The ‘Changing’ God of the New Theologies
Modern man seeks autonomy, or independence, especially when it comes to his relationship to God the Creator. It seems that man is forever running from his Creator and, in essence, he is escaping from reason. In his great little book, Escape from Reason, Francis A. Schaffer talks about a theology that would result when man chooses to go his own independent way, not seeking the God of the Bible, or taking the Bible as the authoritative word of his Creator. Schaffer called this theology a “natural theology,” which is theology that is pursued independently of the Scriptures (p.11).
In natural theology, there is little room for God, because existential man has closed himself off from any experience with the supernatural or the miraculous. In essence, he is closed to any penetration of his world-and-life view by the God who is there, and who is not silent. The only thing that man is left to when such a course is chosen is to his own experience, which in many cases, leads to his own devastation.
This can be seen as a result of theological liberalism, which for years, has attacked the main tenets of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. These tenets being the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible; the Virgin birth and deity of Jesus; the substitutionary atonement; the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus; and the literal, physical return of Christ. These are not peripheral teachings, but actually the bedrock foundation of Biblical Orthodoxy.
Today’s culture is one in which the attacks on the foundations of orthodoxy are too many to count; some are very direct, others are very subtle. One only has to read the newspaper headlines to see examples such as the Jesus Seminars, being taught across the country, that the real Jesus is basically just a man, not the God-man of the Bible, and that there were many things in the gospels that Jesus never said. Not only is this an outright denial of the authority of Scripture, but it is also a direct assault on the person of Jesus Christ.
As mentioned earlier, the reason for much of these things is that when modern man casts off the restraints of the personal God of the Bible, he is left to his own experience, and in many cases, turns to mysticism. Two theologies which are closely akin to New Age mysticism, which modern man frequently dabbles in deserve attention.
The first one is, Process Theology, which is a theology of “becoming.” This movement became particularly prominent in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. According to David L. Smith, in his book, A Handbook of Contemporary Theology some have claimed that process thinking extends back to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of 500 B.C. (p.150). Smith goes on to say, “the advent of Darwinian evolution, followed by Einstein’s theory of relativity, led to the belief (in biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, and social sciences) that all creation is in a state of dynamic flux, each part in relation to the others.”
There are two men, both scientists, one turned philosopher, and the other theologian, who contributed to the development of Process Theology.
Alfred North Whitehead, a mathematician and scientist, determined that reality is not static and substantial, but dynamic and in process (Tensions in Contemporary Theology, Norman Geisler, p. 238). The real, including God, is not composed of unchanging essences, but of changing activities.
Whitehead believed that matter is eternal. To him, God does not create the universe ex-nihilo (creation out of nothing), but matter is a continuing system in which things are constantly being created. This is not only similar to some aspects of Mormonism, but is reminiscent of Eastern mysticism as well. Especially with the law of karma and everyone having existed in different lifeforms eternally.
Whitehead goes on to say, “It is as true to say that God is permanent and the world is fluent as that the world is permanent and God is fluent. It is as true to say that the world is imminent in God as that God is imminent in the world. It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.” (Handbook of Contemporary Theology, p. 153) In other words, God and the world exist in a kind of give-and-take relationship. Panentheism positions God and the universe in a type of interdependence.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist, added a dimension of knowledge to his theory of evolution. Smith quotes de Chardin as saying that “we live in a world that is being born, instead of a world that is” Handbook of Contemporary Theology, p. 151). With such a belief, de Chardin is a favorite for New Agers.
Among the many foundational New Age beliefs, there are two that stand out. Most people relate theNew Age Movement to Monism (all is one, one is all), or Pantheism, (pan meaning all, theos meaning God, therefore denoting all is god, god is all), but there is another belief that is quite popular today and very similar to the New Age Pantheistic world-and- life view. This belief is known as Panentheism.
Norman Geisler explains the difference: “Panentheism is the belief that God is in the world the way a soul or mind is in the body; Pantheism is the belief that God is the world and the world is God” (Christian Apologetics, p. 193).
The immediate problem with this, of course, is that since individuals and the world are in the process of change and God is identified either with the world or in the world, then God is in the process of change.
The question may be asked, “Is there any cause for alarm about this type of teaching? Are there any people who are teaching this and are people actually getting involved in this panentheistic world-and-life view?” The answer to these questions is yes. This belief system is subtly permeating the thoughts and views of many, including Christians.
The book, The Road Less Traveled, by psychologist M. Scott Peck, which has been lauded by many as the “book of the decade,” is a perfect example. Peck has been the favorite of many of today’s television talk shows, and claims to be a Christian.
The Panentheistic Process God can be seen in Peck’s understanding of our own spiritual growth, how God relates to us, and how we relate to God. For instance, Peck says, “we can define spiritual growth as the growth or evolution of consciousness” (The Road Less Traveled, p. 280). He also makes this statement, “to put it plainly, our unconscious is God. God within us. We are part of God all the time. God has been with us all along, is now, and always will be” (Ibid., p.281).
Peck further explains, “in my vision the collective unconscious is God. The conscious is man as individual. And the personal unconscious is the interface between them” (Ibid., p.282). And in case there is a chance of misunderstanding Peck’s statements, he makes his point clearly: “I have said that the ultimate goal for spiritual growth is for the individual to become as one with God. It is to know with God. Since the unconscious is God all along, we may further define the goal of spiritual growth to be the attainment of Godhood by the conscious self. It is for the individual to become totally, wholly, God” (Ibid., p. 283).
This process, or evolution, of change within man and within God can be seen throughout Peck’s works, including The Different Drum, where he openly endorses Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Eastern meditation of Zen Buddhists without any critical analysis whatsoever.
Obviously, there are many difficulties with Process Theology, especially its rejection of the activity of the supernatural in the created realm. In this regard, process theology is a product of Enlightenment liberalism.
Out of such a rejection, comes its low view of the Bible. Scripture becomes one of many religious collections of myths and traditions. As one might expect, the same rejection of the supernatural produces a low view of the person of Jesus Christ. Process Theologians deny the divinity of Christ, preferring to say that God was in Christ as He is in every human being, although Jesus was more “God-conscious” than others. This is far removed from the Bible, which proclaims that Christ is God. (See John 1:1; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8).
Finally, the Panentheistic God of Process is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is eternal. The Process God is temporal. The God of the Bible created the universe from nothing. The God of Process merely cooperates with an already existent creation.
The second popular theological belief today, which is very similar to the New Age Movement, is that of Creation Spirituality, which is a theological throwback to Christian mysticism that came to fruition in medieval Catholicism. The prime modern proponent of Creation Spirituality is Matthew Fox. Fox is a Dominican Priest, educated at the Institute Catholique de Paris, graduating with a degree in the History and Theology of Spirituality.
Fox appears to have gotten himself into trouble with the Vatican early in his ministry. He invited Starhawk (a member of Wicca, an expression of Witchcraft) to join Fox’s Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality. It was at that time that concerns were raised about the teachings of Father Fox.
In December 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger questioned the conclusions of a Dominican report which said that there should be no condemnation of Father Fox’s work. The Cardinal questioned the conclusions of the report and demanded public condemnation of Father Fox’s seeming espousal of witchcraft and the harm which his published books and teaching activities have already brought to Catholic faithful. He further accused Fox of denying the validity of infant baptism and objected to his calling God “Mother” and “Child” (Handbook of Contemporary Theology, p. 293).
As a result of repeated censuring from the Vatican, Fox left Catholicism to join the Episcopal Church. The Macon, Georgia Telegraph released an Associated Press article which stated, A Roman Catholic Priest, who was censured by the Vatican, has found a new home for his New Age blend of Christian mysticism, environmentalism, social justice and feminism. The Rev. Matthew Fox was welcomed into the Episcopal Church, bringing with him his Creation Spirituality and his plans for a high-tech, multi-media Mass to lure youths back to Christianity” (17 April 1994). Today, Fox’s popularity extends to many including Catholics, Protestants, and New Age advocates.
Father Fox credits Hildegard of Bingen, and Meister Eckhart as his two most influential mentors. These churchmen had been categorized as Christian Mystics. Mysticism is a type of religious procedure that centers on a personal experience of the Divine. In other words, every person possesses mystical possibilities (see, Handbook of Contemporary Theology).
Fox teaches that there are four paths that one may take to Creation Spirituality. They are Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, Via Transformativa. The first path, Via Positiva, essentially consists of a joyous and friendly attitude toward Mother Nature, which includes all stimulations of sensuality, such as eating, drinking, dancing, etc. Fox states “that one is required to fall in love three times a day.” This love could be falling in love with a star, or a flower, or a bird. He goes so far to say that maybe a heterosexual should fall in love with a homosexual. (Creation Spirituality, p. 19).
The second path, Via Negativa, leads to an even darker side of reality. Borrowing from Meister Eckhart, Fox states that God is “superessential darkness.” Elaborating on this, Fox gives a set of commands, the second of which is “thou shalt dare the dark” (Creation Spirituality, p. 18).
The third and fourth paths, the Via Creativa and Via Transformativa, teach the heretical idea that we are co-creators with God (hence Creation Spirituality). Theologically, Fox is an open Panentheist and stresses the idea that God is in us. He accents God’s imminence in his system, teaching that God is in everything and everything is in God. That God is within us, located in the unconscious mind.
According to Smith, even though Fox claims to be a Trinitarian, Fox posits Jesus as the Supreme Model of Panentheism in Scripture. Jesus as Immanuel (Matt. 1:22) seems to be Fox’s proof-text. However, for Fox, it appears that Jesus is not a literal figure, but a principle of divine potentiality which is found in every living creature. One can not help but think of the many intrusions of the New Age human-potential movement in the business sectors of our society, such as the ubiquitous seminars and infomercials which teach that humans have “unlimited” potential (p. 298).
Fox’s theology naturally affects his doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Fox holds that the Holy Spirit is the feminine aspect of God. He states that “the Spirit, who is evergreen (Hildegard) and who is transformer (Eckhart) is essentially a feminine spirit.” The description of the spirit is Mother Sophia from wisdom literature texts, where he says “come from North Africa where a Mother Goddess was worshipped before the Israelite people were formed” (Creation Spirituality, p. 62).
The very controversial Re-imaging Conference, in November 1993, with its emphasis on the goddess Sophia, which was attended and supported by leadership and members of mainline denominations, including the Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran (ELCA), and United Methodist churches, is a good example of the Creation Spirituality that Matthew Fox espouses.
As one might expect from Fox’s doctrine of God and the Trinity, sin is held to be a very trivial thing, as with many liberal and neo-orthodox teachers. Sin is just false thinking about God, but not any moral wrongdoing. Early church father Augustine is apparently to blame, according to Fox, for the corrupt view of sin held by traditional Christianity.
The Bible says, “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This could adequately summarize Fox’s Creation Spirituality. Fox, with his Panentheistic, changing God, is merely re-hashing New Age theology with his Creation emphasis. Despite his use of Catholic and Episcopalian credentials and terminology his doctrine is neither. His so-called mystical Christianity becomes nothing more than mythical Christianity”.