HENRI J.M. NOUWEN (1932-1996) was a Roman Catholic priest who taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Notre Dame. Nouwen has had a vast influence within the emerging church and evangelicalism at large through his writings, and he has been an influential voice within the contemplative movement. A Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 found that Nouwen’s writings were a first choice for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy. Nouwen is promoted by Christian leaders as diverse as Robert Schuller and Rick Warren (who highly recommends Nouwen’s contemplative book In the Name of Jesus).
Nouwen’s biographer said that he “had a homosexual orientation” (Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet, 1999).
Nouwen did not instruct his readers that one must be born again through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ in order to commune with God. The book With Open Hands, for example, instructs readers to open themselves up to God and surrender to the flow of life, believing that God loves them unconditionally and is leading them. This is blind faith. Nouwen wrote:
“When we pray, we are standing with our hands open to the world. We know that God will become known to us in the nature around us, in people we meet, and in situations we run into. We trust that the world holds God’s secret within and we expect that secret to be shown to us” (With Open Hands, 2006, p. 47).
Nouwen did not instruct his readers to beware of false spirits and to test everything by the Scriptures. He taught them, rather, to trust that God is leading in and through all things and that they should “test” things by their own “vision.” He denied the biblical teaching that man is a fallen creature with a darkened heart that can only be enlightened through the new birth.
Nouwen was deeply involved in contemplative mysticism. He was strongly influenced by Thomas Merton and wrote a book about him in 1972 (Pray to Live: Thomas Merton--Contemplative Critic). Nouwen also mentioned Merton in his books Intimacy (1969) and Creative Ministry (1971).
In his book In the Name of Jesus, Nouwen said that Christians must move “from the moral to the mystical.”
Nouwen claimed that contemplative meditation is necessary for an intimacy with God:
“I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person without stillness and silence” (quoted by Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ, p. 65).
He taught that the use of a mantra could take the practitioner into God’s presence.
“The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart ... This way of simple prayer ... opens us to God’s active presence” (The Way of the Heart, p. 81).
He said that mysticism and contemplative prayer can create ecumenical unity because Christian leaders learn to hear “the voice of love”:
“Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love. ... For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (In the Name of Jesus, pp. 6, 31, 32).
In fact, if Christians are listening to the voice of the true and living God, they will learn that love is obedience to the Scriptures. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
Nouwen, like Thomas Merton and many other Catholic contemplatives, combined the teaching of eastern gurus with ancient Catholic practices. In his book Pray to Live Nouwen relates approvingly Merton’s heavy involvement with Hindu monks (pp. 19-28).
In his foreword to Thomas Ryan’s book Disciplines for Christian Living, Nouwen says:
“[T]he author shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian and does not hesitate to bring that wisdom home” (Disciplines for Christian Living, p. 2).
Nouwen’s involvement with mysticism led him to a form of universalism and panentheism (God is in all things).
“The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is the same as the one who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being” (Here and Now, p. 22).
“Prayer is ‘soul work’ because our souls are those sacred centers WHERE ALL IS ONE ... It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of THE UNITY OF ALL THAT IS” (Bread for the Journey, 1997, Jan. 15 and Nov. 16).
In his final book Nouwen described his universalist doctrine as follows:
“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” (Sabbatical Journey, New York: Crossroad, 1998, p. 51).
He claimed that every person who believes in a higher power and follows his or her vision of the future is of God and is building God’s kingdom:
“We can see the visionary in the guerilla fighter, in the youth with the demonstration sign, in the quiet dreamer in the corner of a café, in the soft-spoken monk, in the meek student, in the mother who lets her son go his own way, in the father who reads to his child from a strange book, in the smile of a girl, in the indignation of a worker, and in every person who in one way or another dreams life from a vision which is seen shining ahead and which surpasses everything ever heard or seen before” (With Open Hands, p. 113).
“Praying means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision which has become real to you. Whether we call that vision ‘the Unseen Reality,’ ‘the total Other,’ ‘the Spirit,’ or ‘the Father,’ we repeatedly assert that it is not we ourselves who possess the power to make the new creation come to pass. It is rather a spiritual power which has been given to us and which empowers us to be in the world without being of it” (p. 114).
The radical extent of Nouwen’s universalism is evident by the fact that the second edition of With Open Hands has a foreword by Sue Monk Kidd. She is a New Ager who promotes worship of the goddess! Her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine was published in 1996, a decade before she was asked to write the foreword to Nouwen’s book on contemplative prayer. Monk Kidd worships herself.
“Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, ‘I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely’” (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 136).
“Over the altar in my study I hung a lovely mirror sculpted in the shape of a crescent moon. It reminded me to honor the Divine Feminine presence in myself, the wisdom in my own soul” (p. 181).
Sue Monk Kidd’s journey from the traditional Baptist faith (as a Sunday School teacher in a Southern Baptist congregation) to goddess worship began when she started delving into Catholic contemplative spirituality, practicing centering prayer and attending Catholic retreats.
Nouwen taught that God is only love, unconditional love.
“Don’t be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love and only love. ... [Pray] ‘Dear God, ... what you want to give me is love--unconditional, everlasting love’” (With Open Hands, pp. 24, 27).
In fact, God’s love is not unconditional. It is unfathomable but not unconditional. Though God loves all men and Christ died to make it possible for all to be saved, there is a condition for receiving God’s love and that is acknowledging and repenting of one’s sinfulness and receiving Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Saviour.
Further, God is not only love; He is also holy and just and light and truth. This is what makes the cross of Jesus Christ necessary. An acceptable atonement had to be made for God’s broken law.
We conclude with the following discerning warning from Lighthouse Trails:
“For skeptics in Christian circles (professors, pastors, teachers, etc.) who are touting and promoting the writings of Henri Nouwen, let it be known that you are promoting the writings of Thomas Merton--they are one in the same. They both believed in the importance of eastern-style meditation, and they both came to believe there were many paths to God and divinity dwelt in all things and people. Not only are Nouwen's books evidence of this, but there is record of nearly thirty years of journals, articles, forewords to others books, talks, and interviews where Nouwen espouses the path of mysticism” (“Why Christian Leaders Should Not Promote Henri Nouwen,” Lighthouse Trails, Nov. 21, 2008).
The preceding was excerpted from the book CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM: A POWERFUL ECUMENICAL BOND, which is available from Way of Life Literature.
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