What is quietism?Question: "What is quietism?"
Answer: Quietism is a system of religious mysticism with its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism but which has also been promoted at times by individuals within the Roman Catholic Church. Quietism teaches that spiritual peace and even perfection can be achieved through the contemplation of God and things divine. The practitioner of quietism seeks to subdue the will and become totally passive, spiritually. Quietism was promoted as a Catholic mode of worship in parts of Western Europe during the late 1600s but was declared a heresy by Pope Innocent XI in 1687. Quietism turns one’s spirituality inward, favoring silent contemplation, stillness, and passiveness over positive action, singing, praying out loud, etc., so it would be naturally appealing to monks, religious hermits, and other ascetics. The aim of quietism is to “quiet” the soul so that it can become one with God and eventually achieve a sinless state.
Influential quietists in history include Madame Guyon, Francois Fénelon, and Miguel de Molinos. Quietism has made inroads into some branches of the evangelical church, too, with the practice of soaking prayer and centering prayer and the Charismatic emphasis on listening prayer and the rhema word. Practices related to quietism and the thinking behind those practices are totally unbiblical.
It’s true that, in the Bible, quietness and peace are to be desired; they are signs of a healthy spiritual life. David said, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2), and peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21). Waiting on God and submitting to Him are also part of a godly life (Psalm 31:24; 33:20; 37:7). However, biblical authors never promote the idea of the human soul being “absorbed” into God, and the Bible in no way endorses quietism, as a philosophy or as a religious practice.
One problem with quietism is its exclusive focus on passivity, stillness, and inaction as it pursues a quiet spirituality. The Bible contains plenty of examples of the opposite attitude, telling God’s people to “shout for joy” over their salvation (Psalm 20:5), sing songs, play instruments, and shout loudly (Psalm 33:1–3). The response when a soul is near to God is often shouts and songs of joy (Isaiah 12:6). Furthermore, positive action is constantly shown in the Scriptures as a necessary part of a Christian’s life. Evangelism is very hard to do if one never speaks or interacts with others. Jesus told His disciples to “go” and “make disciples” and “teach” (Matthew 28:16–20). The apostles’ journeys were full of positive, decisive action and good works. Jesus Himself was a dynamic person—healing and speaking and taking action. Of course, Jesus also spent time in prayer, alone (Mark 1:35). But prayer to God is not what quietism teaches.
The other, greater problem with quietism is its claim that one can achieve a sinless state by inward contemplation and ridding the soul of all troubling desires. In this way, quietism resembles Buddhism more than Christianity. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that stilling ourselves can result in a sinless state or union with God or that cultivating a lack of feeling or desire will bring special union with God. Quite the opposite: the Bible clearly says that a sinless state of perfection is not attainable in this world (1 John 1:8). Biblical meditation is an active study and contemplation of God’s Word, not a passive, mantra-like giving up of the will. We are justified by faith in Christ, and we are sanctified by the Word of God (John 17:17; Romans 5:1; Hebrews 10:10, 14), not through mystical experiences, asceticism, or having one’s soul united with the divine.
Recommended Resource: The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives by Lister & Schreiner
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