Born Again for Mainliners, Part 2
Growing up in the Evangelical tradition, there was often talk about our relationship with Christ. The idea was the conversion experience of being born again or being saved began that relationship. There’s a phrase often offered up to describe this conversion, this born again, being saved experience. That phrase is, "accepting Christ into your heart."
That phrase – accepting Christ into your
heart – is a really interesting one. It wasn’t so novel or interesting when I was a kid
or a young person still within that tradition. And there was a time after
I departed the Evangelical approach to the Christian faith when that phrase or any talk
about being born again and saved sort of bothered me. It was language from a
past I had left behind and wanted to forget. That language for a while left a
bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes, it still does.
after years of space between departing what I felt was bad for me and embracing
a new understanding of the faith, I’ve come to see especially that phrase and
some parts of the Evangelical tradition in a new light.
Christ living in our hearts – do you know what
that phrase indicates, what approach to faith it points to? Christian
mysticism. That’s right, Christian mysticism.
Now, the term Christian mysticism may evoke
some images and ideas in you that we ought to be honest about. Maybe the visual arises within you of people having ecstatic visions and trance-like experiences of God.
Maybe concerns arise in you about a hippy, trippy, new-agey overtaking of our
tried and true, prim and proper church life. Maybe you it is all too touchy-feely,
loosie-goosy for my taste.
But I’d say that these thoughts and concerns are based on false presumptions of what Christian mysticism is.
That the term
Christian mysticism is prone to such false presumptions is why I don’t like the
term, to be honest. We need a new term, something I’ll discuss later.
Christian mysticism is not anything hazy or
crazy, hippy or trippy, loosie or goosy. It simply points to the need to start from
inside and move from insights found there out. Start inside our hearts where Christ lives. Start with insights into
Christ based in the heart. That is what we’re talking about.
In his book, “The Big Book of Christian
Mysticism, “ Carl McColman says this:
“Christian mysticism argues that any respect
you pay to external authority – God, Christ, the Church – can emerge only from
a profound inner experience or conviction that God is real and present, and
that it is both possible and plausible for the average person to have a truly
experiential relationship with God” (p. 9)
The Evangelical idea of being born again by accepting Christ into your heart - we can easily fit the idea into the definition I just gave you. We can’t have a relationship with God, come to know God, or even worship God fully until we have the profound experience of accepting Christ into our hearts. And it's possible and plausible for anyone to experience Christ being born in us and have a relationship with God.
So, in a deep sense, Evangelical
Christianity taps into Christian mysticism. It would ardently deny this, but it
seems pretty clear that it is true.
But what does this have to do with us?
me be clear, I’m not saying we should all become Evangelicals. But I will say
that there is a reason the Evangelical tradition seems to outpace Mainline
Christianity when it comes to growth, church attendance, and spiritual
engagement. That the Evangelical tradition practices and preaches a form of
Christian mysticism is one, profound reason why it’s been so successful. And
there’s something to learn there.
Thankfully, there is a burgeoning Christian
mysticism movement within Mainline, non-Evangelical circles. Right here in New
England, we are seeing a movement, one focused on contemplative practices and
Christian mysticism, happening. Agape Spiritual Community, a UCC congregation
in Waltham, Mass, is devoted to building the beloved community using
contemplative practices grounded in a Christian mysticist approach to the
faith. Its pastor, Matthew Carriker, just this past year, offered a series of conferences to the Southern New England conference discussing Contemplative
Renowned theologian Karl Rahner once said, "the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” I
really think this is true.
I close by turning to that purveyor of
knowledge Wikipedia. Quoting Bernard McGinn, a scholar of Christian
mysticism, Wikepedia says, “Christian
mysticism is [T]hat part, or element, of Christian belief and practice
that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of
[...] a direct and transformative [experience of the] presence of God.”
A direct and transformative [experience of
the] presence of God. Isn’t that what we all want?
As for a new term to replace the oft-misunderstood and stereotyped term, Christian mysticism, how about
this: the Way of Christian Insight? In-sight is the practice of looking inward and seeing
the truth of Christ alive in us. Isn’t the Christian life about insight, looking inward to find Christ
and his Way, and seeing the world through Christ and his way, seeing from the
Christian Insight. The Inner Seeing of
Is Christ somewhere out there? Do we find
Christ in the sky or some place out of our reach? Perhaps. But if Christ is in our
hearts, why not look there. Why not look inside to see Christ waiting there in our
hearts, waiting to be connected to and lived-out in the world?
This is what I seek to do as a Christ-follower. To look inside, find Christ there, and from there, allow Christ to be embodied in and through my life. I hope you feel similarly and thus join me in the adventure, the venture of walking the way of Christian insight.
To close as we began. being born again, receiving Christ into your heart, allowing Christ to live within you - this should be real for us Mainliners.
And, yes, I am talking about conversion.
But we’ll talk about that week.