(This is a part 2 transcription of an article 'Response to the New Age' written in 1991. Some things have moved on, but much is still valid. It discusses what the New Age is and how Christians should respond to it. Part 1 discussed what Greenery and Environmentalism are, and argues that they are not New Age.)
As discussed in Part 1, Greenery can be seen as a world view that abhors rationalism, materialism, individualism, reductionism, centralisation and the like. Christians have long been uneasy about these things since they came out of the humanistic Renaissance and Enlightenment, and it is no surprise that the isms that god-less humankind has allied itself to are now proving false idols. Greenery is a recognition of this.
Insofar as Greenery is an abhorance of things that are evil in this Modern World View (as Middleton and Walsh call it), it is biblical. (And, in my view, this is true of most of true Greenery at present, though some 'lefties' have entered the scene.) But it is not New Age. Greenery is a couple of steps in the right direction, but it does not go the whole way. Though spirituality (as an opposite of materialism) is a major plank of Greenery, it does not define that spirituality and is currently reasonably open to true spirituality that centres on the Living God as well as New Age and other types of spirituality. Greenery is a diagnosis, not a cure (though political Greenery sees its role as defining policy), and it is a largely biblical diagnosis. But, if this diagnosis is not to be just wishful thinking, then human beings require the help of the One who created, owns and seeks to redeem all things. This is what biblical reality offers. The Bible offers the cure - Jesus Christ, the Anointed Saviour. Thus, as the diagram shows, Greenery can be seen as a step towards a biblical world view, but it does not get us fully there.
As will become plain, I believe that where the New Age fits in is that it takes a similar diagnosis, but offers another cure: occultism and false religion. That, in a nutshell is my view of the New Age. Others hold other views, so let me explain why I see it this way. In this Part of the article I first examine what characterises the New Age, and then examine possible responses. I then go on to suggest what responses Christians should make.
A lot has been written by Christians about the New Age in a thoughtless way, concentrating upon the evils in the New Age. In this article I want to balance this. If I wrote an academic paper on the New Age, stating my position in boring completeness, I would say much more about dangers and potential dangers, but since these have had too great an exposure already among Christians, I will assume the reader already is aware of the dangers. I am not going to say that the New Age is good, but I do want to encourage a rather better - and I believe more biblical and Christ-like - response. To find out what this response should be we must look at what the New Age.
Recently I was talking to someone who said that the pernicious thing about it was that you couldn't define it. In military terms, if you don't know your enemy then that enemy has an advantage over you. It is true that the New Age cannot be defined, but I'm not sure a military metaphor is apt, and I'm not sure indefinability makes a thing pernicious. Try asking a number of people to define Christianity! Definitions were the pets of the Rationalists; a Rationalist would like to define everything. One can therefore expect that anti-rationalists would dislike definitions. But this does not mean that lack of definition is a bad thing. God's good order of creation cannot be completely encompassed by the arrogant Rationalist mind. In Herman Dooyeweerd's system of philosophy (which was an attempt at building a Christian philospohy), it is fundamental that the whole of created reality refers outside itself to its Source, and cannot be understood fully without reference to that Source.
So I accept that the New Age cannot be defined. However, we can characterise it. While anti-rationalists would reject it altogether, analysis is a very valid aspect (as Dooyeweerd would call it) of human functioning. I do believe that we can say something about the New Age that will allow us to recognise it, but, more important, to understand what is really bad about it. Then we can discuss what ought to be our response to it.
While part of the problem is that there is no clarity about just what the New Age is, the other part is that there is also no clarity on how we should respond to the New Age. While some 'liberal' Christians like it, most evangelicals who have written on it strongly dislike it. Sadly, many New Age Bashers (NABs) have made responses that are unworthy of the Name of our Saviour. To have clearly stated reasons for warning about danger is one thing, but the force behind these warnings strikes me as suspect. "The wisdom from above," says James, "is pure first of all, it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy."
The tone of many NAB books and tapes may have an appearance of purity, but is certainly not peacful, gentle, friendly, and definitely not free from prejudice or partiality. On the contrary, many NAB responses seem to be driven by fear, prejudice and assuming guilt by association. Often the reader feels forced to go along with the writer's arguments, and may feel a traitor to the Lord if questioning them. For example, in the margin of my copy of The Seduction of Christianity (Hunt and McMahon) I find I once wrote, "seems to be adding force to his ideas by saying (a) there will be a Great Deception, (b) it is very important, (c) this is the Great Deception." If there is one thing that Christians (and perhaps humans in the West) dislike it is being hoodwinked, finding ourselves to have been deceived. The idea of a Great Deception strikes chords in our hearts. And do we not find Satan himself being called the Great Deceiver? So whatever the authors then claim to be tied in with this Great Deception does not stand a chance at the court of the Christian mind; it is guilty even before the trial has begun: prejudice. Shame on us readers for our lack of heavenly wisdom. But even more shame on the purveyors of this kind of response to the New Age!
However, some of the more recent books that have appeared are better. One in particular I would recommend if the reader wants to gain a good picture of the New Age is Close Encounters with the New Age by Kevin Logan. Unlike many, the author actually took the trouble to get first hand of the New Age by spending time with New Agers and listening to them. His book does not mis-represent the views of New Agers, but it does put forward a very clear Christian critique. It is also wittily written in places - a good read altogether.
Even among the more recent books there has been little attempt to discuss what our response to the New Age should be. So this is the main aim of this article. What I aim to do is not to arrive first at a definition of the New Age, but to clarify what it is about the New Age of which we should be cautious. This, then leads to a useful definition. We can then discuss our response to it on these grounds.
But this does not take us very far. There is obviously something more, since few Christians would react to the bundle of niceness described above. Unfortunately, there does not seem to much agreement about what New Age is elsewhere. If you ask New Agers what the New Age means to them, you get a variety of answers. Similarly if you ask Christians who are knowledgeable about the New Age what it is about the New Age that they dislike, you get a variety of answers. Let us look at some of them; I have come across at least half a dozen.
Some would say that Greenery is New Age. We have already seen that Walter Martin calls the Green Party an expressly New Age organisation. If so, then, since there is much in Greenery that is right and good, there must be a lot in the New Age that is right and good and of God. So, the New Age cannot be summed up as Green thinking.
Some Christians say that the New Age is simply a human-centred attempt at solving the world's major problems. But this is also true of many other movements and ideas, and we do not get so hot under the collar about them. Parliament is one such, but many NABs are staunch supporters of the current systems of parliament, quoting blithely such verses as Romans 13:1. So it cannot be human-centred attempts at justice that characterise the New Age.
For Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon in their book The Seduction of Christianity, the main characterising feature about the New Age is that it is tied up with maximizing human potential, a worship of self. They include in this the 'power of positive thinking' of three decades ago. They warn that Pastor Yonggi Cho's 'visualisation' is New Age. But worship of self is not new. Nor are attempts at maximising our potential. While the idea of there being worship of anything other than God tends to produce a strong response by Christians (sadly with the possible exception of worship of our houses, families, fossil-fuel mobility, churches and Christian activities), there is something more to the New Age than this.
Some see the New Age as an attempt at world government. This is partly the line taken by Roy Livesey in his book, Understanding the New Age, which has the subtitle, 'Preparations for Antichrist's One World Government'. He sees threads throughout society that all point to a future world government - the United Nations, the US Federal Reserve, the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, etc. - and, as explained earlier, he sees this as part of Satan's end-time strategy. And so any concept that links with a unified world is suspect: if I use the terms, 'One World', 'global', etc. then I am a New Ager! Granted, some people naively think that if only we human beings could have world government then all our divisions would end, but that thought comes from the Enlightenment and is far from new. I do not see that it should arouse strong reactions among Christians.
Perhaps nearer the mark is the idea that the New Age is 'a human-centred approach to spirituality'. After decades of suppression of the spiritual nature of things, there was bound to be a reaction, as I have argued in Part 1. Since people are not used to the idea of God any more, it is quite natural that they should try to centre spirituality in humanity; humanity is the only thing they know directly that has a spiritual element. Where this attempt stops at saying "The spiritual side exists and is important" then I do not think it is a a problem; indeed, such thinking is an ally of the gospel, since we can then gently lead them to the true source of spirituality. But when it is more truly human-centred, and of an arrogant form, then it is devilish. It is this arrogant form that blinds people. An explicitly human-centred approach to spirituality is something relatively new in human history. So this could indeed be (part of) New Age. Christians tend to see such things as rivals, and we are rather sensitive to rivals.
Linked with this is the idea that the New Age is essentially an attempt to bring all religions together: syncretism. It is understandable why people should want to do so. After all, most of the major trouble-spots in the world owe their source and intensity to religion, since religion is to do with people's most fundamental commitment. Couple with this the Enlightenment's separation of Fact and Value (most people, including sadly most Christians, have so succumbed to this assumption that they do not realise it; see Lesslie Newbiggin's book, Foolishness to the Greeks, for an excellent expose of this) and the placing of religion in the Value, the Private, part, and you get the idea that there is no fundamental truth. So why not try for a mixture? But the idea that you can assimilate the best bits of all religions is not new. It may be something that the New Age is involved in, but it is not the main characteristic of the New Age. Many Christians are rightly concerned about the inter-faith activities at Assisi and last year in Canterbury, in which an apparently self-confessed New Ager, Martin Palmer, took a leading organisational part, and there were services of 'worship' which involved activities from a variety of religions. Many see these as New Age infiltration into the Church.
Another idea, that one friend of mine holds, is that the New Age is essentially the entry of Eastern religions into the West, and he writes warnings about this. With the disenchantment with traditional Greek-inspired dualistic thinking, with which Christianity has contaminated herself, it is only natural that there should be a reaction towards a monistic, pantheistic view. Lo and behold, such a view exists ready-made in the East, and what's more, it has a three thousand years pedigree: Hinduism. It also allows us to ignore the idea of sin. It also apparently bears a superficial resemblance to some of the modern discoveries of physics. Superficially too, it appears to treat animals and the rest of creation as equal with us, in contrast to the horrible domination and exploitation of the creation by apparently Christian-based cultures. Yes, we can see why eastern religions are very attractive. And this entry of eastern thought into the Western stronghold of Christianity has never happened before. We Christians are fearful; we feel threatened, especially when some New Agers take an arrogantly anti-Christian stance and openly embrace Eastern views.
Similar to this is the idea that the New Age is a resurgence of ancient animist religions, druidism and various forms of paganism. Or perhaps, a combination of paganism with Eastern religions. No wonder Christians feel threatened!
For some, what characterises the New Age is a link with the occult. It is seen by some as a way of making the occult respectable. But ouija boards and seances have long been respectable, so some deeper reason is needed for our strong reaction to the New Age. Perhaps it is that the human race has problems, and science and other products of the Enlightenment have so obviously failed to solve them. While some still think we can solve them on our own, others recognise our need of extra-human help. The interest in Defenders of the Universe etc. links with this. While Christians should be boldly yet humbly offering Jesus Christ as the One to help - and generally failing to do so except on the very personal level - others are offering occult powers as help. Much of the New Age, and especially the branch at Findhorn, takes this line.
(Of course, a number of 'spiritually discerning' Christians can see through it all. They make a lot of play of the verses that emphasise that certain things are only 'spiritually discerned', but I fear that many of them do not take enough care to ensure that their spiritual discernment is little more than their own speculation. They show how it all fits into the pattern, given a certain picture of the devil, and certain assumptions about his motivations and principles that he follows.)
It may be true that the New Age is indeed the last great trick of the devil, but many thought that Hitler was, and then that Communism was. And there were other versions before them. It does not encourage me to believe that this is what the New Age is. But does not Paul speak of a 'great delusion' brought upon human beings by satan in the last days, and does not this fit the New Age? It certainly fits some aspects of the New Age, but it also fitted aspects of earlier ages. Last century and early this, evolution and science were seen as a (or the) major enemy of the Christian faith. As is becoming plain now, science - or rather scientism - and its progeny, technicism and economism (see Walsh and Middleton) were something of a delusion in their claim to provide us with heaven on earth; instead their outcome has been to set us on a course for the destruction of the earth. It does not seem to have been the last great delusion, since people are now waking up to its weaknesses. I suspect it is the same with New Age thinking. Any idol, anything that is given an overwhelming position in people's thinking, is a great delusion and reaps evil consequences about four generations later. This is what God has declared will happen to idolators (Exodus 20:5).
The ETSC is the very stuff that delights what I call 'devil-centred Christians' - those who spend rather too much time thinking about what the devil likes or hates and acting according to that, rather than in accordance with what their Saviour likes or hates. But I dislike it. It breeds fear and fatalism: we have such an overpowering enemy that there is nothing that we can do except be a tiny remnant separate from the world and hope to keep our salvation and avoid 666. It sometimes acts as a demotivator to effective evangelism. The rest of the world is doomed; has not the book of Revelation prophecied it? So let it be doomed; we will pat ourselves on the back if we 'witness'; the ineffectiveness of that witness is seen to support the idea that the world is so much in the grip of the evil one. It also very effectively ensures that God's people are ineffective in God's world: anything that is not directly God ('spiritual') is likely to be under the power of the evil one. Lastly, it dishonours God, by giving too much credence and honour to the enemy by making the devil and what he likes or dislikes our main guide to living. Such thinking makes me very very sad. God's Kingdom suffers and people are left without light because of the devil-centredness of so many of God's own people!
Unfortunately this attitude seems to be particularly prevalent in many parts of evangelical and charismatic churches and groups at present, and in some intercession and prophecy circles. These groups have a huge potential, partly because, unlike so many in the mainstream churches, they actually take God seriously. But I believe the prevalence of this attitude is robbing them of their effectiveness, and delaying the coming revival that some say God has promised.
It is sad to see that perhaps one of the fastest-selling 'Christian' novels is being used by the enemy to enshrine such a devil-centred view among so many of God's people. Frank Peretti's novels are indeed thrilling, but they convey a view of life as little but spiritual warfare, in which Greens are very much of the enemy.
The fact of spiritual warfare needs to be faced. God's people need to take the reality of 'spiritual powers' seriously, and to be careful to employ 'heavenly weapons' and armour rather than human devices. But this must be done in such a way that we do not become devil-centred, that we do not evade our responsibility to God's world, and do not give more credit to the devil than to God. So, in this article, I am going to emphasise that side of Christian living and action that is not covered by the term, spiritual warfare.
So let us start where we are at this point in time: though we do not have a single clear, agreed idea of what the New Age is, it does seem that we already have a single, agreed, almost universal response to it among Christians. The widespread response among Christians, or at least those Christians who know anything about the New Age, is one of strong rejection. Nearly everything that I have seen written by (evangelical) Christians about the New Age has been entirely against it, everything has been a warning. Hardly anywhere do you hear any evangelical Christian saying, "Well, so-and-so is good about the New Age"; you do not even hear "We could learn so-and-so from the New Age." Indeed, you get the strong impression that no evangelical would even dare to suggest such a response, for fear of an evangelical version of excommunication. The response is one of complete rejection of the New Age as entirely evil.
In many cases the response is also an emotive one. You may not find emotive responses set out explicitly in books, but you meet in the corridors, in the sermons, in seminars, in Sunday evening conversation. "Oh, I'm surprised that you are buying anything from that catalogue; it's New Age," was said to us recently (it wasn't New Age, actually). There is a lot of damning by association, "Oh, he is New Age; don't have anything to do with the organisation he belongs to." The WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) especially suffers from this, and more and more Christians are turning against it. It has done some rather unwise things in recent years, but I think we have reacted overmuch. One Christian had procured a copy of the WWF's newspaper and marked things of interest; one of these was the formation of what the WWF called the New Alliance, and in the margin was the note, 'New A.', obviously meant to try to show there is a connection through the initial letters used! I discuss the WWF below.
Sadly, the response of most Christians to the New Age is in many ways anti-Christian, anti-biblical and we are in grave danger of bringing the Name of our Saviour into disrepute and of causing many, especially Greens, to reject the way of salvation. It also is, in my view, exagerated. I recently asked a number of my work colleagues what they knew of the New Age. Out of about ten of them only one had ever heard of it, and he knew nothing. But the response does hold a valid core, which is characterised by strong abhorrance, rejection, warning of contamination and strong dislike. It is also seen as a new phenomenon.
Responses - and especially emotive ones - are notoriously impervious to argument. They are communal rather than individual in nature, and if for no other reason than inertia, cannot be easily changed. Certainly they are seldom changed by a single individual. Suppose, for instance, that we define the New Age to include Greenery, then I would want to say, "We must change our response to the New Age since there are elements of Greenery that are right and good." As I discussed in the first part, Greenery at its core is a long way to being biblical and so should not be rejected. But it much more likely that Greenery would be rejected than that the bulk of Christians became more discerning in their response to the New Age.
It seems as though response is more impervious to change than is definition. It is easier to alter analytic definitions - espeically when none seems to exist - than to alter emotive responses. So, instead of attempting to change our response to fit the definition, I suggest we do the opposite: we change our definition to fit our response. That is, we should take the response as given (perhaps stripped of some of its emotion) and seek to what it is about the New Age that is worthy of this response. And, because of the word, new, in New Age, our answer should address the question of what there is about that is new. So, the question we will seek to answer in this article is, "What is there about the New Age that is historically new and should be rejected and strongly abhorred by God's people?"
To answer this, I will examine the views above of what constitutes the New Age, and discuss what should be our response to each. Those things worthy of the above response could then be seen as a working definition of the New Age, if we want one. By this means we arrive by the same process at both a definition and an idea of how we should respond to each of the categories above.
I discuss a number of problems, each related to one of the characteristics above. Many of the problems, and thus of the responses, actually relate to several of the characteristics above. The form I have chosen below is merely to make it a little more readable. But sometimes one has to demolish before one can build. So let me suggest first a number of common responses that we should avoid.
Just because someone is liked, admired or quoted by New Agers does not make him or her a New Ager. Several months ago, someone came to me concerned that Gorbacev may be a New Age figure. He had seen in the paper a report that Gorbacev was liked by New Agers and his picture was on the cover of a New Age magazine. But that does not make him a New Ager. New Agers also like Jesus.
I recently came across a statement that the New Age has infiltrated German political circles more than any other country. But we have to ask: do they mean New Age, or do they mean Green? The Greens are probably having more electoral success in Germany than elsewhere, and I suspect that some NABs confuse this with New Age. I sometimes hear it said that "So-and-so is New Age." Again, we have to ask ourselves: do they mean New Age, or do they mean Green? There may indeed be some statistical correlation between Green and New Age, but, as we saw in Part 1, this is due to the world-view crisis that Western humankind is going through and it does not mean that they are the same thing. This type of question is very important, since we are in danger of rejecting good things not only by association but by confusing terminology. Another, related, principle is:
Just because an organisation has a number of New Agers among its members, even among its more vocal or influential members, does not make it a New Age organisation. Sadly, where this is true, Christians tend to avoid that organisation, and leave the field of play wide open to New Agers. No: where we see that an organisation, be it the Green Party or Worldwide Fund for Nature, or any other, has New Agers in it, Christians should make every effort to belong to and influence that organisation. With prayer. And with wise effort: the much-quoted verse, "Fight the good fight of faith" really refers to contending publicly for the faith, and we should not shrink from doing so. There are New Age organisations, and Christians should not join these (unless the Lord specifically tells them to), but simply having New Age members does not make the organisation out-of-bounds for Christians.
Just because a certain character trait is liked by New Agers does not mean that such a trait is evil. Conversely, just because a trait is disliked by New Agers does not mean it is good. New Agers like peaceableness and dislike aggressiveness. They like it when common sense breaks through tradition and caution. They like harmony. They value intuitive thought and distrust hard logic. Christians should strenuously avoid moving to the opposite extreme. One thing that deeply concerns me is many of God's people will end up supporting something that is anti-Christian simply because New Agers dislike it. I am referring, of course, to the thinking that came out of the Enlightenment.
Just because a New Ager makes an extravagent, arrogant claim doesn't mean that what they say is true. New Agers can be as triumphalistic as Christians, and sometimes make bloated claims that we take as threats. When faced with such claims I find it very difficult not to react in an aggressive and defensive way, but such reaction is devoid of heavenly wisdom. So,
Remember that the devil is the father of lies, and he can dupe both his followers and, if we believe them, us. Marilyn Ferguson put forward the idea of an 'aquarian conspiracy', and we Christians have reacted in fear of this. Not all she says is true. Though we do have to take warning. But when New Agers claim that their religion is the up-and-coming one that will sweep all others away before it, we should not be upset.
While on the subject of what people say, it is important to remember that there is such a thing as metaphor. This is particularly important considering the terms people use. If people use apparently New Age terminology, not only should we avoid damning by association, but we, who are people of the Truth, should respond to the actual meaning that lies behind statements, and when metaphor is being used, this differs from the surface meaning. So we should always
Finally, when dealing with people who are attracted by, or even caught up in, the New Age, we should always
Having demolished a number of responses to avoid, let us now build a number of repsonses that we should adopt. As mentioned above, I will relate each of them to one or more of the characteristics above. One response that I will not mention below is prayer. This is because I take it for granted that prayer will be an integral part of whatever response we make.
I will go through the views outlined above of what the New Age includes, in what I believe to be the order of increasing concern. For each I will try to probe just what is wrong with each, and hence what our response to each should be. As above, suggested responses are on separate lines.
So our response should be twofold. One is to
But there is perhaps a prior response that we should make before those two: repentance. If we as God's people had been as active and committed to our Lord's kingdom, as we should have been down through the centuries, and had adopted our Lord's manner in dealing with people instead of a worldly arrogance, triumphalism and hardness, then I do not think that we would today be facing the environmental crisis, nor would we have a world view in society so distorted by the Enlightenment and the Rennaisance. Some give the impression of seeing the present evil as inevitable ("Was it not prophesied?"), but, in the light of the many promises of victory, we cannot do so. All God's prophesies carry an implicit condition, made clear in Jeremiah 18:7-10, that if we repent then the evil shall not come (and conversely, if we turn from our good ways then the promised blessing will fail). So, before any other response,
There is one pernicious trap that many Christians seem to fall into: reversing good and evil. It goes something like this: The devil is the deceiver and counterfeiter. He wants to trap people. Most people would not fall for something obviously evil. So he often appears as an angel of light and good. Therefore whatever appears good among (unsaved) humankind must be suspected. In particular, current Green concern is probably a cloak worn by the devil to lure people into the New Age. We end up calling good evil and evil good. This is an aspect of devil-centredness that is perhaps but one step removed from the unforgiveable sin of calling the Holy Spirit evil. Good is good, and justice is justice, even if carried out by non-Christians. When God finds fault with the apparent good done by people, it is because their good is done out of pride or rebellion, not because it is non-Christians who are doing it; pride is discussed below.
It is not wrong for people to want solutions to problems, nor even wrong for people to attempt solutions. So I believe our response to this should not be one of fear or a sense of rivalry, nor even a sense of superiority. It should be that of Jesus in Matthew 9:26, seeing people as sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, whether they realise it or not. It was in response to that that Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God with words and power, and asked them to plead for extra workers from their Father. Solving problems, such as ecological problems, is very much the business of the Kingdom of God. What this means is that, when we meet a situation where people are taking a human-centred approach to problem solving, we should
Right through the Bible we see the message that is best-known in James: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." What does God oppose? Is it attempts at doing good without him? No, it is pride and arrogance. So, human arrogance should be opposed, but it is God and not we who do the opposing. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them; they were like sheep without a shepherd. But when faced with the arrogance of those who thought they were OK, he was firm and even scathing.
When faced with godless people, we should have the same attitude. Though every person has a basic sinful pride, it is only some who have the type of arrogance which needs opposing. Even some who are apparently arrogant in their speaking or writings are, deep down, really issuing a cry for help. We should be sensitive to it.
In the time of Martin Luther, sin abounded and the Church emphasised the penalty and badness of sin. Doing this did not work, and sin got worse. The more Luther tried to avoid sin the more he found himself embroiled in it. "Love God? I hated him!" he once exclaimed. The more sin was preached about the more people engaged in it, in spite of the penalties. But God, rather than the church, had the answer, and it is always his answer: grace. When Luther found the meaning of grace, of free forgiveness, he was freed from sin and came naturally to love God. We should beware of adopting the wrong approach. When people deny the reality of sin, we tend to respond by trying to convince them. They deny sin and so we argue that sin exists and is important. We are always pushing sin, so we justly get the reputation of being sin-centred. But there is no need to. Deep down in their hearts, people know the reality of sin and guilt (Romans 1) more than we realise and usually more than they are prepared to admit. What they need is forgiveness, not arguments. Our approach therefore should definitely not be to argue about sin, but to
But are there not times when we do need to explicitly argue the reality of sin? Yes, there probably are, especially in my case when dealing with some Green Party policy pointers on such things as prison reform. But in my experience these times are much fewer than one might think, and even then we can bring out the concept that human beings do not always act altruistically without using the connotation-loaded word, sin. We must beware that we do not get trapped into trying to score intellectual points.
The response to this should be positive: Jesus came to maximise human potential (John 10:10). The fact that people want to do this is not of itself bad. But
I have been looking at a series of notes from a course a couple of friends of mine had attended at work. It is called New Age Thinking (though I hear they have changed the name now owing to the rise of the New Age cult). It is largely about maximising your potential. Is it New Age? I think not - and discuss why in more detail at the end.
The second problem is self-worship. This is not just an extreme version of the above problem, but it is also idolatry. What should be our response? We often assume that the proper response is a tirade of one sort or another against such idolatry; after all, Isaiah gave many tirades (Isaiah 1 to 5). There is a place for strong speaking, but it should be remembered that his style became much gentler after he had met the Lord in the temple (Isaiah 6). When the OT prophets vented the Lord's spleen on idolatry it was on idolatry in God's own people, not so much in the nations round about. In those, the sin the prophets concentrated on was injustice, even though they worshipped other gods. What this suggests to me is that
But what about so-called visualisation? Some claim that this is irredeemably occult, and should never be practised. (We deal with occult below.) Others think otherwise. For me the question is still open. We should be wary, but not so wary that we refuse to use some of the natural processes that God has given us, some of which are yet to be discovered. There was a time when the ideas behind science such as causal explanations were seen to be anti-God, but today we take them for granted. The big question to be answered here is whether there may be undiscovered natural processes in the psychic realm, or whether all such phenomena are demonic.
What is wrong with a human-centred spirituality, and what should our response be? I think that it depends on attitude, as it did above. If the attitude is arrogant, "I am determined to work out a spirituality without reference to God" then the response should be firm but gentle. If the attitude is not arrogant, then the response of Jesus (sheep without a shepherd) is more appropriate. The danger is that in the latter case the person concerned might, in their genuine search, be led into occult forms of spirituality. So our job is to prevent this. We do not prevent it by focussing attention on the occult, even negatively. Nor do we prevent it by dealing with the person as if they were of the arrogant kind; that would more likely drive them into the occult. There is no simple answer, except that it means great patience, love, and an ability to gently explain things with clarity at the right time.
I find an observation by Christian philospher, Hendrik Hart useful. We are used to thinking of spirituality as some kind of essence or property that we have, a bit like an ethereal blood on the one hand, or a bit like intelligence on the other. New Agers also think like this. But Hart suggests, in his book, Understanding Our World: an Integral Ontology, that spirituality refers to the fact that we are not functionally bound, to the fact that we are open to the Source and ultimate End of all reality (God). Spirituality is to do with our role and purpose, not just a property that we have. (This avoids problems of whether animals, plants, rocks, etc. have souls.)
As a member of the Green Spirituality group in the Green Party, I have sometimes found things rather difficult. Many members are New Agers, Pagans, etc. and there is an anti-Christian feeling among these. But there are also Christians in the group. I find myself reacting sometimes in ways that I have said are bad here; such is the power of reaction in our hearts. Once I 'did a Peter' and denied my Lord. But this was turned to good on my repentance. But I do not believe that Christians should avoid such groups - as many do - out of a fear of contamination or demonic oppression. I felt no demonic oppression there, though I did feel the arrogance and hostility of some members, and we have our Lord's promise of power over the demons. If we are to find the gates of hell falling before us, this implies that Jesus foresaw that we should go to where the gates of hell are. Too often we stay away and hope that the demons will uproot the gates and bring them to us!
So I have made a distinction between those who are genuinely seeking spirituality, usually in order to escape materialism, and those who arrogantly try to establish a God-less spirituality. But there is much overlap, and in any one person, you are likely to find a shade of each. It is up to us to wisely and prayerfully discern what response a person needs. But what about those who teach a human-centred spirituality? Can we assume that they are 100% arrogant? I do not think so. The beliefs of many are in a transient phase, still being actively worked out, and there is a type of person who outwardly shows certainty while inwardly they are still seeking. Often such people become teachers or leaders in what they are still not really sure about. So, while there are some very definitely arrogant and evil teachers, we must be sensitive to the possibility that many are in fact seekers in disguise.
First, it insults God. It throws his costly revelation of himself in Jesus Christ back in his face. How should we respond? The Lord calls himself a jealous God, but it is he who acts to protect his name. Elijah received no brownie points when he told the Lord that he had been very zealous for his Name. We should be very wary of triumphalism (which is a shame, since some of my most favourite songs are triumphalistic ones) and
Second, it won't work. Simply because of human nature. In fact, the attempt to bring all religions together will bring about horrendous injustices. So, knowing it won't work means that we should not waste too much effort in trying to combat it. Rather, our response to this should be to:
Third, there is the fear that if we do end up with one global religion, then this will be The Beast or The (false) Prophet of Revelation. Should we fight against syncretism on these grounds? I see an unholy zeal among many Christians to do just this, yet I see nothing in the Bible that supports this suggestion. No doubt they can pick out a few verses to support their view, but to me it is a distraction and at variance with the tenor of God's revelation. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a global single religion, shared by all the people of the world: it is totally right, if the religion is true Christianity. What is wrong, whether global or not, is false religion.
Fourth, people will be blinded. In seeking a unified religion, people will miss the One who is The Way, The Life and The Truth. Our response should, again, be positive rather than negative:
The other way in which religions might be brought together is when people of several religions come together to pursue a common goal, such as peace between two warring peoples. This, I think, can be valid, as long as it does not amount to a seeking to water down God's revelation of himself. I find myself working with those of other religions in furthering the Green cause, and believe this is valid since the Green mandate of Gen 1:28 was given to all of humanity, before the Fall and has not been rescinded. The fact that this is a pre-Fall command is significant. The Lord himself used people of other religions from time to time, such as Cyrus. In working this out, we should look beyond the easily-quoted verse, "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers", to those places in the Old Testament especially where there is genuine dealing with people of other religions and cultures. The WWF meeting at Assissi in 1985 is often unthinkingly denigrated by NABs, and taken as evidence that the WWF is really a New Age organisation. But that meeting was fundamentally a goal-directed bringing together; I discuss this below.
But there is a third problem. C.S. Lewis was of the opinion that the Eastern form of religion is some kind of lowest point, that the human mind, if not enlightened by revelation from the true God, would eventually settle on reincarnation. This kind of Eastern thought is a major barrier to the gospel since it embodies a completely different world-view. In a very real sense this type of religion is far more dangerous than primitive (animist) religions.
Don Richardson has pointed out, in his thrilling book, Eternity in Their Hearts, that the Lord has all over the world given a revelation of himself and his ways into primitive religions. Even though these religions are bound up with spirit worship, the Living God has sent messages to prophets in these religions. Such revelation was, of course, only partial, but Richardson is convinced that we should see these religions as allies of the gospel rather than enemies. Among his many examples, he tells of the Lord's word coming to announce the imminent coming of his messengers: missionaries of the gospel. The people were thus prepared ahead of time and received the gospel in their thousands. It is this that explains the revival in places like Korea today.
But when a people is overrun by Hindu-like thought, then they become hardened to the gospel. This is the danger of eastern religions coming into this culture. But I do not believe that an aggressive response is called for, nor a call to prevent immigration.
Many Christians, especially of the devil-centred sort, tend to have a response to the occult that is one of fear, "Keep away from that, it's far stronger than you are; you may get tainted, oppressed or even demonized." While there is absolutely no doubt that God's people should never engage in occult practices, such as seeking knowledge through mediums, this kind of thinking goes too far. It is guaranteed to place many valid things out of bounds for Christians. If the occult is so mysterious and powerful, so this thinking goes, then you must stay as far away from it as possible. Anything that has any association with occultists, however slim, is out of bounds. So keep away from it.
The occult is not wrong just because God says it is; our God, unlike most false gods, is reasonable. One reason the occult part of the New Age is dangerous, in addition to the above, is that it promotes a false spiritual answer to the problems that we now face. It offers a new type of false answer to the groundswell of concern. This wrong answer we must resist, but gently and firmly. We have the answers to the problems, we can speak to the groundswell of concern if we so choose, and we must do so. Or the devil will have the field to himself. Our first goal must be the kingdom, the beautiful and just reign, of God.
How sad that most Christians are absent from this battlefield of the world views today! Rather than distancing themselves from Green things, from world-view discussions and radical living and thinking,
I sing those songs, and I go on marches with banners. But not out of a sense of separation from the world. For me, there is the kingdom of God to work for, and I haven't time to speculate on what 666 means (though I do have my ideas on the topic). I do not fear the devil, because my Lord told me not to. I do not try to fit patterns together, but trust myself to him who judges justly. I do not fear for my own life, but want to extend God's kingdom here on earth. It may be that the Second Coming is not for another thousand years yet.
What should be our response to the possibility that the New Age is the devil's last great strategy? Need I say more?
So, with this kind of reasoning, what is the answer to our question above, "What is it in the New Age that is new and that should be strongly rejected and abhorred by God's people?"? To my mind the answer is,
Lastly, I want to illustrate the above ideas by looking at some of the organisations, concepts and people that various people have claimed to be New Age, and discuss what our response should be to them.
Kevin Logan's book describes his visit to Findhorn, and is a good introduction to the place from a Christian point of view.
The other thing that must be said is that, as Don Richardson has made clear, not all prophecies even of the American Indians are evil or wrong. God has indeed spoken through prophets in the primitive religions, even though they are at the same time steeped in occult and pagan practices. He points out that there is a general recognition among such peoples of the difference between 'spirits' whom they fear and to whom they are in bondage, and the 'genuine God'. The Indian prayer, "Oh, Great Spirit of the Universe, let me never condemn my brother until I have walked a mile in his moccasins," is one example, and it should be no surprise that it bears a striking resemblance to what Jesus taught. But we cannot argue the case more fully here. What this means for us, however, is that even the third attitude may not in itself be wrong. We have to be very careful.
I see the WWF's increasingly high profile in recent years, not as the devil's ploy in using a 'respectable' organisation as a cloak for New Age work, but simply because of the urgency of the situation today. A thousand species are being lost every year now; their Creator will require them at our hands. They were his in the first place, and we have destroyed them. Why? When you analyse it, most of the reason is because we idolize convenience and money. The situation is urgent, and requires that organisations like the WWF do not fiddle about with trivialities. In such an organisation, God's own people should be deeply involved.
This has shed for me fresh light on the Assisi meeting. In contrast to atheistic thinking emanating from the Enlightenment, which assumes that religion is of no real importance, the WWF realised that religion is of vital importance. If the aim is to do as much as possible to save wildlife, then one major route to this is to ensure that in all the world's major religions there is a strong theology of nature. Or, at least, it is important to see which religions should have such a theology. The WWF wanted to focus attention in each of these religions on our responsibility to and our relation to nature. So it organised the Assisi meeting for this main purpose. It asked five of the world's major religions to prepare statements about their attitude to nature. To me, this is not wrong, and not something that Christians should keep away from. The sad thing was that the 'Christian' statement left much to be desired, being little different from a Jewish view, and so His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh set up a series of consultations at St. George's House, Windsor, to try to work out a better Christian view, in some of which I took part. While the outcome left much to be desired, in my opinion, some good emerged, especially by way of clarification.
However, I think the WWF made a grave blunder in holding inter-faith worship. It seemed to be completely misled by the liberal establishment view about what Christianity is, and as such has alienated those sections of christendom that are more motivated and more thoughtful.
While I believe there can be no valid inter-faith worship, perhaps there can be inter-faith working, inter-faith celebration and inter-faith dialogue. That is, we can work towards a goal of common-grace justice with those of other religions and none. We can enjoy, though not worship, things in the creation. Celebration is not worship, even if Christians sometimes use one word for the other. And it is useful to enter into discussion with those of other faiths, not just to proclaim the gospel, but to listen and seek to understand.
However, true understanding will not come about by trying to minimise differences, as syncretists are wont to do, since the differences that exist are fundamental, but only by being open about and exploring them. Further, I believe that none of these three things should be done by those who are merely curious or of a syncretistic temperament, and they should always be done with much prayer backing.
But what is this New Age Thinking? First, it is American. It is largely about human potential, and if things like this are calling themselves New Age this explains why many American Christians see the New Age as largely about human potential. I want to go through some of the things it said as a case study. There are many things written there about which Christians could find fault. But I am not convinced that we should find fault any more than with other 'secular' things which we tend to tolerate. Let us look at some of them.
First, one section, prints the words, "I AM", in capitals at one point. Blasphemy? Perhaps, but I think not, since the phrase is being used as an adjective and seeks to emphasise being as opposed to doing, and potential as opposed to limitation.
Later on it says, "Only YOU can change your picture." This is, of course, strictly untrue, in that God can, and perhaps only God can. But let us look at the context: what is it trying to speak against? Answer: a dependency attitude, of waiting for others to change our picture. It is trying to emphasise the responsibility each of us has and the ability to do something about our situation rather than take a fatalistic or dependency view of life. But the very thing that many Christians have disliked in Socialism is the fostering of a dependency attitude among people made in the image of God. So, what they are saying is not in itself wrong.
The problem is that, since it is called New Age I find myself reacting against this type of thing in the text in a way I would not react if I met it in a Christian writing. I am being hypocritical there - and suspect that a large amount of Christian reaction to apparently New Age things is likewise hypocrtical.
Later still it talks about us becoming 'wizards' - and again I react. But again I look to see what it is actually saying, and find that the use of the term, wizard, is purely metaphorical, the writer drawing thoughts out of the pantomime, Wizard of Oz, in much the same way that many Christian preachers use a biblical text as a launch pad for an idea they want to get across.
So one key to dealing with this kind of writing is to try to see just what the writer is trying to say, in context.
I have dealt with response to human potential teaching above. I reacted to the fact that the course omitted God - but rather more than I react to when parliamentary debates, or Daily Mail leaders, or business studies textbooks, or whatever, leave out God. Again, this is hypocrisy. I reacted to the emphasis on mechanisms (Do such and such, and you will have a successful business or home life), since mechanisms without the Holy Spirit are dead. But mechanisms as such are not evil, and with the Holy Spirit can be fruitful. So some of these mechanisms could even be of great use to Christians, if used wisely and with prayer. (There was no hint of occult in the mechanisms.)
What I think the writers had discovered was part of what the Reformers called God's Common Grace: the blessing he pours out in his grace on all people. These blessings are available to all who will access them since they are part of the way the Creation has been designed, though they find their full meaning, of course, in the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. So, as long as they are not occult activities or involve the worship of other gods, many of these activities are valid for Christians.
The danger of this type of writing is not that it is New Age but that, in leaving out God, it may distract people away from God. If they find they can solve their problems without God, then surely people will be less inclined to come to God. Others have dealt with this kind of argument at greater length: but basically it seems to be centred on the idea that we should keep people in suffering in the hope that they turn to Christ as a way out of their sufferings. I don't really agree with that line. On the contrary, if people do try the human potential route, then sooner or later most will find it does not fully meet their needs and, like the rich young ruler, they will know there is still something missing. Since they have tried all the world has to offer, perhaps they will be more inclined to seek God.
So, as I suggested above, we should not believe all that claims to be New Age is in fact New Age. Much is not that which we should react strongly against. What I am asking for is not acceptability for the New Age, but a discerning attitude among God's people, which does not react hypocritically but responds with heavenly wisdom.
We have also considered what our response to the New Age should be. First I have suggested that a number of common responses should be avoided, since they are negative and some of them are based on fear rather than faith. Then I have suggested a number of positive responses, each one appropriate to a specific situation. The article ended with a number of case studies.
Lesslie Newbigin puts forward the idea that there are three ways to see the universe: as billiard balls, as an ocean or as a net. In the first, we see the universe as composed of a large number of individuals; this is classic liberalism and is the main assumption of the idolatrous Modern World View. Each person is a law unto himself, and the highest ideal is to escape all constraints. The second is a reaction against the billiard ball view, seeing all things as part of one vast endless stream of life and existence, without individuality. This is the view of Hinduism, and is that which the New Age tends to adopt. The net is the relational view: there are individual things in the world, but they are in close relationship with each other. This is the Christian view, and is also the Green view. It is because of these relationships that we have responsibility for other things and people - and humankind has been made steward of all there is by a loving God.
I am no expert on the New Age, though I am a Green. What I have offered is my own personal view, so I do not claim that these suggestions are complete, nor even correct. I offer them merely as an example of the type of clarification of thinking that is urgently needed in Christian responses to the New Age, and also to Greenery. If this article stimulates others who are more expert into thinking more clearly along the lines I have suggested then I will be content.
We alone have the ultimate solution. The creation waits with eager longing to see the sons of God revealed and active, since they are the ones who will bring it its healing. And they are the instruments by which all things will be brought together under their rightful head, even Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:19, Eph. 1:10). But so few of us are engaged in the Green activity that will help to bring this about. Instead many of us flee from anything Green, fearing tainting with the New Age. How sad! May God have mercy on us.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective.
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