New Age seductions

New Age seductions

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, roughly six in ten American adults who self-identify as Christian hold at least one New Age belief, which includes a belief in reincarnation, astrology, psychics and the presence of spiritual aura or energy in certain physical objects.1 Among American adults who consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious, the proportion is a comparable three in four. Moreover, 60 per cent believe spiritual energy can be located in physical things and 54 per cent believe in psychics.2

Young people are also susceptible to the lure of New Age spirituality and practices. The study shows a similar 65 per cent for respondents aged between 18-29.

One wonders if comparable results would present themselves if a similar study is conducted on Christians in Singapore.

Scholars researching the subject have found the New Age movement difficult to define because of the diverse nature of the phenomenon. In his excellent and informative book, John P Newport describes the phenomenon as such:

“The New Age movement offers the world a new frame of orientation. It seeks to replace traditional biblical religion and secular humanism. It promises hope for a new future through personal and social transformation. It involves new types of psychological techniques that often are nothing but updates of older approaches. It capitalises on our concerns for our health, the environment, nuclear power, and women’s issues.”3

New Age metaphysics and spirituality is a bewilderingly diverse cocktail of western esotericism, eastern religious worldviews and spiritualities, pseudo-science, pseudo-psychology, the occult, and eco-spirituality. But why are evangelical Christians so susceptible to its lure?

Many reasons have been offered­—some of which relate to the culture that we inhabit, and others to modern Christianity itself, especially (but not exclusively) its “evangelical” segment.

An important factor that contributed to the popularity of the New Age movement is the rampant secularism that pervades western society. Modern secularism is a form of cultural philistinism that has resulted in the disenchantment of reality itself. For some, New Age metaphysics, with its emphasis on the spiritual and mystic, provides a timely and needful alternative to the bland and arid secularism that dominates western culture.

Drawing eclectically from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, New Age metaphysics re-sacralises the world by insisting that the entire cosmos—in both its physical and subliminal dimensions—is energised by spirit. It presents a holism that is attractive to people who have become weary of the reductionisms and dichotomies that secularism has engendered.

However, New Age beliefs and practices would not be quite so attractive to Christians in the west if there was not already dissatisfaction with Christianity.

Reflecting on the phenomenon from the standpoint of the United Methodist Church, Richard Thompson argues that the New Age simply came “rushing in to fill the void left behind by the decline of Christianity and secular humanism” .4

The successful lure of the New Age movement betrays the lack of doctrinal and spiritual depth among some evangelical Christians. For many decades, theologians and historians, such as David Wells5 and Mark Noll6 respectively, have observed the erosion of biblical literacy and theology in evangelical churches in America. This has resulted in ambivalence towards ecclesiastical authority and the privatisation of the Christian faith, making Christians more susceptible to New Age teachings. As sociologist and New Age expert, Paul Heelas, puts it:

“The … rejection of external voices of authority, together with the importance attached to Self-responsibility, expressivity, and, above all, authority, goes together with the fact that one of the absolutely cardinal New Age values is freedom.”7

Added to this, we find mixed signals being sent by Christian theologians and leaders concerning the New Age movement. While many argue that such idealogy goes against the traditional teachings of the Church, some take a more neutral position.  For example, Lutheran theologian Ted Peters argues that while some aspects of New Age teaching are dangerous, “modest dabbling in New Age spirituality is probably harmless; it may even be helpful”.8

Alarmingly, though, some Christian leaders even go so far as to validate and promote New Age and occult practices. For example, Jonathan Welton argues that New Age practices such as clairvoyance and spirit guides “actually belong to the Church, but they have been stolen and cleverly repackaged”.9 The Church, he insists, must reclaim these practices.

Following such a position, some churches have used “Destiny Cards”, modelled after Tarot cards, to offer “destiny revelations”, in an effort to evangelise. “Seers” stationed at booths will answer questions pertaining to relationship, career, and other life issues by reading the cards.10

The story of American evangelicals’ flirtation with New Age beliefs and practices should serve as a cautionary tale for Christians in Singapore. It should urge pastors and church leaders to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), so that God’s people will be firmly grounded in the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

1 Claire Gecewicz, ‘”New Age” beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans’, Pew Research Center, October 1, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), 1.

4 Richard Thompson, ‘A Look at the New Age Movement’, Military Chaplains’ Review (Fall, 1989), 20.

5 David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

6 Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

7 Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralisation of Modernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 26.

8 Ted Peters, The Cosmic Self (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 194.

9 Jonathan Welton, ‘Authentic vs. Counterfeit’, in The Physics of Heaven, edited by Judy Franklin and Ellyn Davis (Crossville TN: Double Portion Publishing, 2012), 49.

10 See Christalignment, See also Holly Pivec, ‘The “Christian” Tarot Card Controversy at Bethel Redding’,

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.