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Who is Henri Nouwen?

Two Paths Diverged in a wood

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So Jesus isn’t the only way?

Many church leaders have loved reading Henri Nouwen. A little “light” reading today about one of the more influential mystics in the New Age/Emergent Church movement:

Today would like to bring attention to Henri Nouwen, one of the more popular contemplative New Age mystics. He has been popularized by people such as Rick Warren in his book, The Purpose Driven Life and Francis Chan introducing his readers to Nouwen in, Crazy Love. (to site just 2 promoters, facilitators of Nouwen.)

In his book, In the Name of Jesus,  Henri Nouwen said, “Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have 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.” (1989)

It’s obvious now that Christian leadership have taken Nouwen’s ‘exhortation’ and ran with it in the last few years. His intentions have been realized across Christiandom. In this year of 2011,  Nouwen is just another accepted household name. It’s known now that anyone can get away with throwing in someone like a Henri Nouwen alongside C.H. Spurgeon, or any other Reformed voice and get away with it. It’s called being a facilitator for the ‘New Spirituality’, this  global transformation that we are now in, the one world religion, which is coming together faster than I can type this article. Are you a Christian or Christ-Follower? (See article about the difference in, How to “Discipline” Yourself Right into the  Global One World Church

With all the, “Oh, I’ve found a new author that I’m in love with”, that people go on and on about,  who is Henri Nouwen and just why is he so popular not only with the new-neo- Calvinist crowd but all across the board? We can find Nouwen being quoted from Catholics, to New Agers to the big names in the Reformed camp, doesn’t matter who, all are in love with Nouwen. As said many times on this blog, know your mystics, know your monks and know why they are being pushed by everyone and their brother. (for instance why not familiarize yourself with any name that is quoted in any book that you read or a name from the pulpit that is dropped-who are they and what DO they want, where ARE they taking me?)

I find it interesting that Nouwen is introduced so often as a passing quote. This to me says that he is being used as a way of

introduction into mysticism. I have yet to see someone that reads one of these books that promote Nouwen, that lo and behold -it’s a miracle!- all of a sudden , they list Nouwen, after reading these books, as now one of their favorite authors. Well now that works quite nicely, doesn’t it?

So, who was Henri Nouwen? What did he believe?  You are just about to find out through the sources provided.

~Traveling with Henri Nouwen~

It was Nouwen’s intent to make mystical prayer a pervasive paradigm within all traditions of Christianity. He felt the evangelical church had many admirable qualities but lacked one vital one: mysticism. He sought to remedy this by imploring, “It is to this silence [contemplative prayer] that we all are called.”

For Nouwen it was very disturbing to him when he heard people say that Jesus was the only way. He said it was his mission to help people find his or her own way to God (see Sabbatical Journey). That’s also why he saw India as a source for many spiritual “treasures” for the Christian.

Nouwen and others such as Thomas Merton,  use Jesus as a simply a model,  because they see Him as a model for higher consciousness rather than the unique Son of God, Emmanuel (God with us) who came to die for us and be our Savior. And that’s what you find across the board in contemplative writings.

Henri Nouwen himself promoted Thomas Merton, Taoist Philosopher Chvang Tzu, the writings of the Desert Fathers, Teilhard de Chardin(Catholic priest who believed Jesus would not return in person but rather as a cosmic Christ), and Hindu Spiritual Writer Eknath Eswaran.

Source: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/nouwen.htm

Ray Yungen writes:

“Nouwen’s endorsement of a book by Hindu spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, teaching mantra meditation, further illustrates his universalistic sympathies. On the back cover, Nouwen stated, “This book has helped me a great deal.”

Nouwen also wrote the foreword to a book that mixes Christianity with Hindu spirituality, in which he 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 … Ryan [the author] went to India to learn from spiritual traditions other than his own. He brought home many treasures and offers them to us in the book.”

Nouwen apparently took these approaches seriously himself. In his book, The Way of the Heart, he advised his readers:

“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.”

But what God’s “active presence” taught him, unfortunately, stood more in line with classic Hinduism than classic evangelical Christianity.

from “Henri Nouwen and Buddhism”

by Ray Yungen (Excerpt from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed.).


****Below have provided additional links for further research:

Who Is Henri Nouwen?

What Did Henri Nouwen Really Believe?  (info that Nouwen believed that he was a homosexual)

Henri Nouwen and Buddhism





The Dangers of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines: A Critique of Dallas Willard and The Spirit of the Disciplines

Donald Whitney, Mysticism and Spirituality without Boundaries

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5 Responses to “Who is Henri Nouwen?”

  1. jeff #

    If you want to read a really, really good Nouwen book, look into "Return of the Prodigal Son". It is excellent.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:38 AM Reply
    • ron #

      I agree that "the Prodigal is an excellent book.
      In his book he pints out that there are more perspectives than just the wayward son's!
      The elder son is pointed out as also wayward in his judging attitude of the father's choice to allow the wayward son to return. Elder sons, as we often are in the church, are quick to point out they never left and often resent the father swinging the door open for the prodigal.
      I think the example that Nouwen is trying to point out is that of the father. He welcomes the wayward, and takes 1/3 of the remaining 2/3 s and gives it to the wayward son, re-instituting his role as son again. The example we are to follow is to do the same and resist being like the elder brother.

      I prefer looking for the truth of the gospel where ever it can be found rather than looking for the holes in "mere men's" theology. After all, who is not a mere man. May God be the righteous judge.

      July 18, 2011 at 4:04 PM Reply
    • Shannon #

      I'm currently reading "The Return of the Prodigal Son" and find it absolutely beautiful. I wish that others of the faith could realize that living the Christian life isn't about believing all the 'right' things, but about living a life that emulates and represents the Person of Christ. It is the Love of God made visible to us in Christ Jesus that the world will know Him by – people will know Him, by our Love. And when Jesus says that He is the way, it is my understanding that He is saying that His life, His example, and His mission, was and is, to point us to what the Father is like and who He is. No one religion or faith has all the answers, and I believe in embracing ambiguity and being comfortable with the mystery as part of walking by faith and drawing closer to the reality of God present in our lives despite uncertainty and differences of opinions/beliefs. We, as believers and followers of Christ, have got to put down our swords and stop using the Bible to browbeat people into thinking and believing that they are wrong because they hold differing views. I'm writing in response to the above article…

      January 7, 2015 at 3:49 PM Reply
  2. rosinavoz #

    The Bible is the Word of God….the only book you can trust completely because God Himself wrote it. Shouldn't that be the first place you go to learn who God is, what He is really like, and what He expects of you? Shannon, it is extremely important to believe the 'right things', to learn about and understand the doctrines of the Christian faith. Your very salvation depends upon it! Without correct understanding of the doctrines of the faith, you will be guided by your feelings and end up on the the broad way. In believing that God is only love, you are making a god to suit yourself, one you are comfortable with, which the Bible calls idolatry. It sounds 'beautiful' to you that God is love, but the Bible teaches that He is also righteous and holy, a God who will judge and punish sin. To become a true Christian means admitting you are lost and bound for hell because of your sin. It means repenting and turning from your sin, and trusting in Christ ALONE for your salvation, not in any good works you may do.

    There are many today who are teaching a false Christianity, encouraging people to follow a false christ. Scriptures warn us that this will happen in the Last Days. Henry Nouwen was one of these false teachers. (I sincerely believe, if he could back from the grave, he would tell you himself to stop reading his books.) Jesus said the way to heaven is narrow…so narrow that few will find it. If you 'embrace ambiguity', how can you ever find the truth? There is only one Truth, one Way….that which is contained in God's Holy Word in the person of Jesus Christ.

    Please….put down Nouwen and just read the Bible. Read it cover to cover. Then compare it to what Nouwen taught. Would you rather trust a man with nice sounding, 'beautiful' man centered ideas or the very words of God? Sadly, Shannan, you are not following the God of the Bible…not following the real Jesus at all. The god you ARE following cannot save you.

    January 7, 2015 at 10:16 PM Reply
  3. tonibrown #


    You say the following: "No one religion or faith has all the answers"
    According to scripture it is biblical Christianity alone that has all the answers, all other religious beliefs are of satan according to the Bible.

    You say the following: " And when Jesus says that He is the way, it is my understanding that He is saying that His life, His example, and His mission, was and is, to point us to what the Father is like and who He is."
    No. His shed blood on the cross is "the way". The only way.

    You say the following: "it is my understanding that…"
    5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

    You say the following :"I believe in embracing ambiguity"
    Well, that's the idea so they've got you.
    am·bi·gu·i·ty noun ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē (Merriam Webster online)
    : something that does not have a single clear meaning : unclear or doubtful.

    Please put down the book you are reading and pick up the Holy Scriptures.

    Galations 1:
    [6] I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
    [7] Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
    [8] But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
    [9] As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    January 8, 2015 at 8:27 AM Reply

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