“Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.” – Acts 10
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” – John in Revelation 1
“ I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” – Paul in Galatians 1
“The question for Evangelicals today is just this: Will God’s Word be enough?” – Tim Challies, in “The Boundaries of Evangelicalism“
Peter, John and Paul. Together, tradition holds that they wrote 20 out of 27 books in the Protestant New Testament, which is basically three quarters of all Christian Scriptures. These three also happened to openly participate in and accept mystical practices (visions, contemporary revelation from God, tongues, etc.) within Christian faith and practice. Yet, for reason that is astounding to the point of being blatantly and categorically illogical, Christians throughout the centuries, particularly Protestants of an Evangelical vein, have seen mystical experience within Christianity to be profoundly disturbing. Hence, you have someone like Tim Challies saying point blank that any experience of mysticism within an Evangelicals spiritual life is anathema, or outside the boundaries of orthodox, regular and recognized practice:
“Mysticism was once regarded as an alternative to Evangelical Christianity. You were Evangelical or you were a mystic, you heeded the doctrine of the Reformation and understood it to faithfully describe the doctrine laid out in Scripture or you heeded the doctrine of mysticism. Today, though, mysticism has wormed its way inside Evangelicalism so that the two have become integrated and almost inseparable. In an age of syncretism we fail to spot the contradiction and opposition.”
So, here we have a pretentious, albeit well-meaning pastor who thinks that if anyone has an experience with God that equates to an experience that the majority of New Testament author’s have had then it is in direct conflict with the writings of said authors? That, my friends, is ludicrous.
For all the Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide doctrine Challies and other anti-mysticism teachers want to throw about, it doesn’t get any more clear cut than the actual, primary sources: the Scriptures and the authors themselves. Ironically, people like Challies are more concerned with holding up a narrow and suffocating version of Reformation theology than to actually let the definitions of terms like Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide be allowed to point toward clearly allowable and natural expressions of Christian faith and practice that are defined and practiced by the authors of these very Scriptures.
Quoting New Testament scholar Donald Whitney, Challies puts up two ways that mysticism goes against Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura:
- A Christian seeks an experience with God in a way not found in Scripture.
- A Christian is seeking to experience God in a way not inaugurated, guided, or interpreted by Scripture.
If 75% of the New Testament was written by people who practiced Christian mysticism in some form, how does it not follow that things like seeking direct revelation from God through prayer or other spiritual disciplines is not clearly found and inaugurated in Scripture by the very authors themselves?
Furthermore, maybe sensing that this appeal to Sola Scriptura is one of the flimsiest and most ridiculous prescriptions of doctrine, Challies says that the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide necessitates that Evangelicals not learn spiritual disciplines that are mystical in nature because “There are few mystics who hold to a robust doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone.” In other words, those people are just too Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and non-Evangelical that the very thought of learning from them should make us squirm and shake in our boots. Seriously, run, hide, and bury your head in Evangelical books devoid of any allusion, illustration or quotation from a non-Evangelical author is the antidote to mysticism that Challies gives. If you take this logic to its natural end, you would then have to trace this back to those mystical authors of Scripture themselves, and, in cutting out 75% of the New Testament books, do a hatchet job to the Protestant canon that even Martin Luther, in his vigor over Sola Fide, would have never dreamed of!
Simply put, in the words of Ed Cyzewski:
“I frankly don’t care that this blogger thinks I’m a meditating heretic who will one day teach his sleeping son the disciplines of silence before God, Lectio Divina, and waiting on the Holy Spirit. I just hope that others won’t let his condemnation keep them from experiencing God….It is possible to study the scriptures diligently in search of life and to still miss out on the one who gives life.”
What I do care about though is the close-minded view of influential pastors like Challies who will disregard the very authors of our Scriptures if necessary in order to hold on to their narrow theological positions. That is not a good way to lead, to say the least. If the Word of God really is enough for Challies, he wouldn’t have to supersede the words written plainly by John, Peter and Paul with his distorted views of what being an Evangelical means.