Hegel, Foster and the Mennonites

In the latest issue of The Mennonite, a monthly magazine for members of Mennonite Church USA, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, writes about the recent discernment process at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Part of this discernment process training event, which was fuelled by recent homosexual issues, included imagination, contemplative silent listening prayer and a session led by Ruth Haley Barton.[1] Is it any surprise that when Christians turn from what God has written about discernment, they begin to look to other traditions and sources to override their opinions and discomfort? In this case, it appears to be Quaker traditions and contemplative sources.

Stutzman writes in The Mennonite:

“My hope for the church spiked in late January at the annual School for Leadership Training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va. My courage rose because we studied group discernment, the practice of listening for God’s voice in the midst of difficult circumstances. As part of that study, we studied the need to cultivate “indifference” to all but the will of God.

I first learned about such indifference from the Quaker tradition of communal discernment. . .

. . . 

Lack of indifference can be a serious impediment to genuine discernment. If we have our minds firmly made up before we enter the group process, we can hardly be impartial to the outcome. In some matters, we may have such strong opinions that we speak of them as a matter of conscience. Rather than listening in the process of decision-making, we may feel compelled to insist, debate or perhaps shout our opinion. Therefore, when we gather in a communal process of discernment as people of conscience with sharply differing opinions, it may be exceedingly difficult to find group consensus. That’s why, in a highly polarized political environment, we may lack the capacity for healthy discernment. 

Lately, in order to cultivate indifference, I’ve been praying the prayer of relinquishment I learned from Richard Foster (Prayers from the Heart, Harper San Francisco, 1994). I commend it to you as well.”

– Ervin Stutzman, Cultivating Indifference, 2014-03-01 ISSUE: The Mennonite http://www.themennonite.org/issues/17-3/articles/Cultivating_indifference

Truly discerning Mennonites (not Menno-lites) might be alarmed to see this Hegelian group dialect method[2] mixed with the spirituality of Quaker and contemplative author Richard Foster, whose writings and prayer methods continue to influence their denominations in the US and Canada.[3] The prayer sources Foster draws from typically include monks and meditating mystics such as Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Madame Guyon, Emilie Griffin, George Fox, Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Henri Nouwen, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Merton, Sue Monk Kidd, and Richard Rolle. Forms of prayer promoted by Foster are centering, visualization, contemplative, breath, Examen of Consciousness, imagination, Lectio Divina, silence, listening, spiritual ecstasy, and fixed hours of prayer.

Author Ray Yungen writes what Foster really means by these prayer forms:

When Foster speaks of the silence, he does not mean external silence. In his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster recommends the practice of breath prayer —picking a single word or short phrase and repeating it in conjunction with the breath. This is classic contemplative mysticism. In the original 1978 edition of Celebration of Discipline, he makes his objective clear when he states, “Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it.” 
In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, he ties in a quote by one mystic who advised, “You must bind the mind with one thought.”
The advice recounts Anthony de Mello’s remarks in his contemplative prayer classic, Sadhana: A Way to God. His approach was virtually identical to Foster’s:
To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all the other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on.
I once related Foster’s breath prayer method to a former New Age devotee who is now a Christian. She affirmed this connection when she remarked with astonishment, “That’s what I did when I was into ashtanga yoga!”[4]

These are perilous times when Christians turn to outside sources for discernment and prayer instead of repenting and seeking the truth found in God’s Word alone.


[1] See: Imagine That https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/imagine-that/
Ruth Haley Barton Trains Mennonites to Discern in the Silence https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/ruth-haley-barton-trains-mennonites-to-discern-in-the-silence/
[2] Hegel’s Marxist Dialectic – a Tool Used By the Emerging Church to Bring About a “New World Order” http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=14895
[3] Mennonite Church Canada promotes and offers Foster’s teachings in their resources: http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/2661
[4] Source: Richard Foster’s Renovare President Admits They Have Taught Spiritual Formation to “Hundreds of Thousands of People” http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=7913


Read about the effects of Richard Foster’s prayer books on another church denomination here:
Richard Foster, The Prayer Room, And Discernment http://reformednazarene.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/richard-foster-the-prayer-room-and-discernment/

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