(The following was shared in part on April 27, 2008 by Brad Bailey as part of the series entitled: Holy Conversation. The extent of material could not be shared in full so one will find more here than was communicated in that message. A more developed presentation to serve those exploring today’s ‘new spirituality’ is hoping to be developed soon.)
Several years ago… the idea of "new spirituality" may have been referred to as related to the New Age movement. But what might initially have appeared as simply a new trend has become amore dominant cultural shift that I would refer to as simply the ‘new spirituality.’ Some are calling it ‘postmodern spirituality.’
The new spirituality I’m referring to is reflected in countless popular books and teachers that have arisen over the recent 25 to 30 years … sharing perspectives on spiritual reality that tend to draw upon a more eastern worldview and esoteric mysticism that only feels new to westerners.
Part of what may draw western lives… is the idea that it is a more progressive spirituality. To westerners this may appear true… but it isn’t ‘new.’ (I use the word ‘new’ in quotes because most of the ideas are reflections of an ancient eastern worldview being re-presented to the modern westerners. The concepts are most associated with Buddhism… which is a more philosophical offspring of Hinduism.) Nobody in India or Thailand is opening these books and being presented a new worldview. It is the west being presented with ancient worldviews shaped by fresh perspective and western desires. The key has been to see that all spiritual sources as saying essentially the same thing.
Popularized through Popular Figures: From the Beatles to Oprah Winfrey
Naturally western got sparked in the late 1960’s during the counter-cultural era.. and pop culture became interested when the Beatles took an interest in the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded “Transcendental Meditation.” Many different authors and teachers have followed that shared particular ideas or practices that shared the same eastern concepts of reality…some reaching more notoriety than others and particularly if there is a celebrity who is exploring and promoting it.
Many today are recognizing a whole new level of popularization through the influence of Oprah Winfrey. (Below from USA Today –5/11/2006 and article by John Jalsevac March 7, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com))
- She has about 50 million viewers each week in the USA and more in the 122 other countries to which the show is distributed. Considered by many to the world's most influential woman.
“Oprah Winfrey has risen to a new level of guru. She's no longer just a successful talk-show host worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes' most recent estimate. Over the past year Winfrey has emerged as a spiritual leader for the new millennium.” -
"She's a really hip and materialistic Mother Teresa," says Kathryn Lofton, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who has written two papers analyzing the religious aspects of Winfrey. "Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality."
She has become increasing committed to offer the world a more unifying spirituality. As she has recently stated..."
- “The new spirituality is that you are your own best authority as you work to know and love yourself, you discover how to live a more spiritual life."
- "While Christianity is a valid way to achieve high states of spirituality, it must not be considered a unique way, or a "correct way".
- “The new spirituality is that you are your own best authority as you work to know and love yourself, you discover how to live a more spiritual life."
To share more of what is espoused would be to get ahead of ourselves. What becomes clear is that Christ gets recast and what lies central to those who have come to know the Christ revealed in the Scriptures… the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… is that most of what is central is set aside. There are many ways we might respond. Some simply decry it or demonize it… some may be drawn and developed by it. Our purpose in this series is to consider how we can engage in conversation… to actually dialogue… to talk about God and spiritual truth.
I want to qualify my limitations in representing the breadth and depth of so much teaching.
I will not be able to give the thought that so many teachers and teachings deserve. I certainly believe it is fairest to have read ideas in full… and to present ideas in full. (Note: I know what it is like to have someone assess Christianity and decry many things that I do not actually believe or adhere to. All the more reason for dialogue.) A recent visit to Barnes and Noble… found the section entitled New Age with hundreds of books pouring out just in this year alone. So I ask in advance to accept that I am not an expert in discerning all that is presented… and would suggest that even many Christian authors who are quick to write books about such spiritual teaching… are not experts.
I have sought to be thoughtful about these issues. I will make generalizations… which by nature are never complete or perfect representations of all that any one teacher has taught. Nevertheless I trust that to the degree these common elements are true, they will be helpful.
Let me begin by offering a very brief bit of BACKGROUND that can help in understanding what is beneath some of the draw to such spirituality.
There may be many reasons for the current cultural interest in eastern based mystical spirituality… but let mention three cultural factors.
The first is a lack of what the modern age of materialism has fulfilled.
The original age of enlightenment promised that through science and a more materialistic worldview, we could solve all the real issues of life. It just hasn’t happened. All our great thinking and technology hasn’t solved the deeper challenges of life. The result is a great spiritual void.
Certainly many have returned to the traditions associated with Christ… but for many that hasn’t been as initially compelling.
I believe this points to a second factor - the fact that the Christianity of the west has tended to become more modern and materialistic itself.
The message itself has been reduced to slogans and sinners prayers… and lost the transforming process that Jesus has imparted. Much of the western church grew strong in many of the modern respects… in knowledge and service and care… but often becoming as worn and weary on the inside… and missing the depth of spiritual formation which Christ was calling forth.
There is a spiritual nature within all. So many are naturally drawn to new ways of finding a spiritual life. And if we are honest, there may be many who are more spiritually minded than many of us… meaning they are more serious about the spiritual realm… the supernatural.
And finally, thirdly, I can’t help but remind us of our great American value for individualism and deepening aversion to anything that appears old and organized.
Westerners may have a longing to belong… but we don’t want to join anything. We want transcendence on our terms. If we don’t have to submit to anything or anyone in particular… it may sound a lot safer.
We need to understand that in engaging today’s ‘new spirituality’ we are engaging these underlying issues and values. (Each of them is worth greater reflection in themselves.) But for the sake of staying focused on that which is specific to the ‘new spirituality’… the point is that we can engage the ‘new spirituality’ with both a similar rejection of the secular, materialistic, rationalistic, and institutionalized age… as well as the uniqueness of Christ.
The Example of Paul in Athens (Acts 17)
I want to suggest that we need to move beyond simply decrying these or any other beliefs… and learn to dialogue. That may sound like I take a light view towards truth… but nothing could be farther from the truth. Engaging and agreeing are entirely two different matters.
A model of this is found when the apostle Paul enters the realm of another worldview in Athens…
Acts 17:21-31 (‘God’s Word’ translation)
21 Everyone who lived in Athens looked for opportunities to tell or hear something new and unusual.
(INTERJECTED THOUGHT: “Think ‘early Oprah Winfrey’…they couldn’t simply sit back in the comfort of their living room and engage all the latest ideas… they went to the public places.”)
22 Paul stood in the middle of the court and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious. 23 As I was going through your city and looking closely at the objects you worship, I noticed an altar with this written on it: ‘To an unknown god.' I'm telling you about the unknown god you worship. 24 The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn't live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn't served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have. 26 From one man he has made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth. He has given them the seasons of the year and the boundaries within which to live. 27 He has done this so that they would look for God, somehow reach for him, and find him. In fact, he is never far from any one of us. 28 Certainly, we live, move, and exist because of him. As some of your poets have said, ‘We are God's children.' 29 So if we are God's children, we shouldn't think that the divine being is like an image made from gold, silver, or stone, an image that is the product of human imagination and skill. 30 “God overlooked the times when people didn't know any better. But now he commands everyone everywhere to turn to him and change the way they think and act. 31 He has set a day when he is going to judge the world with justice, and he will use a man he has appointed to do this. God has given proof to everyone that he will do this by bringing that man back to life.”
While there is much that could be considered in this encounter… it’s the basic way in which Paul engages those with their traditional religious ideas that I want us to grasp. Notice these three basic dynamics…
- Enters the context of dialogue
- Affirms broader spiritual pursuits
- Presents the uniqueness of Christ
It’s a model of some ‘holy conversation’… of speaking with others with respect fitting of those who are equally spiritual in nature… of finding common ground from which to talk about Jesus.
To interact like Paul did on this occasion we have to have some grasp of what we believe and how it compares to what others believe. It was said that Paul was speaking of the “good news about Jesus and the resurrection” that was the core of his message – and it was new to them. But Paul had also taken time to look around their city and make some connections with what they were on about. He approached the Gentiles in the marketplace very differently to how he would have the Jews in the synagogue. It’s an example to us of appropriately relating outside Christian culture.
He understood the presuppositions they were operating from. He knew possible ways he might offend and possible ways he might connect. He saw in the object of worship ‘to an unknown god’… a symbol of recognizing that something was unknown… something was missing. He began by affirming their genuine spirituality and went on from there.
Points of Shared Values for Connection
There are many spiritual ideas and practices that have a correlation with what Christ taught. Even if divergent in some manner… they are also related.
This is where our own personal assessment as well as dialogue must go a little deeper. We must get past both the simplistic appeal or the simplistic denouncing to really bring clarity to the alternatives. Some aspects of the eastern spirituality and postmodern values offer a return to some of the practices and values that are already a part of Christ-centered spirituality… but have been neglected or negated… limited or lost in our western traditions of the Church. One is wise to recognize that SOME of what is valued in these traditions is not unique to them.
In such cases it may enlighten what lies in Christ and what he has taught… even challenge us to take it more seriously. If one is able to reflect a little more deeply I believe they will discover that while some of the ideas articulated by those presenting what is deemed as ‘new spirituality’ are truly insightful and helpful… they will be those that are those most consistent with the actual teachings of Christ. And at the very points of divergence… the uniqueness of Christ will stand out in a positive light.
So let’s consider some of the shared values that are a part of the popular spirituality of today….
1. Recognition of a transcendent spiritual dimension
The new spirituality emphasizes a higher realm or dimension that we are to discover.
Obviously in the broadest sense… this is precisely what Jesus announced and revealed and clarified.
Jesus said a new realm… always sovereign… was breaking into the natural physical realm. He was pulling back the veil. He was saying what many are saying today…“This is not all there is.”
What Jesus has announced is that the kingdom of God is at hand… the restoring reign and rule of God… and that we can liberated by entering that reign and live in relationship to that King and Kingdom. In this restoring reign lie new resources of spiritual satisfaction and power.
The distinction lies in the nature of the intersecting of these two realms. The new spirituality generally assumes a more pantheistic or panentheistic intersection by which the two realms are completely interwoven so that the divine is in all and all is in the divine. Jesus presents that the two realms are distinct but intersect and interlock in many ways. Heaven is the eternal place of God and relates but transcends the created realm.
As Paul announced in Athens long ago… God is different from us.
“The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn't live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn't served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have… 27 He has done this so that they would look for God, somehow reach for him, and find him. In fact, he is never far from any one of us.” – Acts 17:24-27
2. A sacred quality to life
The new spirituality has offered a dignity to human life… by emphasizing a sacred quality. We are actually gods or god–like or at least share a divine consciousness. Our true identity is divine in some way.
Obviously this presents something that has a vital correlation and distinction from Christ. Jesus confirms the Biblical revelation that we are created in the image of God. We are not gods but like God in some ways.
The new spirituality says there is nothing better than what you really are and can now discover. The enlightened you is the all good and all powerful.
Jesus says that what you can discover is that there is One greater in nature than you… whose image you bear.
3. Spiritual freedom or enlightenment that involves detachment to one’s ‘self’ or ‘ego’
We have become attached to this temporal world and some would refer to those attachments as the ‘ego.’
This should at least sound familiar to anyone who considers themselves to be following Christ into real life. It runs through so much of how he lived and what he taught.
Jesus embodied and taught not to make the things of this world one’s primary attachment… not to store up treasures here… not to worry so much about what people here think… and such. (cf. 1 John 2:15 )
Jesus said that to follow him we MUST deny ourselves.
The spirituality of Christ followers is that of thinking of others more highly than oneself.
The apostle Paul said, “It is no longer I who lives… but Christ who lives in me” and he speaks of throwing his past religious identity and accomplishments away for the greater life of knowing Christ.
Christ leads us in transcending self-centeredness and superiority… not the actual existence of a unique self.
4. Spirituality that is holistic and permeating all of life
People naturally desire that which can help better their everyday experience… their work, play, home life. Few would not see that as an essential part of the Judeo-Christian worldview… but it became lost to the dualism of the Greek worldview. One of the dangerous patterns we drift into is that of segregating the so called secular and sacred. Calling one part of our life spiritual and another work and another play.
If we read Paul’s writings we see that he was keen to see our spirituality transform life all of life. He spoke of Christ revealing that which brings a liberating perspective to work, wealth, food, pleasure, money and more. Paul said… “do everything as unto the Lord.”
The spiritual longings of today are calling for this reality to be rediscovered and developed.
5. A responsible relationship with our environment (Creation)
While the issue of environmentalism has become politicized… and therefore polarized… fundamentally it is a reflection of worldviews. If we believe that God created the world and called it good… and said… take care of it… we should be the voices of reasonable care. As those who live after the advent of the industrial age…. a new era of how human life and lifestyle relates to natural resources… we who live out of God’s story should be the first to talk of caring for it.
Now there are many ways that eastern worldviews have sought to view creation. Generally there is the emphasis on a spiritual unity…connection… but this leads to some difficulty in understanding just how connected and equal we are.
If all life is reduced to a single life force… and all is united in that force… then distinctions become difficult to make… and if not made (meaning all is equal) … we are faced with a confusing reality to live out in a consistent manner.. (Try living as if every living thing is equal in value… every blade of grass and every insect is equally valuable as the human lives you relate to.)
Christ affirms the Biblical revelation that God has created our existence with order… and that order endows human life with the unique responsibility to care for creation… reflecting our bearing of God’s own image and care.
So with the advent of a deep concern and consciousness for the natural environment … this is our time to affirm the basic principle of caring for creation. We can certainly debate particular policies but only from the position of embracing a sacred responsibility. Many may scoff that the more extreme environmentalists seem to worship the earth. This should only remind us of our sacred responsibility to rise up and worship God by caring for the earth.
6. Acceptance and Tolerance
Peace among people has continued to elude us. The daily news captures a world pervaded by bitterness and debate and division. We have a natural resentment and aversion towards how religion excludes and divides people. We naturally long for that which will allow for basic acceptance and tolerance.
We should understand the initial appeal of the new spirituality which proposes that there are many paths to god. It appears to offer what can unite us all.
The problem with claiming that all truth is relative is the self contradiction… it’s claiming this as an absolute truth in itself.
Here is what we must understand and come to terms with - Actually anything people believe in can divide them at some level. This simply can’t be escaped… nor should it. The issue that really seems to effect us is how we relate in our differences. Tolerance is not about reducing all points of view to one… which happens to be one’s own. That is not tolerance. The true meaning of tolerance refers to how we relate to those that we DON’T agree with.
This is what Jesus so imparted like no other. Although there have been horrific times when those who have claimed the name or even cause of Christ have tragically used false pretense and power to kill or control others… such as the Spanish Inquisition or the witch trials…one can only be struck by how opposite such actions are from the way of Christ.
Christ took the common premise that it was righteous enough to love one’s neighbor… and called out a level of righteousness that involves loving our enemies.
He took those preparing to kill… and taught them to die.
This is tolerance. It is about acceptance not agreement. It is about how we relate to those we don’t agree with.
But Christ is also clear that truth is not centered in us… but rather that which we must seek and embrace.
Certainly there are other shared values that offer a point of connection… but let’s consider…
Points of Distinction to Explore
There are many differences between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings found in the new spirituality. I want to propose a few points in the form of questions… followed by some ways to think about the differences they raise.
1. Why both highlight and then deny the majority of Christ’s life and teaching?
The most dominant element of new spiritualities lies in how they propose to be consistent with all religions… not the orthodox beliefs … but what is proposed as the real meaning of the great spiritual teachers… if they were understood properly.
In this desire to draw all great spiritual teachers together, one stands above all others. .. and that is Jesus. Jesus will always be drawn upon... as he stands over and above all other figures in influence. So he must be quoted and recast as having really been enlightened in the same way the teacher or author espouses.
Jesus is drawn into agreement with nearly every idea and author of new spirituality. It often involves forcing his words to support an idea that they really couldn’t mean within the culture and context tin which they were spoken.
In A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle… 22 of 32 of the references footnoted are verses from the Bible… yet he proposes that the Christ testified to in the Scriptures is bound up in religious dogma that bears no true value or meaning. While using Christ as his main source and example of an enlightened teacher… he reduces Christ to simply an image of all of us.
"The man on the cross is an archetypal image. He is every man and every woman." – Eckhart Tolle
Deepak Chopra joined this appeal and wrote a book entitled ‘The Third Jesus’ which is based on the central proposition which he describes this way… “The first Jesus was historical, a rabbi living in first-century Palestine … The second Jesus is the core of a religion, which has its particular dogmas… and scriptures. The third Jesus is not rigidly sectarian. He falls into the world tradition of spirituality. This Jesus speaks for peace and love; his morality includes all peoples; his Father is a universal deity.”
I find this rather fascinating.
- Can you find another figure who two thousand years later people claim they can tell you what they really taught better than those who wrote from first hand or first century testimony?
- Can you find a period in time when people would so quickly accept that kind of presumption?
No one who actually and objectively studies who Jesus was and what he taught would ever accept such a misrepresentation. One can claim he was enlightened in the east (but that is nonsense) and that he had eastern concepts when he spoke of being ‘the light to the world’ and we ‘becoming children of God’… and such… but again… it’s simply using him out of context. He was thoroughly Jewish, proclaimed to be fulfilling what the God who had revealed himself through the Jewish people had begun, and every statement had very clear meaning in its Jewish context. He transcended the understanding of the religious leaders but thoroughly affirmed the one true God who existed independent of human life.
Even a follower of Deepak Chopra who says he has read all but one of his fifty books wrote the following review:
“I think there are a number of problems with the premise and execution of the book. First, …about the historical Jesus…. we can project onto him whatever we choose. Jesus … is not a blank slate that we can create a new spirituality out of whole cloth or as some strange amalgamation of spirituality between east and west. We are forced largely to accept or reject him based on the authority of the scriptures that were written about him. And, as to the scriptures we know a great deal.
Jesus … was a Jewish Rabbi of that we can be certain. If he was a Jewish Rabbi we know he believed in certain things. Almost every word that was believed to be recorded of him was in fact written as an explanation of the Old Testament scriptures. Deepak must necessarily discount the Old Testament if he is to have any shot at all of conforming this third Jesus to the mystical interpretations Chopra would like to ascribe to him.” (JBS – Amazon review)
This is only scratching the surface for the problems with revising such a figure.
We can hear the spirit of Paul’s warning to young Timothy…
“A time will come when people will not listen to accurate teachings. Instead, they will follow their own desires and surround themselves with teachers who tell them what they want to hear.” - 2 Timothy 4:3 (GW)
My proposition is this…
The knowledge of Christ testified to in the Gospels bears historical reliability and cannot simply be dismissed and redefined. One should question the presumed freedom of modern authors to reduce and redefine who Christ was, the reality he presents, and his defining death and resurrection.
I realize this is a larger subject than can fully be addressed here, so I would encourage some further sources of reading:
Note: Some Recommended Reading:
- The Case For the Real Christ by Lee Strobel (relatively easy reading)
- Who Was Jesus? by N.T. Wright (a more scholarly oriented but still readable work)
2. Is the moral relativism (which is inherent to reducing truth to the subjective enlightening of personal consciousness) consistent with our deepest sense of injustice or evil?
If we accept that we are the ultimate source of truth and what is right or wrong…at least in our personal and subjective enlightened state… then there is no reference point outside ourselves.. that is … no objective basis on which to consider anything as either right or wrong. While that may have it’s appeal… it obviously brings its problems.
Eastern oriented enlightenment presumes that our only problem is ignorance of our spiritual nature to which we need to be enlightened. Consider the following…
“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” - Buddha
“Suffering is caused by identification with form.” – Eckhart Tolle
This naturally leads to some questions of whether such an understanding satisfies our sense about suffering and evil.
- Is one prepared to call flying planes into buildings full of fathers and mothers and children simply unenlightened… rather than evil?
- Are those dying today of mass starvation merely in need of enlightenment or justice?
- Why are those dying of starvation across many parts of Africa and other parts of the world… not being drawn to these ideas of being liberated from the illusion of the attachments to the physical world?
- Is there a reason why the vast majority of the western lives who seem to prefer this spirituality… … including celebrities and the predominantly wealthy … don’t actually move to the countries whose cultures have been shaped by them? Why do the vast majority of authors and celebrity proponents not actually move to Tibet or Thailand… where the worldview they claim to prefer has had centuries of influence in shaping the human experience? Why do so many choose to live in the western countries shaped in the Judeo-Christian worldview?
While Christ revealed the deceptive nature of material attachment, he also revealed the moral responsibility of stewardship and relationships. The nature of materialism is not simply one ofdiscovering a truer sense of self in relationship to the material world (inner detachment)… but of moral responsibility in relationship to others.
While eastern concepts of spirituality speak of the need for inner detachment from materialism, such inner detachment itself does not necessarily reflect justice. When our relationship to the material world is reduced to an issue of enlightened inner detachment, it can naturally be disassociated with the issues of materialism and justice.) approached as one of detachmentpoint is simply that the issue of justice. One may presume that as long as they don’t identify their truest self to the material goods or pleasure… it bears no meaning how much we seek of it.
- This is why certain spiritual leaders could have had a fleet of Rolls Royces while their devotees had to turn over all their goods. “Inner detachment” to the material body has led to actively engaging in sexual pleasure with many apart from relationship.
- This is why celebrities in the west can claim to be awaked to materialism while maintaining their same luxurious lifestyle.
- Compare this with Jesus who certainly challenged attachment. He told the ‘rich young ruler to go sell all he had… and became sad when he saw he couldn’t. However, Jesus also challenged the moral justice being violated.
- If our problem is merely one of consciousness… then we cannot consider anything as wrong or evil … but merely ignorant. This would be a difficult reality to accept in the courtrooms as well as our own response to moral responsibility.
My proposition is this…
The intersection of the physical and spiritual realms involves not just discovering reality… but rightness. The enlightened life involves not only a new consciousness to a higher reality but a moral awakening to a new rightness.
3. Is the optimism for the power of ‘positive thinking’ or ‘enlightened consciousness’ to actually create ultimate social and cosmic transformation a wise and well grounded expectation?
The Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi devoted his life to changing the world through “Transcendental Meditation.” He claimed…
“If TM were performed by just 1 per cent of the population, the Maharishi insisted, the flow of “good vibrations” would flood over the nations of the world and bring about a universal state of “bliss consciousness”.”
Eckhart Tolle says that about 10% of humanity are becoming enlightened and it may be enough to finally usher in cosmic change.
My proposition is this –
While learning a more positive way of directing our thoughts can direct us towards more positive outcomes, and the centering of our consciousness can bring a level of peacefulness, the ancient principles and practices that have been pursued for thousands of years really haven’t proven to hold the hope of fulfilling their personal and cosmic claims.
Having had the opportunity to spend some time living in India back in the 1980s helped me reflect on the process many pursue in seeking hope in these ideas.
It was an era when scores of Europeans would head to India seeking to find spiritual meaning that was lost in Europe. I had the opportunity to spend time visiting the ashrams and spiritual centers… meeting many of these Europeans… even helping starting a house to serve those who found themselves down and out in the process.
I can’t say that many didn’t find something… I can only say that I didn’t see many who found what they were looking for.
So while respecting the sincerity and insights of many of the spiritual teachers… I naturally have been left asking:
- Why do so many who seem to initially hold so much hope in the enlightenment they seek… become disillusioned… sometimes deeply disillusioned?
- If the particular ideas presented in each new popular teaching unlock the keys to spiritual enlightenment… why do they generally decline in popularity over time?
- Why do those nations rooted in these traditions suffer so much social corruption and injustice?
- Why is it that so many of the schools, hospitals, and relief work in these countries are provided through Christian organizations operating out of the power of a Biblical worldview and calling?
Now I know that similar questions can be asked of many who claim to know Christ… and that could certainly lead to a good discussion. But the point here is that the claims towards a certain ultimate personal, social, and cosmic transformation are not new… they have been promised for a long time… and one is wise to consider what they have shown in fulfilling their claims and expectations.
Jesus was clear that the intersecting of heaven and earth will only be realized in part until God’s appointed time. The complete intersecting is not dependent merely on our enlightenment… but is destined by God’s own plan and power. God will show signs of what is to come…. A day in which there will be no more sorrow or death.
4. Why is it presumed that the ‘empty’ or ‘detached’ state of consciousness is all that we can discover of our spiritual identity?
The new spirituality may use terms for the spiritual realm that sound personal in nature. However, in general, the new spirituality, based in the old eastern worldview, proposes that the reality to be discovered is more a shared impersonal energy or consciousness. Despite the terms used, what is to be discovered is not a personal being that reflects and relates to us as personal beings.
In contrast, Christ affirmed the Biblical revelation that behind all that exists is a personal Creator. The eternal spiritual ‘heavenly’ realm is the dwelling of One who is personal, pre-existent, and perfect. Such an understanding speaks to our own nature and condition. We are by nature personal beings…with longings for relationship beyond mere survival… because we came from Personhood. It reflects the basic truth that the design always reflects the designer. We are not pre-existent… not the beginning of all… and as such we sense we begin in finiteness… yet we also long for eternity. We bear this nature because we were created to live with God forever… yet chose an autonomy that bears separation… all while having ‘eternity in our hearts’ so that we might long our home with God. We are imperfect… longing for a life beyond the suffering of injustice, separation, and death… yet unable to escape our own autonomously imperfect condition. We are the imperfect longing for the perfect. It is our nature to sense a deep cry for justice… for evil to be judged and destroyed. But if we reflect with an even deeper honesty… we will realize that removing all that is evil or imperfect may run closer to home than is safe for our own existence. We long for justice… but we need mercy. If we reflect upon our nature… that which longs for transcendence, loving relationship and justice… we can begin to hear the echo of a Voice that calls us.
My proposition is that…
The intersection of realms is not merely unto a state of consciousness but unto a truer personal Source of being… that transcends us and unites us.
Based on the unique revelation of Christ… not simply a blending of his words with eastern concepts… beneath everything lies the discovery that our individual existence is real… not in relationship to a mere divine consciousness… but in relationship to the divine creativepersonal being whose image we bear.
It could be said that eastern worldview is drawn from the idea that the divine has forgotten it’s infiniteness… and is suffering in the illusion of finiteness… and cannot escape the suffering until it reclaims it’s divine infiniteness. The Biblical revelation on the other hand, says that it is the finite creature who first chose to ignore their finiteness (as depicted in the Garden story), In trying to become independent and master of all (infinite), humanity created a condition of subjection to what is not divine… and thus suffering. It is the divine (God) who came to bear that suffering in order to set in motion a reclaiming of sovereignty and ultimate restoration. The divine bearing nature of the finite humanity is not redeemed by escaping finiteness. Humanity is redeemed by an intersecting of the infinite and finite rather than an escape or destruction of the distinction.
The ancient eastern concept places it’s hope solely on the power of the mind. It naturally relies in the power of positive thinking or consciousness (as a pre-thinking state)… not just as a power to help adjust perception… but to fully create reality… or discover the positive reality that is always real. The power of the mind or reoriented consciousness is the central and sovereign source of overcoming suffering. The Biblical revelation calls forth a similar power of re-oriented consciousness but only as that which engages the Divine in relationship and operates in relationship to that Divine guidance. There we can find the love, justice, and mercy out of which we can live.
The general tendency of eastern based mysticism, and subsequently ‘new spirituality,’ is that any concept of a personal Creator or Divine existence is immature. One must accept that there is no personal god. Such a perspective denies that there is a personal spiritual dimension to communicate with other than ourselves. As such, while meditation is recognized as helpful to the inward journey, there is no value in rational communication such as prayer.
In contrast to this, Christ affirms the nature of prayer which assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit can sometimes involve " groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7). The spirituality of Christ which pervades the entire records of his life reveals such prayer to reflect part of the intersecting between the human spirit and the Eternal Creator Spirit… and is overtly personal.
The essential reality is that we are loved. The way of Christ affirms a sacred quality that transcends merely becoming enlightened but involves being loved.
The inward practices of quieting our anxieties and centering our thoughts may bring a more peaceful state. A more positive sense of perspective or potential may lead to greater achievements. Becoming conscious of that which transcends our merely temporal attachments may free us from the false demands of the self-centered ‘ego.’ Yet none of these can substitute for the power of love… personal relational love. Love that is the essential transforming power of our human souls.
The new spirituality is suggesting the old idea that enlightenment is a matter of discovering your own inner consciousness, then referring to it as ‘eternal’ and ‘divine’ (a rather ideal assumption.) In contrast, Christ says he is leading us into discovering our true identity by the love and power of the Source itself.
As Jesus explained…"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16
This is the central work of Christ which is testified to by those who experienced and testified to it.
“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” Romans 4:25 (NLT)
Colossians 1:19-22 (NIV)
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
As C.S. Lewis explains, “Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator - to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy. Lest we should think this a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son. This is the pattern which man was made to imitate… In the world as we now know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. (The Problem of Pain, Ch 6, pp. 90-91)
Unfortunately we now need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all - to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God's leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
But supposing God became a man - suppose our human nature which can suffer and dies was amalgamated with God's nature in one person - then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God . . . But we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.” (Mere Christianity, Bk 2, Ch 4, p. 60)
This leads to one final point of consideration…
5. Does the sacrificial death of Christ, offered as a means of divine forgiveness, have any bearing on our lives?
The new spirituality tends to quickly and quietly dismiss or re-cast the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Christ. There is no greater point at which one should pause and consider. It is this ‘death for us’ that the prophecies of the Old Testament foretold. It is this ‘death for us’ that occupies the most extensive and detailed portions of the first century accounts of Christ’s life. It is this ‘death for us’ that was recognized by a first century historian outside the testimony of Scriptural accounts. And it is this ‘death for us’ which was the central and defining event that was carried forth.
My proposition is this…
The intersection of realms is not merely met in a conscious awakening but by the revealed initiative of the transcendent pre-existent Source (God); culminating in an act of sacrificial love to redeem life from the nature of autonomous separation (sin) and bondage to other powers.
It is at this juncture where the distinction is made between religion and relationship. If religion is thought of in terms of the human means to reach god or some sort of greater meaning… then naturally it could be fitting to question whether any one merely human interpretation has the only truth. But if we are not the center of it all… if it is not about our power of ‘realization’… ‘self-realization’ as many suggest… but rather of relationship… relationship that is defined by the greatest act of mercy and sacrifice towards us… then our response towards that initiative is defining. As Jesus described it, if a child decides to demand their inheritance and leave their good father… and try to find their own autonomous life…only to discover that in seeking such autonomy they have lost their dignity… the sacrificial love of the father which provides a means to receive and restore such a child becomes the very juncture that defines the relationship. It is in coming home that we discover our true selves … returning to that relationship… responding to that initiative when it is discovered.
As John, one of the original disciples, declared,
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” - 1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)
It is in this understanding that those first writers declared,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
“At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Chris is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” - Philippians 2:10
It all comes down to this juncture of what many a soul has encountered as “Amazing Love.” Christ offers a love that bears the power of freedom and transformation. His sacrificial love is an example, but more than an example it is the clearly understood means out of which we enter such a relationship with Divine love and leadership.
Some Additional Thoughts Not Included In This Message
The intent of this message is to provide a means for constructive conversations. However it is not the nature of common conversations nor even healthy relationships to engage in so many ideas and issues. As noted in Acts 17, Paul noted what they appeared to believe and then presented something new. He likely then engaged their response. In nearly all other recorded presentations he also sought God’s manifest presence and power. In like manner I would encourage that in such engaging 1) We affirm what we see in spiritually minded orientation, 2) we share our story as it reflects God’s story, 3) we be prepared to consider the differences that are raised (which this message hopes to have offered thoughts towards), and then 4) we simply ask if we can pray for Jesus’ presence to be known to them. The actual experience with his presence will open more consideration than any I discussion or debate of ideas.
Which has grown more secular… the national culture or the church?
Erwin McManus offers some valuable reflection in the following words…
“Do you remember all the voices warning us that America was becoming a secular nation? Do you remember believing it? We were convinced that the great enemy of our time was Secular Humanism. Too many of us still believe this. While our nation systematically eliminates overt Christian influences from the public arena, America's new grass-roots religion is not atheism but pantheism. Even with the public schools advocating evolution and removing creation science, belief in God is nearly at 100 percent. Even with the bombardment of modernity's materialism, rationalism, existentialism, and empiricism, our society continues its spiritual quest. America is an extraordinarily spiritual society.
Today we are not moving towards a godless land but to a land with many gods. We are more mystical than ever. We are more open than ever. We are more searching than ever. We are more inquisitive than ever. The reality is that America is not becoming a secular nation but more spiritual than it has been in perhaps one hundred years. From Deepak Chopra to Oprah Winfrey, we live in the era of the techno-spiritual guru. From New Age literature to pop psychology, our bookstores are full of spirit-based self-help books. The Psychic Network is as readily available as TBN. God talk is everywhere. From Touched by an Angel to The X-Files, from The Matrix to Magnolia, the quest for the spiritual permeates our contemporary visual literature. The biting truth is that this country is not rejecting spirituality but Christianity.
The indictment that we must receive is that the Christian faith as we express it is no longer seen as a viable spiritual option. Masses gave the church a try and left wanting. We accuse them of not being willing to surrender to God; they accuse us of not knowing him. People are rejecting Christ because of the church! Once we were called Christians by an unbelieving world, and now we call ourselves Christians and the world calls us hypocrites. Is it possible that it wasn't the nation that was becoming dangerously secular but the church? We were neither relevant nor transcendent. We have become, in the worst of ways, religious. We are the founders of the secular nation.
- An Unstoppable Force by Erwin Raphael McManus, pp. 13-77
What are the newer discoveries of physics and consciousness actually revealing?
Into the spiritual void created by modern materialism comes a few emerging ideas…
· Physics begins to see signs that the physical world may not be the most real element… as the smallest elements appear to be bounded energy rather than simply matter
· The discovery that brain has two hemispheres… and that the right – intuitive side can know things that the more analytical left side cannot or will not for some time. This suggests the potential for knowledge that transcends rational thought.
· Going a step further some question whether the waking consciousness is itself perhaps a lesser reality to that of another level.. This is where meditation and yoga can come into play as means to tap other levels of consciousness. This all leads to the pursuit of connecting with something higher or beyond ourselves.
Many will take these discoveries as a means to substantiate their particular theory of human and spiritual nature. The reality one should keep in mind is that all that the new physics and discoveries of the brain and disillusionment from rationalization lead to is a greater potential to consider that there is another dimension beyond the rational. Whether such new understandings point to a connection to our own divinity or divine consciousness … or a connection to the Divine Source in whose image we were created… really depends on the presumption one makes.
The Nature of Self
Biblical revelation establishes that a pre-existent personal Being (God) established human life as individual beings who are connected by their common source and image bearing nature. Through living in relationship to that common source… we can be united as family. Throughout the testimony of God’s revelation through the Scriptures, God related to human lives as individuals in terms of bearing such responsibility…and every implication is that such is forever our nature. We never transcend a level of individual existence and never transcend our inherent connectedness. Our existence involves the uniting of distinct selves not the dissolving of selves into an impersonal reality. This is testified to in that Christ is not only born as a distinct individual but rises as one embodying eternal nature yet in distinct recognizable and relatable form. That is the nature of what he leads us into.
What the Bible reveals is the tragedy of individualism… in which we become autonomous. Such autonomy is our death… our separation from life. Christ comes to restore us from the consequences of our autonomy… not from our nature of self itself. The very nature of God is that of Father, Son, and Spirit… each distinct but mysteriously united. The very nature of God is manifest not in self extinction… but in the self denial that reflects our proper relationship to others.
It is out of this revealed understanding that the Biblical worldview provides a foundation for healthy community. The Biblical worldview… the way of Jesus… involves…discovering common ground… relational reconciliation through forgiveness… and serving others.
The Problem of Self and It’s Restoration
Any pursuit of growth involves facing some form of underlying problem.
Addiction to self may be the real addiction of our day. Nearly every aspect and challenge in life is effected by whether we are operating out of an insecure self-centered position or transcending into a God centered love of others. So the emphasis on detaching our egos espoused by many is going to offer some practical help. Here lies where so much of what is developed from principles of Buddhism and reflected in the ‘new spirituality’ should be both appreciated and questioned in terms of grasping the ultimate picture.
What is vital to understand is that the essence of what is helpful is generally correlated to what Christ as revealed in the Biblical testimony taught (i.e. regarding transcending one’s self-centered ego, etc) What is equally worth reflecting on is the deeper peace that can still elude us n turning away from the broader work of liberation which Christ came to fulfill.
The Biblical concept of “sin” can strike the modern person as too negative. Even more notably, the idea of ‘total depravity’ doesn’t sound like good news. If the good news is that we are totally depraved beings…. there is not much ’good’ to take hold of. But the good news is not that we are depraved… but that we are created as unique image bearers of a personal God who created the universe… that our original state is one deemed ‘very good.’
The good news is that despite having been corrupted… God is redeeming and restoring. This reality reveals that both the original source of good… and the restoring power… come from God… so we have nothing to boast about in ourselves… yet a sacred dignity in bearing His image and love.
The cultural trend towards “freedom”
In reflecting upon the appeal of today’s ‘new spirituality,’ it is Interesting that there is also a new movement of atheism. At one level it seems to be a contradiction in cultural perspective… a rise in eastern pantheism that sees all as spiritual… and atheism that sees nothing as spiritual (or supernatural).Yet they hold one thing in common… they offer to free us from living in relationship to any other personal source...to God. They rise up with what appears a courageous call to take responsibility for one’s own life and reality itself. Atheism calls for the courage to face a life without any ultimate meaning… Nietche’s ‘superman.’
The ‘new spirituality’ calls for the freedom to transcend any personal or unique identity… it says you are part of the sacred center of reality… who creates their own reality.
Initially one may be quick to feel the excitement of something wild… or the expansiveness of some truth that helps connect with a spiritual dimension. What is often ignored is the full implications of accepting the larger worldview as a whole. While the adventuresome nature of seeking out new discoveries is one of the greatest gifts in life… we are wise not to be a limited in perspective as children who think everything is new when in fact there is a history that can inform us. In this way we ate wise to recognize that it is the Biblical worldview which birthed the very virtues that we generally value so deeply… the dignity of individual life, the inherent rights of human life based not on lineage or royalty, the sense of order behind the world that has led to the sciences, the basis for hope, the arts, the celebration of beauty and the arts, and so much more.
In considering the cultural trend towards being freed of our foundations, we do well to recall George Orwell’s words:
“For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake: The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire. . . It appears that amputation of the soul isn’t just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.” - George Orwell , Notes on the Way