Christian Mysticism of the Future

One of my gripes with Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence is that she provides little or no insight into where she thinks the church is headed during this period of emergence. I think everyone kind of gets it that post-modernity is a hinge time, where we’re after something that no longer works (modernity) and we don’t really know yet what it is we’re before. (as an aside, I figure it’s either going to be a new renaissance that will make the 15th century look like a dress rehearsal, or else it could involve environmental devastation and resultant trauma on a scale never before imagined. And it all really boils down to how effectively we can curb our appetites!).

Okay, well, I can hardly whine about Tickle’s lack of forecasting, if I don’t do a bit of my own. So I’m working on a chapter in my book that will explore my conjectures about the future of Christian mysticism. This is utterly un-scientific: I am only basing my thoughts on what I have seen and read and intuited. So feel free to disagree — but if you do, please post a comment as to why. I’d be curious to hear what other contemplatives sense about where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

But for now, here are the seven characteristics that I (currently) believe will shape the future of Christian mysticism:

  1. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly Trinitarian. I believe the success of William Paul Young’s The Shack is at least partially due to its lovely presentation of the trinitarian nature of God. Obviously, the Blessed Trinity has always been central to Christian theology, but I believe its importance will only increase, as a healthy alternative to monism and dualism — both of which have dogged Christian spirituality for too long.
  2. Trinitarian Christian mysticism in the future will be essentially relational. “Flight of the alone to the alone” is lovely and poetic, but it is also Neoplatonic rather than Christian. Not to knock Neoplatonism, but in celebrating what is distinctive about Christian spirituality we need to recognize that the Trinity is foundationally relational, and therefore participation in the Trinity (our destiny as Christian mystics) doesn’t mean that we get to “be” God, but rather that we get to enter into the heart of God’s love. This is the ultimate game-changer that mysticism proclaims: through the saving work of Christ, we enter into the economy of Divine love, which transforms all of our relationships. That’s the kicker. In the future I see fewer hermits and more beloved communities as central to Christian spirituality. Likewise, I believe the mystics in the future will increasingly be on the front line of social justice issues — feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, basically just being Christ present here on earth. Which leads to the next point…
  3. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly earthy. As nature-positive as Celtic and Franciscan spirituality are, I believe they are just precursors to where Christian spirituality will go. This is necessitated by the increasing realities of our environmental crisis, but also by the increasing understanding the mysticism is not about climbing to heaven, so much as about bringing heaven to earth. Mysticism will not reject the earth, but rather seek to heal and transform her. “The fullness of joy is to behold God in all,” proclaimed Julian of Norwich; and so Christian spirituality will foster joy by learning to see God present even in the density of our materiality.
  4. The future of Christian mysticism will hold apophatic and kataphatic spirituality in creative tension. This is a point of continuity with the tradition as a whole, for the greatest mystics have always appreciated both God’s immanence and God’s inscrutable mystery. God comes to us through images and yet images conceal God as much as they reveal him. God transcends all of our thoughts and concepts and imaginal representations of God, rendering God hidden in the cloud of unknowing. What I think will be new about the mysticism of the future is that, increasingly, all mystics will embrace the kataphatic/apophatic tension, rather than some mystics being more kataphatic while others are more apophatic. Blend Julian of Norwich and Pseudo-Dionysius together, and you’ll get the mystic of the future.
  5. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace interreligious wisdom. There has always been an interreligious dimension to Christian mysticism, from Clement of Alexandria’s engagement with Hellenic religion, Pseudo-Dionysius’s engagement with Neoplatonism, the early Celtic saints’ engagement with druidism,  Luis de Leon’s engagement with Kabbalah, down to the twentieth century where Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Swami Abhishiktananda, William Johnston, Anthony deMello, and others have all engaged in the great conversation between east and west. I think this will only grow and develop as the world gets smaller and the crises we face become increasingly shared on a global scale. I don’t believe Christianity will lose its identity into some sort of bland “world religion,” nor do I wish for that! But I do believe the wisdom of the Sufis, the Vedantists, the Buddhists, and others will inform and in some ways enlighten the path of the lovers of Christ.
  6. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace scientific knowledge and will celebrate its own evolutionary nature. As Thomas Merton was to the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism, so Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was to the encounter between Christianity and science. Today, Raimon Panikkar is an example of how creative a mystical embracing of science and religion can be. Science is our best defense against superstition and fundamentalism, and — as Ken WIlber shows — it is possible to understand a truly creative and dynamic relationship between the external mapping of scientific knowledge and the internal mapping of the mystical quest. Furthermore, science and religion need each other to address the towering problems facing us: saving the environment will require both a revolution in values and the fullest extent of our technical know-how.
  7. The future of Christian mysticism will be revealed to us through narrative and story, not just through abstract theology and philosophy. Jesus spoke in parables; the desert fathers and mothers as well as the Celtic saints left us vignettes full of spiritual wisdom. The best mystics have always been great storytellers, and this will continue. Postmodernity is the age where narrative wisdom is preferred to abstract philosophizing; forget the efforts to elucidate first principles, just tell me a story about who you are and why you’re you. As mysticism increasingly recognizes that it’s job is not to pontificate on the Truth-with-a-capital-T, but rather to shed light on the “inner truth” that is revealed to each and every one of us in our own unique ways, it will increasingly be a forum for shared stories, out of which shared understanding and communal values will emerge. As Christians, we don’t just jettison our faith in God as the author of absolute truth — but we recognize that our job, as contemplatives, is not to tell others what that truth might be, but rather to share with others our own flawed attempts to embrace that truth. When we combine all our off-key voices, somehow by the grace of God a heavenly choir is formed.

So there you have it. This isn’t the Bible and I’m not the pope, so none of this is carved in stone. But at least as of today, this is my best guess.

Let me know what you think.

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  • Linda Nicola

    I think you have written about a lovely future for Christianity. I hope you are right.

    Did this get in your book? It should be.

    Liadan

  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

    I think I agree and concur with much of what you foresee. I would probably even agree with your Psuedo-Dionysian staements if I could be bothered looking it up, haha :)

    I had a jolt of excitement when I read your proposal about the future bringing a new renaissance “that will make the 15th century look like a dress rehearsal”. I agree I agree I agree. I’m not sure where it fits in, but I wonder if it will spring out of environmental devastation and resultant trauma on a scale never before imagined. I know, they don’t fit together, do they? But I sometimes wonder if there are not going to be more … oh, I don’t know how to put it in words without it sounding naffy. I just keep thinking of that verse that talks about creation groaning in expectation of the “sons of God” being revealed. I wonder if those two things go hand in hand. Hmmm, who knows?

  • Gwyn

    I also agree with your thoughts, although I admit to being somewhat limited in some areas. However, becuase of my training, background and personal experience, I think your thoughts re: the relational nature of Christianity as a whole, and mysticism and the use of metaphor as a means of communication and understanding are right on target. Metaphor is truly one of the few means of communicating that links directly into the heart and mind, through the subconscience, thus bypassing all the blocks set up by the conscious mind. Jesus knew what He was doing when he used all those parables! I think that we will find new ways to express our new concepts of each Person of the Trinity.

  • http://pochp.wordpress.com Poch

    I’m not sure yet if I agree with all your points but this is great work. Bravo.

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

    Yes, Liadan, this is for the book. It’s subject to tweaking and revision, but you saw it here first. :-)

    Sue, I agree that our next renaissance might very well come out of environmental trauma — but I sure would prefer it if we went straight to the enlightenment and just bypassed the trauma bit!

  • http://IntegralLife.com Corey W. deVos

    Hey Carl–great stuff here my friend. I just uploaded a series of audio dialogues to YouTube that you might enjoy, between Ken Wilber and Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly. I think the entire series would be of interest to you, but particularly part 3b (A Divine Encounter) in which Kevin Kelly shares his personal experience with Christ when he was young, while sleeping in the place he was purportedly crucified. I will post the links below.

    Also, be sure to check out our Future of Christianity DVD with Father Thomas Keating and Ken Wilber–some really beautiful stuff in there. You can find it on this page, along with hours and hours of more Integral Christianity offerings, both free and premium: http://integrallife.com/node/27147

    Here’s some links for you, as well as a description of the “Divine Encounter” piece i mentioned:

    Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber dialogues on Youtube

    Exploring the Technium

    1a: Technology, Evolution, and God
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4mHbUq-pb4&feature=channel

    1b: A Divine Encounter
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz_BFS7wqMw&feature=channel

    2: Spiritual Machines
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfUlzK7ANeE&feature=channel

    3a: Humanity in Flux
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwhg0P4qEUw&feature=channel

    3b: The Progeny of Man
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6ZV6UvoJ0Q&feature=channel

    3c: The Great Google in the Sky
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwxVVi3WRqg&feature=channel

    A Divine Encounter
    Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber

    Here Kevin Kelly shares one of his most powerful experiences. At the age of 27, he slept on the supposed spot where Jesus was crucified, and upon awakening had a powerful spiritual experience. Many people are aware of the fact that Kevin continues to be a devout Christian, which might defy some expectations of those who otherwise consider him extremely rational—trans-rational even—while pushing the vanguard of digital culture. In many contemporary thinkers’ minds, spirituality is little more than a quaint vestige of antiquity, and once we transition from the mythic/traditionalist stage to the rational/scientific stage, there is no longer any room in the universe for God.

    This, more than anything, has been the rallying call of the “New Atheist” movement of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and (to a lesser degree) Sam Harris. But it is important to note that it’s not spirituality per se that the modern world should jettison, but the magical and mythical interpretations of spirituality that are transcended by the rational or postmodern mind. The present schism between modernity and spirituality does not need to exist, as long as we allow ourselves enough room to re-conceptualize what we mean by the word “spirituality.”

    While nobly trying to dislodge humanity from the monolithic tyranny of fundamentalism, many modern and post-modern thinkers have inadvertently thrown the baby out with the bath water. When Nietzsche accurately exclaimed “God is dead!” he wasn’t actually talking about God Him/Herself, but the mythic conception of God, along with all the dogmatism, absolutism, and ethnocentrism that follows. While the mythic God was dying, the rational God was only just being born. Possiby stillborn, some might argue, but born nonetheless—with both a pluralistic God and an Integral God close on its heels.

    This is one of the most extraordinary insights of recent years: while the universe (and our experience of the universe) is constantly evolving, so is our spirituality. It is a sad reality that spirituality remains such a confusing and controversial topic. How is it that religion has brought more liberation to more people than any other human endeavor, while simultaneously causing more pain and suffering than anything in human history? As mentioned, both individuals and cultures develop through increasing waves of subjective and intersubjective complexity, from archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral stages of consciousness and culture, with infinite room at the top for future stages of unfolding. This is the profound role religion can potentially serve in the 21st century—a sort of “conveyor belt” of consciousness, designed to facilitate growth through each stage of consciousness.

    And this is an absolutely crucial point—you can taste God at any stage in your own psychological development, as these experiences are always available as ever-present states of consciousness. However, your interpretation of the experience will be largely determined by what stage of consciousness you have achieved. For example, a mythic/traditional person might interpret a spiritual experience as a revelation from a personal God intended solely for the chosen people, a rational/scientific person might interpret reason and mathematics itself as the language of a Deistic God (the great clockmaker in the sky), while a pluralistic/postmodern person might interpret his or her experience as emanating from Gaia and felt as a radical interconnectivity with the Great Web of Life. This is demonstrated in the graphic to the right, known as the Wilber/Combs matrix, which plots four different types of commonly-acknowledged spiritual states against seven evolutionary stages of consciousness, yielding at least 28 different kinds of spiritual experience. No wonder we are so confused!

    For full description and free download, please visit:

    http://integrallife.com/editorial/technology-evolution-and-god

  • T. Joanna

    Carl, I concur on all your points and stand amazed. In fact, this is the way my own Christian Mystic life is evolving. I think you will meet many others who will say the same. Looking forward to your book.

    T. Joanna

  • http://www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com Steve West

    Carl,

    I love this article and I have posted it on my blog. I sincerely hope this describes the future of Christian spirituality, a spirituality ever more centered squarely on the love of the Triune God yet ever more open hearted and open minded. I also propose the Christian mysticism of the future will be more experiential. I believe it will also redefine spirituality as less about institutions and more about pockets of movements.

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

    Thanks, Steve. I didn’t mention mysticism as experience or mysticism as higher consciousness because those concepts, I believe, pretty much define what mysticism is to begin with. In other words, when Rahner said that the Christian of the future must be a mystic, he was saying that the future of Christianity must be experiential and conscious. I’d like to know more about what you mean about “pockets of movements.” On the one hand, I am suspicious of the new tribalism because I see it as a manifestation of the “party spirit” that Paul warned us against. But on the other hand, I think an emphasis on the local rather than the universal would certainly be a good thing. I think this is another tension along the lines of the apophatic/kataphatic tension… good catholic that I am, I believe the unity of the body is an important thing, but I also recognize that such unity will only be given to us as grace, and never built, Babel-like, by human institution! I think what Phyllis Tickle has to say about Christianity going through a great emergence is instructive here. Tickle argues that whenever the church goes through an evolutionary spurt (which she sees happening about once every 500 years or so), old institutional forms are never destroyed, but they are basically supplanted — or at least, joined — by new forms. In other words, the great emergence will not erase the sad divisions between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant institutions. And the risk is great that it will eventually create a fourth institution, because we humans tend to be institution-junkies. But hopefully this one will be a bit more heart-centered and loving than the first three drafts!

  • http://pochp.wordpress.com Poch

    I would like to wish and believe that the ‘great emergence’ would not only be a bit more heart-centered and loving than the first three but would in essence be open spirituality.

  • Heather

    Carl, This is a great list. I especially appreciate # 1 & #5. I’ve been working with #1 in multiple philosophical systems, and I think it may be the way out of the postmodern impasse of agency and the lack of foundations for action in the decentered world. That was a really insightful point. And, #5 struck a deep chord with me too, and I pray that more are open to this tradition of overlap. I also think Gwyn’s point on metaphor is absolutely wonderful and maybe big enough for it’s own numbered point? Metaphor, after all, is a trinitarian vehicle–it’s the transitional meeting place where one image crosses over to another. You’re likely familiar with Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors we Live by… and it is the metaphors that divide many world religions, so I wonder if this is a foundational aspect of the mysticism of the future somehow. I wonder how metaphor operates on the integral level? Thanks for the thoughts–I found this post really made me think also.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Carl, I am just wondering what you are basing this on, other than The Shack? Not that I disagree with all of it, but Christianity is pretty diverse movement and there is more than one variety of Christian mysticism floating around out there. Are you sure this prediction is equally valid for Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox? Personally Ive observed signs of Pentecostalism and Mysticism merging. Weird mix I know, but that’s change I expect to see more of. More earthy? Well some of us aim for it but many just borrow the lectio divina and look no further. And I’m not quite sure a shift to narrative theology and a shift to more Trinitarian focus will happen simultaneously. So, sympathetic but not convinced.

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

    Well, Matt, as I said, this is unscientific and intuitional, so I don’t know that it’s meant to be persuasive so much as evocative… The Shack really only inspired my first point; for the others, look to the authors I’ve mentioned: Wilber, Merton, Griffiths, Teilhard, etc. … As for your “equally valid” question, I’m least confident about Orthodoxy, since I work primarily with contemplative Catholics and Episcopalians, and emergent Evangelicals, so those are my “natural habitats.” I think your point about the confluence of Pentecostalism and Mysticism is very much on the mark, and ties in with my idea that mysticism will increasingly hold kataphatic and apophatic spiritualities in balance. The earthy question comes from the fact that I’m seeing some pretty conservative Christians (staunch Republican types) get excited over environmental stewardship. I think today’s lectio divina practitioner is tomorrow’s earth warrior!

    Perhaps the bottom line is that, to quote Ken Wilber, evolution always meanders. None of this will unfold neatly or according to design. Part of the nature of emergence is that what emerges is totally new, and therefore, on some level unexpected. I think we can all plan on being surprised by the future.

  • http://virtualteahouse.com Beth

    Hi Carl–
    I think it interesting and fitting that you start the post talking about how you wish Phyllis Tickle would have explained more about where she sees the emerging church is headed…and end by saying that via Wilbur, ‘evolution always meanders’.

    Made me smile! I also will be posting your list to the Virtual Tea House in the near future.

    Many thanks for the great work you are doing, Carl.

  • http://virtualteahouse.com Beth

    What I meant in the first paragraph was, a reconfiguration of a quote from a retreat master that said, ‘she lives the grace of her contradictions’. I aim to always have them and live them out gracefully. So it’s nice to see you there too!

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  • Heather W

    This is pure gold… or maybe silver or bronze or something..but hey, I really loved what I read. I hope you are right.

  • steve m

    Love your points. You have done well forcasting. But as Phylis left out the future of the church, I think you have left out what the physical formating of the church will look like. for instance. Church buildings? Mega church verses community, house church or not, bands for worship gatherings? Missions and missionaries, finances up or down? Clergy or lay ministers? These are things I wonder about but dont seem to be addressed.

    thank you for your post

    steve m

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  • http://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/ Chuck Warnock

    Carl, I linked to this post on http://newchurchreport.com — very interesting thoughts and I’ll be back often. I am fascinated with celtic christianity, and the mystics of Europe, The Friends of God especially. Look forward to reading more from you. -Chuck

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

    Steve M: my honest short answer is, I don’t know what kind of structural forms the church of the future will take! But it’s an interesting question, since mysticism pretty much was embedded in monasticism for most of the church’s history, and the decline of mysticism corresponded with the decline of monasticism… I have a lot of hope for neo-monasticism, and I think traditional monasticism will still be with us, albeit in a very limited role (like what we have now in the US, with only 12 Trappist monasteries in the 50 states). As Phyllis Tickle suggests, I don’t think traditional Orthodoxy, Catholicism or Protestantism are going anywhere, but I think emergent churches will develop new structures for doing church. Belfast’s Ikon community and the house church movement (as well as neo-monasticism) will be instructive here. Because I believe mysticism of the future will be relational, I think it will flourish best in these “beloved communities” that will probably take a variety of forms. I know this is a squishy answer, but that’s about as far as my thinking has taken me! :-)

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    “I think we can all plan on being surprise by the future” Now you’ve got my 100% agreement on that!

  • http://www.pioneerseer.blogspot.com/ Michael Creel

    Carl,
    Great stuff. Looking forward to the book and the continueing conversation.
    I see Apophatic/Kataphatic in being needed also as a dynamic tension for the Narrative/Metaphorical side of things. Narrative/Metaphor without any balance/dynamic tension would be taken to such liberal extremes as to negate the Divinity/Humanity of Jesus and would just open the door to the errors of gnosticism, dualism, etc.

  • http://frimmin.com Jon Zuck

    Hey, Carl, great post, but like Matt, I’m wondering about what “Christianity of the Future” means. Global? American? Western? Protestant? Orthodox? Catholic? Next two decades? Next two centuries?

    I’ll be ecstatic to see it turn out this way, but I can’t help wondering if it’s really foresight about where the changes in your own spirituality are leading.

    And that might be very cool, too.

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

      Sssshhhh, Jon! That was supposed to be a secret!

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  • http://desertfishing.wordpress.com DFish

    You’re one of my favorite stops. But only did I take the time to read this post. Currently, I’m reading The Monks of Tibhirine and Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend. There’s a lot of monastic in these 2 books so that the paradigm of the “flight of the alone to the alone” still pervades my consciousness. With your forecast, there’s obviously some “shaking of the contemplative foundations,” especially when you emphasized the communitarian and relational nature of the Trinity. This emphasis seem to be really in keeping with what’s on going on in the scientific community. Even the tendentiously atheistic evolutionary biologists like Elizabeth Sahtouri are admitting that co-operation from the cellular level up is how the universe operates and is going currently. Facebook and other social networks are some manifestations of this restless, growing need to connect. I also like how you count in postmodernism as a philosophical contribution to this emerging type of contemplative spirituality. Most often, postmodernism is bashed as anti-spirituality with its lack of a center that holds. But you’re saying: “wait, all of us bloggers, facebook owners, YouTube posters, book writers – we are actually benefiting from postmodernism in the way we bring out personal stories into the public arena so that sharing of stories have been made possible so far.”
    But as other commenters have pointed out – there’s a lot of spiritual stuff from the forecast that we are still left with so many questions on the structural face, for example, of particular churches.
    Sacramental as your 7 forecasts are, i simultaneously wish with you that the metaphorical nature of all churches could be held in healthy tension with their juridical boundaries. How? I don’t know.
    Thanks for this great post!

  • Nancy

    Carl,
    Of the interesting 7 characteristics that you describe, I was particularly happy to see the relational aspect of trinitarian mysticism and Julian’s quote “Fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” In my experiences of God, the foundation that was first laid down was God’s eternal and personal love for me, but that love was the same as for each person ever created. As Abbot Francis Michael would say, God can only love 100% so one person can’t receive less or more of God’s love. From there, God takes the mystic where that person needs to go, which is probably a somewhat different path for each of us due to our unique histories. Since mystical experiences of God are gifts, we cannot control the what, where, or when of these experiences. The mystic enters the powerful flow of love within the Trinity and that loving presence within creation. God is as present to me while I sit at computer, participate at Mass, hold my granddaughter in my arms, or look with awe at the wondrous beauty of creation. When we sin (“miss the mark”), we are stopping the flow of love like a boulder in a river diverts water around it. The mystic is especially aware of his or her imperfections which can help when the shortcomings of others is evident. God’s merciful love for us enables We come to appreciate God’s presence within each person and

  • Nancy

    Sorry, I must have hit a wrong key. I was trying to revise “God’s merciful love for us enables” and type instead: Remaining in the powerful flow of merciful love transforms all of our relationhips and the way we view the world. We become increasingly aware that our actions are a participation in that ever flowing torrent of God’s love. Through grace God enables us to participate in divine agape love. We just have to say “yes” at each moment to that love.

    I’m not sure that I agree that mystics will be on the front lines of social justice issues or ecology or any particular issue. We are to be Christ’s presence on earth, but there are many different paths where we may be led. In particular, I see prayer as more powerful than action alone. Actually, prayer is a potent form of action, hence the contemplative life. The Jesuit spirituality of “contemplation in action” is one model that I think works. Action that is not based on a life of prayer or discernment of God’s will cannot be as fruitful and can be harmful if filled with anger rather than love. In fact, a person may be a great social activist, but if that person is not in loving relationships with those closest to him or her, then that person is truly “missing the mark.” Our primary duty is to God, family, and friends. When those relationships are in harmony and balance and filled with love, then the person can add social activism as discerned as God’s will. I have known people whose activism was to the detriment of their personal lives. It can be easier to love the stranger than the spoouse. It can be, but doesn’t have to be, an escape from the demands of family life.

    For me the bottom line is to be faithful to God’s unique loving call to each of us and that requires ongoing discernment, preferably with a spiritual director who is more objective than we are with ourselves.

  • http://dacostasphotoblog.wordpress.com DaCosta

    Whoa! God bless you Carl! Thanks for sharing that with us and I’m looking forward to that day! God bless.

  • http://nimblewillsgrace.blogspot.com Mike

    Carl, The initial statements will scare the crap out of most Christians. They made me nervous until I read your post. How do we overcome scary words like “mysticism” and “evolutionary” and “interreligious”? Most Christians I know will cut me off quick.

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

    Thanks, Mike. I’m sorry the words are scary! I think for Christians who have a certain methodology for reading scripture, those words will probably always be scary, and until or unless they are willing to re-think the entire foundation of their theology, there’s probably not a lot I can say to take away the scariness. For those who understand that the Bible is a historical document, embedded in history (and that history inevitably shapes how we read the text), I believe they will find the history of mysticism, as well as the history of the conversation between faith and science (‘evolutionary’) or the conversation between Christianity and other faiths (‘interreligious’) to be powerful tools that can help deepen our reading of the text — rather than undermining that reading. But again, it all goes back to our basic theological perspective. Do we see Christ’s immersion into history to be a blessing? If so, then approaching the text historically makes sense.

    I think the writings of N.T. Wright and Brian McLaren can be really helpful here.

  • http://nimblewillsgrace.blogspot.com Mike

    Thank you Carl. I am big fans of both McLaren and Wright. I look forward to reading more from you.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Mike. Simple answer. Avoid trigger words when you’re around people who react to trigger words. I find “listening prayer” can serve as a useful substitute for “meditation” and “Christian spirituality” or “spiritual theology” may serve as useful substitutes for “mysticism”. Usage depends on the context.

    I find most people who react to trigger words have very little understanding of the concepts the words refer to. They only know the surface, not the substance. They have a Pavlovian response to superficial markers. If you avoid the markers and go straight to the substance you can often subvert the cultural conditioning and have a much better conversation. Incarnating back into the church is what I call it.

  • Al Jordan

    Carl. I am a recent discoverer of your web-site. What a delight. I concur with your seven ways Christian mysticism will evolve in the future. I very much look forward to the publication of your book (hopefully) in 2010.

    My particular interest in Christian mysticism has to do with the praxis or the working out of inner transformation into the everyday world. The fruits of contemplation and mystical transformation need to become more normative within conventional religious experience and less esoteric. From what you have outlined, I think you are attempting to address this.

    Also, on the Trinitarian aspect of Christian mystical experience, I have my own understanding of that which perhaps may be a little too revisionist; but I think of the Father as Source and uncreated ground of being, Pure Light and ultimately mystery; the Son is God expressed in creation and particularly as the Divine within Man and uniquely as the Christ (i.e. the Christ within – theosis); the Spirit, in addition to being Comforter is also the creative agency of God bringing all into manifestation. Just for what it’s worth.

    I also think much of our terminology for talking about God and spirituality will change to include new and old concepts such as theosis, kenosis, divinization, metaphoric meaning, etc., and that this will become incorporative in conventional religious experience.


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