Thursday, January 26, 2006

A. W. Tozer on the Christian "mystic"

Tozer edited a book of Christian poetry he called The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (you really need to get this book; I know I've said that before, but this time I really mean it). In his introduction, he tries to explain why he used the word "mystic" in the title. He acknowledged that there were some called "mystics," who tended toward the "bizarre and prodigious"'; these kinds of individuals whose psychic disposition tended toward the occult should not be considered "mystics."

Tozer explains that a "mystic" is one who partakes in the "personal spiritual experience" which saints of Biblical and post-Biblical times enjoyed. He is speaking, he explains, of "the evangelical mystic who has been brought by the gospel into intimate fellowship with the Godhead" (vi). The source of theology for the mystic is "no less and no more" than what is found in the Bible; fellowship in the same commitment to truth that the reformers and Puritans enjoyed.

So how does the mystic differ from other Christians? Tozer answers, "Because [the mystic] experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentiment being while the other does not. He exists in a world of spiritual reality. He is quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him. His religious experience is sometime elemental, as old as time and the creation. It is immediate acquaintance with God by union with the Eternal Son. It is to know that which passes knowledge" (vi).

31 Comments:

Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Do you think it is possible to be a mature Christian and not be characterized by these qualities?

1/26/2006 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I wondered the same thing myself as I was putting this together.

1/26/2006 09:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

When I hear objections I keep thinking "truncated Christianity" for some reason.

Actually, Machen has some pretty standard objections in What Is Faith that are along the lines of Sinclair Ferguson's in the Five Views on Spirituality. They're afraid mysticism is about losing your personality in the dissolution of union (Barth would probably agree with them).

1/26/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I agree, Joel, that the opposite of this thing which Tozer called "mysticism" is "truncated Christianity." It is the kind of thing I might (might, have you) expect in an immature Christian, but it is inconceivable to me that a mature Christian would not fit Tozer's description.

Yet Tozer found it necessary to make a distinction, to name the mystic. Perhaps he would disagree with me, and say that this is not a necessary part of true Christianity. Or perhaps he would say that he is really distinguishing the true Christian from the non-Christian who calls himself a Christian. I bet he would say that he is distinguishing between the immature and the mature Christian.

1/26/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Why can't mystics be a subset of mature Christianity?

1/26/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

If so, then would not the remainder of the set be "truncated Christianity?"

Are you saying that "truncated Christianity" is a subset of mature Christianity?

1/26/2006 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No. I do not actually believe you have to be a mystic to have all of Christianity.

1/26/2006 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Just to make sure I understand your position, Joel, are you saying that mysticism is simply a different version of Christianity and no better than the best alternative?

1/26/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Or to use the same terms, one subset and no better than the best alternative subset?

1/26/2006 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I do not believe there are different versions of Christianity.

Nor do I believe that everybody is so keen on mysticism, and I'm not sure they should be. But there are those who are and they are not therefore immature believers or unbelievers.

1/26/2006 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

So it is a subset no better than the best alternative subset?

1/26/2006 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I detect an obnoxious egalitarian subtext in this interrogation. What are you driving at? What could be better than mysticism?

1/26/2006 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I couldn't agree with you more, as Tozer is defining mysticism. But you have deftly sidestepped the question. One can say that nothing else is better without answering the question:

Is the alternative to mysticism just as good as mysticism?

1/26/2006 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

What would be this putative alternative?

1/26/2006 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

The non-mystic.

1/26/2006 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No way. That is why we must learn resignation and sigh with longing.

1/26/2006 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

If mysticism is superior to non-mysticism, then non-mysticism is deficient.

If mysticism is a subset of Christianity, but superior to all other subsets, and if mysticism is available to all Christians, it seems necessary that all Christians will attain to mysticism who attain to the fullest possible Christianity.

1/26/2006 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Why does it seem necessary that all Christians have the same thing? Why can't some have more and some have less and still have what they were meant to have?

I don't think all are called to the prayer of silence. I heartily hope that I am though. I don't think all are suited to life in the desert. I'd like to try it though. I don't think all of us experience God in the same way. So I don't think all of us can be mystics. I think we can all long for the basic thing Tozer describes, union with God, but who can say what that will be?

I don't think it follows that if one has more and one has less, anybody has been ripped off. I like distinction and hierarchy, not based on merit but based on a system of order that includes great and small. I reject the toxic impulse to make a system in which everybody has the same and receives the same and is measured the same. Fullest possible Christianity indeed. Do you imagine that when we look on the face of Christ and experience that ontological transformation that will erradicate all indwelling sin, that we will all look alike?

1/26/2006 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

"Do you imagine that when we look on the face of Christ and experience that ontological transformation that will erradicate all indwelling sin."

How I long for that to happen.

This has been very interesting, fellows.

1/26/2006 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Perhaps I misunderstood you, Joel. I took the, "No way," to be an answer to my question, "Is the alternative to mysticism just as good as mysticism?"

1/26/2006 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No way is the answer to that question. Todd, why are you asking me these questions? I feel like I'm back on sharper iron trying to have a conversation with an enemy.

1/27/2006 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

Keep at it, guys. This is more helpful than plato's dialogues. I'm not sure which one of you is in the spot of Socrates, though.

I've been thinking that a mystic is just someone who has a clearer beatific vision. Perhaps this clarity of vision can come to someone who is not a mystic, but then, my idea of a mystic must change.

1/27/2006 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Joel, I certainly do not wish to put you on the defensive. On the contrary, I wish to learn more about mysticism from you, since I understand that you have done some reading on it, and I have not.

I know almost nothing about mysticism. In this discussion I am simply trying to understand the implications of what Tozer said.

You asked, "Why can't mystics be a subset of mature Christianity?" I am trying to find the answer to that question. In my quest I am trying to employ the Socratic method. I am trying to understand your position, but I am failing.

I think you have said that mysticism is superior to non-mysticism.

I think you have also said that mysticism is not superior to non-mysticism.

I have to keep asking questions in order to understand what you are saying. You see, you are in the position of teacher, and I as your student am simply asking questions.

1/27/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I should qualify what I said. I know almost nothing about mysticism from that which has been written using that term. I think I may know a fair amount about what it is that Tozer is expressing here, though I have never called it "mysticism" before.

1/27/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I say mystics are a subset because I don't think all of us are going to be. I'm not, but I aspire to it. However, unless God should call me to this himself, I cannot have it. The reason I say this is because I do not believe the same level of communion is given to all of us. God gives separately. Not every person in church history enjoyed what the mystics did and I think the reason for this is not always because they weren't being obedient.

1/27/2006 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

What did the mystics enjoy?

1/27/2006 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

"He is quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him."

1/27/2006 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Metaphysical Realist said...

"Be still and know that I am God." For LILRABBI and others, the term "mystic" has four primary uses which should be distinguished. Tozer, I believe, uses the term to denote the personal relationship between man and God. Man knows God, thus, in a subjective way, not objectively, not through rationalism or empiricalism (or biblicism). This mystic seeks the sublime relationship with his God-peace, tranquility, love - that which is felt, and therefore Knowledge of the Holy comes via feelings, or affections, not propositions.

With this, I agree.

~MR

1/27/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Thanks, MR. This is consistent with Ryan's post that indicates Tozer made distinctions between different forms of mysticism.

Joel, I believe that all Christians are called to be "quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him." This seems to describe the culmination of religious affections; it is the fabric of the Psalms.

1/27/2006 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben Nelson said...

Ryan, you wrote:
“The source of theology for the mystic is "no less and no more" than what is found in the Bible; fellowship in the same commitment to truth that the reformers and Puritans enjoyed.”
As I have understood it, the way most mystics went about seeking the presence of God was to get beyond words--reading, prayer, meditation, thinking, and even desires, to get to “unknowing.” For example, St. John of the Cross wrote:
"By not speaking, not desiring, and not thinking, the true and Mystical Silence is reached, wherein God speaks with the Soul, communicates Himself to her, and in her inmost depth teachers her the most perfect and exalted wisdom.” (p. 116-117 of The Spiritual Guide.)
Elsewhere he references Bonaventure: “St. Bonaventura teaches us not to form Conceptions of any thing, no not even of God, because it is imperfection to be satisfied with Representations, Images, and Definitions, however subtle and ingenious they may be. . . (p. 77)

These quotes would seem to downplay doctrine. Perhaps that is why fundamentalists cringe when they read such things. They are committed to THE Word, to doctrine, and (often) to (extreme? 1611 KJVers) literalism. Yet, ironically, they often preach for “heart knowledge” over “head knowledge” (silly terms) which seems to words are only of secondary importance to something greater. So is doctrine a mystic's primary concern? Can it be? Would Tozer define a mystic as one who is more concerned/committed to doctrine/words or to experiencing God Himself? How would he respond to Schleiermacher (yea, not really an example of Christian piety—but someone I'm doing a paper on) who adamantly downplayed doctrine when he wrote:
“The truly pious are not disturbed in the simplicity of their way, for they give little heed to all the so-called religious systems. . . Idea and word are simply the necessary and inseparable outcome of the heart. . . .doctrine is only united to doctrine occasionally to remove misunderstanding or expose unreality. . . they [doctrines/conceptions] are not necessary for religion itself. . .they are all the result of the contemplation of feeling. . . Miracle, inspiration, revelation, supernatural intimations, much piety can be had without the need of any one of these conceptions.”

To put it another way, would Tozer say a true mystic (one who wants to get beyond words, thoughts, and desires to experience God) can hold words and, therefore, doctrine to be valuable? He obviously believes there can be evangelical mystics, but how does he relate words and a mystic's experience?

1/27/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I have no idea. He does not elaborate much, other than what I cited.

1/28/2006 08:19:00 AM  

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Immoderate: A. W. Tozer on the Christian "mystic"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A. W. Tozer on the Christian "mystic"

Tozer edited a book of Christian poetry he called The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (you really need to get this book; I know I've said that before, but this time I really mean it). In his introduction, he tries to explain why he used the word "mystic" in the title. He acknowledged that there were some called "mystics," who tended toward the "bizarre and prodigious"'; these kinds of individuals whose psychic disposition tended toward the occult should not be considered "mystics."

Tozer explains that a "mystic" is one who partakes in the "personal spiritual experience" which saints of Biblical and post-Biblical times enjoyed. He is speaking, he explains, of "the evangelical mystic who has been brought by the gospel into intimate fellowship with the Godhead" (vi). The source of theology for the mystic is "no less and no more" than what is found in the Bible; fellowship in the same commitment to truth that the reformers and Puritans enjoyed.

So how does the mystic differ from other Christians? Tozer answers, "Because [the mystic] experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentiment being while the other does not. He exists in a world of spiritual reality. He is quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him. His religious experience is sometime elemental, as old as time and the creation. It is immediate acquaintance with God by union with the Eternal Son. It is to know that which passes knowledge" (vi).

31 Comments:

Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Do you think it is possible to be a mature Christian and not be characterized by these qualities?

1/26/2006 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I wondered the same thing myself as I was putting this together.

1/26/2006 09:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

When I hear objections I keep thinking "truncated Christianity" for some reason.

Actually, Machen has some pretty standard objections in What Is Faith that are along the lines of Sinclair Ferguson's in the Five Views on Spirituality. They're afraid mysticism is about losing your personality in the dissolution of union (Barth would probably agree with them).

1/26/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I agree, Joel, that the opposite of this thing which Tozer called "mysticism" is "truncated Christianity." It is the kind of thing I might (might, have you) expect in an immature Christian, but it is inconceivable to me that a mature Christian would not fit Tozer's description.

Yet Tozer found it necessary to make a distinction, to name the mystic. Perhaps he would disagree with me, and say that this is not a necessary part of true Christianity. Or perhaps he would say that he is really distinguishing the true Christian from the non-Christian who calls himself a Christian. I bet he would say that he is distinguishing between the immature and the mature Christian.

1/26/2006 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Why can't mystics be a subset of mature Christianity?

1/26/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

If so, then would not the remainder of the set be "truncated Christianity?"

Are you saying that "truncated Christianity" is a subset of mature Christianity?

1/26/2006 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No. I do not actually believe you have to be a mystic to have all of Christianity.

1/26/2006 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Just to make sure I understand your position, Joel, are you saying that mysticism is simply a different version of Christianity and no better than the best alternative?

1/26/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Or to use the same terms, one subset and no better than the best alternative subset?

1/26/2006 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I do not believe there are different versions of Christianity.

Nor do I believe that everybody is so keen on mysticism, and I'm not sure they should be. But there are those who are and they are not therefore immature believers or unbelievers.

1/26/2006 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

So it is a subset no better than the best alternative subset?

1/26/2006 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I detect an obnoxious egalitarian subtext in this interrogation. What are you driving at? What could be better than mysticism?

1/26/2006 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I couldn't agree with you more, as Tozer is defining mysticism. But you have deftly sidestepped the question. One can say that nothing else is better without answering the question:

Is the alternative to mysticism just as good as mysticism?

1/26/2006 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

What would be this putative alternative?

1/26/2006 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

The non-mystic.

1/26/2006 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No way. That is why we must learn resignation and sigh with longing.

1/26/2006 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

If mysticism is superior to non-mysticism, then non-mysticism is deficient.

If mysticism is a subset of Christianity, but superior to all other subsets, and if mysticism is available to all Christians, it seems necessary that all Christians will attain to mysticism who attain to the fullest possible Christianity.

1/26/2006 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Why does it seem necessary that all Christians have the same thing? Why can't some have more and some have less and still have what they were meant to have?

I don't think all are called to the prayer of silence. I heartily hope that I am though. I don't think all are suited to life in the desert. I'd like to try it though. I don't think all of us experience God in the same way. So I don't think all of us can be mystics. I think we can all long for the basic thing Tozer describes, union with God, but who can say what that will be?

I don't think it follows that if one has more and one has less, anybody has been ripped off. I like distinction and hierarchy, not based on merit but based on a system of order that includes great and small. I reject the toxic impulse to make a system in which everybody has the same and receives the same and is measured the same. Fullest possible Christianity indeed. Do you imagine that when we look on the face of Christ and experience that ontological transformation that will erradicate all indwelling sin, that we will all look alike?

1/26/2006 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

"Do you imagine that when we look on the face of Christ and experience that ontological transformation that will erradicate all indwelling sin."

How I long for that to happen.

This has been very interesting, fellows.

1/26/2006 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Perhaps I misunderstood you, Joel. I took the, "No way," to be an answer to my question, "Is the alternative to mysticism just as good as mysticism?"

1/26/2006 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

No way is the answer to that question. Todd, why are you asking me these questions? I feel like I'm back on sharper iron trying to have a conversation with an enemy.

1/27/2006 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

Keep at it, guys. This is more helpful than plato's dialogues. I'm not sure which one of you is in the spot of Socrates, though.

I've been thinking that a mystic is just someone who has a clearer beatific vision. Perhaps this clarity of vision can come to someone who is not a mystic, but then, my idea of a mystic must change.

1/27/2006 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Joel, I certainly do not wish to put you on the defensive. On the contrary, I wish to learn more about mysticism from you, since I understand that you have done some reading on it, and I have not.

I know almost nothing about mysticism. In this discussion I am simply trying to understand the implications of what Tozer said.

You asked, "Why can't mystics be a subset of mature Christianity?" I am trying to find the answer to that question. In my quest I am trying to employ the Socratic method. I am trying to understand your position, but I am failing.

I think you have said that mysticism is superior to non-mysticism.

I think you have also said that mysticism is not superior to non-mysticism.

I have to keep asking questions in order to understand what you are saying. You see, you are in the position of teacher, and I as your student am simply asking questions.

1/27/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

I should qualify what I said. I know almost nothing about mysticism from that which has been written using that term. I think I may know a fair amount about what it is that Tozer is expressing here, though I have never called it "mysticism" before.

1/27/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

I say mystics are a subset because I don't think all of us are going to be. I'm not, but I aspire to it. However, unless God should call me to this himself, I cannot have it. The reason I say this is because I do not believe the same level of communion is given to all of us. God gives separately. Not every person in church history enjoyed what the mystics did and I think the reason for this is not always because they weren't being obedient.

1/27/2006 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

What did the mystics enjoy?

1/27/2006 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

"He is quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him."

1/27/2006 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Metaphysical Realist said...

"Be still and know that I am God." For LILRABBI and others, the term "mystic" has four primary uses which should be distinguished. Tozer, I believe, uses the term to denote the personal relationship between man and God. Man knows God, thus, in a subjective way, not objectively, not through rationalism or empiricalism (or biblicism). This mystic seeks the sublime relationship with his God-peace, tranquility, love - that which is felt, and therefore Knowledge of the Holy comes via feelings, or affections, not propositions.

With this, I agree.

~MR

1/27/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Thanks, MR. This is consistent with Ryan's post that indicates Tozer made distinctions between different forms of mysticism.

Joel, I believe that all Christians are called to be "quietly, deeply, and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him." This seems to describe the culmination of religious affections; it is the fabric of the Psalms.

1/27/2006 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben Nelson said...

Ryan, you wrote:
“The source of theology for the mystic is "no less and no more" than what is found in the Bible; fellowship in the same commitment to truth that the reformers and Puritans enjoyed.”
As I have understood it, the way most mystics went about seeking the presence of God was to get beyond words--reading, prayer, meditation, thinking, and even desires, to get to “unknowing.” For example, St. John of the Cross wrote:
"By not speaking, not desiring, and not thinking, the true and Mystical Silence is reached, wherein God speaks with the Soul, communicates Himself to her, and in her inmost depth teachers her the most perfect and exalted wisdom.” (p. 116-117 of The Spiritual Guide.)
Elsewhere he references Bonaventure: “St. Bonaventura teaches us not to form Conceptions of any thing, no not even of God, because it is imperfection to be satisfied with Representations, Images, and Definitions, however subtle and ingenious they may be. . . (p. 77)

These quotes would seem to downplay doctrine. Perhaps that is why fundamentalists cringe when they read such things. They are committed to THE Word, to doctrine, and (often) to (extreme? 1611 KJVers) literalism. Yet, ironically, they often preach for “heart knowledge” over “head knowledge” (silly terms) which seems to words are only of secondary importance to something greater. So is doctrine a mystic's primary concern? Can it be? Would Tozer define a mystic as one who is more concerned/committed to doctrine/words or to experiencing God Himself? How would he respond to Schleiermacher (yea, not really an example of Christian piety—but someone I'm doing a paper on) who adamantly downplayed doctrine when he wrote:
“The truly pious are not disturbed in the simplicity of their way, for they give little heed to all the so-called religious systems. . . Idea and word are simply the necessary and inseparable outcome of the heart. . . .doctrine is only united to doctrine occasionally to remove misunderstanding or expose unreality. . . they [doctrines/conceptions] are not necessary for religion itself. . .they are all the result of the contemplation of feeling. . . Miracle, inspiration, revelation, supernatural intimations, much piety can be had without the need of any one of these conceptions.”

To put it another way, would Tozer say a true mystic (one who wants to get beyond words, thoughts, and desires to experience God) can hold words and, therefore, doctrine to be valuable? He obviously believes there can be evangelical mystics, but how does he relate words and a mystic's experience?

1/27/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I have no idea. He does not elaborate much, other than what I cited.

1/28/2006 08:19:00 AM  

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