Given the fact that we are beings created in the image of God, we have an intrinsic spiritual nature. In other words, we are spiritual and as such we have a natural inclination to satisfy or fill this essential aspect of our being. As Christ followers, we have been made to know that this need is finally and fully met through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that follows the reconciliation of our souls to God through faith in the atoning work of Christ Jesus.
However, as orthodox Christianity continues to ebb in the Western world there follows a spiritual vacuum and as it has been observed, nature abhors a vacuum. At present this spiritual void appears to have found its latest alternative to Jesus Christ in the convoluted and ambiguous world of New Age religion.
While the term "New Age spirituality" may conjure up images of incense, crystals, and Shirley MacLaine—or associations with flower haired hippies—this "new" spiritual movement, which is anything but new, has acquired a most powerful and influential advocate: Oprah Winfrey.
Recently Oprah announced that, beginning March 3rd, she will be offering a free 10-week interactive webinar based on the book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by best-selling author Eckhart Tolle. Tolle, who is described as "a contemporary spiritual teacher who is not aligned with any particular religion or tradition … conveys a simple yet profound message with the timeless and uncomplicated clarity of the ancient spiritual masters: There is a way out of suffering and into peace." In describing the thesis of his latest book, Tolle writes: "An essential aspect of this awakening consists in transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite not only for personal happiness but also for the ending of violent conflict endemic on our planet." In other words, it is the alteration of our "consciousness" that is key to the salvation of men, not Jesus Christ and our shared problem is incorrect perceptions, not sin.
For anyone familiar with the world's religions this, along with most of what passes for "New Age" spirituality is nothing more than ancient Eastern mysticism wrapped in modern Western attire.
Tolle, who experienced "a profound inner transformation" which "radically changed the course of his life" at the age of twenty-nine" became an active participant in A Course in Miracles in the years following. Published in 1975, A Course in Miracles is a spiritual self-study course representing primarily the thought system of monism, which is the idea that all is one (i.e. the Star Wars concept of "The Force"). Ironically, Oprah has been offering this course for free on her website since January 1, 2008.
Here are some sample excerpts from A Course in Miracles, which reveal teachings derived from Buddhism and other monistic or pantheistic philosophies:
Extend your perception beyond what your senses register. (Lesson 1)
That body does not mean anything….One thing is like another. (Lesson 1)
Everything you see is the result of your thoughts. There is no exception to this fact….salvation requires that you also recognize that every thought you have brings either peace or war; either love or fear. To trust in the force that moves the universe is faith. Faith isn't blind, it's visionary. Faith is believing that the universe is on our side and that the universe knows what it's doing. (Lesson 16)
Now compare these statements to the words of Buddha:
This whole world of delusion is nothing but a shadow caused by the mind…. There is no world … outside the mind … To Buddha every definitive thing is illusion…. Things have no reality in themselves but are like heat haze. (The Teaching of the Buddha, pp. 86, 100, 104, 108)
Buddhism, in particular teaches that no supreme and personal God exists but that the universe is animated by an impersonal life force, which connects all things and that one can, through spiritual enlightenment, rise above the "illusion of reality" and enter nirvana—a condition in which one is absorbed into the greater essence or whole.
In New Age, like the ancient Eastern religions, the goal is that you, through instruction, either from spiritual masters or even spiritual entities must achieve "enlightenment" (i.e. understanding that all is one) and thus rise above the human condition by means of an altered consciousness (mediation, mantras, trances, etc.) to actually see that distinction itself is an illusion and if all is one and God is part of the all then you are in effect God. By understanding this principle you will become part of the divine and thus gain unlimited power.
These are the very same principles put forth in both A Course in Miracles and Tolle's book, A New Earth. The most troubling aspect is that A Course in Miracles employs many references to "God," the "Holy Spirit," and even the "Son of God." In addition, there are statements such as "surrender all outcomes to God" and "allow the Holy Spirit to do what He does best…." Of course the instruction goes on to emphasize "the power of your own thinking" which enables you to create the outcome that "serve[s] your own best interests" in your hands, which according to the course is "your only goal in any situation." The "god" presented here is a monistic, impersonal god who "is everywhere and is in everything" including inanimate objects. According to the course, "God is not outside of you but rather in your mind." The blending of Christian terminology with New Age paganism endorsed by Oprah will likely deceive many less mature Christians.
I can appreciate the success of Oprah Winfrey; she seems like a kind and sincere woman. Her achievements are indeed impressive given what she has overcome and I believe she truly wants to help people and make the world a better place. However, these materials are nothing but spiritualized self-help and repackaged paganism that serve to deceive and divert people from the One True God and the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of discipleship and Church renewal that works to equip Christians with an intelligent, thoroughly Christian and missional approach to culture. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources, and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org