As we combat theological or doctrinal errors, there are two ends of the spectrum we need to avoid falling into – rationalism and mysticism. In-between these two extreme pits however, is a balance.
Rationalism is a system of reliance on human reason for morals and truth. It presupposes that logical reasoning can serve as a compass of what is right and true without an appeal to divine revelation. It’s a worldview that is closely related to reasonlatry, in which reason becomes the final authority.
Reason in itself is not evil. God said to Israel “Come now and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). He approves of reasoning and dialoguing in arriving at truth. The problem arises when reason is used as the only yardstick for determining truth. During the Rennaisance, particularly during the French Revolution, many people rejected every form of established or revealed authority and sought to replace it with Reason. They enacted this by carrying an actress into the Notre Dame Cathedral and enthroned her as the goddess of Reason. This trend spread to churches in Holland, Geneva and Germany, and it later paved the way for savage persecution and subsequent triumph of Darwinian evolution. It ultimately gave rise to the rejection of all supernatural themes in the Bible.
Rationalism and intellectual phariseeism still remain the fountain head of theological views like Open Theism, the New Perspective, the Seeker Sensitive Movement, Theistic evolution and Cessationism to name a few. In these systems, Reason, or a man-made philosophical system, is used as the only valid standard by which all revelations and spiritual experiences are judged. Thus, many rationalists tend to dismiss any experience they find hard to reconcile with their presuppositional box as heretical or demonic.
Two Christian authors (whom I respect) once commented on an experience a Muslim lady had. She dreamt that Jesus led her to a church and said “this is where I live.” This experience actually led her to Christ. Yet these men dismissed it as an “experiential … incredibly subjective … emotional experience with some apparition claiming to be Jesus.” I think this dismissal was because her experiences didn’t square with their denominational doctrine.
Jesus can (and does) reveal Himself to whoever He chooses. Just because you have not had a certain spiritual experience doesn’t always mean someone who did was deceived – that is, if it wasn’t unscriptural. Reason must not be exalted above revelation. Christianity is a revelation; we can’t reduce it into an exercise in philosophy or abstract theology.
There are certain Christian beliefs we accept by faith before their understanding comes. We can’t pick and choose what to believe based on whether they are “rational.” Also, there are some experiences that are self-evident. Once you have them, you wouldn’t need a theological debate or studying 10 books on the subject before you know they are real (Prov. 3:5).
Mysticism is an opposite pit. It’s a system that relies on inner impressions, feelings, emotions or intuition as the only reliable standard of truth and morals. In mysticism, reasoning plays no part at all. This worldview is very common among African and Asian Christians who have been raised in an environment of that embraces supernaturalism.
Mysticism can lead a Christian astray because it shifts one’s faith from Scripture to an experience such that one becomes immune to discernment. Once you get to the point where you assume any supernatural feat is coming from God and you have no objective standard to guage your experiences, you may be walking in deception.
For example, people have embraced Mormonism solely because they felt a “burning sensation” in their bosom when they prayed with the book of Mormon. Some have claimed to see a vision of Mary and then embraced Catholicism. Some “feel a power” at a pagan shrine and they embrace Neopaganism. Some Christians also regard miracles as proof of doctrinal purity. They insist they have found the truth because of their “inner feelings” or “signs” and they become impervious to every Biblical critique.
Christian mystics forget that Satan is not only a deceiver, but also knows how to manipulate human emotions to make us think we are on the right track. Sometimes people defend they aberrant groups they belong to by saying “So long as God is answering my prayers there, even if they teach lies, I’m okay.” No, you are not okay. You’ve lost your wisdom and discernment. Our faith ought to be in God and His Word, not a human figure or an experience.
A person who trusts in his own heart is a fool (Proverbs 28:26). Our hearts are so deceitful and we can mislead us by them. Blind faith is as poisonous as reasonlatry and both extremes lead to fanaticism. In Christianity, faith and reason work together. We must not replace one with the other or use either as a final authority.