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Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism
~David K. Clark , Norman L. Geisler
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Media: Paperback
ISBN/ASIN : 1592447333
Manufacturer : Wipf & Stock Publishers
Release data : June, 2004

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    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    An Essential Christian Apologetics Text

    This book, unfortunately, went out of print rather quickly. This was probably because of its specialized and intellectually-advanced treatment of an otherwise popular subject: The New Age Movement (NAM). The same thing happened to another valuable Christian book on the NAM by Tom Snyder called "Myth Conceptions: Joseph Campbell and the New Age" (Baker Books, 1995). The target audience for both books was Christian, but most Christians seem to prefer the more popular and less-specialized treatments on the subject. For those Christians, however, who want to exercise their minds with good, critical analysis of some of the principal intellectual influences on the NAM, then there is no better place to begin than with "Apologetics in the New Age," provided that you can find a copy.

    After a general introduction to the topic and its importance, Part 1 expounds the thought of some of the primary historical roots (including those within the last century) that influenced the NAM. The first three thinkers (Suzuki, Shankara, and Radhakrishnan) are Eastern whereas the last two (Plotinus and Spinoza) are Western. Suzuki (1870 - 1966) is known for his key role in introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. Shankara (c. 788 - c. 820) and Radhakrishnan (1888 - 1975), on the other hand, were Hindu thinkers. Plotinus (A.D. 205 - 270) was a Greek philosopher whose influence was profound. As our authors point out, Christian theology felt the effects of his work through Augustine and, by way of Proclus, through an unknown monk known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Pseudo-Dionysius, because he was mistaken as the convert of Paul (Acts 17:34), has had a pervasive influence on medieval works of theology and devotion (mysticism). For further exposition on the thought and influence of Plotinus and Pseudo-Dionysius, see Bernard McGinn's "The Foundations of Mysticism". I must also add, since the authors don't, that Plotinus had a significant influence on Jewish Kabbalah (see Isaiah Tishby's The Wisdom of the Zohar, Volume 1, pg. 237). Kabbalah is highly regarded by occultists (and the NAM in general). Occult orders of the late 19th century such as The Theosophical Society and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn utilized, with modification, its doctrines. Spinoza (1634 - 1677), a philosopher of Jewish descent, is known for his pantheistic naturalism with its anti-supernatural bias. The authors point out that Einstein said he believed in the God of Spinoza and both thinkers shared the belief that whatever happens in Nature happens by necessity.

    Part 2 (Evaluation of New Age Pantheism) opens with Chapter 6 which "summarizes pantheism's common threads" and "ties together similar themes in pantheism and shows how these ideas manifest themselves in the thought of typical New Age advocates" (pg. 13). These themes are fleshed out and analyzed in Chapters 7 - 10. I particularly liked the authors' seven "presumably exhaustive" logical alternatives regarding evil (pgs. 204 - 205). Chapter 11 closes the book with a short review of the arguments and a positive (although too short) presentation of the strength of Christian theism. This chapter points out that one does not have to denigrate rationality to cultivate a sense of divine mystery. This is true, I might add, not only for pantheistic mystics but also theistic (and Christian) mystics.

    Another book I recommend reading and critically comparing with this one is "The Mystical Languages of Unsaying" by Michael Sells. This book points out that apophasis (which literally means "speaking away") works as a mode of mystical discourse rather than as a negative theology. He points out that the radical claims of apophatic writers, which have usually been written off as hyperbolic or condemned as pantheistic, are essential to understanding the mystical languages of unsaying. Personally, I think that one of the keys to divine mystery is the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. The relationship between the Infinite and finite involves the paradox of nothingness which is essential to God's transcendence and immanence (not withstanding Moreland's analysis of "nothingness" as used by atheistic scientists to mean "zero energy," see "Scaling the Secular City," pgs. 38 - 41). One of the names that the French mystic Marguerite Porete (burned as a heretic by the Inquisition) attributed to God was "FarNear" (see chapter 84 of her book "The Mirror of Simple Souls"). God is infinitely near and infinitely far away because of the nothingness that ontologically (and epistemologically via ignorance or "unknowing" - see "Mystical Theology" by Pseudo-Dionysius & "The Cloud of Unknowing" by an unknown English mystic) separates and unites us to God. Because God created us out of nothing, there is "nothing" that separates us from God. This "nothing" is not equivalent to space or mere emptiness (The Indian term for zero was sunya which meant empty or blank, but had no connotation of "void" or "nothing", see Dantzig's Number: The Language of Science). My point is that one doesn't have to be a pantheist (all is God) to appreciate some of the profound mysteries that ground Christian theism and can, in a significant way, contribute to a Biblical Christian Mysticism. As a closing note, I recommend replacing, in the Suggested Reading section, Arthur Johnson's "Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism" with Winfried Corduan's "Mysticism: An Evangelical Option?" The latter, although at times too critical or shallow in understanding, is at least more sympathetic than Johnson when it comes to acknowledging a mystical element in Biblical Christianity.


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