What’s New with the ? Why Need to Remain on Guard against the Threat of New Age Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson is Executive Director Introduction retail industry, major conventions, count- of to You, which features the New Age spirituality is fast-food less seminars and programs, and a very preaching ministry of John MacArthur. perfectly suited for a postmodern large of people who identify He also serves as a pastor at Grace like ours. It offers a quick-and-easy feel- with one another and share common Community in Sun Valley, Cali- ing of satisfaction with almost no real and concerns. In , those publishers and fornia, a board member of The Martyn nourishment for the , while it contains those conferences serve as the backbone Lloyd-Jones Recordings in Eng- additives and artifi cial ingredients that for a vast but informal network of many , and a member of the Fellowship are actually harmful to true spiritual small , cottage industries, and social of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. health. But you can still have it your way. groups all populated by He has previously served as an editor There are no , few demands, no who practice various forms of spiritual for Moody Press and has edited most of -, and little need for self-exploration and who are absolutely of Dr. MacArthur’s major . . This is a kind of anti-religion: a spiri- convinced that we are living at the dawn tually oriented for people with of a New Age. an intuitive sense of the , but who In that sense it is fi tting to speak of are wary of . the New Age as a “move- As a of fact, the so-called New ment”—and a religious movement at that. Age movement is like any orga- The of the New Age are usually nized religion. It has no headquarters, no called practitioners rather than or central hierarchy, no holy , no recog- pastors. Their infl uence varies, as does the nized clergy, no common of , content of their teaching, because one of and no confessional standards. It is not, the distinctives of New Age spirituality is technically, a religious or even a for- that it recognizes no higher than mal “movement” (which implies structure one’s own personal . This is and membership and mission). indeed a kind of religion, but it is a classic And yet the most outstanding features expression of the postmodern preference of the New Age phenomenon seem very for religion as experience, not . much like distinctives that properly Of course, the New Age phenomenon is belong to a cult or a movement. “New much more than a religion. It is also a social Age” is, after all, mainly an approach to and cultural current that has endured for spirituality—a way of viewing and inter- two or three decades and has had pro- acting with the spiritual realm. It has found effects on western lifestyles. The spawned an enormous publishing and New Age movement has engendered such 74 diverse trends as holistic , natural in a major transition pertaining to the diets, and a unique of instrumental of the . As a matter of fact, and electronic . The widespread the position of the earth relative to the fascination with crop circles, UFOs, earth’s does actually shift slightly mysteries, crystals, , and ancient over , owing to a kind of slow wobble forms of ; the popularity of in the earth’s axis. This phenomenon is , pseudo-, and environ- known to astronomers as “the precession mentalism; and the burgeoning in of the ,” in which the position Native American culture are all common of sunset at the vernal gradually side effects of New Age spirituality. These moves in a westward circle, at a rate that things and others like them have become would make a full rotation approximately badges of New Age . every 25,800 years. As the shift occurs, Because of the of among the backdrop of the sun at sunset moves New Age enthusiasts and the amorphous almost imperceptibly from one constel- of the New Age network, a formal, lation to another, in rhythmic transitions succinct defi nition of the New Age move- that occur roughly every 2,000 years. ment is practically impossible. But it One such transition occurred around nevertheless be helpful to begin with a 4,000 B.C., as the location of sunset at simple thumbnail description of the New equinox moved out of and into Age phenomenon. We will then look more , the bull. Then around 2,000 closely at some of the major elements of B.C., Taurus gave way to , the ram. this simple description in order to consider About 2,000 years later, the backdrop of why the New Age movement ought to be a moved out of Aries and into matter of concern for biblical Christians. , the fi sh. And a similar transition The New Age movement is a diverse and is currently underway as the precession eclectic approach to spirituality that stresses of the equinoxes moves the sunset-point self-exploration through a variety from Pisces to . of beliefs and practices borrowed from a wide New Agers generally believe that this array of extrabiblical sources and non-Chris- movement through the constellations belief , ranging from astrology marks the ages of and to eastern to science fi ction, and religious belief. During the age of Taurus, beyond. Notice the key characteristics: the bull (which lasted from antediluvian New Age spirituality is wildly eclectic until the era of ), calf and therefore radically syncretistic; it is was popular. The shift to the age of Aries, individualistic and therefore ultimately the ram, supposedly accounts for the rise man-centered; and it is almost purely sub- of , with its stress on the jective and therefore devoid of any sense sacrifi ce of rams and sheep. And the dawn of authority. As such, it is inher- of Pisces, the fi sh, corresponds to the start ently hostile to virtually every distinctive of the Christian era. That is supposed to element of a biblical worldview. explain why the fish has always been one of the church’s favorite and The Background of the New Age remains so today. In the words of one New The expression “New Age” refers to Age writer, “Our is not played a belief that earth’s history is currently out so much in books and literal earthly 75 dramas, but rather in the as the stream of New Age infl uence: . Sun makes it’s [sic] passage through the The fundamental that unites all signs of the Zodiac.”1 gnostic and New Age is a belief So the most basic of all New Age ideas is that the key to real in rooted in astrology—specifi cally, a belief some mysterious, ancient body of hidden that is now at the dawn of a available only to enlightened whole new era: the . That, . Normally, the way to gain enlight- of course, was the message of the opening enment is by initiated into whatever song of the 1967 Broadway musical, , a group claims to be the guardians of the song that became, in effect, the anthem of secret knowledge. the New Age and fi rst introduced millions Add a distinctly postmodern brand to the . of to this eclectic blend of New Age spirituality is a postmodern astrological, metaphysical, psychological, phenomenon with gnostic, pagan, and and gnostic infl uences, and you can begin metaphysical roots. It is impossible in to get a sense of the milieu in which New such a short article to trace all the spiritual Age spirituality has fl ourished. It would tributaries to such a diverse movement, probably be to characterize the rise of but it should be noted that the New Age the New Age movement as the spiritual is a direct successor to some of the - side of the postmodern shift.3 physical that became popular in the nineteenth century, including New Typical Beliefs and Practices of Thought, Swedenborgianism, Theoso- New Age Spirituality phy, Science of , and even Christian New Age thinking is so diverse, so Science. New Age practitioners liberally fl uid, and so unique to each individual borrow and ideas from all those practitioner that it is probably not possible sects, freely adapting and reshaping them to make any general about the according to personal preference. religion of the New Age that could not Jungian philosophy is another major be challenged by someone pointing out factor in the popularization of New Age signifi cant exceptions to the rule. Never- spirituality. Jung, of course, coined the theless, a few common features of “the unconscious,” so much of New Age spirituality that they “the within,” and mind-expansion need to be highlighted as key characteris- techniques. Wouter Hanegraaff wrote that tics of the mainstream of the movement. Jung “sacralized , by fi lling it , for example, is the common with the contents of esoteric speculation. belief of many, but not all, in the New Age The result was a body of that movement. This is the that God is enabled people to talk about God while and everything is God. (God really their own , and is immanent in this view, but not tran- about their own psyche while really mean- scendent.) Thus the itself—all of ing the divine. If the psyche is ‘mind,’ and nature—constitutes the true God, so that God is ‘mind’ as well, then to discuss one there is no valid distinction between the must mean to discuss the .”2 Creator and creation. Wouter Hanegraaff’s reference to “eso- Other New Agers would hold instead teric speculation” hints at another major to , the belief that God is in 76 everything and everything is in God. stress is on , global unity, and The here is that panentheists the oneness of all things. If everything retain some of a kind of divine that has ever been or ever will be all fl ows , so that God is thought from a single source, everything is to be Someone or (more likely) some- ultimately capable of being harmonized. thing—an impersonal —bigger than Accordingly, New Age thought has the universe. little room for the concepts of , , Either way, the New Age concept of and . Those have given way to is rooted in , not biblical the therapeutic language of addiction and . Scripture teaches that God recovery, positive energy, holistic health, is distinct from his creation, and the New and the notion of as a tolerant and Testament reveals Him as a —three always-affi rming of mind (rather distinct divine yet one in sub- than the more biblical concept of love as stance. He is immanent—he pervades and the giving of oneself for another). sustains the universe. But He is also truly is the New Age movement’s transcendent—separate from, not part of, preferred term for expressing the spiritual and not to the limitations of, the aspect of monism. Holism, in popular material universe. terminology, is the view that the whole Monism, by contrast, claims that God of any complex is greater than and the universe are all of one (or the sum of its parts. The with a one substance, or energy, or ). In holistic perspective is convinced that effect, monism eliminates not only the the best way to understand anything essential distinction between Creator is always by seeing it as a whole, never and creation, but also every signifi cant by breaking it down and examining the difference between one kind of being and parts. New Agers apply that to the another. The individual and the universe entire universe, which, by their monistic are ultimately the same. All , God way of thinking, is God. The of New included, are ultimately one with the Age spirituality, then, is to become one universe itself. (or rather to appreciate one’s true one- This belief in monism is one of the key ness) with the universe and thereby be differences between New Age spiritual- in harmony with God. ity and classic Gnosticism. Gnostics were Such harmony, in turn, supposedly predominantly dualists, believing that unleashes the divine energy in the New everything in the universe is reducible Ager’s own experience. Empowerment to two fundamental, opposite : such as this is the goal and the of mind and matter, and evil, and New Age spirituality. In the words of one fl esh, , or whatever. New Age practitioner: “New Age Spirituality is all spirituality is a kind of neo-Gnosticism, about getting your power back. Not that combining the esotericism of early Gnos- you ever lost it. Sometimes you gave your ticism, together with handpicked beliefs power away, misplaced it, or forgot you and borrowed from ancient had power in the fi rst place.”4 gnostic sources, but blending those with a The means of this empowerment are as fundamental commitment to monism. diverse as the history of human supersti- That’s why in New Age spirituality the tion. Various New Age practitioners have 77 borrowed freely from practically every ous , gnostic, and pagan themes. It occult and mystical source ranging from seems to favor fringe religious ideas and ancient such as “alternative” beliefs, which are lavishly to modern science fi ction.5 Tools of the borrowed, modifi ed, and adapted from trade for New Age practitioners include these sources. It replaces the of synthesized music, health food, holistic Christ’s deity with belief in the medicine, , , candles, of nature itself—and fi nally teaches the and crystals. (Crystals are supposed to divinity of every individual. It eliminates help achieve harmony with the universe the significance of and because of the way they vibrate at a con- thereby obviates the entire concept of stant frequency). redemption. And it is wholly reliant on Other common features of New Age a blend of practices and beliefs borrowed spirituality include even darker occult from an almost boundless array of extra- practices, such as tarot cards, , biblical, occult, and pagan sources. the use of magical potions and incanta- New Age spirituality is therefore at tions, , graphology, and, of odds with every classic division of Chris- course, astrology. New Age practitioners tian doctrine. With regard to hamartiol- often function as mediums, channeling ogy, New Age selfi sm all but does away “spirit guides” who claim to be . with the biblical concept of sin. New (The ubiquitous -themed greet- Age starts with a denial that ing-card and -shop paraphernalia is in any way uniquely above are prompted mainly by the New Age the rest of nature. As far as is movement’s superstitious with concerned, New Age beliefs utterly elimi- angels and other spirit beings, rather than nate the uniqueness of Christ. by any widespread interest in biblical And when it comes to soteriology, New teaching about angelic activity.) Many Age beliefs overthrow the itself believers in the New Age have delved with a completely different message. Of into (a modern of ), course, the and soul of biblical sote- , , Sufi sm, , Dru- riology is the doctrine of the atonement. idism, and various other forms of neopa- The of , the imputation of ganism. New Agers have also borrowed, to the repentant sinner, and adapted, and popularized several famil- a host of regarding justifi cation by iar doctrines from Hindu and Buddhist faith all fl ow from that. sources, including belief in , By contrast, the centerpiece of New , the , and . These Age spirituality is individual self-fulfi ll- ideas are all often blended with quasi- ment and empowerment. It is actually a Christian and gnostic terminology so that kind of anti-soteriology. As a matter of the language of New Age spirituality can fact, it is the very quintessence of every at times have a biblical ring to it. (Celtic kind of works-religion, because if New is also a favorite source for Age spirituality is correct, I’m the one I some New Agers.) have to please. I’m the only one who can But of course New Age spirituality is chart my own spiritual journey. I’m the not biblical. At its core, it is anti-Christian. one whose standards I have to live up to. It moves freely in and out among vari- And I’m the one I ultimately have to turn 78 to for help. are God. You know you are divine.”7 The inevitable result is the systematic MacLaine believed the message. In a book deifi cation of self. And the quest for indi- two years later, delving even more deeply vidual self-deifi cation is the very essence into her New Age interests, she wrote, “I of the single most destructive religious am God, because all energy is plugged in of all time. As numerous Christian crit- to the same source. We are each aspects ics of New Age spirituality have already of that source. We are all part of God. We pointed out, the whole New Age belief are individualized refl ections of the God system fl ows from the same falsehood . God is us and we are God.”8 “I am enticed with in the garden: God in Light” was the she said she “You will be like God” (Gen 3:5). chanted during her yoga exercises.9 MacLaine may have done more than The Rise and Decline of any other single celebrity in the 1980s to New Ageism popularize the New Age movement, but The New Age movement began to her eccentricities and her apparent will- ferment in pop culture in the 1970s, an ingness to believe almost any superstition offshoot of 1960s . As we also helped spark something of a popular have noted, it was introduced to millions backlash against the culture of the New at the end of the 60s by means of a popu- Age. The expression New Age when used lar song heralding the dawning of the in popular media and age of Aquarius. Belief in the New Age began to take on negative connotations grew quickly and somewhat quietly in of and shallowness. The trendi- the 1970s to become a major force by the ness of New Age culture became the brunt end of the decade. of derisive sketches and the luster The movement fi rst seemed to catch faded from the movement. the attention of the major media in Meanwhile, a steady stream of books America when actress Shirley MacLaine from both evangelical and secular critics stepped forward at the end of 1983 to attacked New Age ideas as unbiblical, become its best-known and most colorful unsound, dangerous, and sometimes just proponent with the release of her book plain ridiculous. ’s The .6 The book (dramatized in Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age a 1987 television miniseries starring the Movement and Our Coming Age of Barba- actress herself) chronicled Ms. MacLaine’s rism10 was one of the fi rst books to quest for New Age enlightenment and the New Age movement from an evan- self-discovery, as she dabbled in the gelical perspective. Cumbey (an attorney occult , had an out-of-body experience, and an evangelical Baptist) portrayed attempted with spiritual the New Age movement as a vast and and extraterrestrial beings, and explored well-organized conspiracy—ultimately various new-age fads such as crystals and a plot to bring the to power. channeling. She described how in one of Her sensational claims appealed to many, these channeling a being and a few writers, including Dave Hunt,11 who identifi ed himself as “John,” who echoed Cumbey’s . said he had lived on earth in the time of Several more sober Christian apologists Christ, told her through a medium, “You who took on the New Age movement were 79 highly critical of Cumbey’s conspiracy perspective is Steve Sutcliffe’s Children of theory. These included the New Age,16 in which New Age spiri- of Denver Seminary12 and Elliot Miller tuality and terminology are subjected to of the Christian Research Institute.13 thorough in vigorous These authors pointed out that there is postmodern . scant credible of any highly Evangelical publishers, who in the late organized, centrally-coordinated plot for 1980s and early 1990s were producing the New Age movement as an organized of the New Age movement at a entity to take over or destroy rate faster than most people could pos- established religious structures. Chris- sibly read, have turned for the most part should oppose New-Age , to different genres of books. In the wake but they need to do it on spiritual and of the astonishing success of a few mega- biblical grounds. Because the conspiracy- bestsellers like The of Jabez, Wild at theory mentality itself demands such a Heart, and The Purpose-Driven , Chris- high level of blind , it may in fact tian publishing has seemed to favor books be a hindrance to effective that are non-polemical. Furthermore, with , they pointed out. the movement lately Infl uential secular books analyzing the the focus of so much New Age movement included Marilyn and debate within the evangelical move- Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy.14 ment, the New Age movement seems to Despite the impression given by the title, have all but faded from the agenda. this book is nothing like Cumbey’s treat- ment. Ferguson was wholly sympathetic Is The New Age Just Old News? to most of the ideals of the New Age, and Some Evangelicals might be tempted the kind of “conspiracy” she described to think interest in New Age spirituality was open and more or less coincidental, is waning—that the movement itself is on rather than the sort of clandestine and the decline. But that would be a mistake. dark scheme Cumbey envisioned. The According to data published by George Aquarian Conspiracy was nonetheless one Barna, people holding New Age beliefs of the fi rst popular volumes to reveal the already outnumbered evangelical Chris- widespread infl uence of New Age ideas, tians a decade ago. Survey data released and its title may have inadvertently raised in 1996 showed that 20 percent of Ameri- some alarms about the aims and inten- can adults followed New Age teachings. tions of the burgeoning movement. About half that number could be classifi ed Another important (and more recent) (even in the broadest possible terms) as book on the subject from a non-evangeli- biblical Christians.17 cal perspective is The New Age Movement: ReligiousTolerance.org, an - Religion, Culture and in the Age of based nonsectarian website that Post , by Paul Heelas.15 Heelas and publishes survey data regarding gives a careful and dispassionate history religious trends of all kinds, says that of the growth and development of New today, “Interest in new religious move- Age spirituality in a critical but academic ments (e.g., New Age, Neopaganism) is . A still more recent scholarly book growing rapidly. In particular, Wiccans worth mentioning from a non-evangelical are doubling in numbers about every 30 80 months.”18 than ever to regard as divine The New Age movement is by no means guidance, and less certain than ever that a dying influence. If anything, many Scripture is authoritative and objectively New Age beliefs have simply become so true. As these trends, together with mainstream that they no longer seem as streams of feminist and postmodern infl u- unconventional or as spiritually menacing ences, gain more and more in as they once did. Both the language and evangelical circles, the evangelical drift the of the New Age have gradu- actually seems headed in exactly the same ally become so familiar in the culture of direction as the New Age movement. American religion that evangelicals sim- noted in 1996 that ply do not pay much attention to the New as American religion becomes more Age anymore. The whole subject has the diverse and syncretic, many people are feel of ’s news. seeking “a new of religion: a Meanwhile, the Emerging Church personalized, customized form of faith movement and other postmodern streams views which meet personal needs, mini- of infl uence within the evangelical move- mize rules and absolutes, and bear little ment are challenging historic evangelical resemblance to the ‘pure’ form of any of convictions with the same kind of epis- the ’s major religions.”20 That very temic deconstruction that gave rise to the thing now appears to be at an New Age movement in the fi rst place. The accelerating pace within . Emerging Church movement has raised Evangelicals have shown a willingness the serious question of whether to embrace and absorb almost any trend of any kind is warranted by Christian from , while casting off belief. The authority of Scripture, the their historic distinctives. The evangeli- importance of doctrinal clarity, the exclu- cal movement appears to be abandoning sivity of Christ, the of divine wrath every safeguard against the of New against sin, and the of revealed Age infl uences. have all recently come under fi re In a 1992 symposium titled New Age within evangelicalism in the context of Spirituality: An Assessment, Andrew “the Emerging Conversation.” Canale wrote, Few would deny that the evangelical [New Age author Spangler] movement itself has grown increasingly suggests that it is possible to have superfi cial and pragmatic while moving inclusive visions that all people and strive to bring them away from its historic doctrinal moorings. to community and . His is a Evangelical churches today are often more “high road” view of the New Age, concerned about their of a longing for a compassionate world in which hunger and are ministry than about their statements of alleviated, is invited, faith.19 Unfortunately, evangelicals too deep change allowed to unfold, often follow the trends of secular society and exclusivity rejected. None of these values is inconsistent with rather than confronting the culture. Christianity. In fact, Christianity at As a result, the contemporary evan- its best by the same . Viewed in this light, Christianity gelical movement has become more and the New Age movement need susceptible to mysticism, , and not compete. Rather, they need to subjectivity. Evangelicals are more likely cooperate with each other for the sake of the desperate ones.21 81 Evangelicals accustomed to the postmod- 4Elaine Murray, “New Age Spirituality,” ern climate of today may very well fi nd it n.p. [cited 20 2006]. Online: hard to resist an such as that. http://www.sideroad.com/New_Age_ The appeal for dialogue, the quest for Spirituality/new_age_spirituality.html. common ground, and the plea for 5The Church of , started by with New Age spirituality are all perfectly science-fi ction writer L. Ron Hubbard consistent with the approach to handling and based on ideas he experimented religious differences many evangelicals with fi rst in his , promises a classi- have already begun to favor. cally New Age version of enlightenment But those committed to biblical author- and empowerment through pseudosci- ity and historic evangelical principles will entifi c means. likely see things differently, and remain 6Shirley MacLaine, Out on a Limb (New vigilant. York: Bantam, 1983). 7Ibid., 209. ENDNOTES 8Shirley McLaine, Dancing in the Light 1Dennis Diehl, “Washed in the (: Bantam, 1985), 339. of Aquarius and Not the Blood of 9Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New Aries: A New Paradigm,” n.p. [cited York: Bantam, 1989), 57. 20 December 2006]. Online: http:// 10Constance Cumbey, The Hidden Dangers ezinearticles.com/?Washed-in-the- of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Water-of-Aquarius-and-Not-the- Our Coming Age of Barbarism (Shreveport: Blood-of-Aries---A-New-Paradigm&id= Huntington , 1985). 143295. 11Dave Hunt, Understanding the New Age Diehl is a former in the World- Movement (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, wide Church of God who became disil- 1988). lusioned when leaders of that began 12Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New to modify their doctrines. He embraced Age (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, New Age spirituality and now uses 1986). biblical imagery as allegory for New Age 13Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New teachings. One of his online articles is Age Movement: Describing and Evaluating titled “The God—Trading Up—We a Growing Social Force (Grand Rapids: Can Do Better” (See http://ezinearticles. Baker, 1989). com/?expert_bio=Dennis_Diehl). 14Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Con- 2Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion spiracy (: Tarcher, 1980). and : Esotericism in the 15Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: Reli- Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, gion, Culture and Society in the Age of Post 1996), 513. Modernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996). 3I have outlined a simple description 16Steve Sutcliffe, Children of the New Age of in a seminar for (Oxford: , 2003). pastors titled “A Beginner’s Guide to 17George Barna, The Index of Leading Spiri- Postmodernism.” An audio recording tual Indicators (: Word, 1996), 22. of that seminar is freely downloadable 18“Trends Among Christians in the U.S.,” at: http://www.swordandtrowel.org/PJ- n.p. [cited 20 December 2006]. Online: CDA14.htm. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ 82 chr_tren.htm. 19Cf. Elmer L. Towns, An Inside Look at 10 of today’s Most Innovative Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1990), 249. 20Barna, The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, 130. 21Andrew Canale, “The Cry of the Desperate: Christianity’s Offer of a New Age,” in New Age Spirituality: An Assessment (ed. Duncan S. Fer- guson; Louisville, KY: Westminster , 1992), 6.