Contemplative Prayer 1 – Subtle Promotion

In this article, we want to look at contemplative spirituality’s subtle promotion. In other words, we will examine how this error creeps in and takes minds captive unawares. To illustrate the point, we will use the document found at the Alabama Baptist Convention website.

In the very first paragraph, the document quotes Contemplative Mystic, Richard Foster:

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.”

That’s actually a pretty good observation. I would agree with its fundamental premise but I would disagree with the statement as a whole (but more on my disagreement a little later). Most ministers, even most confessing Christians, might look around and say, “Hey, he sure nailed that one.” This basic agreement on a major observation automatically lends validity and credibility to its spokesman. A powerful sentence draws us in, and the following sentence illuminates more specifically the severity of the problem. The unsuspecting, undiscerning Christian will read on willingly because, after all, “It’s about time someone uttered the very same thoughts I was thinking with regard to the Christian religion as we know it today.” Those who are completely unfamiliar with Richard Foster will buy into a whole lot more than the snake oil he’s selling because Mr. Foster is one that has mastered quite readily, manipulation by and through his words. In his form and format, he typically uses only one or two power sentences (two in the case above), and then slithers beside the slippery slope in order to catch the undiscerning in a fall. We will see that in a moment because the specifics he mentioned in the second sentence to reinforce the first, will be lost by the third or fourth sentence. The hook was powerful enough to grab its reader, so once apprehended, he can virtually say anything he wants.

Now, I mentioned previously that I basically agreed with Mr. Foster’s fundamental premise, but disagreed with his overall statement; why? Superficiality is not only the curse for our age (he uses the word here to speak of the specific generation and not in the Biblical and theological way that others might—for I see two ages: this age and the one to come; so if Mr. Foster meant it the way I mean it, then we could agree on the first sentence; however, I do not believe that is the case). Superficiality is the curse for every “age” since Adam’s fall. The Bible calls it sin (Romans 3:23).

The second sentence provides another Biblical disagreement for me. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is not a primary spiritual problem; it is the primary spiritual problem. Adam’s rebellion towards God’s authority was a manifestation of his superficial regard for God’s command, as well as his desire to have his need for wisdom satisfied instantly. Promotion of any falsehood will always come through subtleties that either deviate from God’s Word, or outright deny God’s Word. Remember how the serpent deceived Eve.:

Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? Genesis 3:1

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: Genesis 3:4

The next sentence is where some ambiguity lies in wait:

“The desperate need is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

There are three subtle intrusions found in this sentence.[i] First, he presents the need as desperate. He has already hooked his reader to agree on the problem; now, he gets his reader to at least acquiesce that the problem is desperate— “Okay, maybe not desperate,” says Mr. Foster’s reader, “but it is a major problem.” With this first step near the slippery slope, he removes the saints’ sufficiency in Christ. Are we not more than conquerors through Him who loved us?[ii] In fact, Mr. Foster creates the problem he intends for us to solve (and here, I’m getting a little ahead of myself but it will be covered in a moment).

Second, Mr. Foster not only suggests that the condition is desperate, he presents that it is in our hands, and not the Lord’s; yet, it is in a mystical provision because it is not centered in and founded upon the Person and the work of Jesus Christ. He reinforces the self-realizing and self-exalting works with the mention of intelligent people and gifted people. “Intelligent people are not the solution,” says he; “neither are gifted people.” From here we will transition into the third intrusion.

The third subtle intrusion found in this sentence is the solution: deep people. The solution he provides is not a Person, Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures proclaim; it is to him, people— and not just any people; they must be deep people.

Now with the solution being deep people, Mr. Foster can really say anything that he wants. Does he mean people that are not shallow? Well if it is shallow of thought, he contradicted himself by saying that the solution to this desperate problem comes not by intellectual people. He couldn’t mean lacking in talent because that would nullify his bold mention of gifted people. Eventually, for Mr. Foster, it will come down to experience with God; it is no different than Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, where one must put into practice Biblical disciplines in order to keep continually aware of the presence of God. The Scriptures contradict such Tom Foolery.

Mr. Foster’s solution is contrary to the Word of God on so many levels; being void of Christ and full of self. Nevertheless, we’ll look at the last sentence of Mr. Foster’s statement to conclude what he has said:

“The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.”

Like a physician, Mr. Foster has identified the symptoms of a problem in the first two sentences. He has diagnosed the problem in the sentence following. In this last sentence, he as written the prescription: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life.” In his book, Celebration of Discipline, he will explain exactly what that means: the practices of monastic celibates of the post-Nicene era all the way through to mystic modern and postmodern monks and philosophers.

As I mentioned earlier when covering the second sentence of Mr. Foster’s statement, he actually creates the problem he intends for us to solve. Since he equates the deep Christian life with a feeling or a conscious awareness of the presence of God (basically, an experience), then to say that the situation is desperate, presents that most Christians do not have this deep life— and you may just  be one of them who is devoid of this deep Christian life.

But think about this: what in the world is a deep or deeper Christian life? There is no such silliness in the Bible.  The obvious references to deep and deeper, notwithstanding, only the English Standard Version uses the words deep and deeper, but the two references I will give will be apparently out of context if applied in the way meant by Mr. Foster:

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. —Proverbs 17:10, ESV

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. —Romans 8:26, ESV

The Scriptures do contradict deep, however, as analogous to the Christian life. Jesus said,

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4

Now, how deep is a child? I may not be the brightest appliance bulb in the refrigerator, but I do have enough illumination to see what we are getting before we close the door; and I would say that a child isn’t much too deep. Someone may object and say, “Well, maybe he meant thorough, Brother Jon. Yeah, that’s it, a thorough life, a saturated life, a permeated life.” I say, it couldn’t be that, because the Christianity Jesus called us to is one of unwavering devotion and faithfulness to Him;[iii] and that faith only need be the size of a mustard seed.[iv] Christian behavior is to be lived and enjoyed in simplicity, not depth:

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. —2 Corinthians 1:12 

Further, it is the simplicity of life in Christ, that should be protected from the corruption that is brought about by deceit:

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. —2 Corinthians 11:3

To conclude, because men are depraved since the fall, and since the curse of sin moves every man with a tendency toward instant satisfaction with a superficial regard to God’s Word, then man, poor man, will seek an emotion or experience or explanation by which to cling. “The problem exists,” says the pastor who has as much propensity to sin as any man, “if this works, let’s give it a whirl. Mr. Foster sees the problem and provides a resolution.”

I’ve written enough. This basically provides the framework for the deception that creeps in by its subtle promotion; and were I to go further, we would begin to get into the next part of our lesson. S.D.G.

Casting Out Devils

Casting Out Devils 2


[i] There are actually more details here than we will cover, e.g., “greater number,” et al.

[ii] Romans 8:37

[iii] Luke 14:26-27, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

[iv] Luke 17:6, And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

About Jon J. Cardwell

"The Spirited Speaker" - Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Nationally recognized speaker and publisher. Author of several books, including the bestseller, Christ and Him Crucified.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you! This is excellent.

  2. Bro. Jon,

    Do you think A. W. Tozer was doing something similar as Richard Foster in Tozer’s book, The Pursuit Of God.? 

    From the foreword:  “Tozer’s walk with God was a priority with him and he allowed nothing to interfere. It was the basis of his attraction to the Christian mystics. Their absorption in the daily practice of the presence of God was a stimulus for him and he delighted in their spiritual fellowship.”
    (How can anyone “practice” God’s presence?)

    From “Tozer’s Legacy” (after the foreword):  “The evangelical mystics were his favorite study.”

    In chapter 1, Tozer favorably quotes from The Cloud Of Unknowing.

    • i’m glad you asked that, brother, because i was actually planning to address that in part three; as well as addressing some of the practices of the purtians.

      tozer’s hallmark book, the pursuit of god, was a tremendous blessing to me in my early christianity. thankfully, however, i already had a firm foundation in the whole of scripture, having read through the bible at least a few times by the time i read it, and also being fairly squarely trusting in god’s grace, with much of my studies and readings coming from the likes of john bunyan, jonathan edwards, and charles spurgeon. sadly, however, if i had not been reading the resources of these other men, i would have possibly been swallowed up in a tide of mysticism because tozer referenced them so authoritatively.

      anyway, i’ll be addressing that… and if it needs to turn into a fourth article, so be it.

      thanks for your comments and encouragement

      • I look forward to your information about Tozer, as well as the Puritans (whose practices I am unfamiliar with bit want to know all about, having read some of their writings).

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