Richard Foster and the Be Still DVD
by Ray Yungen
Richard Foster, one of the speakers in the new Fox Home Entertainment Be Still DVD, is highly regarded and well respected in much of the evangelical community. His book, Celebration of Discipline, has had a massive influence on Christendom for many years. And yet, Foster has a long history of drawing from spiritual wells that reflect eastern mystical beliefs. But with names such as Beth Moore and Max Lucado on the Be Still DVD label, most people will automatically trust the content of this program. This means that tens of thousands of people will be introduced to Richard Foster's spirituality with a sense of security that what they are watching is biblically sound, relevant for their lives and accepted by those whom they have long trusted and looked up to.
In order to understand the magnitude of this, we need to examine what Richard Foster does indeed teach and promote. In 1994, I had been alerted to Foster by a youth pastor friend who had read Celebration of Discipline and began to practice its contemplative methods. The youth pastor became alarmed when while repeating a phrase over and over, he began to drift into an altered state of consciousness and realized such a mystical practice was more of an eastern style method than one endorsed in Scripture. It was after this that I attended a local seminar where Richard Foster was speaking. At the end of the meeting, I approached him.
Wanting to know more about Foster's beliefs, I asked, "What do you think about the current contemplative prayer movement?" Foster emphatically told me, "Thomas Merton tried to awaken God's people!" It was then I knew my concerns about Foster were rightfor you see, I had been researching and studying Thomas Merton and knew Merton believed the Christian church was missing what he considered one essential element, something the Buddhists had but we didn'tcontemplative prayer (i.e., mantra meditation). It was this mystical element Merton had hoped to "awaken" God's people to.
With further study, I became convinced that Foster was in sync with Merton. Merton, who at one time said he was impregnated with Sufism1 (Islamic mysticism) and said he wanted to become the best Buddhist he could be, likened the contemplative experience to an LSD trip.2 And yet, of Merton, Foster says: "Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood … His interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion. Zen masters from Asia regarded him as the preeminent authority on their kind of prayer in the United States."3
Throughout the years, Foster has shown great consistency in promoting this eastern style meditation of Merton's. Starting with Celebration of Discipline in 1978, Foster said that we "should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer."4 And yet, Foster himself says this is a dangerous prayer method that can invoke demonic activity and requires special protection. From Foster's book, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Foster says: "I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world [not true], we do know … there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.… 'All dark and evil spirits must now leave.'"5
Such a notion is hard for former New Agers to understand. Of Foster's warning, one former New Ager says: "Why would God ask us to become involved in a type of prayer that could bring exposure and harm from demonic influences? Foster warns that a novice Christian should not engage in it.… Why would Foster or any believer want to practice such a form of prayer? Could it be they are infatuated with the seductive feeling that accompanies itand like other contemplatives, feel the need to get closer to God? But this presents a dilemma, for it is the finished work of Christ on the Cross that allows us access to the throne of God, and that access is immediately available to us the moment we are born-again. It is not just for an elite group of people who are "mature" enough to handle it; no, it is for all who have been born of the Spirit and justified by faith."6
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster tells us "we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation," later saying that the "masters of meditation beckon us."7 Who are these masters he speaks of? Throughout his writings and over and over through the years, Foster talks about and promotes these "masters of meditation." All one has to do is find a copy of Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home where Foster talks favorably about Sue Monk Kidd (who teaches New Age goddess spirituality), Basil Pennington (who said the Holy Spirit is the soul of the human family) and Thomas Merton. In two of Foster's books, Spiritual Classics and Devotional Classics he has gathered the writings of 52 authors in each book of whom he describes as great devotional writers. Both books are filled with the writings of pantheists (god in all), universalists (all are saved) and mystics. Foster lists more of these "masters of meditation" on his website in a list he calls "100 Spiritual Classics." The list includes mystics and pantheists like Meister Eckhart and Tilden Edwards.
Some may be asking right now, "Ok, Richard Foster endorses and promotes those who teach mantra meditation. But does he actually teach this himself?" The answer is a resounding, yes! Throughout his writings, Foster promotes this spirituality. Let's look at some of his comments on the subject:
"[W]e should stop to reflect and to treasure the words, to turn them over and over in our minds, repeating them."8
"Spend some time this week listening to contemplative music designed to quiet you, settle you, deepen you. (Compact discs and tapes from the Taize Community, John Michael Talbot, and the Monks of Weston Priory are especially helpful.)"9
"Christians … have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first … is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer….Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible."10
In a 2004 Youthworker Journal (Youth Specialties) article, contemplative advocate Mike Perschon related the following encounter. He was about to teach a group of Christians contemplative prayer when one woman asked, "Isn't that New Age or Buddhist?" He responded with, "Well, Buddhists do meditate, and there are many New Age meditative practices, but what I am going to teach is Christian meditation." She then asked, "What's the difference." He responded, "Well, on the surface, nothing." Then he explained, "The Buddhist empties the mind for the sake of emptying it. The Christian empties the mind to fill it with Christ." This is an oxymoron. However, the Bible nowhere says to empty the mind in any way. It does say to fill it with Christ, but no meditative practice is required to do this. Perschon adds, that this "growing interest in the disciplines" is largely due "to the huge and continually growing success of Richard Foster's book" (Celebration of Discipline).11 This is my very point.
It is clear that Foster does indeed promote contemplative prayer, and it is even more clear that his philosophy on contemplative prayer aligns with that of Thomas Merton. So the questions must be asked, is Thomas Merton's spirituality compatible with that of Christian leaders like Beth Moore and Max Lucado? And should Merton's and Foster's spirituality be represented on a DVD that is supposed to be for the evangelical church at large? Maybe a better question would be why are trusted Christian leaders on a DVD that highlights and focuses on a spiritual discipline that emphasizes the teachings of Foster? At one time these answers would have been quite obvious, but today such lines of distinction have become blurred and obscure.
The Be Still DVD focuses on the silence. Richard Foster, in speaking of this silence, says: "Contemplative Prayer immerses us into the silence of God. How desperately we in the modern world need this wordless baptism!… Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence."12
If Foster's silence becomes the standard vehicle for going deeper with God, the Christian of the future (perhaps the near future), may soon resonate with Thomas Merton, who said: "It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, ... now I realize what we all are .... If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are ... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other ... At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth ... This little point ... is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody."13 That is the crux of the controversy. If one takes the time to research the contemplative prayer movement in its totality, one will certainly find that the above observation by Merton is not just an anomaly but is the standard perception and outcome of contemplative spirituality. That is where Foster's silence will lead those who follow it. It is the ultimate compromise of the Gospel and it simply cannot be ignored.
1. The Springs of Contemplation, p. 266.
2. Interview with Matthew Fox, http://nineoclockservice.tripod.com/mattiefx.htm.
3. Spiritual Classics, p. 17.
4. Celebration of Discipline, 1978, p. 13.
5. Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, p.157.
6. Running Against the Wind, 2nd Ed., p. 145.
7. Celebration of Discipline, 1980, p. 13.
8. Celebration of Discipline, 1980, p. 13.
9. From Renovare Perspective Newsletter, http://www.renovare.org/readings_perspective_archive.htm.
10. Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, p. 122.
11. Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life by Mike Perschon, http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/topics/spirituality/desert.php.
12. Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, p. 155.
13. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 157-158.
For more information on the Contemplative Prayer (i.e., Spiritual Formation) movement, see Lighthouse Trails Research.
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