Thursday, May 29, 2008

Earth: The Old Story, The New Story

"...[J]ust as your ten biological systems and trillions of cells are unified, integrated, motivated, and guided by the framing story you tell yourself as a person, our societies are unified, integrated, motivated, and driven by the framing stories* we tell ourselves as groups. These stories align the desires of billions of individuals through the three societal systems we have introduced, providing a framework within which we live and act and desire and dream. . . . If our framing story is wise, strong, realistic, and constructive, it can send us on a hopeful trajectory. But if our framing story is dysfunctional, weak, false, unrealistic, or destructive, it can send us on a downward arc, a dangerous, high-speed joyride toward un-peace, un-health, un-prosperity, and even un-life."

"It is time for the church to take to telling stories again....

New Light embodiment means to be 'in connection' and 'in-formation' with all of creation. New Light communities extend the sense of connectionalism to creation and see themselves as members of an ecological community encompassing the whole of creation. 'This is my body' is not an anthropocentric metaphor.... [W]e constitute together a cosmic body of Christ....

[W]e are in symbiotic relationship with the earth. Creation spirituality is of tremendous help here in weaning us from this homocentric warp."

- Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Spirit Venture, 1994), pp. 39,124 [emphasis added].

View charts HERE before reading this post

Emergent church leaders are re-packaging and marketing the Creation Spirituality myth to the evangelical church. According to Emergent church leader Brian McLaren, human beings on planet Earth need to change our "framing story." A thorough read of his latest book, Everything Must Change, indicates that Christians have to change their doctrines. He proposes that "Jesus' message might be seen as an alternative framing story that, if believed, could save the system from suicide. . . . For Jesus to save the system, we must first, in a sense, save Jesus -- by reframing him . . . ." (p. 73) In McLaren's "Emerging View" Jesus "came to become the Savior of the world, meaning he came to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil." (p. 79) [emphasis added]

McLaren says that the "world's dominant framing story is failing" (p. 68). According to his revisionist history, Christianity is largely to blame for the world's problems of "greed, class conflict, sexual irresponsibility, ethnic hatred, religious bigotry, or nationalistic militarism that threaten us." (Ibid.) If this were true (and indeed there may be some elements of truth in this) an authentic biblical response would be repentance. But that is not McLaren's solution. His solution is a social activism "transformation" that parallels precisely the goals and activities of the New Age New World Order.

McLaren appears to be establishing a beachhead for neoevangelicals to become aligned and intermingled with the doctrines of Gaia, the mythic story that the Earth is a sacred entity and deity. In fact, McLaren consistently references the Earth as "sacred" throughout his book (on page 142, for example, he refers to the "sacred ecosystem of God" as "the kingdom of God").

What is Gaia? One definition comes from Margaret Wheatley, a well-known Peter Drucker-connected business guru [1] who says that we need the Gaia myth to help us with the task of developing "a new cosmic story" to replace the "old story... of dominion and control, and all-encompassing materialism."

"Throughout all time and in all societies, this goddess of creation has been known. In some cultures she has been honored, in others reviled, but she is always present at the dawn of creation. In Western thought she appears in Hesiod (about 600 B.C.) as Gaia, one among the creation trinity of Chaos and Eros. It is Gaia who reaches into the void that is Chaos and pulls forth life. It is Gaia who works with the creative impulse that is Eros and creates the world. She is the created universe, the mother of all life, the great partner of chaos and creativity. In modern science, she is planet Earth, a living being who creates for herself the conditions that nourish and sustain life. And in this millennial era, Gaia is us. She is the feminine energy that compels us to care about the future of Earth. She is the feminine sensibility that inspires us to dream of harmony among all beings. She is the feminine voice that yearns to speak through us of the law of love." (Margaret Wheatley, Reclaiming Gaia, Reclaiming Life in The Fabric of the Future. Conari Press, September 1998)

Margaret Wheatley was featured at the Leadership Network's "Exploring Off the Map Experience" conference in 2000 which was a pivotal encounter experience that helped to launch what became the Emergent movement. Her models and metaphors are blatantly occult.

This idea of creating a "New Story" for the planet is not a new one. McLaren has simply repackaged for a postmodern neoevangelical audience. The "New Story" is credited to Thomas Berry's concept of "Earth Spirituality," which is totally steeped in occult doctrines. A review of Berry's works posted online [2] shows how thoroughly Brian McLaren borrowed from Berry (McLaren also cites another Berry - Wendell Berry). Thomas Berry proposed that a new cosmology story, based on an evolutionary view of human nature and an emergent view of the universe, could create a new vision or "dream" for humanity's collective salvation. Adopting the feminine "Gaia" metaphor, which in Catholic Creation Spirituality is linked to Mary,[3] could facilitate spiritual and social transformation.

Likewise, McLaren proposes a new eschatology, a "rethinking" about the "second coming [of Christ] that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture." (p. 144) And Thomas Berry proposed "fundamentally changing our governance systems," which included reconceiving the "basic institutions of government, religion, education, and business,... from which a genuine Earth Jurisprudence might eventually emerge." [4] McLaren proposes that transformation include rebuilding community:

"Local churches, local schools, local government, and locally rooted business and other civil organizations and associations have a pivotal role in this regard -- strengthening families and communities through celebrating virtue and training people to practice it. . . . [O]ne of the most powerful ways to strengthen families and communities through virtue development begins with teaching, celebrating, and modeling a coherent, transforming framing story -- like the one found in Jesus' message of the kingdom of God -- translated. . . into the language of God's sacred ecosystem or God's global love economy." (p. 264) [emphasis added]

Putting wheels on this "New Story," Rick Warren's Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan, recently embarked upon a massive marketing maneuver, launching "40 Days of Love" and proposing a P.E.A.C.E. coalition – a supranational, suprachurch "network of churches, business, and NGOs," according to a 5/13/08 Christianity Today article. See also the recent TIME magazine article, "Rick Warren Goes Global" (May 27, 2008)[5]

Of relevance to the evangelical acceptance of these myths is the role of education in propagating the "New Story" to an entire generation of American schoolchildren via a global education curriculae. See, for example, the charts and story posted HERE

The Truth:

"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands." (Hebrews 1:10)

Matthew Henry, commenting on Hebrews 1:10, comparing it to Colossians 1:17 ("And he is before all things, and by him all things consist"), contrasted Christ's immutability with the world's mutability:

"This world is mutable, all created nature is so; this world has passed through many changes, and shall pass through more; all these changes are by the permission and under the direction of Christ, who made the world (v. 11, 12): They shall perish, they shall all wax old as doth a garment; as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed. This our visible world (both the earth and visible heavens) is growing old. Not only men and beasts and trees grow old, but this world itself grows old, and is hastening to its dissolution; it changes like a garment, has lost much of its beauty and strength; it grew old betimes on the first apostasy, and it has been waxing older and growing weaker ever since; it bears the symptoms of a dying world. But then its dissolution will not be its utter destruction, but its change. Christ will fold up this world as a garment not to be abused any longer, not to be any longer so used as it has been. Let us not then set our hearts upon that which is not what we take it to be, and will not be what it now is. Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse, and Christ will make a great change in it for the better. We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Let the consideration of this wean us from the present world, and make us watchful, diligent, and desirous of that better world, and let us wait on Christ to change us into a meetness for that new world that is approaching; we cannot enter into it till we be new creatures

"2. Christ is immutable. Thus the Father testifies of him, Thou remainest, thy years shall not fail. Christ is the same in himself, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever, and the same to his people in all the changes of time. This may well support all who have an interest in Christ under all the changes they meet with in the world, and under all they feel in themselves. Christ is immutable and immortal: his years shall not fail. This may comfort us under all decays of nature that we may observe in ourselves or in our friends, though our flesh and heart fail and our days are hastening to an end. Christ lives to take care of us while we live, and of ours when we are gone, and this should quicken us all to make our interest in him clear and sure, that our spiritual and eternal life may be hid with Christ in God."[6]

1. See for example Wheatley's book Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, which has an endorsement by Ken Blanchard, business guru assisting Rick Warren with his global P.E.A.C.E. Plan: "Margaret Wheatley pushes our thinking about people and organizations to a new level."
2. Thomas Berry's Earth Spirituality and the “Great Work” by Andrew J. Angyal. Originally presented at Works of Love - Scientific & Religious Perspectives on Altruism, May 31 - June 5, 2003, published in The Ecozoic Reader, 3, 3 (2003): 35-44. The following is mirrored from its source at: with the permission of the author.
3. See, for example, which expresses concern about this development.
4. Ibid.
5. "Family is most important small group in the church, say pastors," by Katherine T Phan, Christian Post, Friday, May 23, 2008; "Rick Warren Goes Global," by David Van Biema, TIME, 5/27/08.,8599,1809833,00.html
6. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the New Testament.

*The word "story" appears in bold, emphasis added, throughout this post.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nicodemus Leaders

"He Who Came to Jesus By Night"

By Anton Bosch

We all know the story about Nicodemus who visited Jesus under the cover of darkness in John 3 and to whom Jesus spoke about being born again and to whom Jesus uttered the famous John 3:16.

It is interesting to note that Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s Gospel. In addition to the well-known passage in John 3, he is also mentioned in chapters 7 and 19. He is the only man by that name in the Bible and there can be little confusion about who he was. His name is not common like that of Mary or James, yet every time John refers to him, he refers to Nicodemus as “he who came to Jesus by night.” Thus his visit to Jesus at night became the thing that will forever identify him.

Then there was “Joseph of Arimathea... a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). Just like Nicodemus, Joseph was also a spiritual leader of the Jews who believed in Jesus but would not openly identify with Jesus and boldly declare his allegiance to the Son of God.

The reason for all the secrecy is obvious. It would not have been good for their image, popularity, and position in society if they had openly identified with Jesus. Thus they were no different to Peter, another leader amongst his peers who denied Jesus and would not openly side with his Teacher at a crucial time.

Just as the Jews of Jesus' day had departed from the true faith and were following their own traditions and inventions, rather than the Word of God, so many churches and denominations today have left, or are departing from, the true faith. They substitute this with a religion of their own traditions and imaginations. And just as in Jesus’ day there are still some spiritual leaders in churches who are exactly like Nicodemus, Joseph and Peter. They know the Truth but will not speak out for fear of what others will say, or because they fear the loss of their status, position or income.

These modern Nicodemuses will approach those who stand for the Truth under cover of darkness and, just like Nicodemus, recognize, acknowledge and support the Truth. But they will not take an open stand for Truth -- and against error -- for fear of the consequences. Almost every assembly and every denomination has its share of people like this, who will hide in the crowd while the Truth is denied, sold and crucified. While they know the Truth, they choose to remain secret agents, feeding information to those who are waging the battle, but they themselves prefer to operate at night, under cover of darkness.

We are familiar with the fact that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born again, but have you ever looked at the entire message of Jesus to Nicodemus? Jesus concludes his comments to this leader with the following words:

“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).

Don’t think these words are said in isolation. They are directly linked to the opening of the passage which tells of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he loved the darkness rather than the light. We far too glibly apply these verses to burglars and robbers who work at night. But Jesus did not aim them at sinners; He directed them at a religious man who recognized who Jesus was but preferred to remain incognito!

Friend, if you recognize that your church or denomination is moving in the wrong direction and have created (or have begun to create) their own religion of their own design which is not according to God’s Word – then you need to take a stand. If you remain silent because of “fear of the Jews,” then Jesus says that you are in darkness. If you are of the Truth, then you must come to the light, and you must let your light shine and you must speak up for the Truth.

Off course there will be repercussions. Yes, they will hate you, destroy your reputation, strip you of your position and cast you out as a piece of rubbish. Yes, you may lose all your friends, maybe even your salary, health and self-respect. But did they not do the same to Jesus and to all the men of God in the entire Bible? And did Jesus Himself not say:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 5:10-15).

Note again that we are to be salt and light, not just in the world, but especially, in the church. Note also the connection between being light and persecution.

You can hide for a while, but the time will come when you will need to take a stand. Nicodemus and Joseph were “under cover” for a few years but the time came when they had to nail their colors to the mast. It was Joseph who had to brave Pilate’s wrath and ask for the broken body of Jesus. It was Joseph and Nicodemus who buried Jesus in Joseph’s tomb. But in a sense it was too late. Jesus was dead. Many modern Nicodemuses wake up when it is too late, when the Truth has been killed and all that remains is to bury the remains of the Truth.

Praise God, the Truth rose again and can never be destroyed. But don’t wait until it is too late before taking your stand boldly beside the Son of God. Moses also hid under his Egyptian clothes but the day came when

“choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:25-27).

It was this Moses who, when all of Israel had turned to idols, cried “Who is on the LORD'S side?” (Exodus 32:26). Again, the consequences of the sons of Levi responding to that call were not pretty, but God honored their stand and He will honor your courage. But you must choose and you must do so today.

The Truth:

"And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me. But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the LORD, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live." (Jeremiah 38:19-20)

Pastor Anton Bosch is author of Building Blocks of the Church: Re-examining the Basics, which is a useful book of instruction on how to "do church" in these dark days. See

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Was Paul A Pragmatist?

But the young evangelicals I wrote about share your surprise and dismay with the message you heard from Leadership Network: "Theology just causes people to argue. We don't do theology."
- Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, in a discussion with Tony Jones, Christianity Today [bold added]

Our goal as we share at seminars and offer counsel, is to minister to the hearts of people. We try to explain life, hurts and relationships in a simple way. Doctrine is not the focus....
Bypassing doctrine to meet people where they lived is exactly what Jesus did in His ministry.... A quote by John Regier that speaks to me is, "You cannot lay truth over pain."
- Freedom Hills Ministries newsletter, Vol. 11, Issue 2, April 2008 [bold in original, italics added]

From the very beginning the Leadership Network forged a brilliant dialectic process in order to facilitate the postmodern church era. On the one hand they created the mystical syncretistic Emergent movement. On the other hand they wrought the pragmatic, Drucker-driven, utilitarian, Megachurch model. These two creations would appear to be opposite extremes. One pole could then work off the other. The utilitarian megachurch could be accused of too much dry, dead pragmatism -- spirit-stifling numbers-driven, business results & methods-driven, impersonal franchises, etc. In a planned reaction against this, the hip, young Emergent would arise, claiming that the worse excesses of stale programmed structure inhibits spiritual growth and vitality, therefore we need something new. And the tenets and practices of the New (Apostolic) Reformation would arise as the perfect synthesis solution.

Neither extreme is theologically sound, nor is the proposed third-way compromise of a new reformation. The New Apostolic Reformation/Transformation (in its many guises) would serve as a perfect vehicle in juxtaposition to the old orthodoxies, fundamentalism, theology and doctrine.

In the dialectic dance, answers from the Word of God are routinely discarded. The Bible is not the answer. The new-fangled proposals suggest a better way. They tickle the ear, stimulate the senses, organize the church into networking cellular structures (controlling hierarchies), and utilize psycho-social methods. Superficially this all seems more compassionate and caring. It is always presented as more "effective." But to achieve this the offense of the cross is removed.

Some key elements of this transformative dialectical process are documented in the most recent Discernment Ministries newsletter on the topic of The Emerging Church - The Rising Generation: A Maturing Church? by Jewel Grewe.

In the previous 4-part series on Herescope Pastor Larry DeBruyn dealt with the question "Was Paul A Mystic?" Given the ongoing dialectic, and considering the rising popularity of reinventing the apostle Paul, it is also necessary to look at the opposite claim: that Paul was a pragmatist. Today's post addresses that issue.


Would the apostle have employed "any" means to save some?

These days, pastors and churches will seemingly stoop to anything to build a crowd. Rock-'n'-roll, the culture's dominant music, is fast becoming "the" staple of so-called praise and worship. In their attempt to "connect" with their audience, I've heard pastors use lewd language in their preaching. One church featured an Elvis impersonator, while another, in a Halloween-themed "sanctuary" with a haunted house, featured a Michael Jackson Thriller dance. Pastors even advertise sex-sermons on billboards in ways that offend non-Christians who are tired of the permissiveness of our sex-crazed culture. American "churchianity" is addicted to the unprincipled principle of, "just do it to just get it."

All of the aforementioned, and more, seek justification from a statement in the Bible where Paul wrote, "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22b). Contortedly, contemporaries interpret this verse to provide apostolic endorsement to do anything to reach anyone. Such a ministry motif is pragmatism, a belief that legitimates any practice so long as it achieves the presumed result of saving some. To the pragmatist, the end justifies the means.

Yet no matter how it is slanted, pragmatism is liberalism. While liberals depart from orthodox belief, pragmatists depart from orthodox behavior. According to pragmatism, even if it's wrong, it's right, so long as it works. Pragmatists will do anything to attract everyone, and churches are full of this philosophy of doing business now-a-days. Noble ends supposedly justify ignoble means. A pragmatist possesses no "set-in-stone" convictions. They will do whatever it takes to win--even cheat. If it does it, do it.

If idols will attract a crowd, then carve the wood, mold the gold, and hew the rocks. The Israelite king Jeroboam was a pragmatist. In defiance of Yahweh's choice of Jerusalem to be the place where the nation was to worship Him, and because it was inconvenient for Israelites to make their mandated pilgrimages to the Holy City, the pragmatic king defied the will of God and created handy "high places" (praise and worship centers) all over the land, especially in Bethel and Dan (See 1 Kings 12:28-30.). By his example, Jeroboam was known in history as the king who "who did sin, and who made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 14:15).

Bored with the "traditional" worship of Yahweh at Jerusalem (i.e., ho-hum . . . same-o' same-o'), and for the experience of innovatively worshipping Baal (i.e., thrills and chills), one might even envision apostate Israelites from the southern-most town of Beersheba by-passing Jerusalem (approximately 50 miles to the north) and journeying all the way to Dan (approximately 150 miles to the north) to observe the idolatrous spectacle. Besides, Baal promised them prosperity that was not dependent upon their behavior (See Deuteronomy 28:1 ff.). Against this backdrop, we turn now to address the issue of what Paul meant when he confessed, "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some." Was he a situational pragmatist who, like Jeroboam, would have built "high places" in order to get people "saved"?

To understand this issue from Paul's perspective, the context is the key (Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-9:27.). In these chapters, Paul is not addressing the subject of methods. One missiologist wisely observes: "These classic words [i.e., "I have become all things to all men"] are often used by missionaries to justify diverse methods of reaching people for Christ. But that is certainly a misinterpretation."[1] In the flow of these chapters, Paul is discussing mores (the folkways and customs of a culture), not methods. For example, in Lithuania, it was considered rude for a speaker to stand before an audience with his hand in his pocket, or a man to whistle in public places (Personally, I too find this annoying.). So when I preached, I kept my hands out of my pockets! It was no "issue" to me, but it was to the Lithuanians. So I accommodated myself to the custom.

Accordingly, the apostle grouped people as to whether, or not, they were "Jews," "under the Law," "without the law" and "weak" (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). Paradoxically, though Paul considered himself "free from all" these groups, he also considered himself a "slave to all" these groups (1 Corinthians 9:19). While he did not allow diverse mores to intimidate him, the apostle did, in his ministry, accommodate his outward behavior to the cultural consensus. Presumably, that is why he allowed Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3). As one scholar summarized: "Contextually, then, what Paul meant by becoming 'all things to all men' was doing all things possible to avoid prohibitions, strictures, and offenses peculiar to a culture."[2]

To save some, Paul politely submitted to and served the customs of others. He became "all things to all men." But, to evangelize the unevangelized, the apostle uncompromisingly employed one method--preaching. He employed this method in synagogues, churches, and at Mars Hill. And with this one method the apostle preached one message. As he stated to the Corinthians: "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2, KJV). While the places and the people to whom he ministered varied, his method and his message remained consistent. Yet in doing so, Paul served people, for as he wrote, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (Emphasis mine, 2 Corinthians 4:5, KJV). It is at this juncture that contemporary Christendom had better beware: Different methods may evoke different messages (See Galatians 1:6-10.).

As to the question, "Was Paul a Pragmatist?" John Makujina summarizes: "Becoming 'all things to all men' does not refer to an offensive strategy of inventiveness, creativity, persuasiveness, or accommodation to new modes of evangelism that key in on the latest public novelty. Paul's references here are purely preventative. He simply wished to eliminate any nonessential barriers that would hinder his proclamation of the gospel."[3]

No, Paul was not a pragmatist. He did not employ fleshly or worldly means to attain a "so-called" spiritual good. In fact, he recognized the "flesh" to be in mortal combat against the "Spirit" (Galatians 5:19-21). Unlike many of today's churches, he most certainly would abhor any fleshly method employed to make a crowd. To win the world, the church cannot afford to become like the world. "Fleshly tactics" will not win spiritual battles. If those tactics are used, the church then fights on the devil's "turf" and will surely be defeated..

[1] David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, An Introduction to Missionary Communication, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1991) 177.
[2] John Makujina, Measuring the Music, Another Look at the Contemporary Music Debate
(Willow Street, Pennsylvania: Old Paths Publications, 2002) 22.
[3] Ibid. 23-24.

The Truth:

"He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise." (Job 5:12)

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This article used with permission.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New Age Morphing. . .

. . . Into the Church

How has the New Age morphed itself over the past 35 years since the public launching of "The Aquarian Conspiracy"?

Herescope readers can listen to a Steel on Steel broadcast hosted by John Loeffler on this topic. The following description is posted at

The New Age Morphing

Time to clear the decks for a conference call today. We haven't done one in a long time so it's overdue.

Almost thirty years ago Detroit attorney, Constance Cumbey, published a book entitled, /Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow/, warning of a major paradigm shift transforming politics and religion, moving us to a global blend of politics and pantheism, socialism with Christianity.

Many shrugged it off as a passing fad. Today the New Age has not only persisted and flourished, but is embraced by churches from Catholic to Pentecostal. How did so many people -- especially pastors -- miss the warning?

Our participants today are attorney Constance Cumbey (, Warren Smith, author of The Light the was Dark,[*] Sarah Leslie (, plus Mitch and Machelle Wright.

John's boralogue frames the entire hour and a half conversation.

Herescope readers can log in to the full recording for free by using the word "herescope" (all lower case) for both login and password when it requests member information.

To read about the history of the several evangelical "Consultations on the Future" referred to in this broadcast click on the archive months of September 2005 and October 2005. This post series begins with the amazing statement that: "Evangelical leaders were meeting together with New Age leaders openly by the late 1970s."

The Truth:

"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." (Romans 13:11)

*link added

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Was Paul A Mystic?

Part 4

Do you love Paul? Do you struggle with Paul? Do you suffer from Paulophilia or Paulophobia? Some have accused emergents of re-emphasizing Jesus and forgetting about Paul. Well, no more!

The 2008 Emergent Theological Conversation, ReClaiming Paul: The Apostle in the Emerging World is now taking registrations. Co-Sponsored by Nazarene Theological Seminary and hosted at Jacob's Well Church in Kansas City, the conversation will take place October 22-24, 2008. The cost is $189, and the event is limited to 300 participants.

This promises to be an extraordinary event, mixing Pauline scholars and emergent pastors to wrestle with Paul's theology, and the application of his writings in the 21st centtury.[sic] Find out more and register HERE.
(-Emergent/C newsletter, 5/8/08)*

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

In Christ
The phrases “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” in Him,” “in the Spirit,” and a few similar ones, occur hundreds of times in the writings of Paul. The phrase does not occur in the Gospels. Though the disciples were “with” Christ, they were not “in” Christ until after Pentecost. What does it mean for Christian believers to be “in Christ”? How does someone become “in Christ”? And what are the implications of being “in Christ’ for our Christian experience?

The phrase describes what some call the Christian’s mystical union with Christ. To the Galatians, Paul explained this bonding when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Professor David Rightmire states that “in Christ” describes “a spiritual reality that interpenetrates all of life and finds corporate expression in the body of Christ.”[32] With the vine and branches metaphor, Jesus illustrated His union with the disciples. He said,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

But given the tenets of mystical practices and beliefs, referring to this union between Christ and the Christian as mystical, is a misnomer, and confusing.

Almost four-hundred years ago, Henry Scougal (1650-1678) wrote,

[T]rue religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation in the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul. In the apostle’s words, it is “Christ formed in you.”[33]

No phrase bespeaks the infusion of divine life into a human soul more than the little phrase “in Christ.” “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We note the words “if any.” Spiritual union “in Christ” is the universal experience of ordinary Christians who by faith belong to God. Divine union is the fait accompli of all those who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and not awareness obtained by a mystical few. According to His divine power and promises, Peter stated that God has made us to “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). To every believer, Paul says, “in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10). The believer’s state of being “in Christ” is not a mystical end in itself, but issues forth in real moral and ethical life changes.

We should note that not only did Paul’s extraordinary vision occur “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:2), but he also lived every day “in Christ.” Like Paul, and for reason of being “in Christ,” it can be further observed that, unlike mystical experiences, God’s presence is abiding, not spasmodic. Given the fact that all believers possess this bonding in Christ by faith, why should they seek exceptional experiences with, even absorption into God, by the works of intentional mystical and spiritual practices? After all, by grace Christians are already bonded to Him. Of Paul’s exceptional experiences, Stewart writes that,

[H]e would never dream of using them to disparage the more normal experiences of souls ‘hid with Christ in God.’ On the contrary, it was in the daily, ever-renewed communion, rather than in the transient rapture, that the inmost nature of Christianity lay.[34]

Spiritual union is not the special province of those who, through the works of mysticism, cultivate the higher life, and their sense of a divine presence. There is a tendency to elevate some mystical Christians to a special status, and to revere them. But as Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Do not, then, look upon the ancient saints as being exempt either from infirmities or sins; and do not regard them with that mystic reverence which will almost make us idolaters. Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation.[35]

All of this raises the question, how does it come upon a person to be found “in Christ”?

The Baptism of the Spirit
The event which places a believer into spiritual union with Christ is the baptism in, with, or by the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). About the Spirit baptism mentioned here by Paul, we need to answer the question, who does the baptizing? Is it the Holy Spirit, or Jesus? Most Bible versions translate the preposition with the English preposition “by” (KJV, NASB, NIV, and NKJV), in which case, the Holy Spirit is suggested to be the one who does the baptizing. In other words, we are spiritually united to the church and other Christians “by” the Spirit. However, given the theological context of Spirit baptism, this is not the preposition’s best meaning. The Spirit does not perform the baptizing. Here’s why.

After his self-deprecating remarks, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; See also Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5.). In other words, just as John had physically baptized believers into the Jordan waters, so one day Jesus would spiritually baptize believers into union with the Spirit and Himself, thereby bonding true believers together in Christ’s body, the church. If this understanding is correct, then Jesus can be understood to be the unnamed agent who does the spiritual baptizing in 1 Corinthians 12:13. For reason of their being baptized “in” the Spirit by Christ, believers enter the state of being “in Christ.”

It must be understood that in every instance where Holy Spirit baptism is mentioned, the recipients of it are passive. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).[36] In other words, as a sovereign work of God, the event comes upon all believers, not just a mystical few. For this reason, there is no mystical meaning to being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ,” for the recipients of Spirit baptism are reacting, not acting. The passivity of Spirit baptism fits the paradigm of New Testament spirituality set forth by the apostle.

By virtue of his being united to the Lord, of being “in Christ,” Paul acknowledged the spiritual presence of Christ in his life. However, Paul did not derive understanding of his spiritual state via intuition and contemplation, but by revelation from God.

Was Paul a Mystic?
In order to make the determination whether Paul was a mystic, we evaluated Paul’s Paradise experience and his state of being “in Christ” according to the mystical characteristics of ineffability, noetic quality, transiency, passivity, and absorption. We found that Paul’s theology of spirituality is adverse to these qualities. Though he was intensely and passionately spiritual, Paul was not a religious mystic. He viewed that his spirituality originated from outside, not from inside, himself (Romans 10:6-10). He understood that Jesus Christ was the revelatory source of this knowledge (Galatians 1:12).[37] And he asserted that the Holy Spirit teaches believers about spiritual things so “that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12b; See 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.). In the Word and through the Spirit, New Covenant believers have access to all the knowledge they need to know about the spiritual life. In Christ we “have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10; See Ephesians 3:14-10.).

Something More
Yet Professor David F. Wells observes, “People who are attracted to mysticism usually assume that what is hidden in God is other than what is revealed, or that it is deeper or more interesting or spiritually nourishing.”[38] But Paul did not view that there was something more to the spiritual life than what Jesus Christ had made known to him, and presumably through him to us. The mysteries of the faith were revealed to him, not concealed from him. As he wrote to the Colossians, “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The knowledge of a believer’s being “in Christ” was revealed to Paul. As with the rest of the saving and sanctifying Gospel, such knowledge was received “through a revelation [from] Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12; See Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3.). Paul did not discover his state of being “in Christ” by contemplating the hidden things of God. He did not unravel the mystery of his being in Christ, and of Christ being in him, through mystical meditation. Rather, it was revealed to him by Christ. Paul was not a mystic, and to refer to the apostle’s teaching as “Christian mysticism” is confusing and misleading.

32. Ibid. 790.
33. Henry Scougal, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” The Works of the Rev. Henry Scougal, Dr. Don Kistler, Editor (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soil Deo Gloria Publications, 2002) 3.
34. Stewart, A Man in Christ, 162.
35. Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning July 5 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991) 374.
36. If Jesus is the unnamed agent who does the Spirit baptizing, then this further indicates there to be one spiritual baptism, and not as Pentecostalism asserts, two. There is one baptizer who performs one baptism (See Ephesians 4:5.). In the Acts passages, chapters 2, 8, 10 and 19, what Luke narrates in every instance is an initial baptism by Jesus in the Spirit, not a second. Additionally, in the baptism, the recipients are passive, not active. They do not “get” the baptism in the Spirit. They receive it from Jesus Christ.
37. The question regarding the prepositional phrase, “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Italics mine, Galatians 1:12, NASB), is whether Jesus Christ was the object, or the agent, of what was revealed to Paul. If the genitive (i.e., “of”) is objective, then the revelation was about Jesus Christ. If we understand the genitive (i.e., “of”) to be subjective, then the revelation was from Jesus Christ. The latter interpretation makes the best sense. The revelation came to Paul through Jesus Christ, perhaps at the time he encountered Him on the road to Damascus. See Longenecker, Galatians, 23-24.
38. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland, The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994) 132.

*This quote was added by the Discernment Research Group due to its timely relevance to this topic.

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This series "Was Paul A Mystic?" is a revised version of Appendix Two appearing in his book. Used with permission.


"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Was Paul A Mystic?

Part 3

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Transiency—“Once Upon a Time”
By nature, all religious experiences are transient. Circumstances and people vary from day to day. Because they’re rooted in life, and because from day to day situations do not remain the same, our feelings change. Feelings are fleeting, and do not last. Life is filled with various experiences! About emotions, Martin Luther (1483-1546) wisely wrote,

For feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God.
Naught else is worth believing.

Mysticism seeks the mountain peaks of experience where the air is rare (See Matthew 17:1-8.), but it cannot survive in that altitude for long. Real life, even our spiritual life, must be lived below. Therefore, any mystical taste of timelessness does not last.

Did the spirituality of Paul possess qualities of transience? It should not surprise us that some aspects of his spirituality were transient, while others were not. For example, Paul stated that the filling of the Holy Spirit is transient in the lives of believers (Ephesians 5:18). So too were some spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:8-11). Paul’s trip to Paradise did not last. It happened fourteen years before he related it to the Corinthians. While the ramifications of it were ongoing in his Christian life, the apostle’s Damascus Road experience did not last. But because this was true of some of Paul’s experiences, does not mean that it was true of all his experiences.

As opposed to the temporality of some spiritual gifts, love is unfailing (1 Corinthians 13:8). Too, the spiritual presence of Christ in the life of the believer, the state of being “in Christ,” is not temporary. He is always with and will never forsake believers (Matthew 28:19; Hebrews 13:5). Scripture does not portray Paul’s, or a believer’s, experience of being sealed with the Spirit as temporary. Far from being transient, the sealing of the Spirit is permanent in the life of the believer until the day of redemption; that is, until we arrive in the Lord’s presence for eternity (Ephesians 4:30; 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Furthermore, all believers have been baptized by the Spirit, and the baptism cannot be broken (1 Corinthians 12:13). Although aspects of Paul’s spirituality were transient, others were constant and continuing in the apostle’s life, and so also they are for all true believers.

Passivity—“I Can’t Control What Happens”
We should note that according to James, passivity is another characteristic of mystical experiences. Yet these experiences, as he points out, “may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe.”[25] Typically, Christian mystics engage in meditative techniques, or disciplines, in order to generate mystical ecstasy, experiences, and encounters. In other words, they are proactive.

Paul’s experience however, was passive-reactive. Two parallel phrases bear this out. First, Paul states that he was “caught up” (Greek, harpazo), that is, raptured to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2; Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:17.). Presumably speaking of himself, Paul again mentions “a man . . . was caught up” (Greek, harpazo), that is raptured into Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4). The verbs in both references to the same event are passive indicating that Paul was acted upon. The apostle did nothing to initiate what for him was an exceptional experience. As one commentator affirms, “What has happened has been done to Paul; he did nothing to obtain the vision.”[26] Paul’s experience was not the result of following the procedures and preparations of the mystic way. But like the coming translation of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:17), Paul was “caught up.” His transport to Paradise was sudden, unexpected, and abrupt, an event for which he made no preparations. By God’s sovereign grace it happened to him one time. In short, he did not experience Paradise by the proactive works of mystical methods, but as a gift of sovereign grace. Therefore, his experience cannot be categorized as mystical.

If the coming translation of those “in Christ” provides a parallel (The same Greek word for “caught up” is used in both 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4, and 1 Thessalonians 4:17.), Paul’s trip to the third heaven may well have come to him as “a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Because of the interruptive nature of Paul’s experience, it departs from the mystical pattern of preparing for experiences.

Fusion—“I and the Absolute are One”
Though not noted by James to be among the four basic characteristics of mysticism, absorption into, or fusion with, the Absolute, or Love, is the climax and goal of mystical practices. Of such assimilation into God James stated,

[T]his overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.[27]

Evangelical E. Glenn Hinson stated that a fundamental conviction of contemplatives is that they “may see God or be united with God, though fleetingly, while [they] are still living in this present state of existence.”[28] This state of absorption into God is also known as theosis.

For reason of Paul’s statement that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” William James viewed that Paul’s and Jesus’ personalities had become fused into mystical oneness. The two had become one.[29] By engaging spiritual exercises, Paul was absorbed into union with the Christ-God. Some might even suggest that mystically he had become a god-man. However, there are reasons why such fusion could not have taken place.

First, God is holy. That God is holy marks Him out to be separate from His creation and from His creatures, including men and angels. God is “wholly other” from His creatures. To Israel Jehovah said, “For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:9). The chasm between the being of God and the being of humans will never be completely bridged.

Yet Lucifer once vowed, “I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:14). Satan tempted Eve by telling her, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The Babylonians deludingly boasted, “I am, and there is no one besides me,” and in doing so, insulted the holiness of the One who declared, “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Compare the Lord—Isaiah 44:6; 45:5,6, 18, 22; 46:9; to the Babylonians—Isaiah 47:8, 10.). The aspiration of Lucifer to “be like” God, the temptation of Eve to “be like God,” and the “I am” claim of the Babylonians to be God, directly assaulted God’s holiness. Disregarding the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit which makes God immanent in the life of the believer (Romans 8:9b), the idea that any person could view that they were absorbed into God, and vice versa, challenges God’s apartness from humanity.

Second, Jesus is God (Philippians 2:6). Paul was not. The apostle’s personality did not become deity. By his own admission, Paul did not view himself to be divine. To Paul there was “one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:6). Paul understood that a coming “man of lawlessness” would claim to be God, that he would exalt “himself above every so-called god or object of worship,” and that he would take “his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The spirit of anti-Christ in the world ever claims divinity for itself. Paul never claimed to be deity, or thought he had achieved theosis, a state of fusion with God.

Third, for reason of Jesus’ sinlessness and Paul’s sinfulness, the distinct persons of the Lord and the apostle could not have become mystically one. Regarding Jesus’ sinlessness, something He claimed and the apostles claimed for Him (John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), Paul would never have embraced the idea that Jesus’ perfection was fused into him so that he was without sin (See Romans 7:24.). Though after his conversion Paul sinned less, he never claimed to be sinless (1 Timothy 1:15). For reason of the Lord’s perfection and Paul’s imperfection, his personality was not, and could not have been, absorbed into Jesus’.

Fourth, in this verse Paul states, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For reason of being in Christ, Paul did not lose his ego. He retained his unique personhood. Even though possessing a new nature, Paul’s personality was not mystically absorbed into Jesus.

Regarding this whole idea of Paul’s mystical absorption into Christ, Richard Longenecker commented,

[T]he mysticism of biblical religion is not some esoteric searching for a path to be followed that will result in union with the divine, but is always the nature of a response to God’s grace wherein people who have been mercifully touched by God enter into communion with him without ever losing their own identities.[30]

Though Paul’s theology of spirituality was one of communion with the divine, it was not one of fusion, or union, with the divine. As Peter put it, according to God’s power and promise, Paul was a “partaker” of the divine nature, but he was not wholly possessed by it (2 Peter 1:2-5). As Rightmire stated, “The relation of Christians to Christ is one of faith, not mystical absorption.”[31] If Christianity is to remain Christian, the biblical “I and Thou” relationship between man and God must be respected and advocated.

Someone has said that the Christian faith is not so much about pronouns as it is prepositions, and no prepositional phrase has more meaning than the little phrase “in Christ.” . . .


1. James, Religious Experience, 381.
2. Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Waco: Word Books, Publishers, 1986) 398.
3. James, Religious Experience, 419.
4. E. Glenn Hinson, “The Contemplative View,” Christian Spirituality, Five Views of Sanctification, Donald L. Alexander, Editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988) 176.
5. James, Religious Experience, 418.
6. Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians (Dallas: Word Books, Publishers, 1990) 93.
7. Rightmire, “Union,” 791.

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This series "Was Paul A Mystic?" is a revised version of Appendix Two appearing in his book. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Was Paul A Mystic?

Part 2

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Ineffable adj. 1. too overwhelming to be expressed or described in words; inexpressible 2. too awesome or sacred to be spoken*

Ineffability—“I Can’t Explain It”

Paul experienced unexplainable ecstasy in Paradise. In their seeking after similar divine encounters, Christian mystics identify with Paul and find precedent for their experience—or so they think—from the apostle. In addition to his experience in Paradise being passive and transient, Paul’s Paradise experience was primarily ineffable. First, Paul was unable to tell whether his experience was “in the body,” or “out of the body.” He also was unable to define his experience of going to, and being in, Paradise. His experience was inexpressible. That Paul’s experience was inexpressible marks it out to have been ineffable; and because it was ineffable, it is therefore categorized to have been mystical. Based upon his writings, and within the context of ancient Judaism, some persons claim that Paul was a merkabah mystic.[14]

Winfried Corduan agrees that ineffability (i.e., the incapability of being expressed or described), is perhaps the most common characteristic of mystical religious experiences.[15] Though noting that all human communication is deficient in one way or another, Corduan asks in one chapter, “Can Language Describe Mystical Experience?” After discussing the issues, he answers, “Upon analysis, mysticism and a meaningful use of language seem to be mutually exclusive.”[16] As Gordon Clark described ineffability,

Then there were the outright mystics who fell into trances. The droplets of their personality were poured out into the ocean of God’s being. Like air when it is so impregnated with light that it is more light than air, and like iron, which in the fire looks more like fire than iron, so the mystic soul becomes ineffably divine. No conceptual information is thus received, but it is a deeply satisfying experience.[17]

Mystics often use paradoxical language to express the inexpressible, sayings like “mute language . . . shouting silence . . . shoreless lake,” and so forth. In contrast to a mystic whose experience defies explanation, Paul’s experience was inexpressible because God forbade him to describe the details of what he saw. Paul “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (1 Corinthians 12:4). It’s not that Paul could not describe his experience, but rather that for reason of God’s prohibition, he would not describe it. For good reasons, he was under a gag order from God not to talk about the details of being in Paradise. By forbidding Paul to speak of his experience, “God ensured,” writes Scott Hafemann, “that the basis of apostolic authority did not become ecstatic, mystical experience.”[18] Unlike the imposter apostles, there was and is nothing to be gained by self-promotion based upon claims of hearing mystical voices or seeing mystical visions.

As they boasted in the details of their spiritual experiences to one-up Paul’s authority amongst the Corinthians, the imposter apostles had apparently taken their stand on visions they had seen (Colossians 2:18). But Paul was under strict orders not to create a competition of experiences, a “can-you-top-this-one” contest. Unlike his opponents, Paul made no claim that his experience enhanced his spiritual résumé, or added to his apostolic authority. Paul waited fourteen years to relate this incident to anyone, indicating that he considered his private experiences unessential for asserting his apostolic credibility, maintaining his spirituality, and pursuing his ministry. Though his letters are full of directions for practicing the faith, Paul provides no directions to the Corinthians for pursuing experiences like the one he had in Paradise. By Paul’s example we can assume that, contrary to the advice of many contemplative spiritualists, neither are extra-biblical visionary and auditory experiences essential for our spirituality either. On the point of ineffability, Paul’s experience departs from mysticism. It’s not that he couldn’t describe being in Paradise, but rather that he wouldn’t describe it, because God forbade him to do so.

Noetic Quality—“The Mind Game of Timelessness”
Noetic means “of or pertaining to the mind.” James wrote that though similar “to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge.”[19] To mystics, the mystical states of timelessness in inner space (i.e., in their minds), may be compared to an astronaut’s experience of weightlessness in outer space. The goal of mysticism is to shed the gravity of history to experience the weightlessness of eternity, and it’s all intuited in the mind. Among other descriptions, this mystic state is called a “dateless ecstasy,” or the “beginningless beginning.” Through contemplation and other spiritual exercises, mystics desire to attain a state of suspended animation in which they can taste eternity in their souls. For them, heaven can’t wait.

When mystics have transcendently tasted of eternity, time becomes illusory. Two characteristics of mystical experiences are non-spatiality, and non-temporality.[20] Mystics who have experienced “dateless ecstasy” live in what they believe is the eternal present. One result of this view of time is that many mystics believe in reincarnation. For mystics, the experience of timelessness carries with it “a curious sense of authority for after-time.”[21]

But such a view of spirituality directly contradicts the Christian faith which presents history as “His story.” First, to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, and then through John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, God revealed Himself to man in and through sequential historical events. “The Hebrew-Christian faith” as George E. Ladd once put it, “did not grow out of lofty philosophical speculation or profound mystical experiences.”[22] The Christian faith is spatial, material, temporal, and therefore historical, logical, and rational. Jesus was born into history. God sent forth his Son in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus died in history. Jesus rose from the dead in history. And Jesus is coming again in history. Christianity was not intuited by man from below, but revealed to man by God from above, and as such, possesses a propositional content and objectivity that distinguishes it from other religions. About a century ago, Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) stated the difference between Christianity and mysticism to be as follows:

Christ is history, and Christ’s cross is history, and mysticism which lives solely on what is within can have nothing to do with history; mysticism which seeks solely eternal verities can have nothing to do with time and that which has occurred in time.[23]

About such a supra-historical view, when time is viewed as illusory, Arthur Johnson notes that,

[O]ne result is that the way is opened to say that truth is whatever one happens to believe. It has no real relation to the objective world of actual events and things. Truth may then be said to be totally subjective and relative. [24]

Mystical religion, and contemplative spirituality, will go down easy with and amongst post moderns who reject the notion that there is such a strange critter as objective truth, or true truth, as Francis Schaeffer put it.

For reason of his view of history, the apostle Paul cannot be considered a mystic. As his writings attest, he often refers to and quotes from the revelatory events and words of the Old Testament. Paul firmly believed in history, history that had a beginning, and will end. Paul also did not allow his view of eternity to consume his understanding of time, and the importance of events that happen in time. Paul’s faith was more than a state of mind.


14. The Hebrew word “merkabah,” meaning chariot, was associated with Ezekiel’s chariot vision contained in chapter one, verses 15-20 of his prophecy.
15. James, Religious Experience. James states that the number one characteristic of mystical experiences is ineffability, “that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.”(380).
16. Winfried Corduan, Mysticism, An Evangelical Option? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991) 92.
17. Clark, “Revealed Religion,” 16.
18. Scott J. Hafemann, The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000) 460.
19. James, Religious Experience, 380.
20. R.A. Gilbert, The Elements of Mysticism (Boston: Element Books, Inc., 1991) 84.
21. James, Religious Experience, 381.
22. George E. Ladd, “The Knowledge of God: The Saving Acts of God,” Basic Christian Doctrines, Carl F.H Henry, Editor (Grand Rapids, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1962) 7.
23. Benjamin B. Warfield, “Mysticism and Christianity,” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Volume 9 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003) 424.
24. Johnson, Faith Misguided, 37.

*This definition was added. From Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, 1976.

Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor. This series "Was Paul A Mystic?" is a revised version of Appendix Two appearing in his book. Used with permission.

The Truth:

"And her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the LORD hath not spoken." (Ezekiel 21: 28)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Was Paul A Mystic?

Part 1
By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception,
according to the tradition of men,
according to the elementary principles of the world,
rather than according to Christ.”

- The Apostle Paul, Colossians 2:8

“Then there were the outright mystics who fell into trances. The droplets of their personality were poured out into the ocean of God’s being. Like air when it is so impregnated with light that it is more light than air, and like iron, which in the fire looks more like fire than iron, so the mystic soul becomes ineffably divine. No conceptual information is thus received, but it is a deeply satisfying experience.”
- Gordon H. Clark [1]

Although defying exact definition because the practices and experiences of mystics are so various and mysterious, one dictionary defines mysticism as, “the 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 and love.”[2] Note that in contrast to God revealing Himself in Scripture, mystical truth is individually, intimately, and immediately intuited through spiritual experiences.

In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four main characteristics of mystical experience: first, ineffability; second, noetic quality; third, transiency; and fourth, passivity.[3] James also notes that absorption, fusion, or union of the individual into the Absolute, or deity, is “the great mystic achievement.” He adds, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.”[4] On this point, James apparently suggested a fifth characteristic of mysticism—absorption.

There are those who speak of “Christian mysticism” and assert that the apostle Paul was a mystic.[5] From his epistles, they cite his experience, that of going to Paradise, and his condition, that of being “in Christ,” as evidences of his mysticism. For this reason, it is incumbent upon Bible believers to understand what Paul was saying about his experiences.

To determine if Paul was a mystic, analysis shall be offered regarding the incident of his being carried to “the third heaven,” and his state of being “in Christ.” The apostle’s experience and spiritual state shall be evaluated according to William James’ five characteristics of mystical experiences to determine whether or not Paul was a mystic. We note first the two primary New Testament references causing some to deduce that the apostle was a mystic.

Paul’s Journey to “Paradise”
In the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul provided this autobiographical account of what some consider to have been a mystical experience. He wrote,

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).[6]

Paul’s Life “In Christ”
William James and others consider Paul’s statement of being “in Christ” to be descriptive of the mystical state of absorption. This state is indicated by these well-known words written to the Galatians.

For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Emphasis mine, Galatians 2:19-20).

Because of his teaching on the believer’s union with Christ, some label Paul’s teaching, “Christian ‘mysticism’.”[7]

But before looking at Paul’s transport to “the third heaven,” and his state of being “in Christ,” Paul’s spirituality needs to be distinguished from mysticism.

Reactive Spirituality versus Proactive Mysticism
In a chapter “Mysticism and Morality,” contained in his book A Man in Christ, Scottish preacher and Professor James S. Stewart (1896-1990) pointed out that Adolf Deissmann categorized mysticism to be of two types: acting, and reacting. For our purposes, the two different models might be called proactive mysticism, and reactive spirituality. Reactive spirituality is of grace, an “experience in which the action of God . . . produces a reaction towards God.”[8] In other words, God initiates and man responds. On the other hand, proactive mysticism is of works, a mystic communion resulting from the mystic’s “own action, from which a reaction follows on the part of Deity.” In other words, by engaging intentional mystical practices, man initiates, then God responds. Though disagreeing with labeling the apostle’s theology of the spiritual life “Christian mysticism,” Stewart’s distinction helps differentiate between Paul’s reactive spirituality, and proactive mysticism. Of this distinction Professor Stewart wrote:

Much religion has been made of the latter kind [i.e., proactive mysticism]. Man’s action has been regarded as the primary thing. The soul has endeavoured to ascend towards God. Spiritual exercises [e.g., spiritual disciplines] have been made the ladder for the ascent. But all this savors of the religion of works as contrasted with the religion of grace. Paul’s attitude was different. His mysticism was essentially of the reacting kind. Christ, not Paul, held the initiative. Union with the eternal was not a human achievement: it was the gift of God. It came, not by any spiritual exercises [e.g., spiritual disciplines], but by God’s self-revelation, God’s self-impartation. The words “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” which remind us that the Damascus experience itself was the foundation of the apostle’s mysticism, are Paul’s emphatic way of saying that God’s action always holds priority: His servant simply reacts to the action of God. [9]

Stewart then concludes by stating that Paul’s spirituality was “all of grace; and it is well to be reminded by the apostle that union with Christ is not something we have to achieve by effort, but something we have to accept by faith.”[10]

In separating Christianity from the mystery religions, David Rightmire also observes that the apostle, “viewed communion with God as an act of divine grace, coming not by any spiritual exercises, but by God’s self-revelation (Gal. 1:16).”[11] In other words, spirituality based upon reaction to revelation is of a different sort than spirituality conjured up through the practices and disciplines of the mystical way. The former is initiated by God, and based upon “faith,” while the latter is initiated by man, and based upon “works.”

The contemplative spirituality promoted by and amongst evangelicals today belongs to the acting, or proactive, category of mysticism. Spiritual directors advise using various spiritual disciplines or techniques—solitude and silence, fasting, walking prayer labyrinths, Taizé worship, spiritual retreats, lectio divina (reading sacred things), journaling, religious pilgrimages, and so on—to initiate intimacy and revelatory encounters with God. But as Professors Stewart and Rightmire pointed out, Paul did not embrace such a works model of spirituality. If practices (i.e., means of grace) are engaged in to promote spiritual growth, then they ought to find precedent in the revealed Word of God (i.e., prayer, Scripture reading and study, singing spiritual songs, witnessing, fellowshipping with the saints, and observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table). If methods of spiritual growth are not sourced in the Bible, but are of human invention, then Paul’s question to the Galatians seems appropriate. He asked them, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Paul’s paradigm of spirituality focused upon grace. He gave no advice for experiencing spirituality via works of the mystic way.[12]

Before determining whether Paul was a mystic by evaluating his spirituality according to William James’ five characteristics of mystical experiences, Paul’s Paradise experience and his state of being “in Christ” need to be understood.

Imposter Apostles
As to Paul’s reference to his being transported to “the third heaven,” we must know that the Christians at Corinth were beguiled by imposter apostles who projected themselves as strong, self-assured, and successful, and who made claims to have had extraordinary religious experiences. As compared to Paul, whose personal presence was “unimpressive” and whose speech “contemptible,” the false teachers appeared to be slick, self-confident, and smooth (See 2 Corinthians 10:10.). To counteract the super apostles who boasted of their strength, Paul boasted in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:12-15, 30).

Revelations in Paradise
In the face of the false apostles’ claim to have had superior spiritual experiences, Paul reluctantly countered them by referring to his “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1). Because Paul’s trip to Paradise came fourteen years before he wrote 2 Corinthians around A.D. 55-56, the experience can be placed as having happened sometime before his first missionary journey around A.D. 42-44. Efforts by scholars to reconstruct the historical context of this event in Paul’s life are futile. All that can be known about his experience is contained in the apostle’s second letter to the Corinthians. In comparison to his overall ministry, Paul’s transport to Paradise was an obscure, if not minor, event. Paul did not set up his experience as an example for others to try to emulate. Unlike many contemplative spiritualists, he offered no advice to others on how they could achieve a similar experience.

Paul states that his “visions and revelations” were “of the Lord.” Jesus was either the subject or the origin of the “visions and revelations” he received. Possibly both ideas play out in Paul’s statement. The visions originated from the Lord, and were about Him. They were revelatory. From a general statement regarding “visions and revelation” he had received, Paul proceeded to relate one particular experience.

Beginning with ineffability, we now turn to analyze Paul’s spirituality in accord with the five characteristics of mysticism as stated by William James.


1. Gordon H. Clark, “Revealed Religion,” Fundamentals of the Faith, Carl F.H. Henry, Editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969) 16.
2. The Random House Collegiate Dictionary, Jess Stein, Editor in Chief (New York: Random House, Inc., 1988) 882.
3. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1919) 380-382.
4. Ibid. 419.
5. Seemingly, in 1931, Albert Schweitzer wrote a seminal work defining the mysticism of Paul. See The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, Translated by William Montgomery (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
6. In a footnote Arthur L. Johnson wrote he could find few, if any, events or experiences in the Bible that were unqualifiedly mystical. In his opinion, one that might qualify was Paul’s being caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:1-5). See Faith Misguided, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988) 22.
7. R. David Rightmire, “Union with Christ,” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, Walter A. Elwell, Editor (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996) 792.
8. James S. Stewart, A Man In Christ (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, n.d.) 163.
9. Ibid. 164.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Rightmire, “Union.”