Christianity: The Most Mystic of Beliefs


As most of you know I recently interviewed Richard Foster (my friends are wondering when I’m going to shut up about it). Besides his teachings meaning so much to me, one reason I admire him so much is because of ability to not only reach across denominations but also across the conservative/liberal spectrum. I still believe this to be true in general, but you can imagine my surprise when I was preparing for my interview with Foster and came across a few Youtube videos dedicated to “exposing” Foster for his mysticism.

I don’t know why I was surprised by ultra-fundamentalists having a problem with Foster, because of course they do. In a world where Westboro Baptist ‘church’ and other ridiculous groups exist, why wouldn’t there be a group of people who dedicate their time to ridiculing a man who is all about… communicating with God.

Then, that group (or a member of it)  took a field trip to my blog.

In the post where I announced that I would be interviewing Foster and would be taking listener questions, a comment appeared…

“What does foster have to say about his quaker roots in mysticism?  Clearly foster is not preaching the Jesus of the bible but another Jesus and another Gospel.

Can you have him comment on this?”

I chose not to include the link to the commenters blog post in which he outlines his indictment of Richard Foster the heretic.

Nevermind that this comment was posted more than a week after I had published the interview with Foster, leading me to believe that this individual is regularly searching the internet for mentions of Richard Foster so that he can inflict some cowboy justice on Foster and save all of us who are being led astray. Obviously this person made no effort to check and see if there was a completed interview, listen to said interview, and hear out what Foster has to say.

This all leads me to believe someone who has issue with Foster’s overall message either needs to…

A.) read Foster’s writings more closely. I tend to wonder if most people who dismiss Foster as a heretic have read his works at all. Anti-intellectualism tends to run ramped in these circles, and I would not be surprised if they believe they should not even read Foster lest they fall under his mystic spell.


B.) read scripture more closely.

I want to focus on the latter.

According to (hope there are no dictionary snobs out there)…

The definition of Mysticism is : a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding,or of a direct,
intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.


How about we use Peter as a case study?

The books of Acts describes this curious happening:

” About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

Let’s see, “…immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding,” yes, I do believe this qualifies.
“…a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy” we have a winner!

You see, the proper argument to make, is not that Foster and his teachings are not of the Christian-mystic variety, but that Christianity as it is presented in the Bible is a mystic belief.

Meditation? Mentioned 19 times in the Bible (NRSV), 14 if you stick with the translation Paul and Jesus read, the King James Version, (sometimes I worry my sarcasm doesn’t convey well enough in the written word).

Fasting? Mentioned 26 times.

Solitude? How much time did Jesus spend alone in the desert?

Confession? “…confess your sins to one another…” James 5:16

Dreams, visions, virgin birth, God baby, water to wine, multiplying of bread & fish, healing by touch, RESURRECTION, ascension, sudden blindness on the road to Damascus, eschatological prophecy… This all sounds very mystic to me. 

So before we go deciding who’s in and who’s out maybe we should at least make sure our facts are straight and understand that perhaps God is not nearly as narrow as we are. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

10 thoughts on “Christianity: The Most Mystic of Beliefs

  1. When I was lost in fundamentalism it wasn’t about comparing those stories, doctrines, etc in the Bible that could be applied to the definition mysticism, but more about opposing eastern religions and defining the Bible as the sole source of truth.
    Specifically for fundies, mysticism is a practice rooted in the “misguided” and evil ways (of Satan) of Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, etc. So the first problem is that mysticism is associated with non-western/non-enlightenment/non-protestant practices that fundies who are stuck in the spin cycle of Western, Enlightenment thinking can’t associate as a positive thing. And the reason mysticism is a threat or evil is because of the question of truth and experience.
    The real issue is that fundies place the Bible so high (to the place of idolatry) that the definition given to mysticism is too open to truth being experienced/found anywhere except in the Bible. Truth cannot be intuited, but only found in the careful rational study and exegesis of the Bible. Thus, truth is found in the proper doctrines and words/propositions (because truth is very analogous to language for fundies). A fundamentalist would degrade mysticism based on it’s openness to experiencing God and truth in an experience outside careful studying of the Bible or listening to a carefully worded sermon, or even thinking about (maybe they’d use the words contemplating or meditating here) the Bible. For a fundie, truth only comes from God (ie, the Bible) and never from experience (because we’re too sinful). 
    Needless to say, I’ve been freed from the bondage of fundamentalism and value mysticism as a way to experience God and truth. The question then is what does one do with their mystical experience that goes against or is different than the propositional beliefs and doctrines of their orthodoxy or even their reading the Bible?

    • @joebumbulis I almost included something about eastern religions, knowing that this is why many fundamentalist shy from mysticism. The question then is, if another religion sprouts up tomorrow and claims to have a savior who rose from the dead many years ago, are fundamentalist then going to remove that from their own faith as well?  
      I guess I kept my argument centered around the Bible because like you said the Bible is the God of fundamentalist, so it exposes pretty quickly that their argument doesn’t hold water, what with all the mysticism in the Bible.

    • @joebumbulis I think this is well said.  I was definitely raised in a fundamentally-based environment, but nothing too extreme or harmful I don’t think.  Because of that, something inside me still gets nervous if it’s “not from the Bible”.  And when I found out about the truth of the history and construction of the Bible, it almost wrecked my faith.  It the end it made my FAITH stronger.  
      In answer to you question:  I believe that there is truth hidden everywhere around us, but it is often hidden or confused in this broken world (including our own hearts and minds).  As a rule for my own faith, if I discover or experience something new and outside of the conventional means of faith – I check it against scripture as a standard.  I believe God can use those things to deepen or expand my understanding and experience of Him, even if it’s not “in the Bible”. (God has continued to speak and move in the last 2000 years since then)  But if it goes against the truth or ideas revealed in scripture – then it may not be of God, but rather ourselves or the enemy.  God and his truth are always the same – even though it takes different forms and avenues.  But he will never contradict himself or go against his nature.  (and I don’t mean paradoxes – God often exists in apparent paradoxes, I believe due to the nature of our limited minds not because of his actual nature)
      All in all: I think scripture is the basis and standard for what we know to be truth.  But there are a myriad of other avenues in which God enriches our knowledge and relationship with Him.  And He is free to creatively express himself and his love to us and the world.

  2. Well said, Shane.  I saw that comment in my inbox and wondered what your reply would be…and here it is.  My first reaction was “Wow, someone is after Richard Foster?  What’s next – Billy Graham?”  He seems to be one of the more “harmless” christian public figures.

  3. After our conversation this past weekend, I’m glad that you decided to deal with this thusly, Shane.
    Though I understand how strong the draw toward reason and rationality is in our Western world (to the point that our use of language is opposed to the non-rational expression of understanding), people often forget that Christianity itself did not begin in the West.  It began in a place which was far more influenced by lands to the East than by the seas to the West.  It very quickly spread to the West, true. But the extolling of reason as the basis for being began with the Greeks, not the Hebrews, God’s people.
    Certainly, God has created an ordered universe, and us as rational creatures.  But to the world in which Christianity is rooted, the LORD, not reason, is the foundation of our existence.  Therefore, a mystical as well as a rational understanding of God is meant to initiate humankind into a relationship with and experience of an infinite and unbound Creator and Redeemer.  It is possible for the mystic to abuse the mystery, and it is equally possible for the enlightened to abuse reason.  Christ is both the divine Word (reason; John 1:1-4) and the divine mystery revealed to us (Ephesians 1:7-9).

  4. I agree greatly with your post. I would say that Christianity is a mystical religion, but it is not only a mystical religion. Miroslav Volf in his book “A Public Faith” says “… it may be helpful to recall the old distinction between prophetic and mystical types of religion. The first advocates active transformation of the world, and the second encourages flights of the soul to God.” I appreciate the mystical aspects of Christianity, but mystical Christianity must also be rooted in its prophetic nature as well. Again, Volf: “The Christian faith malfunctions when it is practiced as a mystical religion in which ascent is followed by a barren rather than creative return, a return that has no positive purpose for the world but is merely an inevitable result of the inability of a flesh-and-blood human being to sustain unitive experience over time.” Just my 2 cents.

    • I like this. In CoD, Foster makes a point to say something to the effect of “New Age meditation seeks to empty the mind. Christian meditation seeks to fill it with Christ.”

  5. Christians – too many anyway — are steeped in fear – and it shows. It rears its head as hate and anger and nastiness. It’s so sad and so un-Christlike. My atheist friends are so much easier to talk to sometimes.

  6. Oh jeepers! I get so tired of this sort of backbiting. We certainly have a lot of backbiting in Christianity here in this country. Whatever happened to respect? Whatever happened to Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
    God bless Richard Foster and you. Thank you for being open and helping people see that Christianity is much freer than we’ve been brainwashed to believe.

  7. Amen and thank you. Richard Foster authored two of the books on my very short list of books that have profoundly impacted my spiritual journey.
    After my first reading of Celebration of Discipline, I made the mistake of perusing the internet to see what else he had out there. I was dumbfounded by the critics and then almost amused (although ultimately just angry) with the ludicrous way they took quotes out of context, twisted meanings and painted pictures of heresy that simply were not there.
    Thank you for speaking to such ignorance. And thank you for not sharing their link – they do not deserve the attention it would bring them.

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