Samantha grew up in a fundamentalist church. In this post, she sums up the vast difference of how the Old Testament was treated carefully in her church, and how the New Testament was treated at literal face-value, ignoring all of the cautions they applied to the Old Testament. Her post is an example as to why the work of people like N.T. Wright, (which focuses on understanding the Jewish literature of the inter-Testamental period (400 BC – 30 AD), and what people in Jesus’ day were thinking and saying, in order to comprehend what those themes and words mean in the New Testament), is so important to a right understanding of the NT texts. Her post also illustrates why so many Nazarene scholars are un-interested in the approach to the Scriptures often taken in fundamentalist circles.
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. 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.
 Thank you Tom Wright for this delightful illustration.
In this post https://toddrisser.com/2013/10/02/fundamentalists-among-the-nazarenes/ I wrote about the fact that Nazarenes are not fundamentalist, despite there being a group of Nazarenes who want us to be, and who want us to adopt a fundamentalist position on Scriptural inerrancy.
But to be fair, I’ve been asking myself something on the Fundamentalists’ behalf. Some of these folk have made the argument that the Church of the Nazarene has historically been Fundamentalist and inerrantist and that Nazarene scholars in the last 60 years have cherry-picked their history so as to re-cast it to show we aren’t Fundamentalist. Indeed these Nazarenes cite examples of Fundamentalist, inerrantist statements by some Nazarene leaders in the early years.
And so I ask myself; what if a person grew up in a geographical region where most Nazarenes there were historically Fundamentalist? What if their pastors and the leaders they had known were all Fundamentalist? What if what it meant to be Nazarene to them was, in fact, largely fundamentalist? What if the nearest Nazarene educational institution to them did indeed communicate in ways that sounded consistent with a Fundamentalist worldview or perspective on the Bible? Is it the way of Jesus for me to say to them “Go be Baptist”?
I don’t think the Church of the Nazarene would be better off Fundamentalist. I do think current Nazarene scholarship has accurately shown that the official theology of the early Church of the Nazarene – and certainly after the 1950s – was intentionally NOT Fundamentalist or inerrantist, even if there were some few individual scholars or prominent leaders who did lean that way.
While I believe an inerrantist and Fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures and life creates more problems and dysfunctions than is good for human well-being, I don’t know how to solve that issue in all fairness to Nazarenes who find themselves cherishing their Nazarene experience when it was largely Fundamentalist. I understand why they would feel we are trying to steal their church out from under them or change what they have always believed. And this leaves me wondering how to address their concerns in a way consistent with the nature of Jesus. “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Last year a bright friend of mine who is a missionary in Jordan found himself realizing that big parts of the theology he grew up with could no longer be sustained by the Bible. This was causing him a pretty grueling experience of trying to sort it all out. I sent him this note:
On theology: several times in my life large chunks of my theology exploded in front of me. It felt like safety to run back and dive in to what I had formerly believed, but it would have been intellectually dishonest and fake, because I knew it had too many holes in it. I couldn’t “unlearn” the new facts that had shot holes through my former theology. It’s ok for it all not to come together again right away. Some times it took me several years. I stuck doctrines (or how several fit together) in the “pigeon hole of suspended judgment” and kept reading, talking and thinking and let it take as long as it took to piece together something new. Sometimes it was several years. Each time a piece clicks into place it’s very encouraging. I know the (for me frustrated) feeling of not being able to express what I believe about something even to close people like my brother in law, because I’m not sure what to say and how to even fit it together or even what it is. That’s all fine. Growth takes time. Wiser, smarter men than us have been through this in other generations and now it’s our turn to be faithful to go thru it. As long as you keep loyal to Jesus throughout the process, the doctrines can wax and wane, come and go, piece together or be full of gaps – I think it’s all fine with God. He knows if I love Him or not. People get loving God and loving doctrines confused. It’s easy to feel like a heretic when you are on your way to a new theology. It’s not heresy, it’s just that you are still looking for what the new theology is that takes into account the “externalities” that blew up your former one. The road to a new, honest theology that brings glory to God is pretty cloudy and foggy while you walk it (unless it’s not for geniuses, but I’m not one). Stuff will start fitting together as time goes by. What I would hate to see you do is shut down the process out of anxiety and “go back” to believing something that you may have seen has some serious holes in it. It’s an understandable psychological move people make – but it’s dishonest about what they’ve learned about the bible – sort of like sticking their head in the sand in order to avoid the tough work of sorting something new out. You are too gifted, too bright, too all kinds of things to be wasted doing that.