The New Spirituality is “neither an organized religion nor a systematized philosophy but a group of ideas and a network of communication.” (1) Such an innocuous description is still somewhat typical-the New Spirituality is just one more option in modern day pluralism, about which we should probably be somewhat informed.
I must disagree.
While it is not an “organized religion,” this spirituality is the reappearance of the massive system of ancient world paganism and, as such, represents the greatest threat to the church since the Greco-Roman pagan empire. The situation is urgent.
The incredibly beautiful “Temple of Humankind”-secretly under construction since 1978, 100 feet below ground, inside a mountain near the northern Italian city of Vidracco-provides the right terminology. Its builders say the temple is not a place of prayer, but “a place for contemplation of the divine within the self.” Their work, they say, is not for a religion but for “a new civilization.” (2)
Our culture is reaching a tipping point of momentous implications where the “New Spirituality” may well represent the next phase of the faith and practice of modern autonomous humanity, whose goal is nothing less than the construction of a new Sodom and Babel.
Few were expecting this. Most merely saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand appearing on the Western horizon. That marginal “hippy” revolution of spiritual and sexual experimentation would quickly dissipate. The real threat was secular humanism. The fact is this New Age “cloud of unknowing” has morphed into a perfect storm of latter rain that intends to irrigate the entire planet with the Aquarian “living water” of integrative monistic oneness.
Perhaps we are beginning to “get it,” especially when it affects our children. In 2007, California governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 777 into law, making it illegal for teachers and children to use terms like “mom” and “dad” and “husband” and “wife” in public schools. Already in England using such terms is now officially called “bullying.” (3) Montgomery County, Maryland, allows people to use public restrooms based on who they think they are sexually; and in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors will now issue municipal identification cards showing name, birth date, and photo, but no gender.
The cloud has become a tsunami; the Sixties’ sexual liberation was not a mere dream of hippies who had opted out of public life. In fact, in a long march through the institutions, the “Flower Power” children cleaned themselves up and became the “establishment” them-selves. They have demonized the patriarchal society of Western and biblical civilization as the greatest expression of human evil, and replaced it with a radical egalitarianism that knows no gender roles and believes that the murder of unborn babies is not only settled law but vital to the emancipation of women. (4) In one generation, this sexual liberation has become public policy. The ideas behind these social changes are deeply and spiritually pagan-as even a cursory examination of Romans 1:18-28 will show.
Indeed, the Sixties was a spiritual revolution that has now morphed into a worldview that promises to alter how we all believe and act in the planetary era. The New Age began to change when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died February 4, introduced notions such as tran-scendental meditation, “mantra,” and “karma” into the mainstream through converts like the Beatles, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Mia Farrow, Merv Griffin, Joe Namath, and Deepak Chopra. Marilyn Ferguson published her significant work, The Aquarian Conspiracy with the significant subtitle Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s, in which she asked hundreds of scientists, philosophers, and spiritual seekers to name the person most influential in their lives: first and second were Teilhard de Chardin and Carl Jung! Clearly, we were no longer dealing with chakras and crystals, but with a spiritual/intellectual worldview movement based on “spiritual” evolution and the new psychology of the subconscious. It was Jung who said, “We are only at the threshold of a new spiritual epoch.” (5) This epoch of the New Spirituality claims to be able to put our deconstructed world back together again scientifically, philosophically, economically, geo-politically, ecologically, and spiritually through the power of the myth of the divinity of Nature. James Herrick calls this movement the “New Religious Synthesis,” and believes it has already eclipsed traditional “Christian” culture. (6)
But note! In constructing this “new civilization,” one has to eliminate the old. Religious pagan syncretists are not democrats. As a way of “dismantling the [traditional] gender binary,” they now embrace “the proliferation of gender possibilities.” (7) Further, to “break the hold of dominant male images of God,” they propose the adoption of names for God such as “Goddess, she, mother, queen, Shekinah, birth-giver, wellspring, source.” (8) The game of civilization is now being played for keeps! Out with God. In with the Goddess!
The following definitions of the essential themes of pagan belief, constituting a coherent system, are drawn from well-known pagan theorists, accom-panied by references to some of the odd places where these same pagan notions reappear.
God-“The Christian God is transcendent, the pagan godhead is immanent…the paganism of indigenous tribal [has no] doctrines of monotheistic worship, a creation ex nihilo, a morally-determined godhead, and salvific redemptionism.” (9) Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong’s description of God fits perfectly in Michael York’s synthesis:
God is not an external, supernatural being, ruling over humanity. God is rather the power of love which flows through each one of us…the source of life, of love, the ground of being…[but] life has taught us that theism is dead. (10)
Humanity-“Paganism affirms…the fundamental affinity between humanity and its gods…sharing a mutually kindred nature.” (11) According to York, human “deification is a pagan affirmation of the essential link if not identity between the divine and the human.” (12) Hinduism, likewise, believes that “what we know as our own self goes all the way to the point of absolute identity with the supreme Being.” (13) On the outer edges of a certain “Catholic Christianity,” now entering evangelicalism, the oft-cited medieval mystic Meister Eckhart states: “Being is God’s circle and in this circle all creatures exist. Everything that is in God is God.” (14)
Nature-According to York, in paganism there is a “comprehension of nature’s inherent vitality” (15) reifying nature into “a divine object worthy of worship…[seeing] nature and humanity as essentially divine. (16) Ex-Jesuit priest Thomas Berry, who calls himself a “geologian,” not a theologian, (17) teaches that “the Earth is the primary subject, endowed with a spiritual mode of being.” (18)
Spirituality-If the creation-not the Creator-is divine, then the earth becomes the object of worship. Thus York describes “shamanic practice” as uniform practice of paganism. (19) Alison Leonard, a contemporary religious feminist, recounts her path “from the space left by a Christian faith that has become irrelevant, through a series of earth-based, feminine-orientated experiences and brief spiritual encounters with non-human life forms and with the non-physical world, towards an openness to the divine feminine in its pre-Christian and post-Christian guises.” (20)
Salvation-In paganism we are our own saviors. York observes, with regards to Buddhist and Hindu worship, that “a key endeavor…is the acquisition of merit.” (21) Gnostic bishop Stephan Hoeller’s notion of salvation is provocatively clear:
Our spiritual enfeeblement is not due to a fall from grace on the part of Adam and Eve…and our regeneration will not come about by accepting a personal savior [or] by a risen redeemer, but only by the reconciliation of the gods and goddesses within us. (22)
Ethics-The status of good and evil, like that of male and female, is fluid. They are merely elements within the natural world to be used for one’s sense of godhead and freedom. Modern witches hold to the idea that the spiritual power available to them is neither good nor evil. (23) Carl Jung said: “We must beware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites.” (24) Jung’s belief in the essential oneness of all things made him a monist.
Monism: Common Orientation of All Forms of Paganism-The belief that all things natural, human and divine share the same divine substance. There is no transcendent Lord outside of the created order. The world is understood by the world.
To be sure, the New Spirituality is not an organ-ized religion, but neither is it a mere hodge-podge of unrelated notions. Scholars of religion identify two coherent types of spirituality: 1) esoteric (inner) pagan religion, the God within, finding truth within the human heart, since humanity is divine; and 2) exoteric (outer) theistic religion that finds truth beyond the sphere of nature and humanity in the person of God, Creator, and Redeemer. These two religious possibilities are radically antithetical, as Paul said with surprising clarity 2,000 years ago (Rom. 1:25).
In the New Spirituality, we face not a new religion but the revival of a vast and coherent pagan worldview, whose ultimate goal is both the construction of a spiritually unified global community and the “dismantling” of its great obstacle, biblical theism.
But surely, you ask, the above is far too marginal and radical to affect civilization? Many believe, however, that Christianity as a dominant social force is spent and that its great opponent, secular humanism, is in free-fall.
Since the Sixties we have entered a new world. The intellectual pride of secular humanism and of its religious sister, “Christian” liberalism, has been exploded by the radical critique of postmodern deconstruction. The objectivity of human reason as a means to truth is now seen as pure fiction, so the world must be reconstructed on other bases. “The irony is delicious,” says theologian Don Carson. “The modernity which has arrogantly insisted that human reason is the final arbiter of truth has spawned a stepchild that has arisen to slay it.” (25) Postmodernism has brought an end to secularism, but it raises a serious question: Where does postmodernism lead us?
A triumphant form of ancient religious paganism now claims to put the shattered Humpty Dumpty back together again-not by reason but by unreason, not by the conscious mind but by the subconscious psyche, not by logos but by mythos, not by faith in the Lord of heaven and earth but by faith in the Goddess, mistress of divinized Nature. Having exorcized the demon of secular humanism, modern culture now sees seven more very spiritual ones rushing in to take its place.
As this “new” oneness ideology dominates the campus and the popular media, the rising generations are losing all sense of the antithesis (right or wrong, true or false, either/or), and are placing their faith in the pagan synthesis of “both/and” monism. This is also true for Christian young people if Mark Ostreicher, head of the largest evangelical training resource (Youth Specialties), has anything to do with it. He proposes to his youthful wards “a path out of our bi-polar morass of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, mainline vs. evangelical…[away from] all the rhetoric, entrenchment and warfare-positioning of modern-day Christianity.” (26) The Church Militant becomes the Church Imitant, adopting “a new Christian worldview” that, devoid of theological biblical clarity, apes the pagan culture and concludes that “the body of Christ is queer, is man, is woman, is straight.” (27) The “new Christian” employs spiritual techniques borrowed from pagan mysticism and imitates the self-justifying moralism of liberal social action. (28) This emergent ship of faith is steered by the subjective notion of “love,” which claims to cover a multitude of sins, but in fact justifies a boatload of pagan heresies.
As our culture and large swathes of the church are rushing like lemmings toward the pagan synthesis, what will this mean for biblical orthodoxy?
We often use the term post-Christian to describe our present world, but perhaps fail to see its implications; namely, a serious repeat of the pre-Christian world that the early Christians faced-no general government support, but rather government intimidation, oppression and even persecution; no social encouragement, but rather deep suspicion and antagonism; no knowledge of the Bible and the Bible’s worldview, but rather a deep commitment and acceptance of the pagan worldview; no “Big Man on Campus” Christianity, but rather the intimidation and ostracizing of Christian students by Big Brother Administration. From this perspective, the future looks ominous.
From another perspective, the growing storm clouds have a silver lining. For centuries, we have been thinking and writing about the Christian faith in the relatively safe cocoon of Christendom, where theological method consisted largely of showing the Bible’s inner connectedness (proof-texts and biblical theology) and was built on the collective witness of the church and its great Christian theologians (confessions and systematic theology), especially focusing on soteriology. Little else was needed to guide the faithful and maintain the orthodoxy of a majoritarian church in a comfortable “Christian” West. To be sure, in the modern period, the waters were constantly muddied by “Christian” rationalistic liberalism, seeking to undermine the Bible’s supernaturalism.
Emergent thinkers, with their “missional” focus, are aware of the problem. Says Tony Jones, national director of Emergent Village: “We’re currently living in… liminal…boundary times” when people look most closely at the beliefs that underlie their practices. (29) Will the “Emergent” embracing of culture save us? Emergent postmodern Reformed theologian John Franke says we know our beliefs via “polyphonic revelation,” where we get to be the umpire between Scripture and tradition and culture. (30) He says with great optimism: “The conversation between gospel and culture should be one of mutual enrichment,” in which the gospel is “informed by” culture. (31) Does Franke not see how pagan our culture has become, and how much he risks elevating tradition and pagan culture over Scripture (as some of his Emergent cohorts have clearly done), thus undermining the authority and power of the divine Word? Certainly, the Bible gives culture a place, but it does so without naïveté since the message of fallen humanity will always be a suppression of the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Thus Scripture invites us explicitly, as I am suggesting here, to establish a clear antithetical confrontation or “boundary” between divine revelation and the “lie” of fallen pagan culture. I believe that failing to do this will spell disaster both for “missional” engagement and for the faith of many already within the church.
Only in our time can we perhaps get a truly unobstructed view of what the Scriptures mean by the two age-old, diametrically opposed religious systems of monism and theism. Just as a relief map reveals the contrast between the Rocky Mountains and the plains of Kansas, (32) so too the clear contrast between theism and monism reveals the antithesis between the truth and the lie. Thus, in the Age of Aquarius, Christians need to understand soteriology in the light of two opposing cosmologies or worldviews: that of Scripture, clarified by theology and confession; and that of the system of empire-building, religious paganism. In a sense, everything changes, even the way we do theology. We need to add to Geerhardus Vos’s brilliant observation that “eschatology precedes soteriology,” with a further precision: “cosmology precedes eschatology.” In his day, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Vos could assume a basic theistic “sacred canopy.” This is no longer the case. Thus, we may not simply repeat answers to questions that culture is no longer asking, or go on only answering our own questions. Nor must we be lulled into thinking that because the enemy of truth now takes a decidedly irrational aspect this new/old form of the lie is unworthy of serious theological response. On the contrary, only a deeply biblical and theological response will be effective against this formidable assault on divine revelation. The time is now for the Christian faith to speak with all seriousness to this rising tide of twenty-first-century imperialistic paganism-for the sake of our covenant children and for the sake of the cogency of our evangelistic message to a spiritually darkened world. To be sure, the gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation, but Christians must have a deep understanding of the culture if they are to communicate that gospel both faithfully and effectively.
The change I suggest is not novel. It actually takes us back to the Bible, a polemical book, which shows us how to use the “coherence” of the pagan worldview in order to establish solid, objective lines of demarcation between it and biblical orthodoxy. (33) As Paul said, and everyone understood him, “Do not walk like the pagans” (Eph. 4:17).
Our forefathers showed the way. Under the influence of Bishop Ryle, William Gladstone (1809-1898)-the Liverpuddlian and four times prime minister of Great Britain-warned that the rejection of Christianity would not produce a secular society but a pagan one.34 In 1898, Abraham Kuyper stated: “The fundamental contrast has always been, is still and will be until the end: Christianity and Paganism.” Similarly, in 1925 J. Gresham Machen observed: “Our enemy who prides itself in being very modern, is as old as the hills; and from the very beginning, the Christian Church has been menaced by…all-embracing paganism.”
With regards to the future, a courageous though tactful announcement of the gospel in the light of the biblical worldview of the antithesis will be both politically incorrect but spirituality explosive. Courageous and clear witness to the pagan world will involve suffering and persecution but, in the providence of God, may well lead, as at the beginning of the church’s history, to a glorious ingathering of God’s elect people, set free by the truth. Most of all, it will bring glory, in our paganized, polytheistic time, to the name of the only true God, transcendent Creator and gracious Redeemer.