On Christians recommending the contemplative heretic Henri Nouwen

Rosaria Butterfield recommends Henri Nouwen’s “Reaching Out: The Three Movements Of The Spiritual Life”

“Rosaria Butterfield should never have given Nouwen’s Reaching Out: The Three Movements Of The Spiritual Life space in her book. This was a serious error. Do I think she had some ulterior motive? I do not.” 

By John Lanagan

“Today I personally believe that while 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 own way to God.” (Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, pg. 51)

Henri Nouwen was a heretic, yet remains popular with many high profile Christians, and with the so-called Christian intelligentsia.

In Rosaria Butterfield’s book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Butterfield writes that the deceased Catholic priest Henri Nouwen “regarded hospitality as a spiritual movement, one that is possible only when loneliness finds its spiritual refreshment in solitude, when hostility resolves itself in hospitality, and when illusion is manifested in prayer.” (pg.62)

Rosaria Butterfield is describing the ostensible theme of Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements Of The Spiritual Life, which is also listed in the back of Butterfield’s  own book as Recommended Reading. However, I believe there is an underlying purpose to Nouwen’s book–and with the vast majority of his books–and that is to introduce the reader to contemplative prayer.

Contemplative prayer is essentially the same as New Age or Eastern meditation, but disguised with “Christianese” terminology. Those who participate and enter the silence, as it is called, open themselves to great deception.

As described elsewhere, our minds are like rushing rivers. Our thoughts go here, go there, because our thought process is active and continuous. In contemplative prayer, Eastern meditation, and New Age meditation, all thought is stilled. The active river of our minds is dammed up–the rushing river is now a still pool of water. This can be done by repeating a word or phrase over and over until thought ceases and one enters the silence. Rather than repeating something like “Omm,” the Christian contemplative repeats the name of Jesus, perhaps, or utters a biblical phrase again and again and again.

These vain repetitions are forbidden by the Lord:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (Matthew 6:7)

The silence of contemplative prayer is sweetly deceptive, a place of false visions, lying “Christs,” and supernatural experiences. Contemplative prayer can twist or destroy one’s theology, and often seems to lead to an inability to distinguish between Catholic teaching on Salvation and biblical truth. It has also functioned as a bridge to interspirituality.

In one of the greatest examples of effective, yet demonically deceptive marketing, those who brought contemplative practices into the Protestant church insisted that in Eastern and New Age meditation the goal is to empty the mind; but with contemplative prayer, the goal is to fill the mind with God.

Thus, Nouwen states, “Our prayer becomes a prayer of the heart when we have localized in the center of our inner being the empty space in which our God-filled mind can descend and vanish, and where the distinctions between thinking and feeling, knowing and experiencing, ideas and emotions are transcended, and where God can become our host.” (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, pg. 147)

Nouwen also writes, “When we empty our mind from all thoughts and our hearts from all experiences, we can prepare in the center of our innermost being the home for the God who wants to dwell in us.” (pg. 147)

That sounds so beautiful, so spiritual. Except God already dwells in Christians. The Bible tells us:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9)

Through contemplative prayer, Henri Nouwen ended up far from the God of the Bible. And so it is for many others. Elsewhere in the book, Nouwen promotes Hesychasm, a contemplative practice that originated centuries ago. (pg.141)

Rosaria Butterfield should never have given Nouwen’s Reaching Out: The Three Movements Of The Spiritual Life space in her book. This was a serious error. Do I think she had some ulterior motive? I do not. Nevertheless, via email I asked the Butterfields if they practice contemplative prayer. I asked for a simple response of “yes” or “no.” Rosaria’s husband, Pastor Kent Butterfield, replied, “No!” And that is good enough for me.

After reading both Nouwen’s and Butterfield’s books, it’s baffling she sought commonality with Nouwen in terms of hospitality, for what does a universalist-contemplative-Catholic priest’s “hospitality as a spiritual movement” have in common with the biblical hospitality of the Butterfields? Is this some kind of Christian intelligentsia thing?

Bottom line, the Butterfields have practiced hospitality long before she recommended Nouwen in The Gospel Comes with a House Key. 

Rosaria Butterfield has helped thousands with her bold testimony about becoming a Christian after years as a lesbian. She has of late received criticism on a number of issues. This article deals with just one of those criticisms–recommending a book by the contemplative heretic Henri Nouwen. Where she needs correction, may the Lord give her the grace to accept it. And may her critics remember she is a sister in Christ.

Published with John Lanagan’s permission. Visit his site here.




Contemplative Prayer

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