A Time of Departing: How a Universal Spirituality is Changing the Face of Christianity
By Ray Yungen
: Lighthouse Trails Publishing Co.
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
16.2 (Fall 2005) : 353-355
Yungen’s title highlights his theme. He argues that features mingling Eastern meditation and Roman Catholic desert, monastic prayer traditions is infiltrating churches, even evangelical ones, at a rapid spread. This is by “contemplative prayer” which often is called “centering” since it uses various devices to leave vocal prayer behind and “center” on God in a changed consciousness. A person supposedly focuses on God’s face, pure Presence, on waves of love, and light. There, the claims are, one relaxes from fret, finds euphoria, or hears new revelation from God.
The author is steeped in research sources, and gives details via end notes for each chapter. At the outset thirty-two leaders commend the book, among these widely-known scholars such as Wayne House, Berit Kjos, and Donald Whitney.
One feature argues that yoga has gained great inroads, from the Far East to the West. Yungen reasons that some leading features of such meditation appear, in similar ways, in churches’ contemplative prayer. Another focus is in detailed discussions about proponents in churches using a kind of contemplation that has aspects similar to meditation from the East and also desert monks and later Catholics (e.g., Thomas Merton, C. Basil Pennington). Some other writers, known to the masses as Christians, are not really Christian to Yungen, in light of their own comments about their beliefs, which Yungen cites. An example is M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled (57-60). Others writing as Christians are, to Yungen, betrayers of this in some statements or endorsements, e.g., Brennan Manning who wrote The Ragamuffin Gospel as well as The Signature of Jesus (78- 80). Yungen also quotes what he feels are strange statements showing compromise about contemplation in Richard Foster’s best-selling book The Celebration of Discipline and another work, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home (70-78).
The contemplative prayer that Yungen thinks is a peril to the church has advocates who write that in an altered consciousness one finds the best light, love, and sacrifice. But when one looks at Scripture, believers already have these blessings in prayer as part of living in Christ—light as in John 8:12, seen chiefly in the Word (Ps 119:105), not reserved for some extra echelon of silent prayer or prayer without thought. Distinguished from normal meditative prayer, one cannot find such a special level of meditation/prayer with unequivocal certainty in any biblical text. Passages on living in God’s love (John 3:16; Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 5:15ff.), meditation (Ps 1:1-3), and Christ-like sacrifice (Luke 9:23) never mention a socalled higher, deeper, purer, more enhancing level of contemplation or prayer. No passage distinctly says such a contemplation is the secret of godliness or enriching fulfillment.
What of prayer? The finest examples in the entire span of Scripture do not refer to prayer now on some other level, whether done in silence or in a venue in which one goes beyond thought. These include cases of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, the psalmists, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Nehemiah, Jesus, believers in Acts, Paul, Peter, the book of Hebrews, James, Jude, and John.
Readers will variously assess Yungen’s claims. Evangelicals will be wise to be seriously alert lest techniques that are crowd-pleasing but unbiblical sift into churches to their hurt. Meditation and prayer true to the Bible can be subtly even if gradually replaced, or really changed into something pleasing to a modern taste but not of a kind that God would honor. Wrong teachings have often attracted great numbers, whether in cults or new fads among evangelicals.
The author goes on (Chapter 6) to reason that contemplative prayer of the sort he opposes will be the one-world unifying factor in the future Tribulation period. That is one of many views for the forming of a “Mystery Babylon” and a key to the Antichrist’s success to sway many to follow along. Christians need to exercise keen caution to test theories where the Scripture does not distinctly or necessarily support a given slant on how things will fit in future events.
A three-page glossary concisely defines terms in the book, e.g., Aquarian Age, Centering Prayer, New Age Christ-Consciousness, Contemplative Silence.
To this reviewer, much in the book is helpful in warning about features for Bible-teaching people to be discerning about. The book also cites how some writers such as Peck, Manning, and Foster make unwise statements and point with approval to writers responsible for ideas that many evangelicals call error. To this reviewer, to teach human prayer that is in an altered consciousness without thought is error. And Scripture never shows that those who pray need techniques such as a certain posture, or rep eating inducement words, or reaching a state without thought. This book and Brian Flynn’s Running Against the Wind have warnings that demand a hearing from evangelicals as watchful shepherds who are true to the Bible.