“Evangelical Mysticism” – The Article That Wikipedia Deleted

Evangelical mysticism is a movement within Christian mysticism. Differences between Christian mysticism and Evangelical mysticism can be identified that are fundamental and significant. Unlike the generic “Christian mysticism,” which supports liberal Christianity‘s mixture of Catholic mystical theology with Hindu and Buddhist mysticism–“Evangelical mysticism” is a phrase that narrows down the definition to only those denominations or Christian groups with conservative Evangelical beliefs who also practice contemplative prayer.[1] The National Association of Evangelicals’ statement of faith is more or less held to,[2] but so also is the practice of soaking prayer or contemplative prayer.

Liberal Christianity and the New Age Movement

From the 1960s to 1980s, the New Age movement popularized the Eastern practices of Transcendental Meditation (TM),[3] Yoga, and Zen.[4] Liberal Catholics and Protestants[5] began to follow the lead of these New Age meditation practices by incorporating them into Christian meditation. In reaction to this, the Roman Catholic Church issued an official rebuke of New Age meditation practices: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (1989).[6]

The Centering Prayer Movement

Thomas Merton, a liberal Trappist monk, was one of the first to borrow from Eastern meditation practices, such as Zen, mixing them with Christian meditation and contemplation.[7] Later, M. Basil Pennington,[8] Thomas Keating, and William Meninger[9] would follow Merton’s lead, and become the founders of the centering prayer movement.

Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Contemplative Prayer

In reaction to these liberal Christians borrowing from New Age meditation, there has progressively been a move among Evangelicals—especially Third Wave Charismatics (or Neocharismatics)—to return to the ancient practice of contemplative prayer.[10] And that without any mixture of New Age practices or beliefs, which essentially originate in India from the Hindu gurus. The Evangelical mystics turn to the founders of Christian monasticism for guidance concerning contemplation: the Desert Fathers. Also, other Catholic contemplative writers are referred to, such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Michael Molinos, Madame Guyon, and François Fénelon.[11] (But these last three teachers became accused of the heresy of Quietism, which results in a hyper-prophetic asceticism, or the belief that every single step you take in life needs to come from a rhema word from God; also that you are not allowed to enjoy pleasures or express emotions.) These are the classic teachers of Christian contemplative prayer, and have no association whatsoever with the Hindu gurus of India. Christian contemplation means “being still and knowing that God is God” (Psalm 46:10). It is quieting oneself, closing the eyes, and concentrating on Christ for a prolonged period of time, with the goal of experiencing direct revelations through hearing the voice of God, seeing visions, interpreting dreams with Biblical symbolism, and feeling God’s presence. This is also called listening prayer.[12]

John Fletcher and John Wesley:
The Founders of Evangelical Mysticism

The usage of the phrase “Evangelical mysticism” or “Evangelical mystic” goes as far back as the 18th century and the early Methodists. John Fletcher appears to be the first to use the phrase.[13] Evangelicalism started as a missionary movement that came out of the Great Awakenings with Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church).[14] John Wesley, an avid reader with a mystical appetite, was not only one of the founders of Evangelicalism, but was also deeply impressed by Catholic mystical writers such as Thomas à Kempis, Francis de Sales,[15] and Madame Guyon.[16] In Wesley’s shadow, other teachers that were influenced by the Holiness movement, or the Higher Life movement, were familiarized with Madame Guyon’s writings. T. C. Upham, a prominent Holiness leader, translated The Life of Madame Guyon.[17]

The Early Pentecostals and Contemplative Prayer

William J. Seymour, a Holiness preacher and major leader of the Pentecostal movement, practiced contemplation during his meetings at the Azusa Street Revival. These early Pentecostals had group “tarrying” meetings, or contemplation meetings, for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. “Through tarrying, a form of contemplative prayer, black Pentecostals experienced conversion, sanctification, and Spirit baptism by the sovereignty of God.”[18] John G. Lake, a prominent early Pentecostal healer, was influenced by Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon,[19] the Quakers, and practiced contemplation.[20]

Evangelical Mystics and the Charismatic Movement

A. W. Tozer, a major leader in the Christian & Missionary Alliance, is in a sense a father of “Evangelical mysticism,” and wrote The Pursuit of God (1948), which deals with contemplative topics. In 1975, Gene Edwards translated Madame Guyon’s A Short and Easy Method of Prayer into a popular modern version under the new title of Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. This book became popular in the Charismatic movement. In 1978, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline came out, and had a profound impact on Evangelicalism. Foster is an Evangelical Friend (conservative Quaker). Through his book he re-introduced Christian meditation and contemplation to Evangelicals, as it became a bestseller. It also had a profound influence on John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches.[21] Out of these Vineyard churches, came the International House of Prayer-Kansas City (IHOP-KC),[22] and Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (Catch the Fire Toronto).[23] These last two churches are very influential in the current Third Wave movement; and are open proponents of what they call soaking prayer or contemplative prayer.[24] The International House of Prayer has rediscovered the works of Teresa of Avila[25] and John of the Cross.[26] And there are two influential Third Wave books that have come out in recent years on Christian contemplative prayer that consciously reject New Age meditation: Mark and Patti Virkler’s Communion with God (1983) and James Goll’s Wasted on Jesus (2000).


  1. Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Renewing the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), p. 114.
  2. http://www.nae.net/about-us/statement-of-faith
  3. Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), p. 112.
  4. Ibid., p. 101.
  5. Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence: Meditation for the Twenty-First Century (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 154. This is a popular “Christian meditation” book written by an Episcopalian author that borrows from New Age practices.
  6. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html
  7. William Shannon, Thomas Merton: An Introduction (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), p. 153. This shows that it was as early as the 1950s that Merton started borrowing from “Eastern thought.”
  8. M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form (New York: Image Books, 1980), p. 55.
  9. Ibid., p. 14.
  10. Jim Goll, Wasted on Jesus (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2000), pp. 35-38.
  11. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), p. 24.
  12. Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal (Grand Rapids, MI: Hamewith Books, 1994), pp. 179-181.
  13. John Fletcher, The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher, vol. 4 (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1836), p. 7. The article “On Evangelical Mysticism.”
  14. Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp. 19-20.
  15. John Wesley, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. 10 (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1827), p. 85.
  16. , The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. 3, edited by Nehemiah Curnock (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2007), p. 18, see note 1.
  17. William Crosby, The Christian Examiner, vol. 43 (Boston, MA: William Crosby, 1847), pp. 317-324.
  18. David Daniels III, The Century of the Holy Spirit, edited by Vinson Synan (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p. 280.
  19. John G. Lake, John G. Lake: The Complete Collection of His Life Teachings, edited by Roberts Liardon (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1999), p. 526.
  20. Ibid., p. 419.
  21. John Wimber’s endorsement of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd ed., 25th Anniversary (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), p. 210.
  22. Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), p. 186.
  23. Ibid., p. 276.
  24. http://www.catchthefire.com/soaking
  25. http://store.ihop.org/store/product/19/The-Way-of-Perfection/
  26. http://store.ihop.org/store/product/181/The-Collected-Works-of-St.-John-of-the-Cross/

Further Reading on Evangelical Mysticism

  • Allen, Diogenes. Spiritual Theology. Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 1997. By an Anglican scholar and mystic.
  • How to Experience God: A Handbook for Charismatic Christians. Raleigh, NC: True Life Publishing, 2012.
  • Foster, Richard. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
  • ___________. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
  • ___________. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
  • Goll, Jim. Wasted on Jesus. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2000.
  • Guyon, Jeanne. Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. Edited by Gene Edwards. Sargent, GA: SeedSowers, 1975.
  • Jackson, Bill. The Quest for the Radical Middle. Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999.
  • Molinos, Michael. The Spiritual Guide. Edited by Gene Edwards. Sargent, GA: SeedSowers, 1972.
  • Packull, Werner. Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977.
  • Schwanda, Tom. Soul Recreation: The Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Puritanism. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012. Chapter One: “Introduction to Puritan Mysticism”; Chapter Four: “Isaac Ambrose’s Spiritual Practices and Contemplative Experiences”, etc.
  • Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread Publishers, 1993.
  • Tuttle, Robert. Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1989.
  • Virkler, Mark and Patti. 4 Keys to Hearing God’s Voice. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2010.

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