MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

The Coutnerfeit Christ of the New Age Movement


By Ron Rhodes
Grand Rapids : Baker (1990). 253 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
2.2 (Fall 1991) : 204-207

Two well-researched and readable books evaluate the Christ that New Age writings portray. Both show why Christians believe their Christ, the true Christ, is far superior. Groothuis is known for two of the best previously written responses to New Age beliefs (cf. James E. Rosscup, "Christian Books on the New Age, A Review Article," The Master's Seminary Journal 1/2 [Fall 1990] 177-200). Rhodes is associate editor of the Christian Research Journal. His doctoral dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1986 was on New Age leader David Spangler.

Groothuis, making intelligent use of good sources, informs readers of NA claims about a Jesus with beliefs different from those of the NT Jesus. He uses NA documents that claim to present the words of Jesus. In Chapters 2-3 he lays the foundation of who the real Jesus is and what He taught according to the Bible. Chapter 4 then critiques the Gnostic heresy of early Christian history, which spawned some of the writings New Agers use. One Gnostic source is leather-bound papyrus books, dated ca. A.D. 350 and found near Nag Hammadi, upper Egypt, in 1945 (p. 77). Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979) won favor with many Americans for Gnostic beliefs about Jesus (p. 78). This favorable spirit surfaces in NA perspectives today.

Groothuis concentrates on Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, what Gnostics make of these, and what they mean in the NT. Chapter 5 tests the reliability of Gnostic documents that present a Jesus so radically different from the NT picture. Groothuis concludes that the Gnostic texts have no place in the NT canon. Chapter 6 tests the NT witness to Jesus, noting its reliability and superiority to false ideas. Chapter 7 examines NA claims that Jesus between the ages of 13 and 29 studied with Eastern holy men, as those in India, and picked up some of their ideas. The chapter also evaluates the teaching that Jesus survived the crucifixion, slipped away to India, and died there.

Chapter 8 investigates whether or not Jesus was an Essene related to a cult of Jews near the Dead Sea and concludes He was not. Chapter 9 focuses on the 3-volume, 1,200-page work, A Course in Miracles, published beginning in 1965. This set that professes to give transcribed words of Jesus has sold more than 160,000 copies (p. 195). Chapter 9 also deals with Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), "the sleeping prophet," who has influenced many with his concepts of Jesus and His teachings. The chapter adduces strong historical evidence for the truth of NT teachings about Jesus. By contrast, A Course in Miracles avoids historical detail about the "Jesus" it portrays, detail by which a reader could authenticate its claim to be His voice (cf. p. 210). Chapter 9 also argues for accepting consistent OT and NT warnings about a supernaturalism that denies the true God and the claims of the Bible, one that has its source in supernatural beings called demons (pp. 211- 16).

Finally, Chapter 10 is a probing assessment of the credibility of the biblical and NA brands of Christ. Groothuis reasons that the NT doctrine of Jesus's resurrection is more convincing than the NA theory of reincarnations. He says that if Jesus did rise from the dead as the NT claims, reincarnation is not really possible. Jesus was not reincarnated, but incarnated once for all.

As in his books, Unmasking the New Age and Confronting the New Age, Groothuis offers brilliant and arresting comments. They arise from a thorough grasp and evaluation of NA thought. He is clear about different kinds of NA belief, as NA writers attack Christianity from many angles, yet have basic beliefs in common. A typographical error in documentation was observed: W. E. Vine is listed as A. E. Vine (p. 44, n. 10). An annotated bibliography and a subject index of nearly 80 topics enhance the book's value.

Rhodes discusses the question, who do people of the NAM (i.e., "New Age Movement") say the Son of Man is? Norman Geisler rates the work as "by far the most comprehensive, biblical, and scholarly critique of any central New Age teaching available today" (Foreword, p. 8). The subtle danger of the NAM is that it says it believes in God, the soul, prayer, life after death, and Jesus Christ. But it invests the terms with a very different theological connotation.

Twelve chapters fit under three sections, the Jesus of the NAM, the Christ of the NAM, and a Look at the Biblical Jesus. Five appendices focus on special issues, such as "The Christ of A Course in Miracles."

Rhodes explains that the NAM Jesus is a way-shower to Christhood. As Jesus became Christ, all men may become Christ, and we will be the collective Christ (p. 14). NAM people substitute their Christ for the biblical Christ by (1) discovering hidden writings, (2) transferring primary allegiance from the biblical revelation of Christ to new revelations via channelers and psychics, and (3) using an esoteric system of interpreting the Bible, reading in hidden and mystical meanings to make Jesus into a NA evangelist (p. 15). Jesus who in NA teaching is distinguished from the Christ (contrary to 1 John 4:1-6) became the Christ by any of several methods. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, for example, claims that he went to India as a child and gained Christhood at the end of a learning process (p. 16).

Rhodes traces NA roots to ancient Gnosticism (chap. 1), and then gives a Christian response to NA beliefs about Jesus's lost years as proposed in Levi Dowling's The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. He compares the lack of good evidence for the NA case with evidence from the NT Gospels. Chapter 3 argues that Jesus is not the Teacher of Righteousness of the Dead Sea Scrolls and not an Essene, contrary to some NA belief. It closes with twelve contrasts between Jesus and the Teacher.

New Agers rely on, for example, the claims of David Spangler, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, and rediscovered sayings in the Akashic Records for their view of Jesus. Rhodes describes these claims in Chapter 5 and answers them in Chapter 6. He argues that NA esoterism in these sources is unreliable in its interpretation of the NT Gospels. He dismantles the Akashic Records, a source to which New Agers look as a record of truth from a realm outside this world. Part of his case is to show contradictions between NA false gospels and the NT gospels. Chapter 7 traces NA thought to roots in Theosophy (1875- the present), Anthroposophy under Rudolf Steiner (1912-the present), and the Arcane School and the "I AM" movement with their versions of the Christ. New Agers syncretize elements of these sources. Chapter 8 reveals how Spangler and Prophet as "Evangelists of the Lie" draw from these sources. Then Rhodes delineates reasons for believing that the Jesus of the NT alone is the Christ. Chapters 10-12 offer positive evidence for the kind of Jesus the NT gospels portray, drawn from His words, works, and resurrection. The final chapter, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords," contains interesting contrasts between the coming king of the Apocalypse and the counterfeit king of the NAM. Rhodes closes with a brief glossary of NAM terms and a classified bibliography of sources related to the NAM.

Both books have strong argumentation, a readable flow, and broad yet penetrating studies in the principal sources. Groothuis seems to get to the heart of issues a bit faster and to flow better for the reader. Yet both are first-rate in building the case for the authenticity of the NT Jesus Christ and showing how the NAM Jesus and Christ do not measure up.