Yesterday in the Apprising Ministries piece Thomas Merton And The Gospel Coalition Blog I pointed you to The iPhone as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Gospel Coalition contributor Mike Cosper, “pastor of worship & arts” at Sojourn Community Church.

A major focus of AM is tracking the infection of Counter Reformation spirituality and Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) ala gurus Dallas Willard and his spiritual twin Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster into the mainstream of the visible church.

In his post Cosper starts off quoting the book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (CGB), which was written by apostate Roman Catholic mystic monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968); beyond question a superstar of CSM, particularly the practice and teaching of its crown jewel Contemplative/Centering Prayer (CCP).

You may know that CCP is a form of meditation in an altered state of consciousness; in other words, it’s transcendental meditation lightly sprayed with Christian terms. Cosper also informs us he was reading CGB while on a spiritual retreat at Merton’s RC monastary Abbey of Gethsemani, where the monks tell us they are:

Trappist monks who have lived, prayed, and worked in this house of the Lord for over 150 years. As Roman Catholics gathered in community, we follow the call of Jesus to become his disciples. (Online source)

Christine Pack of Sola Sisters put this in perspective in her piece The Gospel Coalition and Mystic Thomas Merton? There she tells us:

Speaking as a former mystic who was saved, by God’s grace and mercy, out of mysticism, I am quite shocked to hear that a group as well regarded as The Gospel Coalition would have a writer who openly, and admiringly, quotes from one of the all-time best known mystics to have ever lived, Thomas Merton, as contributing TGC author Mike Cosper does in a recent post.
(Online source)

She then asks some key questions, again:

Is this okay with all the members of The Gospel Coalition? Mightn’t someone among the men who comprise The Gospel Coalition feel compelled to correct this young man about the heretical nature of the Roman Catholic system he is delighting in (as evidenced by his frequent retreats to a Roman Catholic monastery)? (Online source)

With the growing syncretism within evangelicalism, we won’t be holding our breath. Via the combox of Cosper’s post, I also asked him the following question:

What is a Gospel Coalition contributor doing on a retreat with apostate Roman Catholic monks at a monastery, which teaches Counter Reformation spirituality: http://bit.ly/rJp4el

Despite it merely being a frank and direct question, it was deleted without explanation within minutes. In response to a comment by Jonathan Cousar last night Cosper did offer a clarification in his combox, which only serves to make this even worse:

(Online source)

The legacy of the mystic monk Merton is far more than “a cloudy and mixed bag.” He was a flat out heretic; pure and simple. The fact is, by the time of his death Merton’s practice of CSM and CCP had essentially turned him into a Buddhist. What Cosper says next is quite cloudy for TGC contributor:

I disagree with Merton’s inclusivism, but I appreciate his cultural insights, particularly in regard to war, politics, ideology, technology and racism. I believe Merton was, after all was said and done, an orthodox Roman Catholic – which as a reformed evangelical, leaves me with much to disagree with and dismiss. (Online source)

Not inclusvism; for you see, right within his CGB itself Merton reveals that he was actually a universalist; just the same as all mystics:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God,…the pure glory of God in us…as our sonship… It is in everybody,… [1]

If God already dwells within every human being in a place untouched by sin then you don’t need a crucified and risen Savior; and quite obviously we’ve also done away with any need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. That’s why mystics could care less about the Cross and are instead so interested in unifying all religions.

To them each religion is merely a fractured part of the Wholeness the world had when God created it within Himself; in other words, all of creation is divine. Cosper says of the foolish Merton that he was “an orthodox Roman Catholic.” Indeed he died a slave to Rome, which is partly where Merton’s mysticism led him.

So why would we who actually do know God in Christ even want to practice it? Yet Cosper doesn’t seem to understand what’s at stake when he says this is something “with much to disagree with and dismiss.” No, just as God does, so the Christian should also hate the anathematizing of the Gospel done by the apostate RCC.

In closing this, for now, we have reason for conern as TGC contributor Cosper then goes on to defend his spending time with apostates at Merton’s monastery; in addition, he almost appears to encourage us concerning their mystic mythology when he informs us that he goes:

to Gethsemani for retreats because it’s 45 minutes from my house, a free place to stay where they provide three meals a day, and a place with a vow of silence and bad phone reception. All of this adds up to a very peaceful and distraction-free place to retreat periodically to rest, pray, and reflect.

Silence and solitude are Christian practices with long traditions, and in my opinion are crucial for clarity, sanity, and health in ministry. (See, Luke 4:42, Mark 1:35, and Mark 14:31.) The purpose of an uncluttered mind is not an emptying of the mind, but a distraction-free mind that can focus on scripture, prayer, and the kind of self-awareness that is conducive to repentance and prayer. (Online source)

Since when are Christians supposed rest, pray, and reflect with apostates and heretics; answer: we’re not (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). And following is what former Roman Catholic monk Martin Luther said about such pietistic vows, etc:

Idolatry is all manner of seeming holiness and worshipping, let these counterfeit spiritualities shine outwardly as glorious and fair as they may; in a word, all manner of devotion in those that we would serve God without Christ the Mediator, his Word and command. In popedom it was held a work of the greatest sanctity for the monks to sit in their cells and meditate of God, [solitude] and of his wonderful works; to be kindled with zeal, kneeling on their knees, praying, and having their imaginary contemplations of celestial objects, with such supposed devotion, that they wept for joy. In these their conceits, they banished all desires and thoughts of women, and what else is temporal and evanescent. They seemed to meditate only of God, and of his wonderful works.

Yet all these seeming holy actions of devotion, which the wit and wisdom of man holds to be angelical sanctity, are nothing else but works of the flesh. All manner of religion, where people serve God without his Word and command, is simply idolatry, and the more holy and spiritual such a religion seems, the more hurtful and venomous it is; for it leads people away from the faith of Christ, and makes them rely and depend upon their own strength, works, and righteousness. In like manner, all kinds of orders of monks, fasts, prayers, hairy shirts, the austerities of the Capuchins, who in popedome are held to be the most holy of all, are mere works of the flesh; for the monks hold they are holy, and shall be saved, not through Christ, whom they view as a severe and angry judge, but through the rules of their order. (Tabletalk, 1626 AD)

Then, using a standard line of those who try and tell us CSM and CCP are Christian practices, Cosper muses that silence and solitude have “long traditions” and cites a few proof-texts. The first two are often used by so-called Christian mystics, but they end up committing a fundamental error in interpreting those Scriptures.

Jesus by definition is monogenes, the totally unique God-Man; as such, the life of Jesus is not always normative for the Christian. No doubt He is our perfect Example and we are to emulate Him. However, there are many things about Jesus we just cannot expect to accomplish. Ever seen a mystic walking upon the water?

No one credible is arguing that being alone with God, praying, and meditating upon Scripture is wrong. We’re rightly warning you that, to those who practice CSM, “silence and solitude” is mystic-speak for the meditation in an altered state of consciousness i.e. CCP. And this is what it means to those monks at this monastery.

You should also know that, at best, TGC contributor Mike Cosper is setting a bad example; however, he’s hardly alone because this Protestant version of asceticism-lite is spreading quickly within evangelicalism as evidenced by the comment below from the combox of Cosper’s post:

I live in TN and our Pastor uses Gethsemani often for rest, renewal whatever also because it is close by. He really enjoys getting away from “the world” as do other evangelical pastors from this area. (Online source)

End notes:

[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander [New York: Doubleday, 1966], 158, emphasis mine.

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