RPCUS magazine promotes Reformed Mysticism

January 2006

RPCUS magazine promotes Reformed Mysticism

Some so-called Puritans and Protestants were and are little better than medieval mystics.

        They do not understand the Gospel of objective and everlasting righteousness, completely outside of us, belonging to Another, that saves us completely through belief of the truth alone. Instead, they focus on their own "spirituality," their "existential and experiential union" with Christ, their spiritual experience, and they seek and urge others to seek a "deeper Christian experience." Frequently they obscure, if not flatly deny, the Gospel of Jesus Christ by their navel watching, transforming simple understanding and belief into a complex and confusing psychological feat that only the "really spiritual" can perform.

        Sometimes they call this semi-pagan mysticism "experimental religion." By "experimental" they mean "experiential." Knowing and believing the truth are not enough for them; such things are of the head, but not of the heart, and it is the heart, not the head, they fervently assert, that is important.

        These teachings are antithetical to the Gospel, yet they are very popular in some Presbyterian and Baptist circles. Dr. Joel Beeke, a graduate of Westminster Seminary, has been zealously promoting "experimental religion" for years. And now the RPCUS denominational magazine, The Counsel of Chalcedon, features an essay by Douglas Kelly (PCA), who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, extolling mysticism and "spirituality" and asserting that it is present in the Westminster Confession. The editor of the magazine, Rev. Wayne Rogers, tells his readers that Kelly's article "is one of the most important articles I have heard and read in a long time."

        Kelly writes, "Certainly within the broader Medieval Catholic tradition there were streams of Christ-centered mystical experience (that are not totally removed from experimental Calvinism...."

        The ironic thing about this statement is that Kelly spends the first dozen paragraphs of his article suggesting that it is the denial of mysticism/spirtuality in Reformed churches that drives men to Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. He does not see, and apparently cannot understand, that it is not the denial of mysticism in so-called Reformed churches, but its very presence that sends men to Rome and Constantinople: They go there because the so-called Reformed churches, like Kelly, acknowledge the legitimacy of mysticism and "spirituality," and Romanism and Orthodoxy are the experts in the field. Why would anyone fool around with Presbyterian experimentalism when they can get the real thing in Rome and the East? Kelly's analysis of the problem is exactly wrong, but we have come to expect that from seminary professors.

        Kelly finds support for his ideas in the French Catholic Charismatic Louis Bouyer, who attacked Reformation theology and extolled "Protestant" experimentalism and experientialism. In fact, nearly all the sources Kelly quotes are Roman and Eastern Catholic. Kelly praises Thomas a Kempis and St. Bernard and traces some of Calvin's doctrines to those medieval mystics.

        Kelly quotes Richard Sibbes (second hand) praising "heart knowledge" as opposed to "reason." This is paganism without any support in Scripture. It is a crime that a seminary professor at a reputedly Reformed seminary is so ignorant of what the word "heart" means in Scripture. But then seminary professors have been using words in un-Biblical ways for centuries. One of those words is "mystery," which in the Bible means simply an intelligible secret, but which the theologians twist into something unintelligible and therefore "spiritual." Mysticism has to do with unintelligible mysteries.

        After all his praise for medieval mysticism, Kelly's argument falls flat, for he can find no mysticism -- none -- in the Westminster Confession. He quotes several paragraphs, and none of them says anything about mysticism or "spirituality." He does not even bother to make an argument that they do.

        So what is the effect of this "most important" essay? Simply this: It is to legitimize medieval mysticism, which of course has nothing to do with Christianity and is in fact a characteristic of pagan religions, and to obscure the objective Gospel. The fact that the RPCUS denominational magazine reprinted it bodes ill for that denomination.

        Rather than legitimizing Roman and Eastern mysticism as Kelly does, Reformed churches must deny any legitimacy to mysticism/spirituality and all forms of counterfeit Christianity. That is the only way to be faithful to Christ and his teachings.

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
January 9, 2006

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