The Deeper Journey, the Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
The Deeper Journey is published by the formatio wing of InterVarsity Press. Formatio books are dedicated to the promotion of classical Christian mysticism and this particular book serves formatio’s goals well. Mulholland begins with the standard opening often found in mystical and emergent literature—that is, convincing his readers that there has to be more to their Christian life than they are presently experiencing. Once the reader is on board he is shown why what he has known previously is completely off base and then he is enlightened concerning the new and improved methodology—in this case classical Roman Catholic and Quaker mysticism. Even when Mulholland teaches biblical principles he consistently illustrates his points with the best known Roman Catholic and Quaker mystics: Thomas Merton (pp. 20, 91, 114, 115, 135, 144), Thomas Kelly (pp. 97, 149, 150), Henri Nouwen (pp. 102-103, 119), Francis of Assisi (p. 18), John of the Cross (p. 18), Teresa of Avila (p. 19) and Mother Teresa (p. 115). These serve as Mulholland’s examples and mentors in the Christian faith. All that he writes must be filtered through this lens to understand what he is trying to say. This is important because what Mulholland is attempting to communicate through use of a number of prominent words and terms is confusing. Four examples:
• “Cruciform love” (pp. 79, 90, 118, 120, 141 et al). According to Webster “cruciform” means forming or arranging in a cross. Perhaps Mulholland is speaking of Christ’s love on the cross, but his use of the term muddles rather than clarifies what he is trying to say.
• “False self” – Mulholland seems to call our “flesh” the “false self” although he often confuses “flesh” (which biblically is our fallen nature opposed to God) with the human body (which biblically is neutral) (pp. 23-45, 80). The “false self” is a misleading term invented by mystics such as Thomas Merton (p. 165) but is nowhere found in Scripture. Scripturally, the flesh is in no sense “false,” it is our true nature apart from the regenerating work of Christ in the life of the believer.
• “Self-referenced” (pp. 42, 90, 119, 121 et al). The author explains: “Paul’s ‘flesh life’ is the pervasively self-referenced life of the false self” (p. 42). This apparently means that our flesh is self-oriented which is true; however self-referenced is another term that confuses more than helps. Mulholland has difficulty telling us how to deal with self-referencing—at times taking us deeper into self, even teaching that forgiveness is primarily about ourselves and not others (pp. 127-129). His solution ultimately is mystical detachment and centering on God who ironically is found in ourselves (apparently even in unbelievers) (pp. 143-145).
• “Matrix.” Matrix, used numerous times, is a legitimate word referring to a form or mold but it is not a common word and most connect it to the movie by that name.
The main thrust of The Deeper Journey is that we cannot know God through our minds (p. 49). As a matter of fact the God known in this manner is nothing more than a self-created idol that we protect through our doctrines and distinctives (pp. 52-53). The deeper journey is to find God in our hearts, not our heads. He is a God to be experienced in mystical union (p. 50). Using Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” as a base, Mulholland writes, “The answer that leads to loving union with God in Christ is not a rational or cognitive one, but the deep movement of our hearts to God in love precisely at the point of that attachment” (p. 146) and, “This is the movement of stilling ourselves in God and letting God be who God will be” (p. 147).
The means by which God is experienced in noncognitive but mystical experience is detachment (pp. 110, 145, 147), the discipline of contemplation (p. 97), and centering ourselves on God who is already within us (pp. 143-147). These are accomplished through typical mystical practices such as silence (p. 161) and the daily office (pp. 152-162) (a practice originated and practiced by contemplative monks), as modeled by the previously mentioned heroes of the mystical tradition.
The Deeper Journey in no sense takes us into deeper life with God. On the contrary it takes us far astray from biblical Christianity and deep into the heart of ourselves through the time-honored but misleading tradition of Roman Catholic mysticism that has now invaded much of evangelicalism.