Karl Rahner, one of the most influential Catholic Theologians of the 20th Century, once made a controversial prediction that has now become a full-on reality in the 21st Century.
“The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing.”
Rahner’s prediction is proving to be eerily accurate here in the 21st Century but needs two slight modifications in order to be spot-on.
…or he will be “nothing.”
What Rahner meant to say was, “or he will be a ‘none.’”
According to a recent Gallup report, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans represents 18% of all U.S. adults. Among younger Americans, particularly the Millennial Generation (those born after 1980), the percentage is even higher with some studies suggesting up to 30% who claim “no religion whatsoever.”
These “nones,” as they are labeled today, represent one of the fastest-growing and now second-largest religious constituency in the United States. If compared with the mere 9% of Americans 65 or older who are not affiliated with some type of religion, these numbers show a dramatic increase in those who would rather be labeled a non-religious “nothing” than a religious “something.”
Seems like Rahner was on to that “something.”
While there are a plethora of reasons (and opinions) as to why this is the case today, in my opinion, there is not a more compelling (or obvious) reason than what Rahner offered years ago.
“A Christian will be a mystic…or nothing at all.”
Although the word, “mystic” is starting to be retrieved once again in the church (thank the Lord), many are still leery as to its meaning and use in the context of the Christian faith.
What does it mean for a Christian to be a “mystic?”
William Johnson, S.J., defines a Christian mystic as “one who lives the Christ-mystery and is transformed by it.” In this way, Christian mysticism is, according to Johnson, a “living of the Gospel at a deep level of consciousness.” Rahner simply states that a Christian mystic is someone who has “experienced something.”
While I love Rahner’s simplicity, what he meant to say was:
“a Christian will be a Pentecostal…or nothing at all.”
Pentecostalism, in many ways, is leading the church’s charge in America (and around the world).
While most evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches are in a state of plateau or decline, Pentecostalism is on the rise in America and is spilling over the banks in other parts of the globe.
According to the Barna Group, the number of Pentecostal believers is triple the number of evangelicals in the U.S. and equivalent to the number of adults who attend Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, or non-denominational churches.
Why is this? I think I have at least an answer.
Pentecostalism has become the closest thing to Christian Mysticism that is left in the church today.
Pentecostals claim to experience God, Jesus, and particularly the “mystical” Holy Spirit in a deep, deep level of consciousness that is appealing to both believers of other denominations and non-believers on the side-lines. While being “filled” with the Holy Spirit, raising your hands during a worship song, speaking in tongues, or receiving “a word of knowledge,” may not be your cup of tea, it’s wildly appealing when compared with what some consider to be the “bland” nature of evangelicalism or the perceived “lifelessness” of the mainstream church.
I hate to say it, but most evangelical and mainline Christians I know can be summed up in one word:
Pentecostalism is anything but boring. It’s lively, upbeat, positive, and encouraging. Now, before you thing I’m arguing that church should be a “performance” or accuse me of going Joel Osteen on you and leaving out “the Gospel,” let me say that I believe the main draw of Pentecostalism today is not the health and wealth message as some say it is. I don’t. It is certainly a draw, but not the draw.
It’s the mystical experience they offer.
Pentecostal’s emphasis on the mystical (that which you cannot fully explain) and ones personal and corporate experience with the mystery of the Christian faith is, in my opinion, the major fascination with the present day Pentecostal and Charismatic church.
But their mystery is flawed!!! You may yell at the screen.
Ok. Well, what are the other options?
Be a nominal mainliner who only experiences the mystery of Christ during Handel’s Messiah once a year?
Be a systematic evangelical whose main mystical experience with Christ is getting “saved” again or during that “one cool worship song” at the end of the service?
Maybe being a stale Catholic who focuses more on ritual and rote prayers than the mystery that surrounds the Eucharist might be a better option?
William McNamara, O.C.D., gives a piercing clarity to the options that are left when the church at large throws the mystery of the Christian faith out the window and neglects to teach believers how to live (and yes experience) the Gospel at a deep level of consciousness through the historic mystical experiences of contemplative prayer, silence, solitude, table, drink, the sacraments, and lingering conversations when he says:
“A Christianity that is not basically mystical must become ether a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.”
While I don’t consider myself a Pentecostal, I have many dear friends who are. And for those that I do know, Rahner’s prediction is why they have embraced the Pentecostal faith over any other. However, I believe it is time that the church at large begins to embrace the mystery of our faith and point congregants into that mystery–the profound mystery of what it means to be in Christ.
If mainline and evangelicals (as well as Catholic and Orthodox) continue to neglect building up Christian mystics who live in the Christ-mystery and has been transformed by that mystery, then there will be more and more “nones” in the world, and a lot more Pentecostals–which might not be a bad thing.