It seems to me the fundamental divide in the Christian church right now comes down to whether we see God as working magically or mystically in our lives and in the world. In a magical religious understanding, I say some prayer of repentance, “accept” Christ as my Savior, and God stamps my ticket into heaven, cancels my ticket to hell, and gives me — at that moment — the gift of wholeness and holiness. Of course theologians who believe this must go to great lengths to explain why most people who have this experience are in fact not significantly transformed and not able to live according to God’s standards of holiness. And, of course, they in fact do go to these lengths.
In a mystical understanding, God shows me what holiness looks like and why it is good, and then produces that holiness in me as I learn to increasingly cooperate with him. Both magical and mystical thinkers believe that human effort in transformation is necessary. Magical thinkers will tell you that transformation is something that God is producing, but will spend hours talking about defeating sin or making other efforts to stop this or start that. Mystical thinkers do not deny our cooperation with God, but the efforts mystics make are not usually efforts to combat any specific sin. My efforts are aimed at clearing my mind and heart and life of clutter so that God can spring to life in me, producing the life God desires for me. Magical thinkers think mystical thinkers aren’t aggressive enough in defeating sin and tend to wonder if Christ is even really in them at all. Mystical thinkers tend to wonder if magical thinkers know where transformation actually comes from, since we see real transformation in our lives and believe all transformation into love is from Christ.
Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” If we can trust and believe this, we can easily identify God at work in and around us. If we cannot believe it, we must build elaborate theological systems to justify why so often the apple tree isn’t producing apples. I do not doubt that God changes lives in many ways, I just happen to believe that it will happen more often through mysticism than through magic.