The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’—someone who has ‘experienced something’—or will cease to be anything at all.

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner wrote these well-known words back in the 1960s, in his essay, “Christian Living Formerly and Today.” I have been thinking more about his words recently, because they speak a truth to me that is timely and relevant.

I shared some thoughts yesterday on the trend toward religion without awe, based on Evelyn Underhill’s insights, which can be found here: “Are We Drifting Toward a Religion Without Awe?”

This post is something of a companion piece, looking at this question again through a slightly different lens. The church of the future needs to filled with awe, filled with people who have experienced God’s love in their lives, or there may be no church. Both Rahner and Underhill agree on this. And they both also agree that this is more difficult in our “modern” age. There are many reasons for this. Let me share just one of these, offered by Rahner in this same essay:

We live in a world in which man has made even his own interior life the subject of technical scientific investigation, … a world … in which the suspicion is never absent from his mind that his religious experience may be unmasked as an outmoded and erroneous interpretation of psychological drives, needs and processes which can and must be explained and brought under control by quite different means than through a mystical and indefinite entity called ‘God.’

That is a good description of the age in which we live, is it not? And one of the obvious reasons for the current decline in church membership. And perhaps one of the reasons why the church has reacted by trying to be more “practical.” If religious experience is looked at by our world with suspicion, then why not offer what our world values? Perhaps if our congregations can make “practical” differences in people’s lives, then it can survive the skepticism of this age? But, as Underhill reminds us, this does not wear well, especially in the awful moments of life. We need more. And God wants to give us more.

So, back to Rahner’s original quote. Devout Christians in the future will necessarily be “mystics.” That might seem extreme. What does Rahner mean by “mystic,” which he describes as someone who has “experienced something”? What is this “something” that Rahner is talking about? I believe that this “something” is always and only the love of God. It is simply our relationship with God, made possible by the love of God’s Son and made real through the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are blessed to live in this relationship, and to have experienced this love, then we are the mystics that Rahner describes. Mysticism comes in all sorts of forms, but I believe that it is always comes back to experiencing the love of God. Nothing more, and nothing less. And Christians in the future will be those who have experienced this love.

The world changes, but God’s love remains the same. And in every age, the promise of our faith is that God’s love will be “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). May our hearts always be filled with this love, and may we share this love with a world that may be skeptical, but deep down hungers to experience this same awesome love.

15 thoughts on “The Devout Christian of the Future

  1. Thank you Pastor. Rahner writes, in a broader sense, that being a “mystic” requires and encounter with God. Mere knowledge (or even wisdom by itself) is insufficient. We can only encounter Christ with our lives, live his commands by our love, preach the Gospel in how we act. That’s our true, authentic, and (I dare say as a Catholic) call to evangelization.

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    1. I so agree with you. Wisdom/knowledge without experiencing the love of Christ is akin to the seed being sown in the rocky ground. It needs the good soil, and so does our world. Blessings to you, and to all in the universal (catholic) church, as we join together in spreading the seed of God’s love in Christ!

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  2. Great observation and quite true now. I believe it is getting much harder to win souls through words and becoming imperitive to win souls through active, intentional love of God into their lives directly. Perhaps example still works, especially with those that see us every day. As we do our best, praise God the Holy Spirit has lost none of His power to soften hearts.😃❤

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    1. I completely agree. Your comment makes me think about my role as a father of two (now grown) children – I believe that my kids learned more from what I did than from what I said. So, too, does our world learn from us Christians. Words are important, but the world also watches how we live out our faith. Blessings to you as you live out yours!

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  3. This is very thought-provoking. Over the years I have attended various churches which are great at reaching out and loving people in practical ways. Certainly, this is important.
    But what is even more important is experiencing the transforming power of God’s love day by day – strengthening us and comforting us through whatever life throws at us.
    There is also an innate deeper hunger which exists in everyone’s life – something that is there beneath the surface. And a hunger which only God can satisfy.
    So I wonder …. might our focus on meeting people’s physical needs subtly distract us from helping them to experience something deeper and more essential. That is, is from seeking to know and hunger after God Himself, and to experience His Presence, comfort and strength as a daily reality in our lives.
    Knowing and living in this love is what the Gospel is really about … and it is our most important “mission” as Christians.

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    1. Yes! That hunger for God is not satisfied through anything but God. It’s true that a hungry person might need a good meal before they can think about anything else, but we do not live by bread alone! Jesus did not just feed the 5,000 – he taught them and shared with the good news. So, too, is the church’s mission today.

      Thanks for your comment, and for helping me continue to think about this important topic.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t get what Karl , Asin the quote is trying to say, for me that’s not something in the future,that’s not an issue in the future ,but one in the present too and the past. In the past there is a time where Christianity ceased to be anything,there was revival in some eras, and experiencing something has always been important 🤔

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    1. Emilly, I probably didn’t explain it very well, but I think that what Rahner is trying to say is that there was a time when a person could be born and be raised in the church and attend church their whole life without ever experiencing the awe and love of Jesus. They remained active in the church, however, because it was expected of them. Much of our “modern” world is very different. Very few people are expected to remain in the church, so unless they actually experience God’s love for themselves, they will have no reason to remain active in the church.

      (Also, Rahner’s “future” is actually our present, since he is writing back in the 1960s.)

      I hope that helps, but in any case I agree with you that experiencing God’s love has always been important, and I have no doubt always will.

      Blessings, James

      Liked by 1 person

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