These days I find myself moving between the world of Fuller, where most of the people I know are firmly on the conservative end of the spectrum, and Immanuel Pres., a more progressive community where I’m doing an internship. It was a bit disorienting at first. Sometimes I don’t know which group I love more—evangelicals or liberals. Other times I don’t know whom I find more frustrating. I don’t strongly identify myself with either camp, but I think in this post my true colors come out.
Someone at my “liberal church” said that he has felt closer to God reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth than reading the Bible. That definitely set off the heresy alarm, my first thought being, “Eckhart Tolle! OH NO! I must do anything I can to keep this man from slipping into a horrid abyss of wrong-headed thinking!” Not that I know much about Eckhart Tolle—but in spite of my own longings for a mystic communion with God, I am very wary of that path, as it is well known that mystics tend away from orthodoxy.
I guess I really am evangelical at heart: I see the Bible as the necessary anchor and foundation of theology because it holds objective truth. And if subjective experience is leading someone away from the truth as revealed in scripture, I would have to label that subjective experience as demonic, not divine.
The problem with mysticism is that if you’re not careful (and I think you can be—as Thomas Aquinas[!]—but if you’re not) it becomes merely a journey inward, where there is no way of correcting one’s own biases and blind spots. I think it is no coincidence that this guy who likes Tolle so much also was complaining just before about how he disagrees with Immanuel’s focus on social justice issues. He would rather the church focused on God, and the Bible, and improving oneself. Perhaps if he was spending more time reading the Bible and less with Eckhart Tolle, he would see that social justice is very near to the heart of the gospel message.
When people just believe whatever “feels right,” whatever they find “inspiring,” whatever gives them a subjective experience of closeness to God, they cease to be honest seekers of the truth. Truth is objective. Objective reality has the ability to challenge us, to confront us, to show us when we are wrong.
As soon as the mystic blasphemously declares, “I and the Father are one,” she can no longer encounter God as Other. When the mystic proclaims himself divine, he loses the ability to learn from God, to hear God’s voice as distinct from his own. Thinking he is perfect jus t as he is, he cannot repent of the evil that still exists within him. Feeling that all of the universe is as it should be, she sees no reason to fight against injustice.
The Bible is in some ways hard to understand precisely because it is a witness to the objective facts of God’s intervention in history. Because of the historical nature of revelation, we have in scripture a source of objective truth. That is why we need to trust in scripture before our own feelings, so that we can remain open to being transformed by a God whose ways are higher than our ways.
P.S. A note on Eckhart Tolle:
As I said, I don’t know much about him, but I tried looking him up online to see what I could learn. His website is nothing but an advertisement. I am extremely skeptical about the “enlightenment” of any person who refuses to share their supposedly wonderful teachings for free and instead uses their renown to make money.