The 1960s and ’70s was a time of great transition for Western culture – and in our opinion, not in a good way. Sadly in our view, America led the way down that slippery slope. Social mores and long-held religious tenets were challenged and often discarded by young people, which raised the eyebrows of former generations and truly frightened many parents. The news coverage gave the appearance that all the nation’s youth were engaged in “tearing down the system.” We were there, though. Not all the nation’s young people bought into this rebellion, but of course, the radicals – and there were many – got all the press. Overall, it was a very rebellious era, and many explosive changes to society were wrought at that time.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the young were introduced to drugs and radical ideas that had been largely unknown and unsampled in earlier generations. “Flower power” was a phrase attributed to Alan Ginsberg in 1965 and popularized among the “hippie movement,” who were protesting the Vietnam War and calling for “peace and love.” Behind the “love” part of the slogan was a push for unrestrained sexual freedom, which was nothing less than casting off deeply rooted moral standards and religious beliefs. “Let it all hang out” – and it did. It hung out and fell off—many of the young left God and His word in the dust. Of course, there has always been immorality and rebellion in every generation. Still, it was brought into the open and put on a pedestal, fashionable new ideals and immorality not so openly and freely accepted since perhaps pagan Roman times of old. It is essential to realize that “the young” did not develop these ideas independently. Young adults in college are idealistic and impressionable, open to new ideas, and looking for a cause. They long to “fix” the world and believe they are just the ones to do it.
Many kids “caught” this radicalism at their universities, and it was taught to them by their professors who had themselves been brainwashed by others. It just caught hold and came to fruition when our largest generation of young people happened on the scene, looking for pleasure and a cause – and a new worldview to adopt. Timothy Leary, the pied piper of LSD – scientist, psychologist, and Harvard University professor– led the way for the impressionable group of experimenters to, as he put it, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.” Becoming “one with the universe” – and deadening one’s conscience – was much more accessible through the use of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and Psilocybin mushroom, which Leary and his friend, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) were experimenting with on Harvard’s dime in their Harvard Psilocybin Project experiments. It took a while for American culture at large to shift, but once a large part of mainstream media and popular culture identified with the new zeitgeist, the significant cultural shift was off and running. Bye-bye, Miss American Pie…
If you lived through the great change in society, as we have, you watched major alterations surge in over a relatively short time, both in secular and religious views.
Alongside the political and immorality awakening, religious experimentation was a growth industry. Eastern mysticism had first made its way to the United States in 1893 when Swami Vivekananda arrived and spoke at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. Still, Hinduism mostly played a very minor role in American life until the 1960s. This is partly attributable to America’s banning of immigration from India in 1924.1“The Timeline and History of Yoga in America“; Holly Hammond, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007
Also, in the 1960s, the “British Invasion” brought the Beatles to the United States. They were enormously talented and popular musicians who also challenged Western culture as they too went on a spiritual search. They crossed paths with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and together they spread Yoga and Eastern meditation, wildly popularizing Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation. After all, who would know better than celebrities what is true and helpful?
As Yoga and Eastern meditation were becoming more mainstream, George Lucas produced a blockbuster film in 1977 that captured the attention of millions, titled Star Wars! The film was a sort of “space western” permeated with Eastern mysticism. Yoga was taught by Yoda the Yogi, drawing upon his “ancient wisdom.” The culture, including many in the church, actually began accepting the Eastern worldviews of “the Force.” Yogi Yoda explained it to Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back”:
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
Essentially Yoda was teaching “Oneism.” Oneism teaches that everything in the universe is one. There is no distinction between creator and creation2we recommend The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age by Peter Jones:
If One Thing / Tao is all that exists, then there can be no logical concepts, (as logic requires two things), nor indeed any understanding of how this One thing could cause the Many changing things which we experience in the world. The error has been in not correctly realising the properties of the One.3“Introduction to Metaphysics of Tao, Taoism Religion“
As Watchman Fellowship shows in their “A Brief Timeline of the New Age Movement,” the New Age actually had its start in the 1840s. However, it was not widely embraced, at least not until the college students to whom it was introduced in the 1960s began moving into leadership positions in the 1970s and 80s. In 1969 another popular group, The Fifth Dimension, had the youth culture singing along with them about “The dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” The New Age was being mainstreamed; the Beatles, The Fifth Dimension, and George Lucas were some of its leaders, thought shapers, and teachers. Of course, there were many others.
The New Age came into its own in the 1980s. Bantam Books published Shirley McLaine’s book, Out on a Limb, in 1983. Four years later, the book was made into a film. New Age magazine was a popular publication in the 1980s and had the same look and virtually the same articles as Psychology Today magazine. In Chicago, we had a new radio station, WNUA, “Music for a New Age.” We read, with great interest, Dave Hunt’s book, Understanding the New Age (1988), but our pastor at the time assured us there was no such thing as a New Age. Doug Groothuis’ book, Unmasking the New Age, came out in 1986, and in 1989 Elliot Miller’s, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement: Describing and Evaluating a Growing Social Force was published. A host of other books warning the church about this growing religion were being produced, and many Christians began to wake up to its danger. Evangelical churches may have appeared for a time to be withstanding the overwhelming deluge of New Age teaching flooding the culture, seemingly resistant to the religious ideas the New Age was prodigiously peddling for several decades. But that changed with the advent of the New Millennium. Obviously, there had been much damage done behind the curtain. It may be that all that was needed to start the New Age torrent flowing into evangelical churches was a “changing of the pastoral guard” to a new generation.
In “Thomas Merton: The Contemplative Dark Thread” (MCOI Journal, Fall 2006), Jackie Alnor wrote:
But now in the decade of the ’00s, the latest craze in the church today—known as the Emergent Church/Conversation (EC)—is bringing a revival of Mysticism into Evangelicalism. These EC leaders write books quoting the very Mystics—like Huxley—who in the past sought God in all the wrong places. These books point Christians to the mystical practice of what is called “contemplative/centering prayer” that was popularized by one of Huxley’s contemporaries—the late Thomas Merton (1915-1968). Merton was a Roman Catholic Trappist monk and an anti-war peace activist during the Vietnam War era. He was a prolific writer who coined the term “centering prayer” to describe the style of mind-emptying meditation that seeks to empty oneself and lose oneself into the void he interchangeably calls “the life of the spirit” and Nirvana.
The Emergent leaders – Doug Pagett, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and others – embraced Eastern (New Age) mysticism, contemplative prayer, Yoga, etc., and walked it right down the aisle of the church. Doug Pagett’s book, BodyPrayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God (2005) legitimized Yoga as a prayer practice for Christians. With the endorsement of a Christian celebrity, it was becoming a staple in Evangelical churches. Brooke Boon followed up with Holy Yoga: Exercise for the Christian Body and Soul (with DVD), which arrived at your favorite Christian bookseller in 2007 and further planted Eastern spirituality and practices into the Evangelical church.4Geri Unburean demonstrates the bankruptcy of “Christian Yoga: Bringing the Kundalini Spirit Into the Church.”
In addition to being enamored with the work of Roman Catholic Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, the Emerging leaders began reading and embracing the writings and ideas of Franciscan Monk, Richard Rohr. In the early 2000s, Aaron Niequist moved from Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church and joined Willow Creek Community Church as the worship leader. Shortly after taking the position, he announced on his personal page how much reading Richard Rohr’s books had transformed his understanding of the Christian faith. Indeed, it would.
In 2007 Willow Creek Community Church did a “We were wrong” mea culpa. They announced the results of an internal study which had made them aware they had not been training their people to be “self-feeders.” At the time, many people, concerned with the direction Willow Creek had been going, hoped that their mea culpa meant the church was to make a new beginning with a focus on teaching their people how to study the Bible. Such was not the case. Instead, Willow Creek turned further Eastward and promoted New Age spirituality as the way to go.
Mega-church leader, Willow Creek Association, is sending a clear message through their 2007 Fall Resource Catalog – contemplative spirituality and emergent theology are the way to go. The 58-page catalog is filled with heavy hitters in both camps. Those listed include meditation promoter Jim Collins, contemplative proponents John Ortberg, and Rick Warren, along with Erwin McManus. The Be Still DVD, featuring many who promote contemplative (Beth Moore, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Calvin Miller) is being offered in the catalog as well. This DVD is an infomercial for contemplative prayer (see our Be Still research). Another strong contemplative author in the catalog is Keri Wyatt Kent, author of several books and popular with young mothers.
Taking a broad step closer to the emerging church, the Willow Creek catalog announces the Ancient Future Community Group Life Conference (September 2007) with several emerging church leaders including Scot McKnight (see Faith Undone) and Alan Hirsch. One workshop will be presented by the “creators of Be Still” titled “Practicing Contemplative Prayer in Your Small Group.” Calling these speakers “expert speakers” 5“Willow Creek Fall 2007 Catalog Gives Clear Message“; August 23, 2007, by Lighthouse Trails Editors
Since the early 2000s, Yoga, Eastern Contemplative Prayer, and Mindfulness practices have made their way through evangelical churches, aided by well-regarded and popular pastors, elders, and individual Christians who were believed to be trustworthy. It has become a vicious circle. Many of these leaders, pastors, Christian organizations, and Christian writers were graduates of evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries whose teachers had already been infected with New Age thinking and enthusiastically taught eastern mysticism to these future evangelical leaders. As far back as 2013, John Haller wrote:
One movement that has grown in recent years is the spiritual formation movement. The gist of this movement seems to be nothing more than the application of a systems approach to personal spiritual development. Again, the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit seems secondary to the new techniques. In a recent series of blog posts, John MacArthur’s ministry Grace to You has raised questions about spiritual formation programs:
[M]any of the leading voices in the spiritual formation movement stress the need for more intuitive interpretations of spirituality. They encourage believers to incorporate a wide variety of extrabiblical spiritual practices, such as contemplative prayer, silence, meditation, creative expression, and Yoga. In fact, some of the most popular methods of spiritual formation have been lifted from Catholicism, new age mysticism, or other religions and rebranded with biblical-sounding terminology.6“The Growth of Spiritual Formation Programs in Evangelical Seminaries and Colleges,” John Haller
We ourselves owe a debt of gratitude to the forward-thinking Christians who sounded the alarm early on – Dave Hunt and The Berean Call, Doug Groothuis, Elliot Miller, Bill Alnor, and others. Evidently, too few Christians took the issue seriously enough, and discernment and apologetics ministries were – and still often are – disregarded and labeled “divisive.”
There is rarely a week that MCOI doesn’t receive an email or message from a former New Ager that has become a Christian asking where they can find a good Bible-teaching church? Many who have left the New Age and become born again have been shocked to find New Age mysticism and practices in the churches.
The Apostle Paul was very concerned that false teachers and teachings were finding their way into the early church of his day. He did not have much longer to live, and he implored the pastors and elders to guard the flock that was in their care:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert (Acts 20:28-31)
People who often read our blogs may think we are “beating a dead horse” by quoting this verse so often. But the church is NOT DEAD – it is just in grave danger.Ω
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|↑1||“The Timeline and History of Yoga in America“; Holly Hammond, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007|
|↑2||we recommend The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age by Peter Jones|
|↑3||“Introduction to Metaphysics of Tao, Taoism Religion“|
|↑4||Geri Unburean demonstrates the bankruptcy of “Christian Yoga: Bringing the Kundalini Spirit Into the Church.”|
|↑5||“Willow Creek Fall 2007 Catalog Gives Clear Message“; August 23, 2007, by Lighthouse Trails Editors|
|↑6||“The Growth of Spiritual Formation Programs in Evangelical Seminaries and Colleges,” John Haller|