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I am presently persuaded that the concept of Christian mysticism finds its foundation in both Scripture and the rich tapestry of tradition and personal experiences among believers. In my understanding, Christian mysticism refers to the (potential) capacity of Christians to actively and earnestly seek a deeply experiential, transformative, and supernatural knowledge of as well as a profound connection, communication and relationship with God. It often involves contemplative practices, prayer, and seeking a direct experience of the divine. I previously asked two questions elaborating on these points: Which denominations consider it commendable to pursue a profound mystical connection with God? and What is the biblical basis for Christian Mysticism?. However, I've noticed that some Christians cringe at the idea of Christian mysticism, so I would like to give those Christians an opportunity to make their case.

What is a biblical case against Christian mysticism?


Other attempts at providing a definition:

Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Mysticism is a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity, or a system growing out of such a tendency and desire. As a philosophical system, Mysticism considers as the end of philosophy the direct union of the human soul with the Divinity through contemplation and love, and attempts to determine the processes and the means of realizing this end.

Source: https://christianity.stackexchange.com/tags/mysticism/info

Christian Mysticism has a long and honourable tradition. You can read the histories of many holy Christian mystics. Wikipedia will give you a good starting point. Meditation is only one aspect. For a working definition, try: ""that part, or element, or Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of [...] a direct and transformative presence of [the Christian] God" (Bernard McGinn). In effect mystics are those who make real and experience for themselves things that many Christians take as theoretical or abstract - e.g. the presence of God, union with God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Source: Is Christian mysticism an oxymoron or is it a legitimate path for a Christian?


Another attempt:

Christian mysticism is the tradition of mystical practices and mystical theology within Christianity which "concerns the preparation [of the person] for, the consciousness of, and the effect of [...] a direct and transformative presence of God" or Divine love. Until the sixth century the practice of what is now called mysticism was referred to by the term contemplatio, c.q. theoria, from contemplatio (Latin; Greek θεωρία, theoria), "looking at", "gazing at", "being aware of" God or the Divine. Christianity took up the use of both the Greek (theoria) and Latin (contemplatio, contemplation) terminology to describe various forms of prayer and the process of coming to know God.

Contemplative practices range from simple prayerful meditation of Holy Scripture (i.e. Lectio Divina) to contemplation on the presence of God, resulting in theosis (spiritual union with God) and ecstatic visions of the soul's mystical union with God. Three stages are discerned in contemplative practice, namely catharsis (purification), contemplation proper, and the vision of God.

Contemplative practices have a prominent place in the Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, and have gained a renewed interest in western Christianity.

Etymology

Theoria

The Greek theoria (θεωρία) meant "contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at", from theorein (θεωρεῖν) "to consider, speculate, look at", from theoros (θεωρός) "spectator", from thea (θέα) "a view" + horan (ὁρᾶν) "to see". It expressed the state of being a spectator. Both Greek θεωρία and Latin contemplatio primarily meant looking at things, whether with the eyes or with the mind.

According to William Johnston, until the sixth century the practice of what is now called mysticism was referred to by the term contemplatio, c.q. theoria. According to Johnston, "[b]oth contemplation and mysticism speak of the eye of love which is looking at, gazing at, aware of divine realities."

Several scholars have demonstrated similarities between the Greek idea of theoria and the Indian idea of darśana (darshan), including Ian Rutherford and Gregory Grieve.

Mysticism

"Mysticism" is derived from the Greek μύω, meaning "to conceal," and its derivative μυστικός, mystikos, meaning "an initiate." In the Hellenistic world, a "mystikos" was an initiate of a mystery religion. "Mystical" referred to secret religious rituals and use of the word lacked any direct references to the transcendental.

In early Christianity the term mystikos referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative. The biblical dimension refers to "hidden" or allegorical interpretations of Scriptures. The liturgical dimension refers to the liturgical mystery of the Eucharist, the presence of Christ at the Eucharist. The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_mysticism

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    Your definition does not agree with that of the Oxford English Dictionary Mysticism, noun, Frequently derogatory. Religious belief that is characterized by vague, obscure, or confused spirituality; a belief system based on the assumption of occult forces, mysterious supernatural agencies, etc. Christianity is based on the doctrine contained in the Gospel : repentance, faith, justification, redemption, remission, reconciliation, sanctification. You appear to be speaking a different language . . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 14:23
  • The question lacks clarity and detail. And definition.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 14:29
  • @NigelJ I updated the question. Let me know what you think.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 15:02
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    The references given are of writers giving their opinion as to how some, in history, have attempted to merge mysticism with the gospel. The definition of the English word is given by the Oxford English Dictionary. Oil and water just do not mix. And my own apprehension is that neither do mysticism (in the proper sense of the word) and the Christian Gospel. But this is the characteristic of the end times : the dilution of the gospel, merging it with the religions of men. So it is not surprising to see these attempts.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 17:47
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    Several of the features attributed to mysticism in OP, eg meditation, prayer, spiritual experience, are commonplace in many Christian denominations - I suspect you'll find, though, that most Christians wouldn't use the term "mysticism" in describing these things. The way mysticism is understood in Eastern religions deters to use of the term by many adherents of the Abrahamic religions. Additionally, the central claim of Christianity - that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead to immortal glory, is rooted in the physical & tangible. +1 for the research on a less common viewpoint. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 22:31

1 Answer 1

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Many of the specific personal experiences cited in the OP are highly consistent with Biblical teaching and Christian experience. I agree that the Christian knowledge and experience of God should be transformative. But understanding mystic to convey the obscure, distant, and unknowable, the following passages are relevant:

Peter taught:

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16-19)

John gives similar testimony in his first epistle:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (1 John 1:1)

Peter & John are in no way abrogating the important role of the Holy Ghost to "guide you into all truth" (written by the same John), nor are they claiming that they have written everything Jesus ever said or did in their presence (see John 21:25), but they are most emphatic in declaring the physical, tangible nature of the central claim to their theology: Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead to immortal glory.

They saw. They heard. They touched. These are highly tangible claims immutably tying the truth of Christianity to the physical world we live in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not hidden in a dark corner; it shines a bright light on dark places.

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  • Interesting objection (+1). However, consider mystical experiences like Paul's third heaven visitation in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. Also, there's God's invitation to Jeremiah to seek more revelations in Jeremiah 33:3. The foundational miracle of Christianity is a basic truth that every Christian is expected to accept by definition, but what Christian mysticism is claiming is that there is more to Christianity than just that. There is more to be pursued. A book that comes to mind making this case is The Pursuit of God by A W Tozer
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 0:47
  • Another book along the same lines is this one. And there are stories and testimonies such as this one.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 1:19

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