24 November 2008

What's New with the New Age?

Why Christians need to remain on guard
against the threat of New Age spirituality


Part 1 of a 4-part series
by Phil Johnson

See also:







This series was originally published as a single article in the Winter 2006 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

ew Age spirituality is fast-food religion perfectly suited for a postmodern culture like ours. It offers a quick-and-easy feeling of satisfaction with almost no real nourishment for the soul, while it contains additives and artificial ingredients that are actually harmful to true spiritual health. But you can still have it your way. There are no dogmas, few demands, no sense of self-denial, and little need for faith. This is a kind of anti-religion: a spiritually-oriented worldview for people with an intuitive sense of the sacred, but who are wary of organized religion.

As a matter of fact, the so-called New Age movement is nothing like any organized religion. It has no headquarters, no central hierarchy, no holy book, no recognized clergy, no common set of doctrines, and no confessional standards. It is not, technically, a religious cult or even a formal "movement" (which implies structure and membership and mission).

And yet the most outstanding features of the New Age phenomenon seem very much like distinctives that properly belong to a cult or a movement. "New Age" is, after all, mainly an approach to spirituality—a way of viewing and interacting with the spiritual realm. It has spawned an enormous publishing and retail industry, major conventions, countless seminars and programs, and a very large community of people who identify with one another and share common ideas and concerns. In fact, those publishers and those conferences serve as the backbone for a vast but informal network of many small sects, cottage industries, and social groups all populated by individuals who practice various forms of spiritual self-exploration and who are absolutely convinced that we are living at the dawn of a New Age.

In that sense, it is fitting to speak of the New Age phenomenon as a "movement"—and a religious movement at that. The clergy of the New Age are usually called practitioners rather than priests or pastors. Their influence varies as does the content of their teaching, because one of the distinctives of New Age spirituality is that it recognizes no authority higher than one's own personal experience. This is indeed a kind of religion, but it is a classic expression of the postmodern preference for religion as experience, not dogma.

Of course, the New Age phenomenon is much more than a religion. It is also a social and cultural current that has endured for two or three decades and has had profound effects on western lifestyles. The movement has engendered such diverse trends as holistic medicine, natural diets, and a unique style of instrumental and electronic music. The widespread fascination with crop circles, UFOs, earth's mysteries, crystals, alchemy, and ancient forms of superstition; the popularity of astrology, pseudo-science, and environmentalism; and the burgeoning interest in Native American culture are all common side effects of New Age spirituality. These things and others like them have become badges of New Age identity.

Because of the diversity of belief among New Age enthusiasts and the amorphous nature of the New Age network, a formal, succinct definition of the New Age movement is well-nigh impossible. But it will nevertheless be helpful to begin with a simple thumbnail description of the phenomenon we are concerned with. Then in a series of follow-up posts, we'll look more closely at some of the major elements of this simple description in order to consider why the New Age movement ought to be a matter of concern for biblical Christians.

The New Age movement is a diverse and eclectic approach to spirituality that stresses individual self-exploration through a variety of beliefs and practices borrowed from a wide array of extrabiblical sources and non-Christian belief systems, ranging from astrology to eastern mysticism to science fiction, and beyond.

Notice the key characteristics: New Age spirituality is wildly eclectic and therefore radically syncretistic; it is individualistic and therefore ultimately man-centered; and it is almost purely subjective and therefore devoid of any sense of absolute authority. As such, it is inherently hostile to virtually every distinctive element of a biblical worldview.

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35 comments:

Rick Frueh said...

Like kids in a spiritual candy store.

donsands said...

"but it is a classic expression of the postmodern preference for religion as experience, not dogma."

Yet it seems that New Agers also borrow from the Bible some of the Lord's teachings. They take the sayings from the Lord which make them feel good.

And I see the same thing in the Church.

Thanks for this timely post, and series.

JackW said...

eclectic?

Now where have I heard that word before ... ?

Looking forward to this series.

DJP said...

You're thinking of Greek NT textual criticism, of course.

Frank Turk said...

There's something interesting in what Phil is setting up here that I think people have to get right in the middle of their thinking: whatever it is that is in "New Age" thinking, not only is it not new, but it is actually poison for the church.

You'd think that what I mean by this is that it's mixing error with truth, and that's like mixing what comes out of one of a baby with what is supposed to go into the other end. yeah: true dat (as DJP would say).

But what I mean is this: every time in church history when the church gravitated toward this trash, the body of Christ shrunk up and nearly died. This stuff is poison because it is not the Gospel, and the Gospel is the only thing which calls out God's people from the world.

Terry Rayburn said...

Part of the attraction to New Age thinking is of a pragmatic sort.

There are legions of advocates (Wayne Dyer comes immediately to mind, as does The Secret author) who take the stand, "It works! Try it!"

And their disciples "try it" and for some "it works!", and so the man-centered error is perpetuated.

Much has to do with changing the world by "thinking", "visualizing", etc. When one practices it, and their world "changes", they are hooked.

The element of truth that they manipulate is the biblical truth that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. And part of that making is our minds, which are amazing gifts from God.

God has ordained that "attitude" is a powerful thing.

But those minds are best used in prayer and Bible study, where we not only say and think, "I WILL do this or WILL accomplish this", but we say, "If the Lord WILLS, we will do this." (James 4:15)

And we commune with Him and His Word so that He not only *shapes* our will, but flat-out *denies* it at times, as He sees fit.

Terry Rayburn said...

A couple more points:

1. This stuff is HUGE in Business today, taught by virtually every major sales-&-marketing and "success" training organization or author around.

To paraphrase several Proverbs, it is literally better to be poor than to achieve riches in an ungodly way. (That's not to say being economically poor is a virtue in itself.)

2. The whole movement is a denial of the sovereignty of God. It seeks to usurp creator-hood.

So even when one uses the New Age stuff, and "fails" in their goals, the guru simply says, "You didn't do it right...or persistantly enough, etc." And thus they can keep teaching their stuff, despite lack of results. (Not unheard of in Christianity, for example, the professional Faith Healer blaming their poor victim for not having enough faith.)

3. Watch out for the latest: the "scientific" approach which brings in Quantum Physics to explain "scientifically" why our thoughts and visualizations can manipulate molecular structures (whether God likes it or not, of course).

Live As If said...

is the draw of new age teachings that it is presented as pragmatic, an easy "quick fix"?

and thank you for this teaching!

ltlgeorge said...

I have heard of churches that are already adopting practices that would be considered new age. And back in the day I was instructed in some off these practices by well meaning psychologists who were trying to help me. This stuff is dangerous in so many ways I wouldn't even attempt to list them. It will mess up your head. The solution is sound Biblical doctrine, properly applied. The Creator of my mind can and does give me a sound mind.

Frank Turk said...

holy mackerel -- I agree wit Terry Rayburn!

Just to plug our favorite fan-boy, Freakishly-"Wretched" Todd Friel is doing a little think on the 10 books that have mostly ruined our civilization, and on last Wednesday (I think) he covered Machiavelli's The Prince -- and note something: the real violence that Machiavelli has done to our ways of thinking is the idea that if we can somehow measure out how much good will be accomplished by doing something liberated from moral standards, we can justify any action at all.

You can look at that and say, "well: pragmatism," but that's not it people. It's not merely "pragmatism": it's usurping the place of God in our thinking as the creator and sustainer of all things. God says that some means are forbidden -- and we ought to at least demonstrate a little awareness of the fact that He's the one who can destroy both body and soul in weighing out His laws.

donsands said...

I watched Todd the other night, and he was going righteous nuts over the people buying plastic St. Joey statues and burying them in their yards, so they can sell their homes.

As long as it works! Right?

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

The only thing 'new' about New Agers is the new packaging or label that gets put on same old dead horse.

Even Foxnews owner Rupert Murdoch has a very utopian 'New Ager' view on technology:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24619205-7582,00.html


"The chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, owner of The Weekend Australian, says new technology is "ushering in a new golden age for human kind"."

Paul said...

The opening paragraph contains the statement, "It offers a quick-and-easy feeling of satisfaction with almost no real nourishment for the soul..." Are you going to elaborate on the 'almost'? I ask only because the 'almost' seems to leave a door open.

I have close family members who claim that by reading and accepting other religious writings and rants, they actually 'feel' closer to the God of the Bible.

Doesn't 1 Corinthians 2 prove this to be impossible?

atruefaith.com said...

I think the New Age movment can best be encapsulated as... "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." The ecumenical nature of our age only incubates this thought and practice.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

When Technocrats, New Agers, and entertainers become one:

from: http://www.breitbart.com/article.phpid=081114211405.6b9pjnso&show_article

"A website launched Friday with the backing of technology industry and Hollywood elite urges people worldwide to help craft a framework for harmony between all religions.

The Charter for Compassion project on the Internet at www.charterforcompassion.org springs from a "wish" granted this year to religious scholar Karen Armstrong at a premier Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in California.

"Tedizens" include Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin along with other Internet icons as well as celebrities such as Forest Whittaker and Cameron Diaz."

tshirtninja said...

Would it be fair to call New Age "rehashed Hinduism"?

Solameanie said...

I can't help but feel very, very tired after reading this, and not because I disagree with Phil's post. It's because I've been connected with apologetics ministry for a long time, and it seems like we've done so little good. How many seminars on the dangers of the New Age movement? How many articles? How many radio programs? And today, how many blogs, and how much word of mouth.

And yet, churches still fall into this nonsense. If it's not the New Age, it's the Emergent Church, and whatever cross-pollination (or contaminant leaching) there is between the two. It's always something.

I know we're supposed to expect this sort of thing, and I am an optimist in the eternal sense. However, it doesn't make it any easier to watch and live through.

Respectabiggle said...

I see new-age-ism as the kind of thing that only a pampered and spoiled population comes up with.

I wonder if the upcoming Depression may slap us around enough to make us remember that "everything is truth in its own way" fails on pretty much every level.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

respectabiggle:"I wonder if the upcoming Depression may slap us around enough to make us remember that "everything is truth in its own way" fails on pretty much every level."

I don't think 'economic determinism' nor 'technological determinism' will ever wake people up from their sinful slumber. Only by God's grace and providence can that ever occur. While wealth can create blindness, poverty can also cause bitterness.

atruefaith.com said...

Terry,

You said: "Watch out for the latest: the 'scientific' approach which brings in Quantum Physics to explain 'scientifically' why our thoughts and visualizations can manipulate molecular structures (whether God likes it or not, of course)."

Ah, yes. We're seeing it now everywhere with things like "The Law of Attraction" and whatnot. Even so-called Christian preachers like Joel Osteen are incorporating New Age buzz words into their preaching.

ndmb said...

I'm sure we're all familiar with the fluff and falsehood that comes with New Age, but I just watched this video that I sounded too familiar to not pass on. It's of MacArthur on Larry King with Marianne Williamson, a New Age leader who has been quoted by a prominent Emergent pastor/author. It's not hard to listen to her comments and hear how they've 'emerged' in that portion of the church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDqabINUfyk

Her comments start at 4:47.

Barbara said...

Okie dokie. I'm no Bible scholar, still new at all this but I enjoy the neat treasures I find in there when I read. Tonight besides my usual reading I found myself in Jeremiah, specifically chapter 44, especially from verses 15 on. People insisting that when they worshipped a false goddess that they had everything they wanted, and that when they stopped that, then things got bad so no matter what Jeremiah said, doggone it, they were gonna go back to what "worked". Jeremiah explaining this: Correlation does not equal causation. The One True God was patient with you for awhile there and while you might have eventually quit with your goddess worship doesn't mean you wouldn't still have to pay a price for your infidelity, and now you're really going to see the cost of walking by sight and not by faith because you would rather trust your deceitful, wicked hearts and not in God. Stubborn, short-sighted, faithless, me-centered generation, the lot of you. It's fixin' to get ugly.

IF I read it right. Either way, it caught my eye.

And then, before turning in for the night, I happen to come back here and actually read this post and its comments - especially Terry Rayburn's.

Hmm....methinks I'll go back to reading some more.

CR said...

Ok. The Pepsi Ice Cumcumber picture is totally gross. Please tell me that's is a creation and there a cucumber Pepsi does not exist.

Phil Johnson said...

The cuke-flavoured Pepsi is real.

Terry Rayburn said...

tshirtninja,

"Would it be fair to call New Age 'rehashed Hinduism'?"

Partly, yes.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ("the late", finally -- so he presumably knows better now) took Hindu meditation and Americanized/Anglicized it for the masses (no Catholic pun intended).

Today the hugely best-selling author/guru Deepak Chopra is mostly rehashing Hindu stuff, replacing a few million "gods" with "God" and even "Jesus" and "Christ" (not to be confused with THE God, or THE Jesus Christ -- er, actually that's *exactly* who they are to be confused with).

But the sophistication (I hate to give it that credible a label) of today's New Age teachings have catapulted beyond oddball skinny little Yogis into the highest corporate boardrooms.

I'm of the opinion that ALL heresies are ancient, and I call to witness Solomon, who said there is nothing new under the sun, Ipods being one exception.

Terry Rayburn said...

By the way, one of the joys of life is seeing the look on MacArthur's face after hearing Deepak give some "wisdom" on Larry King.

Priceless.

DJP said...

I think we need a screen-shot, Terry.

Jim Crigler said...

Phil, if you're not careful, this could develop into that interrupted series from lo! these three years ago on personal revelation ala Blackaby, Gothard, et al.

CR said...

Phil - gross on the cucumber pepsi, I know it's not your fault. :=)

Terry and Dan - I've seen an interview on Larry King Alive before with Deepak and MacArthur. I've seen Deepak get really peeved when MacArthur starts talking about faith in Jesus being the only way to salvation. Uh, I thought New Age and all that yoga was suppose to make you calm and at peace with yourself?

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

CR,

In regards to Deepak, I think most people who practice Eastern and/or Transcendental forms of meditation are more irritable in normal day-to-day settings than those who don't practice it.

From the book 'Zen and the Brain'

http://books.google.com/books?id=8ywrjDa0vZ8C&printsec=frontcover

“Intense meditative concentration for weeks or months invariably yields visual or auditory aberrations, hallucinations or unusual somatic experiences. Again in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, these are regarded not as signs of a serious psychic disorder, but as the “normal perceptual changes happening in predominantly healthy individuals who embark on the rigorous training of mindfulness.”

“Many meditators reported dramatic swings in mood between intense emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and joy”

“Transcendental meditation teachers who had practiced for almost four years reported more problems: antisocial behavior (14%), frustration (10%), and restlessness (10%), as well as anxiety, confusion, depression, and procrastination (all 9%).

CR said...

NNUTS,

No joke, but I use to go to this gym and take this step class. The next class was a yoga class. The yoga folks actually were some of the most irritable people. They would always rush right after the class and invade our space. So, I think you're right.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

CR,

My wife and I have had similar experiences with people who we know that practice those forms of meditation (Yoga and etc) as well.

The more researchers study the brain the more they discover how it's very elastic and it actually changes both physically and functionally by how we use it. It's very likely those who practice Eastern forms of meditation are actually permanently altering the functionality and structure of their brain so they can obtain a drug-like euphoric high during meditation. While some might consider a Buddhist monk as being more spiritual, he might just be a clever guy who found a cheap (natural) way to hallucinate.

This of course is just the physical consequence of that behavior and I'm not even considering the more serious spiritual consequences.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Here’s something to think about.

Researcher are discovering that the brain functions differently when using the internet where portions of the brain responsible for complex reasoning get over stimulated but areas related empathy and abstract thinking often remain dormant.

Now put this together with those who use Eastern/TM mediation that focuses on stimulating the empathic part of the brain. It’s possible that excessive use of particular technologies is over stimulating one part of the brain and people seeking out eastern forms of meditation as a method offset it and vice-versa.

If true this could be a case where two wrongs = a very troubling trend many of us are witnessing daily.

a few quotes from http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article5014746.ece

“Overall, a new study concludes, the brains of those tested were markedly more active when carrying out internet searches than when reading books.

However, the stimulation was concentrated in the areas that control decision-making and complex reasoning. Areas linked to abstract thinking and empathy showed virtually no increase in stimulation.”

a few quotes from http://www.blog.newsweek.com/blogs/labnotes/archive/2008/03/25/the-lotus-and-the-synapse.aspx?print=true

“In compassion meditation, as the French-born Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard explained it to me when we were both visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala for a meeting of neuroscientists and Buddhist scholars, you focus on the wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering. You generate an intense feeling of love for all beings, not fixating on individuals but encompassing all of humanity. It takes practice, since the natural tendency is to focus on one or a few specific suffering people.”

"But there is one clue that he’s right: he’s been finding that the more hours of meditation a monk has had, the greater the brain changes. Call it a dose-response effect, with meditation being the dose and brain changes the response. That’s a strong hint that the dose causes the response, and is not just a coincidence.”

CR said...

Very interesting stuff, NNUTS. Thanks. You're already hearing a lot of stuff on Internet addictions - and by that, I don't mean pornography, that's a problem also, but people really addicted to the Internet and can't stay away from it, even if it's harmless stuff.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

CR,

Internet addiction is indeed becoming a more significant problem, especially when you consider that such well designed devices like the iphone and blackberry are only going to make the problem more pervasive over the next decade.

Quote from:
href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/54477.php

Over one in eight American adults may have signs of internet addiction, say researchers from Stanford University, USA. In fact, 8% are so obsessed that they hide their habits from their partners.


http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?

Kimberly Young, clinical director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and author of the book “Caught in the Net,” said that about 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans --15 to 30 million people -- may suffer from Internet addiction. And the problem may be even greater elsewhere. Young said 18 to 30 percent of the populations of China, Korea and Taiwan, where the Internet is even more popular than in the U.S., may be addicted.

Quote from:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-565207/Modern-technology-changing-way-brains-work-says-neuroscientist.html

“I'm a neuroscientist and my day-to-day research at Oxford University strives for an ever greater understanding - and therefore maybe, one day, a cure - for Alzheimer's disease.

But one vital fact I have learnt is that the brain is not the unchanging organ that we might imagine. It not only goes on developing, changing and, in some tragic cases, eventually deteriorating with age, it is also substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. When I say "shaped", I'm not talking figuratively or metaphorically; I'm talking literally. At a microcellular level, the infinitely complex network of nerve cells that make up the constituent parts of the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli.”