The New Age Movement is a diverse and eclectic spiritual view. Comparative religion expert Ron Rhodes writes, “Sociologists at the University of California—Santa Barbara estimate that as many as 12 million Americans could be considered active participants in the movement, and another 30 million are avidly interested.” Let’s consider the teaching of this worldview.
What is “New Age” Spirituality?
New Agers often say that they are into “self-discovery,” “spiritual growth,” or “enlightenment.” Of course, these terms seem harmless enough, but what exactly do they mean when they say these things? Let’s consider several features of New Age spirituality:
First, New Age spirituality originates in eastern religion and astrology. According to astrology, humanity is supposedly moving into a new “Aquarian Age” from the current age of Pisces. Advocates of the New Age Movement are optimistic about this transition, believing that humanity will become enlightened in this “new age” of human experience. Sire writes, “According to the Mayan Calendar a Harmonic Convergence was scheduled to take place in August 1987.” After this prediction failed to come to fruition, New Agers pointed forward to 2012 as the new date for the end of the Age of Aquarius.
The basic beliefs of the New Age are drawn from Buddhism and Hinduism, which have been recycled and Westernized. New Agers will often speak of “All is one,” “Individuality is an illusion,” or “We are all reincarnated selves.” Of course, it is easy to see that these themes have been lifted from eastern religious traditions (i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism).
Second, we can classify New Age spirituality as a pantheistic view of God. New Agers use the words “Universe” and “God” interchangeably. Others speak about the “Cosmic Consciousness” or “Cosmic Mind.” By this, they are not referring to an infinite-personal God, as in biblical thought. Instead, they are referring to an “Energy” or “Force” within the universe that can bring blessing or enlightenment into our lives.
Third, New Age spirituality is eclectic and diverse. There is no such thing as a New Age doctrine or creed or statement of faith. Most New Agers would not even identify themselves as such, because this ideology is spread through books, seminars, teaching tapes, and DVDs. Sometimes, New Age gurus will speak together at conferences, but for the most part, New Age thought is highly diverse. New Age followers have broad interests from astrology and channeling to holistic healing and UFOs. All of these practices seek to connect the believer with their enlightened and higher self.
New Agers often revere many leaders of famous world religions (e.g. Buddha, Muhammad, Jesus, etc.). However, by affirming these leaders, they are not affirming their teachings or worldview. Instead, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, they pick and choose certain portions of their teachings to affirm or support their own New Age doctrine. For instance, New Agers often quote these biblical passages in support of their mystical views:
-Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). New Agers use this verse to show that Jesus understood that he was divine. Likewise, we should follow in his footsteps and realize that we are divine, too! Moreover, when Jesus taught that the “kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21 NIV), he was really saying that God is already within each one of us, waiting to be discovered!
-New Agers use Genesis 1:26 to argue that we are all made in the image of God. They claim that the Hebrew Scriptures teach that all humans are really divine, but we just fail to realize it.
-Jesus’ teaching on John the Baptist being Elijah is used to support the idea of reincarnation (Mt. 11:13-14). Of course, John 1:19-21 clearly states that John wasn’t actually a reincarnated Elijah. Instead, Jesus was pointing out similarities between John and Elijah.
-The Bible speaks about meditation on a number of instances (Ps. 1:2; 199:14-15). New Agers argue that meditation is even taught in the Bible. Therefore, they argue, Christians should try to engage in New Age meditation. However, in New Age meditation, the practitioner tries to empty his mind of absolutely everything. He literally focuses on nothing, or other times, he will focus on positive, wishful thinking. However, by contrast, biblical meditation focuses on the promises of God. By meditating, the Christian is focusing and dwelling on God’s character. For instance, the psalmist says that he meditates on “the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2) –not the sound of one hand clapping!
Fourth, according to New Age spirituality, our fundamental problem as humans is a lack of knowledge. Every worldview gives an explanation for the human condition. Christians claim that our problem is moral, but New Agers believe our problem is a lack of knowledge. Shirley MacLaine explains that New Age spirituality has revealed to her that she herself is divine:
I know that I exist, therefore, I AM. I know the god-source exists. Therefore, IT IS. Since I am part of that force, then I AM that I AM.
New Agers argue that humans all have cataracts on their mind’s eye. If we could only see that we were all one with the universe and one another, then this would fix our problem. Once they attain this knowledge about the universe, they can be spiritually (and sometimes even physically) healed.
Comparison of New Age Spirituality and Christianity
Impersonal, amoral, same with creation.
Personal, moral, distinct from creation.
Divine –but we are ignorant of our divine nature
Made in the image of God –but separate from him in morals (goodness) and in being (greatness).
Gaining a new perspective, seeing that we are actually divine and connected with God.
Being justified by faith through the death of Christ and the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Life after Death is…
Often reincarnation or some vague notion of enlightenment. Becoming conscious of the Universal Mind.
Spent with God or apart from God in a personal and conscious eternity.
Was Jesus a pantheistic mystic?
New Age author and speaker Deepak Chopra expresses it this way: “Once we see Jesus as a teacher of enlightenment, faith changes its focus. You don’t need to have faith in the Messiah or his mission. Instead, you have faith in the vision of higher consciousness.” However, contrary to Chopra’s claim, there is absolutely no evidence to interpret Jesus’ life or teaching through an eastern pantheistic worldview.
First, Jesus was an observant Jewish rabbi—not a pantheistic Eastern sage. Judaism was the framework around which we should interpret Jesus’ teaching. Jesus was a descendent of Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1). He claimed that “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22)—not any other culture. He even considered himself the “King of the Jews” (Mk. 15:2). People around Jesus called him “rabbi”—a Jewish title for teacher—not an eastern mystic (Jn. 3:2; 4:31; 6:25). He attended the Jewish synagogue (Lk. 4:16; 21:37), and even recited the Jewish Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Mk. 12:29-30; c.f. Deut. 6:4) All of this fits with a Jewish, monotheistic framework—not an eastern pantheistic one.
Second, Jesus didn’t interpret Scripture in a mystical way. While New Age teachers usually interpret the Bible mystically or obscurely, Jesus interpreted it grammatically and historically. In fact, he interpreted the OT with such grammatical scrutiny that he even took notice of the verb tense of the words in question (Mt. 22:31-32).
Third, Jesus taught with clarity. New Age teachers usually speak of secret knowledge (i.e. The Secret 2007). However, Jesus didn’t speak secretly; he spoke openly. He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt. 11:15). Toward the end of his life, he said, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said” (Jn. 18:20-21).
How did New Age spirituality become so popular in the West –if it is based in Eastern roots?
While it is difficult to give a concrete and concise answer, a number of speculations can be offered:
First, Westerners were searching for ultimate answers about life as they came out of modernism. Modernism left many people in the West disillusioned after two world wars, the atomic bomb, and the rapid changes of the 20th century (e.g. drug revolution, sexual revolution, technological revolution, etc.). Because naturalism is existentially unsettling, many people looked for answers in the spiritual realm.
Second, the Western church was rigid and retreated from culture during this time. Modern fundamentalism arose in the 20th century, which retreated both intellectually and culturally from society. While some people turned to Christ during this time, many turned to “new” forms of spirituality.
Third, New Age concepts came through movies, music, and books. Today, many people mindlessly adopt the presuppositions of postmodernism without really knowing why. They haven’t really thought critically about this worldview. Instead, they take it in through osmosis (e.g. television, music lyrics, movies, the Internet, etc.).
In the same way, New Age spirituality arose from movies like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), where the “Star Child” at the end becomes enlightened. Likewise, Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction book Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) told the story of Michael Valentine Smith, who reached enlightenment by being raised by Martians. Because of his enlightenment, he was able to move objects with his mind and create a new society. In music, The Beatles travelled to India to study transcendental meditation. When they returned, they incorporated many of these themes into their music. For instance, John Lennon’s song “I am the Walrus” (1967) stated: “I am he, you are he, we are he, and we are all together…” Because of a cultural influx of eastern thought, the Western world was ripe for New Age spirituality.
Case Study: “The Secret”
One of the most recent and popular works of the New Age is the book and film The Secret. By 2007, The Secret sold 19 million books and 2 million DVDs. Consider watching the film for yourself and answering these questions:
QUESTION #1: Is there any truth in what they are saying?
It is true that dwelling on good things can change your emotions, as the film argues 20 minutes in. When we give thanks, it can help us with our anxiety (Phil. 4:8). However, while this changes our emotions, it doesn’t change reality. In addition, it is also true that God will hold out on blessing us until we ask (Jas. 4:2), which is a central thesis of the film.
QUESTION #2: What rational problems do you have with the message of the film?
First, the film makes many pseudo-scientific claims. Is it scientifically proven that our thoughts affect reality? Says who? I would like to see some evidence for this! All of the pseudo-scientific claims in this movie have been debunked by skeptical groups such as The Skeptical Inquirer. For instance, consider these claims in the film:
“You can begin right now to feel healthy. You can begin to feel prosperous. You can begin to feel the love that’s surrounding you –even if it’s not there. And what will happen is, the universe will begin to correspond to the nature of your song. The universe will begin to correspond to the nature of that inner feeling. And manifest, because that’s the way you feel” (Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith D.D. “Visionary” 19 minutes).
“Your thoughts and your feelings create your life. It’ll always be that way. Guaranteed!” (Lisa Nichols “Author” 20 minutes).
Karla McLaren was a former leader in New Age spirituality for 32 years, and she authored four new age books, as well as several teaching lectures. But eventually she joined the skeptic community because she realized that the science behind her New Age “cures” was deeply flawed and without any credible scientific support. She writes, “After a time, though, I began to question the things I saw that didn’t fit-the anomalies, the cures that didn’t work, the ideas that fell apart when you really looked at them, and so forth.” Eventually, her doubts in New Age pseudo-science led her to abandon her career as an author and speaker.
Second, the film cannot decide whether God is personal or impersonal. It seems like they are trying to get the best of both worlds: a personal God who doesn’t judge and a non-personal Force that gives us what we want. In one case, this is even described as Aladdin with his magic genie (23 minutes). If blessing comes according to some metaphysical law, then why would there be a time delay? One of the spokespersons says, “Thank God there is a time delay… the time delay serves you. It allows you to reassess.” (14 minutes) But, why?
QUESTION #3: What moral problems do you have with this view?
First, this perspective blames the poor for their poverty. This view makes disadvantaged people feel responsible, because they just didn’t want to be cured enough from poverty, sickness, or abuse.
“Everything that surrounds you right now in your life –including the things you’re complaining about –you’ve attracted. Now, I know at first blush that’s going to be something that you hate to hear… [gives examples] And, I’m here to be a little bit in your face and to say, ‘Yes you did attract it.’ Now this is one of the hardest concepts to get. Once you’ve accepted it, it’s life-transforming” (Dr. Joe Vitale MSC.D. “Metaphysician” 15 minutes).
Second, morally, this perspective doesn’t pass any judgment on evil desires. What if my joy comes from abusing, raping, or killing other people? Is there any objective reason that this is wrong? Will the “Universe” or “Energy” or “God” help me to do this, if it brings me joy? Consider the claims of this spokesperson:
“There is no blackboard in the sky on which God has written your purpose or your mission in life… The blackboard doesn’t exist. So, your purpose is what you say it is. Your mission is the mission you give yourself. Your life will be what you create it as, and no one will stand in judgment of it. Now or ever” (Neale Donald Walsch “Author” 82-83 minutes).
If there is no purpose to life, then what should stop me from violently abusing or using others for my selfish purposes?
Third, this view preys on people who need real help, but this won’t bring them anything. For instance, it shows footage of poor people washing their clothes (35 minutes), and it tells the story of a South African boy dying of Hepatitis, longing for “gratitude rocks” (36 minutes). This solution would be like giving a thirsty person saltwater.
Fourth, this view leads to a very narcissistic attitude about life. One person in the film says:
“This is like having the universe as your catalogue. And you flip through it, and you go, ‘Well, I’d like to have this experience, and I’d like to have that product, and I’d like to have a person like that.’ It is you just placing your order with the universe. It’s really that easy” (Dr. Joe Vitale MSC.D. “Metaphysician” 24 minutes).
Fifth, this perspective places a low perspective on modern medicine. While the film claims that modern medicine should not be rejected, it makes remarkable claims about physical healing. For instance, Cathy Goodman had breast cancer, and she healed herself through “right thinking” (63 minutes). She was healed in three months without chemotherapy:
“The question that is frequently asked, ‘When a person manifests a disease in the body-temple –or some kind of discomfort in their life –through the power of right-thinking. Can it be turned around? And, the answer is absolutely YES!” (Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith D.D. “Visionary” 62 minutes)
This is a cruel claim, because it would lead to punishing the victim. If someone doesn’t get healed from positive-thinking, whose fault would it be?
QUESTION #4: What biblical problems do you have with this view?
Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with deepest grief (Is. 53:3). He wasn’t perpetually happy as the film claims we should be. It also espouses the perspective that we should be putting our self-interest first, but the Bible claims that this is not the key to happiness and fulfillment (Phil. 2:4; Jn. 13:17; Acts 20:35). Moreover, there is absolutely no evidence that this New Age perspective is true, while there is abundant evidence for the claims of Scripture.
QUESTION #5: Why do you think this would be believable to so many people?
First, the people in the film are believable and intelligent, so it makes their claims believable. When we listen to these well-spoken and intelligent people, it is difficult to believe that so many people could be wrong (or lying).
Second, the film offers a message that we would hope is true. Wouldn’t it be incredible if the universe really did cater to your every selfish need? Many people are probably skeptical, but then they think, “What if this was true and I’m missing out?”
Third, this perspective caters to the “self made man” thesis that we can create our own destiny. This would appeal to most people today who want to feel like they are in control of their future.
Fourth, this perspective also states that many people throughout history understood this. Of course, these quotations are not cited, and they are taken out of context.
Fifth, it’s a popular film with millions sold. Of course, just because something is popular, this doesn’t make it true, but it makes us wonder if other people have learned something that we don’t know.
Sixth, the film uses Christian language (e.g. bless, praise, believe, trust, etc.). This might get some people to feel comfortable with the message of the movie, because it could hearken back to previously held Christian beliefs.
How can we effectively communicate with people bound up in New Age spirituality? Here are a number of suggestions:
1. Affirm and encourage the fact that they are spiritually minded
We can form common ground with New Agers, regarding spirituality. They sense that a naturalistic worldview is empty and purposeless, longing for a spiritual reality beyond our world. Of course, we can agree with them on this (Acts 17).
2. Ask questions
Here are a number of questions that have proven valuable in regard to New Age evangelism:
First, are people free to create their own reality, or do we need to conform to reality? Can the child molester “will” the Universe to give him more kids to molest, or does the Universe (or God) stop this from happening? If I “will” to have sex with the next door neighbor, and she “wills” against this, whose “will” wins out?
Second, do you think there is a distinction between reality and belief? Put another way, do you think it’s possible to believe in something that is false? For instance, consider two people going out on the ice. One person has strong faith that an inch of ice can support his weight, but another person has weak faith that a foot of ice can support him. Which one will fall through the ice and freeze to death? Our faith (belief) isn’t as important as the object (reality) of our faith (Mt. 17:20).
Third, who do you think is responsible for evil and suffering in the world? There are three possible answers to this question:
1. Humans are responsible. This is the biblical view of evil and suffering. Humans freely cause evil, because they are sinful by nature (Eph. 2:3).
2. God is responsible. If humans aren’t responsible for evil, then God is. But, if God is responsible for evil, then how could we ever worship or believe in a God like this?
3. No one is responsible, because evil is an illusion. This third option is taken up by many New Agers. Like Hindus, they claim that evil and suffering are really just maya or illusory. This is one way to handle the problem of Evil… just deny that there is even a problem!
The goal of this question is to get them to consider the plight or inconsistency of their worldview.
Fourth, if we are all truly God, then how can we be ignorant? If we’re God, then we’d be all-knowing. But, we’re not all-knowing apparently.
Fifth, if God cannot be described (i.e. ineffable), then why are we talking about this? If God is truly unknowable, then you need to stop talking about it.
3. Try to ignore the non-essentials
New Agers often believe a number of things that aren’t true. For instance, many deny the importance of modern medicine; others frequent psychics for tarot card readings, horoscopes, or even channeling. While occult activity is non-biblical and false (Deut. 18:9-12), we shouldn’t focus our discussion on these things. Occult worshippers only reject these things after they have come to faith in the true God (1 Thess. 1:9; Acts 19:18-20). Instead of focusing on these non-essentials, focus on the person of Christ and their overall worldview. These things won’t seem wrong to them until they adopt the Christian worldview.
4. Define your terms
Because New Age spirituality is so diverse and eclectic, it adopts Christian words –even though it doesn’t adopt their meaning. For instance, when the New Ager uses the word “God,” we need to ask many questions to understand what they mean by this. When they talk about “spiritual growth,” they mean something completely different as well.
Clark, David K., and Norman L. Geisler. Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2004.
Halverson, Dean C. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996. 160-181.
Ridenour, Fritz. So What’s the Difference? Ventura, CA: Regal, 2001. Chapter 11 “New Age.”
Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Chapter 8 “A Separate Universe.”
 Rhodes, Ron. The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions: The Essential Guide to Their History, Their Doctrine, and Our Response. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001. 129.
 In astrology, every 2,000 years is a new age. Halverson, Dean C. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996. 160.
 Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. 138.
 “God” –under this view –is also called “psychic energy, consciousness, color, mind, light, vibration, vital energy, life force, ch’i, prana, or an aura.” Halverson, Dean C. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996. 164.
 According to a recent poll, roughly 24% of Americans believe in reincarnation. “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths: Eastern, New Age Beliefs Widespread.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. December 9, 2009.
 Shirley MacLaine, Dancing in the Light (New York: Bantam Books, 1985), p.420. Cited in Ridenour, Fritz. So What’s the Difference? Ventura, CA: Regal, 2001. 147.
 Adapted from Halverson, Dean C. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996. 167.
 Chopra, Deepak. The Third Jesus. Random House. New York. 2008. 62.
 For a full sociological explanation (from a Christian perspective), see Guinness, Os. The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994.
 Jack Canfield “Rhonda Byrne” Time Magazine Thursday, May 3, 2007.
 Karla McLaren The Skeptical Inquirer. Volume 28.3. May/June 2004.