Chief Saddleback Apologist Defends New Age Sympathizer Leonard Sweet

by Warren B. Smith

LTRP Note: This is part two of an introduction to Warren Smith’s new book, A “Wonderful” Deception. In last week’s installment, it was revealed that Rick Warren’s and Leonard Sweet’s evangelical “new reformation” appears to be moving toward the New Age/New Spirituality. In this week’s section, Saddleback’s chief apologist defends Leonard Sweet’s working relationship with Rick Warren, even though Sweet’s affinity with New Age leaders is clearly evident.

“Sweet, Spangler, and Quantum Spirituality”
by Warren Smith

If we want to possess a magical crystal for our New Age work, we need look no further than our own bodies and the cells that make them up.1–David Spangler 1991

I am grateful to David Spangler for his help in formulating this “new cell” understanding of New Light leadership.2–Leonard Sweet 1991

Leonard Sweet, in acknowledging Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, M. Scott Peck, and the others he refers to as “New Light leaders” in Quantum Spirituality, states:

I believe these are among the most creative religious leaders in America today. These are the ones carving out channels for new ideas to flow. In a way this book was written to guide myself through their channels and chart their progress. The book’s best ideas come from them.3

Speaking of spiritual “channels,” Sweet expresses his personal gratitude in Quantum Spirituality to channeler and veteran New Age leader, David Spangler. Spangler, in attempting to cast off the negative stereotype of a New Age channeler, would now more likely describe himself as a conscious intuitive.4 A pioneering spokesperson for the New Age, Spangler has written numerous books over the years that include Emergence: The Rebirth of the Sacred, Revelation: The Birth of a New Age, and Reimagination of the World: A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture. His book Revelation: The Birth of a New Age is a compilation of channeled transmissions he received from his disembodied spirit-guide “John.” At one point in Revelation, Spangler documents what “John” prophesied about “the energies of the Cosmic Christ” and “Oneness”:

As the energies of the Cosmic Christ become increasingly manifest within the etheric life of Earth, many individuals will begin to respond with the realization that the Christ dwells within them. They will feel his presence moving within and through them and will begin to awaken to their heritage of Christhood and Oneness with God, the Beloved.5

Unbelievably, in a modern–day consultation that bears more than a casual resemblance to King Saul’s consultation with the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7), Leonard Sweet acknowledges in Quantum Spirituality that he was privately corresponding with channeler David Spangler.6 In Quantum Spirituality, Sweet writes about what he calls his “new cell” understanding of New Light leadership, then closes his book by thanking Spangler for “his help in formulating this ‘new cell’ understanding of New Light Leadership.” Sweet writes:

Philosopher Eric Voegelin’s word “cosmion” refers to “a well ordered thing that has the character of the universe.” New Lights offer up themselves as the cosmions of a mind-of-Christ consciousness. As a cosmion incarnating the cells of a new body, New Lights will function as transitional vessels through which transforming energy can renew the divine image in the world, moving postmoderns from one state of embodiment to another.7

I am grateful to David Spangler for his help in formulating this “new cell” understanding of New Light leadership.8

Spangler: Still the New Age

In David Spangler’s 1991 book, The Reimagination of the World, Spangler makes it clear that any “new cell” understanding associated with him is directly related to New Age teachings. While Spangler tries to distance himself from the more narcissistic and superficial aspects of the New Age, he still holds firm to the use of the term “New Age” to describe his spiritual beliefs. In fact, in referring to the importance of a “new cell understanding” of the New Age, Spangler writes:

To me, a more appropriate symbol for the New Age is the cell. The cell is really a living crystal. It possesses a highly structured internal order, yet this geometry is organized around information rather than around position, as in a crystal lattice. Protoplasm is highly dynamic; it can give birth to endless varieties of new life, yet it can also collect and focus energy in powerful ways. If we want to possess a magical crystal for our New Age work, we need look no further than our own bodies and the cells that make them up.9

Was all of this part of the “new cell” understanding that Leonard Sweet received from David Spangler? This paragraph alone–much less Spangler’s well documented “New Age work” through the years–should be enough to drive any Christian leader far away from Spangler’s heretical New Age teachings. Sweet’s involvement with a key New Age leader and channeler of spirit-guides is not innovative or edgy or pioneering–it is spiritually dangerous. The Bible instructs us to reprove and expose the works of darkness—not join forces with them (Ephesians 5:11-13).

Leonard Sweet’s Quantum Spirituality and David Spangler’s The Reimagination of the World were both published in 1991. It seems obvious from their books that both men are attempting to distance themselves from the more faddish, consumer-oriented elements of the New Age–but without actually dispensing with the term New Age itself.10 To the casual reader, it might look like Spangler and Sweet are actually speaking against the New Age. In fact, quotes taken out of context might even make it appear this is true. But this is definitely not the case. Sweet and Spangler are just doing some New Age/New Spirituality public relations. They are both redefining and refining the term New Age as they try to strip the term of its Shirley MacClainesque pop aspects and put it more in the realm of seemingly authoritative science. The term New Age would no longer be associated with occult spiritual beliefs but rather with a period of time–a new era–in which their seemingly scientifically based spiritual beliefs would manifest. It would no longer be a New Age Spirituality. It would now be a universal “New Spirituality” for a new era–the coming “New Age.” This New Age would be equated with a planetary era and a planetary ethic that would reflect a passionate concern for the environment and all of humanity. This new era would also reflect the new “civility” called for by Sweet’s “hero,” the late New Age leader M. Scott Peck. In his 1993 book A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered, Peck writes the following about his Utopian New Age:

The distinguishing feature of the citizens of Utopia is not their location, nationality, religion, or occupation but their commitment to becoming ever more civil individuals and their membership in a planetary culture of civility. By virtue of this commitment and membership, regardless of their theology, they welcome the active presence of God into both their individual and their collective lives. . . . Although their primary allegiance is to the development of their own souls, they are all involved in teaching as well as learning civility and dedicated to inviting others into their planetary culture.11

Who is going to argue with this call for ecological responsibility, human compassion, and planetary “civility” in this coming New Era–in this idealized New Age? Only those who recognize that New Age beliefs are being smuggled in under the cover of a new planetary ethic–a New Spirituality and a New Worldview for the coming New Age. Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren would also try to redefine the term New Age more as a period of time than as a set of occult beliefs. Attempting to marginalize the whole New Age movement by characterizing it as “vague, consumerist, undefined, and mushy,” McLaren misses the fact that the New Age is a well-organized spiritual movement with a long-standing hostility to biblical Christianity. The New Age is very serious about what it believes and is anything but “mushy.” But as McLaren wrongly defines the New Age as “mushy” while simultaneously equating biblical Christianity with “pushy fundamentalism,” he paves the way for a newly emerging theology–a New Spirituality for a New Age. The term “New Age” that characterized an occult belief system neatly disappears as the “New Age” simply becomes the time frame in which this New Spirituality appears. In his book Finding our Way Again, McLaren describes this New Spirituality for the coming “New Age”:

The word spirituality tries to capture that fusion of everyday sacredness. For many people, it represents a life-giving alternative to secularist fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism, the former offering the world weapons of mass destruction and the latter stirring emotions to put the suicidal machinery into motion.

This dissatisfaction in some cases has led to a reactionary resurgence of pushy fundamentalism–fearful, manic, violent, apocalyptic. And in other cases it has led to a search for a new kind of spirituality. The success or failure of this search will, no doubt, play a major role in the story of the twenty-first century.

In its early stages, this search for spirituality has been associated with the term new age, which for many means something vague, consumerist, undefined, and mushy. However, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, more and more of us are realizing that a warm but mushy spirituality is no match for hot and pushy fundamentalism, of whatever religious variety . . . More and more of us feel, more and more intensely, the need for a fresh, creative alternative–a fourth alternative, something beyond militarist scientific secularism, pushy religious fundamentalism, and mushy amorphous spirituality.

This alternative, we realize, needs to be creative and new to face the new challenges of a new age, a world gone “post-al”-postmodern, postcolonial, post-Enlightenment, post-Christendom, post-Holocaust, post-9/11. Yet it also needs to derive strength from the old religious traditions; it needs to face new-age challenges with age-old wisdom.12

Thus, the new semantics introduced by both New Age and Christian leaders–what had been called New Age Spirituality–would now be a panentheistic New Spirituality for a New Era and a New Age. Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and other Christian leaders were slowly transitioning the church into New Age teachings, but with clever new terms like New Light leadership, quantum spirituality, New Spirituality and a New Worldview that will–for the “good of the world”–transition the church out of an “Old Age”/biblical Christianity into the emerging “New Age” of a New Spirituality.

In 1991, Leonard Sweet was setting the stage for everything happening in the church today. He was saying what McLaren is now saying. He was starting to redefine the New Age as a New Era rather than a set of occult beliefs. In Quantum Spirituality, he writes:

The church stands on the front lines of the coming reign of God. Or as biblical scholar J. Christiaan Beker entitles his chapter on Paul’s ecclesial thought, “The Church [is] the Dawning of the New Age.” The event of Jesus Christ spells the end of the old age and the beginning of the new age. The church then is the “beachhead of the new creation,” in Beker’s words, “the sign of the new age in the old world that is ‘passing away.’”13

Thus while David Spangler, Brian McLaren, and Leonard Sweet all seem to be distancing themselves from the New Age–they are actually helping to bring it on. They are bringing it on because they hold to the basic New Age view that we are all “one” because God is “in” everything, as Sweet shares in Quantum Spirituality. To underline this idea, Sweet turns to contemplative mystic/panentheist Thomas Merton. Sweet states:

If the church is to dance, however, it must first get its flabby self back into shape. . . . So far the church has refused to dip its toe into postmodern culture. A quantum spirituality challenges the church to bear its past and to dare its future by sticking its big TOE into the time and place of the present.

Then, and only then, will a flattened out, “one-dimensional,” and at times dimensionless world have discovered the power and vitality of a four-dimensional faith . . . Then and only then, will a New Light movement of “world-making” faith have helped to create the world that is to, and may yet, be. Then, and only then, will earthlings have uncovered the meaning of these words, some of the last words poet/activist/contemplative/bridge between East and West Thomas Merton uttered: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity.”14

To continue (and for endnotes),click here. (go to p. 128)

For more information on Warren Smith’s work, click here.

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