Back in November, I read an excellent article by D.A Carson on spiritual disciplines. As always, Carson displays his firm grasp of the New Testament, irrefutable commitment to the centrality of the gospel of Christ's work in our life and a good mix of theological astuteness and pastoral sensitivity. The reason why I am writing about this article is because it is, in my judgment, an antidote to the INHALE-EXHALE 'spirituality' of the Life Revision Seminar(LRS) movement. LRS is a week long (or sometimes just 3 days long) retreat supposedly aimed at reviewing one’s Christian life, with an emphasis on contemplative meditation of the Word of God. Participants have to not only go through soul-searching introspections of their life, months before attending the retreat, but also have to go through contemplative meditation at the beginning of each of the sessions at the retreat. In contemplative meditation, the participant is first asked to do some breathing exercises, all in the name of calming one’s mind for better reception of the Word. Once the whole group has reached a state of calmness, with everyone’s eyes closed, the guy who conducts the LRS would start reading a verse or a passage slowly. Participants are not to interpret the text, but feel it and look out for responses coming from one’s soul, called resonance. Afterwards everyone contributes their resonances and they are noted down, as the fruit of meditating the Word of God!!. This resonance-noting meditation is suggested to be done on a daily basis in one’s own personal walk with the Lord.
Having attended it myself, I have been highly critical of the LRS movement for a number of reasons like the mystical overtones of the methodology of LRS, coupled with its uncritical recommendation of Catholic authors and spirituality, a thoroughly impoverished understanding of the centrality, supremacy and sufficiency of the gospel especially for our sanctification and, the leaders of the movement modeling after pagan (read elite and aloof )gurus, rather than as father-like shepherds, as displayed so vividly in the New Testament by Jesus and Paul. Though the article by Carson does not deal with LRS directly, it does explore some key issues related to LRS like :
1. Attaching elitism with spirituality : Carson says in the article, "the NT does not label immature Christians as unspiritual as if the category "spiritual" should be reserved only for the most mature, the elite of the elect: that is an error common to much of the Roman Catholic tradition of spirituality, in which the spiritual life and the spiritual traditions are often tied up with believers who want to transcend the ordinary".
2. Endorsement of Roman Catholic and Pagan spirituality : Carson says "people sometimes say, "For your doctrine, by all means commit yourselves to evangelical confessionalism. But when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, turn to Catholicism or perhaps Buddhism." ". Amazingly I have seen both Catholicism and Buddhism being endorsed by people of LRS. A pastor of the charismatic church I attend, an affectionado of LRS, is well known for this. This pastor reads Catholic authors and also endorses people like Henri Nouwen who recommends Buddhist spirituality. Such people have forgotten the indispensable link between biblical truth (doctrine) and sanctification as expressed so clearly by Lord Jesus in His High Priestly prayer: 'Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.' (John 17:17)
3. Pursuit of mystical experiences often called Contemplative Spirituality : Carson says "The pursuit of unmediated, mystical knowledge of God is unsanctioned by Scripture, and is dangerous in more than one way... To pursue unmediated, mystical knowledge of God is to announce that the person of Christ and his sacrificial work on our behalf are not necessary for the knowledge of God. Sadly, it is easy to delight in mystical experiences, enjoyable and challenging in themselves, without knowing anything of the regenerating power of God, grounded in Christ's cross work. "
4. Prescription of "disciplines" beyond the Scripture (like breathing exercises) : Carson says "Owing to the wide usage of the "spiritual" words, way beyond NT usage, the language of "spiritual disciplines" has likewise extended itself into arenas that are bound to make those who love the gospel more than a little nervous... For Christians with any sense of the regulative function of Scripture, nothing, surely, can be deemed a spiritual discipline if it is not so much as mentioned in the NT."
5. Viewing spirituality divorced from doctrine and as a matter of mere technique : Carson says "some of these so-called spiritual disciplines are entirely divorced from any specific doctrine whatsoever, Christian or otherwise: they are merely a matter of technique... From a Christian perspective, however, it is simply not possible to increase one's spirituality without possessing the Holy Spirit and submitting to his transforming instruction and power. Techniques are never neutral. They are invariably loaded with theological presuppositions, often unrecognized ."
Unfortunately, in a land like India, where theological illiteracy is rampant, the apparent sobriety and piety of LRS has won many a pastors, churches and organizations within the Evangelical camp. The people who are most exposed to this unbiblical movement are sadly missionaries. For LRS in India has its roots in mission hospitals and most of the senior leaders of this movement are/were mission doctors. Though it is claimed that missionaries attain spiritual refreshment after attending LRS, I firmly believe that teaching missionaries mystical practices which have more to do with paganism than the Bible, endorsing them to Catholic authors and nurturing in them an indifference to doctrinal fidelity, training them to not read and study the Word, but listen to resonances etc. surely will pave way to destroying doctrinally sound, gospel faithful missions in India. Only a small number of believers thoroughly reformed by biblical doctrine are raising their voices against this golden calf in the camp of God’s people. May the Lord be merciful to us and increase their number.