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Cultic Studies Journal

Apologetics in the New Age: A christian Critique of Pantheism

Psychological Manipulation and Society

Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society

Vol. 9, No. 2, 1992

Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism
David K. Clark and Norman L. Geisler. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990, 254 pages.
Reviewer:
The Rev. Richard L. Dowhower

The truth claims of new religious movements and psychotechnologies have been essentially ignored in public by the anti-cult movement in its initial decade and a half. Persons of varied theologies and shared goodwill aimed their counterattacks at the human-rights-violating practices of the cults. Fraud, deception, denial of informed consent, ritual abuse, involuntary servitude, economic exploitation, sexual abuse, mistreatment of children, and other forms of religious malpractice provided the focus.

But in the privacy of deprogramming and exit counseling sessions, the incongruities and self-contradictions of cult truth claims played an important role in the discrediting of the groups and their gurus. Truth claims were a potent issue.

For those of us who are publicly engaged in defending our faith traditions against the cultic invaders, the examination and critique of competing truth claims has been an important part of our functions. In my own Christian tradition we call this "apologetics." My own approach to apologetics included emphasis upon the cults as new versions of the old gnostic heresy which claimed salvation by special illumination, as well as identification of the cultic denial of Jesus, The Holy Bible, and the mainline churches as valid and efficacious.

Within the anti-cult movement, public discourse regarding truth claims reached a new level in May 1991 with the visit of Dr. Johannes Aagard of Aarhus University in Denmark to meetings sponsored by the American Family Foundation. His frontal challenge to cults on the field of truth claims is demonstrated in Vol. 8, No. 2 of the Cultic Studies Journal, "Conversion, Religious Change, and the Challenge of New Religious Movements" (1991).

Authors Clark and Geisler contribute to the examination of truth claims, particularly the element of pantheism in New Age teachings. As self-professed Christian philosophers, they engage in the apologetic task which they define. "Apologetics is a rational defense of the faith offered in the spirit of concern and genuine care for the other. It is ‘speaking the truth in love’; (reference to St. Paul's ethical admonition to the Ephesians in 4:15) and both TRUTH and LOVE are important."

The urgency for this task comes from the emergence of Stoic pantheistic philosophy in the New Age movement in such a way as to catch Christian apologists unaware. "Christians have become successful in defending their faith against Epicurean atheism, but they are relatively defenseless in the face of Stoic pantheism," the authors contend. Pantheism is understood as the idea that God is not a personality but all reality, that is, all the laws, forces and manifestations of a self-existing universe.

Clark teaches at Bethel Theological Seminary and Geisler is dean of the Center for Christian Scholarship at Liberty University. They set out to teach the reader about the five types of pantheism, ancient and modern (permeational, absolute, multilevel, emanational, and modal); and to show that Christians resist these ideas, not only because they are in basic conflict with Christian teachings, but also because they fail by the four criteria of rational plausibility: (1) consistency, (2) coherence, (3) proper evidence, and (4) clarity in concepts.

In their philosophical approach, the authors examine the metaphysics, epistemology, religious experience, and teachings regarding good and evil of the New Age and its manifestations of pantheism. They seek to demonstrate that (a) "pantheism is unaffirmable and self-defeating," (b) as a worldview it is a poor choice to best explain the total experience of our lives, (c) the epistemological foundations of New Age Pantheism do not support the metaphysical weight placed upon them, and (d) the religious dimensions of New Age views cannot be defended.

The authors are strongest in their knowledge of pantheism in its many and varied historical manifestations. As such, they contribute to the current discussion offering criteria for evaluating truth claims. The book can contribute to the philosophical insights and knowledge of exit counselors. Obviously those of us who share the apologetic calling as advocates of Christian theism are beneficiaries of their efforts.

The authors do little to deepen the average cult watcher's knowledge of the specific truth claims of New Age teachings. Clark and Geisler have obviously done their life's work in philosophy in general and pantheism in particular, and just enough in the New Age cults to reach and illustrate their conclusion, which I for one affirm as well. I wish they had taken their work more deeply into the contemporary New Age materials.

The Rev. Richard L. Dowhower, Pastor
All Saints Lutheran Church
Bowie, Maryland

 

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