What is New Age spirituality?
New Age spirituality is an umbrella term that describes a contemporary religious movement, not an organized religion. Proponents of the movement encourage striving to reach one’s full potential through an eclectic mixture of concepts and practices drawn from Eastern mysticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, metaphysics, naturalism, astrology, occultism, and science fiction. In its various forms, New Age spirituality is both monistic (believing that all reality is ultimately one) and pantheistic (believing that everything is divine). Unlike organized religions, New Age spirituality has no founding figure, structured leadership, official headquarters, or authoritative writings that are accepted by all proponents. New Age spirituality has held considerable social sway over Western culture over the past three decades. An estimated one in three Americans accepts various elements of New Age ideology.
When did it begin?
References to the “New Age” come from the world of astrology. Roughly every 2,100 years, proponents argue, we enter a new “astrological age” that corresponds to one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. The exact date of the transition is disputed, but most astrologers maintain that we transitioned from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius sometime in the twentieth century.
The contemporary New Age movement originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, concurrent with the hippie counterculture movement. The Beatles popularized Eastern mysticism and monistic religion in mainstream America after returning in 1965 from a trip to India, where they practiced Transcendental Meditation with the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The 1967 musical Hair promoted the astrological elements of the New Age movement with its catchy opening number, which asserted, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” In 1969, the promoters of the music festival Woodstock publicized it as “an Aquarian exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Love.”
Who are the key figures?
Academy Award–winning actress Shirley MacLaine promoted the New Age ideas of reincarnation and past life experiences in her 1984 book Out on a Limb. In 1989, Deepak Chopra published his book Quantum Healing, which claims to integrate modern scientific concepts into an Eastern mystical framework with the goal of healing the body. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, is among the most well-known proponents of the New Age movement today. In a 2008 article, The New York Times called Tolle “the most popular spiritual author in [the United States].”1 Prominent media personality Oprah Winfrey continues to be one of the most vocal proponents of New Age ideology.
What are the main beliefs?
It is nearly impossible to set out any systematic doctrine associated with the New Age movement, since it borrows from so many religious and esoteric traditions. However, New Age proponents hold in common several broad ideas:
Cosmological determination. According to astrologers, the movement of stars and other heavenly bodies determines cultural and societal—as well as individual—development. Accordingly, humanity has moved out of the Age of Pisces, in which we sought to discover our identity and existence, into the Age of Aquarius, in which we seek total peace and unity. Having collectively moved into a new era, we are to embrace the cultural changes that coincide with the current astrological age. This shift has already had an impact on every person and will continue to do so. All that we learned from our parents, and all that our parents learned from their parents, was a result of the influence of the Piscean age and must now be largely abandoned. In the Age of Aquarius, we must learn to accept ourselves as people who do not need to believe in anything that lies outside ourselves. All that is in us and all that is in the universe is God; therefore, to gain unity and balance with God, we must seek to embrace what is happening in this present Aquarian age as the divine expresses itself in us and in others. This form of pantheism attributes to the created order something that belongs exclusively to the eternal sovereignty of God.
Monistic energy. Proponents of the New Age movement believe that God and the universe are one in substance. The New Age movement rejects biblical monotheism in favor of monism or pantheism. Proponents of the New Age believe that there is divine energy inherent in every part of the universe. In order to regain energy or power from the universe, one must attain harmony with every aspect of the universe. In the New Age movement, the means of achieving harmony and regaining personal power are exceedingly diverse. To achieve this unity, practitioners encourage the use of ancient and modern forms of meditation, seances, divination, numerology, and incantation. Many New Age proponents believe that practicing yoga will enable them to advance in the New Age quest for balance and harmony.
- Self-deification. The New Age movement teaches that we have everything in ourselves necessary to achieve fulfillment. The self is the highest good. We exist to guide ourselves, heal ourselves, and fulfill our own destinies. Many who embrace New Age practices believe in karma and reincarnation. As in Hinduism, the ultimate goal in the New Age movement is to achieve oneness with the divine. Adherents of New Age spirituality reject the biblical doctrines of the fall, the sinfulness and depravity of man, the need for an atoning sacrifice, and the need for a mediator between God and man.
Why do people believe this form of false teaching?
While the New Age movement rejects the idea that mankind is different from other parts of the created order, it is an excellent example of what happens when people consistently embrace the supremacy and autonomy of man. The idea that we have the power in ourselves to progress, achieve harmony with the universe, and guide our own destiny is supremely attractive to fallen men and women who want peace and freedom but not on God’s terms.
How does it hold up against biblical Christianity?
Divine sovereignty. Contrary to the New Age movement, Scripture teaches that the living God works out His eternal, sovereign decree in the works of creation and providence. The Creator maintains His sovereignty, and the creation maintains its dependence on Him. Herman Bavinck explained, “The theism of Scripture posits a connection between God and the world, simultaneously maintains the absolute sovereignty of God and the complete dependence of his creatures, thus avoiding both the error of pantheism and that of Deism.”2 The triune God is sovereign over all His creatures and all their actions (Judg. 14:3–4; Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:34–35). There is nothing that lies outside His eternal plan. God has not invested in creation the ultimate power to determine the course of social and cultural ideologies. Neither is He part of the created world. God lies outside time and space, dwelling in eternity (Isa. 57:15).
Divine power. Scripture teaches that God is infinite in power. The triune God upholds the world by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). All creation is utterly dependent on God for all things (Acts 17:25). God has not invested an independent power into creation. Rather, He has made known His power through the preaching of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18, 24). In the message of Christ crucified, God exhibits and imparts His saving power to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). The unity that we desire with God and creation is achieved only through the saving work of Jesus. By His death on the cross, Jesus unites believers to God and to other believers (Eph. 2:14).
Divine purpose. The Bible reveals that God is the highest good. God created man to glorify Him by fulfilling His holy purpose in the world. When God created the world, He made every living thing “according to its kind” (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 25; 6:20). God created man after His own image—distinct from other living things in the universe (Gen. 1:26). He commissioned man to rule over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26; Ps. 8:6–8). After the fall, God fulfilled this creational mandate through the death and resurrection of Christ (Heb. 2:5–9). By His atoning death on the cross, Jesus secured the new creation. He now sits at the right hand of God as the head of a redeemed humanity. On judgment day, those who have been redeemed by Christ will rule with Christ, judging the unbelieving nations (Rev. 2:26) and the fallen angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Redeemed humanity will never become divine. There will always be a distinction between the Creator and the creature.
How can I share the gospel with those who hold to this false teaching?
Focus on the being of God. Proponents of New Age spirituality need to understand the biblical teaching on the nature and attributes of God. God is the self-existent and self-sustaining source of all life. While many who are involved in New Age practices speak of God in general terms, they do not know Him as the infinite and eternal God of Scripture. Since New Age ideology is monistic and pantheistic at its core, it is vital that adherents have Christian theism explained to them from Scripture. The triune God is transcendent. Man is finite. Explain that the God of Scripture is spirit (John 4:24), infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in all His divine perfections (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:5, 15; Jonah 4:2).
Focus on the Creator-creature distinction. When witnessing to those who hold to New Age ideology, it is vital to explain the doctrine of creation (Gen. 1; Heb. 11:3). Seek opportunities to talk about the biblical teaching on God’s creation of man uniquely in His image (Gen 1:26; 2:7–9). Like all monistic religions, New Age spirituality removes the distinction between the Creator and the creature. Consider taking those to whom you are witnessing to Romans 1:18–32 in order to explain the moral responsibility that we have to God as our Creator.
Focus on the need for redemption. In all forms of New Age spirituality, individuals are seeking a peace, unity, and fulfillment that can be found only in Jesus Christ. To help rescue someone who is ensnared in New Age teaching, seek to use the law of God to reveal the sinfulness of man and our need for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Focus on the fall of man and the ultimate consequences of sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 6:23). Explain why we need a mediator between God and man who reconciles man to God by taking the sin and punishment man deserves because of his sin (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Tim. 2:5) and obtaining a righteousness for His people that they could never achieve (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 3:9).
This article is part of the Field Guide on False Teaching collection.