Only the Mystics Can Save Christianity Now

Mystics will save Christianity

For the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian,  the “God-shaped vacuum” is one of the most consistently used metaphors I’ve heard. This concept springs from Pensées, a collection of writings from French mathematician, Blaise Pascal:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

I don’t disagree with the idea at all. I believe that a triune godhead created humanity with the intention of somehow incorporating us into a mysterious and divine ecosystem. We would experience unity with each other and divine oneness:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”—John 17: 20–23

As Pascal suggests, instead of finding our place in God’s system, we grasp irrationally at other things in an attempt to find fulfillment that never materializes.

But here’s the rub: Christianity doesn’t fix the problem—it only exacerbates it. 

Embracing our religious idols

I’m sure there are some who got pissed at the last sentence. Please, hear me out. I don’t mean that Jesus intensifies the problem; I mean that jesus-ism does. The embrace of Christianity as a system of thought, behavior, and morality puts us in a position where we’re drawing water from a poisoned well. Instead of drinking from the divine ecosystem, we find significance in things that are Christ adjacent.

Jesus tells us that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:14). What he doesn’t tell us is that this narrow road has no shoulder, and the ditches are enormous. It’s incredibly easy to wander off the path with the best intentions.

The dangers of Christianity

Some forms of escapism offer a single solution. For instance, alcohol has one off-ramp. I can drink to feel good and forget my problems. Because it’s a such a simple solution, it reveals itself to be faulty fairly quickly. Seeking after power, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated. Power provides a lot of ways to fill the void. When you’re no longer happy with one solution, power can offer another: materialism, sex, influence, significance. It’s a lot more difficult to recognize that power is not filling the vacuum.

Christianity is a lot like power. It offers us faux significance in a number of ways. If we’re not careful, embracing Christianity can put us in the ditch.

Even if we take out the people that use religion as a means of preying on the faithful for sex or money, we’re still left with abuses that are hard to recognize and identify in ourselves. Christianity offers a lot of phony benefits.

  • We can take the theological off-ramp and find meaning in our knowledge, pedantry, and rightness.
  • We can take the route of service and be seen as a good, helpful, and kind people.
  • We can follow the path of leadership and embrace influence and significance.
  • We can broadcast our discipline and get life from maintaining a reputation for piety, holiness, and righteousness.
  • We can create an identity built on excessive morality.
  • We can become social activists and prove to ourselves and others that we’re more passionate about people than anyone else.

There’s nothing wrong with theology, leadership, or social activism. In fact, they’re pretty damn important. It’s just that they’re not adequate places to find meaning. They can distract us from Christ because we mistake them for Christ.

Is Christ just a concept?

I’ve spent most of my Christian life being told that Christian spirituality is about objective truth and not subjective experience. Pastors and leaders told me that trusting spiritual experiences is how people get off track. I needed the Bible to ground my spirituality. One of the biggest objections I had to overcome on my path to ordination was that I was excessively mystical in my outlook and practice.

It’s not my intention to downplay the role Scripture plays in Christian spirituality. But a whole lot of the New Testament makes little-to-no sense if I can’t trust myself to have a real relationship with a living savior. I mean, what’s the point of being filled with the Spirit if I can’t trust God to communicate with and guide me?

It often feels like Christianity is about memorializing a dead god and turning his teachings into a religious system. But it should be about discovering and developing the disciplines required to embrace and manifest a living God.  I regularly get the impression that the people in the church who truly believe that Christ is alive and able to communicate with them are considered crackpots.

I don’t think we can find our identity in God as an abstract concept. There isn’t enough Bible study or theological rumination that will make the idea of God into a concrete reality. I may start with Scripture, but I’m hopefully developing a relationship with God that transcends it.

When we discover a relational God that actually desires a real relationship, we can draw our purpose and meaning from our unity with God and each other. We can serve without trying to get noticed, be socially active without becoming self-righteous, and study Scripture and theology without trying to get worth from our knowledge and rightness.

I don’t think we can get there until we embrace a God who seeks to communicate and influence us apart from the Bible. I know, that’s dangerous, messy, and . . . mystical. But in the end, I think it might only be the mystics who can save Christianity.

 

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  • Rafi Simonton

    The great Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner famously said “the Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will cease to be anything at all.” We see signs in the growing number of young people who consider themselves “spiritual, not religious.” They are seeking something authentic that they feel is lacking in the churches. I was raised rather typically for the Pacific NW– outside of religion. Yet a series of intense experiences led me late in life to study theology at the graduate level. Seemed to me there was something to this Christianity thing that made sense both emotionally and intellectually. I tried my best to fit somewhere; I appreciated (still do) Protestant social activism and inclusiveness, Roman Catholic tradition and scholarship, Eastern Orthodox beautiful liturgy and orientation to the the transcendent aspects of the divine. But in the end, after much soul-searching and anguish,I went my own way.

    Like most humans, I wanted to be part of group worship as its collective nature is usually taken for granted. I am also well-read in the western esoteric traditions and mysticism in general, so I looked into their modern forms. For example, the neo-Gnostics, who are explicitly about experience, some with an emphasis on apophatic mysticism. But I found advice to “rely on your own intuition to decide what’s true” rather inadequate. Intuition may help, but it’s based on feelings, not understanding. It is not insight and thus is not really knowledge, true gnosis. Not to mention that experiences are just raw data until they are processed sufficiently so as to have meaning. Which means comparing such encounters with those of other people, doing research as to how they fit with tradition, and having some acquaintance with one’s own culture, personal psychology, and physiology to recognize the filters we all have. And what exactly is it that outsiders seek to have knowledge of? In my opinion, it’s what Carl Jung was getting at. Asked in an interview whether or not he believed in God, he replied “I don’t believe, I know.”

    While at grad school, I was in the midst of a crisis of faith, not unusual for people who face the depths of their religion. What western Christians would call the Dark Night of the Soul, and Jewish kabbalists and western occultists would recognize as a passage through Da’ath. I had been injured on a hike, abandoned by a mentor, a cherished friend in a religious order sent me a nasty email out of the blue, and nothing theological made sense any longer. I was angry; I’d had it with all the religious nonsense. I stood up to rip down the Eastern Orthodox icons on the walls of my room. I reached up to grab a Benedictine crucifix… when I “saw” the face on it look at me, eyes filled with compassion and concern. I was allowed to feel for a few seconds, the most a finite being could tolerate, what he had felt while on the cross. The hurt, fear, loneliness, anguish, bewilderment, and desolation of all creation while at the same time going through that most human of experiences: “My Father, why has thou forsaken me?” I fell back on my bed, overwhelmed. Then I “heard” him say, with a slight smile, “it’s worth it, you know.” Not the suffering per se, but the struggle to embody Christ’s message, to become like him. So that these terrible feelings are not the last word for the life of this world and its creatures.

    Yes, the church traditions are probably right to be suspicious of individual mystical and gnostic experiences. They can be profoundly disruptive. But let’s not forget that the various lineages began with the experiences of individuals like St. Paul, the desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Francis, George Fox, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith. What the young SNRs want is that first hand connection. Something the Catholics and Orthodox do realize can happen, but recognize only within very narrow predetermined boundaries. Yet that wild energy is also vital to keep the heart of Christianity beating. I don’t have a definitive answer, either. But I feel a bit wistful for the possibilities lost when the mainstream Church purged their own ancient gnostics and imposed limits on their mystics. It might be time to make room.

  • hisxmark

    I remember reading, many years ago, a book called “Christisis”, put out by the Rosicrucians. The thesis of the book was that one had to become one with Christ by becoming more and more like Christ. Just so, to attain the “Buddha-mind” is to become the Buddha. In order to do this, one must put off the illusion of separateness, and the attachments of desire and fear.

  • Christy

    Most likely my comment will be ignored. It’s so easy to dismiss what I’m going to say. God HAS communicated with humanity lately; He has not been silent at all. He has sent a new Messenger for this new era of humankind. This Messenger of God announced His Identity and Mission in 1863. His name was Baha’u’llah, which means “the Glory of God” in English. He is also the return of Christ and the Jewish Messiah of the Latter Days. His earthly ministry lasted 40 years during which He revealed hundreds of tablets, prayers, and several books. The faith of His followers is called the Baha’i Faith – there are now about 6 million of us in the world. If you should be tempted to investigate, please visit the international official website: http://www.bahai.org . Note that there is free access to many of Baha’u’llah’s writings through that website. There is a good video about Baha’u’llah titled “The Prisoner of Akka” which can be found on YouTube.com on the channel named “Baha’i Vision”.

  • Christy

    Most likely my comment will be ignored. It’s so easy to dismiss what I’m going to say. God HAS communicated with humanity lately; He has not been silent at all. He has sent a new Messenger for this new era of humankind. This Messenger of God announced His Identity and Mission in 1863. His name was Baha’u’llah, which means “the Glory of God” in English. He is also the return of Christ and the Jewish Messiah of the Latter Days. His earthly ministry lasted 40 years during which He revealed hundreds of tablets, prayers, and several books. The faith of His followers is called the Baha’i Faith – there are now about 6 million of us in the world. If you should be tempted to investigate, please visit the international official website: http://www.bahai.org . Note that there is free access to many of Baha’u’llah’s writings through that website. There is a good video about Baha’u’llah titled “The Prisoner of Akka” which can be found on YouTube.com on the channel named “Baha’i Vision”.

  • Christy

    Most likely my comment will be ignored. It’s so easy to dismiss what I’m going to say. God HAS communicated with humanity lately; He has not been silent at all. He has sent a new Messenger for this new era of humankind. This Messenger of God announced His Identity and Mission in 1863. His name was Baha’u’llah, which means “the Glory of God” in English. He is also the return of Christ and the Jewish Messiah of the Latter Days. His earthly ministry lasted 40 years during which He revealed hundreds of tablets, prayers, and several books. The faith of His followers is called the Baha’i Faith – there are now about 6 million of us in the world. If you should be tempted to investigate, please visit the international official website: http://www.bahai.org . Note that there is free access to many of Baha’u’llah’s writings through that website. There is a good video about Baha’u’llah titled “The Prisoner of Akka” which can be found on YouTube.com on the channel named “Baha’i Vision”.

  • CJ Williams

    In short: I’m an ex-militant atheist, occultist, Master Freemason, witch, and had leaned into Satanism, but the official Church Of Satan are just atheists with cool membership cards and shock value. No need to join a club there. I experimented with several world religions and quit playing the game. Four years ago I had to suffer through taking my dad to church and God spoke to me there. Only by that could I believe in Him. Nothing can’t say something. There’s logic and reasoning. I attended church until I was 15 and got tired of being kicked out of Sunday school so I never went back unless there was a girl involved. Parents put me in Christian private schools. No matter. After accepting Christ, I could see what I’ve never seen before and heard what I’ve never heard before. I won’t quote verses here as I don’t think there’s a use for deaf ears. I see a confused and sickened world where Lucifer reins and owns the minds of many people. Many denominations of Christianity have been perverted into a weakened mosh of ecumenical mush minded trash that is failing. As it should. Christians are responsible for Christianity. Many verses explain this but it won’t be revealed to the unsaved as they are dull to sin. It’s not news to be marveled at; it’s simply the fulfilling of scripture. Want to know about God? Find an independent fundamental baptist church that uses the KJV. Just do it and see for yourself. Do you wonder why so many are against them? The “god of this world” has blinded people against them. Just go and see. It’s the only way you’ll know, if you care to know. Are you 100% sure you’d go to Heaven if you died right now? You can know for sure.

  • “But a whole lot of the New Testament makes
    little-to-no sense if I can’t trust myself to have a real relationship
    with a living savior.”

    Hi, I’m God.

    The gospels are supposed to be a way out of the Bible, not way into the Bible. The “burden is light” thing means that, it doesn’t mean study 1000 pages of terrorist documents.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hISBm_Nyai8

  • “But a whole lot of the New Testament makes
    little-to-no sense if I can’t trust myself to have a real relationship
    with a living savior.”

    Hi, I’m God.

    The gospels are supposed to be a way out of the Bible, not way into the Bible. The “burden is light” thing means that, it doesn’t mean study 1000 pages of terrorist documents.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hISBm_Nyai8

  • Time to get out of the institutional Church its been corrupted by too many sceptics and apostates who presume its their job to redefine Christianity to suit their political and personal preferences.
    ‘Come out of her my people so you’ll not partake of her sins and share in her plagues’.

  • Bbouza

    I love everything about this post. Thank you.

  • steve

    Its all conjecture, since jesus is a fictional character.

  • Lark62

    Ooh. A former militant atheist. And a Satanist. Of course, atheists don’t actually believe in Satan either. And atheists who have concluded that the supernatural is make believe rarely waste time “experimenting with various world religions.” Awkward.

    So now everyone needs to go to your chosen denomination and read your preferred bible translation. You do know that Jesus didn’t speak English and the NT was written in Greek, right?

    And then you close with the obligatory altar call. Exaggerated, souped up testimonies are also known as “lying for Jesus.”

    PS. You also do not know what happens when a person dies. Every story of “eternal destiny” is made up by someone who wanted to lay hands on someone else’s money.

  • “It was met that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15: 32)
    There is a spiritual dimension of consciousness that religion can only express and describe with comparison and correlation with mythologies or wisdom stories as expressed above in the Bible. Mysticism is always further, ahead of and beyond the religious sphere because spirituality can’t be expressed explicitly with words, but can with a connection in experience. An experience that includes everything where nothing is outside or separate from God where everything we need is within our self in the experience we need.
    https://www.amazon.com/John-J-Kuykendall/e/B018AK0WKY/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

  • CJ Williams

    Lark62, thanks for your response. You may have misread what I wrote. I was never a Satanist and I enjoyed experimenting with religions as it was entertaining. Being an atheist gave me the freedom to not believe anything spiritual, and without a spiritual dog in the spiritual fight, it was all good. I considered religious people to be idiots but they did entertain me. No, Jesus didn’t speak English. My testimony is even worse than what I wrote. It is very unbelievable and if someone else had told it to me, I would’ve said they needed to be medicated. I’ll never “lie for Jesus”, but there is so much junk happening that I don’t doubt anyone’s ability to do or say anything. Knowing what happens when we die is told in the Bible, but you don’t have to believe it. It’s ok and I respect your honesty. Yes, dirty money money happens and the weak minded are taken advantage of by apostates. I laughed at the blood donation truck at a church once; “10% of their money isn’t enough, now they’re taking their blood”! You have to be “saved” before you can understand the Bible. Weird, I know, but it’s designed that way. I was so bored when I was in the hospital after my appendix blew up in the Marines, that I actually read the whole Bible. It was an awful mess of jumbled junk that was absolutely silly. 23 years later, after committing to Christ, I re-read the Bible and it is completely sensible and coherent. Take care guy. Good life to you.

  • Lark62

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I apologize for assuming. I was a christian for 30+ years and have heard a lot of “padded” testimonies over the years. But there are always exceptions.

    I’m glad you found something that works for you and makes sense to you. Reading the bible as a christian had the opposite effect on me.

    Cheers.

  • Terra Gazelle

    How can you know anything about any religion by experimenting? You have to study, be serious..you can not play at a religion and think you are going to know anything about it. In any religion there are layers of meaning..nothing is out in the open because it is not a how to manual to any god.
    An Occultist, a Freemason..a Witch…? So tell me what does Occult mean? What is a Witch? What do they have in common or not in common?
    You had an experience with the Christian God..I had one with a Pagan one. Is your experience of more value?

  • Terra Gazelle

    How can you know anything about any religion by experimenting? You have to study, be serious..you can not play at a religion and think you are going to know anything about it. In any religion there are layers of meaning..nothing is out in the open because it is not a how to manual to any god.
    An Occultist, a Freemason..a Witch…? So tell me what does Occult mean? What is a Witch? What do they have in common or not in common?
    You had an experience with the Christian God..I had one with a Pagan one. Is your experience of more value?

  • ptbren

    Another good post. You’ve been reading my thoughts, Jayson. Kinda spooky and mystical of you.

  • Ulf Turkewitsch

    You make some good points Jayson. HoweverI would not use the term mystic . This because of the cultish connotations in that term. How about “having a living relationship with the creator”? There is no doubt that only having head knowledge or theoretical knowledge of God is not viable religion. And christianity is not only a philosophy or a doctrine, but a relationship. Human efforts have morphed most denominations in Christendom into dead shells of themselves. Once they were vibrant and fresh, now most are hollow ashes. Most give no real, lifesaving help to their people . They are, as Jesus said whitewashed tombs.

  • Louis Hart

    I class myself as a mystic. I have been heavily involved in charismatic and Evangelical church since I was a child and I love what you have written.
    “Christ adjacent”_ is a brilliant way of putting it. I read a book talking about what you have written saying how we idolise an idea of God in our minds and so we become like that idea which isn’t God at all, no matter how lovely it may be.
    It’s good to discuss these things and it’s clear you are a deep thinker like me.
    People can pull over themselves their Christian achievements and base their worth off of these but it doesn’t mean anything unless it is attached to a relationship with God which is the only thing which matters. ” There is only one thing that is needful”
    Keep at it!. I want to see more fresh Revelation.
    God bless. all the way from the south of england

  • Myles

    I fail to see any reason why the foolish stupidity of any religion should be saved. That sickness will destroy the world.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Miraculous Jesus is a fictional character.
    But it’s entirely possible that human Jesus actually lived 2000 years ago.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “Time to get out of the institutional Church its been corrupted by too
    many sceptics and apostates who presume its their job to redefine
    Christianity to suit their political and personal preferences”

    Ever since the Christian church began, it has been shaped by people who redefine Christianity to suit their political and personal preferences.

    Finding the “Real Jesus” the “Real God” the “Real Bible” is an endless game of invention.

  • Chuck Johnson

    No, it won’t destroy the world.
    Religions are fading and disappearing.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Mysticism and other remedies are only temporary fixes.
    Christianity is disappearing in the USA.
    Philosophies without superstition are a better guide.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Christianity includes foolish stupidity.
    Christianity includes wisdom and insight.
    It’s useful to learn the difference.

  • jamesparson

    And was probably called something closer to Joshua.

    Jesus is very, very Latin sounding. Not Greek or Hebrew.

  • jamesparson

    I didn’t get a membership card. Dang.

  • jamesparson

    I wonder how it will take to me to fine “Baha’i Faith” claims that are non sense.

    The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the world should adopt an international auxiliary language, which people would use in addition to their mother tongue. Many have adopted Esperanto.

    http://www.bahaaeligo.bahai.de/angla/englisch.htm

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahá'í_Faith_and_auxiliary_language

  • Christy

    Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, counsels humanity that an auxiliary language should be selected by the nations of earth at some point. The Baha’i Faith does not dictate what language it should be. Some Baha’is have suggested Esperanto from their own experience with Esperanto – but it is not at all an official recommendation. One can argue that English has already become a defacto auxiliary language. But it is for the nations to agree on it.

    So what Baha’i beliefs and teachings are “nonsense”? Have you studied them directly from our sacred writings? That’s the best source.

    Also note: I’ve made several videos that are on YouTube.com in my channel named “IntegralDestiny9” that explain how the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Their faith, the Baha’i Faith fulfill Bible prophecies of the coming of the Messiah of the Latter Days – which, of course, means that Baha’u’llah is the returned Christ Spirit foretold by Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies.

  • jamesparson

    TY for your reply. I will spend some time reading about it.

  • steve

    That isn’t the jesus of the bible, and can be discounted.

  • Tim

    I know, right? Where have I heard this before? Replacing one cultish belief system with another equally cultish belief system doesn’t work. It’s always easiest to swing to the opposite extreme.

  • Brandon Roberts

    neat article

  • jekylldoc

    I think this makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure mysticism is the only way to have that real relationship, but if you want to label every real relationship with God as mystical, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. The best thing in the blog, to me, was the part about how the whole process comes alive in that context: “We can serve without trying to get noticed, be socially active without
    becoming self-righteous, and study Scripture and theology without trying
    to get worth from our knowledge and rightness.” The nots are merely signs of the real “is” that is going on. Drawn toward the light, we don’t have to study how to avoid the shadows.

  • jekylldoc

    Or an endless quest for humility.

  • jekylldoc

    Well, if you had just used the KJV and gone to a fundamentalist Baptist church, the heavens would have opened and all made plain. Too bad you didn’t try the magic formula.

  • mkmangold

    Yes we will.

    Don’t deny mysticism because of it’s non-Christian connotations. It is real, positive, life-affirming, and centered on God.