Brennan Manning and Christian Mystics

I’ve been sick most of this week with some weird springtime cold. My allergies are acting up pretty bad too. Alas, I intended to work on another N.T. Wright post this week but didn’t have the energy or time.

In the last couple of weeks I have been on a bit of a Brennan Manning kick so I thought I would include this very brief, but very interesting comment of his. This clip comes from his participation in the Soularize conference last fall.

Do you think he is right? If so, what would a modern Christian mystic look like?

What do you like about what he said? What bothered you?


11 thoughts on “Brennan Manning and Christian Mystics

  1. I saw this on YouTube a few days ago.

    I think his first statement about how you will either be a mystic or nothing at all means that one day there will be no gain in Christianity except knowing Christ. As it is now, Christianity is like a club. We even have our club houses and membership roles. Businesses put little fish on their ads to show that they are one of the members so you should do business with them. There is a great feeling of community and even self-righteousness in being a member of this club. When you are a member you have the comfort of knowing that you are on the right side and everyone on the outside is wrong. We have our own bookstores, clothing lines, music, TV and Radio stations etc…

    Someday when all of those outside comforts and supports crumble, the only thing left will be Jesus. And at that point, only the “mystics”, the ones that truly know Jesus apart from the club and Christian sub-culture, will remain. All else will fall away.

    That is my take on it anyway.

  2. i really like heath’s thoughts. i’m always envious of people who can put their thoughts into words well.

    the word ‘mystic’ used to scare me. it doesn’t any more. in fact i love it as it pertains to christianity.

    i would have no way of knowing whether or not he is or will be right. I do love that he’s willing to share his thoughts confidently, whether or not he’s right. what i think a modern day mystic would look like is something very opposite of what comes to mind when i think of the word ‘christian’ now.

    i think a mystic might look like someone who does not hold to a particular party line theologically speaking. i feel like certain theologies, denominations, and (some) preachers do all the thinking and then tell everyone else what they have found to be true and how we can then all fall into line with that truth. mystics won’t rely on someone else to think for them or seek the truth for them. they will be responsible for responding to God’s spirit inside of them, which I think looks a little unusual to some christians who better respond to a particular church or ‘club’ (as Heath put it).

    therefore i think they (mystics) might come across kind of weird. they won’t be willing to conform, not just to the world, but also the christian world (as we have come to know it). as i’m typing this the perfect description of a mystic is someone like Jesus. he was accused of being a drunk and a glutton. he hung around with the wrong people and taught subversive things. he didn’t look for the acceptance of his family and friends, but that of God the Father. he was weird.

    that’s all i got.

  3. one last thing. i’ve been thinking about this question for awhile and have mentioned it to one other for their thoughts….here’s the question—are we gearing up for a kind of reformation of sorts? are we in the throws of one? at the beginning of one? or not at all?

    i’d be really interested to know what people think.

  4. Brian and I were talking about this last night at dinner. Just to be clear, does Brennan Manning mean that he thinks that doctrine (and by implication, the Bible, as doctrine’s foundation) will collapse as the guiding power in believers’ lives? That sounds like the gist of it to me, anyway.

    If he does mean that and if that were to happen, then I guess we’d be thrown back into a time like before Moses. To when the earliest believers in God didn’t have any written word to describe what God is like or any attested history of saints to advise them. They just had God showing himself by what he had made, and directly by appearances or dreams or by his voice in their ears.

    And while I know he’s perfectly capable of doing that if he thinks it’s necessary, I wonder if it’ll really come to that…if he’ll do that as his primary way of communicating to believers. There are plenty of nations in this world in which Christians do not have easy access to Scripture. But it gets around in bits and pieces, underground. Restriction of the Scriptures isn’t the same as casting it in doubt, of course. But I think even in a worse case scenario–“experts” claiming the Bible is a load of hooey and very few people can get their hands on a whole Bible–what pieces and parts are in circulation can stand on their own to the critics. Like it has done down through time, under the scrutiny of generations of God-haters and book burners.

    So, do I think Christians will one day be required to be mystics or nothing at all? Well, I doubt it. I think the testimony of the Scriptures will still be around in some measure, however meager. I’m leery of pure mysticism–being led in your faith solely by subjective experience. Not even Paul the Apostle was that, and he had plenty of “personal experiences” he could’ve thrown around if he’d wanted to. But he relied on Scripture, too.

    We’re told in various places that it is the humble whom God saves, guides, sustains, lifts up. It is the humble–more or less…Peter stumbled once or twice–whom Jesus revealed himself to and befriended. What I’m taking away from Brennan Manning’s comments is a warning to hide God’s word in my heart so if he does speak to me directly sometime, I will be able to recognize his voice. But God help me with that. My memory sucks.

  5. i wonder if mr. manning could be suggesting that because of the culture in which we live (quick fixes, immediate gratification, a big reward for little effort), AND if we really are going to have intimacy with a God who often speaks in a whisper, then those who seek Him will need to accept SOLE responsibility for that intimacy with Him.

    it gets harder and harder the louder the noises are around us. how badly are people in our culture going to want Him? people who haven’t been used to relating intimately and have been spoon fed might struggle…even quit trying.

    i’m also not sure that manning is equating doctrine with the bible. i wonder if he is speaking more about orthodoxy and orthopraxy (sp?). the NT church didn’t have the written word of God at the time. their faith probably looked kind of rough (looking through our eyes) when put into practice, but somehow it was pure enough to propel christianity into our day. but for us in our day, scripture and people who have gone before us in our faith would absolutely still play a big part in practicing what i think manning might be saying. God may do some sifting in the days ahead. i hope i don’t regret saying that i’m looking forward to it?

    i’m in no way saying i’d cut the mustard, but a pure relationship with God i do desire.

    there…i’ve said just enough to make myself sound like i don’t know what i’m talking about.


  6. well, i can’t say it any better than karmelita just did. i don’t think manning is suggesting that the bible will be of no value in the future. he is saying that systematic theology will likely hold the same value as it does now. people are tiring of being told what to think and believe by the lucky few who claim to understand it well. manning is saying that we each need to be more responsible for “working out our own salvation” rather than letting the prevailing denominational doctrine do it for us. roger roger.

  7. I have been out of my blogging rhythm sorry to take so long to reply to your comments and thanks for all of the really insightful stuff!

    While I love this little video I do resonate with the concerns that Jennifer raised. Since I know something about BManning I trust his definition of “mystic” almost implicitly. If asked I think he would say that a mystic is one whose relationship with Jesus shapes every moment of their lives. I trust that he would say that the true mystic doesn’t wander beyond the heart of Scripture and sound teaching. It’s also useful to keep in mind that, as a Catholic, Manning’s use of the word “mystic” is in response to a lot of people who are stuck in religious tradition with little heart experience with Christ.

    Instead of a “mystic” being someone separated from the testimony of Scripture I think they are more fully connected to it by following God with both heart and mind.

    Doug’s comment on Phil 2:12 is good. “Working out one’s own salvation” is about leaning into it, fully committed to what God has in store for us not relying merely on tradition or ritual, nor on doctrine only but on Jesus himself.

    BTW, I think I will post the comments that Richard Rohr and NT Wright shared at the conference. They responded to the same question that Brennan Manning does. The question is something like: “What do you think of the future of the church?”

    Thanks for the interaction!

  8. Thanks for clarifying things, Paul. Hope you’re feeling better now.

    I’m a [Pentecostal denomination] refugee, as my husband calls me. So when I see the word “mystic,” my thoughts automatically turn to the meaning that one is led primarily by one’s “immediate spiritual intuition.” Not being very familiar with B. Manning, I wasn’t sure how he meant what he was saying.

    Anyway, then, as for being personally responsible for “working out my salvation,” I can’t disagree with what I’ve read here. Like Karmen, I thought about the early church, especially their access to only the Law and the Prophets and maybe a few letters by the apostles. With these and the Spirit, they were expected to mature beyond the milk of the basic good news. I suppose being occasionally persecuted gave them an immediacy in their relationships with Jesus. Working on my Dad’s house has done something similar for me. I sure have been talking to him more, and not just about myself. Being nervous and grieving and surprised when something works right and frustrated when it doesn’t has had its effect on my empathy. But, God help me, I hate learning things this way. It so sucks.

  9. I hear you. Reflecting upon what it was like for the earliest churches is a healthy thing for us. It really opens our eyes to the various ways God works.

    I have really loved this conversation and I love the phrase “Pentecostal refugee”.

  10. Great post, Paul – this is a good conversation that does need clarifying for those of us unfamiliar with the lingo of the historical church.

    From my notes on Richard Rohr’s teaching at this conference: “Mysticism is just experiential Christianity.” (Which for Catholics and Protestants is a wake-up call from simply going through the motions).

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