FREQUENTLY  ASKED  QUESTIONS
ABOUT  "CHRISTIAN"  MYSTICISM

 

Index of FAQ about "Christian" Mysticism

 

What Are the Key Characteristics of “Christian” Mysticism?

 

“Mysticism,” as defined by Merriam-Webster.com, is “The belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight).”1 In other words, mysticism utilizes practices which bypass Scripture in an effort to establish a more direct channel of communication with God. These are methods whose manner and practice are not taught or endorsed in the Bible, and which result in knowledge and understanding that is considered divine, and therefore, infallible and equal or superior to that of Scripture. Because these methods circumvent the guiding principles of Scripture, the truth of these revelations is subjective. No longer is there a universal standard against which truth can be measured. Mysticism replaces the absolute truth of the Bible with personal experience and intuition.

Realizing this, there are three key characteristics of “Christian” mysticism with which we should familiarize ourselves. First, “Christian” mysticism emphasizes a direct personal experience with God. At its core, it maintains that receiving God’s message through preaching or the Bible is not adequate. In order to fully experience God, personal revelation must be sought through direct communication with God.

Secondly, “Christian” mysticism emphasizes finding spiritual insight beyond thought and doctrine. “Christian” mysticism allows for spiritual insights which are not based upon good Biblical teaching. In fact, some of these insights may not be found anywhere in Scripture. Sometimes they may even contradict Scripture. The Bible simply does not teach some of the things which are learned through mystical practices. Nevertheless, practitioners of these methods believe that these insights necessarily originate in God. As such, these insights are believed to be equal or superior to Bible doctrine.

In order to glean these insights, one must first bypass the rational mind. Often this is accomplished by focusing the mind on something repetitive in an effort to numb the mind. Critical reasoning is rejected because it is considered carnal and is not rooted in the spiritual. Thus, in order to achieve the ultimate goal, one must first stop thinking, stop analyzing, and stop discerning all thoughts when approaching God. Spencer Burke, former pastor of Mariner’s Church and founder of the Emergent Church publication, The OOze says, “A move away from intellectual Christianity is essential. We must move to the mystical.”2 In other words, when we can successfully stop thinking, then we can experience God. And when we experience God, then He reveals new truths to us. Some of these truths may be so new and relevant that they cannot even be found in Scripture. Thus, our understanding of who God is and what He desires exceeds the Bible and what we think we know. As Leonard Sweet has said, “Mysticism, begins in experience; it ends in theology.”3

Thirdly, “Christian” mysticism accepts extra-biblical dreams, visions, and insights as being revelations from God. The thinking is that these practices lead an individual into an extra-spiritual state of mind where he sets aside the “voices of darkness” in order to listen to the “voices of light.”4 Because he is in a higher state of spirituality and union with God, it is believed that only God can successfully communicate with him. Therefore, any messages and insights that are received in this super-spiritual state of mind must be from God. In other words, the self is suppressed, so the messages received cannot be from one’s own mind and desires. Neither can the messages be from evil spirits because the individual’s spirit is in such a state of longing for God and union with Him that no evil spirit would dare to interfere.

To be fair, there are some who do teach that other spiritual forces can communicate their own messages, but they then proceed to teach that certain prayers of protection can ward off these spirits.5 Supposedly, by praying these special prayers, an individual can virtually guarantee that only God will be able to successfully communicate with him. Thus, the outcome is the same: Any messages and insights that an individual receives while in this enlightened transcendental-like state of mind are necessarily from God.

The inevitable conclusion of this conviction is that the messages and insights that an individual receives through mystical encounters with God necessarily trump Scripture. After all, these revelations come from God, they are current, and they are personalized; whereas, the Bible was written thousands of years ago to a general audience. According to this mindset, the Bible serves as a worthy framework for following God, but these personalized revelations fill in the gaps where the Bible is not specific enough or is perceived as not being culturally relevant. If there is ever a contradiction, the more recent and personalized revelation is followed rather than the teaching of the Bible. Therefore, these extra-biblical revelations are given greater weight and authority than the Bible. This is precisely the teaching of Thomas Merton who teaches that through the mystical practice of contemplative prayer, God “… offers you an understanding and light, which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons.”6 The influence of Thomas Merton is examined in greater detail in another article, but according to him, this unique understanding from God can only be acquired through contemplative mysticism.

“Christian” mysticism replaces the conviction and certainty that we can have in God’s Word with a subjective personal experience, and any practice which places personal experience above the certainty of God’s Word is necessarily governed by the spirit of antichrist. As such, it cannot deepen one’s relationship with God or strengthen one’s faith. “Christian” mysticism, then, is anything but Christian.

 


1. “Mysticism,” Merriam-Webster.com.
2. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 230, Source: Diekmann, “The Emerging Church.”
3. Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality (Dayton:Whaleprints, 1991), 76, Source: Yungen, A Time of Departing, 160.
4. “At first silence might only frighten us. In silence we start hearing the voices of darkness: our jealousy and anger, our resentment and desire for revenge, our lust and greed, and our pain over losses, abuses, and rejections. These voices are often noisy and boisterous. They may even deafen us. Our most spontaneous reaction is to run away from them and return to our entertainment.
But if we have the discipline to stay put and not let these dark voices intimidate us, they will gradually lose their strength and recede into the background, creating space for the softer, gentler voices of the light.
These voices speak of peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, joy, hope, forgiveness, and, most of all, love. They might at first seem small and insignificant, and we may have a hard time trusting them. However, they are very persistent and they will grow stronger if we keep listening. They come from a very deep place and from very far. They have been speaking to us since before we were born, and they reveal to us that there is no darkness in the One who sent us into the world, only light.
They are part of God’s voice calling us from all eternity: ‘My beloved child, my favorite one, my joy.’”
(Nouwen, Can You Drink The Cup?, 95.)
5. “I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know enough to recognize that there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! ... But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection. Here is the prayer that Luther used: “Shield us, Lord, with thy right arm. Save us from sin’s dreadful harm.” My own approach is to preface a time of contemplation by speaking this simple prayer: “By the authority of almighty God I surround myself with the light of Christ, I cover myself with the blood of Christ, and I seal myself with the cross of Christ. All dark and evil spirits must now leave. No influence is allowed to come near to me but that it is first filtered through the light of Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.” 
(Foster, Prayer, 157.)
6. Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground Of Love: The Letters Of Thomas Merton On Religious Experience And Social Concerns, Source: Goodreads, “Hidden Ground of Love Quotes.”

Works Cited

1. Diekmann, Scott. “The Emerging Church, Part 4: The Mystical Road,” Sound Witness. Accessed March 18, 2014. http://www.soundwitness.org/evangel/emerg_all_parts.htm.
2. Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
3. “Mysticism.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed September 24, 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mysticism.
4. Nouwen, Henri. Can You Drink the Cup? Ave Maria Press, 2006.
5. Yungen, Ray. A Time of Departing. Eureka: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2006.  2nd ed.

 

The above comes from our book Sinister Spirit. Check out this book to see how "Christian" mysticism is linked to the spirit of antichrist.

 

Author: Timothy Zebell, 2014