An unusual juxtaposition of reading material has got me thinking about esoteric Christianity and anabaptist Christianity and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
On the one hand I’ve been rereading “Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition” by Gnostic author Richard Smoley. In this book Smoley discusses the Secret Church, the Johnanine church within the Pererine church.
On the other hand the recent conversation on not going to church prompted me to reread “The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder” by Craig A Carter. In the book Carter observes “Yoder contends there are three basic types of ecclesiology:  the theocratic vision,  the spiritualist reaction and  the believer’s church.”
It was Carter’s description of the spiritualist church that grabbed me: “From the perspective of Pilgrim Marpeck [believer’s church], the Spiritualizers and Zwingli [theocratic vision] were quite similar insofar as they both denied the ultimate importance of proper church order. Schwenckfeld [spiritualist reaction], because he thought only spiritual reality matters, did not challenged established worship and church structure of Christendom and thus suffered no persecution … spiritualism is able to function quite well within the framework of the theocratic society that it rejects, as a ‘church within a church.'”
Now, once we recognize esoteric Christianity as a variant of this spiritualist reaction that Yoder speaks of, it becomes immediately evident that many of the same criticisms apply. Thus we can say that, as esoteric Christianity functions as a “formless form” of church rather than an “alternate form” of church, it is unable to concretely challenge the “Christendom form” of church, even when that form becomes horrendously corrupt.
In other words, esoteric Christianity doesn’t challenge exoteric Christianity in any tangible way precisely because it devalues the tangible. It does not offer revolution, it merely offers reinterpretation.
Not so with anabaptist Christianity. Anabaptist Christians suggest alternative forms of church are essential if we wish to reform the church, and I’m convinced they are right. But where I find the anabaptist tradition sometimes lacking is precisely in the area that the esoteric tradition is strongest, in its development of a Christian psycho-theology. Therefore, if anabaptist Christians seek to be genuinely holistic I think they need to work more on developing a holistic understanding of humanity, an understanding that includes the psyche and psychological experience. So, while I reject esoteric Christianity as a dead end on the post-Christendom path, I think esoterics still ask some very good questions.