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Part II: Contemplative-Mystical Christianity Compared to Mainstream-Evangelical Christianity: A Comparison in Language, Emphasis, and Perspective

In our last post we looked at a comparison of the language, emphases and practices between Evangelical Christianity and Contemplative-Mystical Christianity. In this post we share 11 additional comparisons.  I share once again some introductory comments.

A Definition Of Each Movement

Mainstream Evangelicalism Definition:  A movement within Protestant Christianity maintaining that the essence of the gospel consists in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. The authority of the Bible as God’s revelation and the church as the primary instrument for accomplishing the Great Commission are central tenants.

Contemplative Mystical Christianity Definition: A movement within Christianity of those who have moved from mere belief and belonging doctrines and religious systems to an actual inner experience of communion and union with God. God reveals himself through the Bible, personal experience, creation and spiritual practices and traditions. God works through all things to establish His Kingdom.

Language, Emphasis And Practices Comparisons

I want to stress that though it may appear that I am presenting these beliefs, emphases, practices and understandings as unique to each movement that is not the case. In many if not most of these comparisons both movements embrace each perspective as truth that can be biblically substantiated. In most examples it is a matter of emphases, spiritual practices or language that creates the difference.

Further, my fear in presenting these as contrasts is that they are perceived as either/or choices. In reality I believe these comparisons present a both/and scenario. Each movement has attributes that are needed for a holistic spirituality. An exclusive emphasis on either runs the risk of losing balance or missing out on key aspects of the Christian faith.

13. Cataphatic prayer is emphasized by EC. Taken from the Greek word meaning “to speak emphatically” EC encourage prayer using words as the preferred norm of prayer. EC stresses public, corporate and group prayer.

Apophatic prayer is emphasized by CM. Taken from the Greek word meaning “without words” CM stress silent prayer using no words. CM stresses private prayer in silence and solitude.

14. We are human beings trying to learn how to be spiritual beings is a perspective of EC. We are flesh striving to become spirit.

We are spiritual beings trying to learn how to be the humans God wants us to be is a perspective of CM. We are spirit striving to become holy flesh.

15. Concrete, historical, literal, rational, logical and factual answers and approaches to biblical, spiritual and religious matters are preferred by EC. Certitude is expected if not required. Faith demands that we know and even insists that we do know.

Divine mystery, mystical experiences, dreams, wonder, awe, questions, and relational and experiential approaches to biblical, spiritual and religious matters are preferred by CM. Living with questions rather than answers, paradoxes, ambiguities, contradictions, the unknown, the unknowable as well as the known are accepted and held simultaneously. True faith involves not knowing, and even not needing to know that which is hidden.

16. Religion is a focus of EC. Emphasis is on the institutional church and denomination and its expressions, expectations, structures and doctrines.

Spirituality is a focus of CM. Emphasis is on the private realm of spiritual thought, experience and action.

17. The Great Commission and The 10 Commandments are focuses of EC. Obeying Christ’s commandment to evangelize and to follow the Law are central themes.

The Great Commandment and The Sermon on the Mount are focuses of CM. Loving God, others and self, the Beatitudes and Fruits of the Spirit are central themes.

18. The corporate collective community experience is emphasized by EC. Gathering as a body is a central tenant and practice.

The personal and individual experience is emphasized by CM. Individual and personalized practices, experiences, and relationships that connect you with God is central.

19. The soul is our spirit and that part of us that is immortal and that goes to either heaven or hell when we die is a prevailing view of EC.

The soul is our essence, our truest self, that part of us that is like God is a prevailing view of CM.

20. Resistance to change is a pattern in EC. Change is viewed as a threat to values, ideals, church polity, programs and doctrines.

Acceptance of change is a pattern in CM. Change is good and is the by-product of the dying/death and rising/resurrection of all things. Christ Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the archetype for how all things change.

21. Social Ministry is a focus of EC. Love and compassion ministries are designed to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals Jesus referred to as “the least of these.” Some examples include addressing the needs of the poor, the homeless, the hungry, orphans, widows, the handicapped, sick, and outcast. Social Ministry addresses the symptoms of Social Injustice by providing short term solutions.

Social Justice Ministry is a focus of CM. Ministries are designed to work through political and societal systems to right the wrongs perpetrated by individuals, organizations, and society upon “the least of these.” Some examples include lobbying for legislation that addresses economic and racial injustice and becoming involved in causes that alleviate the inequalities in education, healthcare, and housing. Social Justice Ministry addresses the causes of Social Injustice by addressing long term solutions.

22. Dual thinking. EC emphasizes making dualistic judgements that classify things as black/white, right/wrong, good/evil, truth/lies, yes/no, and all or none.

Non-dual thinking. CM emphasizes non-dualistic thinking, embracing living with shades of gray, the third alternative, liminal spaces, paradoxes, contradictions, both/and, and the either/or.

23. Life in heaven is the destination. For EC the goal is eternal life in heaven with Jesus.

The journey is the destination. For CM the present is all that we know for sure, the future is up to God, but they have faith that their trajectory is always leading somewhere better. Experiencing heaven here on earth is the goal. “It is heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell.”

Posted on January 31, 2023

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5