Mystical Chapters is a compilation of 300 proverbial writings from the Orthodox fathers of early Christianity, long since abandoned by the modern church. The writings are divided into three theological categories: theoretikos, praktikos, gnostikos – the knowledge, practice, and mystery of the Christian faith. Mystical Chapters champions critical thinking as disciples evaluate whether each writing can be Biblically supported. This book is not for the novice but incredible for the more mature next step.
The Book of Mystical Chapters
APPLICATION WRITTEN BY
Key Topics or Truths
Understanding the mystery of our faith
Dedication and devotion to Christ
What it means to be a disciple
Surrender and Abandonment to Christ
This Book is Good For...
In my opinion, this read is essential for everyone in Discipleship Three. It is a universal and foundational read.
How I Use this Book to make disciples
Mystical Chapters is different than any other book in the SD Library. Other outside readings are one-off books read, digested, and discussed over the course of few weeks. Mystical Chapters is read one truth at a time, one day at a time taking 300 days to complete. There are three reasons for the extended reading:
- The book is a journey of ancient teachers’ writings leading the reader forward in maturity. The first 100 writings, Praktikos, focus on the practical truths of setting yourself aside for God. The second 100 writings, Theoretikos, are thought-provoking teachings focusing on the concepts of living a life consecrated to God. The third set of writings, Gnostikos, dive even deeper into the mystical relationship that each believer has with God. The journey from the beginning thoughts to the more mystical thoughts takes time especially in Western Evangelical Christianity where most teaching is focused on education or practical living instead of the state of salvation, the spiritual condition of believers, and the mysteries of our faith. It can be challenging to accept and process that our faith is truly a mystery when compared to our earthly lives.
- There is simply too much truth to be consumed over the course of a few weeks or even months. A paced reading of one writing a day allows time for thought, meditation, and connection to Biblical truths. Disciples would never be able to retain all the truth they learn in a shorter reading time. Disciple makers would never have the time to explore the Biblical connections to the early teachers’ thoughts.
- The development of the critical thinking and connection skills takes time. Teaching disciple to learn to connect truths indirectly is a key focus of Discipleship Three. That skill develops over time and practice. Developing the Critical thinking skills required to challenge and confirm the Mystical Chapters’ teachings take time as well. Disciples will struggle to learn to read, dissect, challenge, and verify these more poetic and conceptual writings. You need the time to guide them along the way.
As important as the truths contained in Mystical Chapters, if not more important, is teaching the disciples to think critically about what they read. For example, if one part of writing is correct but another part can be challenged, is the writing correct or incorrect? I guide disciples away from the need to justify these teachers’ writings. I guide them to be comfortable challenging a teaching on a Biblical basis. I watch them be incorrectly critical of the style or wording of some of the writings, and I guide them to realize that style has nothing to do with truth. I push them to embrace what they are not comfortable with to see if there is useful Biblical truth exposed. I challenge them to look at the writings from every angle. I am constantly aware that these more mystical and spiritual thoughts are foreign to our modern concept of church and spiritual learning. Here is my recipe for including the review of Mystical Chapters in the weekly meeting:
- I have disciples read one writing a day. I ask them to find verses that support or critique each writing.
- Each week, we discuss the previous week’s seven writings, the disciples’ verses and thoughts on how these truths are useful to our lives.
- During the discussion, I challenge verses that are stretched to support a truth. I affirm and add connections going beyond the verses that they found.
- I use a thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways (“I don’t know) voting system when I ask disciples, “What did you think about this one?” I always vote after the disciples and then ask each one why they voted the way they voted. My focus is on making sure that they found scripture to defend the writing. I am constantly reminding them, “No one cares what you think or whether you like it personally. Thumbs up means there is value and that the truth conveyed is correct. Thumbs down means that the truth is not Biblically consistent or defensible.”
- I offer my own verses and thoughts. I help them make connections when they struggle. I wait when they make poor connections to defend something indefensible. I teach them to be willing to say, “This is garbage. This writer just got this wrong,” when a truth is not Biblically defensible.
- I ask them, “Did you read the introduction?” when they struggle with a writing that is more about the way the ancient fathers practiced their faith than about God’s commands. I remind them that a certain orthodox practice might okay given our freedom in Christ but it may not be a God-given truth for everyone. I remind them that truth must be evaluated in the context of the writer. I use these moments to challenge their own “religiosity” and to remind them that everything must be evaluated against the Bible.
I use Mystical Chapters to teach solid, critical thinking about our faith. I also use Mystical Chapters to push disciples beyond their preconceived notions regarding prayer, spirituality, and understanding God. I ask many questions trying to guide disciples to the correct view of the writing. I teach and talk more using this text than I do at any other time in discipleship. I make connections to scriptural truths and verses that are missed by disciples.
You need to be patient and encouraging. Disciples will not “get” this book at the beginning. They will struggle to understand some of the writings. They will make more of other writings. They will be prone to say, “I think…” It will take three to six months before critical thinking allows the disciples to appreciate the true breadth of this book. I always remind disciples again and again, saying, “This is a process. Do not overthink it. You do not have to be right. Just try. Just learn.”
I love that this book allows disciples to learn at the feet of our early church fathers. Their thoughts on a mature, deep faith are beyond mainstream, modern, evangelical Christianity. It is amazing to watch disciples be disrupted, challenge, and evaluate the thoughts of these practicing masters of the faith. Because Mystical Chapters is a compilation of writings, disciples gain broad access to a wide variety of teaching and ideas from many perspectives. I also love that this book requires and helps disciples master critical thinking.
Real Life Story
Erica said, “This book makes me feel stupid. I do not get these writings at all.” But you should have seen Erica in the ninth month of Discipleship Three. Without realizing it, she had listened week after week, and had grasped the critical thinking and patience to look deep into the writings. Her confidence to vote grew. The many scriptures that we reviewed made her wiser and wiser. In the end, Erica’s observations were some of the most outstanding I have ever seen. Tim, on the other hand, was over critical at times. He picked each writing apart. He hated poetry and struggled to determine which writings were metaphors and which were literal. But he rose to the challenge. His engineering mind became an incredible investment in the understanding of other disciples in his group. Every disciple struggles with Mystical Chapters, but that struggle brings depth and wisdom. Mystical Chapters is a necessary mind and faith stretcher!
Know Issues or Controversies
Some of the writings find little or no Biblical support and reflect the tradition of Orthodox Christianity.
Some of the writings are simply to “flowery”, and are, simply, bad poetry.
The idea of abandoning everything to isolate oneself for Christ (asceticism) runs throughout the writings as many early church fathers were monks and sisters. It is my personal belief that it is more noble and challenging to live out our faith in the world, like Jesus, rather than to withdraw.
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John Anthony McGuckin
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- Phase: Discipleship 3
- Book Type: Non Fiction
- Flair: Eye Opening
- Tags: Critical Thinking, Mystical, Prayer