RAVI ZACHARIAS INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES DEFEND UNIVERSALIST HENRI NOUWEN AND CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY/MYSTICISM
A while back Apprising Ministries ran a piece called Ravi Zacharias Answers “Can A Person Live A Sincere Christian Life As A Homosexual?” where you can hear Protestant evangelical apologist Zacharias say, “One of the greatest saints of recent memory was Henri Nouwen.” Just the other day an AM reader sent along to us the letter below which they had received from Ravi Zacharias’ RZIM addressing concerns raised by the You Tube clip in that article mentioned above as well as some things I discussed with Ingrid Schlueter on her Crosstalk Program. You can listen to the discussion in Evangelicals Embrace Mystics with Guest Pastor Ken Silva (Crosstalk America).
As a pastor, and since I happen to be one whom God, in His mercy and sovereignty, chose to regenerate and deliver from the religious bondage of apostate Roman Catholicism and RZIM simply dismisses the results of my own personal study into Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), I now believe it’s very important for readers to see for themselves the official RZIM position on CSM and Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen (1932-1996).
Obviously, being that he was a Roman Catholic monk Nouwen rejected Sola Scriptura and was also a very well-known teacher of corrupt Contemplative/Centering Prayer (CCP) whose own highly subjective personal “experience” in the deceptions of CCP—transcendental meditation lightly sprayed with Christian terms—finally led him to write the following:
Today I personally believe that Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her way to God. (Sabbatical Journey, 51)
What you’re about to read from RZIM is a very sad case of either being unwilling, or unable, to exercise spiritual discernment. The political spin doctoring below with its revisionist history is also quite steeped in the whole Emerging Church rebellion against the authority of the Bible. O, if only the Lord’s Reformers had been so wise as Ravi Zacharias et al and were as able to take into consideration the “Christian commitment” of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church then we could have all been spared that nasty ol’ Reformation in the first place:
Thank you for your recent email to RZIM. I am responding on behalf of Ravi Zacharias, who regrets being unable to personally correspond due to his intense travel schedule and the volume of mail he receives.
With regards to Henri Nouwen, as an apologetics ministry, we would urge you to read Nouwen for yourself and then make up your mind as to Christian commitment. I would recommend you begin with his excellent book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. With regard to Ravi quoting Nouwen or anyone else, you should know that it does not mean that we agree with every statement the author has ever written or spoken; rather, we believe that the book will, on the whole, be helpful to readers. We would disagree with Nouwen’s seeming sympathy with universalistic theology, but the overall corpus of his writings have been instrumental for many Christians, including Philip Yancey who is a writer for Christianity Today magazine. Several of us on staff have been blessed by Henri Nouwen’s teachings. As far as I’m aware, his theology was orthodox and faithful to the teachings of Scripture (though of course there are points of disagreement since he was a Catholic priest and we are Protestants). The context of the you Tube video, and the clip (24 seconds, I might add, so completely without context), is from his autobiography called Sabbatical Journey, is a collection of his writings from his personal diary. The main themes are friendship and prayer. So, I believe his remarks, at the very least must be thought about in that context. You don’t expect the world to read your personal diaries—we do not know if he intended this since these writings were published posthumously. So, none of us should presume with over-confidence what he intended them to mean. I would recommend you examine the following articles at Christianity Today that that demonstrates why many Christians would call Henri Nouwen one of our greatest saints.
Henri Nouwen is often associated with contemplative prayer or spirituality. Contemplation, or contemplative prayer has been practiced throughout the church for millenia beginning in the early monastic movements of both the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Byzantine) Church. To “contemplate” is simply another term for the Hebrew understanding of “meditating” on God’s word, and simply another way to pray. Contemplative prayer and spirituality as it is being recovered in Christian worship and devotional life, is simply that—a recovery of ancient practices and teachings from church history. I would encourage you to examine the writings on prayer in Martin Luther, for example. See his works, “The Table Talk of Martin Luther”, “The Sermons of Martin Luther” (specifically “Epistle Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Advent”), and his “Treatise on Good Works.” Indeed, it was St. Augustine, in speaking abut contemplative prayer long before Luther who said, “True, whole prayer is nothing but love.”
The word “to meditate” in the Hebrew, literally means to “chew on” and “digest”. The sense is that we keep God at the center of our thoughts every minute of every day. I know many on our staff that have been tremendously helped and challenged by Brother Laurence’s short book “The Practice of the Presence of God” which is essentially an accounting of contemplation. There is more to knowing God then can be gained purely through the intellect; the Puritans emphasized communion with God and the spiritual affections. We should seek to engage our whole beings in the pursuit of knowing God. This is the practice of contemplative prayer that has long been the practice of the Christian church. The psalms tell us that “in His law he (the righteous) meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2) and also that the “meditation of our hearts be acceptable to God” (Ps. 19:14). So, meditative prayer was not foreign to ancient Hebrew practice, nor was it foreign to the developing Christian church. The Eastern mysticism that they talk about on the Crosstalk program, is not even remotely related to the kind of meditation and prayer that the Bible, and individuals like Nouwen would have practiced and discussed.
Finally, I would also encourage you to do some good study on church history. While the Protestant Reformation was vital for reform of many aberrant teachingss and practices that had come into the Church in the Middle Ages, if it weren’t for the Catholic church, you and I would not be here—nor would Christianity. Just as Christians came from Jews, so Protestant Christians come out of the Catholic/Tradition. St. Augustine, for example, was Catholic—Catholic meaning “one” or “whole” (that is what the word means — “one” Church). I recommend Jaroslav Pelikan’s five volume church history set called The Christian Tradition or Kenneth Scott Latourette’s two volume set A History of Christianity.
I hope this is a helpful response to your concerns. We do appreciate you contacting us directly, and we certainly hope that if you have additional questions or concerns you will not hesitate to write us again.
Speaking Team/Associate Writer