Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Teaching Mysticism

by Christine Pack & Dwayna Litz (

A class being taught at Time Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church uses a book by "Christian mystic" Jan Johnson, who has taught and written extensively on a practice known as "contemplative prayer."  Unfortunately, while contemplative prayer is a practice that sounds Christian, it has its roots in pagan, occultic practices. Johnson writes:
“Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God's presence, and it makes you better able to hear God's voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.” (Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens 1999, pg. 16)
Johnson's explanation of the initial stages of contemplative prayer leaves no doubt that "stilling" your thoughts means only one thing; she explains:
“In the beginning, it is usual to feel nothing but a cloud of unknowing.... If you're a person who has relied on yourself a great deal to know what's going on, this unknowing will be unnerving.” (Ibid., pg. 120)
This term "cloud of unknowing" comes from the writings of an unknown 14th-century monk, who wrote about contemplative meditation as a “teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.” (

The premise of the "cloud of unknowing" is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced, and the mind has to be "shut down" or "turned off" so that the cloud of unknowing, where the presence of God awaits, can be experienced.  But "shutting down the mind" is an occultic practice, and is therefore off-limits for Christians:
“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire [an ancient occult practice], or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination [detestable] to the LORD…" (-Deuteronomy 18:9-12a)
So why then, is the occultic practice of contemplative prayer (also known as centering prayer, Lectio Divina, etc.) literally flooding into today's churches? My guess is that many Christians are simply naive about what exactly occultic mysticism is.  Perhaps they think it comes with a warning label or that spooky music will start playing if somebody starts unwittingly doing a mystical practice.  Whatever the case, mysticism can masquerade by many different names and is found in most faith traditions outside of Christianity: the Native American Indians have their shamanism, the Muslems have sufism, the Jews have Kabbalah, the Roman Catholics have monastic disciplines, the Hindus/Buddhists have yoga and meditation, etc.  What unifies all these different cultural practices is that they all serve one purpose: to corrall the active, thinking mind so that a mystical state can be entered into through an altered state of consciousness.  And, rather than feeling dangerous or scary, mysticism often gives a person a pleasant experience, sometimes even a profoundly spiritual experience.  Unfortunately, the "spirit" connected to in spiritual mystical experiences is not God, as these practices are expressly forbidden by God.

But, most Christians today have virtually no knowledge of New Age/eastern meditation techniques, and so when these practices come into the church with "Christian" names and are taught by their leaders, they don't always immediately recognize that what they are being taught is occultic.  The really scary part is that Christians can unknowingly enter into a mystical state if they do the practices as taught, because unfortunately, ignorance does not afford one protection in the spiritual realm.  You can read here the harrowing testimony of a Christian woman who unknowingly practiced "Christian mysticism" and tells how it took her further away from God, rather than closer.

Christians, please beware of any practice or technique that is done for the purpose of emptying the mind or entering into an altered state of consciousness.  This is not biblical, and is can be found nowhere in Scripture:  In fact, just the opposite:
"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." (Matthew 6:7)
Does this not eerily sound like a description of the mantra meditation used in many faith traditions for the purpose of corralling the mind?  Please, brothers and sisters, hold fast to truth and test all things against Scripture.  We are living in perilous times, and sadly, ignorance is no protection against the wiles of Satan.

 Additional Resources 

Christian Woman Unwittingly Enters a Mystical State

Redeemer Presbyterian Class Schedule

"The Way of the Monk" at Redeemer Presbyterian