Evangelical mysticism

Evangelical mysticism is considered a branch of Christianity, but not of Christian mysticism. Differences between Christian mysticism and Evangelical mysticism had been identified that is fundamental and significant. Unlike “Christian mysticism,” which supports liberal Christians and agrees with mystical theology, “Evangelical mysticism” is a phrase that narrows down the definition to only those denominations or Christian groups with conservative Evangelical beliefs who also practice contemplative prayer. The National Association of Evangelicals’ statement of faith is more or less held to, but so also is the practice of soaking prayer or contemplative prayer.
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the New Age movement popularized the Eastern meditation practices of Transcendental Meditation (TM), Yoga, and Zen. Liberal Catholics and Protestants began to follow the lead of these New Age meditation practices by incorporating them into Christian meditation. In reaction to this, the Roman Catholic Church issued an official rebuke of New Age meditation practices: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (1989).
Thomas Merton, a liberal Trappist monk, was one of the first to borrow from Eastern meditation practices, such as Zen, mixing them with Christian meditation and contemplation. Later, M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and William Meninger would follow Merton’s lead, and become the founders of the centering prayer movement.
In reaction to these liberal Christians’ borrowing from New Age meditative techniques, there has progressively been a move among Evangelicals—especially Third Wave Charismatics (or Neocharismatics)—to return to the ancient practice of contemplative prayer. And that without any mixture of New Age practices or beliefs, which essentially originate in India from the Hindu gurus. The Evangelical mystics turn to the founders of Christian monasticism for guidance concerning contemplation: the Desert Fathers. Also, other Catholic contemplative writers are referred to, such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Michael Molinos, Madame Guyon, and François Fénelon. These are the classic teachers of Christian contemplative prayer, and have no association whatsoever with the Hindu gurus of India. Christian contemplation means “being still and knowing that God is God” (Psalm 46:10). It is quieting oneself, closing the eyes, and concentrating on Christ for a prolonged period of time, with the goal of hearing the voice of God, seeing visions, and feeling God’s presence. This is also called listening prayer.
The usage of the phrase “Evangelical mysticism” or “Evangelical mystic” goes as far back as the 18th century and the early Methodists. Evangelicalism started as a missionary movement that came out of the Great Awakenings with Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church). John Wesley, an avid reader with a mystical appetite, was not only one of the founders of Evangelicalism, but was also deeply impressed by Catholic mystical writers such as Thomas à Kempis, Francis de Sales, and Madame Guyon. In Wesley’s shadow, other teachers that were influenced by the Methodist Holiness movement, were familiarized with Madame Guyon’s writings. T. C. Upham, a prominent Holiness leader, translated The Life of Madame Guyon.
William Seymour, a Holiness preacher and major leader of the Pentecostal movement, practiced contemplation during his meetings at Azusa Street. These early Pentecostals had group “tarrying” meetings, or contemplation meetings, for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. “Through tarrying, a form of contemplative prayer, black Pentecostals experienced conversion, sanctification, and Spirit baptism by the sovereignty of God.” John G. Lake, a prominent early Pentecostal healer, was influenced by Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, the Quakers, and practiced contemplation.
A. W. Tozer, a major leader in the Christian & Missionary Alliance, is in a sense a father of “Evangelical mysticism,” and wrote The Pursuit of God (1948), which deals with contemplative topics. In 1975, Gene Edwards translated Madame Guyon’s A Short and Easy Method of Prayer into a popular modern version under the new title of Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. This book became popular in the Charismatic movement. In 1978, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline came out, and had a profound impact on Evangelicalism. Foster is an Evangelical Friend (conservative Quaker). Through his book he re-introduced Christian meditation and contemplation to Evangelicals, as it became a bestseller. It also had a profound influence on John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches. Out of these Vineyard churches, came the International House of Prayer-Kansas City (IHOP-KC), and Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (Catch the Fire Toronto). These last two churches are very influential in the current Third Wave movement; and are open proponents of what they call soaking prayer or contemplative prayer. The International House of Prayer has already rediscovered the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. There are three influential Third Wave books that have come out in recent years on Christian contemplative prayer that openly reject New Age meditation: Mark and Patti Virkler’s Communion with God (1983), James Goll’s Wasted on Jesus (2000), and John Crowder’s The Ecstasy of Loving God (2009).
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