A fellow professor asked about what the contemplative prayer movement is and if we should be concerned about it. Here is how I responded:
Critics of contemplative prayer are particularly worried that Christians will accept Hindu or Buddhist practices. When Christians speak of “meditating” or “meditation” or “Lectio Divina” (spiritual reading) or what we can learn from Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila, these critics start getting very concerned about these manifestations of contemplative prayer influencing people toward eastern mysticism. For example, Richard Foster has a chapter on “meditation” in his book Celebration of Discipline. These critics worry about the continued influence of that book. They worry that Christians will do Eastern mysticism practices and dismiss Scripture. In reality, most people including Richard Foster are simply showing people what Biblical prayer and Scriptural meditation is all about.
A number of Christian writers including Robert Webber and Tony Jones have decried our lack of historical knowledge. They have tried to remind modern Christians that Christians throughout history have memorized Scripture and prayed in solitude. Some people within the emerging church movement (such as Jones) have encouraged these “ancient” practices as a response to the harried and consumeristic modern life-style. You won’t be surprised to learn that contemplative prayer is not spreading like wild fire because it mostly entails mediation on Scripture and times of prayer in solitude! This is not easy for any of us!
It is appropriate to listen to the warnings about contemplative prayer but I would assume the best about Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Larry Crabb, Tony Jones, Robert Webber, James Houston and any others who urge us to meditate on Scripture and spend time in prayer! This is the right kind of contemplative prayer.
I would be happy to hear if there is more I need to know about this movement.
Update February 2007:
See also a well known church Church of the Open Door (Maple Grove, MN) that has a Response to Emergent Church & Contemplative Movements (PDF) that sounds a lot like my response.