Prominent Reformed Evangelical Promotes Medieval Mystics
This headline seems to fall in the "man bites dog" category. From a professor (also dean and VP) of Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, we expect precise articulations of Reformed doctrine. Defenses of biblical inerrancy. Disquisitions on the priority of theology over experience.
We don't expect a spirited exhortation to read thousand-year-old mystical texts.
But that's just what we get in Carl Trueman's article Why Should Thoughtful Evangelicals Read the Medieval Mystics. And it's worth reading - whether you share Trueman's Reformed stance or not. In a nutshell, after acknowledging difficulties, he enumerates four reasons we should read such luminaries of the Middle Ages as Bonaventure, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. For those wanting to cut to the chase, here's my brief commentary on Trueman's article.
Medieval mysticism? Surely not!
On the "con" side of the ledger, Trueman diagnoses the fact that many unchurched folks and many ill-informed Christians eat up paperback editions of the mystics because they are seeking an antidote to what they see as the excessively propositional faith of conservative churches. Living in a world in which "experience is the hallmark of authenticity," such readers take the mystics' experience to be "separable from or prior to religious belief," and this attracts and comforts them.
Trueman likens this doctrine-allergic view of religious experience to such deceptive, escapist indulgences as "the increasingly fabulous special effects of movies" or "the intricate, kaleidoscopic plots of fantasy novels." The mystics' "highly symbolic and visionary manner of expression appeals to a world tired of propositions." A superficial reading of the mystics allows such readers to dabble ...