Mystical theology is a topic many people steer away from as they do not know how to talk about it. Should Christians play a part in the spiritual realm? How much should Christians rely on the spiritual realm? Is the spiritual realm or the Bible more important? These questions will be answered from a Biblical basis in this blog post to help give you a better understanding of mystical theology.
What Is Mystical Theology? Mystical Theology is the branch of theology that seeks to learn about God from spiritual experiences and contemplative prayer and meditation, rather than specifically from sources you would learn from intellectually such as reading the Bible to learn about God. Simply put, it is when people seek to experience God in a spiritual sense only, without Scripture or other knowledge.
Before we look at the three main viewpoints on mystical theology, let’s begin with the history and see where the roots come from.
Historical Roots of Mystical Theology
Mysticism in the earliest forms come from the eastern world. It is rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism and seeks to empty yourself and encounter the spiritual world. This was adopted by certain parts of the early church throughout the ages. Specifically, many Monks would spend hours contemplating the things of God and would seek to pray.
There was an earlier form of mysticism that was prominent in the early church and remains prominent today. There are many Christians who believed experiencing God and allowing spiritual experiences that influenced them was most important. There are many varieties of mystical theology and mysticism. Some variations could be considered helpful and some could be considered harmful.
3 Viewpoints on Mystical Theology
These three viewpoints will help you better understand mystical theology and what people from each view believe and why.
1. Viewpoint – Spiritual Experiences
There are some people that would say the primary way to learn about God is experiencing Him in a spiritual way, and that ultimately allowing yourself to experience God is how we learn about God’s character. This group was de-valuing written text like the Bible and would make light the importance of theological education. This group promoted experiences and meditation.
2. Viewpoint – Word of God
Then there is the opposite of the first view. The second view states that we should not engage in the spiritual world. The only way we learn is through the Word of God. The revelation of God’s Word should be the sole source. If we are to contemplate anything, it should be the words and concepts in the Bible alone.
3. Both the Word of God & Spiritual Experiences
Spiritual experiences can be helpful as long as they are subordinate to the Word of God. However, rather than just experiencing the spiritual world, the goal would be to experience what we see in the Word of God and to allow God’s supernatural power to bring transformation as we meditate upon those things. It is an invitation of the spiritual realm through the Bible into our lives.
Why it Matters
Most mystical theology is all about experiencing God and believing whatever we experience. There is danger in that because as humans, we have the tendency to dramatize, exaggerate, or misunderstand things we experience. For example, there are stories of people having visions of heaven or hell and experiencing elaborate afterlife experiences. They come back and tell stories and people begin to build their theology on these stories. Instead, we should build our theology on what the Word of God says and if these stories contradict the Bible, then we should reject them. In addition, even if these stories don’t contradict the Bible, they may not directly support what the Bible says.
Ultimately, mystical theology should be subordinate to quality Bible study. Everything we experience through contemplating prayer or other spiritual experiences must align with the Bible. If your experience teaches you something contrary to the Bible, you ought to reject what you have experienced. This is hard for humans because we want to believe what we have experienced more than what the Bible says.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” A potential danger with mystical theology is that it could lead us to think a certain way is right, but ultimately that way could lead to destruction.
The New Mystic’s Group
In recent times, there is a new mystic group of people seeking to put an emphasis on Christians experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. Most of these new mystics have taught Christians to meditate on concepts and ideas in a way that is contrary to the way of the Bible, and could lead people to put more confidence in their spiritual experience rather than in what the Bible says. Most evangelicals would agree that the new mystics are bordering heretical ideas or they already are teaching heretical ideas, so believers should be very wary.
There are contemporary authors that have promoted ideas similar to mysticism and in-line with Christian orthodoxy that has been very helpful. Authors such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have frequently engaged in practices of meditation and contemplative prayer and they have been labeled as heretics by some sections of evangelicals. However, both Foster and Willard and other similar authors are in the realm of orthodoxy. They simply have put an emphasis on the spiritual realm and put more emphasis on Christians praying and meditating more than what many other denominations have typically taught.
Mystical theology has danger if we are not careful. On the other hand, if it is subordinate to the Word of God, it can be very life-giving. It is only beneficial if we use it as a way to encourage what we learn about God in the Bible and to help us develop intimacy with God. Then, the practice of mystical theology can be helpful in the life of a believer.
While there are many questions one may pose about this topic, we will go ahead and answer a few you might already be wondering.
Are There Books about Mystical Theology?
Yes, there are many books on the topic of mystical theology.
5 of them include:
- The Oxford Handbook of Mystical Theology – Edward Howells and Mark A. McIntosh
- Mystical Theology: The Science of Love – William Johnston
- The Cloud of Unknowing – Unknown (from the Middle Ages time period)
- Divine Names – Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
- The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence
What is Mystical Prayer?
Mystical prayer seeks to have communication with God, in hopes of bringing the person peace. People who use mystical prayer begin by examining their own hearts and calming themselves. They believe God examines their heart so they are determined to ready their hearts for His peace. Then, they become completely silent before God. They try to not think about anything to be in a place of peace and stillness.
This type of prayer is similar to meditating as you are very quiet during your prayer time and it can be done every day. People who practice mystical prayer believe it brings you closer to God. They believe it helps you calm yourself and let go of difficulties. They say this type of prayer helps because it puts God firsts and you are then able to give Him thanks and praise. They also believe it deepens your faith as you experience God’s peace in your heart.
What is Another Word for Mystic?
Synonyms for mystic include magic, mysterious, magical, weird, religious mystic, undercover, secret, enchanting, marvelous, spellbound, private, deep, unearthly, mystical, astounding, wondrous, imaginary, otherworldly, and visionary. These are all words related to the word mystic.