Silence vs. The Silence
By David Cloud
There is a vast difference between biblical contemplation and the contemplative prayer that is sweeping through evangelicalism. It is the difference between “silence” and “the silence.”
In biblical contemplation, silence refers simply to a quiet place in which the soul can effectively seek the Lord. In Scripture it is called seeking the Lord (Psalm 105:3; Isaiah 55:6), waiting on the Lord (Psalm 69:6), meditating on the Lord (Psalm 104:34), meditating on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2).
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On the other hand, “the silence” of contemplative prayer refers to pursuing God beyond the Bible, beyond thinking. It refers to putting aside thoughts through mechanisms such as mantras.
It has been popularized by contemplative gurus such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and is promoted by many evangelical leaders today, including Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Max Lucado, Ed Young, Sr., Gary Thomas, Philip Yancy, Lee Strobel, and Charles Stanley.
Harry Plantinga, director of Christian Classics Ethereal Library, describes contemplative prayer as follows:
“As I was growing up, my church experience seemed somewhat heady to
me–concerned more about correct belief than about actually loving God. Whether or not that was a correct perception, I wanted more. I wanted not just to know about God, I wanted to know God … Christian mysticism addresses that longing of the heart. … Webster defines mysticism as ‘the doctrine that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love WITHOUT THE MEDIUM OF HUMAN REASON.’ That definition captures what I have in mind by the term”.
In his pursuit of contemplative mysticism, Plantinga promotes Roman Catholic mystic writings such as The Cloud of Unknowing. This book, which came out of the darkness of Roman Catholic monasticism, encourages the use of a mantra to drive away conscious thoughts with the objective of entering into an experiential communion with God in “the nothingness
The Cloud of Unknowing says:
“… DISMISS EVERY CLEVER OR SUBTLE THOUGHT no matter how holy or valuable. Cover it over with a thick cloud of forgetting because in this life only love can touch God as he is in himself, never knowledge” (chapter 8, pp. 59, 60).
“Focus your attention on a simple word such as sin or God … and WITHOUT THE INTERVENTION OF ANALYTICAL THOUGHT allow yourself to experience directly the reality it signifies” (chapter 36, p. 94).
“For in this darkness we experience an intuitive understanding of everything material and spiritual WITHOUT GIVING SPECIAL ATTENTION TO ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR” (chapter 68).
Richard Foster, one of the most prominent gurus of contemplative mysticism, says repetitious contemplative prayers such as breath prayers “BIND THE MIND” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 124).
This is not biblical meditation; it is a dangerous recipe for demonic delusion.
We must seek God through faith, and faith comes only by God’s Word.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If we try to know and “experience” God beyond the pages of Scripture, beyond the teaching of the Bible, we are walking in disobedience and unbelief and are setting ourselves up for spiritual deception from the hands of the one who appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The Scriptures instructs the child of God to be “sober” and “vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8), which means to be in control of one’s mind and heart in order to protect oneself from spiritual error. Sober-mindedness is the opposite of the empty-mindedness of contemplative prayer.
The late Roman Catholic Buddhist Thomas Merton, one of the most influential contemplative writers, described his own delusion in these frightful words: “In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is” (Merton, The New Seeds of Contemplation).
Merton’s contemplative mysticism at a Cistercian monastery in Kentucky led him to Buddhism. He traveled to Sri Lanka to meditate before Buddhist images before traveling to Thailand to participate in an interfaith dialogue. There he died of electrocution.
Contemplative practices, such as the Jesus Prayer, visualizing prayer, and centering prayer are exceedingly dangerous. Many who practice these things end up believing in a pagan concept of God such as pantheism (God is everything) and panentheism (God is in everything). Through these practices, people typically become increasingly ecumenical and interfaith in thinking.
One does not have to choose between knowing about God and knowing God personally. GOD IS KNOWN IN CHRIST THROUGH HIS WORD. The study of the Bible is not an end in itself and should never be a mere dry intellectual exercise; it is the means whereby we know God, and this is something we can grow in year by year.
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
For more on this see the book CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM, which is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature.