The mystical spirituality that is so popular in evangelical and charismatic circles today is a yearning for an experiential relationship with God that downplays the role of faith and Scripture and that exalts “transcendental” experiences that lift the individual from the earthly mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane.
Case in point: Moody Theological Seminary students from the Michigan and Chicago campuses will be gathering this month for "Personal Spiritual Formation" at Moody's Spiritual Formation Retreat in Muskegon, Mich.:
"You will be personally discipled one on one and in a small group with other cohort members, led by trained cohort leaders. Together we grab our torches and illuminate caves where hiddenness keeps us enslaved and stuck. Bringing ourselves and Christ’s presence into one another’s stories brings freedom to heal, to grow, and to become healthy and whole--the best versions of the awesome selves God created us to be."
Interesting statement, but nothing about Jesus on this site. The word Christ is mentioned once, as you see above, connected with the word Presence. (We should know that while the Holy Spirit dwells within all repentant believers, Jesus physically resides at the right hand of the Father.)
The Dangers of Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation focuses not so much on biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition” (Source)
Despite assertions that the spiritual disciplines are “God-ordained,” they are in fact derived from the practices of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mystics. These practices are contrary to the biblical theology fought for in the Reformation.
Resources you'll want to study: What is Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Prayer. I also encourage you to listen to Spiritual Formation: An interview with Dr. Gary Gilley.
Moody's lengthy slide into mysticism
How long has this been going on? Too many years:
Media: In spite of the many people who have objected, Moody's Midday Connection radio program frequently promotes mysticism and recently did a multi-part series on Spiritual Formation.
Education: As of 2011, Christian seminaries must Incorporate “Spiritual Formation” to become accredited. The Moody Bible Institute now offers the Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship degree. Moody Theological Seminary also offers a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship as well as a Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. The coursework promises students will "begin to understand through experience and teaching that growth and intimacy with Christ is based upon an encounter with God that touches every aspect of the human experience and the very core of their beings."
Conferences: Back in 2013, I was saddened to have to report that one of the teaching sessions at Moody's ReFocus Pastors’ Conference 2013 was on the contemplative spirituality practice of Lectio Divina, an ancient Catholic mystical practice that involves centering prayer meditation and altered states of “silence.”
However, Moody's problems started much earlier. In 2006, Lighthouse trails filed this report titled, "Moody Bible Institute - Whatever Happened?"
"Midday Connection, a ministry of Moody Bible Institute, is featuring an author (and a guest on their show) who promotes contemplative spirituality, Keri Wyatt Kent. Wyatt Kent is a writer for Willow Creek Community Church and often speaks on spiritual formation. Her recent book, Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life (published by the emerging/contemplative promoting publisher, Jossey-Bass), teaches readers to "listen" to God through "spiritual practices," including the practice of silence. The author quotes extensively throughout the book both contemplatives and New Agers, including Henri Nouwen, M.Scott Peck, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Rick Warren, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, and Eugene Peterson.
When Midday Connection (MBI ministry) was recently asked about their obvious promotion of Wyatt Kent and of contemplative spirituality, they stated that they were committed to spiritual formation and named "solid guests" like Larry Crabb and Dallas Willard who were teaching people "spiritual disciplines." They said they were just "re-stating some old truths in new ways."
In 1987, Moody Monthly wrote an endorsement for Sue Monk Kidd's book, God's Joyful Surprise. In this book, one of Monk Kidd's earlier books, she unfolds her journey into contemplative spirituality, largely from reading Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors. Once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, today she promotes neo-paganism and goddess worship." SOURCE
Doctrinal voices of reason
Gary Gilley asks: "Do we, as believers in Sola Scriptura, take our marching orders from the written Word, or do we look to the ‘white spaces’ in Scripture to determine how we live?"
In other words, are we to turn to mystical, subjective ascetic practices, or do we rely upon the objective truth of God’s Word?
For further research, you'll want to bookmark and watch this excellent video of Dr. Gilley addressing this trend recently at a Critical Issues Commentary meeting:
Hat tip to Debi M!