Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Publisher’s Weekly, August 28, 2006, with a headline: “PW talks with Philip Yancey.” 

The following are excerpts: Publisher’s Weekly: “Many of your books have been about how Christians feel the burden of spiritual practice. Which writers most influenced your thinking about prayer?”  Philip Yancey: “No Protestants come to mind, to be honest, so, much I have learned about prayer is from the Catholics. One book I discovered was by Mark Phibido, called, Arm Chair Mystic. Of course, if you want to go deeper, there’s Thomas Merton.” 

Tom:

Dave, as you know, there’s a group of writers, evangelical writers—

Dave:

Well, they say they are evangelical, they don’t sound evangelical to me.

Tom:

Right, but these are big names so it would be rather nice, Philip Yancey, of course, would be one.

Dave:

He’s a major writer for Christianity Today.

Tom:

Well, not only that, he’s been with Zondervan, which is interesting, for about 30 years. We have Calvin Miller, would be another of this group, we could add Karen Mains, we could add Eugene Peterson. Now, why am I mentioning these people? Because they have one thing, at least, in common, aside from being highly respected as the literary set among evangelicals, they have all turned to mysticism. And when you mention that to people it’s, “Oh, no, no, no, you don’t understand, these are conservative evangelicals.”  Well, here we have it in Philip Yancey’s own words. On prayer, to whom does he turn? Does he turn to the Scriptures, or to, you know, writers that were really biblically solid of the past? No, he turns to mystics! Thomas Merton, this is a Catholic monk who was actually more Buddhist than Catholic.

Dave:

That’s right, and when he says, “No Protestants come to mind, to be honest” has he never heard of George Mueller? I’ll put him up against any of these guys! George Mueller had prayers that were answered. His diary contains what—thousands of specific answers to specific prayers. He is called the man of faith. So what is this that’s going on, Tom? It’s a tragic that is happening in the church.

Tom:

Dave, part of my testimony, as you know, I was Roman Catholic for 30 years, and sometimes people ask me for my testimony, how I came out of the Catholic church. And certainly, there were many reasons, but one that I think about often is that as a Roman Catholic I would say that, we knew everything there is to know about prayer. Come on, Dave! We’ve got the rosary, we have novenas, we had all of these prayer techniques, and so on.

Dave:

Prayer candles.

Tom:

Mode of candles, exactly, masses and so forth and so on, but here’s in my own heart and mind, this is really what hit me. We had all of these techniques, all of these rituals, all of these liturgies, but I never knew about answers to prayer. It wasn’t until, honestly, as a Roman Catholic that I started hanging around with evangelical young people and I would hear their prayers and I would think, What are these guys doing, God doesn’t answer prayers like that. And God would answer their prayers, and I saw Him work in my own life even before coming to Christ in answers to their prayers. So, this really makes me upset. I see a whole movement among evangelicals, whether it be the emerging church or whether it be a drift back to the Orthodox church, to liturgies, you know, we call it, bells and smells, and so on. But this is moving into a pit, this is not, when he says, Of course if you want to go deeper, this is Thomas Merton, that is a pit.

Dave:

Tom, let’s get down to is basically the problem here. What do they think they can do? Well, they have a technique for prayer, the Bible does not teach that.

Tom:

These mystics, right.

Dave:

Right. God does not respond to techniques, He responds to faith.

Tom:

Correct.

Dave:

He responds to faith. Prayer is communion with God. The Bible is God talking to man. What they are trying to set up, what the mystics got involved in, you know, a mystical way of thinking, they are not thinking in fact.

Tom:

And the goal of which is union with God, by the way.

Dave:

Right, with somehow, getting in a relationship with God that the Bible doesn’t teach. There’s nothing about Jesus Christ bringing us to God, but it’s a state of consciousness that somehow gets us in touch with God. I was reading Sam Harris, I don’t know if you are familiar with that, Sam Harris wrote, The End of Faith. He’s an atheist, as aggressive—he’s out to destroy all Christianity, all faith, and I was astonished to find out that he really goes for Buddhist mysticism. I don’t know what he is getting in touch with because he doesn’t believe in God.

Tom:

Well, neither do Buddhists, right?

Dave:

No, that’s right. Tom, a good point, that’s why he is a Buddhist mystic, very good! Look, the whole idea is you are going to get this contact with God. But it’s apart from the Bible, you can’t think about the Scriptures. You might recite a mantra, but you don’t contemplate. Meditation in the Bible is thinking deeply, “In His law doth He meditate day and night” Psalm 1:1-2. And Jeremiah 15:16: Thy words were found and I did eat them. Jesus said in John 6:63: The words that I speak they are spirit and they are life. And these people want to get life without words, without knowledge, they want to have some mystical union, and that is not taught in the Bible, that is done by all kinds of witch doctors and Hindus, you can do it in yoga, it’s a very dangerous thing, and it’s a tragedy that it’s being taught now by leading, supposed evangelicals.

Tom:

Dave, and they are leading evangelical young people. Those are the ones who are the most impressed by all of this. They are opening them up to every kind of demonic delusion and deception that’s out there.

Dave:

So, Philip Yancey, shame on you! That you don’t know a Protestant, a true believer who knows how to pray, and you take your example from Catholic mystics who probably didn’t even know the Lord, or they didn’t know that he was teaching this to the church.