Below is an email I wrote in reply to a question concerning contemplative spirituality. Though this is a hot topic in Adventism it is one I have not written much about. While I affirm that truth is not absent in the world views that espouse mystical spirituality, and while I view biblical spirituality as being far more experiential and other-worldy than do many conservatives I do not embrace the emergent spirituality so prevalent in progressive Christianity. In addition, I don't reject emergent eastern spirituality for the same reasons other conservative Christians do. These often argue that the practice is unbiblical, demonic, dangerous, evil, deceptive, and sinful. While I don't necessarily disagree with these points (though I would nuance them differently) I prefer to analyze the issue from the lens of authenticity, identity, and relationship. In this regard I find emergent mysticism to be an inauthentic attempt to experience God, a denial of the human identity in order to experience God, and a rejection of the unique Christian perspective of relationship over religion. In the coming months I will be engaging this topic a little more but for now here is a snap shot of my thoughts on emergent spirituality.
Marcos here. Thank you so much for your question. It is an excellent one. I have actually been wanting to write an article on the whole issue regarding contemplative spirituality. In the near future a fellow pastor and I will publish a series titled "Bricolage?" in which we will deal with the issues facing the church in the wake of postmodernism and the emergent church movement. This includes the rising popularity of emergent spirituality which includes contemplative prayer etc.
Before I answer your question though, I need to clarify our terms. The term contemplative prayer has a different meaning depending on who you are asking. The same can be said of silence. If you ask King David what he thought of silence he would [quote] God saying "be still and know that I am God." If you asked Habakkuk he might say "the lord is in his holy temple, let everyone on earth be silent in his presence". If you asked Ellen White what she thought of contemplation she may tell you that we are to "contemplate the life of Christ" each day. However, if you asked an eastern mystic the same questions using the same words you would get a different response. So as I reply to you I am going to use the term "pagan mysticism" and my reply will be based on how I see pagan mysticism as being dangerous to a genuine relationship with God.
Now, I dont have much time so I am going to go straight for the jugular here as to why I find pagan mysticism (which forms the basis for emergent spirtuality) so unattractive. Pagan mysticism is built upon a world view. All eastern religions share this world view and hence, all of their attempts at connecting with the divine are similar. At the heart of that worldview is a god, or gods, that must be appeased. There is no intimate, romantic, trusting relationship with the divine in the pagan worldview. God is often seen as an energy or a life source and nothing more. In other systems there are a multiplicity of gods whose favor needs to be earned. If God were like this, then there is no way I would dare approach him as a friend in simple, biblical, honest prayer. It would be impossible! So the pagan worldview has developed a way to connect with a divine being that doesnt actually want to be connected with mankind. Trancendental meditation is one example, but all of pagan mysticism boils down to this simple formula. You must transcend yourself in order to connect with the divine. All kinds of exercises are used to accomplish this such as mantras etc. The point is that you have to transcend, or rise above, yourself in order to connect with God. But there is a problem here. When we transcend ourselves what we are essentially doing is hiding [or denying] ourselves [or our humanity] in order to connect with God and this is entirely anti-biblical. Scripture [invites] us to come to God as we are, not to hide, transcend, or deny ourselves. It is through our broken humanity that God initiates an intimate relationship with us and when we deny that humanity we amputate the possibility of having a relationship with God. God wants our brokenness. He wants our filthiness. Ellen White says that Jesus loves to have us come to him with our sin. God takes great pleasure in our honesty, openness, and authenticity because he can then cleanse us and make us new.
The pagan way of approaching God is simply incompatible with the Biblical way of approaching God. The pagan way has you deny your essential humanity. The biblical way has you embrace it. The pagan way has you hide yourself in order to connect with the divine. The biblical way has you confess yourself in order to connect with God. He then provides the garment of righteousness that allows you to come boldly into his presence. He is a friend. He is easy to reach. He is never far away. In the pagan worldview god is energy not friend. He is difficult to reach. And in order to connect with him you have to engage in complex trance-like exercises. This is simply not compatible with the God who said, "come let us reason together".
So those are my thoughts in a nutshell.