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Modern Christian Mysticism Stems from Existentialism

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 10:19
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Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective

We know that paganism, which included many forms of mysticism, dates back to even before the Great Flood. It included worship of Baal, Moloch, and other fake gods (Satan), and flourished in history. It was a very real and constant problem for Israel.

Paganism still exists evidencing ecstatic experiences, what many would call “signs and wonders” (mysticism), today as evidenced in NAR and other similar movements. There appears little to no difference between these ecstatic experience and what pagans (and New Agers), have experienced for generations.

But was there something specific that directly affected the way society thinks that birthed the modern signs and wonders movement? The answer is a resounding yes, and people like Francis Schaeffer warned evangelicals about it decades ago. Unfortunately, while many were listening then, with successive generations comes the need to warn again. Unfortunately, this time, most are not listening. They are all too happy to dive headlong into this experiential mystical abyss, regardless of potential problems connected to it.

So what is this thing that caused the Church itself to drift away from absolute truth? It is nothing less than existentialism. The beginnings of existentialism was introduced into society by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the mid-1800’s.

While most would agree that existentialism is difficult to define, it “…includes the concept that the highest truth is subjective (having its source in the individual’s mind) rather than objective (something that actually exists outside the individual). Existentialism elevates individual experience and personal choice…

Kierkegaard’s life and philosophy revolved around his experiences with Christianity. Christian ideas and biblical terminology reverberate in many of his writings. He wrote much about faith and certainly regarded himself as a Christian. Many of his ideas began as a legitimate reaction against the stale formalism of the Danish Lutheran state church. He was rightly offended at the barren ritualism of the church, properly outraged that people who had no love for God called themselves Christians just because they happened to be born in a ‘Christian’ nation.

Unfortunately, Kierkegaard went to an extreme in his correct rejection of dead formalism. The result of this was a quest for truth based on experience or subjectivity.

Kierkegaard knew how to make irrationalism sound profound. ‘God does not exist; He is eternal,’ he wrote. He believed Christianity was full of ‘existential paradoxes,’ which he regarded as actual contradictions, proof that truth is irrational.

Philosophy asks questions it cannot answer. The end that thinking is often seen in the rejection of absolute truth in exchange for relativism. Relativism leads to the acceptance of anything because what might be truth for one person is not necessarily truth for another and so on.

There is only one source of final authority for the person within the realm of relativism. It is found within human experience, which is a bit like circular reasoning. If a person sees something as authentic, as truth, then under the definition of existentialism, it is truth for that person. How can another criticize or even condemn the person if all truth is subjective or relative?

The natural result of existentialism is denying the infallibility of the Bible, replacing it with fallible human experience. As one might expect, existentialism became huge in secular philosophy with people like Nietzsche and others laying claim to its ability to determine (relative) truth for each person.

Eventually, existentialism invaded the visible church in what is termed Neo-Orthodoxy. It is a Trojan horse of the worst king because outwardly, it tends to mirror the truth of Scripture, though in reality, it is simply godless paganism in Christian-like window dressing.

Neo-orthodoxy is the term used to identify an existentialist variety of Christianity. Because it denies the essential objective basis of truth — the absolute truth and authority of Scripture —neo-orthodoxy must be understood as pseudo-Christianity. Its heyday came in the middle of the twentieth century with the writings of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Those men echoed the language and the thinking of Kierkegaard, speaking of the primacy of “personal authenticity,” while downplaying or denying the significance of objective truth. Barth, the father of neo-orthodoxy, explicitly acknowledged his debt to Kierkegaard.

Neo-orthodoxy’s attitude toward Scripture is a microcosm of the entire existentialist philosophy: the Bible itself is not objectively the Word of God, but it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to me individually. In neo-orthodoxy, that same subjectivism is imposed on all the doctrines of historic Christianity. Familiar terms are used, but are redefined or employed in a way that is purposely vague—not to convey objective meaning, but to communicate a subjective symbolism. After all, any “truth” theological terms convey is unique to the person who exercises faith. What the Bible means becomes unimportant. What it means to me is the relevant issue. All of this resoundingly echoes Kierkegaard’s concept of “truth that is true for me.” (Emphasis added)

If we were to sum up the overall problem with today’s Christian “mysticism,” it would have to be that proponents apparently believe that the Bible is a book of magic that speaks to them personally, on an individual level, and speaks to others on an individual level. This means that one person might look at one passage of Scripture and gain personal meaning from it while another person looks at the same passage of Scripture and gains a complete separate and distinct meaning from it that does not resemble the first person’s understanding.

This is the state of Christendom today. If used at all, people are encouraged to seek what the Bible means for them, instead of gaining God’s meaning from it. Far from denying Self, this unhealthy and godless attitude toward God’s Word elevates Self, making ego the sole arbiter of truth.

Thus while neo-orthodox theologians often sound as if they are affirming traditional beliefs, their actual system differs radically from the historic understanding of the Christian faith. By denying the objectivity of truth, they relegate all theology to the realm of subjective relativism. It is a theology perfectly suited for the age in which we live.

It is this subterfuge that gave birth to and allowed the signs and wonders movement to prosper mightily. It is what is termed Christian mysticism today.

Mysticism is the great melting pot into which neo-orthodoxy, the charismatic movement, anti-intellectual evangelicals, and even some segments of Roman Catholicism have been synthesized. It has produced movements like the Third Wave (a neo-charismatic movement with excessive emphasis on signs, wonders, and personal prophecies); Renovaré (an organization that blends teachings from monasticism, ancient Catholic mysticism, Eastern religion, and other mystical traditions); the spiritual warfare movement (which seeks to engage demonic powers in direct confrontation); and the modern prophecy movement (which encourages believers to seek private, extrabiblical revelation directly ftom God).

The influx of mysticism has also opened evangelicalism to New-Age concepts like subliminal thought-control, inner healing, communication with angels, channeling, dream analysis, positive confession, and a host of other therapies and practices coming directly from occult and Eastern religions.

Though there are no true shortcuts to developing godly character, mysticism promises a quick path. In the end, it is an end run around the absolute authority of God’s Word, often visiting terrible consequences on the person seeking God through mystical experiences.

The sad fact of the matter is that people often caught up in mysticism are very difficult to turn around because they become addicted to the experiences themselves. It is only by God’s grace that a person wakes to the reality of problems and pain within the mystical arena.

Mysticism is the idea that spiritual reality is found by looking inward. Mysticism is perfectly suited for religious existentialism; indeed, it is its inevitable consequence. The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means. Objective truth becomes practically superfluous.

Mystical experiences are therefore self-authenticating; that is, they are not subject to any form of objective verification. They are unique to the person who experiences them. Since they do not arise from or depend upon any rational process, they are invulnerable to any refutation by rational means. (Emphasis added)

The mystic becomes his own determiner of truth (his own god). He needs nothing outside of himself to verify his experiences. He leans heavily on his own inner feelings to determine the veracity of his experiences. If an experience seems good to him, it is good. The Bible is secondary, at best, if used at all.

In his book, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism, Arthur L. Johnson states, “The practical result of all this is that it is nearly impossible to reason with any convinced mystic. Such people are generally beyond the reach of reason.” In fact, existentialists reject reason in all its forms.

Existentialism routinely pushes people toward the mystical pursuit of God and these folks become their own judge of what is truth. But existentialism also pulls people away from authentic Christianity in another way that is not so obviously mystical.

A new movement has been gaining strength lately. Evangelicals are leaving the fold and moving into Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and liturgical high-church Protestantism. Rejecting the ever-changing subjectivism of a free-wheeling existential Protestantism, they seek a religion with historical roots. Turned off by the shallow silliness that has overrun the evangelical movement, they desire a more magisterial approach. Perhaps sensing the dangers of a religion that points people inward, they choose instead a religion that emphasizes external ceremonies and dogmatic hierarchical authority.

In recent times, we’ve seen numerous well-known leaders within Christendom embrace Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and other areas with the emphasis on liturgy and ritual. While they would say they wholeheartedly reject the the mysticism they see growing within Christendom, they believe removing themselves into the ritualism of the above practices protects them from the error of that mysticism. In essence, they are simply embracing another form of paganism that some call rote tradition.

Jesus argued against this dead legalism that propped itself up with traditions of men when He took the Pharisees to task on numerous occasions. Rote tradition (ritualism), is just as bad as mysticism because it also denies truth. They both stem from a form of existentialism.

What is the solution? There is only one thing that will correct what ails Christendom today.

Spiritual discernment is…the only antidote to the existentialism of our age. Until Christians regain the will to test everything by the rule of Scripture, reject what is false, and hold fast to what is true, the church will struggle and falter, and our testimony to a world in sin will be impaired.

Spiritual discernment is not politically correct within Christendom today much like absolute truth is not politically correct in society. Spiritual discernment rightly concedes that the Bible is absolute truth that applies to all people, in all situations, all the time. Anything less cannot rightly be called truth at all. The visible Church is fast becoming simply a reflection of secular society. Don’t criticize or judge anyone. Seek unity. Don’t divide, etc. To achieve these things, God’s absolute truth must be disallowed.

Christians must shun political correctness in all forms and seek discernment that comes only from God. It requires resolve in putting off Self. Next time, we will talk about how to be the type of Christian that follows Jesus regardless of the cost, something every one of us needs to do better.

Theology and Politics from a Conservative, Biblical Perspective



Source: https://studygrowknowblog.com/2017/12/05/modern-christian-mysticism-stems-from-existentialism/

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