Was Paul a Mystic?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism, The New Spirituality

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
—The Apostle Paul, Colossians 2:8

Introduction
Although defying exact definition because the practices and experiences of mystics are so various and mysterious, one dictionary defines mysticism as, “the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation and love.” [1] Note that in contrast to God revealing Himself in Scripture, mystical truth is individually, intimately, and immediately intuited through spiritual experiences.

In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four main characteristics of mystical experience: first, ineffability; second, noetic quality; third, transiency; and fourth, passivity. [2] James also notes that absorption, fusion, or union of the individual into the Absolute, or deity, is “the great mystic achievement.” He adds, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.” [3] On this point, James apparently suggested a fifth characteristic of mysticism—absorption.

There are those who speak of “Christian mysticism” and assert that the apostle Paul was a mystic. [4] From his epistles, they cite his experience, that of going to Paradise, and his condition, that of being “in Christ,” as evidences of his mysticism. For this reason, it is incumbent upon Bible believers to understand what Paul was saying about his experiences.

To determine if Paul was a mystic, analysis shall be offered regarding the incident of his being carried to “the third heaven,” and his state of being “in Christ.” The apostle’s experience and spiritual state shall be evaluated according to William James’ five characteristics of mystical experiences to determine whether or not Paul was a mystic. We note first the two primary New Testament references causing some to deduce that the apostle was a mystic.
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“LITTLE BOY”

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Spiritual Discernment, The New Spirituality

An interaction with issues raised by a Roman Catholic film.

For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.
—Jesus, Matthew 17:20b

Little Boy: Believe the Impossible, produced by Metanoia films (the biblical word metanoia means to change one’s mind or repentance, or perhaps in this instance, beyond the mind), tells the story of a young boy, Pepper Flynt Busbee, upon whom psychokinetic power was bestowed to work miracles of faith, even shake mountains. Despite being bullied by other kids, the “little boy” believed the impossible. By believing in the power of faith without doubting he was not only able to perform supernatural feats that astonished the townspeople, but also bring his father and best friend, James Busbee, back from the battlefields and perils of World War II. As one promo puts it,

The movie tells an all-American story of a devoted 7-year-old son whose father goes missing in the battles of World War II. Motivated by Jesus’ words that faith can move mountains, the little boy asks a local priest how he can increase his faith to move a mountain and bring his missing daddy home. The film promises to be a heart moving film. [1]

The executive producer (other of the film’s execs include Roma Downey and Mark Burnett) and handsome actor Eduardo Verástegui  asks of the film’s storyline, “Who is going to be against a little boy who is going to do whatever it takes to bring his dad back from World War II, because he loves him so much he wants to save his dad, and he’s going to do it through a list of actions [Acts of Corporal Mercy] that are universal—feed the poor, visit those who are sick and in prison?” [2] So a trap has been set. Who will dare to criticize a movie that brings people together and unites them to do good to other people? And didn’t Jesus warn His followers against causing “one of these little ones” to stumble?

No doubt the film, by creating the cinematographic feeling of a Norman Rockwell painting and departing from the standard Hollywood fare of sex and gore, will appear as a harmless and innocent fantasy to most viewers. The nostalgia for a long-gone era of American history, vaguely remembered by some of us seniors, will draw the hearts of many viewers into the story. Those who have seen the movie testify to its emotional appeal, and emotions are for most Americans the spiritual gateway to the soul.

The stimulus for making the movie may arise from the director and producers’ desire to influence American culture for the good. One of the 7 Mountains Christian Dominionism aspires to conquer is the media, arts and entertainment industries. Some pre-release reviews of the movie have already praised Little Boy as an artful film though criticizing it for, among a few other things, depicting war violence and hatred of the Japanese.

Though containing elements of goodness in it, the “spirituality” the movie portrays ought to concern biblical Christians. The movie contains a weird spiritual combination of themes that while admittedly Christian, also project a magical and occult worldview like a Harry Potter movie. We turn now to a description and transcript of the movie’s trailer. As you read it, note the occurrences of the words “believe” and “faith.”
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“My Proof of Heaven”: A Review and Theological Commentary

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism, Spiritual Discernment, The New Spirituality

The “Conversion” of a Skeptic?

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Jesus, John 14:1-4, KJV

Recently, Newsweek magazine flaunted a cover title HEAVEN IS REAL, with the subtitle, A Doctor’s Experience of the Afterlife. [1] The experiencer of Heaven is Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has taught at, among other academic institutions, Harvard Medical School. In other words, he’s familiar with the intricacies and workings of the human brain. As a scientist, Alexander confesses he did not believe in near-death (NDE) or out-of-the-body (OBE) experiences for he “believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-the-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death,” but when he experienced one, his worldview shifted. [2]

Consciousness beyond Cortex
Four years ago, Dr. Alexander contracted a rare bacterial infection that penetrated his cerebrospinal fluid and began to eat away his brain, causing “the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion” to shut down. [3] For seven days he lay comatose with his “higher-order brain function totally offline.” [4] Just as his attending physicians were weighing options of whether or not to continue treatment, Alexander relates that his “eyes popped open” and he returned to consciousness. During the days when he was physically brain dead, Dr. Alexander testifies that his “conscious, [his] inner self—was alive and well.” He states:

While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility. [5]

Alexander’s experience might be explained by paraphrasing a description of death given to us by the Apostle Paul; and that is, to be absent from the body is to remain in consciousness. [6]

The Shift
Later he adds concerning the shift that altered his view of reality: “The universe as I experienced it in my coma is—I have come to see with both shock and joy—the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways.” [7] Alexander relates that the universe, as he views it, consists of a quantum reality of unity (Einstein) and love (Jesus). Dr. Alexander has become a believer in an afterlife.
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When You Pray, Say . . .

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, The New Spirituality

Contemplative Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.” 1 Corinthians 14:14-15a, KJV

Between contemplative spirituality and biblical Christianity there reside watershed distinctions between first, the definition, and then, the practice of prayer. Simply stated, prayer is talking to God. In speaking to God, believers are free to disclose their hearts’ deepest longings and vexations to Him, including their feelings, fears, secrets, sins, praises, petitions, doubts, complaints, thanksgiving, troubles, and more–the prayers of Jesus and the saints in the Bible providing example.

In openness and integrity of soul, our conversation with the Father, however limited by human language and self-interest, is mediated by Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, to the personal God who hears, sympathizes, and understands when by faith, and sometimes amidst life’s sorest trials, His children talk to Him (See Ephesians 6:18; 1 John 2:1; Romans 8:15, 26-27.). As the author of Hebrews encourages us,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Within evangelicalism, the contemplative prayer movement is affecting this mediated understanding of prayer. The narrator in the Be Still DVD states that, “Contemplation is different from other types of Christian prayer.” In explaining how this form of prayer differs from traditional prayer, Richard Foster says, “Contemplative prayer is listening prayer. It is attentiveness . . . It’s being all ears to what the Father has to say to us. He then quotes Nicholas Grou who requested, “O divine master, teach me this mute language which says so much.”[1] In this manner of praying, the communication that transpires is unmediated. Contemplatives feel themselves to be contacting God directly. There is no need for the advocacy of Jesus Christ, or intercession by the Holy Spirit. The desired communication is soul to Soul, the human with the Divine.
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The False Imagining of “the false christ”

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for The New Spirituality

Colossians and the cosmic-christ.

And he [God’s Son] is before all things, and by him [God’s Son] all things consist.” Colossians 1:17, KJV

Over three-and-one-half decades ago, John Lennon came out with the hit song Imagine. The lyrics project a utopian vision of the world in which, because there is no heaven or hell, no countries or religion, no possessions or greed, nothing to kill or die for, all the people will be one.[1] Internationally, Lennon’s song about the new world remains most popular. Increasingly, political, religious, and media ideologues are suggesting that for Lennon’s dream to become a reality, a one-world community must become committed to one-world spirituality.
 
As these societal movers and shakers might imagine, the new utopia will necessitate the dawning of a new spiritual consensus. Such messianism envisions christ to be mental, not personal, and that being the case, asks people to “shift” their consciousness to a one-world spirituality in order to build a one-world community. Utopia would, it is theorized, be based upon spiritual unity. Religion will no longer divide, but unite. There will be no heaven or hell, no countries or religion to die for. Terrorism will become obsolete. As John Lennon imagined, the world will be as one. But, under what guise might this spiritual shift be coming?

Its core belief appears to be this: In essence, the cosmos consists of a panentheist or pantheist-christ spirit permeating everything.[2] Thus, everything, animate and inanimate, becomes “sacred.” This sacred christ is the one reality which comprises both the center and circumference of the universe. That’s why it’s called the cosmic christ. Christ is whatever constitutes time, matter, and space. Christ is Source. Christ is Moment. Christ is Energy. Christ is Thing. Christ is Presence. Christ is Being. Christ is Consciousness. Christ is Oneness. Christ is you. Christ is me. Christ is . . . In all of this, and unlike His portrayal in Holy Scripture, there is no sense in which Christ is personally before, above, without, or outside the world. (Oh, by the way . . . prepositions contain great theology!) This christ is co-existent and co-extensive with the universe. Because the New Age christ permeates nature, it is nature. If the universe didn’t exist, this christ wouldn’t exist. According to the math of the twin deceptions of New Ageism and the New Spirituality, christ minus the universe equals nothing. Arbitrarily, they take whatever is, assign divinity to it, and call it “christ.”
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The “Holy” God

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for The New Spirituality

From immanence to idolatry.

I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:1-3, KJV

In the Old City of Jerusalem, I stood reverently before the massive stones that comprise the base and foundation of the mount upon which the Jewish temple once stood. Standing before the Western, or Wailing, Wall, I noticed little slips of paper tucked in the crevices between the giant-hand-hewn stones. Wondering what the papers were, I reached in with my fingers and pulled one out. The handwriting on the paper began “G-d.” I later found out that devout Jews hold the name of God, or the Lord, so sacred that they, out of respect for Him, refuse to spell His name in a profane (i.e., common) way. Omitting the letter “o,” they write “G-d” or “L-rd.” I fear that, within the pale of contemporary Christianity such respect, or reverence, for God has been, or is being, lost. God has become “cuddly” common to us. In this spirit, we turn to address the subject of God’s nearness.

God’s “immanence” is opposite from His “transcendence.” Both of these categories of thought about God attempt to describe His relationship to His world; to nature, to nations, to people, to the animal kingdom, and so on. Theologians employ the terms to describe both God’s involvement with and distance from His created universe. The Bible pictures God as being both near and far from His creation. Not only is God with us, He is also above us. As the transcendent One, He is distant. As the immanent One, He is near.


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The Idolatry of “I am!”

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for The New Spirituality

The “gods” of Babylon: an old spirituality in this New Age.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me . . .” Yahweh, Isaiah 46:9, KJV

One of my seminary professors stated in a theology class, “God created man in His own likeness and image, and man has been returning the compliment ever since.” Again, like one pundit put it, “Man is the ape that wants to be God.” In many ways, shapes, and sizes, the “man-is-God” teaching still comes to us.

Though contemporary Mormons now disavow his statement, Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901), the fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Pretending to be within the pale of Christendom, some Word of Faith teachers boldly tell their followers, “You are gods.” [1] Helen Schucman (1909-1981), a New York research psychologist, authored volumes which now comprise A Course in Miracles (ACIM). Over a period of seven years, Schucman claimed to have received the contents of the course by a process of “inner dictation,” the dictator being Jesus, an “ascended master” and spirit guide. Though using Christian terminology, ACIM is founded upon the fundamental premises of Eastern-metaphysical-mystical religion. In one of the course’s lessons, Schucman stated, “The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself.” [2] Among a host of other believers, authors and teachers, Schucman-like spirituality is widely being disseminated into American culture by various New Age gurus like Marianne Williamson and Eckhart Tolle, and their publicist, Oprah Winfrey. But I will, in this article, address this question: Does the Bible teach anywhere that man is not God?
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Unshackled

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for The New Spirituality

Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality.

For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2, KJV

The story possesses the ingredients of a modern day soap opera. She was a well-kept, but neglected and desperate wife of Potiphar, a man who had one of the most demanding jobs in the kingdom—protecting the king’s life. Joseph was a handsome, successful, and “unattached” young servant whom Potiphar, head of the secret service, appointed to manage his finances and oversee his household’s day-to-day-operation. As Pharaoh trusted Potiphar with his life, so Potiphar trusted Joseph with his wife.


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