Contemplative Prayer and Spiritual Formation is not New Age
Dr Alex Tang
Some Christians reject contemplative prayer and spiritual formation because they
think these are New Age practices. The fact that these two distinctive and
different Christian spiritual traditions are lumped together shows a lack of
understanding of contemplative prayer, spiritual formation and the New Age.
Contemplative tradition is part of the Church since its inception. A good
example of a contemplative is the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel of
John, Revelation and three epistles in the New Testament. John wrote with a
distinct contemplative flavor. Before you start to pick up and throw stones,
please note that contemplative means to be in the presence of, and in this case,
to be in the presence of God. What better presence to be with other than in the
presence of God? The whole Bible may then be considered contemplative because
the Bible, as Karl Barth often argues, is God’s revelation of Himself to His
creatures. Spiritual formation concern spiritual growth as Christians become
more like Christ, become a people of God and take part in God’s great redemption
plan. It is the transformation that Paul meant in Romans 12:2.
The New Age is a modern spiritual movement that dates from the early 1960s that
incorporates elements of paganism, Buddhism and Hinduism. The purpose is to be
one with the cosmic energy/entity, to improve oneself, and be in harmony within
self and with nature. The focus of the Christian contemplative tradition is to
be in the presence of God. In Christian contemplation, we retain our separate
identity. In New Age, one seeks to lose oneself into and become part of the
universe. In spiritual formation, we seek to develop a character like Christ.
New Age focus on self-development and empowerment for its own sake.
There are many reasons why some Christians are against contemplative prayer and
First, there is misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. Many of those who oppose
contemplative prayer and spiritual formation may not have investigated and
understood these subjects deeply enough. Many obtain their information from
books written by people who are against the subject, for example John MacArthur,
who by the way is also against the Charismatic Movement. Others seem to obtain
their information from anecdotal accounts of people who were involved in what
they think was ‘contemplative’ and the ‘spiritual formation’ movement and were
hurt by these. It is will good if antagonists of contemplative prayer and
spiritual formation are willing to dialogue with and consider that their
proponents are also well meaning Christians like themselves and not heretics.
Second, there are some Christians who believe that the Bible is all that they
are required to know. Some of them are very suspicious of religious experiences.
To them, an intellectual affirmation of biblical words are all that is required
in the Christian life and have eternal life. Anything else, especially religious
experiences are dangerously and should be excluded. It seems that they believe
that God has voluntarily confined Himself to only the Bible (often a certain
specific translation or version). Our God is a self-revealing God. Though the
Bible is His Special Revelation, God also reveals Himself in His Creation which
is General Revelation. We are his created creatures. God created us with
rational minds that are able to think and reason. He also created us with
emotions and feelings. It is unlikely that God does not want us to relate to Him
with our emotions and feelings.
Finally, we must be aware that our minds are finite and none of us have the
whole counsel of God. In other words, we behold Him but dimly. None of us can
declare that we can know God fully and by implication, our way of Christian
practice is the only way to Him. We need humility to accept that God is greater
than we can ever conceive him to be, as Thomas Aquinas had discovered.
We perceive only facets of the Truth and until we stand before Him who is Truth,
let us not decried others as misguided or followers of demons. Just as some who
became infamously recorded in the Gospel when they accuse Jesus’s power comes
from the Enemy; the man who was born blind and was healed by Jesus gave a
powerful reply. He said he did not know who this man was but he was blind and
now he see. Let us be judged by the fruit of our characters rather than the
confession of our speech.
16 April 2015