Christian Mysticism? Calvin, Wesley and Spurgeon say ‘Yes’

A couple days ago I stumbled onto YET ANOTHER blog warning of the terrible dangers of mysticism.  Typically these sites warn of the mysticism in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the new emergent churches. The world is a fascinating place, and I find it ironic in the extreme that Fundamentalism, in order to protect Christianity from the modern scientific worldview, adopted the modern scientific worldview toward the Bible and the faith! Somehow these good folks are convinced that the Christian religion is a head-oriented, logical, rational set of beliefs devoid of mysticism.

No mysticism in Christianity? How about the Holy Spirit being present INSIDE believers? How about prayer? How about  communion and baptism? How about the Spirit testifying to our spirit that we are children of God? How about dreams and visions? How about the Creation itself yearning for the sons of God to be revealed? How about the Inspiration of Scripture? How about “You will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”? Can you call all that something other than mysticism?

No, no – they say –  mysticism is part of Eastern religions.

Ummm…  Judaism and Christianity were born in the Near EAST. They ARE  Eastern religions! They aren’t French or German. Christianity actually predates Calvin and Luther.

The blog I stumbled onto traced the etymology of mysticism to ‘mystery’ – aha! The mystery cults! Uh, box canyon. Blind alley. Circular go-cart track. Etymologies don’t really prove a point in this context.

Words, you may have noticed, are like bright-eyed toddlers who refuse to sit still where you tell them to. They run all over the house – and the pandemonium gets even livelier when they collide with their Latin cousins.[1] The word ‘mystical’ has been used by Christians to describe the mystical, spiritual experiences  of Christians throughout our history. Even many of the fundamentalists’ favorites!

John Calvin speaks of “the residence of Christ in our hearts, in fine, the mystical union…”; refers to Jesus’ words at The Last Supper as “a mystical benediction” and calls our incorporation into Christ’s church “a mystical marriage” throughout his sermons and Institutes.

Charles Spurgeon uses the word these same ways, and calls both the prophet Daniel’s visions and dreams “mystic,” as well as the Apostle Paul’s experiences.

John Wesley called Psalms which pointed forward to Christ  ‘mystical references to Christ’;  any reference in Scripture to Jerusalem that he took to indicate the church he said mystically refers to the church; throughout his sermons and commentary he refers to the church as Christ’s ‘mystical’ body and believers as “members of Christ’s mystical body”;  he refers to the Mystics of his day and the Middle Ages “those pious men who are usually styled Mystics” and calls the prophetic allusions in the Old Testament “mystical promises of abundant grace poured forth in gospel-days.”

The long and short of it is this. Somehow our fundamentalist brothers and sisters have gotten the idea that mysticism is something foreign to biblical faith and Christian experience. Whatever twists and turns of history resulted in them earnestly believing this, the fact is that mysticism – mystical experiences – have always been a part of both Jewish and Christian faith, starting in the Bible.


[1] Thank you Tom Wright for this delightful illustration.

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