Evaluation of New Age Teaching
[The following discourse was written in answer to some questions that came up about the teachings of Richard Rohr]
Why do people dive into New Age thinking and teaching? Often it’s because there’s no spiritual reality to be found in “Christianity”. So, any attempt to broaden the somewhat narrow scope of Christian teaching should be welcome. I don’t know that much about Rohr’s teaching, but even if he has gone overboard on some things, I’m not going to worry about it too much.
From having studied astrology, I’ve come to realize that there’s a fine line. My own interest in astrology would, I know, be condemned by not a few Christian teachers. And, true enough, astrology is used by the Dark forces to bestow a kind of false spirituality/wisdom on people in hopes of pulling them into witchcraft. Astrology per se is not evil, but its misuse/over-indulgence can become evil. Like the study of physics, when scientists use their knowledge to make evil inventions like atom bombs, then that is evil, but the study of physics itself is not evil.
It’s difficult sometimes to know where to draw the line. Christianity often draws that line too close. At times those narrow and restricted guidelines are necessary. For example, alcoholics have to be restricted from drinking, period. In the ancient Greek world of the Early Church, sexual wantonness was running rampant, and the apostles had to clamp down on it.
But “to everything there is a season”. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, KJV) The once-needed guidelines can turn into a straight-jacket and need to be loosened later on. We want to obey and follow the Lord, but it is easy to become legalistic, and that doesn’t allow the Spirit to move freely in our lives.
I wouldn’t be surprised that Rohr’s teachings will appeal to many who are into New Age thinking and will draw them to Christ. And if it does that, then who’s to say those teachings shouldn’t at least be tolerated, even if one doesn’t want to accept them wholeheartedly?
Maybe it’s a question of “by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20, KJV) I’m thinking of Mormon teaching, which I know is off-center on some things theologically. Yet the Mormon church has won great numbers of people to the Lord. And one of their teachings that I like goes against the grain of standard Christian doctrine, and it may be one reason why the Lord has let the church prosper.
They teach that some people will go to Hell, but can be released if and when they repent and turn to the Lord – salvation in the spirit world. This gives a better idea of what God is like than does the standard Christian doctrine that, if you don’t get saved in this life, then it’s curtains for you – into Hell and you’re doomed forever. (See post “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever – Meaning?“)
And what about Rohr’s belief that Christianity isn’t the only path to salvation?
What I think Rohr means is that having the right belief system (of Christianity) is not as important as following what Jesus taught and where the Spirit is leading. And I might add, deeds are important – that is, “deeds” that are “done in God”, as John 3:21 points out about anyone who “does the truth” and “and comes to the light”. (NKJV) Jesus seemed to attach great importance to a person’s deeds, as we may gather from the parable in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats.
In general, what I think Rohr is trying to do is make “Christianity” more inclusive. In this age of “pluralism” and disillusionment with the narrow attitudes common in established Christianity, that probably is a needed approach.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s of the Jesus Revolution, David Berg and the young people of that era were trying to break away from the narrow confines of established Christianity. Especially important were the radical doctrines about the evils and corruption of the system, and that certainly resonated with me, as I recall. Also, the many spiritual experiences that David had: dreams, visions, spirit helpers, and so on. And the sexual liberation that he espoused. These appealed to our generation.
Now it could be said – and many detractors harp on this – that he went overboard on some things. I don’t think there’s any man or woman of God who hasn’t said or done something “off the wall” that they won’t be criticised for later. And the same could be true of Rohr in some of his teachings.
“Cosmic Christ” – not a bad idea, I suppose. We know that the Godhead or Trinity includes God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And they are all one and yet distinct. If they are all one, then Jesus could have attributes that we might think belong only to God or the Holy Spirit. In John 1:9 we learn about the “Word” (Jesus) that He “was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” That word “light” expresses a reality that seems quite expansive and all-encompassing and somewhat akin to the Holy Spirit. John 3:20-21 talk also about coming to the Light.
Another revealing Scripture in Matthew 12:31-32 states that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men” – even “whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man”. “But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven.” (KJV) What this seems to be saying is that the Spirit of Truth is not bound by culture or religious teaching (in particular cultural biases against Christian religion).
When the Spirit of Truth has awakened a person’s mind or conscience, then they are truly “responsible”; and therefore can’t be forgiven for blaspheming or rejecting what the Spirit has revealed to them – whatever that may be. The Spirit may reveal the truth about who Jesus is. Or he may reveal some other truths needed for the society of a certain time in history.
In this connection I think of Buddhism, which for a time before Christ’s First Coming brought a large measure of peace to the land of India under those kings who embraced Buddhist philosophy. So, are we to think that the Devil brought it? I would rather think that it was the Light of God, the Spirit, that managed to get through to lessen the warmongering among those people in ancient times.
But as always, the Devil is right there to corrupt useful codes of conduct, ideas, inventions and cause them to serve an evil purpose. So, now Buddhism acts to deflect people away from Christianity.
But we should ask, why do many people turn to Buddhism? Often, it’s because they don’t like what they see in Christianity. Each case has to be examined on its own merits. One person who tries out Buddhism is genuinely searching for truth. Another who turns to Buddhism just wants to get away from something God is asking him or her to do.
Well, I don’t know if these thoughts are helpful. As I said above, I haven’t really studied Rohr’s writings very much. So I can’t claim to be a very good evaluator of his teachings. But maybe these thoughts will provide, at least, some useful perspective on New Age thinking.