Pop-evangelicalism’s sorry infatuation with Catholic contemplative prayer

In her latest book, “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” (June, 2018), popular liberal (c)hristian millennial, Rachel Held Evans, cites the Catholic practices of “Lectio Divina” and “Ignatian Meditation” as important rituals in her “spiritual life.” Held Evans is not alone. Many pop-evangelicals have recommended or sponsored “Lectio Divina,” “Ignatian Meditation,” or some other form of Catholic “contemplative spirituality,” including Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Tim Keller, and Priscilla Shirer.

If you’re out of the pop-evangelical loop, you might be wondering what exactly are “Lectio Divina” and “Ignatian Meditation”? Let’s take a brief look:

Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a monastic, contemplative practice with roots going back to the 6th century and “saint” Benedict (above photo, left). The basic steps of Lectio Divina are as follows:

  • Read – Read a very short passage of Scripture
  • Meditate – Ruminate deeply upon the text, seeking to take from it what God wants to teach.
  • Pray – By gently repeating a “prayer word” or brief phrase (aka “centering prayer” aka “mantra”) over and over, leave thinking aside (my italics) and communicate with God on a mystical level.
  • Contemplate – Listen to God as He speaks with a still small voice and become gradually transformed from within.

Ignatian Meditation is a contemplative practice developed in the 16th Century by founder of the Jesuits, “saint” Ignatius of Loyola. The steps of Ignatian Meditation include:

  • Prepare for the meditation by becoming aware of the presence of God, asking for God’s help to pray well.
  • Visualize in-depth the mystery (e.g., a scene from one of the Gospels) on which you are meditating in your imagination.
  • Considerations – Stop and ponder any particular thought that strikes you during the meditation, for as long as necessary.
  • Affections – Either during or after the considerations, pause to experience any emotions that may result. These emotions, called “affections,” take priority over the considerations. (my italics)
  • Resolutions – You may wish to form some resolution as a result of the affections. In this way, you take advantage of the inclination of your will that has been produced through meditation as an opportunity to clarify and commit yourself to the actions that should follow.

We see that in both methods, the supplicant is encouraged to experience in their mind, an altered “mystical” state, in the first case through the repetition of a prayer mantra, in the second case through visualization and the contemplation of the imagined “sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movement, and tactility” of specific scenes from the Gospels. This kind of visualization and sensory imagination is known as “affective meditation.”

Through either method, the supplicant seeks an experience, a “spiritual high,” that is beyond normal knowledge and cognizance.

Prior to accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983, I dabbled in Eastern spirituality including the practice of Yoga and Transcendental Meditation (TM). Cardiologist, Herbert Benson, brought the “benefits” of Hindu guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s (above photo, right) transcendental meditation to the American masses via his book, “The Relaxation Response”Capture11 (1975). By following Benson’s simple instructions, a practitioner was able to quickly learn, through the use of a simple, repetitive mantra, to enter a meditative state; an altered state of consciousness. Once learned, it’s like riding a bike. Forty years later, I am still able to consciously elicit the meditative/relaxation response in my brain in only a matter of minutes or even seconds. Even talking or writing about the phenomenon triggers a partial response.

What are the spiritual benefits of Lectio Divina and Ignatian Meditation? I believe we should be asking about the dangers rather than any alleged benefits. Practitioners indulge in these meditative experiences to feel amazingly pleasant sensations, both physical and psychological, but they have nothing to do with a relationship with Almighty God based upon faith in Jesus Christ and His Word. The practice of contemplative prayer is a “spiritual” drug and practitioners are in a sense, junkies. God’s Word admonishes us not to chase after mystical experiences and sensualism, but to be sober and vigilant.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8

Contemplative prayer is an ecumenical tool, drawing unwary evangelicals away from true knowledge of God through His Word and closer to Roman Catholicism and its false gospel of sacramental grace and merit with its heavy emphasis on mysticism and experientialism. By repressing their reason and mental focus and surrendering themselves to sensualism, undiscerning evangelicals are inviting calamity into their lives and into the church.

Main references:

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/what-lectio-divina

https://www.osv.com/RSS/365DaysToMercy/TabId/2752/ArtMID/21013/ArticleID/10344/What-Is-Ignatian-Meditation.aspx

The Lighthouse Trails Research Project discernment ministry, link below, specializes in exposing pop-evangelicalism’s dalliance with Catholic contemplative prayer and is a great resource, although I do not endorse all of their views in regards to some secondary beliefs.

https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com

For a review of the introduction to “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans, see SlimJim’s post here.

5 thoughts on “Pop-evangelicalism’s sorry infatuation with Catholic contemplative prayer

  1. Brother Tom thank you for this post! I’m going to link it in my earlier post on Rachel Held Evans. There are certainly concerns with these methods. The leaving thinking aside stood out to me as something certainly unbiblical.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Jimmy! I was only vaguely aware of contemplative prayer methods so writing this post was an education for me. As I dug into the material, I was struck by the parallels to TM.

      Liked by 1 person

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