In February 11, 2013, the Christian Standard magazine featured an article by J. K. Jones titled “The Spirit in Spiritual Formation.” The article contained a gentle criticism that Christians need more mysticism. Many things about God are mysterious, beyond our understanding. But we shouldn’t confuse mysterious with mysticism. The following text is what I wrote in response to that article.
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Mr. Jones says that the Restoration Movement has had “little room for mysticism.” Let’s be clearer: Christianity has no room for mysticism.
Mysticism is an “ism.” Mysticism’s worldview is the “all is one” view of pagan religions, in which there is no transcendent creator God distinct from his creation. Mysticism centers around the idea that the mind and thought interfere with “union with the divine” (that is, my realization that I am divine). The Christian mystic attempts to get beyond the inferior practices of normal prayer and reading the Word; he wants to break through the cosmic barrier (and will attempt this by going into an altered state of consciousness through mantra meditation) to have this superior experience of “union.” As Richard Foster describes, “Contemplatives sometimes speak of their union with God by the analogy of a log in a fire: the glowing log is so united with the fire that it is fire.” (his book Prayer, p 159)
Readers would do well to investigate the mysticism behind the teachings of Foster, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross . . . (These names keep coming up under the topic of spiritual formation; Mr. Jones recommended some of them in his 2/22/09 article [“What Monks Can Teach Us”] in this magazine.)
There’s a mystical worldview and there’s a biblical worldview. The two are not compatible.