Trojan Horses: The New Spirituality Movements



Samuel Koranteng-Pipim

Have you heard any of the following terms: Prayer labyrinth, taizé prayer, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, and spiritual directors? What about God-encounters, the silence, sacred spaces of meditation, contemplative prayer, centering prayer, breath prayer, and Jesus prayer?

Welcome to the new age of inter-spirituality, mystical or contemplative spirituality—and its many ways of encountering God. Currently championed by advocates and sympathizers of the “signs and wonders,” “emergent church,” and “worship renewal” movements, these new spiritualities are being woven into the beliefs and practices of Christian churches, youth organizations, and educational institutions.

This brief summary –distilled from a six-part presentation I will be making at the GYC convention in Louisville, Kentucky (December 30, 2009-January 3, 2010)—is designed to inform and warn about the new “Trojan horses” that are being wheeled into our churches.1

The Old and New Trojan Horses

The term “Trojan horse” comes to us from the Greek story of the destruction of the fortified city of Troy. According to the account, after fighting the soldiers of ancient Troy for 10 years, the Greeks grew weary from battle. They felt that besieging the city and a frontal attack would not do the job. They needed a more subtle approach.

A wily Greek named Odysseus ordered a large hollow wooden horse to be built. Upon completion of the project some soldiers were locked inside the belly of the hollow horse. The remaining 100,000 Greek soldiers, pretending to retreat permanently, sailed out of sight in their 1,000 ships—leaving the now-famous wooden Trojan horse in front of the walled city.

However, one Greek, Sinon, was deliberately left behind by the Greeks—as a spy. After the soldiers appeared to sail away, the Trojans came to marvel at the huge creation. They found Sinon, who pretended to be angry with his fellow Greeks, stating that they had deserted him. He assured the Trojans that the wooden horse was safe and would bring luck to the Trojans.

Only two Trojans, Laocöön and Cassandra, spoke out against the horse. They warned the leaders of Troy about the horse, saying, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” But the citizens ignored the warning. Instead, celebrating what they thought was their victory over the Greeks, the Trojans wheeled the wooden horse inside the walled city.

That night, after most of Troy was asleep or in a drunken stupor, Sinon the spy let the Greek warriors out from the horse, opened the city gates, and signaled the waiting ships to return. Soon a thousand Greeks streamed into the city, killed all the inhabitants of Troy, and razed the city to rubble.

Thus, through covert deception, the Greeks accomplished what they could not do by direct assault. It is from this account that we get the “Trojan horse” phrase; an expression that has since come to refer to deception and treachery disguised as a blessing.

The story, even as a parable, applies appropriately to our times—“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” We need to beware of the many “Trojan horses” that are being wheeled into our churches. As documented in the book Here We Stand: New Trends in the Church, the Trojan horses are the biblically questionable teachings and practices that are making their way into our institutions and churches.2

In recent times, however, far more dangerous hollow horses are subtly rolling into the church in the guise of new spirituality. Today’s Trojan horses have been wheeled from practices in Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Hinduism), the rehabilitated medieval contemplative spirituality of the Catholic church, the “inner divine light” of Quakerism, and the emerging spirituality recommended by influential emergent theologians and leaders of some  mega-churches.

Thus, today, we hear phrases such as: interspirituality, postmodern spirituality, creative or rediscovered spirituality, mystical spirituality, contemplative spirituality, spiritual directors, spiritual formation, spiritual tourism, experiential spirituality, the silence, the sacred spaces of meditation, and many new forms of enriching one’s devotional life.

Could these new ways of being “spiritual” actually be oldfashioned spiritualism disguised in new clothes? Are we honestly mistaken about today’s “God-encounters” and the other attempts to reach higher levels of spirituality? Could these be “the Omega” of deadly heresies? Several years ago, in the face of pantheistic teachings threatening our church, Ellen G. White warned:

Today there are coming into educational institutions and into the churches everywhere spiritualistic teachings that undermine faith in God and in His word. . . . [B]ut however beautifully clothed, this theory is a most dangerous deception. . . . The result of accepting it is separation from God (Ministry of Healing, p. 428). This warning may be more relevant to our times than we may think. [3]

The Trojan Horses From the East

The foundation for the new spiritualities was laid in the 1960s and 70s by the pantheistic teachings of the New Age movement which is an adaptation of Buddhist and Hindu religious practices to the western world. This movement is syncretistic, in that it incorporates any number of spiritual and religious ideologies at one time.

The New Age movement is consistently monistic (the belief that all of reality is essentially one) and pantheistic (the belief that everything, including man himself, is divine). For, if all is one, and there are no distinctions, then all is God. Or, in the words of New Age leader Shirley Maclaine “I am God, because all energy is plugged in to the
same source. . . . We are individualized reflections of the God source. God is us and we are God.” 4

In recent times, this New Age doctrine has been popularized by Unity minister Eric Butterworth, in his bestselling “inspirational classic” Discover the Power Within You: A Guide to the Unexplored Depths Within. He writes:

“The great sin of mankind is not to know the divinity that lies unexpressed within every individual. . . . This basic principle – the Divinity of Man – is the dynamism of Christianity that can save the world and lead mankind to a new level of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’” [5]

Oprah Winfrey spoke for many who have embraced the New Age spirituality, when she endorsed Butterworth’s book in the following words on the front cover of the paperback edition (1992)

“This book changed my perspective on life and religion. Eric Butterworth teaches that God isn’t ‘up there.’ He exists inside each one of us, and it’s up to us to seek the divine within.”

According to this pantheistic view, since human beings are essentially God, spirituality or the process of salvation is essentially selfdiscovery or the quest for the oneness of life. It is seeking to be God. Not godlike, but God. The new spiritualities do not seek to be Christlike, but to develop a mystical “Christ-consciousness.”

It should be emphasized that when this new spirituality speaks about its hunger or search for God it is actually a quest to encounter a supernatural or divine influence (hence “God encounter”). It is also a quest for information about the afterlife, believed to be part of this universal “One” or “essence.”

Advocates believe that they can have their “God encounter” in any of the traditional organized religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.). They also claim that they can be in touch with the supernatural through “ancient religious faiths” like paganism, witchcraft, the occult, and magic. Others believe that the search for “the sacred” can take place within the depths of their very being (i.e., within their gender or sexuality) or in the environment—hence the promotion of feminist, gay/lesbian, and ecological spiritualities.

Since it is a syncretistic movement (i.e., a combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice), doctrinal teachings are not as important as the “experience” of God. In other words, this mystical spirituality often carries connotations of a believer having a faith more personal, less dogmatic, more open to new ideas and influences, and more pluralistic than the doctrinal/dogmatic faiths of mature religions.

The technical term used is interspirituality —the view that all the world’s religions are identical at the mystical level and there therefore should be solidarity among them. Thus, the new spirituality is ecumenical in nature. It tries to unite all religious faiths at the level of a “God encounter” experience. 6

Meditation: The Way to Encounter God

In the new spirituality, the most popular means to encounter God is through meditation—understood to mean the ridding of oneself of all thoughts in order to “still” the mind by putting it in the equivalent of pause or neutral. Meditation is the mystical practice designed to experience altered states of consciousness that allow a person to have an esoteric experience. This religious experience is, however, deceptively disguised in secular society where meditation is promoted as a neutral exercise for personal benefits of health, relaxation, and improved productivity.

Observe that true Christian meditation, in contrast to the new forms of meditation, is an active thought process, in which the believer seeks to fill his or her mind with truths about God. It is not the emptying of one’s mind. Rather, it is thinking or reflecting on God’s Word, praying and asking God to give us understanding by the Spirit, who has promised to lead us “into all truth” (John 16:13). The product of Christian meditation must always be in harmony with the teachings of God’s Word. It must also lead to an authentic Christian spirituality, lifestyle, and an adoration, praise, and service for Christ.

But in the new spirituality movement, meditation is just the opposite. It is the process by which the mind becomes thoughtless, empty and void. It is like turning a fast-moving stream into a still pond.

The silence refers to the meditation practice of the absence of normal thought. The physical spot where a person goes to engage in the mystical practice of meditation is called the sacred space. The “sacred space” can also refer to the actual silence or the state of being during the mystical experience.

The two most common methods used to induce this thoughtless state are breathing exercises, where attention is focused on the breath, and mantras, which are repeated words or phrases. 7 (In the new spirituality within Christian circles these “mantras” go by the label “contemplative prayers.”)

The ultimate goal of the mystical meditation is to link oneself with God (or the divine part of man). It is to become one with the higher self. This “God encounter” experience is referred to by such names as: awakening, transformation, enlightenment, self-realization, cosmic consciousness, Christ consciousness, and super-consciousness.

The West Kisses the East

For justifiable reasons, in the 1980s the term New Age movement inspired a sense of dread among many Bible-believing Christians. However, by the end of the 1990s the fear and suspicion had almost abated, and at the beginning of the 21st century the pantheistic teachings and practices of the New Age movement quietly began filtering into Western culture and churches. Today (a decade into the 21st century), these practices of Eastern spirituality are beginning to define the essence of Christianity!

If the foundation for the new spirituality movement was laid by the New Age movement, the impetus for morphing the New Age spirituality into today’s Christian churches was made possible by the meeting of a Zen Buddhist and some Roman Catholic monks. Since then Christian churches began adopting the mystical or “interspirituality” techniques of the New Age as valid ways of talking to or encountering God.

“Contemplative prayer” became the term of preference, even though it refers to the same practice of going beyond thought by the use of repeated words or phrases (almost like chanting—whether Eastern [as in mantras] or Western medieval [as in Gregorian chants]).

In 1992, Newsweek magazine did a cover story, informing readers about the rise of contemplative spirituality. In it Kenneth Woodward wrote an article titled “Talking to God” in which he observed a shift in Christian paradigm towards ancient mysticism. He described the rise of mystical prayer through the mediation of “spiritual directors”—a new term for what used to be “Gurus” in the Eastern religions and “spiritual guides” in medieval Catholic mysticism.

[S]ilence, appropriate body posture and, above all, emptying the mind through repetition of prayer – have been the practices of mystics in all the great world religions. And they form the basis on which most modern spiritual directors guide. 8

Again, in September 2005, Newsweek carried another special report called “Spirituality in America.” The feature story, titled “In Search of the Spiritual,” is seventeen pages long, and explains how the Christian mystical movement was growing. It also traces the contemporary prayer movement in the 1960s, to two Catholic monks in Massachusetts (Thomas Keating and William Meninger). It began with the monks’ invitation to the great Zen Buddhist master Roshi Sasaki to teach them meditation, and their subsequent discovery in 1974 of a 14th-century Catholic guide to contemplative meditation:

Drawing on that work [“The Cloud of Unknowing”], as well as the writings of the contemplatives Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, the two monks began teaching a form of Christian meditation that grew into the worldwide phenomenon known as centering prayer. Twice a day for 20 minutes, practitioners find a quiet place to sit with their eyes closed and surrender their minds to God. In more than a dozen books and in speeches and retreats that have attracted tens of thousands, Keating has spread the word to a world of “hungry people, looking for a deeper relationship with God.” 9

Notice the link: Instruction of Catholic monks in the meditation of Zen Buddhism (by Roshi Sasaki), their re-discovery of medieval Roman Catholic mysticism, and now a new form of Christian spirituality (“centering prayer”) for a world of “hungry people, looking for a deeper relationship with God.”

In fact, Thomas Keating subsequently co-published a book, Finding Grace at the Center, with another Catholic monk, Basil Pennington (1931-2005), in which they stated:

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible.

Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM [Transcendental Meditation] and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences. [10]

Since the kiss between Eastern and Western mystical practices, there has been an increasing popularity of the use of rosaries, candles, incense, spiritual directors (persons who promote or train people in the spiritual disciplines, including “the silence”), prayer labyrinth, taizé prayer, “centering prayer,” and the lectio divina.

Another prominent person who has explained the indebtedness of the new spirituality to other religions is Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a twentieth-century Roman Catholic who had so immersed himself in Buddhism that he claimed he saw no contradiction between Christianity and Buddhism. He writes:

Asia, Zen, Islam, etc. all these come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk. [11]

In one of his books, Merton sums up the essence of the new spirituality sweeping Christian churches:

“It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only [people] could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. [12]

As a result of these factors, and perhaps many others, practices of contemplative spirituality that used to be in both Eastern religions and medieval Roman Catholic monasteries and convents are now becoming the staple of many Christians, including Protestants.

Mainstreaming the New Spirituality

Contemplative spirituality reaches far beyond the walls of the Catholic Church. Mainline Protestant churches—Episcopalians, United Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, etc.—are all into it too. Through them, terms such as contemplative prayer, silence, sacred spaces, centering prayer, breath prayer, and other ideas of Eastern mystical spirituality are making their way into Protestant vocabulary. Let me mention a few notable individuals and institutions that have propagated this new spirituality:

1. Matthew Fox—a writer and Episcopalian priest, is often spoken of as being the proponent of New Age mysticism within Christianity. In The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, he wrote: “Divinity is found in all creatures. . . . The Cosmic Christ is the “I am” in every creature.”13
2. Morton Kelsey—an Episcopal priest and a popular writer among certain Christian thinkers, wrote: “You can find most of the New Age practices in the depth of Christianity. . . . I believe that the Holy One lives in every soul.”14 In his book New Age Spirituality, Morton Kelsey asked the question:

How can the Christian community meet the religious needs of modern men and women pointed up by the New Age—needs that are not now being met by most Christian churches?

Each church needs to provide classes in forms of prayer. This is only possible if seminaries are training pastors in prayer, contemplation and meditation, and group process. . . . The church has nothing to fear from the New Age when it preaches, teaches, and heals. [15]

3. Spiritual Directors International—The need to start training pastors in contemplative, New Age spirituality has been answered by the Spiritual Directors International (SDI). They offer workshops and training seminars on how to experience this new spirituality. In one national conference in 2005 titled “Exile or Return? Accompanying the Journey into Contemplative Prayer”, the following was presented:

This workshop offers an opportunity to study and experience the director’s role in a person’s move into the beginning and early stages of contemplative prayer, silence, and openness to new sorts of praying. [16]

4. Shalem Institute (for Spiritual Formation)— located in Washington DC, is considered one of the leading centers for contemplative spirituality. Founded by Dr. Tilden Edwards (Episcopal minister) and Gerald May (a psychiatrist), this center’s mission is to spread the practice of the new spirituality prayer to Christianity as a whole. Some Adventists within our ranks have trained at this institute and are teaching the practice to their fellow believers.17

5. Youth Specialties—is a youth-oriented organization in North America. For years it has hosted an annual event called the National Pastors Convention, to which many contemplative speakers are invited. They also make available onsite to the conference attendees labyrinth, late-night contemplative prayer sessions, and workshops on yoga, “Creating Sacred Spaces,” “emerging worship,” and “God Encounters: Spiritual Exercise That Transform Students.” Tragically, some youth directors in the Seventh-day Adventist church have attended conferences
by “Youth Specialties” and are modeling their youth ministry upon the practices they have learned in those places.

The Quaker Connection

While medieval contemplative spirituality managed to survive within small pockets of Roman Catholicism for centuries, it went largely unnoticed by Evangelicals. However, a few groups, such as the Quakers, the Pentecostal/Charismatic and Signs and Wonders movements, always kept some aspect of mystical spirituality within range of evangelical awareness.

But in 1978, when Richard J. Foster published Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, classical contemplative spirituality suddenly became popular within Evangelical circles. Hailed by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the twentieth century, this work and others by Foster, introduced to the Protestant church the so-called “masters of the interior life” as he likes to call the medieval mystics.18

More than any other person, it is Richard Foster who has been at the forefront of the contemporary contemplative movement since the 1970s. Through his books, seminars, and lectures on “Spiritual Formation” and “Spiritual Discipline”, he has provided a welcome bridge for Evangelicals into contemplative or mystical spirituality. He writes in his Celebration of Discipline [1978 edition]: “[W]e should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.”19

Through his own personal influence, and through his recommendation of the books and works of ancient mystical authors, Richard Foster has helped to promote mystical spirituality among Protestants. The title of one article fittingly refers to Richard Foster as “Evangelicalism’s Mystical Sparkplug.” He himself stated:

When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. [20]

What many readers are, however, unaware of is that Foster is a Quaker (the Religious Society of Friends) minister and scholar. He was trained at George Fox College (now University)—the leading Quaker university in the USA. One website calls him “perhaps the best known Quaker in the world today.”

One unique Quaker doctrine is direct revelation via an “inner light.” It refers to a divine presence and guidance in every man. There is an emphasis on being still and silent and passive in order to receive guidance from the inner light. Other terms for it are “light of God,” “light of Christ,” “inward light,” “the light,” “light within,” “Christ within,” and “spirit of Christ.” In this respect, the teachings of Quakerism are substantially not different from the spirituality promoted in Eastern religions, and which are being imported to Christian churches.

Emerging Protestant Spirituality

It is not just in the Roman Catholic, mainline (liberal) Protestant churches, and the Quaker movement that we find the new (mystical) spirituality. We also find it spreading in Evangelical Protestant churches, including our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. In my opinion, the stage for mystical spirituality within Evangelical Protestantism was prepared by three major bridges.

1. Signs and Wonders Movement. The first bridge is the “signs and wonders” movement (sometimes called the “gospel of power” revival movement). By means of its inordinate emphasis on speaking in tongues, visions, dreams, prophecies, healings, prayer warriors, laughing in the spirit, prayer walks, and other forms of prayer offensives, this movement of the 1980s created a fertile environment for people to embrace a mystical contemplative spirituality.21

2. Mega-Churches. The second critical bridge has been constructed by some well-meaning Evangelical, mega-church leaders like Rick Warren (of the “Purpose-Driven” fame). Through their influence, these Evangelical thought leaders have introduced many Protestants to mystical meditation practices, such as “contemplative meditation” or “contemplative prayer.” These practices are often disguised as new forms of prayer.

Among the “spiritual exercises” promoted by the new spirituality movement are three popular forms of prayer: “centering prayers,” Jesus Prayer,” and “breath prayers.” For example in the book Sacred Pathways, a work describing some “practical spiritual exercises,” and which has been endorsed by Rick Warren, the author teaches readers how to practice “centering prayers.”

It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing. [22]

Observe that, but for the Christian words used (Jesus or Father), the practice of “centering prayer” is essentially similar to that in Eastern-style meditation or chanting). One special form of the centering prayer is the “Jesus Prayer.” Here, the prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinneris often abbreviated to Jesus.

Rick Warren’s endorsement of “contemplative prayer” is also seen in his positive evaluation of the book The Soul at Rest: A Journey Into Contemplative Prayer.23 The author of the book gives the following instruction on how to prepare for prayer time:

Take deep breaths, concentrating on relaxing your body. Establish a slow, rhythmic pattern. Breathe in God’s peace, and breathe out your stresses, distractions, and fears. Breathe in God’s love, forgiveness, and compassion, and breathe out your sins, failures, and frustrations. Make every effort to “stop the flow of talking going on with you—to slow it down until it comes to a halt.” [24]

One wonders where in the Bible we are asked to partake of God’s love by physically breathing it in or to rid ourselves of sin by breathing it out?

3. Emergent Church & the Call for Worship Renewal. The third major bridge linking the various mystical spiritualities to the Evangelical Protestant world is a theological movement called “the Emergent or Emerging Church”—a movement whose way was paved by a philosophical worldview called postmodernism.25

Space would not allow me to document how the emergent church movement is re-shaping the landscape of biblical spirituality.26 I can only refer readers to a special “Emerging Church” issue (Summer 2008) of this magazine for further reading on the subject.

Of particular interest to our discussion is the Emergent Church’s call for “worship renewal” through “sensory spirituality.” By “worship renewal” or “worship awakening,” they mean a worship experience in which the participants will actually “encounter” God through all their physical senses. Words like these are used to describe this: “multisensory spirituality,” “experiential spirituality,” “congregational spirituality” or “sensual spirituality.”

A leading Emergent leader, Leonard Sweet, sums it up: “Postmoderns want a God they can feel, taste, touch, hear and smell—a full sensory immersion in the divine.”27 Elsewhere in his book Postmodern Pilgrims, Sweet refers to this “full sensory spirituality” as “EPIC culture: Experiential, Participatory, Image-Driven, Connected.”28

For some, this EPIC culture may include such things as darkening sanctuaries and setting up prayer stations with candles (taizé prayer), use of incense, and icons. For others, the worship includes touch, chanting, lectio divina [a form of contemplative prayer], drumming and dancing and other forms of bodily expressions (“body prayer” or “body worship”). One article further backs up the idea that postmoderns are looking for sensual, experiential worship:

Post-moderns prefer to encounter Christ by using all their senses. That’s part of the appeal of classical liturgical or contemplative worship: the incense and candles, making the sign of the cross, the taste and smell of the bread and wine, touching icons and being anointed with oil. [29]

Perceptive readers will recognize that these new forms of worship making their way into Protestant churches are actually a return of Protestants to Roman Catholic worship. When the Emergent Church says “ancient future” (or “ancient new,” “back to the future”), they are saying we need to look back to Catholicism and the early century monks and mystics for worship or liturgical renewal.

Surprisingly, many Evangelical Protestants are heeding the call to go back to Rome to rediscover spirituality. This fact is captured in an insightful article in Christianity Today (February 2008) titled “The Future Lies in the Past.” The caption reads: “Lost Secrets of the Ancient Church: How evangelicals started looking back to move forward.” This eye-opening article not only explains that the “ancient future” church is now a reality but also recognizes that before there can be a full ecumenism among the various religions (inter-spirituality), all ancient mystical religions must be brought in.30

By the way, it is here—in the area of worship renewal and “full sensory spirituality”—that the “worship style” controversy in the Seventh-day Adventist Church comes in. Given the fact that these worship renewal movements are leading to mystical spirituality, is it any wonder that we have been warned against such practices?

For example, E. G. White warned that “just before the close of probation,” “every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. . . . And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit.” She urged: “No encouragement should be given to this kind of worship” (Selected Messages, 2:36-37).

Unfortunately, our church is already being assaulted by the forces hidden inside the Trojan horses of contemplative spirituality.

Trojan Horses in Our Church

Over a century ago, Ellen G. White wrote about an end-time revival of spiritualism. Insightfully, she mentioned how Protestants will play a critical role in the union of the various forms of mystical spirituality:

“The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism [and its forms of mystical spirituality]; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power [Contemplative Spirituality]; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience. . . .

“While it [spiritualism] formerly denounced Christ and the Bible [modernism], it now professes to accept both [postmodernism]. But the Bible is interpreted in a manner that is pleasing to the unrenewed heart, while its solemn and vital truths are made of no effect. . . . Christ is as verily denied as before; but Satan has so blinded the eyes of the people that the deception is not discerned” (The Great Controversy, p. 558).

Regrettably, instead of warning the world of this danger, some within our Seventh-day Adventist ranks are actually wheeling the Trojan horses of spiritualism into our church. In the guise of promoting spirituality, they are knowingly or unknowingly promoting practices akin to ancient paganism, and Eastern and Western medieval mysticism.

It is no secret that some of our scholars, chaplains, and leaders have been trained in the schools of contemplative spirituality. Neither is it a secret that some of those promoting mystical spirituality continue to be invited to our national conferences to speak to our ministers. Still, others have been invited to give lectures and chapel services in our denominational institutions to the unsuspecting fertile minds of our young students. And some of our youth leaders are promoting such practices, having borrowed them from Youth Specialties conferences.31

Books and articles are also being published from our own denominational publishing houses that also promote some practices of contemplative spirituality. For example an article in our Signs of the Timesmagazine encourages the practice of centering prayer.32 Another thought leader published a book Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul (Autumn House, 2008), which leans heavily on “breath prayers,” lectio divina as a form of meditation, “centering down” as a means of avoiding distraction, and “spiritual guides” as “fellow pilgrims . . . help us on our way.” The book also frequently appeals to leaders in the emerging movement, such as Tony Campolo, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, David Benner, Richard Foster, Morton Kelsey, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Keating, and M. Scott Peck.33

More recently, the book God Encounters: Pursuing A 24-7 Experience of Jesus (Pacific Press, 2009) was published, supposedly to enable young adults to explore the spiritual disciplines that will enable them to satisfy their hunger for God. The contributors to the volume share their “journeys”—“where we have found GOD and where we’ve been found by GOD.” A few excerpts from one of the entries in the book will show the extent to which the new spirituality is making its way into the church:

“GEc [GodEncounters] seek to stretch young adults to experience GOD in ways that might at first feel uncomfortable, but will hopefully bring blessing and deeper intimacy with Jesus…

“Prayer room coordinator [Name Given] believes that introducing people to corporate contemplative practices such as lectio divina and centering prayer, and also to experimental prayer rooms like the ones set up to allow visitors to pray through the different stations of the Cross and the Old Testament sanctuary, helps to
stretch them out of their comfort zones. . . .

“The climax of the prayer experience at GEc was the Boiler Room, a prayer room that stayed open for twenty-four hours straight, through all the watches of the night. The individuals who faithfully kept up the continuous prayer did so privately and in groups; quietly and loudly; mournfully and joyfully; written, spoken, sung, or drawn. . . 

“When I had finished pouring out my heart, I felt free to turn up the celebratory music and dance before GOD, and my time closed with my fiancé and I taking Communion together. I was surprised that I easily spent two hours there.

“Others shared Boiler Room stories with me of finding healing and freedom from destructive thoughts of the past; of attending an anointing workshop and then almost immediately having the chance to anoint someone in the prayer room.” [34]

I want to believe that those who are promoting these practices of contemplative spirituality mean well. But I ask again the questions I raised at the beginning of this article: Are we honestly mistaken about today’s “God-encounters” and the other attempts to reach higher levels of spirituality? Could these new ways of being “spiritual” be actually old-fashioned spiritualism disguised in new clothes? Could we be witnessing “the Omega” of deadly heresies?

Already there are coming in among our people spiritualistic teachings that will undermine the faith of those who give heed to them. The theory that God is an essence pervading all nature is one of Satan’s most subtle devices. It misrepresents God and is a dishonor to His greatness and majesty (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 291).

Our Church today finds itself in exactly the position of the ancient Israelites and the early church—having to hold on to its faith in the midst of hostile pagan neighbors. We face the same threats and temptations to follow the practices, values and beliefs of our neighbors.

Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, . . . [D]o not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.” You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:30-32.)

In the days of our early Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, they had to confront Kellogg’s pantheistic teachings and the mystical spirituality that follows its train. Today, as the new spirituality Trojan horses are wheeled into our churches, we may all do well to heed the warnings we have been given:

“In the book Living Temple [promoting Kellogg’s pantheistic theories] there is presented the alpha of deadly heresies. The omega will follow, and will be received by those who are not willing to heed the warning God has given. . . . Dangers that we do not now discern will break upon us, and I greatly desire that they shall not be deceived” (1 Selected Messages, p. 200).

“Be not deceived; many will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. We have before us the alpha of this danger. The omega will be of a most startling nature” (1 Selected Messages, p.197).

“This delusion [spiritualism/new spirituality] will spread, and we shall have to contend with it face to face; and unless we are prepared for it, we shall be ensnared and overcome. . . . I saw the rapidity with which this delusion was spreading. . . . It seemed that the whole world was on board, that there could not be one left” (Early Writings, p. 88).

The warnings of Laocöön and Cassandra to the leaders and citizens of Troy are applicable to our own times: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” In our case, we may plead: “Beware of the new spirituality movements. They are Trojan horses.”


  1. The Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) is a grassroots young people’s movement in the North American Division. The topics I will be presenting at the 2009 GYC are: (1) True Revival: What It Is and What It’s Not; (2) True Spirituality: The Walk of Holiness; (3) Understanding Post Modernism & The Emergent Church; (4) Contemplative Spirituality & Its Many Ways of Encountering God; (5) New Spiritual Warfare: Prayer Warriors, Prayer Walks, & Prayer Offensives; (6) Ancient Future: Which Way to Revival & Spirituality? The entire series will be made available on the GYC website ( and also on my personal website (
  2. “Trojan horses” include: the promotion of evolution as an acceptable doctrine of Creation, the acceptance of homosexuality, unbiblical divorce and remarriage as a valid form of morality, the embrace of new forms of worship, “gospel gimmicks,” and entertainment as acceptable forms of worship renewal, church growth, and youth ministry, and a calculated campaign for new models of leadership in the church, in the name of “inclusiveness, balance, gender sensitivity, or diversity” in spiritual leadership at every level of church administration. For more on these, see Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Here We Stand: New Trends in the Church (Berrien Springs, MI: Adventists Affirm, 2005). See also my “Leadership in the Church: Are We Honestly Mistaken?” Adventists Affirm (Spring 2006), pp. 6-24 (available also on the author’s website: http://drpipim. org/leadership-contemporaryissues-97/55-leadership-in-the-church.html).
  3. Non-Seventh-day Adventist authors are far ahead in documenting and warning against the dangers. See, for example, Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Silverton, Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007, 2008); Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Silverton, Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2002, 2006). I’m indebted to these works for the leads they provide into what is going on.
  4. Shirley Maclaine, Dancing in the Light (New York: Bantam Doubleday, 1991), 339.
  5. Eric Butterworth, Discover the Power Within You: A Guide to the Unexplored Depths Within (New York: HarperCollins, 1968), pp. 233, 8.
  6. Another common expression used is ancient wisdom—the view that the supposed laws of the Universe, when mastered, enable one to see one’s own divinity—another word for occultism or metaphysics.
  7. The word mantra is a Sanskrit word. It comes from two words—man (to think) and tra (to be liberated from). Thus, the word mantra means to escape from thought. By repeating the mantra, either aloud or silently, the word or phrase begins to lose any meaning it once had.
  8. Kenneth Woodward, “Talking to God,” Newsweek (January 6, 1992), p. 44; emphasis mine.
  9. Jerry Adler, “In Search of the Spiritual,” Newsweek, September 2005, p. 48.
  10. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, Thomas El Clarke, Finding Grace at the Center (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publ., 1978), pp. 5-6. According to the 2005 Newsweek article referred to earlier, in 1991 alone Keating taught 31,000 people how to “listen to God.” It is centering prayer. In fact he wrote a popular book on “centering prayer” titled Open Mind, Open Heart.
  11. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 41.
  12. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158; emphasis mine.
  13. Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980), p. 65; cf. p. 154. His popular books, Original Blessing and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, are primers for what he calls “creation-centered spirituality.”
  14. Morton Kelsey, cited in Charles H. Simpkinson, “In the Spirit of the Early Christians,” Common Boundary magazine, Jan./Feb. 1992, p. 19.
  15. Morton Kelsey, New Age Spirituality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1st edition, 1992, edited by Duncan S. Ferguson), pp. 56-58. His most influential book is Other Side of Silence: The Guide to Christian Meditation. Kelsey also wrote Companions on the Inner Way: The Art of Spiritual Guidance—which was considered as a “favorite among spiritual directors.”
  16. Spiritual Directors International, Conference Workshops: “Exile or Return? Accompanying the Journey into Contemplative Prayer” (http://www.sdiworld. org/conference_workshops.html). The Spiritual Directors International also offer courses and classes on this new spirituality. One curriculum of its courses and classes includes: Spiritual Practice in Various Faith Traditions; Building a Bridge to Buddhism; Ignatian Exercises and Ecology/Cosmology: Spiritual Exercises; the Enneagram and Kabbalah; the Sacred Labyrinth: A New Spiritual Paradigm; Earth Prayer: Celebrating the Interconnection of All Living Beings; Trans-Faith Spirituality.
  17. For example, Still Waters, “a place for silence, solitude, and spiritual companionship,” is an influential retreat center near Berrien Springs, Michigan. Among the services it offers are worship and Taizé, spiritual  companionship, etc. Its website indicates that some of the “Spiritual Directors” at Still Waters received their training at the Shalem Institute. See,, accessed December 13, 2009.
  18. At least on nine separate occasions in Celebration of Discipline Foster cites approvingly of 20th C Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer. Foster considers Merton’s Contemplative Prayer, “A must book,” and says of Merton, “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” See, Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith, Spiritual Classics (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2000), p. 17. In earlier editions (1990, 1991, 1993), p. 61, he added that his (Merton’s) books are filled with “priceless wisdom for all Christians who long to go deeper in the spiritual life.”
  19. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978 edition), p. 13.
  20. Richard Foster, “Spiritual Formation: A Pastoral Letter” (January 18, 2004, cfm?id=744).
  21. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the stage was set with the celebration church movement, then celebration-style contemporary worship movement, and in recent times through the emergent scholars.
  22. Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, First Zondervan edition), p. 185. Concerning this book, Rick Warren writes: “Gary has spoken at Saddleback, and I think highly of his work . . . [H]e tells them [readers] how they can make the most of their spiritual journeys. He places an emphasis on practical spiritual exercises.” See, Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, “Book Look” section (Issue #40, 2/20/2002,, accessed 2/2006; See A Time of Departing, p. 152.
  23. Tricia Rhodes, The Soul at Rest: A Journey Into Contemplative Prayer (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996). Rick Warren endorsed this work in his weekly e-newsletter to pastors (September 3, 2003), when he wrote: “This book is a quiet-time companion for those who hunger for a greater intimacy with God. It offers fresh insight into little understood aspects of prayer and introduces a step-by-step journey of learning contemplative prayer” (emphasis mine).
  24. Tricia Rhodes, The Soul at Rest: A Journey into Contemplative Prayer, p. 28.
  25. Postmodernism believes that (a) there are no moral absolutes (i.e., there is no right or wrong or “morality is relative”) and (b) there are no absolutes (there is no absolute truth or “truth is relative”). The first claim deals with ethics or morality. The second concerns truth or teachings/doctrines.
  26. The emergent or emerging church is some Christians’ attempt to speak to the postmodern world. Despite its noble goals, this movement tends to hold Christian faith captive to the postmodern spirit. Thus, the emerging/emergent church movement begins by relativizing truth (doctrines/teachings). But before long, it will also relativize morality (ethics). And when ethics is cut loose from biblical holiness, the result is a mystical, New Age, ecumenical religion.
  27. From Leonard Sweet’s Soul Tsunami, cited by Julie B. Sevig, “Ancient New” (The Lutheran, September 2001). 
  28. Leonard Sweet, Postmodern Pilgrims (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 28.
  29. Julie B. Sevig, “Ancient New” (The Lutheran, September 2001).
  30. Chris Armstrong, “The Future Lies in the Past,” Christianity Today, February 2008, online edition
  31. The documentation of spiritualism’s Trojan horses disguised as spirituality will await a forthcoming book. A summary will be given at the presentations at this year’s (2009) GYC meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. Mention will be made of the National Conferences on Innovation, organized annually by the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Over the years, the speakers have included such individuals as: Doug Pagitt, Rabbi Marci Prager, Leonard Sweet, Kevin Kaiser, Leanne Kaiser Carlson, Samir Selmanovic, and others. The “National Conferences on Innovation” lists the following as supporters: the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Center for Creative Ministry, Versacare, Kettering Medical Center, Leadership & Educational Administration Department, Andrews University. 
  32. “Stillness Is Golden,” Signs of the Times—Australia/New Zealand, Vol. 119 (November 2004),
  33. Jon Dybdahl, Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul (Hagerstown, MD: Autumn House Publishing [A division of Review and Herald], 2008), 52, 62, 63, 136, etc. For a devastating critique of this book see John Witcombe, “How to Still the Hunger of the Soul,” Adventists Affirm (Summer 2008), pp. pp. 38-53.
  34. Erika Larson-Hueneke, “In the Presence of GOD and Each Other,” in A. Allan Martin, Shayna Bailey, Lynell LaMountain, eds., God Encounters: Pursuing A 24-7 Experience of Jesus (Pacific Press, 2009), p. 11.