New Theology, Gnosticism and the New Age
by Gene K. Smith (bio), 2006
See Key characteristics of The New Theology (Neo-Orthodoxy)
Excerpts from The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
Revised in September 2012
The modern secular concept of truth is relative. Purged of Biblical absolutes, it puts Man at the center of all things. Denying the reality of a personal almighty God, the worldly person simply determines what's true and real according to his own mind, inclination and imagination.
Such humanism is the offspring of ancient Greek Platonism/Gnosticism. Reinventing our Creator to fit their "faith," both Gnostics and humanists rejected most of the Bible. It made no earthly sense to them.
That's not surprising! Humanist are left with no way to grasp the actual wonders of the world they inhabit. Positivism is a dead philosophy. Man is only a biological machine. This deception has led to all kinds of despair, futility, drugs and suicide. In effect, secular humanism is a tragic and demoralizing blind alley.
In contrast, those who know and follow God are given full access to the truths that the world has rejected. (1 Sam. 15:29; Titus 1;2; Heb. 6:18). As members of God's family, we need to be ready to alert others to the deceptions of the secular humanistic worldview (Eph. 2:2). Our spiritual foe knows well that to carry out his destructive plan, he must capture human minds by manipulating their beliefs. After all, man's views of truth determines how he lives and how he interprets the world and the Bible.
By the beginning of the 19th century western intellectuals began openly to embrace Eastern mysticism and the occult as a source of truth because they had abandoned rationalistic thinking. There is a logical inconsistency in man's rejection of the supernatural and his embrace of mysticism as Francis Schaeffer clearly shows in Escape from Reason) The changing views would soon bring revolutionary change to "progressive" churches and academia.
The concept of the "supernatural" had been previously rejected by the humanists because it's not "rational" within the consciousness perceivable by the five senses. Certain phenomena, such as clairvoyance, divination, necromancy, spiritism, etc., which can't be explained by accepted scientific methods, are now given a place in academia as "paranormal", which simply means "beyond the normal." Faculty and students turned to drugs and mysticism as a means of seeking truth just as in Eastern mysticism (Platonism/Gnosticism).
This is also the primary reason the youth do drugs. They are seeking an experience that gives some meaning to life without God and without any firm hope. This is also why the suicide rate has skyrocketed. They seek a way out of an existence that is hurting because there are no answers and no hope. This represents a return to pagan ideas and all the horrible things God detests (Deut. 18:10-12), which were the reasons God drove the inhabitants of Canaan out of the land (Deut. 9:4,5).
To shorten the long historical development of the influence of humanism (Greek philosophy) on Christian theology we will begin with Soren Kierkegaard, who followed Hegel’s dialectics and made a non-rational (existential) leap of faith in the secular arena in order to try to give some meaning to life and still maintain a humanistic viewpoint. He rejected rationalism in the realm of the secular (particulars) and founded Existentialism. So the hope of significance & certainty of existence hangs on having an “authenticating experience”. The content of any experience which might authenticate one’s existence and give meaning to life is not open to communication. Any meaning to life that one may think he has cannot be discussed rationally.
Then Karl Barth (1886-1968) of the Lutheran Church in Sweden made a similar non-rational leap of faith (without an object) in the area of theology and founded Neo-orthodoxy. However, his non-rational leap of faith purged his religious words of any true meaning, because there is no rationality in the area of universals. Theological words like: God, Father, Trinity, Christ, Incarnation, Salvation, Resurrection, Truth, Love, Mediator, sin, hell, heaven, holy, sanctified, spirituality, soul, Satan, Church, Judgment, etc. no longer have any real content or meaning. They can’t be logically discussed because there is no rationality there.
Those Biblical words may elicit an emotional response because of past usage, which often deceives people. But they only have a mystical meaning, not lasting meaning that can be stated in words (propositional truth). The new theologians may talk about them, but you will never hear them define them or teach any doctrine (propositional truth) concerning them because there is no content in the words. For them, any meaning or purpose to life must be based on having some kind of religious existential experience.
Barth came from the older liberalism and accepted the critical view of scripture (and the evolutionary view of human origin). He did not consider the Bible God’s divinely inspired Word to man. In his mind, God was so high and transcendent that there could be no communication between man and God (Platonism/Gnosticism). In other words, he viewed the Bible as a human witness by those who heard God, not as God's holy Word or Spirit-given witness. In contrast, when God's own people read or hear it, we are touched and taught by God through the revealing work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Barth denies that God gives us any propositional truth (principles that can be stated in words) in the Bible. In spite of his anti-orthodox views concerning God and the Bible, he makes a leap of faith and divorces theology from rationalism or logic. He has no real basis for epistemology or basis of knowing anything about God and has no real answers for man in the area of universals. To Barth and his (Neo-orthodox) followers a statement in the Bible can be historically false and yet be religiously true in a mystical sense.
The older liberalism (modernism) was a heresy from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. It rejected the divine inspiration of the Bible and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. The old liberal believed in a future utopia build by man’s efforts (Post Millennialism & social gospel). It required a new definition of words to be consistent, but it was still rational (thesis and anti-thesis). However, the new (Neo-orthodox) theologians may say that two logically contradictory statements can both be true religiously.
For example, the existential theologian could say that the statements, “Christ arose physically from the dead” and “Christ did not rise physically from the dead” are both true. ...The modern theologian sees no conflict in the fundamentalist position that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man and the Catholic Church’s position that Mary and the saints are mediators.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer in his books (see Bibliography) tried to warn the evangelical community that humanism was influencing the Christian worldview in the early 1970’s, but few really listened or understood. Then in the mid 1980s in The Church Before the Watching World and The Great Evangelical Disaster he points out the failure of the Church to counter the encroaching modern theology (Neo-orthodoxy) in the Seminaries and main line denominations. It is no surprise that humanism continues to make gains in the Church! Unfortunately, there seems to be no one with the stature of Francis Schaeffer to stand up now and warn the Church of the heresies of modern theology.
One illustration of the new (Neo-orthodox) theology as Schaeffer gives in The Church Before the Watching World, is that of a shopkeeper who keeps many things under the counter. When the old liberal comes in and asks for old fashioned liberalism (social gospel, etc.), the new theologian reaches under the counter and says, “That is just what we have here.” When the evangelical Bible believing Christian comes in, the new theologian reaches under the counter and says, “That is just what we have here.”
The new theology can do this because everything is in the non rational realm. It's mystical. To the new theologian, opposites can be true in some non-rational mystical way. This also makes Satan little more than an idea or myth, which is exactly how the humanist views non physical entities. Satan is very successful in convincing people that he doesn’t really exist. Even many evangelical Christians view Satan as essentially a myth.
The results of all this is that there is no clear line of distinction between God the Father and God the Son, or the deity of Jesus Christ, and no clear line between Christ and the sinfulness of man. Nor is there any clear line between a lost man and a saved man. It doesn’t really matter what one believes in this system. Instead there is an implicit or explicit universalism in the new theology wherein everyone is saved (Gnosticism). Our personal relationship with God is not significant. What we believe (doctrine) isn’t important.
We are told that the only thing that matters is what happens to us now in terms of some “religious” experience. (In order for life to have meaning or purpose, one must have some “authenticating” or existential experience.) Therefore, the new theologian speaks to the world as though the world were the Church, and he speaks to the Church as though the Church were the world. (This is exactly what Church Growth Movement does.)
The idea of anti-thesis is foreign to the new theologian in the area of religion. This realm of unbiblical universals is incompatible with rationality. Therefore its theologians are left without any real Scriptural truth or doctrine that can be explained in words. The Bible is quoted as one would quote a poem and mostly interpreted allegorically, not literally.
Consequently an articulate neo-orthodox theologian who doesn’t really believe in the historic doctrines of the Christian faith can easily be mistaken for an evangelical fundamentalist. Statements of faith mean nothing because the religious words have no permanent content. It is also easy to see how Satan can use this to deceive people and to bring all faiths together in a one world religion, which will ultimately exalt him as god (2 Thess. 2:4).
The New Theology Influences Translations
Translations are always affected by the beliefs of the translators. The New Theology characterizes Eugene Peterson’s book, The Message, which he calls a Bible “translation”, but others refer to it as a paraphrase. However, it is certainly not a “translation” of the Bible! It neither uses the “word for word” principle or the “thought for thought” principle that are the basis for translations. It may be a paraphrase, but it lacks any kind of equivalence in meaning with the original texts. It's actually an interpretation based on Peterson’s belief system (presuppositions), which is Neo-orthodoxy. He says,
“I began to realize that the adults in my class weren't feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language.”
He is not concerned about theological content, but about rhythm of the original texts. This is easily seen in comparing passages in Mat. 6:9-13, John 10:30; 14:28; Rom. 1:26,27; 3:19,20; 15:4,5; 1 Cor. 6:9-18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 5:16-26; Eph. 2:1-3; 5:18; 6:10-19; Col. 2:10; Rev. 2:22 just to name a few. (Compare The Message with a modern translation such as the NKJV or the NIV, or even a respected paraphrase such as the Living Bible.)
He simply takes the biblical texts and interprets them so as to fit into the real world experiences of people existentially, but it is not what the Bible says! It is what Peterson says in words that interpret it in terms of some kind of life “authenticating experience” in Neo-orthodox fashion. However, much of the content and meaning is simply dropped out because it has no significance in Peterson’s theological system.
But true Christian Faith (belief) is found in the content and details, not the rhythm! There is an implicit or explicit universalism in The Message wherein everyone is saved. Peterson is concerned about the practice of Christianity that it be real and sincere, but personal salvation isn’t really an issue. Peterson isn’t honest enough (or perhaps he thinks everyone shares his theology) to explain the Neo-orthodox basis for his interpretations.
Peterson is “Professor of Spiritual Theology” at Regent College and has a Dr. of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminary, which is very modernistic in its theology. (It shares facilities with Union Theological Seminary, which has long been recognized as the most modernistic in theology.) His concept of spirituality is not a state of being filled or controlled by the Spirit, it is what you do or practice. He says,
“Spirituality is no different from what we've been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It's just ordinary stuff.” This is contrary to the conservative or orthodox view of spirituality (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-26; Eph. 5:18, etc.).
Peterson puts the emphasis on relationships between people rather than a personal relationship with God. To him anyone who thinks he is a Christian is one! “The Church is the World…”, etc. He talks about following Jesus, but he is mainly concerned about using Jesus’ methods of relating to people in sincerity and “reality”. It is the existential experience or the doing of it that is important to him. Sincerity and being “real” and “intimate” with other people is the all important thing. Peterson calls believers to a life lived with "wholeness, honesty, without contrivance", which is commendable. He considers Christianity a “mystery”; he says, “But we're involved with something that has a huge mystery to it”. In Neo-orthodoxy, everything in the area of eternals or universals is a mystery that can’t be discussed in the absence of rationalism
The Message is eulogized because it is so easy to read. Warren quotes from it extensively in The Purpose Driven Life, and then puts the references in an appendix. If he cited the references with the verses, many would recognize the stark difference in meaning.
The problem lies in the deception involved in thinking that this is what the Word of God says. This is not God’s message, but Satan’s message of universality, and many young Christians will choose this translation just because it is easy to read without realizing the doctrinal deceptions or the modern theology behind it.
Schaeffer was right in his perception that few pastors and theologians really understood modern (Neo-orthodox) theology. Even “conservative fundamentalists” such as Warren Wiersbe and Navigators appear to be so deceived. Satan counts on Christians not knowing the truth (John 8:31, 32), just as he did in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1).
The Message will no doubt become the Bible of the New Theology, the New Age Movement, and the New World Order, and it will deceive many people. They will never really understand what God says in His Word because they choose to believe what comes easily to their ears without any effort. They are biblically illiterate! They will also be easily deceived by the satanic movement to the new ecumenical religion of the New Age Movement and the New World Order.
The New Theology's Call for Discipleship
The New Theology also characterizes the Mega-church (Church Growth) Movement, which uses the Purpose Driven model to develop disciples. Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life is filled with arguments for discipleship, but is full of quotations from humanists, socialists, and new age modernists as well as quotes from The Message.
Warren’s Chapter 33 begins with, “We serve God by serving others…” Where does Warren get this socialistic mantra? Not from the Bible! (This old mantra comes from 19 th century modernism’s “social gospel”.) It is true that we may use opportunities to minister to physical needs as a means of proclaiming the gospel, but Jesus warned of laboring for the physical instead of the spiritual and eternal (John. 6:27). Jesus said,
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mat. 16:26)
The biblical view is that our lives should be driven and guided by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4-6, 9, 10; Gal 5:16, 22-25; Eph. 5:18; 1 Jn. 1:3-10), not some social “purpose” that we think we need to give our lives meaning in a humanistic world (religious existentialism.) On the Saddleback web site Warren says, "
"But all this is not about us.... It's all about the global glory of God! We intend to leverage the attention that the Purpose Driven Life has garnered to bring about a whole new way of thinking and acting in the church about our responsibility in the world."
The purpose driven model has indeed garnered a lot of world attention and positive press as well as a lot of money.
The New Theology accommodates the occult and the New Age Movement, which appears to be preparing the world for Satan’s enthronement as the god of this world (2 Thes. 2:3-10) with its emphasis on self centeredness, sexuality, and emotionalism. Warren probably doesn’t understand the objectives of the New Age Movement or the New World Order or how Purpose Driven fits in with their plans for developing dedicated disciples for the new world religion that will attract everyone. Yet few pastors seem to know what is going on in the world with the occult, globalism, the NWO, etc., much less about “connecting the dots”.
Warren talks about a new spiritual awakening, but in the New Theology terminology anything “spiritual” is mystical. It is just a connotation word used to evoke the emotions. Warren may not embrace the New Theology, but it appears that he is definitely influenced by it. In a world ruled by Satan (Lk. 4:6; Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11;17:15; 1 Jn. 5:19; Rev. 20:3) things are not what they appear to be on the surface!
Modern theology doesn’t provide any answers to man’s spiritual problem of alienation from God. It only deals with social and political (existential) experiences, not eternal spiritual issues. They cannot talk about spiritual “upper story” universal issues because there is no rationality or categories for them in the area of “universals” or “eternals”. Hence, they don’t teach Christians how to be filled with the Spirit, or how to deal with demons, or how to deal with the Old Sin Nature.
Modern theology sees no difference between the Church and the world contrary to (John 15:18,19; 1 John. 2:15). The emphasis is on particulars (“lower story”) – the doing of religious acts, e.g. social gospel, “following Jesus”, pop psychology etc., which provide existential experiences that give some kind of meaning to life (but which cannot be discussed.) Christians need to understand the difference. There is no emphasis on personal salvation or a personal relationship with God because it is irrelevant.
The New Theology doesn’t actively deny the truths of orthodox or conservative Christianity such as the virgin birth, divinity of Christ, the veracity of the Bible, sin, hell, etc. Rather, it just puts these issues into the bifurcated “upper story” where they cannot be discussed or defined rationally.
The modern humanists and New Agers see truth as something which can't be stated in words, but which may be only experienced in the mind and the emotions. This follows Neo-Platonism and the occult with its thesis of the superiority of the emotions and intuition in opposition to reason and logic. Hence, the New Theology emphasizes public worship over Biblical doctrine. This attitude is also demonstrated in many Christian circles today in their interpretation of Scripture.
Satan has been influencing Christians since the Church began. His basic technique is deceit that can only succeed if we do not know the truth. Man cannot determine Truth himself. The only way man can know what is true is for God to tell him what the Truth is! (This is the only reasonable epistemology- see Escape From Reason and He is There and He is Not Silent.) Therefore, the only reliable source of truth is the Word of God (John. 1:17; 17:17).
We grow up in a humanistic culture and are shaped by its viewpoint. The way we interpret the Bible determines what we perceive God to be saying. This too is a choice! We can understand the words as propositional truth in their grammatical, cultural, and historical context divinely revealed to man, or we can make them devoid of any doctrinal content or allegorize them so as to mean whatever we want them to mean. The Bible should determine our view of the world rather than the world determining our view of the Bible.
Remember Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 11:13-15:
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
Today the universal humanistic mantra is, “Believe in yourself.” The humanistic worldview is self centered, not God centered. The New Theology is a derivative of humanism. Their view of the gospel and Christianity is man centered, not God centered. The salvation of mankind is based on man’s own efforts. This leads to self-worship that prepares the world for the worship of Satan. The self worshipers can then be easily led to the worship of Lucifer, the “Illuminator” Sadly, many Christians are very much caught up in the world system and its viewpoint, which affects their concept of truth and how they interpret reality and Scripture.
The most important decision every person makes is to be God centered, not self centered. This choice will determine whether one wants to have a personal relationship with the Personal Infinite God or not. Christian churches and colleges have generally failed to teach Christians how to live the Christian life and to adequately prepare Christian young people to understand the difference of viewpoints in order to cope in a humanistic "post Christian" world.
They have failed to warn Christians about humanism and Neo-orthodoxy and their ideologies, so Christians are easily deceived. Neo-orthodox pastors can easily find a place in an evangelical church without their ideology being recognized for the humanism that it is. Christians fail to recognize that Satan can successfully use the Church for his own purposes and deceptions.
Most Christians don’t really want to talk about “negative” issues such as sin and Satan. Most would rather believe the modernist Post Millennial view that the all church members are truly Christian. Many still believe that mankind can, by his own efforts, eliminate evil, poverty, war, etc. and then usher in God's eternal Kingdom for all. But God's unchanging Word presents a different scenario:
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." 1 Tim. 4:1.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." 2 Tim. 4:3,4.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 2 Tim. 3:16.
Escape from Reason, Francis A. Schaeffer, Inter-Varsity, 1968.
The God Who is There, Francis A. Schaeffer, Inter-Varsity, 1968.
He is There, and He is Not Silent, Francis A. Schaeffer, Inter-Varsity.
How Shall We Then Live?, Frances A. Schaeffer, 1976.
A Christian Manifesto, Frances A. Schaeffer, Crossway, 1981.
The Conflict of the Ages, Arno C. Gaebelein, D.D., reprinted by The Exhorters, Vienna, Virginia.
The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, Frances A. Schaeffer.
The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway Books, 1984.
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway Books, 1982.
The Battle for the Bible, Dr. Harold Lindsell, Zondervan, 1976.
The Seduction of Christianity, Hunt & McMahon, Harvest House, 1985.
The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow, Constance Cumbey, Huntington House, Shreveport, Louisiana, 1983.
The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism, Constance Cumbey, Huntington House, Shreveport, Louisiana, 1983
Star Signs, & Salvation in the Age of Aquarius, James Bjornstad & Shildes Johnson
Gods of the New Age, Caryl Matrisciana, Harvest House,1985.
Reinventing the World, The Seamless System, Berit Kjos, 2001 (www.crossroad.to/articles2/Reinvent1.htm)
What Is Transformation?, Lynn & Sarah Leslie, article at www.newswithviews.com/Leslie/sarah.htm
Ascendancy of The Scientific Dictatorship, An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy from the 19 th to the 21 st Century, Phillip & Paul Collins, IUNIVERSE, 2004.
See also Key characteristics of The New Theology (Neo-Orthodoxy)
You can contact Gene K. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gene has academic degrees in Applied Physics and in Computer Science, and is a graduate of the General Electric Company's Advanced Engineering graduate program. He was employed as an Aerospace Systems Engineer for the General Electric Co. in New York and for Litton Systems in California working in the areas of Systems Analysis and Advanced Engineering development.
After 16 years of aerospace engineering work, he quit the big city "rat race" and moved his family to Oregon to raise sheep. He has been actively engaged in Christian Education for the last 40 years, in administration and in teaching adult Bible study classes. He received Jesus Christ as Savior at the age of 11 (in accord with John 1:12 and Rom. 10:9, 10) in a conservative main line denomination, but struggled during his teen years trying to figure out how to live the Christian life. None of the pastors or Christians he knew was able to answer the questions.
In his last year at U.C.L.A, God began to put Bible teachers in his life, of whom some were world class Bible scholars, to answer these questions and from whom he learned the basics of Bible exposition, hermeneutics, and theology. His favorite subject is Systematic Theology.. Gene writes his own Bible study lessons because he is unable to find published material that adequately teaches the spiritual principles (doctrine) for living the Christian life. He presently serves as an Elder and Bible teacher in his local church.
He lives with his wife Phyllis in a rural area of Southern Oregon.