Carl McColman’s 7 Theses on the Future of Christian Spirituality

I’ve just read the most important spirituality post I’ve encountered thus far in 2009. It’s short, but powerful. It comes from my friend Carl McColman, who’s finishing up his much-anticipated Big Book of Christian Mysticism. Here’s an early peak at one of his concluding chapters, on the future of Christian spirituality (or mysticism) – Carl’s Seven Theses, I’m calling it:

  1. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly Trinitarian.
  2. Trinitarian Christian mysticism in the future will be essentially relational.
  3. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly earthy.
  4. The future of Christian mysticism will hold apophatic and kataphatic spirituality in creative tension.
  5. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace interreligious wisdom.
  6. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace scientific knowledge and will celebrate its own evolutionary nature.
  7. The future of Christian mysticism will be revealed to us through narrative and story, not just through abstract theology and philosophy.

There’s a lot of biblical and cultural wisdom packed into each of these theses; I’ve been mulling over several of these for some time now, but I love how he develops them. If you want to read how Carl unpacks this – or why you should care about ‘Christian mysticism’ at all – please take a moment and read his full post.

35 Responses to “Carl McColman’s 7 Theses on the Future of Christian Spirituality”

  1. 1 Carl McColman February 15, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Wow, thanks for the plug. Coming from a futurist like you, this is quite an honor.

  2. 2 zoecarnate February 15, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    You’re quite welcome – I can’t wait to read the whole book.

    I think your intuitions are dead-on – though it’s worth noting for you and other readers that in the Strategic Foresight world, the list you’ve created is “aspirational futures” strictly speaking; that is, you’re informed, but this is what you wanna see happen. Which is all we have on one level…but that’s a whole ‘nother post!

  3. 3 lisa delay February 15, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    This sounds right in line/on target with all I’m researching, reading, learning, and studying in Spiritual Formation for my grad degree right now. There seems to be a return to some important things left by the wayside at the time of the reformation, (including spiritual direction, which I’m learning about as well) and the mix of other Christian traditions, and some of the best of Eastern Orthodox is coming on strong. Couple this with the African, Asian, South American Christian boom and the outpouring of the Spirit in ways more mystical than N. Americans usually tolerate (visions, dreams, etc.) and it’s clear, some exciting things are on the fore!

  4. 4 Carl McColman February 16, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Mike, thanks for the “aspirational” observation — I’ll throw that in when I finish the chapter for the book, just for that extra little dose of clarity.

  5. 5 Heather W February 16, 2009 at 1:46 am

    I’m thinking particularly about the interreligious peice of it… On one hand, I’m wondering who the brave souls will be that will go and learn the wisdom of the Sufis, so immersing themselves in it that they can bring back the gems to the church.. or from any other religion..
    On the other hand, I’m thinking of all the casualities that will be incurred by people who get lost in those other religions while trying to find the threads of commonalities and so forth.
    Yet this will happen either way. I hope the gems come forth sooner rather than later, perhaps I’ll be part of the explorers who help it along.

  6. 6 zoecarnate February 16, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Hi Heather – actually, I hope you do explore & help along! The best way to explore, say, Sufism is by reading the poetry of Rumi or (better still) Hafiz. Anyone with a worshiper’s heart can’t help but be stirred by their expressions of devotion to God and even Christ.

    And for a Baptist’s experience with this mystical Islamic stream, I’d recommend Sitting With Sufis: A Christian Experience of Learning Sufism.

    – your friendly resourcer 🙂

  7. 7 1ozmom February 16, 2009 at 3:39 am

    I think interreligious experience may happen organically. We are becoming more and more interconnected, and learning about ther’s religions daily-at least I am. But I’m in a very mixed area, also. I see so much of God in other religions. Two BFF are Buddhist, another is Mennonite. The Shaker beliefs are enthralling, and I love reading about Baha’i faith.

    Let me also say that before I left the institutional church I would have been terrifed to step out and befriend these people for fear that I would have ‘backslidden’. That makes me laugh now (how small was my God and my relationship with him?) but I was terrified back then. I was very safety herded. *g* BUT I was also stifled. I now am able to forge relationships with these people that allow me to share MY faith in an organic way that isn’t proselytizing. It’s just me, loving them, living my faith before them, and they do the same. I know I learn so much from them, and I am remiss in telling them how they enrich my own faith. They make me see God through a different persoective, and it makes my own view so much richer.

  8. 8 jason February 16, 2009 at 5:49 am

    I’m asking a serious question here. What’s the point of any of this? I’m a little confused on why we are so desperate to explore Sufi mystics when we barely understand our own scripture. Why do I have to go to the Philistine to understand Jehovah? It seems pretty off.

  9. 9 zoecarnate February 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    That’s a fair question, Jason. I’ll answer it with a question: Have you ever discovered something fresh from God via Judaism? Not just the OT, but a contemporary Jewish song, writer, or friend? If so, you already have a good idea, experientially, about what Carl is talking about. As Carl said in his original post (didja read it?), “I don’t believe Christianity will lose its identity into some sort of bland “world religion,” nor do I wish for that!” But it’s no coincidence that virtually all of the most compelling ‘deeper/inner life’ followers of Jesus of the past 200 years have had significant encounters with God as the Other amid other faith traditions. (No voices that we heard about in our post-Brethren circles, mind you..!) If you’re unfamiliar with them or their writings, Carl mentions a few: Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Swami Abhishiktananda, William Johnston, Anthony deMello, and Raimon Panikkar.

    It might help to look at it this way: If God in Christ is all-in-all, then He must be up to something, right? Something redemptive even. So while the Father is calling all to the Son via the Spirit, echoes of that call can be heard among anyone in any time period or culture who is receptive to the song of the Divine. Hence Hafiz, a Sufi poet, can pen

    I am
    A hole in a flute
    That the Christ’s breath moves through –
    Listen to this

    Or those pagan poets in Paul’s day can pen something that he quotes approvingly to the Mars Hill forum, applying it to God.

    I’m not suggesting you or anyone else make a career of it – especially if you don’t feel called. But I think that God’s treasure has been buried in the field of the cosmos, of the substructures of our collective cultural universe…not just in the Christian ghetto. 🙂

  10. 10 zoecarnate February 16, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    By the way Jason, for a great look at interfaith learning from a ‘Spirit-filled’ perspective, I’d recommend Assemblies of God/ Malaysian theologian Amos Yong‘s The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology.

  11. 11 jason February 17, 2009 at 2:00 am

    To be fair I’ve heard everything you proposed a long time ago. I’ve read Merton and many other authors. I’ve read the works of Rumi and looked into mindfulness meditation for years. So I’m not ignorant about the works of people associated with the great “other”. Furthermore, to cite a poem that says Christ means nothing. Those crazy hate mongering baptists who picket funerals call on a christ. So do a whole lot of cults and/or new agers. Yet He is not the same Christ revealed in scripture.

    I see this as what the Jews did in the wilderness. They got bored with the manna so they craved the food of Egypt. If you take Jesus at His word He was the bread from heaven. In the same way perhaps the faith of other cultures represents some distorted echo of the truth. Why do I or you crave an echo when we have THE VOICE?

    The Paul argument is classic. I know he quotes the philisophers of His day. He does it multiple times in the NT. Yet if you notice soemthing about Paul the crux of his theology as it were was an revelatory encounter with God himself!

    “The Father saw fit to reveal His son in me” Galatians

    Notice, Paul is pointing to the Voice not the echo. John and Peter make the same point in their letter. John especially. If we are viewing a relational God who is reveled why are we settling for the thoughts of those who do not know Him? I don’t want accidental revelation when God has and is doing something…intentional. The person of Christ is the intentional revelation of the Father to remove all echo and all shadow.

    As a final point. I feel like there is something rather off about Heather’s comment:

    “On the other hand, I’m thinking of all the casualities that will be incurred by people who get lost in those other religions while trying to find the threads of commonalities and so forth.”

    I don’t think the Spirit of Truth guides us into deception hoping he receive some “gem” of truth.

    Thanks for the reply! I hope this doesn’t come off as snarky. If it does that is not my point.


  12. 12 zoecarnate February 17, 2009 at 2:29 am

    Hi Jason – I think if I’m hearing your correctly, you’re saying (in language that I would relate to) that spiritual hospitality and learning is all well and good, but we still need a robust theology of idolatry too. Because Jesus is a real person and not just a construct or an idea, fidelity to Jesus and the Way of Jesus has to mean something. I would agree, and am also the first to admit that I’m not sure anymore where idolatry fits. I am far more sensitized to when I’m betraying the God revealed in Christ via serving at the altar of Mammon than whether my Yoga mat or Tibetan prayer bowl are bringing in evil spirits. I am more aware of dehumanizing (and thus, anti-Christ) principalities and powers at work in food systems, economics, racism, and violence than I am riled up about Buddhists or Sufis. To be sure (using language you might find more meaningful), the Enemy could gain a foothold in Hinduism or Islam, but I think Jesus would have us first remove the log in the eye of our own faith, and see the numerous footholds slowing down our momentum in Christianity.

    I know the context of Carl’s blog post is that of our spiritual seeking and not ‘apologetics’ or ‘evangelism,’ and I’m now shifting my focus a bit, but I think these two are interlinked to you. Amos Yong, the aforementioned Assemblies of God pastor, gave this great interview on interfaith friendship that I’d recommend reading. Here’s an excerpt:

    “If someone moves in next door to me who is not a Christian and I approach that person foremost as an object to be converted, what happens if that person resists conversion? Does that mean that our relationship is over? Does that mean there is no longer an opportunity for neighborliness? If so then I’ve treated that neighbor as an it, there’s no further use for them. Now if that’s the way that I treat my neighbors then that’s obviously not going to make for a very good community. It won’t provide opportunity for us to work together on community issues that might need to be resolved. How do we treat our neighbors? I suggest that if our neighbor is someone of another faith we don’t need to reduce that person, that community, to that one register. So we need to accept that person as created in the image of God, and all that they represent, as somebody God has put in our lives, not just for us to have a mission, but simply to appreciate that person as somebody in the creation of God. What might that do to open us up to an encounter with God through that person?”

    I suppose my first move when reading Hafiz is not to see how his experience of Christ might be “false,” but to hope in how it might be true and build bridges of understanding (and yes, revelatory experience) with my Sufi neighbor from there. And I must say, when reading Hafiz I see something of God, and of Christ that I have not encountered yet, something that I might humbly learn from. Because I have many teachers but one Father in Heaven, I can gratefully & humbly receive truth & wisdom wherever she might be found. Like you said, this doesn’t mean I forsake the well that has quenched my thirst faithfully all my life – I don’t abandon the faith of my youth, or the Christ who has redeemed me. But to think that the Holy Spirit is not continuously at work redemptively in other cultures too is very small-hearted of me, and a judgement I need to release.

  13. 13 Carl McColman February 17, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Man, this is all great stuff. Thanks to everyone who’s posted here. Wonderful grist for the mill.

  14. 14 jason February 18, 2009 at 2:20 am


    I think you get some of what I’m saying. Furthermore, I’m not talking about evil spirits in Yoga mats I’m talking about false truths and non christs being propped up as Christ. Next the falsehoods of one culture are not more noble than another’s. Western legalism or materialism is no better nor more corrupt than other false religions. They are supremely false because they all subvert the centrality of Christ. Period. I think it’s all more tasty because it’s exotic and new. What I find perplexing is that you are not making claims that their are redemptive features of the western evils your are mentioning. It’s all the same.

    “To hope in how it might be true” That’s Peter Pan land Mike.

    Hope all you want. If you stack the words of those who know Him by experience and those who use His name I’m perplexed as to why you would choose the later.

    Although I appreciate you trying to talk in my “language” but that’s not needed especially since you don’t really know what that is.

    From the bit you quote I’d largely agree. I don’t think people are it’s or just “souls to be won”. This is how I “evangelize” in real life.

    There is a trend of thinking that fear being close minded so much it fails to root itself in anything.

    I’m really not plugging my blog but I think my latest entry comes at it a bit better than my comments here.

    I really do appreciate your responses and this blog. Even if I don’t agree the discussion is interesting.


  15. 15 jason February 18, 2009 at 2:21 am

    btw….I’m in a hurry so I can’t plod this along

  16. 16 zoecarnate February 18, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Hi Jason – I guess what I’m daring to suggest is that perhaps people in other faiths do know Christ, maybe just sometimes. What did Jesus say (in John’s gospel I think?) about having other sheep in other folds? I’m not talking ‘universalism,’ but I am talking ‘inclusionism.’ God’s grace shed far & wide. Nor am I talking about sidelining those whom I know have an experience of Christ in favor of those whom I hope have a whiff of the eternal – it’s a both/and. I think we can experience & be hospitable to those of other faiths, and of course we can also share the love and good news of God in Christ with them, as best we understand it. And I think we can know Christ in surprising ways, even through those of other faiths.

    ‘I am not a Christian and I have no desire to make them’ – Jesus, in The Shack (yesss, I know it’s a novel…)

    ‘Whoever is not against me is for me’ – Jesus (yeah, I know you can quote the opposite sentiment a few verses earlier…)

    Sorry for presuming your language. 🙂 And don’t worry about plugging your blog here – plug away. You mean your post Deconstructing the [Re]Imagining of the Incarnational Missional Blogosphere? I’ll give it a read. Just don’t think with all dem fancy $5 words you’re speakin’ my language. 🙂

  17. 17 zoecarnate February 18, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Ah, by coming “out a bit better” do you mean this?

    The church is in many ways a slickly packaged show. Whether high or low it’s never really ceased to be a passion play. A rhetorical morality tale spun week after week. Change the traditions and take away the yellow tights. It’s all the same. A new, edgier, more prophetic, more relevant incarnation appears and within years is a bygone era. The lay elite log on and post blog after blog about their very own more christian version of Christianity. The problem is the global beast marches on. All the while the truly spiritual sip their Starbucks, sit on their meditation pads, and read Buddha books managing to take the time to educate us. It’s not because their cynics and malcontents. It’s because deep down they really love the church. They love the church so much they never actually do anything to help her.

    Change occurs not because we grip and moan. Posting endless profanity laden blogs about the mundane experiences of one’s life viewed through a eastern spiritualist prism is not remotely Christian. It’s not really cutting edge either. One’s personal dislike for who God has revealed himself to be does not invite recreation of the Most High in our own image. The same man centered humanistic egotism that fills the health and wealth gospel underlies the post modern pursuit for a more appealing Jesus. Any movement that seeks to recreate Jesus is a movement that has fundamentally missed the point. Man know nothing about God save what is revealed.

    I’m a ‘lay elite,’ I’m honored..! I don’t drink coffee though; haven’t had caffeine since 2004; Buddha told me to stop. 🙂

  18. 18 natrimony February 18, 2009 at 5:30 am

    That’s a lot of nonsense. Mystics will always be mystics no matter what era, epoch, or age. Methodology has always defined mysticism and that just ain’t changin ya’ll. Experience=Praxis and vice versa. What is a new mystic anyway? John Crowder? Sorry folks, nothing new there but a webpage and plenty of Youtube exposure.

  19. 19 jason February 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm


    I can honestly say I did not write that with you in mind. In fact I wrote it before ever coming over to this here conversation….I think

    Mike you speak your own dialect and I appreciate that. I’m more commenting on the endless books that are coming out with trendy emerging names.

    AS for you 1st post in response to my 2nd post (Marx Bros?)

    That’s where we split..sorta

    1. Someone who toys w/ universal reconciliation is in fact a closet universalist

    2. Paul’s theological masterpiece (the letter to Rome) best describes the condition of “the nations” (that includes America). Even those who are never directly told the really Good news of God’s love in Christ are held accountable b/c a version has already been preached. Creation. Is it possible that the “God shaped hole” in them has led to a veiled view of Jesus? Sure. Is this going to become the framework of my spiritual life? God forbid!

    3. The narrative of scripture hinges on 1 man (other than Jesus) from a historical perspective. Abraham. God revealed himself to Abraham some might say exclusively. From there God purposed to create His own people. Ultimately this was fulfilled in Christ and the church. However, it started with a people called the Hebrews. Sometime later God reveals the eternal purpose. That ALL can call God ABBA through Christ and Christ alone.
    I’m firmly believe that the “sheep of another flock” were the gentiles. I believe Jesus was speaking in prophetic lingo here. Now Abrham had many sons….trying to resist that song…but those who place their faith in Christ are the true sons of Abraham the father of faith.

    4. Meditating our way to Jesus is it’s own for of self righteous effort no matter how esoteric it set it’s self up to be.

    Sorry Mike it’s just not convincing me.

    Let’s all move on (feel free to respond) and let’s just praise the Lord!

    DANG IT!!

  20. 20 zoecarnate February 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    1.) Hmm, perhaps. I suppose I’m just a 1 Timothy 4:9-11 kinda guy: “This is a faithful saying worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

    2.) You misunderstand me, or I communicate poorly, if you think I’m suggesting that any other faith-tradition become “the framework of my spiritual life.” Nor is that what Carl is saying. But I think if the apostle Paul were alive today, he’d look at hints of Jesus in Jewish & Islamic culture, rumors of Christ in the Way of Taoism, and attempt to build bridges of mutual understanding. He wouldn’t stay there, sure. But I think he’d start there when building cross-cultural relationships.

    3.) I’m sure that exegesis is quite plausible. But like it or not, when we’re talking about the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is one of ’em. I find that uncomfortable sometimes, I’ll admit. But I think one of the tasks for human beings in the 21st century (regardless of faith-persuasion) will be to come to grips with one of the world’s fastest-growing fatihs. Why do so many find it so compelling? Where can we ‘amen’ the revelations of Muhammad and where must we respectfully differ? I plan to take some time discovering this, and not from omigod-the-muslims-are-invading fear-mongering scapegoat pundits.

    4.) Oh Jason. Then isn’t prayer and worship and bible reading and, well, pretty much every spiritual practice intrinsically self-righteous effort, no matter how decent it might seem on the surface? Look, I’m still a good Protestant in this: I see the difference between justification and sanctification. I know that I am made righteous by God in Christ, through no merit of my own. But I think that grace empowers me, from that point on, to grow in Christ and ‘work out my salvation with fear & trembling.’ This includes spending time with God in stillness and encountering God in the faces of the poor – activities that, sure, could be self-righteous or guilt-appeasement, but they’re not for me. At least on my best days.

    By all means, let’s move on…if you want to come to Atlanta for some 24/7 prayer and worship in about seven weeks, you just lemme know. 🙂

  21. 21 jason February 18, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Islam is post Jesus and therefore irrelevant to me in terms of faith. in terms of culture it holds great relevance. I don’t fear Muslims. They should be embraced as all men should. We need to explore it for sure.

    Everyone is saved in the sense that the debt is payed and death has been overcome. This price for reconciliation is paid. The gift of Life extended. Not all have received it. I think your misunderstanding Paul.

    If a sufi mystic meditates that does not grant him salvation. That was my point.

    Give me the 24/7 details and we’ll see.

    Love Ya Bro

  22. 22 jason February 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    “The word ‘gospel,’ in Paul’s world, meant the accession of Caesar. And when Tiberius or Nero came to power, the imperial heralds did not go around saying, ‘There is this new experience you might like to try on for size, namely, you might like to give allegiance to Caesar if that suits you and if that’s where you are right now in your own personal journey.’ No, they said, ‘Tiberius is emperor! Get down on your knees!’”

    Nt Wright

  23. 23 Heather February 20, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Hi y’all –
    I’m a bit late jumping back into the discussion but since my post stirred it up, I sorta should weigh in, right?

    First of all, Jason, I want to thank you for holding up the plumbline that we certainly don’t want to go off hunting after other spiritual things instead of Jesus Himself, who is our greatest treasure. When you’ve sold the field to buy the pearl, you don’t go looking for other fields to buy with it. So I love your zeal, and I know the Lord is pleased with it and will no doubt reward you for it. He IS a jealous God. And I fall before Him and worship Him for it!

    So why would I be interested in learning stuff from Sufis, or any other religion? This is why:

    I worked for a year at an islamic school. I taught little 8 and 9 year old muslim kids, mostly little girls. I watched them put on their prayer shawls every day and head off to say their prayers, and so earnestly want to be pleasing to God and do everything right that He wanted them to do. Except they had no hope of getting there, no forgiveness, no atonement, and very little in the truth or joy department either. So what do I do with a group of 9 year olds that I had in my custody for half the day who are without hope and worshipping under the weight of a false religious system? Before I did ANYTHING, I figured I better pray really hard and listen really well.

    This was a real crazy trip. If I had been teaching at a Jewish school, I would have had the entire Tanakh (Old Testament) at my disposal and on my side. A gigantic, huge, testimony of Jesus Christ, veiled but true nonetheless.

    But here was a group of people, numbering somewhere near a billion, under this system mostly because of what country or ethnicity they happened to be born into, and did God leave them utterly without testimony of who He really is and who His Son really is? I started reading the Koran to see if I could find anything in there I could work with. The first few pages into the Koran I was so disgusted and found it so abhorrent that I could barely endure it – verses warning people that if anyone dared come to them and tell them that God ever had a Son, don’t believe it. If someone ever tells you that God let his son die on a cross, don’t believe it. Etc etc etc. The whole religion seemed to be an antichrist religion.

    Still, I just couldn’t believe that God would leave Himself and His Son without testimony to an entire people group! So I just kept praying that God would show me where He did leave a testimony of Himself there – I kept asking Him, “Where are the keys? Where have You put the keys to this culture?”

    Over the course of a year, I got quite a few tiny keys placed into my hands. There are many, many ways that being a muslim prepares someone to receive Christ. And Sufism is one of these random abherant strands of islam where almost anything goes… it’s the “prophetic” realm in islam. So I think there are definitely things worth exploring there, if only for the purpose of “evangelism.”

    That *is* what Paul was doing, after all, when he brought up the words of the Athenian prophets, right? Was he trying to create a christian infatuation with Athenian prophets, or was he trying to create an Athenian infatuation with the message of Christ? I think the purpose and orientation of his speech was definitely the latter.

    BUT –

    What are unbelievers, but those through whom Christ desires to take for Himself, and yet demonstrate Himself in a way unique to that person and culture that He has yet to own? Is not there a sense in which organically, our understanding of Christ becomes more and more full the more every kindred, tribe, and tongue fills Earth and Heaven with their own particular brand of song and praise to Him? And is not the rudiment of that particular song buried somewhere dead and dormant within even their idolatrous and false religions?

    In other words, while I’m totally not for mixing any sort of light with darkness, there are definitely gifts and ideas and perspectives from the Lord that will only be seen by people with certain backgrounds and perspectives. Celtic christianity has an expression that is uniquely Celtic. African American christianity has released gifts that were uniquely African American. There is something about a culture encountering Christ through its own lens that should be preserved, rather than destroyed. Native Americans suffered greatly at the hands of white missionaries that did not seek to understand how Christ would be revealed to and through the Native American uniquely – and ultimately this did more to provoke Native Americans to cling to worthless idols than it did to bring them to any sort of full experience of Christ.

    So, I think there is a tightrope we walk – knowing that Christ is the light that lights EVERY man that comes into the world, how do we respect that Light while chasing away the darkness that demons have planted in their minds through false doctrines and religions? I’m not a universalist – heck, I don’t even celebrate christmas and easter because of their pagan origins. I will hopefully go even to my death proclaiming that there is One name under Heaven by which men might be saved, and woe to them if they do not repent and call upon it. But could that name be Isa ?(that is the name for Jesus in the Koran.) I don’t know – I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    Hope this helps clarify why I would say what I said.

  24. 24 Heather February 20, 2009 at 2:36 am

    PS – 24/7 prayer? Can I come to Atlanta too???

  25. 25 jason February 20, 2009 at 4:02 am


    I agree with a lot of your answers and puzzle with you over a lot of your questions. There is a point to pointing at an idol and saying….”Your worship this god with no name? Let me give Him a name!”

    There is great danger is saying, “My devotional life is stale what can the fill-in-blank do to make me feel better”

    I suppose the larger point is that what you are saying is not exactly what I’ve heard Mike say during this conversation.

  26. 26 zoecarnate February 20, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Beautifully put, Heather. And I could only hope, were a Muslim person teaching my children (or ‘my people’s’ children, in whatever context that might occur), that they would be similarly sensitive in how to act, rather than recklessly indoctrinating in what could do far worse damage to young minds than simple inaction. May we all continue to come to intimate knowledge of the Truth.

    Jason, I wouldn’t disagree with anything Heather’s said here, but you’re right; the initial thrust of my post (really, my friend Carl’s post) wasn’t about evangelism but rather the contemplative disciple’s growth in grace. We’re certainly not speaking of reaching out for some ‘alient’ devotional practice out of boredom, but we *are* talking about appreciating the riches given us…of course, this would presuppose a theology of religions that allows for YHWH, for the Paraclete, for the Triune God as revealed in Jesus to be generous with his grace to the point of gratuity.

    I think that reality might bear this theology out.

    Take, for instance, the Hebrew Bible’s Proverbs – adapted wholesale from the Egyptians. The earliest names for God – taken from a constellation of Semitic tribal deities. Key moments in the life of Jesus Christ – strikingly resonant with those of pagan deities. There is much in our biblical past that is borrowed from our ‘pagan’ neighbors – which is why I don’t fret too much about Christmas, Heather. 🙂

    These homages and co-incidences are a matter of historical record & thus I don’t regard them as scary bedtime stories out to discredit my faith; rather, they show me that the deep mythology of the universe cooperates to reveal the glory of God in Christ.

    [As an aside, I’m not suggesting that the entire Judeo-Christian tradition is mere sycretistic borrowing; the Genesis creation account was written as a deliberate – and clever – counter to neighboring Babylonian creation accounts; earliest Hebrew law critiques as well as is informed by Hammurabi; Jesus & Paul critique the Jewish & Hellenistic ideas that also influenced them, etc…I consider it all ‘inspired’ and ‘revelation’]

    The ‘neighborliness’ of faiths continued through post-biblical times, influencing for instance Medieval trubadors and poets like John Donne are said to have been influenced by or even in esoteric fellowships with Kabbalists and Sufis.

    For me, a healthy metaphor has been bounded-set vs. centered-set; I wish to find myself centered in Christ, & he is boundless. I could explain what I mean, but Next Reformation and Running with the Lion say it so well.


  27. 27 Carl McColman February 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    This conversation has meandered far beyond my original post, but I feel like throwing in a few points for consideration anyway.

    My post was specifically about Christian mysticism, or what is traditionally called ascetical theology. It is not about dogmatic theology, which means it is not about soteriology. I think this needs to be kept in mind, and perhaps some of the misunderstanding that people have about interreligious mysticism would be cleared up if those distinctions were better understood. Put in layman’s language, Christian zen or Christian yoga is not about rewriting what we believe, but rather it’s about expanding our vocabulary of prayer.

    I said “I do believe the wisdom of the Sufis, the Vedantists, the Buddhists, and others will inform and in some ways enlighten the path of the lovers of Christ.” The key words here are “inform and enlighten.” I think Jason represents an admirable element within Christianity, those who are more concerned about preserving Christian identity (we are lovers of Christ, not anthropologists of religion) than with engaging in interreligious dialogue. Meanwhile, there are those of us who feel called to engage in interreligious exploration, not because we want to trade in Christ for other gods, but for much the same reason that some people are impelled to climb mountains or go scuba diving. We human beings are explorers, that’s how God made us. I recognize that some Christians explore other faiths and then abandon their fidelity to Jesus, but I don’t think it follows to dismiss interreligious mysticism as inherently evil or deleterious. How many Christians have lost their faith because they were prohibited from interreligious spirituality? A harder question to answer, because they don’t tend to write about it.

    Like it or not, we live in a global village that’s getting smaller all the time. I think this is a crucial question: how is the Holy Spirit leading us to engage with real human beings who live other faiths? I personally advocate radical love, radical openness, and radical faithfulness — I think we’re healthiest when we keep those three in balance. I suspect in the current conversation, Jason is trying to make sure that “radical faithfulness” never gets taken off the table.

    Finally, I must confess to simply not understanding the degree of hostility that some Christians direct toward mysticism, simply because they see it as a means of diluting our faith. The criticism and the anger/hostility with which the criticism is expressed seems all out of proportion. I’m not accusing you of this, Jason; on the contrary, I appreciate your openness to constructive dialogue. But there are others on the web who seem to be ideologically driven in their hatred (yes, hatred) of mysticism. I have a hard time seeing Christ, or good news, or God’s lavish grace when people get dogmatically hardened into such an anti=mysticism stance. Just as there is a certain type of Christian who seems to be driven more by their hatred of feminists and gays than by their love of God, so too it seems there is a type of Christian who is driven more by xenophobia, when it comes to their blanket rejection of anything they deem insufficiently Christian. I hope that we as a body can find constructive ways to deal with such xenophobia, even as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be faithful in the multi-cultural village.

  28. 28 jason February 24, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for finally jumping in Carl! You started all this. I’d like to say a few more things here if I may. First I think there is some misunderstanding over what you are actually talking about. However look at the topic in your third paragraph versus the first two. The subtle transition is tackling two different points in my mind. The very points you yourself say are separate! I think mysticism is often so vague it’s easy to slip around topically.

    Now a time of personal confession. If you take the weird mysticsm w/o the baggage all Christians ar mystics. The evangelical world included. Charismatics are highly mystical. Perhaps not in the eyes of the strict contemplative or pomo meditation guru. However, our mindfulness and centering prayer is called Soaking. While we pull away from a lot of the Cloud of Unknowing concepts we are familiar with them. Many of us have read or do read St. Theresa of Avila, St John of the Cross (his poetry is wonderful!), Miguel de Molinos, Fennelon, so forth and so on. Churches offer courses in contemplative prayer. The prayer room movement reserves entire portions of there 24/7 prayer rhythm to contepmlative prayer.

    Consider the following Misty Edwards lyrics:

    Over and over and over and over again
    I stir up my soul to lay hold of God
    Over and over and over and over again
    I awaken my soul
    To lay hold of that which i cannot comprehend
    and then
    Over and over and over and over again
    I just, lean into sovereignty
    i embrace a mystery
    I just rest in You
    as i bathe in truth
    This is my simple devotion
    Over and over and over and over again

    Then i hear You say
    As You lean over the balcony of Heaven,
    Angels! O Angels! Look and see!
    Through that cloud of unknowing,
    she’s gazing at Me!
    Angels! O Angels! Look and see,
    Through that dark night of faith
    she’s gazing at Me!
    You have ravished My heart,
    My sister, My bride!
    You have ravished My heart.

    I’d also like to add that ignorance is not faithfulness. However, the core of our faith is that redemption is only found in the person and work of Christ.

  29. 29 jason February 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    btw when I say “weird mysticism” I mean THE WORD…sorry

  30. 30 Brittian February 24, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    The comments here make me think of a Bonhoeffer quote I’ve been rolling around for a bit now:

    “In the traditional words and acts (of Christianity) we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary, though we cannot as yet grasp or express it. That is our own fault. Our church, which has been fighting only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconcilliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease and our being Christians today will be limited to two things: prayer and action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must then be born anew out of this prayer and action…we are not yet out of the great melting pot, and any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organization will merely delay its conversion and purification…it is not for us to prophesy the day when men will once more be called to utter the word of God, and the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will in a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming–as was Jesus’ language–it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the lanugage of a new righteousness and truth proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of the kingdom…”

    I identify with this comment a lot. Perhaps it is that many of us who truly love the Church and God’s kingdom acknowledge that the time is not yet to restore…and so we wait, in prayer and righteous action…this is different than apathy and laziness, I think…but it may appear to be the same. Either way it looks different with the wide eyed radicalism that has come before.

  31. 31 judith collier March 1, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Hi, even though I understand all everything everybody says here I am unable to make a stand one way or the other. Not because I do not believe one way or the other but because my experiences with my Christian God, Jesus, embraced all of this. I believe All will be saved, I believe no one can come to Christ without being called,I believe there are experiences with God that embrace so much more than what Christianity teaches, I do not believe in an everlasting hell but rather a purging in His consuming fire of love for a time.Because of my experiences, I do know God is a consuming fire of unconditional love. I do believe the written word of God in the new and old testaments to be true of which translation by the Holy Spirit is required. At one point I saw everything atttempting to balance, situations, relationships, people coming into play, day and night, morning and evening, good and bad. Would this be considered a Christian experience,NO, but since Christ was my God and I believe I was protected by the Holy Spirit, I consider this experiences to be true. There are many, many things we do not know yet and all is trying to reconcile to Christ.

  32. 32 Heather Wax March 9, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Having recently watched the Kite Runner, I thought I would revisit this thread and post the poem quoted by the main character during his flight from Afghanistan. I found the full text on and he put some additional poetry on the end of it, so I will repost here his whole thing here:

    Knowing is Allah’s palace.

    By: Rumi from one of his collection/Book named, Mathnawi (1510 – 1513)

    If we come to sleep, we are His drowsy-drunken ones
    And if we come to wakeful alertness, we are in His Hands

    If we come to ignorance, that is His prison
    And if we come to knowledge, that is His balcony

    If we come to weeping, we are His cloud full of raindrops
    And if we come to laughing, we are His lightning in that moment

    If we come to anger and battle, it is a reflection of His wrath
    And if we come to peace and pardon, it is the reflection of His Love

    it’s so inspiring for someone who own an inner to fell………………
    Have a bit different words of translation below here:

    Ignorance is ALLAH’s prison
    Knowing is ALLAH’s palace.

    We sleep in ALLAH’s unconsciousness.
    We wake in ALLAH’s open hand.

    We weep ALLAH’s rain.
    We laugh ALLAH’s lightning.

    Fighting and peacefulness
    both take place within Allah.

    Who are we then
    in this complicated world-tangle,

    that is really just the single, straight
    line down at the beginning of ALLAH?

    Nothing, we are emptiness.


    Ok, so, seriously, some of these lines are pure truth and show that there was definitely some sort of revelation taking place in the heart and mind of the guy who wrote it. How can we as believers in Jesus not appreciate that He is revealing Himself to this people group? Is it a complete revelation of Christ? No, but, I would dare say that this write showed me some things to meditate on that enrich my appreciation of Christ.. So how could we reject the value of this? How could we not honor and learn from this?


  1. 1 More on the Future of Mysticism « The Website of Unknowing Trackback on February 24, 2009 at 12:37 pm
  2. 2 On Peacemaking | What Would Jesus Eat? Trackback on February 9, 2011 at 11:18 am
  3. 3 On Peacemaking - Lucas M. Land Trackback on November 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm

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