Monday, December 24, 2007

The God of Intimacy and Action

Campolo, Tony & Darling, Mary Albert. 2007. The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Christian activist, Tony Campolo, who is also professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in the United States, has teamed up with Mary Albert Darling, a spiritual director from the Ignatian tradition to produce a book on “mystical Christianity.” Darling is the associate professor of communication at Spring Arbor University and is a Protestant who is well versed in Roman Catholic mystic tradition.

They define “mystic Christianity” as a “holistic Christianity” which includes mystical spirituality, evangelism and social justice (p.xiv). A mystic as defined as “one who experiences God in transrational and nonempirical ways.” (p.4). What this means is that all Christians are mystics as they will have personal experiences of an encounter with God. Campolo highlights five types of mystical experiences:
1. New insights
2. I-Thou relationships
3. Heightened awareness
4. Conversion experiences
5. Breakthrough experiences (p.4-12)

He takes care to compare these with what William James described in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience. While William James’ research was not in a Christian context, there are enough similarities to accept Campolo’s descriptions.

The main thesis that Campolo and Darling proposes is that a Spirit-filled Christians who have had mystic spiritual experiences will subsequently be concerned for evangelism and social justice. Campolo writes, “I believe there are four basic consequences for a sense of justice that grows from mystical unity with Christ. Each of them is essential to actualize something of the justice and social well-being that are part of what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. They are
1. An awareness that Christ is in the poor and oppressed, waiting to be loved and served
2. A call to challenged institutionalized religion
3. An understanding of the importance of entering into one another’s sufferings
4. A plan for the world as it should be” (p.41)

This thesis is not new. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen were the latest in the long line of Christian mystics who propose such a thesis. Merton’s activism comes from his time of contemplation in a monastery and Nouwen from his contemplative experience in the academia. Merton’s activism were in the political and cultural arena while Nouwen were in the handicap and socially deprived.

It is a common misconception that contemplatives are too otherworldly to be of any earthly use. A study of the life of Gregory the Great, Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena is enough to convince anyone that contemplatives are also social activists. What is new in this thesis is that two Protestants, Campolo and Darling propose it. What is also interesting is that social activist Campolo has to draw on the experience of Darling to support his concept of “mystical Christianity.” To develop or experience a mystical Christian life, Darling suggests the practice of the following ‘ancient’ spiritual disciplines
1. The prayer of examen
2. lectio divina
3. Centering prayer

will transform Christians into becoming more aware of the need for evangelism and to act for social justice. This is an important point because without a depth in God, our social activism will be mere ‘good works’. Thomas Merton explains it in Contemplation in a World of Action as thus, “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening is own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”

This is a good book in which the interconnectiveness of Christian spirituality and practices, evangelism and activism for social justice are revealed as essential for a holistic Christian life.


Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home