In Part XIII of our hard-hitting series on the Snares of the Modern Church, we unmask one of the most pernicious yet insidious traps that have ensnared unwitting believers—occultism. Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about occult practices that have slithered their way into modern Christianity, camouflaging themselves as “spiritual disciplines” or “deep prayer methods.” From Lectio Divina promoted by well-known figures like John Piper, to Contemplative Prayer endorsed by many leaders including the late Tim Keller, these practices have wormed their way into mainstream Christian thought.
Cloaked in biblical language and endorsed by such highly-regarded Evangelical figureheads, they gain credence and spread like wildfire, undetected by the undiscerning believer. But these are not simply benign practices with no consequences—they are deeply rooted in mysticism and unbiblical ideologies, drawing believers away from the solid foundation of Scripture and into a murky world of subjective, emotional, and experiential spirituality. And this isn’t merely a fringe issue either, it’s pervasive in many Evangelical churches on many different levels and demands immediate and unyielding scrutiny.
Let’s drill down further into the mechanics and origins of these troubling practices, beginning with Lectio Divina. Although the phrase may evoke a sense of scholarly depth or even holy mystery, its roots are, in fact, mired in traditions that stand at odds with sound biblical theology. Originating from monastic customs, particularly those dating back to the Middle Ages, Lectio Divina operates on a principle that can best be described as “praying the Scriptures” on the surface, but this surface-level description belies its underlying ideology. The practice consists of a repetitive, even mantra-like, recitation of selected Bible verses. This chanting is not done merely for memorization or reflection—rather, it aims to unlock special “insights” or mystical “revelations” that are not apparent in the plain text of Scripture. In essence, it attempts to go beyond what the Bible explicitly says, seeking hidden truths through a form of spiritual alchemy.
While the highly-regarded John Piper has given his nod to Lectio Divina as a method to deepen one’s relationship with God, the sobering reality is that this practice fundamentally diverges from the Bible’s explicit guidelines on how we are to interact with God’s Word. According to Scripture, we are instructed to approach the Bible with a studious, diligent mind, “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We are encouraged to investigate its teachings, apply its principles in context, and meditate on its truth in a way that engages both mind and heart. This is vastly different from murmuring verses in a quasi-mystical manner in hopes of conjuring new, hidden revelations.
The biblically affirmed practice of praying through the Scriptures involves taking the Word of God as it is, understanding its context, and praying in alignment with its revealed will and truth. This is not an exercise in spiritual spelunking for hidden knowledge, but a humble approach to God where His Word illuminates our path, guides our prayers, and sharpens our understanding of His will. When we pray through the Scriptures in a biblical way, we align our thoughts with God’s thoughts, understanding that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). We engage with the text, yes, but not as a doorway to some secretive, mystical experience; rather, as the clear revelation of God that instructs us on how to live righteously and relate intimately with our Creator.
And what about Contemplative Prayer? Promoted by teachers like Tim Keller, Rick Warren, and others in Evangelical circles, this practice often involves emptying the mind, focusing on a spiritual “center,” and opening oneself to direct, divine revelation. While it masquerades as a superior form of prayer, its lineage traces back to Eastern mysticism and New Age spirituality. The Bible, however, instructs us to engage our minds when we pray (1 Corinthians 14:15), emphasizing a clear, grounded communication with God, not an empty mental void hoping to be filled with extra-biblical revelations.
Besides these two practices, we can’t overlook other dubious practices seeping into evangelical circles. Take, for example, the Enneagram, a psychological tool co-opted for spiritual growth but steeped in mysticism. Or the Prosperity Gospel, which twists faith into a formula for material gain, echoing New Age “law of attraction” theories. Labyrinths and prayer walking are also regularly seen in Evangelical circles, offering a spiritual journey through physical paths that—while may be ancient in origin—blend Christian and pagan practices in an unholy cocktail. These practices, seductive as they may be, drift away from the core biblical teachings and often have more in common with New Age or occult beliefs than they do with orthodox Christianity. It’s a growing concern that necessitates unwavering discernment.
The charismatic movement is a hotbed for such practices, but these ideologies have even seeped into Evangelical and neo-Reformed streams of Christianity. Popular influencers and authors like Richard Rohr and Dallas Willard have contributed to this infiltration. Rohr, a Franciscan friar, is known for his integration of mysticism and contemplative spirituality into Christian teaching and Dallas Willard, on the other hand, was instrumental in bringing these practices into Evangelical circles, often under the guise of “spiritual formation.”
The Word of God is crystal clear—Scripture is all we need for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). When the Bereans encountered Paul’s teachings, they didn’t resort to mystical practices—they “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). Let’s take a cue from them and put every spiritual practice, no matter how venerated or popular, to the test of Scripture. Mystical experiences can be dangerously deceptive. What is emotionally appealing is, more often than not, spiritually lethal.