No one group understands emerging “progressive” spirituality as much as those in the New Age. That’s because it is their religion. So when the evangelical emerging church movement rose to the forefront, New Agers must have found it quite intriguing and most likely rewarding to see their belief system finally take root in Christianity.
In the book, As Above, So Below, written by Ronald S. Miller and the editors of New Age Journal, the authors appropriately name the first chapter “The Emerging Spirituality.” Now some may say, “Oh, they might call it that, but it isn’t the same as the Emerging Church ala McLaren, Jones, Kimball, Pagitt, etc. That’s an entirely different ball game.” Well, let’s take a look at this chapter in the New Age book. The chapter, “The Emerging Spirituality” starts off with a story about Jesus and Moses. That would certainly throw a few people–only Christians talk about Jesus, right? The book then quotes New Ager Joan Borysenko who explains the significance of the story they relate:
Like the Jesus of this story, . . . many of us lose touch with our own indwelling Divine nature-the unlimited creative potential of love the real Jesus assured us could literally move mountains.
The book goes on to say that the problem with most people is they have forgotten who they really are, don’t know their purpose or reason for existing and just need to reach higher to grasp their utmost potential. It sounds just like some of our most popular evangelical leaders. And like many emerging church leaders, the book says we need to get away from “automatized programs” and have a wake up call. The book tells us that this “wake up call” comes in the form of the metaphysical (mysticism), the “esoteric core of all the world’s spiritual traditions.” This mirrors what Rick Warren (who promotes the emerging church and its spirituality) said in his first book, the Purpose Driven Church, where he praised the “Spiritual Formation” movement which he sees as God’s way of bringing “believers to full maturity.” Warren said that the movement had a “valid message for the church” and gave “the body of Christ a wake-up call” (pp. 126-127). The problem is that the Spiritual Formation movement draws on the same mystical techniques as found in the New Age movement, (eg., mantra-like prayers, breath prayers). In Warren’s book, he touts Richard Foster and Dallas Willard as icons of the Spiritual Formation movement. When Warren says maturity, it implies that the church has been immature because of its mystical deficiency. At other times, Rick Warren has stated that his “new reformation,” an idea that New Agers share, would incorporate those from different religious traditions. Warren may use the name of Jesus quite often, but the overall concept implies that faith in Jesus is not really necessary to bring peace into the world, and this is exactly the thing the New Age teaches.
As Above, So Below (a primer for the New Age) says that “we possess a hidden higher self, the spark of divinity within the soul” (p. 3). Once again, we can turn to emerging/contemplative leaders within Christianity to see they are saying the same thing. Anyone who has read Brennan Manning will recognize the term higher self. And in Max Lucado’s book, Cure for the Common Life, Lucado talks about the “divine spark” that is in each person. And we could give numerous other examples of contemplative emerging authors and leaders who talk like this, even though they name the name of Jesus. So the New Age teaches a higher self and a “spark of divinity” within the soul of every person, and so do Christian leaders.
Miller’s book says that mysticism is the “highest common factor” (p. 2) that links all religions together. He adds that we can practice this mysticism and still remain in our own religion. That’s exactly what Thomas Merton came to believe when he spoke with Dr. Bramachari,1 a Hindu monk who told him he didn’t have to leave the Christian tradition to be the best Buddhist he could be. Tony Campolo, another emerging/contemplative evangelical saw this common factor and suggested this very thing in his book, Speaking My Mind:
Beyond these models of reconciliation, a theology of mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have within their histories examples of ecstatic union with God … I do not know what to make of the Muslim mystics, especially those who have come to be known as the Sufis. What do they experience in their mystical experiences? Could they have encountered the same God we do in our Christian mysticism?” (pp. 149-150)
Ronald Miller sounds very much like many of today’s emerging leaders when he says: “The modern age requires that we use our newly gained wisdom to transform the world (p. 7).” It is alarming to hear him say that mysticism (i.e., meditation) is the catalyst for “planetary healing,” naming various ecological and social problems facing the world today. Because some of the most influential Christian leaders and organizations today are promoting contemplative spirituality with one hand and working towards global transformation and unity on the other, we believe they are going in the same direction and with the same vehicle (mysticism) as the New Age. And when one realizes that the philosophy behind the New Age is panentheism (God in all) and that it totally negates the gospel message of Jesus Christ, then it is easier to see why it is so disturbing to see Christians promoting the emerging church and contemplative spirituality. For those readers who may be skeptical of our assertions, As Above, So Below has an entire chapter devoted to contemplative spirituality (chapter 3) and its vital place in its panoply of respected New Age practices. And yet that chapter makes reference to some of the same authors that Christians are now adhering to: Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, the Desert Fathers, Julian of Norwich, and Martin Buber (Buber is quoted by Max Lucado on the divine spark). The fact is, Miller makes our point for us as no one else could.
1. Henri J.M. Nouwen, Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1991, Triumph Books Edition)