The following is excerpted from the book CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM: A POWERFUL ECUMENICAL BOND, which is available from Way of Life Literature.
JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT (b. 1954) is a very popular Contemporary Christian Music recording artist, with sales of millions of CDs. He is also influential in the contemplative prayer movement. He represents two of the most powerful glues binding together the ecumenical movement, contemporary music and contemplative mysticism.
Talbot was raised Methodist, but in his book Come to the Quiet he thanks his parents for “installing a great love for world religions with me in my formative years.” From about age 10 he was singing and playing professionally with his siblings in folk bands. At age 15 he dropped out of school and formed the folk rock band Mason Proffit with his older brother Terry. They opened for Janis Joplin, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and other well-known groups and sold hundreds of thousands of records. At age 17 he married, and soon thereafter he began an earnest investigation into religion.
In 1971 Talbot was in a motel room praying, “God, are you a he, a she, or an it?” when he “saw a Christ figure standing over” him (Come to the Quiet, p. 5).
“I saw an image that looked like Jesus--it was a typical Christ figure--an incredible sight. He didn’t say anything--he was just there. ... I had been reading about Jesus and feeling him in my heart, but at that moment I actually experienced his touch. I knew it was Jesus” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 46).
He says, “From then on, I began calling myself a Christian again, though I didn’t understand Christian theology.”
At this point he claims to have turned in a fundamentalist direction, becoming a “Bible thumper.” He doesn’t say what kind of “fundamentalism” it was, though. He says that he kept his shoulder-length hair and was not committed to any one congregation, so it is hard to say what he was involved with. It sounds like it was his own sort of “fundamentalism” that he devised from various sources.
He describes the experience only in negative terms, saying that he became very skeptical of any other religion (as if that were wrong!) and was ready with a Scripture for any question or problem. He considered the Catholic Church “the great whore of Babylon.”
He looks back on all of that as a negative thing, but in reality it is the way of the truth, which is very strict and narrow. The Psalmist said, “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:128).
He says that when he visited friends he would “come on like a Bible thumper, condemning their life-styles and spitting out Scripture verses to make my point. I scared them to death! I know they were thinking, ‘Hey, John boy, you’ve changed. You’re not the loving, patient friend you were before.’ And they were absolutely right” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 63).
This is a strange way to describe what was happening, unless there is something he is not telling us. Perhaps he wasn’t kind and humble and gentle with his friends. If so, the problem was with him and not with “fundamentalism.”
He doesn’t say, but it is definitely not wrong to quote Scripture and to warn people that they need to be saved before it is too late. The Lord Jesus Christ preached frequently on hell in the most forceful of terms (e.g., Mark 9:43-48).
As for a believer’s old friends thinking he has gone crazy and not being particularly thrilled with his new life, that has been happening for 2,000 years. The apostle Peter described it in his day. “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:1).
As for rebuking sin, that is the legitimate and God-designed purpose of the Law. It exposes sin to make men see their lost condition so that they will flee to Christ (Romans 3:19). The Bible commands the believer not only not to have any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, “but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).
As for the idea that this is not an act of love, it is actually the most loving and friendly thing one can do! Unbelievers don’t consider it loving; they want the Bible believer to keep his religion to himself, but the day will come when they will understand that preaching the Scripture and warning of spiritual danger is a most compassionate gesture.
Talbot says that during those days he talked Catholics out of their church and “convinced them they couldn’t really be saved in the Catholic church with all that idol worship and repeated ritual” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 63).
He claims that he “was becoming more centered on that book than on Jesus” and “was unwittingly committing the sin of bibliolatry” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 65).
We don’t know what was going on in his heart, but it is impossible to walk with Christ properly without making the Bible central to one’s Christian life. This is not bibliolatry; it is obedience. Fundamentalists don’t worship the Bible; they worship God; but the honor the Bible for what it claims to be, the very Word of God. The Lord Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32), and, “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (John 8:47), and, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27), and, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them” (John 17:8).
Along that time Talbot’s wife divorced him and later remarried. In Come to the Quiet, Talbot seems to blame fundamentalism and a dogmatic Christian faith even for this (p. 6). In fact, he blames fundamentalism for just about everything, for his friends leaving him and his family becoming “worried about” him and the fact that he “had hit bottom.”
He claims that he “became a pretty terrible person to be around,” but he can’t rightfully blame that on a strict Bible faith. If it is true that he was a terrible person to be around, then it was a personal problem.
Through counsel with a preacher in the liberal American Baptist Church, Talbot began to soften his zeal. He also entered the contemporary Christian music world, which further tempered his fundamentalist enthusiasm. Contemporary Christian Music has always had a tolerant, non-doctrinal, ecumenical outlook. He signed with Billy Ray Hearn’s new label, Sparrow Records. CCM’s radical ecumenical philosophy is evident by the fact that when Talbot converted to Catholicism and wanted to continue recording albums under Sparrow, Hearn was supportive. Talbot’s first album as a Catholic was wrongly titled “The Lord’s Supper”; it was actually about the Catholic Mass. Talbot says: “When Billy Ray sensed the spirit of renewal that came through loud and clear on this album, he became excited about the potential for ministry to the broader Catholic market” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 114).
Talbot was receptive when the road manager of his band gave him a book about Francis of Assisi. This set him on the path to Roman Catholicism, mysticism, and interfaith dialogue. He read Thomas Merton, Thomas à Kempis, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cloud of Unknowing, and other Catholic mystical writings.
He began meeting with a Catholic priest named Martin Wolter at Alverna, a Franciscan retreat center in Indianapolis (now defunct).
In 1978 he joined the Roman Catholic Church, and within a year his parents followed. He claims that God spoke to him and said: “She is my first Church, and I love her most dearly. But she has been sick and nearly died, but I am going to heal her and raise her to new life, and I want you to be a part of her” (Come to the Quiet, p. 7).
Obviously this was a deluding spirit, because the first churches described in the Bible were nothing like the Roman Catholic Church. Peter was married. He did not operate as a pope. He didn’t sit on a throne or wear special clothes and lord it over his brethren. In the early churches described in the New Testament there was no special ordained priesthood, no ceremony like the Mass, no host, no monstrance, no bells, no incense, no tabernacle, no prayers to Mary, no special sainthood, no purgatory, no cardinals, no archbishops, no infant baptism, no holy relics.
The same year he joined the Catholic Church Talbot became a lay “brother” in the Secular Franciscan Order and began to live at Alverna as a hermit. He claims that he had a powerful mystical experience on the feast day of Mary’s (mythical) assumption into heaven. He was walking by the Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes with its statue of Mary and felt called to build a little shack nearby so that he could enter contemplative solitude.
In 1982 he founded the Little Portion Hermitage in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and in 1990 the Brothers and Sisters of Charity was approved by the Catholic Church. This is “an integrated monastic community of families, celibates and singles,” and Talbot is “General Minister and Spiritual Father.” The community, which is formally recognized by the Catholic Church as a “Public Association of the Faithful,” has about 40 members who live on the 250-acre property in Arkansas and another 500 nationwide.
In 1989 Talbot broke his Franciscan vow of celibacy and married Viola Pratka, who also broke her vow of celibacy as a nun to enter the marriage.
In April 2008 the chapel, library, offices, and many common areas of the hermitage were destroyed in a fire.
When he was beginning to study Catholicism at Alverna, Talbot thought of giving up his music. He had entered the CCM movement after leaving Mason Profit, and his “early albums presented a conservative, Protestant theology.”
The Catholic priest counseled him to think twice about this decision, saying, “I think God has chosen you as A BRIDGE BUILDER...” (Troubadour for the Lord, p. 90).
This is exactly what he has done. He has used his music as a bridge between Catholicism and Protestantism. His albums were the first by a Catholic artist to be accepted by both Protestant and Catholic listeners.
“In 1988, Billboard Magazine reported that Talbot out-ranked all other male Christian artists in total career albums sold. After more than three million sales with Sparrow Records, making him Sparrow’s all-time best-selling recording artist, John Michael Talbot started a new record label in 1992 called Troubadour for the Lord” (“John Michael Talbot,” Talbot’s web site).
Surveys have shown that 60 percent of Talbot’s listeners are non-Catholic.
In 1996 Talbot produced an ecumenical album (Brother to Brother) jointly with fellow CCM performer Michael Card, an evangelical. Of this venture, Card testified: “Doing this project has enabled us to become real friends. And along the way, the denominational lines have become really meaningless to me, and to John, too” (CCM Magazine, July 1996).
To say that denominational lines are meaningless is to say that doctrine is not important, because doctrine is one of the key things that divide denominations and churches. Some churches teach sound doctrine about Jesus Christ and some teach false. Some teach sound doctrine about salvation; some, false. Some teach sound doctrine about baptism; some, false. Some teach sound doctrine about the Holy Spirit; some, false. Some teach sound doctrine about the New Testament church; some, false.
Timothy’s job in Ephesus was “that thou mightest charge some that they TEACH NO OTHER DOCTRINE” (1 Timothy 1:3). That is a very strict position on doctrine. When a church stands upon the whole counsel of New Testament doctrine, it automatically becomes divided from churches that stand for different doctrine. This cannot be avoided, and it is not wrong. In fact, God forbids sound churches from associating with those who hold different doctrine (Romans 16:17).
In an article entitled “Our Fathers, and Our Divided Family,” in the Catholic charismatic magazine New Covenant, Talbot called for Christian unity on the basis of the Roman Catholic papacy:
“A Roman Catholic, I respect other Christians. We are especially close to those who value apostolic tradition as well as Scripture. But even in this we face further debates that are obstacles to complete Christian unity. THIS IS WHY THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH INSISTS THAT SCRIPTURE, TRADITION AND MAGISTERIUM ARE NECESSARY FOR A FULLY UNIFIED PEOPLE. WE ROMAN CATHOLICS FIND THIS IN THE POPE AS BISHOP OF ROME, TOGETHER WITH THE BISHOPS OF THE CHURCHES IN FULL COMMUNION WITH ROME. This has theologically freed us to develop the greatest mystical and functional unity in Christendom. It has also given us an authority that enables us to enter into interfaith and ecumenical dialogue without defensiveness. ... May we all hear these ancient truths and experience real conversion of heart” (John Talbot, "Our Fathers, and Our Divided Family,” New Covenant, September 1997, p. 21).
Talbot says Catholic tradition and the papacy are equal in authority with the Scripture. He says true Christian unity can be found only in fellowship with the pope of Rome. He prays that his readers will hear this message and experience conversion to Rome. What could be more unscriptural? The apostle Paul said anyone, even an angel from heaven, that preaches a false gospel is cursed of God (Galatians 1). The Roman Catholic popes, with their sacramental gospel and blasphemous claims and titles, have been under this curse from their origin. Nowhere does the New Testament say the apostles passed on their authority at death. The true apostles were given miracle-working signs to authenticate their calling (2 Corinthians 12:12). Nowhere does the New Testament establish a pope over all of the churches, and nowhere do we see Peter acting as a pope. We don’t need the so-called “church fathers” to explain to us the rule of faith and practice; God has given us the infallible and perfectly sufficient rule in the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17) which were completed during the days of the apostles (Jude 3) and sealed with a solemn seal in Revelation 22:18-19 which forbids anyone to add to or take away from what God has revealed.
Talbot says that we need to obey the pope:
“I believe that today we need a true sense of obedience to the pope once again” (Hermitage: Its Heritage and Challenge for the Future, p. 167).
“I believe we must stay in radical union with the primary structure of the pope and the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church...” (p. 173).
As wrong-headed as Talbot’s theology is, there is room for it in the doctrinally confused world of Contemporary Christian Music and the contemplative prayer movement. He is considered a brother in Christ and is welcomed with open arms, even in the face of God’s commands that we mark and avoid those who promote doctrine contrary to that taught by the apostles (Romans 16:17-18).
The devil is using the ecumenical thrust of CCM to break down the walls between truth and error toward the completion of the one-world apostate “church.”
Referring to the mixed crowds who attended the Talbot/Card concerts in Catholic churches, Talbot said that he delights to see Protestants who never would have darkened the doorstep of a Catholic church come to one of his concerts.
“All of a sudden they say, ‘Hey, I feel very much at home here. That doesn't mean necessarily I want to be a Roman Catholic, but I feel very much at home worshipping God with other people who are not that different from me’” (John Talbot, quoted in “Interfaith Album Strikes Sour Note,” Peter Smith, Religious News Service, Dec. 8, 1996).
In 1996 Talbot was instrumental in forming the Catholic Musicians Association to encourage Catholic musicians and to help them find a place in the more mainstream world of CCM. Joining Talbot at the founding meeting in April 1996 were Tony Melendez, Dana, Susan Stein (executive of Heartbeat Records), Paulette McCoy (Oregon Catholic Press), and Catholic officials and professionals involved in marketing and publicity (Steve Rabey, “Association Formed to Support Catholic Music,” CCM Update, May 27, 1996). At the meeting Stein said she “would like Protestants and Catholics to set aside what are basically petty differences” and urged evangelicals “to be a bit less judgmental and a bit more open to understanding.”
There is nothing “petty” about the differences between Roman Catholicism and Bible-believing Christianity!
The charismatic emphasis, though without tongues, is also seen in Talbot's experience. “Dreams and other direct ‘revelations’ from God account for his increasing conviction that the Roman Church holds the key to the future” (Peck, Rock-Making Musical Choices).
Talbot’s music is mostly acoustic folk and ballad style, but he also incorporates chanting and a wide variety of other music forms, including rock. Talbot promotes the false philosophy of the neutrality of music:
“We need to know rock ‘n’ roll. We need to know the gentleness of a folk tune. We need to know the majesty of Handel’s Messiah. We need to know the awesome reverence of the Gregorian chant” (John Talbot, CCM Magazine, July 1998, p. 28).
Talbot has also used “contemplative spirituality” as a bridge between Catholics and non-Catholics.
In fact, Talbot’s contemplative practices are a bridge between idolatrous eastern religions on one hand and the evangelicals who are influenced by him on the other. He says:
“I began practicing meditation, specifically breath prayer, once again. I integrated the use of Tai Chi and yoga into my morning workout. ... I found the enlightenment of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva, the way of the Taoist and Confucian sage, and the freedom of the Hindu sannyasin, or holy man, through this full integration in Christ” (Talbot, Come to the Quiet, p. 8).
“For myself, after the moving meditations of Hinduism and Taoism, and the breath, bone-marrow, and organ-cleansing of Taoism, I move into a Buddhist seated meditation, including the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. I do all of this from my own Christian perspective...” (Come to the Quiet, p. 237).
On his web site Talbot says:
“Personally, I have found the Christian use of such techniques as centering prayer most helpful in entering more fully into the peace of the contemplative experience as described by the Christian mystics. While our own tradition does well in describing the theology and steps of such contemplation, THE NON-CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS OFTEN DO BETTER IN TREATING THE ACTUAL MECHANICS OF MEDITATION, SUCH AS BREATH, POSTURE AND SPECIFIC MENTAL FOCUS, ETC. ... I have discovered a deeper experience of contemplation that helps me remain calmer and Christ-like in the midst of the ups and downs of fulfilling my leadership responsibilities. ... THE USE OF THE ‘MECHANICS OF MEDITATION’ AS TAUGHT BY OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE OTHER FAITHS can sometimes be helpful if used correctly to augment the classical Catholic teachings on the spiritual life” (Talbot, “Many Religions, One God,” Oct. 22, 1999, http://www.johnmichaeltalbot.com/Reflections/index.asp?id=135).
Talbot goes on to warn that there is spiritual danger in using pagan meditation techniques!
“On the Pastoral level I would point out that I do this after 20 plus years of Christian and Catholic experience of being fully immersed and guided by a wise and orthodox Friar in the Patristic and monastic/contemplative tradition of orthodox Catholic Christianity. Without this grounding I would easily find myself confused by so many different voices and spirits about meditation and prayer, not to mention the basic understanding of God and Jesus Christ. IT CAN BE MOST DESTRUCTIVE IF USED UNWISELY. I CAN ALMOST PROMISE THAT THOSE WHO UNDERTAKE THIS STUDY ALONE WITHOUT PROPER GUIDANCE, AND GROUNDING IN CATHOLIC CHRISTIANITY, WILL FIND THEMSELVES QUESTIONING THEIR OWN FAITH TO THE POINT OF LOSING IT. SOME MAY FIND THEMSELVES SPIRITUALLY LOST. IT HAS HAPPENED TO MANY. For this reason, we do not take the newer members of The Brothers and Sisters of Charity through this material in any depth as part of their formation, but stick squarely to overt Catholic spirituality and prayer teachings. I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND TOO MUCH INTEGRATION OF THESE THINGS WITHOUT PROPER GUIDANCE for those newer to the Catholic or Christian faith” (Talbot, “Many Religions, One God,” Oct. 22, 1999).
Talbot thus recognizes the extreme danger of pagan contemplative practices, yet he thinks he is capable of using them without being harmed by them. He should listen to the words of Scripture: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
In fact, Talbot has been deeply influenced and corrupted by his association with paganism. First, it confirmed him in the heresies of Rome. Next, it confirmed to him that paganism is not so pagan and that salvation might be found in them.
He speaks of his “brothers and sisters” in other religions, saying:
“Christianity emphasizes the role of Jesus as the ultimate Incarnation of God to complete all that is good in other faiths” (“The Many Paths of Religion, and the One God of Faith,” part 2, October 1999, http://www.johnmichaeltalbot.com/Reflections/index.asp?id=137).
This is not what biblical Christianity emphasizes! Biblical Christianity emphasizes that Jesus is the ONLY incarnation of God and the other religions are darkness and error. The prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is NO light in them” (Isa. 8:20), and the Lord Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them” (John 10:7-8).
Talbot has come to believe that Christianity and other religions find common ground through mystically “experiencing the Ultimate Reality.” He says:
“It is on the level of spirit that we find mystical common ground. THE REALM OF SPIRIT, OR PURE SPIRITUAL INTUITION BEYOND ALL IMAGES, FORMS, OR CONCEPTS, IS WHERE WE ALL BEGIN TO EXPERIENCE THE ULTIMATE REALITY BEYOND ALL THOUGHT, EMOTION, OR SENSUAL PERCEPTION. Yet, this ultimate experience completes all else in a way that enlivens them all. We may call this Reality by different objective names, but the Reality does not change. This realm of spirit is found in breakthrough through the use of paradoxes beyond all logic, image, or form” (“The Many Paths of Religion, and the One God of Faith” Part 2).
This is a pagan concept of God. The born again believer in Jesus Christ does not experience the same spiritual “Reality” as those who are not born again. And the born again Bible believer does not try to encounter God apart from thinking and concepts. Our knowledge of God is taught in the Scripture, and apart from this divine revelation we know nothing certain about God. What Talbot is describing is the pagan mysticism that foolishly and blindly tries to “experience” and “know” God directly apart from doctrine.
“So it is true that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. But the mystics of other faiths also share the Ultimate paradox that constitutes this way. In this we find great compliment and common ground, while also believing in the uniqueness, and completion of all else in Jesus” (“The Many Paths of Religion, and the One God of Faith,” part 2).
This is interfaith mystical gobblygook. In fact, the mystics of other faiths share nothing with us and know nothing about God, and I say that on the authority of the divine revelation given to John the “apostle of love.”
“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:19-21).
Talbot even recommends Pierre Teilhard, who taught evolution and the deification of man and denied that the Jesus of the Bible is the only Christ. Talbot says, “Teilhard de Chardin broke yet new ground with his Cosmic Christ, and a revolutionary marriage between science and mysticism” (Come to the Quiet, p. 95).
Talbot’s “contemplative” practices include prayers to Rome’s mythical Mary. In his book Simplicity he says:
“Personally, I have found praying the Rosary to be one of the most powerful tools I possess in obtaining simple, childlike meditation on the life of Jesus Christ.”
The Rosary is largely a prayer to Mary as the Queen of Heaven. In 1984 Talbot said:
“I am also feeling the presence of Mary becoming important in my life. ... I feel that she really does love me and intercedes to God on my behalf” (Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, November 1984, p. 47).
John Michael Talbot has become a very effective bridge between darkness and light.
The preceding is excerpted from the book CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM: A POWERFUL ECUMENICAL BOND, which is available from Way of Life Literature. Contemplative mysticism, which originated with Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox monasticism, is permeating every branch of Christianity today, including the Southern Baptist Convention. In this book we document the fact that Catholic mysticism leads inevitably to a broadminded ecumenical philosophy and to the adoption of heresies. For many, this path has led to interfaith dialogue, Buddhism, Hinduism, universalism, pantheism, panentheism, even goddess theology. One chapter is dedicated to exposing the heresies of Richard Foster: “Evangelicalism’s Mystical Sparkplug.” We describe the major contemplative practices, such as centering prayer, visualizing prayer, Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, and the labyrinth. We look at the history of Roman Catholic monasticism, beginning with the Desert Fathers and the Church Fathers, and document the heresies associated with it, such as its sacramental gospel, rejection of the Bible as sole authority, veneration of Mary, purgatory, celibacy, asceticism, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and moral corruption. We examine the errors of contemplative mysticism, such as downplaying the centrality of the Bible, ignoring the fact that multitudes of professing Christians are not born again, exchanging the God of the Bible for a blind idol, ignoring the Bible’s warnings against associating with heresy and paganism, and downplaying the danger of spiritual delusion.
A major section of the book is entitled “A Biographical Catalog of Contemplative Mystics” which deals with dozens of the current-day contemplative promoters as well as the ancient “saints” and mystics that are being resurrected today, including the following:
Angela of Foligno, Anthony the Great, Augustine, Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Ken Blanchard, Bonaventure, Brother Lawrence, Catherine of Genoa, Catherine of Siena, Larry Crabb, Anthony De Mello, Dominic, Meister Eckhart, Tilden Edwards, James Finely, Richard Foster, Matthew Fox, Frances de Sales, Francis of Assisi, Alan Griffiths, Madame Guyon, Hildegard of Bingen, Ignatius of Loyola, Willigis Jager, John of the Cross, William Johnston, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Keating, Morton Kelsey, Thomas a Kempis, Sue Monk Kidd, Peter Kreeft, John Main, Brennan Manning, Thomas Merton, J.P. Moreland, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington, Eugene Peterson, Karl Kahner, Thomas Ryan, William Shannon, Henri Le Saux, Philip St. Roman, David Steindl-Rast, Henry Suso, John Michael Talbot, Johann Tauler, Wayne Teasdale, Pierre Teilhard, Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Lisieux, Majorie Thompson, Phyllis Tickle, Robert Webber, Dallas Willard, John Yungblut
The book contains an extensive index.
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