainly taught in Scripture, then that's a sure way to get led astray.

I agree with Fisk, God cares for us far too much to make us sit around trying to hear some kind of almost-impossibly-difficult-to-hear voice inside ourselves, that can be easily confused with our own thoughts, and that may not even be the voice of God at all (and probably isn't). God has spoken, we have His words in the Bible. God can still speak, I think there are reliable sources who have had dreams and visions from God, even in modern times.

I simply cannot recommend this book, or the practices recommended in it. They are unbiblical, thus spiritually unhealthy. Stop looking inside your heart to hear the voice of God, because you have God's Word at your fingertips.

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