By: M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (Ph.D., Harvard)
Article written by: rm Kocak
“The world will not believe in Christ because of our sound theology, our correct creed, our well-defined dogma, our rigorous religiosity. The world will believe when it sees Christlikeness manifested in our life. The world will know that God has sent Christ not simply because we pronounce it to be so, but when they see Christlikeness lived out in their midst in our lives in the world.”
- The Deeper Journey, pg. 16.
With tears in my eyes, I emotionally navigated my way through Dr. Mulholland’s book, The Deeper Journey. I had flashbacks as I read through the book of sitting in Dr. Mulholland’s office (I was a former student of his), hearing him praying over me and explaining a lot of the concepts laid out in this book. The Deeper Journey is Mulholland’s second book on spiritual formation. In his first book on spiritual formation, Invitation to a Journey, Mulholland laid out a general roadmap, but in The Deeper Journey he articulates the contours, definitions, and realities of that roadmap. Reading this book was very timely for me in my personal journey of wholeness in Christ as I have been searching for a job upon graduation from seminary. The book is also the first book read from my 2011 booklist.
The book is shaped by the movement that Mulholland suggests in spiritual formation: from the false self (our self-referenced mode of being) and religious false self into lives hid in Christ (a Christ-centered mode of being). The outline of Mulholland’s book looks like this:
- Introduction (Ch1)
- The False Self
- Into the Jungle: The False Self (Ch2)
- The Religious False self
- The Idol in the box: The Religious False Self (Ch3)
- The Transition
- Hidden with Christ in God: The False Self and the Christ Self (Ch 4)
- Our Life Hid in Christ:
- Abandoning the False Self (Ch5)
- Putting on the New Nature (Ch6)
- Principles of the Deeper Life (Ch7)
Mulholland’s book is not just for the closet mystic, but is written to be applied by all those in the body of Christ desiring to grow into maturity. Mulholland speaks plainly in his writing: exegeting (interpreting) Scripture (Mulholland is a N.T. Professor), quoting Christian mystics (his favorites include Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly), and giving examples from his own life.
THE BIG IDEA
“When God enters into our false self, it is the sacrament of God’s presence, another image of the cross. God comes into the core of our self-referenced being. God comes to bring light into our darkness, cleansing into our sin, life into our deadness, healing into our brokeness, liberation into our bondage; to nurture us there into wholeness in the very image of God. But to open that door is to acknowledge our false self and to allow God to come in, knowing that when the love of God encounters the false self, it is always a cruciform encounter for God and for us.”
- The Deeper Journey, pg. 80.
The offering of ourselves to the cruciform love of Christ transforms our entire being into one that is Christ and others-referenced. I remember sitting in a chair as Dr. Mulholland explained this concept to me for the first time. I was questioning why I remained so selfish, prideful, and full of sin despite having Christ at the core of my being. His explanation is that precisely because Christ is at the core of my being that the false ways of being that I had reflexively developed in my life each need to be encountered with God’s presence. These false patterns and ways should not avoided or ignored like the traditions that see personal holiness in forensic terms, but these false patterns in us should be encountered, transformed, and replaced. This concept put simply is sanctification.
little IDEA #1
“For those of us on an intentional spiritual journey, our awareness of the deadly and debilitating nature of the religious false self is essential. Rigorous religious practices, devoted discipleship, sacrificial service, deeper devotional activities may do nothing more than turn a nominally religious false self into a fanatically religious false self.”
- The Deeper Journey, pg. 48.
Do you ever wonder how people can claim to be a Christian, but live lives lacking in christ-likeness? Do you ever wonder why some people love to pray in front of people at church, point out flaws in others, and love to talk about theology, but appear to have little love for God or people in their daily lives? This is what happens when the false self (self-referenced mode of being) becomes religious. It’s not that the religious false-self doesn’t believe in God, but it is a God they can control, reason with, and protect. The religious false self presumes, “Because we are religious, that everything is fine in our relationship with God (47).” The tendency of the religious false-self is to be so busy at being “in the world for God” that they forget to “be in God for the world.”
Little IDEA #2
“Detachment is the discipline of removing our roots from the soils and offering those roots to God. Such detachment is difficult and painful. Detachment is the ongoing process of disconnecting our false self from all our life-support systems (or, in reality, its death-support systems.). Our false-self will resist such detachment with unbelievable power. We will even become fanatically religious as along as we don’t have to lose our self.”
- The Deeper Journey, pg. 111.
Detachment was always a spiritual practice that was cloaked in confusion for me. It always appeared, as the name suggests, a separation from the pain, hardship, and trials of this world. It sounded almost gnostic (rejection of the material world for the spiritual). Mulholland articulates detachment differently, clearly stating that it is a separation from false identities and agendas that have come to shape our identity in a false way. Detachment is a re-appropriation of our wrongly invested love.
THE TAKE HOME
Don’t let the title of this book deter you from reading it. “The Deeper Journey” is not a path only for religious professionals (few of which would ever see the need for such a journey), the educated elites, or the spiritual mystics. This journey is one we all need to take if we want to grow into the fullness of Christ. Mulholland’s book is a tool, resource, and road map that offers language, navigation, and encouragement on that journey.