Continuing from the previous post where my friend Andrew in Australia wrote a letter to his church expressing his concerns about their invitation to Tony Campolo. This letter serves as a great example of how to graciously write to church leadership in expressing a concern. It also serves as an excellent profile of Tony Campolo's dangerous theology/teachings. Today we pick up at point 3 in Andrew's letter:
3. Involvement in Eastern/New Age/Mystic practices.
There are a number of practices that he [Campolo] affirms in his work but I want to pick on one that he is particularly open about. He often speaks of his affirmation of the practice of centering prayer, a practice that bears a very strong resemblance to trancendental meditiation as practiced in Eastern Religions, the Occult and the New Age religions. My wife was strongly involved in these practices before being saved and has a very good understanding of the dangers accociated with them.
“To do so, I have to drive back the animals--the "animals" being the hundred and one things that trouble me from the day before and the many things that are waiting to be done in the new day. I've got to push everything out of mind save the name of Jesus. I say His name over and over again, for as long as fifteen minutes, until I find my soul suspended in what the ancient Celtic Christians called a "thin place"--a state where the boundary between heaven and earth, divine and human, dissolves. You could say that I use the name of Jesus as my koan.”
(“Mystical Encounters for Christians” - http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2006/02/Mystical-Encounters-For-Christians.aspx)
Campolo speaks of this practice often and reaffirms this in a large number of other sources.
Roger Oakland observes:
“This term ‘thin place’ originated with Celtic spirituality (i.e., contemplative) and is in line with panentheism. ... Thin places imply that God is in all things, and the gap between God, evil, man, everything thins out and ultimately disappears in mediation”
(Faith Undone, pp. 114, 115).
There appear numeroustheological problems in Campolo’s quote :
o We don’t see anywhere in Scripture that this form of prayer is endorsed or modeled. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to empty our minds.
o We see in Scripture a conversive form of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Ephesians 3:14-21)
o In Psalm 119, the psalmist uses a word that we translate “meditate” which in Hebrew can be also translated as “ponder, converse, commune, complain, declare, muse, pray, speak, talk”.
o Jesus spoke against repetious prayers (Matthew 6:7)
o Much of the book of Leviticus speaks of God’s peope not adopting the pagan practices of the culture/faiths/peoples around them.
o This practice was historically rejected almost universally by Christian theologians.
With many of these mystical practices (particularly in the Islamic, Catholic and Jewish forms) we also see an undermining of the authority of Scripture. The scripture becomes subject to experience and we have the testimony of centuries of history to see how those involved in these mystical practices then interpreted God’s Word in “new” ways. This issue goes right back to the Gnostic traditions that were impacting the church in the first few centuries of the faith.
4. His own story of conversion is foreign to the Biblical pattern.
Campolo’s conversion experience is documented in his book “Letters to a Young Evangelical” where he tells the story of his very gradual becoming a Christian. He speaks of not having a born again experience like his mother had, but rather that he came to knowledge of Jesus though centering prayer.
“When I was a boy growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in West Philadelphia, my mother, a convert to Evangelical Christianity from a Catholic immigrant family, hoped I would have one of those dramatic “born again” experiences. That was the way she had come into a personal relationship with Christ. She took me to hear one evangelist after another, praying that I would go to the altar and come away “converted.” But it never worked for me. I would go down the aisle as the people around me sang “the invitation hymn,” but I just didn’t feel that anything happened to me. For a while I despaired wondering if I would ever get “saved.” It took me quite some time to realize that entering into a personal relationship with Christ does not always happen that way.”
(“Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 8)
In my case intimacy with Christ had developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholics call “centering prayer.” Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time—sometimes as much as a half hour—to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say.
( “Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 9)
“I learned about this way of having a born-again experience from reading Catholic mystics, especially The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius, a founder of the Jesuit order, was once a soldier and it was only when he spent a long time in a hospital bed recovering from a battle wound that his heart and mind focused on God. Like most Catholic mystics he developed an intense desire to experience a “oneness” with God. Gradually, he came to feel an intense yearning for the kind of spiritual purity that he believed would enable him to experience the fullness of God’s presence within.”
(“Letters to a Young Evangelical” - page 30)
I want to stress here that I am not attempting to assert that he is not saved. I cannot and do not know where his heart truly sits with Jesus because although I can examine some of the fruit of his public ministry, I don’t know him personally. I am instead suggesting that his story gives insight into his understanding of the Gospel which as a logical consequence may have implications for his own salvation.
His account of salvation raises serious questions due to the clear teaching of Scripture that someone must be born again (John 3:3) and also the clear example of Scripture which speaks of a clear sharp conversion:
o the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)
o Paul (Acts 9)
o Cornelius (Acts 10)
o Lydia (Acts 16)
o the Philippian jailer (Acts 16)
That is not to say that people cannot come to faith over a season of life where God does many things in them, but we see both from Scripture and our experience that there is always a clear conversion experience, even for those who have grown up inside the church.
Completely lacking from his account (at least from the excerpts I have) is any mention of:
o The cross
Instead we see mention of “oneness with God” and a strong dependence on feelings.
The essence of the problem is that his testimony and preaching indicates a different Gospel to the one clearly taught in Scripture and we are told to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Romans 16:17). He does not appear as theologically naive as to not be aware of the Biblical elements of salvation, or to orthodox thinking.
Thanks Andrew, I'll pick up this letter again and finish it on Tuesday. In the mean time just take a peek at Campolo's bizarre explanation of what it means to be "born again". See if you can figure out what part of Scripture he is referring to . . .
Go On To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1
Help for the Weak Pray-er
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