Mystical Theology



IWS Presidential Address

Robert Webber, June Session 2005




1.   Context: The Radical Orthodox Movement


2.   The new cycle of history












3.   A contribution to post-evangelical, post-liberal thinking




I.        Ancient Spirituality


For the early Christians right through Dionysius and Maximus, mystical theology takes place in the setting of the community’s participation in Christ.  It means the transformation of consciousness through the hard communal praxis of spiritual growth, in mutual openness to the hidden presence of the divine in the ordinary struggles and rituals of ecclesial life.  But it does mean a new kind of knowing, an understanding brought to life as believers are drawn ecstatically beyond their usual habits of mind and heart.  And this leads to deeper, truer communal life—both in terms of what is taught and how life is lived.  The ineffability of life in the Trinity is overflowing generative of concrete, historical meaning (Mystical Theology, Mark McIntosh, 62).



A.   God’s story of Creation, Incarnation, Recreation

B.   Spirituality as union, contemplation, and participation


II.      The Medieval Shift into Narcissistic Spirituality


A.     The divorce between theology and spirituality


1.      Theology shifts from the story of God to a science that analyzes the pieces of God’s story

2.      Spirituality (and eventually worship), no longer situated in God’s story, shifts from the journey into God to a journey into self.

B.     Note the following shifts:

1.   The shift in language—

·         from the indescribable wonder of God to a wonderfully indescribable experience of God (p. 68)

2.   The shift in focus—

·         from the story of God to a “narrativizing of the speaker” (p. 68)

3.   The resulting shift—

·         from the “cosmic drama” to the drama of self


III.  The Impact of the Medieval Shift on Modern and Contemporary Worship and Spirituality

A.     In worship God is the object, not the subject.

B.     In spirituality I am the subject, not the object


IV.  The Way Back

1.      Recover the primacy of God’s story.

2.      Situate both worship and spirituality in God’s story.

3.      Contemplate God’s story with delight.

4.      Participate in God’s story with passion.