5 Ways Progressive Christianity and New Age Spirituality Are Kind of the Same Thing
Think about the phrase "New Age." What comes to mind? Old documentaries of hippies at Woodstock experimenting with LSD and yoga? Shirley MacLaine holding a cluster of crystals on the cover of Time Magazine back in the ‘80s? Deepak Chopra teaching Oprah how to move things with her mind in the ‘90s? As old or out of touch as these images may seem, New Age beliefs are hotter than ever and have permeated our culture—but with a slick new image. The psychic hotline of the ‘80s has been replaced by winsome hipster gurus who have traded robes for skinny jeans—often translating Eastern religious ideas into Christianese.
Many Christians aren't even aware of how New Age beliefs have infiltrated Christendom through the Progressive Church. I've written about Progressive Christianity here, and talked about it here, here, and here. It wasn't until I recently did a study of New Age Spirituality that I realized how much Progressive Christianity has in common with it.
Here are 5 ways Progressive Christianity and the New Age Spirituality are kind of the same thing:
1. The redefinition or abandonment of the concept of sin
New Agers believe all people are inherently divine....that there is no such thing called "sin," but only the failure to remember our divinity. In her master class on the Oprah and Friends network in 2008, New Age leader Marianne Williamson led countless Americans through the book, A Course in Miracles. Participants were encouraged to affirm "There is no sin,"(1) and were taught, "The Atonement is the final lesson [a person] need learn, for it teaches him that, never having sinned, he has no need of salvation." (2) And all of this information supposedly came from Jesus Himself. (3)
Several years ago I heard a Progressive pastor teach on Genesis 3, the famous passage in which Eve was tricked by the serpent into eating the forbidden fruit. Rather than reading the account as historical fact, he was unpacking the moral "truth" we could all learn from this creation story. He made the point that when this first couple took that fateful bite, it was their shame, not their sin, that separated them from God. In other words, they failed to recognize their belovedness...their inherent goodness and worth. If they were "separated" from God, it was they who were distant....not God. Progressive writer Brian McLaren describes it this way: "They lose their fearlessness in relation to God."(4)
Notice the similarity of language. Without original sin we are all good, and we are only distant from God in our own minds when we forget that.
2. The denial of absolute truth
New Age thought is marked by its relativism: a rejection of objective morality and absolute truth. If something feels true to you, it's true. If it feels right to you, it's right. If something feels real to you, it's reality. In other words, your own thoughts and feelings are your authority for what is true and real.
One distinctive feature of Progressive Christianity is its denial of biblical authority. But of course, no one operates without an authority—if you remove one authority, you will replace it with another. Typically, Progressive Christians shift the authority for what they believe is true from the Bible to themselves—by becoming their own moral compass which will inevitably ebb and flow with culture.
3. An acceptance of Jesus, but a denial of His blood atonement
New Age thought leaders almost always couch their teachings in Christian language. Jesus is an example of someone who attained enlightenment by connecting with the divine—an example any of us can follow. His death wasn't a saving act...the "saving" comes from within ourselves when we realize we have the same capabilities as Jesus already within us. This is often referred to as "Christ consciousness." This is why many New Agers see no contradiction in reciting the Lord's prayer while believing in karma and the healing power of crystals. Of course, this is an outright denial of His atoning death and resurrection.
Many (not all) Progressive Christians also deny the blood atonement of Jesus. Last year, popular Christian musician Michael Gungor took to Twitter to rant about the idea of God requiring a blood sacrifice for sin, calling it "horrific." In his controversial book, Love Wins, Rob Bell refers to this idea as something Christians simply picked up from surrounding cultures and used to explain the death of Jesus. In a 2016 lecture explaining the Eucharist (Communion for us Protestants), Bell joked about the ridiculousness of atonement theory, summing it up as: “God is less grumpy because of Jesus.” This gave the audience a good laugh, as Bell went on to explain that the real reason we pass the bread and wine is to "heighten our senses to our bonds with our brothers and sisters in our shared humanity."
Many Progressive Christian leaders have popularized the phrase "cosmic child abuse," a term first coined by Steve Chalke to protest the idea that a loving God would require a blood sacrifice for the sin of mankind.
4. It's all about "me"
New Age thought revolves around the "Self." Self-empowerment and realization of our innate divinity are central to its teachings and practices. According to New Age blogger Kalee Brown, when Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" in John 14:6, "The 'me' Jesus referred to isn’t himself, but rather the Self within you" (emphasis mine). A Course in Miracles also asks the participant to affirm: "My salvation comes from me."(5) And hey....if we are all divine, why shouldn't it be about us?
The typical Progressive Christian will probably not agree that it's all about them—in fact, they tend to be very focused on social justice. But that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about a theological shift. Progressive favorite Richard Rohr even goes so far as to write that each of us and sometimes "creation" is the "fourth member of the blessed Trinity," implying that the fullness of God isn't complete until we become a part of it. (6)
Generally speaking, the concept of sin is abandoned or redefined, truth becomes relativized, and a mere martyr’s cross gives us a more palatable Jesus who is a great teacher, moral example, and doting BFF—but not the all-powerful warrior King who will one day return in a blood-dipped robe to judge the living and the dead. (Revelation 19:13; 2 Timothy 4:1)
Former New Ager and now Christian believer Steven Bancarz noted that New Age proponents affirm the idea that all roads lead to God. He wrote:
Many Progressive Christian authors affirm some form of universalism—implicitly, by denying the concept of a literal hell, or explicitly, by declaring that all people will be reconciled to God, regardless of their beliefs or religious practices.
The concept of universal reconciliation (that Jesus will reconcile all sinners to Himself,) was smuggled into the mainstream consciousness of the Evangelical church through the wildly popular 2007 book, The Shack. Years later, its author, William Paul Young, confirmed his intention in his book, Lies We Believe About God. He wrote, "Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!" (7)
None of this is new. Throughout church history these ideas have emerged again and again. They are old pagan dogmas recycled as new and edgy ideas, dressed up in modern garb and given a Christian make-over. Trevin Wax put it perfectly on Twitter:
Progressive Christians may think they are being cutting-edge and relevant by stepping outside the bounds of orthodoxy, but in reality they are simply falling for the ideology that has kick-started every false religion since the fall of man: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25).
It is no less damning if the "creature" is....yourself.
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(1) Schucman, Dr. Helen (2007-12-25). A Course in Miracles Foundation for Inner Peace. Kindle Edition. Lesson #259
(2) Ibid., Kindle Locations 21635-21636
(3) A Course in Miracles is a collection of spiritual revelations recorded by Columbia University Professor Helen Schucman. She dictated messages from an entity she called “the Voice,” that she later identified as “Jesus Christ.”
(4) McLaren, Brian (2011-2-1) A New Kind of Christianity, Harper One; Reprint edition p. 50
(5) Schucman, Dr. Helen (2007-12-25). A Course in Miracles Foundation for Inner Peace. Kindle Edition. Lesson 70
(6) Rohr, Richard. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Kindle Location 1255). Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.
(7) Young, William Paul (2017) Lies We Believe About God, Atria Books p. 118
3/6/2018 09:27:39 am
This is spot-on, Alisa. ALL Christians need to read this! Do you mind if I include your website as a page resource from my own website?
3/6/2018 09:38:53 am
Hi there, thanks for the kind words. And yes, I'd be honored if you included my site as a resource on yours. Thanks!
3/6/2018 10:48:26 am
Thank you so much. I am going to do just that!
3/9/2018 02:44:21 pm
How do I join ur blog
3/6/2018 09:56:40 am
My cousins told me the truth about the New Age beliefs over 30 years ago, and worried that it would infiltrate the Church. Sadly their worries became true. The underlying issue with New Age/Progressive belief is that we are still trying to put ourselves up as god. That was what the devil told Eve she could do if she took that bite, and we have been trying to be god ever sense. Your picture at the top of your blog post is on point. Whenever I think or speak about the dangers Christians are facing or have fallen into, I say "may God have mercy on us" as fervently as I can. The devil is running amok and dancing with glee at how many people fall each day while so many of us shed tears for them. I ask God often "how long, Lord?" How much worse is this going to get before God says "enough" and Jesus returns.
9/10/2018 09:44:41 pm
Belinda that is my cry too.... "how much longer Lord can you give us your mercy?"
Damn right we just infiltrated the church and we are here to stay.
6/8/2019 12:57:05 am
Logan, I'm not sure why you are commenting on a post that is well over a year old. Perhaps, I shouldn't even be responding. But I got an email showing this comment and I have a rare moment these days and felt that I should.
1/21/2021 08:50:53 pm
Bud do your research the lady who made the new age religion is a satanist. SMH
3/28/2022 12:40:42 pm
3/6/2018 10:40:56 am
Thank you Lisa for being a heralder of truth... THE TRUTH! My husband and I actually just left a church that I'm afraid is slipping down this slope. It's original founder started the church in an attempt to be culturally relevant while strictly adhering to the truth of scripture. He left a few years ago due to an illness and I'm afraid his replacement is going down the wrong path. Just very sad to see. "Sermons" have become very ME focused as opposed to God focused and while I'm sure the current pastor would deny that he is veering from the truth of scripture, there are just too many alarming signs of just that. :(
ERIC D NELSON
3/6/2018 10:32:21 pm
I'm hesitant to comment because I don't want to defend new age thought or any of the "progressive Christians " you mention, but I would like to understand what you mean by atonement theory. As far as I know there are many atonement theories, penal substitione being only one of them. So two questions.1) When Jesus said to the pharasies " Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy NOT sacrifice" what did he mean? 2) Hebrews 9:22 says: under the LAW ...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Are we under the law?
3/6/2018 10:57:28 pm
Hi Eric. I chose to use the broad phrase "atonement theory" because in my research reading Progressive Christian books and blogs, I have found that there is a general rejection of the idea of Jesus' blood making atonement for sin. Without getting into the differences between substitution, penal substitution, penal satisfaction etc..., I was trying to make the point that the whole idea of blood atonement is largely rejected.
3/7/2018 10:00:09 am
I always thought of "New Age" as music, and overall as a separate religion. Never really saw a correlation between the two. Thanks, Alisa.. The scenarios you described remind me of the happenings at the Wild Goose Festival, lol.
3/7/2018 01:11:13 pm
Hi Brian, I think more people use the term "Progressive Christianity" now, because when the Emergent church was first "emerging," it seemed to revolve more around a critique of the way the church had been doing things. There were people of all theological stripes. Now it seems that Progressive Christianity has emerged, and is becoming more defined theologically. As I read Progressive books, they all seem to be saying very similar things, whereas, in my understanding, there was more diversity in the Emergent church. I think it still may be too early to say....
3/7/2018 10:38:27 am
Excellent - keep up the great work!
3/7/2018 10:41:51 am
Fantastic article Alisa. Thank you for writing it. I've often debated with progressive Christians and even many conservative evangelicals who while disagreeing with the movement still seek to defend the bulk of it as being "basically" within the pale of orthodoxy, saying that even over the points where progressive Christians say they are still in line with historic Christianity (most point to the fact that they hold to the Nicene Creed), they in the end really aren't even orthodox here because of the way in which they deceptively use terminology as you so eloquently make clear in this article. So, for instance, they really don't hold to the Nicene Creed at all for when it says that Jesus is God of God the Nicene fathers had a very specific understanding of the term "God" there. They were speaking about the God of the Old Testament in all of His infinite attributes. But when most progressive Christians use the term "God" they mean something quite different, believing the God of the Old Testament to largely be something barbaric and primitive that we need to evolve past and they also usually embrace some form of open theism and/or panentheism. This is what makes the movement so deceptive and dangerous across the board.
3/7/2018 01:12:01 pm
Excellent observations, Dan.
3/7/2018 12:14:57 pm
Thank you Alisa for this article and your ministry and work. I heard about you at MamaBear Apologetics.
3/7/2018 01:12:17 pm
Thank you Richard!
ERIC D NELSON
3/7/2018 09:40:28 pm
Thanks for responding, this is a topic I have been very interested lately and will require more study on my part. I am curious about your use of the term 'blood atonement'. I don't often hear it referred to that way by Christians in any camp. Would you consider doing a podcast on the topic? Possibly explore some of the different theories and wich would be in or outside of orthodoxy.
3/8/2018 05:59:24 pm
Actually the term "blood atonement" is becoming more and more common in conservative evangelical circles, especially among the laity. The term is used to emphasize both the objective side of the atonement and the absolute necessity of the shedding of Christ's blood.
3/8/2018 06:06:38 pm
I should add though that it is probably best to usually refer to it as the blood atonement of Christ so as to distinguish it from an older Mormon doctrine that is something else entirely. Just to be on the safe side....
ERIC D NELSON
3/9/2018 10:58:46 pm
Dan, thanks. Im glad you pointed out that the term is most associated with 19th century Mormon doctrine. This may be one good reason not to use it. Blood atonement of Christ does make the distinction.
3/10/2018 01:28:27 pm
Eric, your original comment prompted me to do a bit more digging around. At the time I wrote this article, I wasn't aware of the Mormon doctrine, so I get why it could be confusing. I agree with Dan that it works (as long as it's attached to Jesus) because if you simply use the word "atonement," Progressives (and New Agers) do subscribe to certain atonement theories. So I was trying to signify that it had to do with Jesus' blood, without getting into arguments about PSA. (They always bring up that it was a later invention—usually because they are mixing up PSA with what Anselm brought in in the Middle Ages which was something more along the lines of penal satisfaction....a refinement, not a new invention. PSA is all over Scripture and the church fathers.)
3/10/2018 02:36:02 pm
One thing that might help is a little expansion on the scripture Eric mentions in Acts 4. Verse 10 does say, "Jesus Christ, whom you crucified," but then verses 27-29 record this prayer which is directed to God: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."
3/10/2018 06:05:45 pm
You are very welcome Eric. Most conservative evangelicals, like Alisa says, would say that PSA is not the only orthodox position, but it is the one we are quite convinced is in fact the full biblical position. I fully agree with Alisa that many other theories do point to a key element of the atonement, but we believe that PSA best encompasses all of these key biblical elements. I also agree with Diane that it is not an either/or situation. God used the evil actions of human beings to bring about His ultimate purpose of punishing Christ in our place. And I agree with Alisa that without substitution there is no Christian position, but I would add that without a strong assertion that the atonement appeases the wrath of God in some sense is also not truly biblical in any sense. One's doctrine in my estimation doesn't have to be as direct as PSA (although as said I do believe PSA is correct), but I do believe it has to be present to be orthodox. I don't want to comment too much on the passages you pointed to because as Alisa pointed out how one exegetes those particular texts from a conservative evangelical standpoint has a lot to do with where one falls on the Calvinist/Arminian debate and I fall on the Calvinist side and I'm pretty sure Alisa does not. I can't wait for the podcast on the atonement though as that is such a fascinating topic both biblically and historically.
3/21/2018 09:26:17 am
Thank you so much for the work you are doing. Please keep it up!
9/12/2018 01:43:34 pm
Hi, thank you so much for this article. I was wondering if the teaching by Peter Scazzero via his books Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, would fall under this as well? I'm currently going through his book on a recommendation from a trusted friend, and am surprised at his references to Catholicism, or this overarching theme that we've been doing church all wrong. Instead of pointing back to the early church in the book of Acts, he's admonishing monks and what seems like mystics.
12/23/2019 02:25:14 pm
Awesome parallelism. Universalism is so aligned with False Teaching .... see 2 Peter 2: 1-22 for truth. Another reference could be A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
2/5/2020 09:08:32 am
This is BANG ON. I have just started a series on 1 John - this week focusing on 1:5-7 and found this article - very well written and to the point - thank you!
3/7/2020 02:00:55 pm
Thank you. Excellent article. This is most of my friends.
6/8/2020 09:22:55 pm
I’m a former evangelical and I want to clarify about Jesus’ death. First you have a false self or shadow side. This can be thought as ego or sinful self. This is the part of us that we wrestle with everyday. The death and resurrection is a picture of how our sin/false self dies and we are born again. This can happen over and over in life as we grow in our spirituality. I haven’t figured everything out for myself. But I thought this point was something that I missed as an evangelical. I never went deep with my inner world and my ego. Through meditation I often connect to Jesus and I’ve had more experiences with the mystical. I love it but I know it’s not for everyone. Peace
8/20/2020 09:06:10 pm
I just ran across this site. I like it. think I will save it to my favorites. I have been a student of God's word for a lot of years.
6/7/2021 09:36:39 am
Jesus was a Jew, he came from a religion that incorporated many mystical ideologies such as numerology, reincarnation and energy. His qualms with the Jewish faith was not so much in their teachings, but that we as individuals had the ability to tap into their Divinity with God directly. During his time, their faith was practiced much the same way as the Catholics practice, where only a High Priest was fit to understand and perform rituals that would connect them closer to the Divine. God, Divine...I don't know why people have such a problem interchanging these worlds. If words and concepts really are important to you then Jesus' real name is Yesua. In the Jewish tradition words and sounds had meaning, so by by translating their text to the Latin or English Language would have lost some of its meaning as well. People are always fighting over right and wrong in religion. In all religions, we are told to follow the Spirit/Soul/Energy. I use these words interchangeably, yes, because we live in a world of many languages and traditions where the Soul is translated in so many different ways and meanings. God/Universe/Creator is Love. Whatever path you take, the seeker who persues God/Divine will find It.
7/22/2021 03:57:15 am
I do believe we should be like the church in the book of acts... baptizing in water, Holy Spirit filled and manifesting Holy Spirit Gifts as they did in the early church. This is not new age though... though some may see it as being similar in a supernatural way. One is truly supernatural from God... the New age one is often demonic. That is why we also need the spiritual gift of discernment... to discern what is from God and what is not. We should be walking in God's Truth, God's Love and also the power of the Holy Spirit.
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