Dr. A. R. Javed

Rob Bell, Mysticism, and Apophatic Prayer

When we deny the importance of the teachings of Scripture, we must find something to take its place – mysticism and experience. One form of mysticism is apophatic prayer. Here is how it is defined by one alternative source:

  • Apophatic meditation is an eastern style of clearing the mind to enable inward contemplation… Apophatic meditation, meditation that specifically concentrates on focus without image is a wonderful way to bring some serenity into your life as well as give you some time for inward reflection… Apophatic meditation can most easily be summed up as meditation without pictures or visualizations. Apophatic meditation concentrates on the purity of divine love that fills everything in the world.  You are reflective in this state, yet not stressed or worried… Historically, it is used in the Eastern yogic schools to teach the disciples consideration for their actions.  Unlike katophatic (active) mediation, apophatic meditation is considered passive, and does not count on visualizations or images.

What does this have to do with the church? Much! Many pastors, including Rob Bell, are trying to sell it to Christians:

  • God Our Mother [liturgy] includes an apophatic contemplative meditation. Apophatic disciplines seek to push beyond language and rational thinking in the context of God’s Holiness, and can be very powerful. For this reason, we recommend that spiritual practices like apophaticism are best moderated through scripture, tradition, and some form of spiritual community.

How does Bell justify a practice used by “yogic schools” to experience “divine love?”

  • God our Mother is a liturgy that explores both the scriptures that speak of God in a maternal context and the limits of human language in describing an infinite God.

Is this the way we are to “explore… the Scriptures,” by clearing the mind the way yogics do? Do we find anything in Scripture that suggests that we should clear our minds? Certainly, if we could experience God’s “divine love” in this manner, Scripture would have a lot to say about apophatic prayer/meditation, but it doesn’t – not a word!

Instead, Scripture assures us that we need not shop around in the markets of alternative spiritualities. Instead, it claims that Scripture gives us everything we need to have a full and complete relationship with God:

  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughlyequipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Sadly, we Christians tend to think that we are missing out on something. The suffering and waiting that we must endure contributes to this sense of lack. However, Scripture assures us that if we have Christ, we haveeverything we need:

  • See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been givenfullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)

This means that if you refuse to try mystical techniques, you are not missing anything!

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Daniel Mann

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