Friday, August 6, 2010

The Dawn of a New Blogging Season

It's been ages... but I think it's time to start posting again. So, what I want to know is, what topics would YOU like to discuss here on My Perspective? I'm up for just about any topics you can think of, so throw me some ideas and we'll get started on a new blogging season!

For His Glory,

Friday, September 11, 2009

How'd THAT Happen?!

I just made a somewhat amusing, and slightly disturbing, discovery: my previous post "A New Church For a New Age" has been featured on the Open Source Theology "Emerging Church/Theology Blog Feed." Open Source Theology is an Emerging Church website which says of itself: "The purpose of this site is to assist the development of an emerging theology for the emerging church," among other things. I'm not angry about being listed under their blog feed, by any means; I'm just surprised by it! I'm almost positive the posting in question wasn't reviewed before being listed, as I'm confident that had it been, it would have been excluded. After all, I'm fairly certain that I'm not the best source of "theology for the emerging church."

Well guys, that's my news for this morning... and who knows? Maybe THIS post will be featured as well!

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Church for a New Age: The Depth and Breadth of the New Age Movement’s Influence on Modern Christianity

A research paper I wrote a few years ago -- it could have gone on much longer than this, but by the time it reached the point it is at now, it had already exceeded it's maximum length. In other words, there is a lot more I wish I could have included.

During the 1980s terms such as “The New Age Movement” and “Age of Aquarius,” though popular in secular culture, invoked a deep-rooted sense of fear and dread among many Christians, who felt that there was something distinctly evil and mysterious about the increasingly popular movement. Interestingly, however, the same phrases which were once nearly synonymous with standing up in church and announcing that the antichrist had arrived mean absolutely nothing to most twenty-first century Christians. It would appear that the New Age Movement, which seemed to be thriving a mere twenty years ago, has now all but completely disappeared. Interestingly, the opposite is true. One may be surprised by the new way in which New Agers have chosen to infiltrate modern culture more effectively than twenty years ago. Ironically, the Christian church, which once so radically opposed the Movement, is now the device being used by the Movement most enthusiastically.

Before exploring the Movement’s more recent shift into mainstream Christianity, it is important that one fully understands the convictions, doctrines, and motives of the New Age Movement itself, which in fact is not genuinely “new” at all. The New Age Movement is essentially a combination of Theosophy, Panentheism, and Eastern Mysticism. New Agers pick up where Darwin left off, studying the mystical, rather than physical, evolution of mankind (Yungen 21). Theosophy, in particular, has had a large influence on the Movement and the two philosophies, though separate, are most often accepted simultaneously by their followers. The Founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky, taught in The Secret Doctrine that the various races of humanity can all be traced back to Atlantis, that there were seven Atlantean races including the “Aryans,” and that the Aryans were the superior or “Master Race.” The same teaching is prevalent within the New Age Movement. While the Aryans were the most highly evolved of the Atlantean races, it was believed that in the process of advancing physically and mentally, the Aryans lost many of their “mystical” abilities. To counteract this, many mystical practices were put in place to reconnect the Aryans with their “higher selves” (Cumbey 102-103). Alice Bailey, a well known New Age author who wrote The Externalization of the Hierarchy, openly promotes the doctrine of Aryanism in her books (90).

The most common way in which New Agers attempt to connect with their higher selves is through the practice of meditation. Unlike meditating upon thoughts or ideas, New Age meditation is done by emptying the mind in order to open oneself up to certain “mystical faculties.” It is imperative in meditation that one ceases to think, without doing so the higher self can never be attained. However, this state of non-thought, referred to as “the Silence,” is only a means, not an end. The ultimate goal is absolute, genuine interaction with what would seem to be a form of divine presence (Yungen 21-23).

The “New Age” is not in fact the official name of the coming period in mankind’s evolution that is being referred to. The “Age of Aquarius” is the New Age which is being alluded to. What makes the Aquarian Age unique to New Agers? As Ray Yungen puts it, “The Age of Aquarius is when we are all supposed to realize that man is God.” The panentheistic teaching that God “is all and is in all” is a foundational teaching of the New Age Movement (Yungen 20). But one need not worry; we will not be left to discover this incredible truth all on our own. We will have the help of Lord Maitreya, the name given to the coming “Messiah” of the New Age Movement, who will be a “world teacher for all humanity.” Interestingly, the arrival of Maitreya is not believed to be the second coming of Jesus Christ, but rather the “fifth reincarnation of Buddha” (Cumbey 19).

This increasingly popular movement has had plans for many years to expand its circle of influence beyond secular culture. New Age teacher Alice Bailey said in The Externalization of the Hierarchy, published 30 years ago in 1976, “The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which the world illumination may be accomplished” (510). On an ironic side-note, openly states that the publishing company founded by Alice and Foster Bailey, Lucis Publishing Company, was originally known as the Lucifer Publishing Company before the name was changed in 1925. The reason for the name change is not hard to guess. The site further expounds that Alice and Foster Bailey were both “serious students” of Theosophy and that as such they “sought to elicit a deeper understanding of the sacrifice [of falling from Heaven] made by Lucifer.” The point is further clarified in this revealing statement: “In the theosophical perspective, the descent of [Lucifer] was not a fall into sin or disgrace but rather an act of great sacrifice, as is suggested in the name ‘Lucifer’ which means light-bearer” (Esoteric). It is strange to consider the possibility that a belief system which paints such a blatant reverse image of the Genesis account could ever be embraced by Biblical Christianity.

A new movement has recently surfaced in many Protestant churches, calling itself “The Emerging Church.” This movement places a large emphasis on making the church more “relevant” for the world we live in and tends to abandon the strictly Biblical doctrine of traditional Christianity in favor of finding its own truths through experience-based faith. Surprisingly, to the dismay of a select few watchful Christians, there has been a “growing cooperation of emergent church leaders with New Spirituality/New Age leaders” (Emergent). In fact, emerging leaders for the most part consider traditional, Biblical Christianity to be “outdated, irrelevant, and ineffective” (Oakland 17). Further more, Roger Oakland, founder of “Understand the Times International,” observes a trend particularly contrary to Biblical doctrine, saying “some emerging church leaders have already said the God who judges and requires penal substitution for sin (i.e., the Cross) does not exist.” (19). While many Christians do not agree with Emerging Church values, they often deem the movement rather innocent, as it only intends to make the church more interesting, not to actually change any doctrines of the faith. If this is the case, then it would seem that many emergent leaders were never informed of this. Doug Pagitt, an Emergent leader and pastor of the church “Solomon’s Porch,” says this in regards to the changes he believes need to take place in the traditional church: “Perhaps we as Christians today are not only to consider what it means to be a 21st century church, but also and perhaps more importantly – what it means to have a 21st century faith.” There may be multiple ways to interpret that statement, but Pagitt makes sure that his readers know exactly what he means by it when he goes on to describe his sermons, saying, “At Solomon’s Porch, sermons are not primarily my extracting truth from the Bible to apply to people’s lives. In many ways the sermon is less a lecture or motivational speech than it is an act of poetry – of putting words around people’s experiences to allow them to find deeper connection in their lives… So our sermons are not lessons that precisely define belief so much as stories that welcome our hopes and ideas and participation” (17-19).

Another prominent Emerging Church advocate is author Donald Miller, whose books are so popular among Protestants that they are even quoted from the pulpit in some churches. Miller explains the mood of many emergents toward the traditional church when he says in his best-seller Blue Like Jazz “In the churches I used to go to, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I always felt like the adopted kid… I was accepted but not understood. There was room at the table for me, but I wasn’t in the family… I started asking God to help me find a church where I would fit” (130-133). This emphasis on comfort and “fitting in” is the cornerstone of the Emerging Church movement, a stark contrast considering that the convictions of the Protestant reformation were focused on Biblical truth, not feeling comfortable in a church setting or becoming more “relevant.” Miller makes the focus of his faith clear when he states in his closing comments “Ask [Jesus] to become real to you. Ask Him to forgive you of self-addiction, ask Him to put a song in your heart. I can’t think of anything better that could happen to you than this” (240). Most Christians would consider salvation the most important thing that can happen to a person, so one can’t help but inquire as to why this was not mentioned. The reason salvation is not mentioned is simple: salvation is not an essential doctrine in the Emerging Church. “Repentance and faith” are replaced with “Become a follower of Jesus.” Brian McLaren, founder of “Emergent Village,” states in his book A Generous Orthodoxy “I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts” (260). McLaren also refers to the cross as “false advertising for God” while speaking of the doctrine of Salvation (deemed the “doctrine of hell” in this article) in one interview: “[I]n an ironic way the doctrine of hell basically says no, that’s not really true. At the end God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and uh domination just like every other kingdom does. The Cross isn’t the center then, the Cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God” (Hansen).

Perhaps the strongest tie the Emerging Church has to New Age spirituality, however, is its emphasis on “contemplative prayer.” While contemplative prayer plays a large role in the Emerging Church, its influence reaches far beyond it, influencing even churches which initially rejected Emergent philosophy. In fact, the Contemplative Movement is far older than the Emerging Church, finding its roots in a group known as the “desert fathers,” monks living in isolated communities in the wilderness regions of the Middle East. The desert fathers were also “the ones who first promoted the mantra as a prayer tool” (Yungen 44-45). The mantra is a New Age practice with its roots in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

While the desert fathers may have been the first to promote the use of mantras in prayer, they certainly were not the last. The real “elephant in the room” is pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Church.” When Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life went on sale in 2002, copies flew off shelves across the nation as millions of churches participated in his “Forty Days of Purpose.” However, Warren says something very interesting in The Purpose Driven Life: “The Bible tells us to ‘pray all the time.’ How is it possible to do this? One way is to use ‘breath prayers’ throughout the day… You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath” (89). Remove the word “Jesus” from the equation and one has a near perfect definition of a mantra. While this can easily be dismissed as mere coincidence or simply a poor choice in words, Warren doesn’t stop here. One page 248 of The Purpose Driven Life Warren quotes Aldous Huxley. This is significant when one considers that Huxley is a “former mystic and New Age pioneer” as well as being the single most quoted individual in Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy, a “best-selling New Age book” (Smith 108). Not only does Warren promote a prayer method which is nearly synonymous with a key New Age practice and draw inspiration from New Age leader Aldous Huxley, but incredibly Warren also provides a quote from Theosophist George Bernard Shaw without even so much as an explanation (33).What is the “purpose” of the “Purpose Driven Church,” as Rick Warren calls it? Warren believes that in order to usher in God’s kingdom on earth, an “all inclusive church” must be established. He believes that peace on earth can be achieved by Christians joining hands with Muslims, Catholics, homosexuals, and others (Oakland 145-147).

The notion that it is the job of the church to usher in God’s kingdom is not a Biblical one. The question which logically follows, then, is “what are Warren’s views on the Second Coming of Christ?” With New Age and Theosophical leaders being quoted in his books, it is within reason to look to these groups for answers. Messiah and the Second Coming, by John Davis and Naomi Rice, says of Christ: “Jesus was one soul who reached the state of Christ Consciousness; there have been many others. He symbolized the blueprint we must follow… The way is open to everyone to become a Christ by achieving the Christ Consciousness through walking the same path He walked. He simply and beautifully demonstrated the pattern” (Davis 49). The “Christ Consciousness” is a common New Age teaching. If Rick Warren believes that Christ will not return until mankind has realized certain goals, then is the Christ Rick Warren awaits Jesus, or something else? While the answer to this particular question may never be known for sure, there can be no doubt that Rick Warren has certainly drawn inspiration from New Age and Theosophical leaders.

Another best-selling book that has filled the shelves of many Christian bookstores is the ever popular Chicken Soup for the Soul, written by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Interestingly, these books seem even less likely to belong on the Evangelical reading list.. Jack Canfield was a teacher of the “occultic ‘psychosynthesis’ method developed by a direct disciple of Alice Bailey.” Mark Victor Hansen, on the other hand, wrote the forward to Arielle Ford’s Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul, a book which has identical formatting to the “Chicken Soup” books, but “permeates with Eastern and New Age metaphysical content.” All things considered, the book was not originally intended to be a Christian book (Yungen 87).

Perhaps the most surprising revelation, however, comes when one takes a closer look at best-selling Christian author Max Lucado. In Cure for the Common Life Lucado quotes mystic Martin Buber as saying “a divine spark lives in every being and thing” (3, 215). This is a quote from Martin Buber’s The Way of Man. In The Way of Man Buber also states “All men can have access to God, but each man has a different access” and “God does not say: ‘This way leads to me that does not,’ but he says: ‘Whatever you do may be a way to me’” (17). It is strange to consider that such a well-known Christian author would sympathize with these New Age teachings.

The New Age Movement’s influence on modern Christianity reaches even beyond that of the Protestant Church, however. The Movement has managed to have a sizable impact on Roman Catholicism through Contemplative Prayer. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states “Contemplative prayer is hearing the word of God… Contemplative prayer is silence” (Catholic 652). If referring to Contemplative Prayer as “silence” sounds familiar, this is because “silence” is the same term used to describe the goal of transcendental meditation (Yungen 21-23). Considering that Contemplative Prayer was first practiced by Catholic monks, it is not particularly surprising that it has had the incredible impact on the Catholic Church that it has.

It is difficult to grasp how the New Age Movement has been so successful in infiltrating the Christian church when one considers the stark contrast that exists between New Age beliefs and Biblical doctrine. Where the New Age Movement says that all paths lead to God, the Bible says that Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (King James Version, John 14.6). Where the Movement says that the return of the Messiah will bring a time of peace on earth, Jesus says “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10.34). Where the Movement says that there is a certain “Master Race” which is supreme to all others, the Bible says there is no longer any difference between Jews and Gentiles, saying “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15.9). Where the Movement says that Jesus was not the Christ, but a Christ, the Bible says “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2.22). Where the Movement says that the dead will not be judged for their deeds in life, the Bible says “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9.27). Where the Movement says that Lucifer came to earth from the planet Venus to help mankind in his spiritual evolution, the Bible says “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit” (Isa. 14.12-15). Clearly, the Bible and the teachings of the New Age Movement can never be truly reconciled, one or the other will ultimately be thrown out when the transformation of the Christian church is complete.

Works Cited

Bailey, Alice. The Externalization of the Hierarchy. New York: Lucis Publishing Company, 1976.

Buber, Martin. The Way of Man. New York: Citadel Press/Kensington, 2006.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. New Hope, Kentucky: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994.

Cumbey, Constance E. Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism. Shreveport, Louisiana: Huntington House, Inc., 1983.

Davis, John, and Naomi Rice. Messiah and the Second Coming. Wyoming, Michigan: Coptic Press, 1982.

“The Esoteric Meaning of Lucifer.”

Hansen, Leif. “Interview With Brian McLaren.” 28 Apr. 2008.

The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Lucado, Max. Cure for the Common Life. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005.

McLaren, Brian. A Generous Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004.

Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003.

Oakland, Roger. Faith Undone. Silverton, Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing Company, 2007.

Pagitt, Doug. Church Re-imagined. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

“Emergent Church Leaders' InterSpirituality Talks Raise Flags.” 28 Apr. 2008.'_InterSpirituality_Talks_Raise_Flags.htm.

Smith, Warren. Deceived On Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church. Magalia, California: Mountain Stream Press, 2005.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.

Yungen, Ray. A Time of Departing. Silverton, Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing Company, 2002.