Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.
The chants rise and fall in pulsating rhythm. They seem to keep time with the multicolored halo spinning hypnotically behind Buddha’s head. A drum thumps insistently, a bell resonates softly. And still the chant continues, like the unceasing murmur of a rushing river.
Twenty men, women and children sit or kneel before the Buddha, saying prayers at the Linh Son Buddhist Temple in Belmont. Outside, the quiet morning countryside glitters with crystalline snow. In here, the air is thick with incense, and the senses are mesmerized by the droning of worshipers…. The prayer is a plea to recognize one’s mistakes and correct them with Buddhist teachings….
Next to Nguyen, another man simply sits with closed eyes, apparently meditating. Next to him, Barry Boogaard silently mouths words he doesn’t understand, soaking in the calming peace this worship brings him.
In this small gathering of Asian Buddhists just north of Grand Rapids, Boogaard stands out as the only white American. But like other converts to this intriguing Eastern religion, Boogaard finds practical wisdom and inner serenity here. 1
Can this really be happening? Pagan worship right here in our very own Grand Rapids? But surely it is not a threat to modern-day Issachar as the pagan Canaanites and surrounding nations were to Old Testament Israel, is it? It is striking that various religious leaders over the past century have warned the church of exactly that. Consider some of their reactions:
…Pat Robertson stood before 1,500 leaders of the Christian Right, looked into the 1990’s and issued a dark prophecy.
“There is something coming from the East,” said Robertson, lowering his voice to a whispery warning. “It’s a modified version of Hinduism. It’s called the New Age.”2
The turbulent sixties provided the perfect atmosphere for what we now recognize as the New Age movement or the New Age Cult. The neoorthodox theologian Nels Ferre correctly predicted the influx of Eastern and Indian philosophy and theology that characterized that decade, and concluded that the imported ideas would be a major challenge to historic Christianity.
The great English apologist C. S. Lewis saw the battle lines clearly drawn. He noted that in the final conflict between religions, Hinduism and Christianity would offer the only viable options because Hinduism absorbs all religious systems, and Christianity excludes all others, maintaining the supremacy of the claims of Jesus Christ.3
And Bavinck was not alone in explaining to us the character of the conflict that would be fought in the twentieth century. In his famous Stone Lectures of 1898, Abraham Kuyper observed that Protestant nations were becoming pantheistic. This he attributed to the “German Philosophy,” but he saw its concrete form coming from Darwin. This view “claims for itself more and more the supremacy in every sphere of life, even in that of theology, and under all sorts of names tries to overthrow our Christian traditions.” A victory of pantheistic Darwinism would result in “exchanging the heritage of our fathers for a hopeless modern Buddhism.” 4
Those warnings suggest that modern-day Issachar ought to examine this spirit of the age in order to be able to recognize it for what it is and defend herself and her offspring from its dastardly influence. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
Defining the New Age Movement (NAM) is not a simple assignment. This will become obvious from the following attempt of Elliot Miller in his book, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement, to answer the question above:
Please note that definitively answering this seemingly direct and simple question is actually so complicated and involved that I devoted all of chapter 1 to doing it. But to be as concise as possible: The New Age movement, properly defined, is an extremely large metanetwork (“network of networks”) composed of people and groups who share common values and a common vision. These values are based in Eastern/occult mysticism and pantheistic monism (the world view that all is One, and this One is God), and the vision is of a coming era of peace and enlightenment, the “Age of Aquarius.”
New Agers come from a wide variety of independent traditions and persuasions, and may differ on a number of more peripheral matters. But their agreement as to their basic values and vision is sufficient for them to “network” (cooperate) with one another to help influence society in the direction of their values and vision.
The fact that New Agers are actively seeking to shape our cultural future suggests a second, more loosely defined way in which people think of the NAM: It has become a third major social force vying with traditional Judeo-Christian religion and secular humanism for cultural dominance. But this would make the NAM more than just a network or movement: it is also a major cultural trend. It represents a historical movement that can be traced over a period of more than two centuries in the West from orthodox Christianity back to paganism.
In this perspective secularism can be viewed as little more than a “bridge” that has made this cultural return to our pre-Christian roots intellectually and psychologically possible. And so, finally and most significantly, the New Age movement is a resurgence of paganism. It is the occult going public or “coming out of the closet” after centuries of hiding itself (in fact, “occult” means “that which is hidden”) at the cultural periphery because of the dominance of Judeo-Christian beliefs and values.5
In this definition of the New Age Movement, Miller identifies it as “an extremely large metanet-work composed of people and groups that share common values and a common vision.” This “metanetwork” is known by various names: the Age of Aquarius, the New Consciousness, the New Orientalism, Cosmic Humanism, the New World Order, the New Esotericism, and the New Globalism.
Further, Issachar should recognize some of the symbols that represent the New Age Movement. Some of those symbols include: the rainbow, pyramids, concentric circles, rays of light, crystals, and the unicorn. Although we may not assume a New Age conspiracy every time we see one or more of these symbols, we ought to think twice about them when they do appear and consider what, if any, influence they may be having on us and our children.
Although members of the groups mentioned above do not have identical beliefs, they do share some common ones. Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries identify some of these common beliefs as “four spiritual flaws,” in their book Satan’s “Evangelistic” Strategy For This New Age. As those who are to be “understanding of the times” we should be aware of them:
Pantheism is a conception of God that pervades the New Age Movement. It is most easily defined as the belief that “God is all and all is God.” The word pan means “all” and as such refers to the idea that all that exists is God; there are merely different levels of existence that correspond to different levels of divinity. The lowest level is matter, then comes the vegetable kingdom, followed by the animal kingdom, and finally, mankind. But everything is God. Nature is God; you are God; I am God. God is all there is.
For the pantheist, the final reality in the universe is spiritual. In fact, matter is really an illusion. Borrowing from the Eastern religion of Hinduism, New Agers believe that we must deny the existence of the material universe to
escape into the world of the mind, which is in touch with the spiritual universe that is truly real.
God is an impersonal force; God is energy, and energy is God. This redefinition of God, we are told, is supported by the scientific studies in quantum mechanics.
…(T)he Eastern idea of God as an impersonal force was introduced to millions of Americans in the Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas, who produced these movies, admits that they convey a religious message. “There is a God and there is both a good side and a bad side. You have a choice between them, but the world works better if you’re on the good side.” By falling in love with the characters in these movies many Americans were being introduced to a concept of God that will eventually ruin our society. 6
Lutzer and DeVries go on to explain that a belief in pantheism has significant practical implications. For one thing, if everything is God, man is God. Thus man is both creator and creation, and as such he must save himself. In addition, pantheism devalues human life. If everything is God, man is placed on a par with plants and animals. The results of this belief can be plainly seen by comparing the healthy cows and hungry people in India. By the way, this way of thinking is also promoted by the radical environmental movement in the United States. Consider, for example, “The Great Ape Legal Project,” which is being pushed by Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and a dozen other law schools to secure for animals the right to life, the right not to be imprisoned and the right not to be tortured. In order to secure these rights, they say, animals must have the legal status of persons.
Reincarnation, according to the New Agers, has several advantages over Christianity. For one thing, it eliminates the fear of death; what we call death is nothing more than a transition to a new existence where nothing fundamental has changed. Second, it gives a rationale for the problem of evil. At last we find out why tragedy happens to some and not to others. While Christianity teaches that this world is filled with injustice, reincarnation teaches that all things operate according to the law of karma. There is an identifiable reason for evil in the world. Amid all the pain and trauma we endure, we can take heart….
The doctrine of karma refers to an irrevocable law that everyone gets what he or she deserves. There is an impersonal force in the world that causes us to build future debits and credits based on our behavior. The quality of life experienced in the next life depends on our present actions and behavior. Evil is always punished in the life to come; good is always rewarded.
This means that all people begin life at different levels. No one can claim equal rights. Some, because of sin, have forfeited all privileges, while others, because of good works, have been born into high positions and are well on their way to the escape of nirvana, the destination for the privileged few (though eventually all will probably make it).7
Eastern reincarnation theology also has some significant practical implications. These can be seen most clearly in India, where these ideas are at present believed and exercised. The caste system is a classic example. India has four castes (hereditary social classes), and those who are on the lowest end of the scale are so wretched that they cannot even belong to one of the four castes. They are called “untouchables.” The principle is that the lowest exist to serve the rich, and the rich have no responsibility whatsoever to the poor because the poor are simply receiving what they have coming to them due to bad karma from an earlier existence. Also, almost every form of abuse can be justified, since the law of karma is that you get exactly what you deserve. Ultimately, Karma teaches that there is no injustice in the world. And what possible reason could there be for acts of kindness or mercy?
Remember that for the pantheist, the final reality of the universe is spiritual, not material. In fact, the material world is a hindrance to our becoming one with the infinite force, the cosmic energy called God. Strictly speaking, matter is an illusion, and so is the supposed conflict between right and wrong. Only the uninformed make such distinctions.
The goal of the pantheist is for the individual to lose himself or herself in the “eternal nothingness of God.” Life is a dream and someday we will awake to realize that we were dreaming. That awakening will be a loss of consciousness as we are united with the eternal, unknowable force. To speak of good and evil as opposites is to betray the fact that we are still tied to the elementary distinctions of physical existence. In self-realization, claim New Agers, we get beyond such distinctions.8
The belief in moral relativism is a logical consequence of New Age thinking. In a universe where God is all and all is God, everything is moral because everything is God. Thus man’s only problem, if he has one, is ignorance, not sin. And by the means of meditation, man is able to escape his false illusions of right and wrong.
What is striking is that Western Christianity is more and more heading in the same direction. Consider how many sins have been redefined as diseases? For example, the sin of drunkenness is now the disease of alcoholism, and the sin of gambling is now just an addiction, and so it goes. As “Christianity” forsakes its biblical roots and its insistence on a Bible that is infallible, she opens herself up to the same relativistic thinking. Consider for example the wide acceptance of women in ecclesiastical office, practicing homosexuals as members in good standing (also as ministers), and the current embracing of “process theology.” It doesn’t seem to concern modern “Christianity” that the Scriptures speak clearly against these errors.
(T)he New Age turns out to be a revival of the Old Age, for the teaching of the “mystery religions” during the pagan days of Greece and Rome was based on the idea that there was secret knowledge that could be obtained by searching the depths of one’s own soul. Through mystical encounters with cosmic powers, enlightenment was possible.
Marilyn Ferguson (apologist for the NAM, CK) says that if we want to have a new perception of reality, “the first step is an entry point … a mystical psychic experience.”
Let’s pause here for a moment of analysis. The entry point is a spiritual experience, but what is a spiritual experience? Though Ferguson does not define it, of necessity it must be an encounter with another spiritual being. But there is more than one spiritual being in the universe. God, angels, demons, and humans all have spiritual capacities. How can one know which spirit has been contacted? Since a person cannot have a spiritual experience with himself, it follows that the New Agers must be making contact with some other spiritual beings….
So either the New Agers are making contact with the true God or wicked spirits who are available for communication. God must be ruled out, since the New Agers (1) deny that He has an existence independent of the universe, and (2) reject the belief that Christ is the only way to God the Father. That leaves demonic spirits who are only too glad to make contact with humans and give them a genuine “spiritual experience.” 9
From the preceding brief description of the New Age Movement it should be clear that for them “self,” “feelings,” and “experiences ” rule. Sounds like an echo of current Western thinking, does it not? But that must wait for future installments concerning how these Eastern ideas are infiltrating the West and what impact they are having on Christianity in general and Issachar in particular.
Sons of Issachar, let us continue to grow in our understanding of the times and live!
1.Charles Honey, “Seeking Peace,” The Grand Rapids Press, 25 Jan. 1997: B3.
2.Don Lattin, “Christian leaders are worried over New Age religions,” The Grand Rapids Press, 28 April, 1990: B3.
3.Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1989) 13.
4.Steve M. Schlissel, “How the West Was Lost,” Biblical Worldview March, 2000: 6.
5.Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989) 183-184.
6.Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries, Satan’s “Evangelistic” Strategy For This New Age (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989) 60-62.
7.Ibid., p. 74-76.
8.Ibid., p. 90-91.
9.Ibid., p. 101-102.