A Sense of the Sacred: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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63 Responses

  1. josh hamrick says:

    Sacred / Mystical / Spiritual – Is there a difference in those three words as it relates to this article?

  2. Duane Arnold says:


    I used sacred to indicate the varied ways in which we can encounter the divine, as opposed to the profane…

  3. josh hamrick says:

    Right – To be more specific, would recovering the sacred mean a return to mystical practices?

  4. Duane Arnold says:


    It depends what you mean by “mystical practices”. For instance, I don’t consider observing the Church Year as “mystical”, but it is a way to encounter the sacred in the way we encounter time…

  5. josh hamrick says:

    Ok, gotcha. In your definition then it would seem that recovering the sacred definitely includes a focus on liturgical practice.

  6. Duane Arnold says:


    It may be in a different form from liturgy, i.e. art and music. It may be developed as a different form such as was practiced in Celtic Christianity. For me, a sense of the sacred is how we view life and the world, as well as what we hold out to others…

  7. Em says:

    A sense of the sacred……
    God will speak to you, IF He sees the need. If He has done so, you’ll never doubt the sacred again.b
    However, He seldom, if ever, peaks to a person simply because we want Him to do so. That said, read His Book – it is packed with His messages to mankind….
    Or so it seems to me….🙆

  8. Michael says:

    I find this fascinating.
    I just finished reading a small book on how local native tribes believed in both sacred places and structures…and how even after their conversion to Christianity kept those sorts of definitions for certain places and things.

    I too believe in sacred spaces and places…I’m trying to develop a doctrine of such that I can explain.

  9. Duane Arnold says:


    It’s part of sanctifying time and space…

  10. Michael says:


    I think the phrase that describes sacred to me is “holy respect”.
    We begin with the recognition that all people are created in the image of God and that image is worthy of being counted as sacred…worthy of holy respect.
    We move from there to the creation itself which is a work of God that he called “good’.

  11. Michael says:

    More difficult to define are places that seem to be imbued with a sense of holiness…whether created by God or man.

    There are places that seem “set apart” and we should move in them with holy respect…

  12. Duane Arnold says:


    I certainly think that is part of it. There is also the recognition that God comes to us through our senses, through place, through relationships, etc.

  13. Jean says:

    Good topic Duane and some good observations as well.

    The words sacred and sacrament both come from the same root. In a church context, I think both are indissolubly connected, together with a church’s doctrines of Scripture and the ministry.

    I noticed the lack of the sacred in my former church and others that I visited. By God’s grace I have found it and hold it dear.

  14. Michael says:

    “There is also the recognition that God comes to us through our senses, through place, through relationships, etc.”


    The most troubling dogma to me is that God only speaks through the printed translation of His words.
    He speaks through all those things you mentioned, but forgot to mention cats… 🙂

    The most sacred place on earth to me is not a church…

  15. Duane Arnold says:


    Yes. People tend to forget that Christianity was experienced before it was explained…

  16. Michael says:

    I find a doctrine of creation/recreation and Incarnation much more important than ones view of Scripture.

    Those doctrines emphasize the sacred nature of both people and creation…and leave us with mystery that demands worship.

  17. Jean says:


    “To be more specific, would recovering the sacred mean a return to mystical practices?”

    I think for some it would. That is a risk that should be watched for an avoided.

  18. BrideofChrist says:

    This is a very thought provoking article! I came to Christ through Calvary Chapel and Campus Crusade for Christ in the seventies. I was introduced to Jesus as my Lord and Savior at Calvary Chapel, but I also was encouraged to think of my relationship with Jesus as a ‘personal relationship’. I knew Christians who would regularly “pray” for a parking space while driving and who claimed that they took every mundane thought to Christ the whole day long! I liked the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus, but I wasn’t so sure about the ‘ Jesus is my buddy all day long” practice. I always felt that having a special, (I realize now “sacred” space) to commune with God worked best for me. By having that sacred space my attitude was always different. Its hard to explain why, but by stopping my everyday routines and entering that sacred space, my focus is entirely on God, and very little on myself. I never have been able to pray for a parking space because I always felt that it trivialized my relationship with God! I never was critical of the ‘Jesus is my Best Buddy’ believers. It just didn’t seem right for me. Instead, I suppose I felt that I needed more of the sense of the sense of ‘sacred’ in my relationship with God. Duanne’s article explains why – better than I ever could! I always had the sense that a too-easy- familiarity with God might somehow diminish that sense of Sacred. Great article!

  19. Michael says:

    “To be more specific, would recovering the sacred mean a return to mystical practices?”

    I certainly hope so…I guess it depends on what you consider “mystical”.

  20. Michael says:

    I’m doing a lot of thinking out loud on this thread, so bear with me…

    Because Christians are intended to be a people set apart by God and recognized by the world as such…it would seem that every interaction with people or creation is meant to be, in some sense, sacred.

    Because we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit (which is a mystical concept) and led by Him through life…(another mystical concept)…the should be a sense of the sacred in everything we do…in differing measures, but there, nonetheless …

  21. josh hamrick says:

    To kind of briefly state a bit of a position, I agree with Michael that , in a sense, everything is sacred.

    I do not believe in sacred places, spaces, or sacraments, as that seems to be what Jesus was warning against in John 4.

    But “spirit and truth” is 24-7, wherever I am.

  22. Duane Arnold says:


    “That is a risk that should be watched for an avoided…”

    To form such a certain judgement, I would be interested to know the Christian mystics you have read. For myself, I’ve read dozens and have found them helpful and edifying…

  23. Em says:

    Does God ordain sacred spaces? … Or do we? …. Hmmmm

  24. Michael says:

    I deeply believe in sacraments and special sacred places.

    For my entire life I have approached Crater Lake with awe and wonder and no small amount of fear.
    I get deeply (emphasize deeply) offended when people come their and act in a disrespectful manner to the place.
    Most have thought me slightly nuts.
    Or more than slightly.
    Turns out the Native Americans here believed these things long before me…and even after Christian conversion, hold it as sacred.

    For me it’s a visual and kinesthetic “Bible” that tells me things about God that words cannot…

  25. Jean says:


    If one believes that Arianism is heretical, is it necessary to first read Arius or his followers?

  26. Michael says:

    “If one believes that Arianism is heretical, is it necessary to first read Arius or his followers?”

    To understand why Arianism is heretical and the reasons why someone would hold to that heresy…it is best to read the primary sources.

    I don’t agree with all the writings Christian mystics…but I find something in them of value…kind of like I read Luther…

  27. Jean says:

    The Bible explicitly affirms the reality of sacred space.

    Jesus said, “In fact where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am among them.” Moreover, what could be more sacred than when He says, “this is my body” and “this is my blood”?

    Paul wrote, “There is also another reason we give thanks to God unceasingly, namely, when you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you did not receive it as the word of men but as the word of God (as it really is), which is now at work in you who believe.” The Thessalonians believed they were hearing from God through the mouth of Paul.

    The author of Hebrews said to his congregation: “Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God; to the heavenly Jerusalem; to tens of thousands of angels in joyful assembly; to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven; to God, who is the judge of all; to the spirits of righteous people who have been made perfect; to Jesus, the mediator of a new testament; and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better message than the blood of Abel.” The appeal to sacred space and time is unmistakable.

  28. Jean says:

    One thing Duane didn’t mention in his good article is the influence of deism on the American church. There is by definition no room for the sacred in deism.

  29. Duane Arnold says:


    To make broad, all encompassing statements without a scintilla of knowledge or understanding of the topic being discussed is less than attractive and is intellectually dishonest. You condemn the medieval Church never having read a history, much less a primary source. You condemn Christian mysticism without the slightest knowledge of the field, including Luther’s indebtedness to Tauler. To be frank, you are speaking of that which you do not know…

  30. Duane Arnold says:

    “If one believes that Arianism is heretical, is it necessary to first read Arius or his followers?”

    It would be helpful to actually know what Arius and his followers believed, especially if you are making definitive statements about their beliefs…

  31. Jean says:

    “You condemn the medieval Church never having read a history, much less a primary source. You condemn Christian mysticism without the slightest knowledge of the field, including Luther’s indebtedness to Tauler. To be frank, you are speaking of that which you do not know…”


    You don’t know what I’ve read.

    I never condemned the medieval church, only its errors.

    Regarding Arianism, two of the benefits of being a creedal Christian are that (1) I can stand on the work of the Church fathers for the orthodox, Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ (something Grudem and Ware obviously neglected and are poorer as a result), and (2) I can deploy my time to orthodox theology, rather than studying the heretics (although I don’t condemn anyone who is interested in studying those characters).

  32. Duane Arnold says:


    “You don’t know what I’ve read.”

    I’ve asked, time and time again. What you have not read, however, is painfully and embarrassingly obvious…

  33. Jean says:


    “You condemn Christian mysticism”

    I never condemned it. Here was my response to Josh:

    “That is a risk that should be watched for an[d] avoided…”

    Instead of personal attacks, you could engage the topic, which could yield some edifying conversation.

  34. josh hamrick says:

    Jean, those are neither explicit or appeals to sacred space.

  35. Michael says:

    “That is a risk that should be watched for an[d] avoided…”

    What is the risk?
    How would you know if you’ve never read the mystics?

  36. Duane Arnold says:


    Engaging in the topic means something more than making broad definitive statements based on no reading, no knowledge of what is being discussed and an apparent inability to admit that you do not know what you are talking about…

  37. jean says:

    “What is the risk?”

    There are a few risks:

    1) Without the command or promise of God to govern one’s piety, one who relies on a “spiritual” feeling or experience of God’s presence or voice may, instead, either have a demonic experience, a delusion or may mistake a physical malady for an experience of God. How can one be sure? One’s feeling and experiences separated from the Word of God are an unreliable means of judging the presence or voice of God or even His grace. Scripture says that Christians walk by faith, not by sight.

    The faith healers and prophets who predict reinstatements of past presidents and the overturning of elections are prime examples of the risks of mysticism.

    2) The temptation to get puffed up or flattered based on mystical experiences is a significant risk.

    3) The temptation to make one’s own experiences normative for other Christians is also a significant risk. We see this with Christians who insist that to have the Holy Spirit means one must speak in tongues.

  38. Michael says:

    Many of my encounters with God…most of them actually, have come apart from anything in the Scripture with no way to “validate” them outside of the witness of the Spirit, which is more than sufficient for me.

    If you deign to lecture me one more time on “what the Scripture” says I am going to lose my temperate and sweet nature.

    What you are offering are your sects interpretations of Scripture and its approach to spirituality.

    That is fine…as long as its duly noted that there are other interpretations and approaches that the church has found valid for centuries.

    I find your version of Christianity mechanistic, dry and full of hubris.

    It’s still orthodox and I rejoice that you have found your home….and I have found mine a long way from yours, theologically and spiritually.

  39. Jean says:


    I don’t lecture. You asked me a question. I answered it. Thank you for your sweet nature.

    “I find your version of Christianity mechanistic, dry and full of hubris.”

    Regarding mechanistic and dry, I hear and read that all the time. There certainly are traditions that are a lot less mechanistic and dry, such as Pentecostalism and the various syncretistic Evangelicals. If being entertained, getting an emotional rush, confirming your own worldview, having an out of body experience, other mystical experience not affirmed in Scripture, is what one is looking for, then certainly my tradition would be of not interest to him or her.

    Regarding hubris, my tradition is one of several traditions that believe that our doctrines are correct (which by definition means that contradicting doctrines are not). We believe what we believe to be true no more and no less than EO, RCC, and many Baptists and Reformed.

  40. Duane Arnold says:


    Once again, you don’t know what you are talking about….

  41. Xenia says:

    What you are offering are your sects interpretations of Scripture and its approach to spirituality.<<<

    I don't mind reading Jean's opinions. I find some to agree with and some to disagree with. I don't see why he is so often subjected to insults.

  42. Michael says:

    “I don’t see why he is so often subjected to insults.’

    I grow incredibly weary of the certitude and the denigration of other traditions.

    I’m ankle deep in Orthodox writing at the moment…don’t agree with some and can’t understand some more…but it’s still a profitable exercise.

    I believe much of what we hold to dogmatically (outside the confessions) is allowed by God to meet us all how we were created.

    I love questions and pastures without fences…a born Anglican.

    Others prefer a magisterial form…that I can’t live in, but is perfect for them.

    The only things I’m certain of are in the early creeds…the rest is a big book party for me.

  43. Em says:

    Xenia, the insults are prompted by adamancy, I think…. Dunno, though, do i? Sigh 🙆

  44. Xenia says:

    I have certitude of my position as an Orthodox Christian, just a much as Jean has of his. Maybe I just have a different personality, or maybe I don’t think like a lawyer, so I escape the insults. I think we can interact with Jean without insulting his intelligence, which pretty much happens here every time Jean writes something, especially from a particular individual.

  45. Xenia says:

    Xenia, the insults are prompted by adamancy, I think<<<

    There is no need to belittle a brother or sister in Christ. If he or she is mistaken about something and you believe you have more knowledge or insight, either offer your knowledge or insight or keep silent. We are always quacking on this blog about the lack of love among Christians. So show some love, dammit.

  46. Duane Arnold says:

    It’s not belittling… it’s about being honest and truthful.

  47. Xenia says:

    Duane, Jean is not a liar.

  48. Michael says:

    In my earliest days online I would opine freely about stuff…and finally I was challenged to show my work.
    On what basis had I made a particular statement?
    Whose work had I read that informed my opinion?
    When found to have cited someone or some group incorrectly I was expected to support it or retract it…I wasn’t allowed just to ignore what I had written.
    I asked questions until I wore people out.
    That’s how I learned to do theology online…but times have changed.

    The most loving thing a group of learned people did for me was to let me know I was full of it…and helped me overcome that.

  49. Duane Arnold says:

    Truth matters…

  50. Xenia says:

    I believe that a person can be corrected, if in fact a correction is needed, with kindness and humility, in the spirit of brotherhood.

  51. Xenia says:

    Humility is the queen of virtues.

  52. Em says:

    “So show some love, dammit”
    If Jean feels that I have been unloving to a Christian brother, he has my apology, Denial
    You, too. 😘
    God keep

  53. Em says:

    Denial ? ? ? Xenia
    I am tired of this autocorrect on the new Fire tablet my kids gave me

  54. Xenia says:

    Em, autocorrect produces some really crazy results! Hugs to you as well, dear Em.

  55. Duane Arnold says:

    Truth still matters….

  56. Xenia says:

    Love without truth is sentimentality.

    Truth without love is brutality.

    …as my old CC pastor liked to say.

  57. Muff Potter says:

    Notre Dame and Chartres (I’ve been to both) just don’t do it for me as sacred spaces.
    But there’s meadow in a forest clearing on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin that is the real McCoy for me.
    There’s a granite outcropping in the center of it that has a spring you can drink from.
    When the constellations wheel overhead at night, it’s almost as if they want to stop and water themselves and their horses.
    All this to say that the ‘sacred’ is really what floats different boats for different folks.

  58. Duane Arnold says:


    As I wrote, “Yet, we do not, or will not, acknowledge the fall and the loss, for part of the zero sum game is that one never admits to being wrong, or ill-informed, even if it is shown to be true.”

    Abandoning this zero sum game is part of what it means to learn as well as being a hallmark of honest and open dialogue…

  59. Linn says:

    i wanted to read through all the comments before i even dared to comment. There are many good thoughts here, so I’ll add mine:

    For the record, I’m not very mystical at all. I like my theology in nice, neat boxes that I can unpack and repack at my leisure. However, after many years as a Christian, I also discovered that’s a very dangerous way to approach spirituality because God doesn’t always work that way. And, I often have no idea how He is working unless I put my boxes away and start really looking at how He works in Scripture and through His people.

    How I have found the sacred? Often outdoors, where I am awed by the beauty of God’s creation. In “coincidences” that I doubt are, such as when I have gotten myself in a tough spot with my walker and someone has “just been” available to help me out; praying with someone, often a much older saint, who seems to be talking to God in a very natural, familiar way that doesn’t come easily for me; when I teach children and they haven’t heard a Bible story before or are just struck at how marvelous God really is. it’s why I never tire of the Christmas story-God Himself come to earth as a baby. I can never get over how sacred that is every time I think about it.

    The other thing that left me more open to the sacred was reading the writings of the saints that are more of that bent, such as Teresa of Ávila, Amy Carmichael, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Brennan Manning. None of them really fit into the spiritual incubator where I came to faith, but they have all been helpful in helping me to grow in intimacy with God. Pre-boxed, systematic theology can kill the sense of godly wonder in a person. It almost can become like filling in standardized test bubbles. I have the right answer, but no context or intimacy to go with it.

    I love all the many shades of colors found in the universal church. We tend to cling to what we know and throw everything else away. It’s good to read, think, and consider why others do what they do. It may not be what I do, but it might lead me to a deeper appreciation of God and how He is working in His church and through His people.

  60. Duane Arnold says:


    I believe your comment is the most perceptive of anyone in this thread, including myself… Thank you!

  61. Em says:

    Dr. Duane @ 10:33am
    AMEN – didn’t realize Linn was dependent on a walker…. I take D3 and some days I need a walking stick as that vit. affects one’s balance…. I try to make it look like I’m hiking (blush)….
    Thank you, Linn …. great ponder for today!

  62. Em says:

    I guess my “sacred place” is a swivel office chair where I sit by a window, read the Bible and ask our Lord to straighten me out – mentally/spiritually… Dunno…🙆

  63. Linn says:

    My favorite place to think and pray is my overstuffed chair with a cat in my lap!
    Due to a birth defect that has affected my walking my whole life, I’ve been on a rollator for the past 20 years. Before that, it was cane and crutches. I do a lot of roaming, though, and there is the occasional “oops” where i’ve needed a hand. God always sends someone!

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