Esoteric Evolution – An Overview

 By Sarah H. Leslie*

       “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

       ''For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

      "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

     "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  (Romans 8:18-32)

This is an abstract of a thesis. This abstract provides an overview of evolution as a cosmological and metaphysical paradigm that seamlessly unites science with spirituality in a manner that corrupts the truth. Evolution is more than an alternative to the creation story. Evolution is not just a scientific concept; it is a spiritual worldview. This paper is not by any means complete, nor exhaustive. This is simply a broad overview of the topic of spiritual evolution, particularly its mysticism and esoteric applications to postmodern life in both the culture at large and also the church.

 The full scope of evolution posits that there is a state of perfection that can be achieved, a “telos” (goal, purpose) of creation that will ultimately culminate in created matter being reabsorbed back into the “Divine Whole,” with man becoming a “god” and attaining a higher plane of consciousness. Man as “divine substance” is a key tenet of this esoteric spirituality, teaching that having lost some of our “divine essence” while entering the material existence, we are now evolving upwards into a gradual reabsorption into the Divine, thus achieving divinity and perfection. This idea has become integrated into both Judaism and Christianity through the Kabbalah and other Gnostic sources. It claims that we are “co-creators” with God. It corrupts the doctrine of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. It trivializes, bypasses or neglects the Cross of Christ (His shed blood for our sins, and His resurrection) and forges a new pathway for salvation in which man, through his own efforts (both spiritual and physical), must work towards a salvation that reunites him with “God” in eternal bliss. Thus the focus is not on man’s sin and our need for a Saviour, but on man’s spiritual quest for redemption. As such, the end goal does not anticipate Jesus’ 2nd coming, nor God’s day of judgment, but rather a paradisiac nirvana state.

 The history of esoteric evolution is rooted in the influence of the eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Greek Humanism, etc.) on Jewish and Christian theology from hundreds of years prior to Christ to our modern era. At various times in church history this influence would become more profound as various historical cultures interacted, or religions intermingled; and as one looks at history there is evidence of tides when this infusion of esoteric thought ebbed and flowed. There is no one pivotal moment in church history, but rather significant nodules where a confluence is apparent. The extent to which some of these esoteric ideas – some stretching back thousands of years – have affected the modern-day evangelical doctrine is the topic of dispute, debate, and even denial.

Darwinism with its more “scientific” evolution merely provides evidence of an underlying theoretical, philosophical and theological foundation of eastern mysticism. This underlying foundation was already arising to prominence in European philosophy by the mid-1800s, and beginning to influence many of the academic disciplines. Besides impacting economic theory (Marx and Engels), it also gave rise to psychology, sociology, anthropology and a host of other emerging sciences and pseudo-sciences. It found a happy correspondence with the rise of occult mysticism, especially Theosophy. Furthermore, this esoteric evolution was beginning to affect the theology of the Protestant churches – not only the origins of man and creation, but also its soteriology and eschatology.

 The French Jesuit anthropologist-philosopher-priest Teilhard de Chardin (See Brave New Schools, Chapter 5: Saving the Earth) would become known as the “father” of the modern mystical evolution now known as the New Age Movement. Teilhard would propose that just as mankind had evolved from apes (Darwinism), that there would be an evolutionary leap and mankind would abruptly emerge as a higher order species with a higher consciousness, which he called Homo Noeticus (New Man). Teilhard was careful to couch all of his words into a Christian-sounding terminology, and fuse the two worldviews together into a new eschatology in which man would achieve a level of a cosmic whole, a global mind, which Teilhard called the “Noosphere” (somewhat like a spiritual atmosphere, a psychic higher level). Teilhard also articulated the “Omega Point” that would be an ultimate convergence of matter and consciousness, an eschatological climax.

 Our fellow researcher Dr. Martin Erdmann argues, with much historical contextual support, that the concept of modern evolutionism, especially as it has altered Christian theology, can be traced back to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz, influenced by the German mystic Jacob Boehme, worked on a quasi-scientific model that God’s creation was evolving to a higher state of perfection. German mysticism spread out from the original core group of mystical thinkers:  Schelling, Fichte, Goethe, and most significantly Georg Hegel. In his significant thesis titled Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (2001), Glenn Magee argues that Hegel based his philosophy upon the tenets of occult Hermeticism, and strove to weave these doctrines into a Christian paradigm based on an evolutionary teleology.

 In the 1800s the Theosophists, Madame Blavatsky (see Theosophy) and her cohorts (Annie Besant, Alice Bailey, et al) began to articulate a “new age” on earth based on the evolutionary rise of mankind. They based their tenets on a combination of demonic transmissions and Hindu mysticism, foretelling a time in the near future when their secret “plan” for a new world order could become an open conspiracy. In 1980 Marilyn Ferguson, in her book The Aquarian Conspiracy, officially launched this movement’s coming out party. Ferguson would spell out this plan in much detail, and describe its program of taking over the major organs of society, especially including science and education, for the furthering of mankind’s evolutionary path. Of note is that Ferguson emphasized a new mind, a new way of seeing and viewing reality, as necessary for this evolutionary leap.

 Also during the latter half of the 1800s others would begin working on organizing mankind into collectives. This implementation of esoteric evolution was structural and procedural, and there were many variations on this theme. Marxism with its emphasis on collectives is an obvious example. It was felt that by placing men into groups, cells, units (or whatever else they were called), that it would facilitate and expedite this evolution to a higher level of being. As such, this evolutionary mysticism is utopian, viewing mankind as malleable and believing that the ends justify the means. But the utilitarian means often became totalitarian, and this is the dark underside of all evolutionary mysticism. The social engineers discovered that mankind can be forcibly coerced into small groups, communes, communities, tribes, work units, etc. in order to perform, even though man’s base nature interfered in this utopic dream. These experts learned that operant conditioning, specifically as it was refined by B.F. Skinner, was an effective method of inducing man to change his behavior – rewarding compliance and penalizing those who could not or would not learn.

The generic term for this collective evolution is known as General Systems Theory. Its goal of organizing mankind into structural units is ultimately for the purpose of facilitating a cosmic shift towards a unified Whole. A notable book detailing General Systems Theory as the means of human esoteric and structural evolution was authored by New Age leader Jeffrey S. Stamps, titled Holonomy: A Human Systems Theory (1980). Entire social systems could be reworked to facilitate conscious evolution, according to Stamps’ hierarchical models. Barbara Marx Hubbard, noted New Age leader also wrote prolifically on this topic of the evolution of consciousness of mankind, with a specific goal of creating an “Armageddon Alternative” to the biblical prophecy. Here the teleological goal of esoteric evolution can be seen most clearly.

There were many other occultists, mystics, gurus and spiritual “visionaries” who influenced societies at the turn of the last century. The German history was articulated in Richard Noll’s two books about Carl Jung, The Jung Cult and its sequel, The Aryan Christ. At the crux of these movements was man’s conscious evolution, which was re-cast in terms of spiritual enlightenment. Jung envisioned psychotherapy as a rite of initiation into the occult mysteries, thus facilitating the evolution of consciousness. This then became a sub-theme of psychology throughout the 20th century. In order for man to achieve nirvana as a collective whole, he would need to be put through transformative exercises (spiritual, psychological and sociological). These methods were based on achieving altered states of consciousness, whether through meditation (contemplation), or use of drugs, or even through intentional contact with the spirit world.  

By the 1960s with the advent of The Beatles rock group, and their foray into eastern mysticism with their own private guru, the popular culture would follow suit and begin to delve into these altered states of consciousness. During this same time period Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were seeking to recast psychology into a medium for the masses to become transformed and indoctrinated into new ways of thinking, feeling, seeing and behaving. Thus began the “Self-Help” movement (also called the “Human Potential” movement”), which quickly became an official arm of the New Age movement. At an alarming speed this movement entered into the evangelical church world during the 1980s and 1990s, and was quickly integrated into theology in a manner that taught that man was basically good but needed a bit of help from God. Thus humanistic psychology became an efficient tool with which to begin the process to inculcate believers with the idea that they were on a progressive spiritual journey in which they could perfect themselves – and even the planet.  

The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) performed human experiments on mind and matter, advocating for Extrasensory Perception (ESP) as a way to further man along his spiritual development. At a key juncture in time, Willis Harman, a leading Theosophist at SRI, would positively impact evangelical Christian leaders at a series of two “Consultations on the Future” sponsored by the Billy Graham Association in the late 1970s. It was at these two consultations that evangelical leaders heard about alternative future scenarios in which Jesus was not coming back to earth imminently. These churchmen were encouraged to “envision” new future scenarios in which mankind could perfect the earth and himself via science and philosophy, social change and “global mind change” (the title of a Willis Harman book).

Much has been written about the rise of the postmodern neoevangelical movement but, to briefly summarize, the headquarters of the new eschatology would become Fuller Theological Seminary. Here the professors began working arduously on creating new theologies that would incorporate in a new worldview where the church was seen to be evolving to greater perfection on earth. This included Dominionism (which was also being touted in other quarters of the Christian world) that taught that mankind must perfect itself and the planet before Jesus will return. The U.S. Center for World Mission (headed by Ralph Winter, who was highly influenced by Willis Harman) began to reorganize the planet into “affinity” groups based on ethnicity (not language). This is not an anomaly. All esoteric evolution contains an element of racial purity, either explicitly or implicitly insinuating that some are lower on the evolutionary scale. Some have even devised assessments to ascertain “higher order” skills and abilities.

Spiritual formation was a concept developed at Fuller by Roberta Hestenes (Larry Crabb and Richard Foster would make further inroads into the popular evangelical culture). Spiritual formation represented a perfect mixture of mysticism (altered states of consciousness) along with physical structure/alignment (i.e., formation). It must be noted that practicing eastern mysticism, for example Yoga, requires both a physical and mental component.

Peter Drucker, the well-known business leader and “guru,” began to become quite influential in the church at this time, helping to launch Leadership Network. Based on the same networking hierarchical structure as detailed by Marilyn Ferguson in her description of how the New Age would operate, Leadership Network began to form new church group structures based on downline networking structures that were hierarchical in nature (not unlike multilevel marketing). These structures provided a clear channel for indoctrination, ensuring that the “DNA” of the leader would be transmitted downline in uniformity. It was felt that this homogenous message would facilitate the emergence of a new church order in which there would be unity in purpose for the achievement of a collective harmonious whole.

Notably, Peter Drucker grew up in a family that was part of the Vienna Circle, a group that was devoted to the furthering of a new societal order (Comtean Positivism). Drucker believed that men in collective formation would emerge to a higher form of spirituality. Drucker began envisioning this as the “concept of the corporation” (the title of his first book) – a collective business organism. Drucker viewed the State (government) as the chief vehicle to facilitate this evolution, but only as it was merged with the Corporate (business) and the Private Sector (charities and the churches) to function together as a “3-legged stool.” Drucker worked with key evangelical church leaders (Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, etc.) in the latter third of his life to develop the Mega-Church model as a quasi-corporate structure, broken down into manageable cells (small groups), that could best facilitate this paradigm shift.

It should be pointed out that the church, as it was reformed into this downline networking hierarchy, would begin to interlock with global State and Corporate entities in novel ways heretofore unknown in the history of mankind. C. Peter Wagner, also from Fuller, would dedicate the past several decades of his life to forming a global network that he has called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), headed by self-proclaimed “apostles” and “prophets” who claimed to have attained superior supernatural abilities. Several years ago Wagner’s NAR network began to boast that it would be in charge of 7 mountains (or “spheres”) to rule the earth, a clear reference to Dominionism. Significantly, Wagner had incorporated into his theology some esoteric evolutionary doctrines from an obscure cult known as Latter Rain, which had been influenced by Gnosticism, that taught that the church could perfect herself on earth, take over the planet, implement judgment, and that by so doing men would become gods.

 Concurrently, the Emergent Church movement was launched by Leadership Network in the late 1990s as an open attempt to facilitate a “quantum shift” in spirituality in the evangelical church world. Leonard Sweet, (see "New Light") one of the founders of this movement would even articulate this as a new “quantum spirituality” in a book with this title. He would go on to further integrate the evolutionary ideals of the New Agers, including especially Teilhard de Chardin, recasting them in to a Christianized mold. Leadership Network held a very significant 2000 conference called “Exploring Off the Map” in which leading New Agers such as Peter Senge (the guru of evolutionary mysticism) and other leaders served as keynote speakers. Warren Smith, an evangelical author with a testimony of coming out of the New Age Movement, has written extensively about Sweet and this Emergent movement. In fact, the word “emergent” is steeped in meaning in Teilhard’s evolutionary cosmogony. Much more could be said about this topic.

 It should also be pointed out that certain marketing methods, particularly those developed by sociologist Dr. Everett Rogers (“Diffusion of Innovation”) have lent themselves to the evolutionary worldview. These principles are based on the esoteric and evolutionary science of Thomas Kuhn, author of the 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn proposed that not only was man’s understanding of science evolving, but science itself (truth) was evolving. Kuhn proposed a model of a “paradigm shift” to explain the sometimes sudden shifts in mindsets and understandings of science. This “paradigm shift” in mindset then became an active research project for many government social scientists, as well as psychologists and professional marketers. This psycho-social marketing method became the standard tool for “missional” evangelization across the world.

“Paradigm shifting” was heralded as the main method of societal transformation articulated by Marilyn Ferguson’s New Age book The Aquarian Conspiracy. And “paradigm shift” (or the less offensive term “transformation”) would become a rallying cry for some segments of the evangelical church world as well. This was especially through the training of Leadership Network, which openly sought to transform the church away from denominations and doctrines. So notice – rather than repentance and confession of sin, and the transformation of the inner man, there was a substitute of a mind change, a new worldview, a new set of beliefs. Not true salvation. (See attached article “What Is Transformation?” for a summary. 

*A special thanks to Dr. Martin Erdmann for his guidance in preparing this this Abstract.