Cultic Studies Journal
in the New Age: A christian Critique of Pantheism
Manipulation and Society
Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society
Vol. 9, No. 2, 1992
- Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of
- 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"
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
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
The Rev. Richard L. Dowhower, Pastor
All Saints Lutheran Church