These days all you have to say, in order to be blacklisted from the rolls of evangelical Christianity by certain self-appointed watchdogs, is that you are a fan of “contemplation” or “mysticism.” Voila! you are apostate: probably sliding into Eastern mysticism, and certainly a dangerous person for right-thinking evangelicals to hang around.
A colleague of mine at Bethel San Diego, the theologian Glen Scorgie, has lately been spelunking the little-studied area of “evangelical mysticism.” Among a select group of 19th- and 20th-century evangelical spiritual writers such as A. W. Tozer and Andrew Murray, the Catholic mystical writers were not at all off-limits for evangelical study and praxis.
I’d go further. If you define mysticism as Bernard McGinn does, as a direct, intimate relationship with God in Jesus, accessed through certain disciplines, then I would argue that mysticism has been present in evangelicalism from its beginnings in the 18th century, and indeed from its immediate roots in the 17th. Here’s a clip from the beginning of a paper I gave in 2007 to the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue here in St. Paul. I use the term “immediatism” here, but I mean by it mysticism, in the sense defined above:
“Immediatism” in evangelicalism’s DNA
American Evangelicals have mysticism, or what I would call immediatism—the belief that the average layperson has direct, individual access to God, with no other mediator beside Christ—in the bloodstream. We find this at the very roots of American evangelicalism, among the first Puritans. As we were first taught in 1939 by the grand revisionist and revivifier of the Puritans, Perry Miller, this was “an emotionally vibrant and spiritually vigorous group in the tradition of Platonic idealism and Augustinian piety; their zeal came from an insatiable quest for the spiritual ideal of union with God despite their human imperfections.” Continue reading