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Book Reviews

by Douglas Groothuis, Ron Rhodes, David Reed and Brian Onken

from the Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1989, page 27. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

A Summary Critique

Dark Secrets of the New Age by Texe Marrs (Crossway Books, 1987) and Mystery Mark of the New Age by Texe Marrs (Crossway Books, 1988). Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

In both Dark Secrets of the New Age and Mystery Mark of the New Age, Texe Marrs depicts the New Age movement as the inexorable engine of apostasy and apocalypse which is intent on unveiling a counterfeit Christ (the Antichrist) and creating a one-world government and religion requiring its satanic mark. Both books have leapt onto the Christian bestseller list and Mr. Marrs is frequently interviewed on Christian radio and television as an expert on the New Age movement.

Marrs has assembled a vast array of data to demonstrate New Age cultural influence. He shows the New Age world view to be opposed to Christianity because it depersonalizes God as a cosmic force, deifies man, demotes Jesus, promotes spirit contact, relativizes morality, reduces religion to pantheism, revives ancient paganism, and sparks hostility toward those (such as "underevolved" Christians) who refuse to "resonate" with the enlightened.

Both books give evidence that Marrs has done his homework. He reports New Age influence at a variety of levels and exposes an occult underbelly of the movement often neglected by superficial media reports and New Age propaganda itself.

The chapter, "Call Not Evil Good," in Mystery Mark is most helpful in revealing the alarming pervasiveness of the New Age's teaching that the devil and evil don't exist; therefore, we are not sinners, we don't need a Savior, and we are free to do anything! Such ethical relativism is both radical and rampant in New Age circles, and such a corrosion of conscience can only bode ill for the nation.

Similarly the chapter, "Apostasy: The New Age Plan to Take Over the Christian Church," in Dark Secrets is instructive on how New Agers redefine and misinterpret biblical doctrine, all the while claiming spiritual legitimacy. This area will become increasingly important as New Agers attempt to fortify their belief system by passing it off as "the true Christianity."

Although Marrs has done his homework, the quality of that homework is regrettably deficient in several areas. First, he is committed to the idea that the New Age movement will usher in the Antichrist; it's only a matter of time. In so doing, he places all his eschatological eggs in the New Age basket.

Although this scenario is possible, it discounts the possibility of revival in the West and elsewhere before the Second Coming. Much of America is being taken captive by the New Age, but the active presence of the Holy Spirit remains with us, and renewal and reformation are possible. The New Age threat should drive us not only to our knees but also into the streets to proclaim, defend, and apply the truth of the gospel. Yet even if the battle for the hearts and minds of the West is lost, the God of the universe is bigger than Western civilization! If we completely forfeit our Christian heritage, God may stir -- and is stirring -- revival elsewhere. The judgment of America and/or the West may not mean the end of the world, as much as that might prick our provincialism. (The fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. wasn't the end of the Kingdom of God!)

Marrs's eschatological certainty sometimes leads him carelessly to correlate New Age prophecies with biblical prophecies. It is unwise to appeal to an occult document to interpret the meaning of a biblical passage. We should remember that various occult prophecies have failed in the past and will fail again. Let's be careful not to give the devil the pen with which to write our eschatology.

Second, Marrs sometimes uncritically accepts New Age reports at face value, as does Constance Cumbey (see Elliot Miller's critique of her books in the Summer 1987 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL). For instance, he writes as if all channeled or spiritistic material is directly dictated by demons. This may or may not be, depending on the case. The channeled doctrines are always demonic (1 Tim. 4:4), but the direct source may be merely human. Human fraud is an element of the New Age that Marrs doesn't seem to recognize. Neither does he consider the possibility that some channeling might issue from mental disorders. (See Elliot Miller's two-part series on channeling in the Fall 1987 and Winter/Spring 1988 JOURNALS.)

In Mystery Mark, Marrs quotes Jose Arguilles, the mastermind of the New Age "Harmonic Convergence" (August 16 and 17, 1987): "We're almost at the completion stage of bringing all the thousands of New Age groups, organizations and churches together." Arguilles may well believe this. But based on my own research and observation I take his statement with some grains of sociological salt. Marrs, however, takes it as unmistakable evidence of a "monstrous and hideous" global conspiracy.

Because New Agers are often utopian, thinking they can establish heaven on earth by "creating their own reality," they tend to overstate their influence. When the New Age "World Peace Event" was held in Seattle in December of 1986, local organizers predicted as many as thirty-five thousand pilgrims would attend the all-night vigil for "visualizing world peace." About seven thousand attended. The expected results of the "Harmonic Convergence" turned out to be a bit less cosmic than anticipated by many breathless New Age oracles. Many New Agers may claim we are on the brink of planetary transformation, but let's demand hard evidence before certifying their optimism. After all, cults are famous for claiming more members than they actually have. Marrs has piled up mounds of data, but a more careful interpreting of the data is in order.

Marrs's conspiratorial thinking often ignores the diversity within the New Age movement. The movement has no one human leader, although Satan is the spiritual source of its doctrinal deviance; it has no one overarching and unifying organization, although formal and informal "networking" is common; nor does it have an official bible. Some New Agers look for a counterfeit Christ to unite the planet and bring world peace. Others recognize no guiding power outside themselves and have a more decentralized view of social change.

Yet Marrs casts a conspiratorial net of uniformity around this diversity and disregards important distinctions and qualifications. We should remember Isaiah's words: "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread" (Isa. 8:12-13).

The New Age movement is better viewed as a deep and significant cultural trend based on a world view shift than as a tightly knit conspiracy. Because it advances an insurgent non-Christian world view, the movement needs to be rationally critiqued -- not just denounced or pushed into an eschatological showcase.

Third, Marrs's books flex little apologetic muscle. He proclaims, but seldom defends, the gospel. He rightly equates New Age errors with the devil's work, but seldom exposes their illogic and lack of evidence.

The New Age movement does raise important apologetic issues. Did the Bible ever teach reincarnation, as Shirley MacLaine and others claim? Is the idea of Karma just? Does it make sense to believe in an impersonal and amoral God? Did Jesus travel to India? Is ethical relativism logical and livable? Though Marrs exposes many unsavory elements of the New Age, he seldom develops a Christian response to these important issues.

The New Age is filling a cultural void. It advances where Christians retreat. It isn't enough to curse the darkness. Christians need to shine forth the light of Christ in every area of life -- whether education, business, medicine, politics, or psychology -- to displace the darkness of deception. We need strategies for cultural influence as well as descriptions of deception. We need a theology of culture as well as a demonology. This apologetic of responsible cultural action is absent from Marrs's presentation.

Fourth, both books are over-documented in that the reader must wade eye-deep through masses of New Age quotations, often from obscure writers that Marrs mistakenly takes as representative of all New Agers. The aim of Christian critiques of the cults, the occult, and the New Age movement should not be to create experts in error. A better strategy is inoculation. Only enough error should be presented to produce spiritual antibodies that insure immunity from the deception. Dark Secrets and Mystery Mark are both cases of occult overkill.

Fifth, both books are sometimes also under-documented in that some key claims -- such as Mystery Mark's assertion that Gorbachev is a New Ager! -- are not substantiated. Simply because Gorbachev uses a few words approved of by New Agers does not put him in their category.

The extent to which Texe Marrs's books motivate Christians to proclaim, defend, and apply their faith to the New Age challenge is debatable. If they awaken Christians to the acids of spiritual error and stimulate them to live for Jesus, they will be a needed tonic for a crippling apathy. If they are taken as a report that "there are giants in the land" that cannot be defeated, they may only serve to fortify that apathy.

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox (Harper & Row, 1988). Reviewed by Ron Rhodes.

Matthew Fox has long been an advocate of "Creation Spirituality," a blend of Catholic mysticism, panentheism, feminism, and environmentalism. In his new book, the controversial Dominican priest (recently barred for one year by the Vatican from all oral forms of teaching) suggests there is a major religious transformation currently underway, rooted in a "rediscovery" of the "Cosmic Christ." This transformation signals the beginning of a spiritual renaissance that can heal the pain caused by "the crucifixion [ecological destruction] of Mother Earth" (pp. 144-49).

Fox begins the book by arguing that "Mother Earth is dying" (pp. 13-17). He then points to mysticism as "a resurrection story for our times" (pp. 35-74). Among other things, mysticism can enable people to enjoy union with the whole of creation (including Mother Earth). Indeed, Mother Earth may be saved by man's return to the mystical.

Fox's mystical orientation leads him to suggest that we abandon any further quest for the "historical Jesus" and refocus our attention on a "quest for the Cosmic Christ." He provides several definitions of the Cosmic Christ, the most important being "the pattern that connects" (pp. 133-35). The Cosmic Christ connects "heaven and earth, past and future, divinity and humanity, all of creation" (p. 134).

Fox suggests that man's primary problem today is the lack of a living cosmology (p. 78). A living cosmology includes science (knowledge of creation), mysticism (experiential union with creation), and art (expression of our awe at creation). A living cosmology would go a long way, says Fox, toward the healing of Mother Earth.

An outgrowth of Fox's living cosmology is his call for a deep ecumenism, by which he means a genuine coming together of all persons of all religions at a mystical level (p. 228). This is made possible by the Cosmic Christ, "the pattern that connects." We must realize, declares Fox, that the Kingdom/Queendom of God is within us all (p. 64). This is not a surprising statement since as a panentheist Fox sees "all things in God and God in all things" (p. 57). In order for people to come together at a mystical level, however, they must become more right-brain oriented. This is because the right lobe of the brain is where man's mystical ability resides (p. 52).

For most Christians, Fox's many deviations from orthodoxy will be apparent. However, new Christians (or those who are biblically illiterate) could conceivably read the book and be led to believe that the ideas contained therein are compatible with Christianity. (For example, the book is endorsed on its back cover by People of the Lie author M. Scott Peck.) This would be tragic, for this book represents a radical departure from the historic faith.

The limited space allotted this review does not permit a detailed evaluation. I would like to voice objection, however, to at least a few of Fox's more blatant deviations. Briefly: Fox completely robs Jesus Christ of His uniqueness; portrays Jesus as merely one of many enlightened individuals who have incarnated the Cosmic Christ; reduces Christianity to one of many viable options in the smorgasbord of world religions; argues that we must move from a "personal Savior" Christianity to a Cosmic Christ Christianity; chastises those who have stood against the goddess religions of the native peoples of the world; maternalizes the nature of God; exalts the cosmos to deity and in so doing replaces theism with panentheism; superimposes New Age interpretations on countless biblical texts; devalues (denies?) man's sin problem; proposes a "cosmic redemption" based on a revival of mysticism rather than the work of the historical Jesus; and flatly denies the biblical teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, affirming instead that heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally acceptable to the Cosmic Christ.

Fox's Christianity is not just a distortion of biblical faith, it bears no resemblance to it. His "Christ" is completely foreign to the pages of the New Testament, which is the only authentic source for knowledge of the subject.

Though some of his ecological concerns are legitimate, Fox's cosmos-oriented Christianity must be likened to spiritual quicksand which can potentially swallow up innocent victims unaware of the dangerous ground on which they tread.

Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan (Park Street Press, 1988). Reviewed by David A. Reed.

How can an otherwise intelligent member choose to remain in a cult even after he or she has seen proof that it is false? What enables some sects to keep such a tight grip on their followers? Steven Hassan's Combatting Cult Mind Control offers amazing insight into these and other puzzling questions. The author probes beyond doctrine to uncover the thought control techniques common to many cults.

Hassan argues that whether leaders of such groups are conscious of it or not, they employ principles of psychological manipulation that originated in Chinese communist re-education camps and that have been refined and perfected in a modern religious context.

After reading Combatting Cult Mind Control I feel more comfortable with the fact that I myself fell for the Watchtower Society's deceptions and remained in that system for 13 years. I can see now that I was not simply "taking in knowledge" at my "free home Bible study" and at Kingdom Hall. I was also the target of powerful manipulative techniques that can induce a person to believe virtually any cultic doctrine, regardless of how bizarre it may be. Hassan shows how the same psychological devices are used to convince Unificationists that Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the second Messiah, and to persuade UFO enthusiasts that contact with extraterrestrials will occur on a certain date.

Why do many cults put such a heavy emphasis on proselytizing activity, even by new members? Aside from the numerical growth that this produces, it also has a reinforcing effect on the new devotee: "Research in social psychology has shown that nothing firms up one's beliefs faster than trying to sell them to others"(p. 72). Why is leaving the sect so unthinkable for the fully indoctrinated member? "In a destructive cult," Hassan says, "there is never a legitimate reason for leaving. Members are told that the only reasons why people leave are weakness, insanity, temptation, brainwashing (by deprogrammers), pride, sin, and so on"(p. 84).

Happily, the author also shows how understanding the mind control techniques that draw people into cults and keep them there can be a key to unlocking the door and setting prisoners free. Without this insight into the mental processes involved, a Christian worker can expend great effort trying to reach trapped individuals with no positive results. Apologetic arguments are important, but those who rely on them solely are only looking at two dimensions of a three-dimensional problem. With a grasp of how the organization hems in people's minds, he or she can see more clearly how to penetrate the barrier with the scriptural and historical facts the cultist needs to hear.

Reared in a conservative Jewish family in New York City, Hassan was drawn into the "Moonies" while in college. He quickly rose to a high position in the Unification Church before being deprogrammed.

Hassan's perspective appears to be neither evangelical nor antievangelical, per se. He takes aim mainly at "destructive cults" (including ostensibly evangelical groups) in which strong leaders control the lives of followers. He largely ignores those cults in which doctrinal error abounds but there is little evidence of totalistic leadership or organizational structure. Thus, he briefly warns of "dangers of cultism in the New Age movement" (p. 195, emphasis added), singling out channeling (p. 195) and "UFO cultism" (p. 196) -- without broadly condemning the New Age movement as a whole.

While the book's lack of an evangelical Christian perspective may disappoint some readers, those who accept it for what it is -- a practical psychological discussion of manipulative techniques -- will find it useful in understanding and combatting the destructive sects that employ such methods.

A Different Gospel by D. R. McConnell (Hendrickson Publishers, 1988). Reviewed by Brian Onknen.

Previously (Fall 1987), the Journal re-viewed Bruce Barron's The Health and Wealth Gospels and concluded that it "missed its opportunity to be the definitive work" on the "word-faith" or "positive confession" movement. When Hendrickson released D. R. McConnell's A Different Gospel, it seemed as though this "definitive work" had arrived. However, though it is a decided improvement over Barron's work -- providing a better grasp of both the history and theology of this pentecostal movement -- McConnell too has failed to provide the final word on the "word" teachers.

For the most part, McConnell has done well. His treatment of the roots of the "faith" teaching clearly demonstrates that it does not really have the multiple sources within Pentecostalism that Barron asserts; what makes the movement distinctive comes directly from E. W. Kenyon. Certainly, Barron himself noted in his book that Kenneth Hagin, Sr., -- the often recognized "father of the faith movement" -- is very dependent (to the point of plagiarism) on Kenyon. But McConnell takes it further and demonstrates that Kenyon fits neither the Pentecostal nor Wesleyan-Holiness movements of his day. By showing Kenyon's connection with the "metaphysical" cults of his time (Christian Science, New Thought, etc.), McConnell attempts to make a historical link between the current "faith" message and cultic theology.

Having laid this historical foundation, McConnell proceeds to evaluate the theology of the "faith" movement, accurately describing its major doctrinal distinctives. Unlike Barron, he does not fail to address the movement's most controversial doctrines -- Jesus' "spiritual death" and "born again" experience and the "deification" of man.

In his analysis of these concerns, however, McConnell falls short. He does so by trying to prove that the "faith" movement is, in some sense, metaphysical thought masquerading in evangelical garb.

Because of certain similarities between metaphysical teachings and the "faith" message, McConnell argues that they share the same doctrines. In so doing he ignores critical differences between the two, and fails to address much of what is distinctively "faith" teaching.

This is seen, for example, in his comments on the "faith" teaching regarding faith. He states that the "laws and formulas [regarding faith in the "faith" gospel] can only be understood in the light of the doctrine of God in the metaphysical cults." But the premises of these two schools of thought are different. For the metaphysical cults God is an impersonal principle. For the "faith" teachers God is a personal being who operates by faith. Even if we grant that the effects of such ideas are similar, the root cause is quite different.

All poison kills. But different poisons -- even those with similar effects and identical results -- require different antidotes. McConnell fails to develop the unique antidote required for the "faith" teaching.

In spite of such weaknesses, A Different Gospel provides solid background on the "faith" movement, a catalogue of doctrinal problems, and an incipient response to the errors. Anything written on this subject from here on will have to build on McConnell's treatment -- and it is a more than adequate foundation.

End of document, CRJ0052A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Book Reviews"
release A, March 25, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

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