What Christian Mysticism is Not

One way to understand Christian mysticism would be to begin by clarifying what things are commonly called “mysticism” but really aren’t — at least, not from an orthodox Christian perspective:

  • Christian mysticism is not occultism. It’s not about uncovering some long lost secret, à la The DaVinci Code.
  • Christian mysticism is not magic. It’s not about wielding spiritual power or engineering our own experience.
  • Christian mysticism is not esotericism. It’s not about learning techniques for psychic development.
  • Christian mysticism is not gnosticism. It’s not about a program for personal, private enlightenment.
  • Christian mysticism is not pantheism. It refutes the idea that the universe is one with God.
  • Christian mysticism is not monism. It rejects the claim that the self is one with God.
  • Christian mysticism is not syncretism. It is not about blending Christianity with the wisdom of other paths, even though Christian mystics have historically been very open to learning from non-Christian wisdom.

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  • http://naqsh.org/ned/ ned

    I guess I am always a bit wary of when we try to impose our own preferred formulas onto Reality. Whatever formulas one chooses, whether monism, or pantheism or syncretism or what-have-you, they’re never going to be more than metaphors. Let’s not try to tell Reality what it is but rather try to open our inner eye and become receptive to IT. I think we might be surprised to find that Reality is both all of our metaphors and yet none of them.

  • http://shadduli.wordpress.com shadduli

    well said Ned. agree.

    among the points put forth, i can object on “Christian mysticism is not pantheism. It refutes the idea that the universe is one with God.”

    from the teaching of Jesus Christ himself it contradict because esoterically when Jesus says, “I and father is One” and when we also understand that from christian theo-cosmological point of view, in the beginning was Word and Word was with God … ‘with’ stands for union and the self of Christ is representing the universe, then definitely it points to the inner reality that “The universe is One with God”.


  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    What I take away from Ned’s comment is that it is possible to invert all of my metaphors; i.e. someone could come along and use the Bible and the Christian mystical tradition to argue the exact opposite of what I’m saying. Not just about pantheism, or monism, but all seven of my assertions. Fair enough. Mysticism breaks down as soon as we start to argue about it. I have friends online (mostly evangelicals) who love to get into these detailed arguments about the sovereignty of God, or the true nature of the ecclesia, or how best to unpack the Holy Trinity. My eyes always quickly glaze over whenever I encounter one of these threads. Not because I don’t think we should ask the questions — I think all questions are vital, including heavily theoretical ones — but because it seems to me that as soon as we stop declaring what we ourselves see and experience, and start to criticize what others are seeing and experiencing, then that fragile thing we call “living in the spirit” seems to immediately come under duress. Maybe others are gifted at living in a state of prodigal love and grace while criticizing and being criticized, but frail sinner that I am, I’m not there yet.

    The purpose of this post — and the book I’m writing, and indeed this entire blog — is not to win arguments, or to declare once and for all what the Final Truth is regarding mysticism. As if any of us could package and trademark God! Rather, all of my writing is mainly a report on how the cosmos looks from behind my particular set of eyes. Thanks to everyone who shares how they see things differently. But please don’t get disappointed if I disagree with you but shy away from arguing about it.

  • http://magdelene.wordpress.com/ Benjamin

    Christian mysticism is not gnosticism. It’s not about a program for personal, private enlightenment.

    This is not Gnosticism

    “It is not possible for anyone to see anything of the things that actually exist unless he becomes like them. This is not the way with man in the world: he sees the sun without being a sun; and he sees the heaven and the earth and all other things, but he is not these things. This is quite in keeping with the truth. But you saw something of that place, and you became those things. You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become Father. So in this place you see everything and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself – and what you see you shall become.”

    This is Gnosticism

    If you are going to play
    “I’ve got the biggest shiniest stick, so I am superior, you aren’t”

    …you should at least do your research before acting silly

    Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.’

    –The Dalai Lama

  • http://magdelene.wordpress.com/ Benjamin

    re reading, I perhaps posted rashly, my apologies

    Yet I feel you should get a more informed view of Gnosticism, than the one you have, I would suggest reading the gospel of thomas and philip, and the sophia of jesus christ

    best wishes

  • http://nemo235.wordpress.com nemo235

    Carl, I like your style. I know what its like to try to express your own view on things, and all kinds of people try to argue that your wrong. and Im like I never said i was right just what I believed. then they always retort with your belief is wrong. jeez.
    where can I pick up one of your books, and which one would be good to start with?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    To have a sense of where my mind is these days (or, at least, where it was from 2007 to early 2010), then start with my latest, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. It’s due in stores later this month, or you can pre-order it from Amazon by following the link.

    My best “Pagan” book is probably The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Meanwhile, 366 Celt and Spirituality: A Postmodern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God also provide insightful glimpses into the labyrinthine weirdness of my mind (if you get Spirituality, be sure to get the second edition — with the black cover with the picture of the butterfly — as it has a new introduction).

  • thesouldoctor

    So, when we speak of Christian mysticism do we speak of theosis?