Mysticism is defined primarily as the experience of intimacy with God, and the life practices used to cultivate that relationship. Understood on these relational terms it is at the very heart of Christian faith and life. Mysticism in the form of the monastic tradition has always been the life blood, as well as a key renewal movement with Catholicism. Likewise, within Protestantism's major movements towards reform and vitality found in Pietism and revivalism have been strongly rooted in a mystical experiential connection with God. Indeed Evangelicalism's focus on the centrality of the new birth and the proclamation of the Gospel are at heart relational and mystical concerns. Liberal faith with its roots in Schleiermacher is at heart as well a faith rooted in mystical experience. Finally, Orthodoxy has always maintained that mysticism and theology must go hand in hand. In short, every major branch of Christianity – whether liberal or evangelical, from Catholic to Protestant to Orthodox – is deeply rooted in mystical relational experience of intimacy with God.
The question is where does the emergent church stand in relation to this mystical relational faith? There has been some emphasis on "praying the hours" and other contemplative exercises, but at the same time as Scot McKnight has charged, there is a hostility towards evangelism (the sharing of relationship) and a re-definition of the Gospel in terms of "following Jesus" and his kingdom as a "way" rather than being in an intimate relationship with Christ effecting all of life. The later emphasis on the "kingdom now" at the expense of the eternal is something people like Andrew Jones have criticized in the writings of Brian McClaren
. So this is definitely a (critical) conversation that is taking place within the emergent ranks among those who love it rather than simply an outside critique. The meergent church deconstructing itself. That's a good.
Some of the questions that arise are these: Does the emergent church tend towards an understanding of mystical experience that is self-focused with its new found focus on mystic rituals? Does it have an understanding of the gospel as "kingdom way" that is ultimately impersonal and detached from a relational encounter with a transforming God? How can we care about social justice without falling into the trap of secularized liberal church? How can we develop a rich and compassionate understanding of evangelism without falling into the dogmatism of fundamentalism. I'm afraid much of the emergent movement tends towards completely jettisoning the idea of evangelism all together, and is thus in danger of becoming spiritually infertile? Coming from a Pentecostal background as I do, I like the idea evangelism being about a relational encounter with power rather than a rational proposition, and think we would so well to remember our roots in the Great Awakenings that focused on both personal and social transformation through the Spirit working in people's lives and world.
Learning from our past, contextualizing here in our present post modern situation, and looking forwards towards an emerging future, what should be our approach towards mystical relational faith be, both personally and socially?
Labels: born again, Emergent, Evangelicalism, relational theology