Meditation – Meditation in the Church

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004
Eastern and other questionable forms of meditation are practiced by many church members. But the practices often involve more than simple biblical meditation, which is conscious meditation on the content and application of Scripture.

Meditation – Meditation in the Church

Unfortunately, Eastern and other questionable forms of meditation are practiced by many church members. The modern interest in Christian mysticism (Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) has sparked a renewed interest in meditation among Christians. But the practices recommended often involve more than simple biblical meditation, which is con­scious meditation on the content and application of Scripture. Unfortunately, Christians often draw upon forms of meditation that are Eastern or similar to Eastern varieties. Be­cause most Christians are insufficiently instructed in these areas, we think this presents a potential problem.

Richard Foster is the evangelical author of Celebration of Discipline, a long-time Chris­tian bestseller. His chapter on meditation stresses discovering “the inner reality of the spiritual world [which] is available to all who are willing to search for it.”[1] Foster is careful to distinguish between Eastern meditation and Christian forms, noting they are “worlds apart”.[2] His commitment to Christian faith also modifies his basic approach. Unfortunately, his methods are sometimes similar to New Age or Eastern techniques, such as his sug­gested use of the imagination and dream work. He asserts:

The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. We fail today to appreciate its tremendous power. The imagination is stronger than conceptual thought and stronger than the will….
Some rare individuals may be able to contemplate in an imageless void, but most of us need to be more deeply rooted in the senses. Jesus taught this way, making constant appeal to the imagination and the senses.[3]
In learning to meditate, one good place to begin is with our dreams, since it involves little more than paying attention to something we are already doing. For fifteen centuries Christians overwhelmingly considered dreams as a natural way in which the spiritual world broke into our lives. Kelsey, who has authored the book Dreams: The Dark Speech of the Spirit, notes, “… every major Father of the early Church, from Justin Martyr to Irenaeus, from Clement and Tertullian to Origen and Cyprian, believed that dreams were a means of revelation.”
… If we are convinced that dreams can be a key to unlocking the door to the inner world, we can do three practical things. First, we can specifically pray, inviting God to inform us through our dreams. We should tell Him of our willingness to allow Him to speak to us in this way. At the same time, it is wise to pray a prayer of protection, since to open ourselves to spiritual influence can be dangerous as well as profitable. We simply ask God to surround us with the light of His protection as He ministers to our spirit.
… That leads to the third consideration—how to interpret dreams. The best way to discover the meaning of dreams is to ask. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2). We can trust God to bring discernment if and when it is needed. Sometimes it is helpful to seek out those who are especially skilled in these matters.[4]

(The chapters on New Age Inner Work, Intuition, and Dream Work in our Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs illustrate the potential dangers of such an approach.) Foster also encourages “centering” exercises and concentrating on one’s breath, also a common Eastern technique:

Another meditation aimed at centering oneself begins by concentrating on breathing. Having seated yourself comfortably, slowly become conscious of your breathing. This will help you to get in touch with your body and indicate to you the level of tension within. Inhale deeply, slowly tilting your head back as far as it will go. Then exhale, allowing your head slowly to come forward until your chin nearly rests on your chest Do this for several moments, praying inwardly something like this: “Lord, I exhale my fear over my geometry exam, I inhale Your peace. I exhale my spiritual apathy, I inhale Your light and life.” Then, as before, become silent outwardly and inwardly. Be attentive to the inward living Christ.[5]

Dr. Foster is convinced the above methods may be used by Christians, especially as part of a program of spiritual growth. He cites their use in church history (including Christian mystical traditions) as an affirmation of how believers have used them in the past. “Nor should we forget the great body of literature by men and women from many disciplines. Many of these thinkers have unusual perception into the human predicament. [For ex­ample,] Eastern writers like Lao-Tse of China and Zarathustra of Persia….”[6]

Thankfully, Dr. Foster does warn that practicers are engaging in a “serious and even dangerous business.”[7] But we don’t think his approach answers all the questions that may be raised over such practices. The reason for our concern is twofold: 1) because Christians are usually insufficiently instructed in these areas, they may slip into more Eastern and occult forms of meditation; 2) our conviction that these methods are questionable to begin with.[8] We do not doubt Dr. Foster’s Christian commitment or sincerity. We appreciate his desire that Christians be more committed to Christ. We simply disagree with his basic approach to meditation and sanctification.

Secular psychotherapy in the church has also encouraged the use of “novel” spiritual practices.[9] For example, clinical psychologist E. S. Gallegos works at the Lutheran Family Service in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and he is coauthor of “Inner Journeys: Visualization in Growth and Therapy”.[10] In “Animal Imagery, the Chakra System and Psychotherapy,” he offers a psychotherapeutic approach that uses occult theory and technique plus imagery or visualization for attaining an “assessment” of the chakras (according to Hindu theory, chakras are psychic centers in the body).

By a common technique of occult meditation, each chakra is “contacted” and then per­mitted to “represent itself” in animal form within the counselee’s imagination. The function of the animal is to guide and counsel the person. This is similar to the shaman’s “power” animal—a spirit guide who assumes the form of an animal to help, guide, protect, and instruct the shaman in his occult quest.

“This therapeutic process was initially developed when the author observed similarities between the chakra system and the totem poles of the Northwest Coast American Indians. This therapeutic process also acknowledges a relationship between those tribal [shamanis­tic] Indian transformation rituals and modern psychological transformation.”[11] Here we have a licensed psychologist, working in a Lutheran Family Service Center, who has combined elements of occult yoga/meditation theory and shamanism in his counseling practice.

But what if the therapist happens to be an occultist who transfers occult power into his clients (like a true shaman can)? Or what if he brings his spirit guide into the therapy ses­sion (knowingly or not)? Or what if the person seeking help pursues shamanism as a re­sult? Such “therapy” has then become a vehicle for introducing people to the occult, with all that implies in terms of consequences.[12]

While such “therapy” is not common in the church, neither is it rare. We have no idea of how widespread such practices are in the mainline churches, but we are convinced that hundreds of illustrations could be cited, and that the evangelical church itself is being impacted, for several reasons: 1) the pragmatic orientation of modern evangelicalism; 2) the current state of occult revival and naïveté in our culture; 3) the church’s partial accom­modation to surrounding pagan culture; 4) occultism (in modified and “mild” forms) entering the field of psychotherapy, which itself has infused Christianity;[13] 5) the rejection of biblical authority in some quarters of evangelicalism.

To cite an illustration, the occult-oriented Yoga Journal ran an article by two evangelicals titled “Christians Meditate Too!” These evangelicals teach courses on “Christian” meditation at their evangelical church, and they run seminars on “Christian” meditation at other evan­gelical churches:

Last year the two of us taught an eight-week seminar on meditation—a fairly bold offering at our conservative evangelical church. The course was an enthusiastic success, and we’d like to share its highlights with “Yoga Journal” readers…. Our own background includes practicing yoga, t’ai chi and aikido, and studying the “Bhagavad Gita”, the “Upanishads”, Lao Tzu, and the teachings of Buddha and Confucius.[14]

They observe correctly that “in both East and West, meditation is introspective: we learn to look within to discover spiritual realities.”[15] Thus, not surprisingly, “We of the West stand to gain by learning discipline and spiritual awareness from the East…. The new age move­ment in this country is already moving toward a personalizing of Eastern disciplines.”[16]

Yet there was no critique of New Age philosophy or practice and no mention of the dangers or occult nature of most meditation. There was no warning about the hazards or implications of yoga practice. There was no awareness of the anti-Christian philosophy underlying Eastern systems or the reality of spiritual deception and warfare that operates in pagan religion. The article only presented the “benefits” of Eastern spirituality and an en­dorsement of “Christian” meditation involving, among other things, questionable exegesis and an uncritical acceptance of Christian mysticism, such as the mindless repetition of certain phrases found in many Christian mystical traditions. They told readers of the Yoga Journal, “Christians meditate, too. When they do, they are falling behind Isaac and David, Ignatius and Francis and Christ himself.”[17]

Yet, we do not see Jesus in the New Testament sitting in yoga positions, or encouraging people to “practice yoga, t’ai chi, and aikido” or to study the pagan “Bhagavad Gita”, the “Upanishads”, Lao Tzu, or the teachings of Confucius and Buddha. These evangelicals may have been attempting to “reach” readers of the “Yoga Journal” with some kind of Christian influence. While that motive would be noble, we question the efficacy.

The authors of the previous article recommended three books. The first was Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. Merton (1915-68) was an influential ascetic Catho­lic monk who incorporated Eastern beliefs and practices into his Catholicism and led many Catholics into contemplative Eastern traditions. He believed he had found genuine spiritual truth in many Eastern scriptures and practices, including Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, and Zen traditions. The second book recommended was Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, which sup­ports a variety of mystical practices and encourages belief in pantheism.[18] The authors also recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, which is described as being “promi­nent in the revival of interest in Christian meditation.”[19]


  1. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 18.
  2. Ibid., p. 15.
  3. Ibid., p. 22.
  4. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
  5. Ibid., p. 25.
  6. Ibid., p. 62.
  7. Ibid., p. 62.
  8. Ibid., p. 16.
  9. Cf. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on Self-Esteem, Psychology and the Recovery Movement (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995).
  10. Eligio Stephen Gallegos, Teresa Rennick, Inner Journeys: Visualization in Growth and Therapy (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Turnstone Press, Ltd., 1984).
  11. E. S. Gallegos, “Animal Imagery, The Chakra System and Psychotherapy,” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, vol. 15, no. 2, 1983, p. 136.
  12. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness: Confronting Occult Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993).
  13. Ankerberg, Weldon, The Facts on Self-Esteem, Psychology and the Recovery Movement.
  14. Kirk Bottomly, Jim French, “Christians Meditate Too!” “Yoga Journal”, May/June 1984, p. 27.
  15. Ibid., p. 27.
  16. Ibid., p. 28.
  17. Ibid., p. 45.
  18. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Con­sciousness (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1961), pp. XIV,XV.
  19. Bottomly, French, Yoga Journal, p. 45.

Leave a Comment