Q: “What is a mystic?”
A: According to my understanding and study of this subject, there have been three types of people labeled mystics, but before I point out the differences between them, I must first give a definition of the practice of “mysticism.” Mysticism implies the unveiling of hidden mysteries and according to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary it is, 1) “the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics,” 2) “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality that will be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight),” 3) “vague speculation: a belief without sound basis or a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power.”
From these definitions comes my understanding of what we might call a “mystic.” However, due to the spiritual implications of this word, it has proven to be quite controversial among Christians. The idea of using both words together, “Christian Mystic” actually seems like a contradiction in terms to some, but we must remember that since God is life, He is to be experienced and His truths are of a spiritual nature and that there is a certain mysterious (mystic) dimension to them that must be revealed to us by the Spirit of God. This unveiling is often referred to as “revelation.” However, there is only one “revelation” that needs to be unveiled to us, and that is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Any revelation outside of who Christ is, what He has done for us, and the life He wants to establish in us through His Spirit is a counterfeit.
Because the idea of “mystic” is controversial, there are usually three reactions among Christians to any hint of mysticism: 1) It is often rendered as superstitious because many do not know how to discern it, 2) people show total skepticism towards it and reject it altogether without bothering to test the spirit behind it, and 3) the “person” and the “revelation” are tested according to the Word of God and the spirit is properly discerned as to the source and inspiration behind the experience or the spiritual insight.
The concerns that Christians have towards mysticism is well founded. If you take the first definition, you will find that those who deal in the occult, New Age, and metaphysical methods often fall into this category. If you understand Hinduism, its main goal is to link (yoke) people with their idols (demons) through such practices as yoga, while those operating in the metaphysical realms are trying to tap into power to bring about such things as healing, the Gnostics attempt to tap into experiences to gain intellectual insights, and those in the occult are trying to come into union with Satan to experience his power and gain insight into the demonic world.
This brings me to the group that falls into the third category, which is those who establish, or belong to a cult. When you study the origins of various cults and those who follow them, you learn that such people have been seduced by some deceptive spiritual experience or by a charismatic leader that has been empowered by a seductive, religious spirit. The experience or the leader is so powerful that it seems more real than the Word of God and the present reality that surrounds them. They actually have a false sense of infallibility about what they believe, while being clearly blinded to the fact that they are being established on a faulty foundation that will collapse when tested.
This brings me to whether there are bona-fide mystics whom we would consider to be “straight arrows” in the Christian realm that are actually receiving revelation from the Lord which is pertinent to present reality. There are three names that come to mind when the word “mystic” is used, Madame Guyon, William Law, and A.W. Tozer. I have read all three of these authors. Admittedly, Madam Guyon makes me uncomfortable because it seems she spiritualizes things a bit too much, but to other grounded Christians that I respect, they see her as an inspiration considering what she endured in prison for years because she would not renounce her faith. The question is can I negate her experiences and what she understands because I am not comfortable with them, knowing that Scripturally I cannot really find anything wrong with them? Instead of criticizing her, I simply choose not to read her books.
William Law was respected by well-known religious leaders of his day. Even one of the most trusted discernment ministries today, “The Berean Call,” promotes one of his books, “The Power of the Spirit.” However, later in his life, he was labeled a mystic by the same religious leaders who had praised him earlier for his wisdom and spiritual insights because he seemed to go beyond the acceptable doctrinal boundaries, causing these leaders to distance themselves from him. I have read his books and there are a couple of parts in them that I have stumbled over, but he appears Scriptural. Do I throw out everything he wrote because some of it appears to be almost too mystical for me? Again, people can either choose to not read these people’s books, or discern what they are reading to see if it is in line with spirit and truth.
Finally, we have A.W. Tozer. He is sometimes referred to as the 20th century Prophet. Tozer was also labeled a “mystic” by some religious leaders, which brings us down to what constitutes a “Christian Mystic?” Tozer is the one who gave me some very important insights about what might be referred to as “Christian Mysticism.” If you read and study Tozer’s books, he connected the spiritual principles with the present realities of God’s people, bringing dimension and clarity to subjects confronting the church. Instead of hiding behind and purporting doctrine that seemed more like an indifferent or lifeless burden to the hearers, he brought life to Scriptural principles, touching the spirit of people, challenging their mind, answering questions, and speaking to their struggles. For example, Tozer took on such subjects as worship, the Holy Spirit, the attributes of God, and how entertainment was affecting the church and brought these subjects out of the mere doctrinal realm into the personal realm of the hearer. It is clear that he did not stick with the presentation of the accepted doctrine of his day, but stepped outside of it by connecting the truth and principle of God’s Word with the spiritual intent that addressed present challenges in an understandable way to the hearers and readers.
Tozer’s books never spoke to my intellect, but my spirit. That is also true for me when it comes to Oswald Chambers. These men were never “in your face” types of individuals, but they spoke truth in such a way that you knew that there was something very spiritual and heavenly about what they were saying, yet it was practical, realistic, and brought a certain awe to your spirit.
Tozer helped me realize that the true “Christian Mystics” of the past would also address the challenges of their day, challenges that I would not necessarily understand or relate to. His words spoke to the hearts of the people and brought either discomfort to the soul or awe to the spirit; but, the hearers could not remain untouched
My advice is that Christians cease to judge spiritual matters based on labels, and begin to learn how to properly discern not only the material being presented, but the person presenting it. After all, we are instructed to discern and test the spirits, never to intellectually judge them based on personal feelings or understanding.
I hope this explanation of this subject answers your question.