(The following is republished by permission from the author)
The brilliant religion commentator for the New York Times, Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion(2012) concludes that while postmodernism has produced an exhausting “relativism and rootlessness that has weakened the church,” a revival of Christianity can be envisaged. Reviewer Tim Keller states that Douthat sees no “next big thing” on the horizon to oppose Christianity. I must differ from Douthat and with all who fail to see the power of the contemporary revival of apostate “Christian” liberalism, revitalized by a natural alliance with the progressive spiritual neo-paganism now dominating our culture.
Diana Butler Bass, in Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (2012), triumphantly announces the advent of “the Fourth Great Awakening.” Emergent activist Shane Claibourne hails this as “new life budding from the compost of Christendom.” For Brian McLaren, Bass’s prophetic voice is “provocative, inspiring…a sage guidance for the future.” Does the term “Great Awakening” indicate a reclaiming of 18th century Gospel orthodoxy? Not a chance!
For Bass “religionless Christianity” is the elimination of creeds and dogmas, of authority structures and inhibiting moral codes, of a propositional, inerrant Bible. She hails a movement borne along on the breath of an undefined “Spirit” into an age of pure inner experience. This Awakening has nothing to do with historic Christianity. Bass notes that “Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have been undergoing similar revitalizations” and concludes that “the next great awakening will have to be an interfaith awakening” because “the 1970s were…the first stirrings of a new spiritual awakening, consisting of the encounter of Western and Eastern religions and …[the incorporation] of each other’s practices into their respective faiths.”
Such an “interfaith” One-ist view of the Spirit involves a radical redefinition of God that ditches “submitting to a transcendent—and often distant-God” in favor of “finding one’s self in God and find[ing] God in one’s self.” This involves praying to God as “our Mother” and seeing the godhead “in less dualistic [Two-ist] terms,…less in terms of an absolutist, sin-hating, death-dealing ‘almighty Father in Heaven’ and more in terms of…the nourishing spirit of mother earth.”
I am sorry. These statements are pure pagan One-ism. The union of Nature with the divine jettisons the transcendent God of the Bible and removes any need for a divine Savior, so Bass’s “Christology” becomes pagan Gnosticism. In the biblical Gospels, Jesus’ question, “Whom do you say that I am?” gives rise to the heavenly revelation of his divine nature. For Bass, the question “plunges Jesus’ friends into …the self-query, ‘And who am I?’” This question, not in the biblical text, is precisely where the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, goes. “Jesus” tells Thomas not to call him Lord because he and Thomas are of equal status. Knowledge of the self as divine is true salvation. Bass shows this by citing the Gnostic Book of Thomas the Contender: “…he who has known himself has already understood the depth of all things.”
Such a Christology empties the Gospel of all biblical content. As Bass puts it, “Salvation is not…escaping some dreadful fate of judgment…at the hands of a wrathful God; rather, it is being saved to ourselves.” She leaves no place for the cross or the atonement. The “Spirit” now at work since the Sixties is “a romantic spirit…[with] an ethic of self-realization.” Such moral-ism is salvation by works for the creation of “a global common good.” This “Awakening is actually something we can do”—delivering people from the “fear of women, Islam, pluralism, environmentalism, and homosexuality.”
Bass’s new faith is paraphrased by the title of a recent Unitarian sermon, “Hindu and Unitarian Universalist Encounter and Transformation on the Way toward a New Universalism”; her kind of thinking allows Oprah Winfrey to call herself a Christian while assiduously following the Hindu mysticism of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle; her vision is the very content of the present day revival of religious paganism, animated since the turn of the 20th century by the occult vision of Madame Blavatsky who saw in the joining of the East and the West the final achievement of spiritual One-ism.
So in this time of emerging “new universalism,” when it is becoming illegal to teach from certain Bible texts, how many “believers” will find their way into the suffocating arms of religionless Gospel-less Christianity? How many of our theologically-starved rising generation of young Christians, under the enormous influence of Emergent leaders who love Bass, will be lost to the only Faith that can save them?
In light of this “next big thing” we do need a revival—of biblical Truth, but it will not be easy. Pray that the Lord will revive his church by courageous preaching of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only power of God unto salvation.
About the author: Dr. Peter Jones is Director of truthXchange, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament, as well as Scholar in Residence, at Westminster Seminary California. He has written The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (1992), Spirit Wars (1997), Gospel Truth/Pagan Lies (1999), Capturing the Pagan Mind (2003), Cracking DaVinci’s Code (2004, co-author, James Garlow), Stolen Identity (2006) and The God of Sex (2006). Peter Jones is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and is married to Rebecca Clowney Jones. They have seven children and twelve grandchildren. For recreation, Dr. Jones enjoys playing jazz piano and golf.