May 16, 2013
The question is on her mind (her answer is no) because of a blog post by Tim Challies, a prominent evangelical, on The Boundaries of Evangelicalism. Challies’s opening salvo is the statement that one of his “gravest concerns” in the contemporary church “is the power and prevalence of mysticism.” (Challies is worth reading for an example of how not to read the Bible.)
What does he mean by “mysticism?” He means any direct, unmediated experience of the Holy Spirit; any seeking for God outside the bounds of Scripture. He means by mysticism, for example, Fox’s epiphany that “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.” That is why Quakers should take notice.
Here is Challies’s conclusion about the Bible as the all-sufficient resource: “God has given us his Word to guide us in all matters of faith and practice. When we commit ourselves to mysticism, we commit ourselves to looking for revelation from God and experiences of God that come from outside that Word. We reject his gift–his good, infallible, inerrant, sufficient gift–and demand more. Because God promises us no more, we quickly create our own experiences and interpret them as if they are God’s revelation. Yet the Bible warns us that we can do no better than God’s Word and have no right to demand anything else. The question for Evangelicals today is just this: Will God’s Word be enough? Because whatever does not lead us toward God’s Word will always, inevitably and ultimately lead us away.”
Rachel Held Evans, a young Evangelical blogger, begins her response by noting that Challies’s “post is so full of historical inaccuracies, theological problems, and contradictions that it’s hard to know where to start.” Nevertheless, she does offer a spirited counter. I won’t try to summarize what she says, just encourage you to read it.
Here’s the core of what she has to say: “When we become more committed to the testimony than to the Person to whom it testifies, we are likely to miss the presence of Jesus even when it’s right in front of us. Probably because it took some form we weren’t expecting. Probably because it showed up outside of our boundaries. “
“Challies is wrong,” she says toward the end. “We do have direct access to God. We need no additional mediator.” And she adds about that word “boundaries” that Challies forefronts in the title of his post “I have come to see that these boundaries designed to shut others out only serve to shut the builders in.”
Quakers should care about this because, among evangelical Friends and in an unreflective way, something like Challies’s view is becoming more common. Rachel Held Evans shows how one can take the Bible seriously and yet not think it is God’s only and last word.