Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TMSJ 16:2 (Fall 2005) p. 325
Ruth Haley Barton. Invitation to Solitude and Silence. Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004. 143 pp. $12.75 (cloth). Reviewed by James E. Rosscup, Faculty Associate, Bible Exposition.
This book argues for meditation in silence, clear for example in Ps 62:1, 5, and views this as a great key to a transformed life. Barton’s version of contemplative prayer has some roots in monastic desert reflection, a tradition from the fourth century of the Christian era forward. Elements such as repeating a word or phrase to induce a silent state are akin to pagan Eastern mystic contemplation. Barton does not go as far as the latter; she does not teach the blanking out of the mind (an altered consciousness).
Scripture’s references to silence are parts of a vital, believing life, but not the main, overall catalyst for life blessing that Barton seems to make of these. In the Word, verses on being silent or still (for example, Ps 46:10; Hab 2:20; Zeph 1:7; Zech 2:13) are occasional and may not mean silence per se, but desisting/ceasing from some attitude or action such as frenzy, anxiety, or fretfulness, and trusting the Lord as a refuge and not fearing, as in Ps 46:2 (cf. Gerald Wilson, Psalms, Vol. 1, in The New Application Commentary ([Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002] 721). In contrast to occasional silent prayer, which is needed, overwhelmingly frequent in the Bible is spoken prayer. Barton does not integrate quiet reflection/prayer with other factors in a life of victory. Biblical balance and perspective are missing. What about being led by the Spirit, being built up in God’s Word, speaking prayer in praise/thanks, confession, petition, intercession, affirmation, or witnessing, using one’s gifts to edify others, obediently showing deeds of loving service, giving to God’s causes, and the like?
Barton endorses Thomas Merton, a trappist monk from Kentucky. Before death by accidental electrocution (1968), Merton wrote much to define and back “contemplative” or “centering prayer.” Merton has had a very wide, profound influence on many in Roman Catholic, and even Protestant churches. He articulates his ideas, at length, for example, in his Contemplative Prayer (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, Doubleday, 1971). “Centering” in Merton’s sense refers to meditating on Scripture and praying in other forms of prayer such as petition, then using devic...
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