Henri Nouwen’s Heretical, Corrupting Influence

“The scarcity of biblical discernment and the wolves in sheep’s clothing standing behind our pulpits and leading our Christian universities, are major reasons for the rotting away of our Christian denominations from the inside out.”

If you have ever received a book from your pastor written by (the late) Henri Nouwen, that ought to be a red flag.  If Henri Nouwen books are part of your Christian college curriculum, that is bad news also.  There is a lack of discernment today amongst many pastors, Christian college educators and heads of theology departments, including my own denomination, the Nazarene church.  The following examples are just the “tip of the iceberg.”  If you are a member of any denomination, you will find Henri Nouwen’s influence within.

Part 1: Henri Nouwen’s Nazarene Influence

The Nazarene influence by Nouwen is pervasive.  Nouwen was mentioned in Lighthouse Trails Research as being featured in at least four courses at Olivet Nazarene University.

In the Pastoral Theology section at Northwest Nazarene University, Nouwen’s book In The Name of Jesus is used as a resource for college core courses.

In Recommended Readings at Point Loma Nazarene University, you find:  Life of the Beloved, and Return of the Prodigal Son.

At Trevecca Nazarene University, in Formational Resources, you find: Bread For The Journey.

Former Mount Vernon Nazarene University president Lebron Fairbanks, in one of his last articles at MVNU, talked about “Men’s Night Out” when “several male students  asked our permission to cook a meal in our home, followed by three hours of serious discussions about Henri Nouwen”.  From his blog, he reports how he spent hours researching Nouwen as a positive spiritual influence for Christians.

From Southern Nazarene University, Howard Culbertson recommends a Henri Nouwen book for students in missions.

Nazarene Publishing House lists at least one book by Nouwen: Wounded Healer.

From the Nazarene student guide, Developing Youth Ministry, you will find no less than four Nouwen books listed in this pdf document, which comes right out of the headquarters in Kansas City”.

The Nazarene Youth In Mission resource page lists a Nouwen book.

Finally, President Dan Boone of Trevecca, in an interview with Christianbook online, said that Henri Nouwen served as a spiritual guide!  No surprise I guess, because in his spotlight page at Nazarene Theological Seminary (now missing) he stated: “I find myself deepening in the practices of spiritual formation that have shaped the saints of the ages, Lectio Divina, fasting, Sabbath observance, care for the poor, journaling, and contemplative prayer.”  He also states that Eugene Peterson, author of the horrendous New Age-ish paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, was a distant mentor.

There’s so much more, including scores of pastors who are hooked into Nouwen and other such mystics.  I will detail to a fuller extent the corrupting influence of Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Brennan Manning and many others, in a future post.  Either through a serious defect in sound judgement, or because they do have a clear understanding of Nouwen’s teachings, your pastor or college leader could be promoting an author who: is a universalist, does not spell out the gospel message in his writings, and was heavily involved in Eastern mysticism as Thomas Merton was.

The following is excerpted from David Cloud’s excellent resource book, Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond
(Available from Way of Life’s library of excellent well research books on many topics: http://www.wayoflife.org/publications/topicalbooks.html)

Please read the quotes below and think of what they mean from a biblical perspective.  Perhaps you could ask your pastor, or your theology professor, or your District Superintendent, or university president, or your best friend who loves Nouwen’s books, to biblicly justify the use of books by such a profoundly heretical writer.

Part 2: Beware Henri Nouwen

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).


7 responses to “Henri Nouwen’s Heretical, Corrupting Influence

  1. Henry Nouwen and Richard Foster have been authors of textbooks used at Nazarene Bible College for many years. They were prescribed reading when I was there in the early 90’s.

  2. Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Sue Monk Kidd and any other advocate of heretical mysticism as a means to find God is overlooking what the Bible has to say concerning coming into the presence of God and experiencing His Mercy and Grace. Mystics believe that it is in your own strength and power that you find God. In John [6:44] Jesus said; “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Here Jesus blocks every avenue to coming to God outside of Himself.

    The Bible makes it clear that God is not interested in idle chatter and knows the heart of man before he can come to Him and certain conditions apply. In John [9:31] John wrote; “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” Before John wrote this David went a step further and said in Psalms [66:8] “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Here I believe when one wishes to be saved and continues to hide iniquity in their heart and will not separate from sin in repentance, the Lord who knows the heart will not hear them. Perhaps this explains why some who goes to the altar never prays through.

    Mysticism is not the answer to find God, and I can’t help but wonder why our Church has such adulation with these mystics. In 2 Corinthians [7:10] Paul said; “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. “ The greatest danger I see to practice mysticism can only produce death.

  3. manny ,been awhile but never far fromthoughts & prayers. i’ve contacted dick bott of the bott radio network, and asked him to contact you& reformnaz. told him that if he knew all the emergant destruction work had done in the naz. denomination he probably wouldn’t allow the naz. universities to advertise on his network!!! it is my hope that he will research this cancerous destruction of a HOLINESS denomination and that he contacts you very soon. i’ve wetted his taste as to what he might expect to find on your website. re;gay activity in schools,open thesim tought in seminary & univ.no responce from head g.s.’s, ministers resigning rather than being forced to preach the emergant way etc. maybe this will light a HOLY fire under some hearts. sure hope he pulls the adds, might save a few souls. hope this works out so the information can cause a righteous change. mark

  4. Thanks brother Mark for your prayers for this denomination as well. As we all should do, we must obey the Lord, do as His word instructs us to do, and leave the rest to Him to work in men’s hearts.
    God bless you,

  5. It really bothers me that a man as professedly orthodox as Rick Warren recommends Henri Nouwen’s book for reading. At the very least (giving Warren the benefit of the doubt), he needs to be a lot more careful about whom he recommends.

  6. In regards to Pastor Kevin Lynch’s comment about these authors being recommended reading since at least the early 90’s I’d like to add that I’ve heard that retreats at monasteries have also been going on for several decades. I suspect that much of what we object to has a long history at the schools and therefore don’t, at first glance, appear to be a problem. So…why is it a problem now? These ideas and practices are long standing and practically traditional in these institutions.

    I would like to suggest that these are like seeds planted long ago that have now come to fruition and the fruit appears to be fruit from a bad tree (Matthew 7:17). I say this because these practices are leading people away from scripture as the measure and towards personal experience being the measure of whether something is of God. When the trustworthiness of the Bible in all things becomes one of the “non-essentials” then we have a problem.

  7. Good question… why is it a problem now?
    From my perspective, and this could be from many other Nazarenes: I never heard of the these things (laybrinths, contemplative prayer) being used in my years at ENC. Perhaps I was too ignorant to understand the subtle philosophical changes amongst the faculty. I was too busy either studying, or NOT studying. So until three years ago, I had no clue.
    Part of what has helped others become even more aware of this is I think because of the internet, advent of email use, and of course now Facebook. Info travels faster, and people are immediately alerted much more easily than 20 or 30 years ago. I think that’s a major factor.

    For the people who did see these things happening 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t know what was going through their minds. Was it okay with them? Was it not okay, but they did not want to rock the boat? Were they so badly grounded in little scripture, and trusting in whatever someone said was true, that they had no discernment whatsoever. I suspect that was a big part of it.

    Now that people are hearing about it, what’s their excuse now?

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