Why are mystical versions of Christianity so popular in our day among academic types or popular writers and celebrities such as Rob Bell or Oprah Winfrey? What is the history of this speculative view of God, and what are the implications of this approach on the way we think about heaven, hell, and ultimate redemption?
Michael Horton discusses these questions with St. Louis University professor Michael McClymond, author of The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“What I see happening in this form of mysticism is a shift from Christ to the self. There is a shift from that drama in which we must simply stretch out our hand of faith to receive the finished work of Christ to a drama that happens within ourselves. And as I turn on the television and I look at the guest on Oprah Winfrey, that’s just what I hear. There it is within us… That is the basis of our own salvation. This is the original alternative and false religion to the true worship of God.”
–Michael J. McClymond
Term to Learn
The “Inner Light,” also called “Inward Light,” is often thought to be a distinctive theme of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This Inner Light is understood to be a direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will for him or her. This expression is often attributed to the teachings of George Fox in the 17th century, founder of the Society of Friends, who had failed to find spiritual truth in the English churches. He experienced an inner light and voice within, “that of God in every man.” The Inner Light should not simply be a mystical experience, but should also result in a person’s working for the good of others.
The practice of Inner Light is believed to be the direct path of ascension towards the divine nature within man. The theme of Inner Light appears in various spiritual traditions as well as in the main religions of the world. Buddhism believes that the one experiences the highest nature of the mind, reaches enlightenment and liberation from the Wheel of Samsara (i.e. bodily existence).
The Society of Friends was influenced by a pivotal figure, Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), a German mystic who was raised in Lutheranism. Böhme had considerable influence on Pietism and various mystical sects including Rosicrucianism and theosophy. Böhme sought a melding of various alchemical and Kabbalistic traditions that focused on the inner path to God, which finds parallels with the ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. Böhme was also an important source for German Romantic philosophy, influencing F.W. Schelling. Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist and mystic William Blake. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was profoundly influenced by him as well. The tradition of the Inner Light reaches back into ancient mystical philosophies which have come to profoundly shape modern thinking.
(Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Inner Light;” “Jakob Böhme”)