Running Against the Wind
By Brian Flynn
: Lighthouse Trails Publishing
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
16.2 (Fall 2005) : 341-343
A former New Ager recounts his experiences in an altered consciousness during contemplation and other encounters. Then he tells of meeting the true Christ (not the false one he heard in New Age encounters), being born again, and serving in the church. After this, several chapters describe how he has seen in churches contemplative prayer that has essentially the same features, or very similar ones, which he thinks are akin to New Age practice.
Flynn’s title is about running blown by wind of false belief, then running against the wind of error as a Christian. Based in Minneapolis, he directs One Truth Ministries and anti-New Age seminars. His book warns the church about what he sees as subtleties in “contemplative [centering] prayer” with basic essentials of Eastern mystic meditation and monastic meditative prayer in a deceptive new dress. He sees the practice as separate and distinct from authentic meditation and prayer as revealed in Scripture.
Early chapters bring readers up to speed if they are not aware of New Age teaching and practice. Flynn not only details altered states but also meeting spirit guides from another world (he now considers them demons out to deceive), lies such as all paths lead to God, and friendly but deceptive people he met in New Age situations. Then Chapters 9-11 finish with his reasonings that some church people are endorsing ancient, non-Christian practices brought back to life, i.e., borrowing of elements of Eastern mystic meditation and monks’ traditions, not a vital experiencing of true biblical meditation and prayer. The latter is adequate for great blessings joined to valid experiences, instead of the ones in so-called contemplative prayer—such as feeling relaxed, euphoric, and sometimes even hearing fresh revelations (which may be cunning things from demons, not genuine experiences from God).
Several of the book’s features stand out. The author defines many terms of the New Age and occult quests for experiences or revelations beyond this life. Among the many terms are astrology, psychics and mediums, the ouija board, channeling, auras, reincarnation, and yoga. Others include the human potential movement, creative visualization/guided imagery (imaging things as a help to making them occur), reiki or power by therapeutic touch, witchcraft/wicca, goddess worship, and crystal healing. Flynn shows how New Agers also claim they meet with Christ in an altered consciousness, but how this “Christ” is counterfeit. He argues that demons use deceptive ploys to divert people to a path away from the truth, for example in faking cases of speaking to the dead. He also mentions the rejection tactic, “that’s your truth,” and the false claim to find the “Christ” within.
Along the way, Flynn writes of Marianne Williamson and her book A Return to Love, Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles, based on Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles, which Schucman claimed she received as dictation from an inner voice, “Jesus.” She claimed the voice told her the Bible needed many corrections, and it took from 1965 to 1972 to compile all that this “Jesus” said. One can check Flynn (121-22) for a list of key things the false “Jesus” claimed in denial of biblical truths about God, salvation, and sin and details about Williamson (121-25). Flynn has much on Neale Donald Walsch and his books on Conversations with God (125-31).
Chapter 9 focuses on contemplative prayer. Monastics stilled their thoughts. They departed from a true biblical meditation that saturates prayer. In biblical meditation and prayer, believers always had thoughts guided, challenged, convicted, shaped by Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Flynn reasons that some modern church groups have fallen right in line with a monastic kind of prayer—or their versions as “spin offs” of it. Flynn indicates that monastics developed the system themselves, or somehow heard of Eastern meditation. In either case they repeated words or phrases to open the way into the state void of thought. Modern Roman Catholics such as their chief voice, Thomas Merton, defended the monastic method overall even while citing variations by different “desert fathers” (cf. Merton’s Contemplative Prayer [Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, Doubleday, 1971]).
Richard Foster, an evangelical, used his top-selling work, The Celebration of Discipline (1978), to write about a disciplined Christian experience that included contemplative prayer. He described the latter, approving repetitions and other formula to enter into this state (even listening to dreams as a help [16, 23]; meditating on nature for some weeks before meditating on Scripture [25-26]). Flynn adduces several quotes to show Foster’s leaning not solely on God’s Word but on other things, and Foster’s frequent citation of an endorsement of Merton, Eastern meditation, and secluded monks (142-53, 165-71, 185-86).
Another Flynn section details meditation/prayer ideas of Ruth Haley Barton (153-57), her reading her own ideas of silent meditating into Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and her using repeated words or phrases to pass into the silent state. After this are sections on other advocates of the contemplative prayer, e.g., Tilden Edwards (157-59) and Brennan Manning (159-62).
The Bible has many repetitions of words or phrases (cf. one example in Ps 136:1, 2, 3, “O give thanks to the Lord,” and then a reason), but it has no proof-text for coaxing or inducing one to enter into prayer. It offers no case that silent prayer is a special secret that transforms.. It has no text that endorses leaving one’s thoughts behind. In Psalm 62, prayer that follows is filled with thought that meditates on God’s acts in biblical history; then v. 26 ends the psalm with a return to a definite thought, the “give thanks” focus. God’s Word seems not to have an explicit reference to a special level of prayer distinct from normal prayer, such as contemplatives plead. It is not explicit about any venue higher, deeper, more precious, or helpful with light, love, sacrifice, or God’s face than the vital, wonderful bounties of prayer in thought, and most often vocal.
Flynn is very concerned that the church protect itself against elements that might dissipate prayer’s essence and fill it eventually with Eastern mysticism and monastic meditation. One wonders how a monastic strain o f prayer that purportedly is without thought, concept, or reason is valid prayer at all. It would be quite different from the hundreds of examples of prayer God has led His servants to express in His Word. How could non-vocal prayer be a true “contemplation” or a true “prayer” in a biblical sense? Why not conclude that God has given sufficient guidelines for prayer in the vastness of Scripture, far more prayer than any mortal will in this life ever practice?
Flynn will stir the mind to evaluate “contemplative prayer” and prayer as it is commonly known in the Bible. His work is closely akin to Ray Yungen’s A Time of Departing. Whether these two books will convince the individual reader depends on how authentically biblical his own meditative prayer is (for there is a true contemplation and true prayer that contemplation impacts). Appraisal will also depend on factors such as alertness, a genuine grasp of God’s Word, and logical discernment of evidence. All in all, the book is a helpful survey of dangers in New Age thinking and practices and an urgent warning about books that deal with meditation/prayer. It is a pointed book with which shepherds dedicated to protect their flocks should be closely aware.