The term New Age is used to describe a loosely-related collection of religious, philosophical and special interest groups which developed in the second half of the twentieth century. Its main ideas and values have been taken from a variety of sources and traditions, and combined with influences from science, pop-psychology, self-help methodology and elements of the occult.
Though it is a matter of debate as to which groups belong within the New Age category, certain terms are often shared. For example: holistic, oneness, synergy, unity, awakening, self-actualization, potentiality, Aquarian, cosmic consciousness and spirituality.
There are a wide variety of views and interests within the New Age movement:
- The diverse and sometimes conflicting array of alternative healing and holistic wellness perspectives.
- Various segments focus on social theory, science, health, psychology or futurism.
- Others might be considered as fringe groups by others within the movement, with an interest in things like astral projection, UFOs and extra-terrestrials, or ancient European pagan practices.
On the other hand, the movement is held together by certain common perspectives:
- A general distrust of traditional values, beliefs and institutions
- A craving for a progressive spirituality without traditional limitations or confining doctrines
- A willingness to experiment with new ideas and alternative approaches
- An openness to eclectic experiences
- A high value on diversity and pluralism
- A commitment to working for a new era in human history
Foundations and Development
Though the beginnings of the modern New Age movement can be traced to a group of non-traditional thinkers in the 1700s, its roots draw from very ancient sources, such as the religions and philosophies of ancient India and China; the Gnostics of classical Greece and Rome; ancient pagan lore and even the mysticism of medieval Jewish Kabbalah.
The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (1500s and 1600s) caused widespread disillusionment with Protestant and Catholic Christianity and a desire for alternatives. The growing popularity of the Freemasons in the 1700s with their ties to ancient Gnosticism provided one such an alternative. Add to this the quiet, but widespread experimentation with the occult, and the importation of Eastern religious ideas and it is clear that the 1700s were characterized by an array of alternative spiritual paths.
1700s. Certain eighteenth century spiritual innovators began to combine various types of ancient and modern wisdom. The Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg combined science with elements of Christianity and psychic experiences (Swedenborgianism). Franz Mesmer used energy-channeling techniques and magnetic force to heal various prominent figures. Spiritualism became widespread, featuring attempts to communicate with the dead and to predict the future using séances and other occult methods.
1800s. Madame Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott founded Theosophy, based on the belief that the wisdom of ancient Eastern traditions could be combined with western science to bring about human progress. Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science) claimed that voices directed her to write a book, entitled Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures, reviving ancient gnostic ideas, and emphasizing holistic health and mind over body techniques to achieve wellness.
Indian Swami Vivekananda introduced Hindu concepts and philosophy to the West and was the forerunner of a series of Indian gurus who would tour Europe and North America, spreading Hindu religious ideas. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was an Armenian teacher of human potential philosophy. Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way taught people to increase their attention and focus their innate energy in productive ways, and to minimize unproductive activity.
Early 1900s. The New Age Journal, founded in 1907, spread new age ideas through articles on literature, political thought, art and music. Contributing writers included George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats and H.G. Wells. Edgar Cayce (the sleeping prophet) claimed to be able to heal people and solve personal problems while in a hypnotic state. He also claimed to be in communication with spirits who helped him recover lost truths about the ancient world, such as the existence of the civilization of Atlantis.
Carl Jung was an important figure modern psychology and an innovator in the human potentiality movement. He believed that human beings are fundamentally religious and engaged in a lifelong study of religion as a vital part of his work in clinical psychology.
Later 1900s. The Fifth Dimension made a hit of the song Age of Aquarius. The song describes the passing away of war and social strife and the coming of an era of peace and understanding under the astrological sign of Aquarius. Especially in their later periods, the Beatles also moved increasingly into themes and styles which would promote New Age ideas. George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, and John Lennon’s Imagine are examples.
Also, Dr. Timothy Leary was a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkley who promoted the use of psychedelic substances as a form of psychological therapy and as a vehicle for expanding the potential of the human mind.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought Transcendental Meditation (TM) to the West in the 1960s 1970s. TM involves the use of a mantra (a word or syllable thought to have spiritual power) repeated twice daily for 15 to 20 minutes, reducing stress and opening up the mind to new potentialities.
The 1970s and 80s saw a host of New Age books on the market:
- Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs
- Shirley MacLaine’s Out on a Limb
- Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsh
- A Course in Miracles by Helen Shucman
- Various books and seminars by Deepak Chopra
The New Age Movement came to widespread public notice after the August 16-17, 1987 Harmonic Convergence. People from around the world gathered in a number of key locations to participate in the great convergence of six planets, plus the sun and moon, as beginning a new historical era in correspondence with the Mayan Calendar.
Christianity and the new Age Compared
Different sources of truth.
- New Age: Truth is open-ended. Though various books may be honored, there is no single scripture. Rather, divine revelation is seen as personal and on-going. Various spiritual revelations may even contradict one another.
- Christianity: The Bible is authoritative and complete (2 Peter 1:20-21). Also see the standards for true prophets in Deuteronomy 18:18-22.
Different beliefs about the nature of truth.
- New Age: The Judeo-Christian emphasis on logic and reason along with the concept of a single truth must be replaced by personalized truth and individually valid experiences.
- Christianity: Though people do indeed have their own perceptions of truth, ultimately there is only truth as God sees it. In scripture, he has revealed what people need to know for redemption. Logic can be a guide to understanding God and navigating life, just as emotion and experience can be helpful, but they do not supersede scripture. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of truth.
Different concepts of God.
- New Age: Ultimate Reality can’t be defined or analyzed. Rather than a personal being, God is often seen as an impersonal energy or life force, with a “light” and a “dark” side. Others New Agers may teach that “all is God and God is all”.
- Christianity: God is a personal being who is a loving and accessible Tri-unity. Matthew 28:19
New Age groups may conceive of God in a variety of ways, such as:
- Pantheism, in which nature is the physical manifestation of God.
- Panentheism, in which the universe is only a part of God.
- Deism teaches that a supreme being created the universe and then set it in motion, but does not now intervene in its affairs.
- Paganism sees ultimate reality as manifesting itself through a collection of deities who rule over particular aspects of nature. Goddess veneration is a specific form of paganism and may be practiced in a number of forms, including a female Creator, a composite feminine deity representing numerous goddesses from various traditions, or a supreme male / female divine couple.
Different beliefs about Jesus.
- New Age: Jesus may be thought of as a spiritual master (as in Eastern religions), or simply as an enlightened, but tragically misunderstood teacher. Many of Jesus’ sayings are re-interpreted to fit New Age ideas.
- Christianity: Jesus is fully God and fully Man. John 1:1-5, 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. —- The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Different beliefs about people.
- New Age: Since everything partakes in the Divine, people are also emanations of God. Because of this, people have infinite potential as they draw on their inner nature. There are also other versions of human nature taught in various groups.
- Christianity: People are created in the image of God, but are distinct beings. People do indeed have greater potential through new birth by faith in Christ and regeneration. Though destined to reign with Christ, the redeemed will always remain dependent creatures.
- New Age: Salvation is through enlightenment or consciousness of cosmic unity. A person must understand deeply, and experience certain fundamental truths to realize their potential. Ultimately, the self is stripped away to reveal God within.
- Christianity: People are born sinners, but can be saved by God’s astonishing grace through faith in Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Also Romans 10:9-10
Different beliefs about the future.
- New Age: There is a new age coming. The old age under the sign of Pices (the fish) was the Christian era of religious doctrines which stifled true spirituality. The new Age will be one of spiritual energy and experience.
- Christianity: Jesus will return to establish God’s reign and eventually create a new heaven and earth, filled with righteousness. Revelation 21:1-6
Self-actualization. Methods for achieving human potential include aspects of Eastern philosophy (reincarnation, karma, etc), which fit with the idea that everything is part of ultimate reality and that potential is achieved through expanded consciousness. The occult, including astrology, crystals, and channeling cosmic energy, are also used to achieve maximum human potential.
Positive Thought. A key New Age concept is that thought creates reality. This means that, instead of the traditional idea that people must conform their thinking to the realities of world around them, the human mind actually controls reality. In other words, New Age teaching says that, properly understood and disciplined, the mind can control an individual’s experience in the world. The cultivation of a positive mental state is a major ingredient in this objective.
Spiritual Entities. New Age groups often claim dealings with an array of spiritual entities. Such beings may belong to various orders such as angels, spirits, daemons, demi-gods, powers, etc. These spiritual entities may also be seen as creatures from other parts of the universe or deceased human beings who have ascended to higher levels of spirituality and now act as spiritual guides. Certain people may naturally possess the ability to communicate with spiritual entities through channeling, extra-sensory perception, séances and other methods.
Followers of New Age Groups are Reachable
Pray for them. 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
Be polite and non-confrontational. New Age people are not the enemy. They are knowingly or unknowingly captive to the false doctrines and ideas of their group.
Love them. John 13:34-35.
Talk about your faith. Many people in New Age groups are happy to talk about their beliefs if they are sure they won’t be scorned or attacked.
Don’t forget the witness of your life. What is the principle behind 1 Peter 3:1-2?
Use the Bible with wisdom. New age folks may or may not respect the Bible. Those who do, may respect it as one of many sources of ancient wisdom. So, focus on key issues:
- The reliability of the Bible.
- The Bible’s central message of God’s love and redemption.
- The true identity of Jesus.
- Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone.
Keep in mind – – – People in the New Age movement can be saved in the same way anyone else may be saved: repentance and faith in Jesus. They may pay a high price to become a follower of Jesus. Matthew 28:18-20: “…make disciples of all nations…”