Christian Mysticism
The True and the False

BIBLICAL ILLUMINATION (True Mysticism) -- contends that all believers are indwelt by the [Holy] Spirit and thus are in a position to be enlightened directly by Him, but that there is one complete revelation given [the 66 canonical books of the Bible], and that the illuminating work of the Spirit will be confined to the unveiling of the Scriptures to the mind and heart.  False mysticism ignores the statement found in Jude 1:3 that there is a faith or system of belief "once delivered unto the saints," and that when the Spirit is promised to "guide into all truth" (John 16:13), it is only the truth contained in the Scriptures (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9,10).  There is a unique knowledge of the mysteries or sacred secrets of God according to those who are taught (cf. 1 John 2:27) by the Spirit of God, but the sacred secrets are already contained in the text of the Bible.

FALSE MYSTICISM -- is the theory that divine revelation is not limited to the written Word of God, but that God bestows added truth to souls that are sufficiently quickened by the Spirit of God to receive it.  Mystics of this class contend that, by self-effacement and devotion to God, individuals may attain to immediate, direct, and conscious realization of the person and presence of God and thus to all truth in Him.  False mysticism includes all those systems which teach identity between God and human life--Pantheism, Theosophy, and Greek philosophy.  In it are included practically all the holiness movements [Pentecostal, charismatic] of the day; also, Spiritism, Seventh Day Adventism, New Thought, Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, and Millennial Dawnism.  The founders and promoters of many of these cults make claim to special revelation from God upon which their system is built.  With far less complication with error and untruth a false mysticism is discernible in the beliefs and practices of the Friends or Quakers.  In presenting their doctrine of the "inner light, " they say that, having the indwelling Spirit, the individual Christian is in contact with the same One who inspired and gave the Scriptures and that the Spirit is not only able to impart added truth beyond that already given in the Bible, but that He is appointed by Christ to do so according to John 16: 12,13, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth."  The church generally has believed that this promise is fulfilled in two ways: a) by the ability given to the men to whom Christ spoke whereby they were able to write the New Testament Scriptures; and b) by the ministry of the Spirit in teaching the apostles and all in every age who are yielded* to Him, the truth now contained in the Bible.

In earlier times that form of mysticism was voiced in the teachings of Francis de Sales, Thomas à Kempis, Madam Guyon, Archbishop Fènelon, and Upham.  Montanus advanced these conceptions as early as the second century.  They were later sustained by Tertullian and became a vital issue among the Reformers.  The extreme spiritual mysticism is known as Quietism, which proposes death to self, disregards the attractions of heaven or the pains of hell, and ceases from petitions in prayer or thanksgiving lest self be encouraged.  Likewise, those forms of spiritual-life teachings are to be included which impose upon the Christian a duty of self-crucifixion in place of the recognition of [and faith in] the fact that self was crucified with Christ, and that the values of His death are now to be received [progressively] by faith in that which was accomplished on the cross rather than by any human accomplishment.

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 12-14.

In spite of his overall sound doctrinal views, Dr. Chafer erroneously taught that the Holy Spirit's ministry of illumination was conditioned upon "personal adjustment to the Spirit of God" rather than God's sovereign choice. drs

Our younger Christian brother, Hans M. [fourth year medical student at a top university] recently recommended FAITH MISGUIDED, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism, by Arthur L. Johnson, Moody Press, 1988 (out of print).  We ordered the book and were overall pleased with its contents.  Hans gets an A+ from us.

Dr. Johnson graduated B.A., M.A., Ph.D., University of Nebraska and was associate professor of philosophy at West Texas State University when he wrote the book.  Chapters include:

  1. The Nature of Mysticism - Innerness of Reality
  2. The Challenge of Mysticism - Infiltration of Evangelicalism
  3. The Allure of Mysticism - Heart Cry for Spirituality
  4. The Antidote for Mysticism - Restoration of Reason
  5. The Recurrence of Mysticism - Search for Guidance
  6. The Example of Mysticism - Voice of Misdirection
  7. The Zenith of Mysticism - Relationship with God

The book's style is a beautiful testimony to Dr. Johnson's call for the 'restoration of reason'.  Consequently, we've made available that chapter through the red highlighted link above.

In the early chapters, Dr. Johnson establishes a sound biblical anthropology, clearly defining terms such as intellect, emotions, will, soul, spirit, and of particular importance--Christian "spirituality".

To be spiritual is a relationship between the human person and the infinite Person, God.  It is identical with being a maturing Christian.  (p.54)

What, then, is biblical spirituality?  To be spiritual is to be fully human in the sense that we are what God intended us to be.  At places in Scripture, "spiritual maturing" might be a synonym; at other places, "godliness" carries the same basic meaning.  (p.57)

In chapter 6 and 7, he does a good job explaining the errant doctrine and mysticism of Watchman Nee and charismatics, respectively.

However, Dr. Johnson's answer for spiritual growth falls unfortunately short of the Apostle Paul's teachings.  While he generally recognizes mankind's sinfulness, at no point does he acknowledge the two natures of the believer nor our identification with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  For spiritual growth, he generally leans in the direction of the model proposed by Lewis S. Chafer -- confession of sin and yielding, and toward the end of the book gives his own understanding of what it means to be "filled with the Spirit."

We must, of course, recognize that unconfessed sin prevents the Spirit from doing for and in us all that He desires.  (p.145)

There will be times we do not fully yield to the Spirit's control.  At times we will not acknowledge the truth.  We will be self-willed; we will make foolish decisions.  Tragically, we will rebel and violate what we know to be the truth.  But God, in His great mercy, extends forgiveness.  (p.58)

His definition of being "filled with the Spirit" amounts to having a "growing knowledge of the Word" (p.147) and appears to steer clear of the erroneous formulaic approach (p.144-145) of someone like--a Bill Bright.  

Early in the book, Dr. Johnson makes some statements which appear misleading or even worse--simply wrong.

When we are contending for the truth with one who accepts the Scriptures and applies legitimate hermeneutics to the task of understanding the Word, we have a common ground from which to work.  Of vital importance is that the Bible is a public, objective criterion with a fixed, single meaning for everyone.  However, in the case of mystically based systems, there is no objective criterion, no common ground from which to work.  (p.53)  [emphasis mine].

If the Scriptures are themselves the revelation of God, then they have a significant meaning, objectified in human language.  This meaning is the same for all men.  It does not change from person to person.  (p.67)  [emphasis mine].

Taken in context, his words everyone and all men appear to be used in the universal sense.  However, I believe and hope our brother had in mind a more limited use--i.e., the possibility that those Christian's under the sovereign illumination of the Holy Spirit could be of "one mind".  He later correctly states:

Completed revelation does not mean that God is uninvolved in what happens in the present.  The Holy Spirit is actively involved in helping us to understand the Word when we read it or hear it read.  This is not revelation, but rather illumination.  It is God's continuing work in the mind of the hearer of the Word, whereby He helps him to grasp the actual meaning of what He said long ago through the apostles and prophets.  (p.93)

In conclusion, I believe our brother would have agreed with Dr. Chafer's definition of "true mysticism" quoted above.  Overall, we would give this book a very high rating on this subject and would recommend it to those who have an understanding of identificational truth and are seeking to avoid the pitfalls of mysticism, anti-intellectualism, and passivity.   drs

"Fènelon, like Guyon, is appealing at a certain stage in one's growth.  However, they have a tendency to arouse the arousable, and are not doctrinally oriented.  Adolph Saphir wrote somewhere that 'Many Christian mystics do not sufficiently distinguish between Christ for us, and Christ in us.  Even the best of this school, like Ter Steegen, cannot state clearly that distinction between justification and sanctification, and none of them knew security.  'Writers such as Guyon, Tauler, Ter Steegen, etc., will always be a useful protest against the mere "form of godliness;" but the minds that feel most attracted by them need most to be on their guard in reading them.  Let everything lead us to the spiritual and diligent study of the perfect, healthful, and precious Word of God.'"

Miles J. Stanford, correspondence 19 February 1971

In 1963, Christian Publications, (Harrisburg, PA) published The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, a substantive volume of devotional verse collected by A. W. Tozer.  While not formally recognized as "mystics," names include: Isaac Watts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir John Bowring, Frederick William Faber, Walter Shirley, Henry Hart Milman, Charles Wesley, John Wesley, Jacques Bridaine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Paul Gerhardt, John S.B. Monsell, Christina Rossetti, Johann Andreas Rothe, Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Brady, Oliver Holden, Mary Bowley Peters, George C. Neumark, William Cowper, Jean Sophia Pigott, Anna Laetitia Waring, Thomas Blacklock, Martin Rinckart, Michaelangelo, Thomas Moore, John Newton, Thomas Hastings, Johann Scheffler, Horatius Bonar, Reginald Heber, Philipp Nicolai, John Cennick, Henry Ware, Christian F. Gellert, Lord Plunket, Pierre Abelard, Anne R. Cousin, and Bernard of Cluny.

Individuals also considered "Christian mystics" include:  Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, John of the Cross, Teresa, Rolle, Hilton, Francis of Assisi.

Also see, GENE EDWARDS, The Inward Journey & The Highest Life

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