against the threat of New Age spirituality
Part 1 of a 4-part series
by Phil Johnson
- The Background of the New Age
- Typical Beliefs and Practices of New Age Spirituality
- The Rise and Decline of New Ageism
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 spiritualitya 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.