Section 10A .. The Contemporary Church/
Mysticism In The Church/ Contemplative Prayer

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 Contemplative Prayer... The Pioneers
Brennan Manning

Carol Brooks

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NASB)

    Index To The Pioneers - Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and Thomas Keating HERE

    Index To All Seven Chapters on Contemplative Prayer HERE



     Brennan Manning. 1934 2013

    Introduction to The Signature of Jesus

    Reading The Map

    The 'Discipline Of The Secret'

    Manning's Hindu/New Age Philosophy

    Manning's Judgment Day Dream

    A Crooked Path

    Footnote I - Does God Dwell in Us?

    Introduction to The Signature of Jesus
    The Publisher's description of Manning's book The Signature of Jesus says

      The Signature of Jesus challenges the gospel of "cheap grace" and calls the church to radical discipleship. With passion and boldness, author Brennan Manning invites readers to risk living life as Jesus lived - committed to simplicity, purity of heart, and obedience to the gospel.

    And readers certainly seem to agree - for the most part giving the book high reviews on Amazon. Among other glowing tributes, it was called an insightful, beautiful book that touched and transformed the heart. (Note: Although The Signature of Jesus was first published in 1988, it is still a popular book - the most recent reviews are from 2017 - one of which says the book is "anointed")

    All of which makes it sound like Manning has written the Christian book of the century. While there is no question that Manning's basic premise is absolutely correct, i.e. all too many believers living exactly as the world does, do not look like they are saved. For the most part, our behavior and attitude does not inspire any interest in Christ or the Gospel message.

    However, not only does Manning's response to this situation do little but reflect the traditions of the Catholic church, but many of his ideas contradict logic, common sense, and the teachings of the Bible.. Some are positively ridiculous. As far back as 1997, John Caddock of Winchester, Oregon wrote a review of The Signature of Jesus in which he said,

       The teachings of Manning are very dangerous.

      There is a seductive quality to his writings. He reports grappling with and overcoming fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties, including alcoholism. He gives the impression that he has a very intimate relationship with God and that he has insight to a superspirituality. He regularly meditates and reports having many visions and encounters with God. He is an extremely gifted writer who is able to tug at the emotions of the reader while at the same time introducing ideas that the reader would immediately reject if they were not cloaked under this emotional blanket.

      He promises readers that if they apply his teaching they too will gain this same intimacy with God as well as freedom from fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties. This is very attractive. Manning's prescription to achieve this is not by traditional prayer and by the reading and application of the Bible. Rather, the means to this end is a mixture of Eastern mysticism, psychology, the New Age Movement, liberation theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism. This mixture will not deliver intimacy with God. It no doubt will lead to special feelings and experiences. Those practicing Manning's methods will likely feel closer to God. However, in the process they will actually move away from Him as a result of a counterfeit spirituality. [00]

    While I would very much like to refute The Signature of Jesus book page by page, time does not permit. At least not at the present. However, Manning's ultimate goal is to push the reader towards contemplative prayer. To this end, he quietly and subtly (well sometimes not so subtly) denigrates faith based on the word of God, in favor of 'experiencing' God.

    Reading The Map
    Note: Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from The Signature of Jesus: Multnomah; 4 edition (July 6, 2004).

    Very early in book, Manning rightly asks why less than one third of the world's population is Christian and why our "joy, enthusiasm, and gratitude" doesn't infect others with a longing for Christ. He then goes on to proffer his idea of why he thinks this is so.

      Perhaps because so few of us have undertaken the journey of faith across the chasm between knowledge and experience. We prefer to read the map rather than visit the place. The specter of our actual unbelief persuades us that it is not the experience that is real but, rather, our explanation of the experience. [Pgs. 19-20]

    If you read the entire book and are familiar with some of Manning's other writings, you would know that his idea of the 'place'we are supposed to visit is a "higher realm of consciousness" or mystical experience that is the goal of both Christian and pagan spiritual practitioners. This is achieved by contemplative prayer that causes an altered brain state in which calm and well-being are increased to the extent that both believers and non-believers come away convinced that they have been in the presence of, or been united with, God. See Contemplative Prayer

    However, the 'place' that God has given us a road map to is a permanent citizenship in His kingdom. See The Message of the Bible. It is also the only way to get there. However, because God's map does not fit into Manning's ideology, he has made the highly disturbing claim that the Bible alone does not "reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants".  This statement was obviously made in support of the 'get closer to God by pagan means' philosophy of the mystics andhis push to get people to cross the bridge into the mystical.

      I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word - bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.  [Pg. 174 ]

    Note: It is important to note that the accusation of bibliolatry does not refer to people who literally worship the Bible, but is an attack on those believers who hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, and those who maintain that, within the bounds of common sense, the Bible is to be literally interpreted. See Esotericism and Biblical Interpretation.

    In the first place, I have to ask -  Unless God whispered some additional facts in Manning's ear as he 'prayed', how the smurf did Manning know that the Bible alone does not "reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants"?  Especially when the Bible itself tells us that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB).

    What Manning is leading up to here is what he verbalized in Gentle Revolutionaries - "Intimate knowledge of God only comes through centering prayer" [01]

      Instead of remaining content with the bare letter, we should pass on to the more profound mysteries that are available only through intimate and heartfelt knowledge of the person of Jesus" [Pg 175]

    And he tries to convince people that contemplative or centering prayer is a time-honored 'Christian' tradition. He wrote

      A simple method of contemplative prayer (often called "centering prayer") in our time and anchored in the Western Christian tradition of John Cassian and the desert fathers and not, as some think, in Eastern mysticism or New Age philosophy) has four steps. [Pg. 203] 

    For more information on Contemplative Prayer please read the six section article on what is behind centering prayer and where the practice stemmed from. HERE

    While the desert fathers may have practiced some form of centering prayer, what is taught by the modern Christian mystics originated not with them, but with the religions of the East. Although Brennan Manning specifically denies the connection, quite a few of the major players in the contemplative prayer movement have openly admitted to incorporating the practices of Eastern Religions into Christianity. [See Calling a Spade a Spade in Part II of the article on Contemplative Prayer (Scroll DOwn a little)] Besides which, if you continue reading you will see that in complete opposition to what Manning says, these teaching cannot even be traced back to John Cassian.

    The 'Discipline Of The Secret'
    Manning went on to say that if Paul were to return to earth today...

      he would call the entire American church to return to the discipline of the secret. This ancient practice of the apostolic church was implemented to protect the sacred name of Jesus Christ from mockery and the mysteries of the Christian faith from profanation. The ancient church avoided mention of baptism, Eucharist, and the death and resurrection of Christ in the presence of the unbaptized.

      Why? "Because the most persuasive witness was the way one lived, not the words one spoke.. " [Pg. 176 - 177]

    The fact is that the Bible tells us over and over again that unless how believers live corresponds with what what they say and what they profess to believe, they cannot be considered Christians. They are hypocrites - hypocrisy being something the Lord never has taken very kindly to - Just read Amos, chapter 5. This was not only the primary focus of James' epistle (Ex. James 1:27, 2:14, 2:17-18), but the following statement made by Jesus, was one of many on the topic

      "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.  (Matthew 23:14 NASB)

    However, Manning tries to convince us that discipline of the secret is the way to go - a concept that comes straight from Catholic tradition, rather than the Scriptures. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, discipline of the secret is "a theological term used to express the custom which prevailed in the earliest ages of the Church, by which the knowledge of the more intimate mysteries of the Christian religion was carefully kept from the heathen and even from those who were undergoing instruction in the Faith". [02]

    In the first place, the idea that there are "intimate mysteries" in the Christian faith is a concept exclusive to Catholicism. The only mystery referred to in Scripture is in reference to something that had not previously been revealed... ie. the good news of the Gospel that God planned "before the ages". A believer understands the mystery (which is precisely why they became believers), but others do not. See Summary of Events At The Seventh Trumpet when the "mystery of God" is finished.

    Secondly, this completely contradicts Jesus' final instructions to His disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching (Gr. didasko) them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB). And the disciples certainly followed His instructions

      But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching (Gr. didasko) and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord. (Acts 15:35 NASB)

      how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching (Gr. didasko) you publicly and from house to house, (Acts 20:20 NASB)

      preaching the kingdom of God and teaching (Gr. didasko) concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.  (Acts 28:31 NASB)

      The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach (Gr. didasko) others also. (2 Timothy 2:2 NASB)

    Manning himself says that (Emphasis Added) "the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace. [03].

    Since it is totally impossible to tell anyone the good news of the Gospel/preach the Kingdom of God if we avoid mentioning the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul would not call the entire church to the 'Discipline of the Secret' as Manning claims. In fact, because it is key to the Gospel message, Paul mentioned the resurrection numerous times in his epistles - nine times in the book of Romans alone. Note the "if" in the first verse below..

      that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  (Romans 10:9 NASB)

      knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.  (2 Corinthians 4:14 NASB)

    We might live such altruistic, caring, compassionate lives that people around look up to, respect and admire us.. However, they could simply attribute this to nothing more than us being really good and kind people. Unless, as Paul wrote, they confess with their mouths Jesus as Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead, they are not, and never will be, saved.

    Finally, the people of God have been jeered at from the very beginning. Does anyone doubt that Noah building a boat on dry land was a source of great amusement to his neighbours. The prophets and indeed the city of Jerusalem fared no better,

      but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:16 NASB)

      In the days of her affliction and homelessness Jerusalem remembers all her precious things that were from the days of old, When her people fell into the hand of the adversary And no one helped her. The adversaries saw her, they mocked at her ruin.  (Lamentations 1:7 NASB)

    Christ Himself was mocked, and He foretold that His people would be treated the same way

      And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. (Matthew 27:29-31 NASB)

      "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  (John 15:18 NASB)

    Manning's Hindu/New Age/Universalist Philosophy
    As said in the page on Henri Nouwen, it is a tragic fact that so many Christian mystics have adopted and adapted the Hindus and New Age belief that we are all connected to an impersonal energy force also called god. Because this energy/life force/god literally resides in us we too are god. However, since most of humanity is unaware of this fact, mankind's greatest need is to discover their own divinity - to look inside and find what the Catholic mystics usually call our true or higher self. The intent behind centering prayer being to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being where he can (as the theory goes) experience the presence of the God who indwells him.

    Manning, like many others before and after him, jumped with both feet into this cesspool.

    On Pg 175 of The Signature of Jesus, he talked about not being content with the bare letter, but passing on to "the more profound mysteries that are available only through intimate and heartfelt knowledge of the person of Jesus" Many people might well understand the words "intimate and heartfelt knowledge" to mean becoming closer to the Lord in prayer, obedience, service etc. However, this is not what Manning meant. He was referring to contemplative prayer which he describes as "simply experiencing what we already possess".

    Note again the words he used - "experiencing what we already possess". Then, in the effort to show that this statement has Biblical support, he refers to 1 Corinthians 3:16 - "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you". See Footnote I. He then quotes Thomas Merton (Emphasis Added)

      "During a conference on contemplative prayer, the question was put to Thomas Merton, "How can we best help people to attain union with God?" His answer was very clear: We must tell them that they are already united with God. "Contemplative prayer is nothing other than 'coming into consciousness' of what is already there." [Pg. 197]

    And if that isn't clear enough, Manning adds

      The task of contemplative prayer is to help me achieve the conscious awareness of the unconditionally loving God dwelling within me. "What this means, in very practical terms, is that I don't have to worry about 'getting anywhere' in prayer, because I am already there. I simply have to become aware of this.  [Pg. 197]

    And, in his book, Abba's Child

      If I find Christ, I will find my true self and if I find my true self, I will find Christ. [04]

    How in the world do they overlook the fact that  Christ Himself taught us to speak to the Father in a relational way as someone apart from ourselves and the Bible tells us that we have been adopted as children of God.

    Also note the following

      He has a single, relentless stance toward us: he loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods - the gods of human understanding - despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 18).

    When Manning says we have been restored to a right relationship with God, one has to wonder whether he means that believers have been restored to a right relationship through Christ..

    Apparently not.

    He first says Jesus loves all (no matter what they do) and although this is difficult to accept, it still stands that "through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God". The we in this case is the all that Jesus loves.. In other words, everyone is already saved. On the other hand, the Bible says

      "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24 NASB)

    Earlier in The Signature of Jesus, Manning correctly states that Jesus "invited sinners, not the self-righteous to His table" [Page 22]. While it is certainly true that Jesus' inclusiveness was extraordinary, because unlike his religious contemporaries, Jesus included among his followers those who were generally excluded from religious life, if not polite society. This 'shunned' category included tax-collectors, "sinners," lepers, and women. However, the inclusiveness of Jesus was not of the "come as you are" sort. Jesus offered a new, transformed life in the kingdom of God, not acceptance of all people as they were in their broken, sinful state. See The Inclusiveness of Jesus.

    Manning also wrote that "paschal spirituality" looks upon human nature as fallen but redeemed, flawed but in essence good" (Pg 125). I guess he must never have read any of the verses that talk about the evil in the heart of man

      The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21 NASB)

      "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NASB)

      "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (Matthew 15:18-19 NASB)

      "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.  (Luke 6:45 NASB)

    Manning's Judgment Day Dream
    Finally, in the chapter entitled A Closing Word, Manning recounts a vivid dream he had of judgment day when he saw people going forward before the Lord to be judged as their names were called (Pgs 224-226). In his words, "All the famous, powerful people who have ever lived and the millions of unsung, uncelebrated ones... everyone who has ever lived". Some he mentions by name, including Sandi Patti, Madonna, Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, the prophets Amos and Jeremiah, the apostles James and John, Mary and Joseph, Johnny Carson, Billy Graham, etc.

    Finally Manning's name is called and he comes before the Lord, trembling and fearful. But when he asks the Lord what his judgment is, the Lord hands Manning "the book" and says "The word I spoke has already judged you". Then "He takes my hand and we go home". 

    After describing the dream he says, "The content of this dream is more real than the book you are holding in your hand--The dream is neither the product of a vivid imagination nor a comatose religious fantasy". Except that Manning's dream is loosely based on the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15 with one glaring error. Revelation 20:11-15 says "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire". See Symbolism in The New Testament

    Additionally,, believers are not judged at this time.

    Much to the contrary, they are caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (the rapture) 1000 years earlier at the Seventh Trumpet - the most eventful of them all, since it literally ushers the old age out, and the new one in. When this last and final Trumpet sounds the dead will rise first, followed by those still alive at this point. Note: The "sons of the kingdom", as they are called, are physically moved off the earth for a very specific reason. See The End Of The Age Part IV... The Seventh Trumpet. Revelation 20-21 make it quite clear that non-believers will only be raised after the millennium.

      And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-6 NASB)

      "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8 NASB)

    Unfortunately, many Christians, have come to the conclusion that since all our sins have been forgiven, our works cannot possibly be considered at the judgment Seat of Christ. From the two references to the bema as the judgment seat of Christ, it seems to be clear that this judgment is reserved for believers whose salvation has already been secured by faith in Jesus Christ. Completely separate from the general White Throne judgment spoken of in Revelation 20:11-15, the purpose of this bema judgment by Jesus Christ is to reward believers based on how faithfully have used their lives for the Lord, or how well they have built on the foundations given them. However, the judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation, and has absolutely nothing to do with punishment for sin. See What And Where is "Heaven"? Part VII... The Judgment Seat of Christ and Rewards in Heaven

    Manning's Crooked Path
    In All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, Brennan Manning said the following about himself,

      Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I've been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a season, then drunk again. I've been John the Beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check. I've shattered every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday. And if you believe that last sentence was for dramatic effect, it wasn't. [05]

    About which one web site rightly commented,

      This is not a man who deserved a place as a revered Christian leader or mentor. This is a man who should never have had a platform in the first place.

      And yet, people are still revering him as a leader and a mentor. And that's a problem, because once you accept that people like Brennan can be leaders, it changes your whole perspective on ministry, pastoring, mentoring and other positions of responsibility in the church. It leads to a lowering of standards in the name of "grace" which ultimately does more harm than good. By the same logic, one could argue that a pastor who struggles with sexual addiction but feels bad about it could keep pastoring his church as long as he didn't pretend to "have it all together" and admitted it was wrong. This is obviously a disastrous conclusion.

      Ultimately, we should look on the tragedy of Brennan Manning's life story with no small measure of pity and compassion. At the same time, we should not hold it up as an example to be imitated. To have pity for the man is not the same thing as revering him. [06]


    Footnote I - Does God Dwell in Us?
    When the Scriptures speak of something or someone dwelling or abiding in us as they often do, it is not to be taken literally. The expression merely indicates that whatever or whomever does the dwelling is the primary influencing factor in our lives. The Spirit of God dwelling in someone simply means that they are spiritually minded, ie. under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit. If not quenched, the Spirit plays a huge part in the maturing and perfecting of the believer.

      In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NASB)

    It is no surprise then that if we are not controlled by the Holy Spirit, we do not belong to God. As Paul told the Romans, "... 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 NASB)

    Other influences, both good and bad, also are said to dwell within us. This can be sin (Romans 7:17), the word of God (Colossians 3:16), faith (2 Timothy 1:3-5), truth (2 John 1:1-2 ) etc.  We can also be filled with jealousy, and a host of less than desirable traits.

      But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?  (Acts 5:3 NASB)

      But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. (Acts 13:45 NASB)

      being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, (Romans 1:29 NASB)

    All children communicate with their parents by interacting with them - talking to them, listening to and learning from them, following their example etc. not by going deep within themselves - that even we would consider sheer foolishness. Besides which, not only did Christ teach us to speak to the Father in a relational way as someone apart from ourselves, but the Bible tells us that we have been adopted as children of God.

    Yet we, once again adopting Buddhist and New Age philosophy, think we can find Him in the center of ourselves.

    End Notes - Brennan Manning

    [00] John Caddock. What is Contemplative Spirituality and Why is It Dangerous? A Review of Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus. https://faithalone.org/journal/1997ii/Caddock.html

    [01] Brennan Manning, Gentle Revolutionaries. p. 104] which he pretty much confirms on the next page of The Signature of Jesus, using the term 'heartfelt knowledge'. (Emphasis Added)

    [02] Discipline of the Secret.. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05032a.htm.

    [03] The Ragamuffin Gospel, Publisher: Multnomah (June 28, 2005) Pg. 20

    [04] Brennan Manning. Abba's Child, Publisher: NavPress; Enlarged ed. edition (June 1, 2015) Pg. 105

    [05] Brennan Manning. All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir. Publisher: David C. Cook; New, Trade Paperback Conversion edition (January 1, 2015) Pg 31

    [06] The Unfortunate Legacy of Brennan Manning. Yankee Gospel Girl.


    Index to
    Contemplative Prayer - The Pioneers