The New Age Jesus

Those enamored of New Age spirituality usually find in Jesus a kindred spirit. Rather than exiling Jesus to the legendary lore of religious imagination or debunking him as a messianic pretender, New Age writers see Jesus as an enlightened master who manifested a divine power—a power potentially available to all who enter the New Age.

The New Age movement is not a conspiracy but an eclectic configuration of spiritual seekers who have despaired of finding personal and cosmic satisfaction in either religious orthodoxies or secular materialism. Instead, they have turned to unconventional and esoteric sources in the hopes of finding what they seek in the ambiance of the mystical, magical and metaphysical.[i] Given these tendencies, the Jesus of orthodox Christianity may seem inadequate. Jesus must be rescued from a pedestrian and parochial orthodoxy that demands he monopolize the deity.

Jesus in the New Age

Because of its diversity, the New Age has no single view of Jesus, but it offers a family of related views whose common factors may be summarized.

  1. The New Age highly esteems Jesus as a spiritually attuned or evolved being who serves as an example for spiritual discovery and evolutionary advancement.  Jesus is referred to by various positive terms and titles including Master, Guru, Yogi, Adept, Avatar, Shaman, and Way-show-er.  He is revered along with other religious leaders such as Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Lao Tze.
  2. Many argue for the separation of Jesus the individual person of history from the universal and impersonal Christ Consciousness, or Christ Principle. His consciousness of God and miracles were evidence he tapped into a higher level of consciousness. But if Jesus tapped into this cosmic power, he did not monopolize it.  New Age philosopher David Spangler, echoing the ancient Gnostics, said that, “The Christ is not the province of a single individual.”[ii]  As Joseph Campbell put it in his best-selling book The Power of Myth (1988), “We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness or Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it.”[iii]  Christhood comes through self-discovery; we may all become Christs if we tap into the universal energy, the Christ consciousness.
  3. The orthodox Christian affirmation that Jesus is the supreme and final revelation of God is questioned.  Although Jesus is respected, he is not worshiped.  Janet Bock complains that “the position that Jesus was the only ‘Son of God’ . . . is, in effect, a limiting of the power of God, a shackling of divinity to one physical form for all eternity.”[iv]
  4. Jesus’ crucifixion, if accepted as historical, is not deemed essential to restore the spiritual wholeness of humanity.  Jesus’ suffering on the cross is either rejected as unhistorical or reinterpreted to exclude the idea that he suffered as the Christ to pay the penalty for human wrongdoing in order to reconcile people to a holy God. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of The Church Universal and Triumphant, states emphatically that the idea of a blood sacrifice is “an erroneous doctrine,” actually “a remnant of pagan rite long refuted by the word of God” and never taught by Jesus himself.[v] Since the New Age worldview denies both human sinfulness and a personal God who is ethically perfect, Jesus’ crucifixion loses its traditional significance.
  5. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is denied or spiritualized to remove them from the realm of the physical and the historical. Many others besides Jesus are recognized as “Ascended Masters” on the spiritual plane. Joseph Campbell interprets the Ascension to mean that Jesus “has gone inward . . . to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all tings, the kingdom of heaven within.”[vi] For Campbell, Jesus does not ascend to the right hand of the Father but descends to the divine depths of the collective soul.
  6. The idea of Jesus’ Second Coming is spiritualized and democratized to refer to the evolutionary ascent of an awakened humanity. Soli, billed as an “off planet being” channeled through Neville Rowe, offers this esoteric insight: “You are God.  You are, each and every one, part of the Second Coming.”[vii]  The notion that “this same Jesus” (Acts 1:11) who literally and bodily ascended to heaven will himself return in like manner on Judgment Day is rejected as narrow-minded literalism (see also Philippians 3:20-21). Furthermore, final judgment after death is denied in favor of reincarnation.
  7. New-Age thinkers accept extra-biblical documents as sources for authentic information about Jesus.  Although the Bible is often cited, its function is secondary to other texts.  Instead, the spiritually inquisitive often turn to alternative records of Jesus’ life.  This quest for a “lost Christianity” follows several routes converging at key points.

Many believe that Gnostic texts provide a trustworthy record of Jesus as a spiritual catalyst who came to awaken the spark of divinity locked in our bodily prison. Self-knowledge, or gnosis, is the means of salvation. Since people hear of titles such as The Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter, many assume the Gnostic materials are historically trustworthy documents that were expelled from orthodoxy by defensive clerics. Professor Elaine Pagels, long an advocate of Gnostic materials over the canonical Scriptures, recently drew attention to The Gospel of Thomas in her best-selling book, Beyond Belief (2003).

Another strand of revisionism harks back to a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, published in 1894 by a Russian journalist, Nicholas Notovitch. This book claims to unveil an ancient Tibetan record of Jesus’ “lost years” (between ages 13 and 29), which he spent studying, teaching and traveling in the mystic East. This Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus.

Others find the key to Jesus in the ancient Essene community at Qumran, near the Dead Sea.  Claiming to base their interpretation on the Dead Sea Scrolls or other material, they see Jesus as part of a mystical remnant preserved from the Jewish fundamentalism of his day. Shirley MacLaine writes that “Jesus and the Essenes, with their teachings on love and light and cosmic laws along with the Golden Rule of karma, sound very much like metaphysical seekers in the New Age today.”[viii]

These esoteric materials are often augmented or eclipsed by revelations thought to originate beyond history entirely. Channelers or mediums receive messages about Jesus from personal spirit beings. Others, such as Edgar Cayce and Rudolf Steiner, keyed into an impersonal plane of higher consciousness called the Akashic Records or the Collective Unconscious, to extract a picture of Jesus not in harmony with that of the New Testament.  The popular three-volume set A Course in Miracles (1975), popularized by Marianne Williamson, claims to have been dictated by Jesus himself. Yet it denies historic Christian teachings such as original sin, the sacrificial death of Christ, reconciliation with God by faith in Jesus, and a literal heaven and hell.

  1. When the Bible is cited with reference to Jesus, an appeal is made to an esoteric dimension lost on those holding traditional interpretations. The Bible must be decoded to discern its secret substratum. So, when Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah, he was saying that John was the reincarnation of Elijah, not that John simply came with the same “spirit and power of Elijah” without being literally Elijah (Luke 1:17).[ix]  When he said, “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” he really meant the soul is divine, not that the kingdom was breaking into history through Jesus (Luke 17:20-37).[x]

In the New Age, Jesus is understood apart from biblical moorings and placed in an alien intellectual and spiritual atmosphere. He is a Christ without a cross or physical resurrection, preaching a gospel without repentance or forgiveness, before an audience of potential equals who have no sin and are in no peril or perdition. Is this the genuine Jesus?

Is the New Testament Reliable?

Before considering the claims and credentials of Jesus, we should consider the reliability of the New Testament, since New Age sources impugn its integrity. The New Testament is often undervalued because of its antiquity and its manner of compilation. It is deemed unreliable because of the number of translations and editions. Some will reject its authority by saying, “Well, it has been translated so many times.” Yet the New Testament is the best-attested collection of literature from antiquity. Some 5,366 partial or complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been recovered, dating as far back as the end of the first century. This plethora of manuscripts gives scholars ample material for reconstructing the original texts. No doctrine is affected by the small number of variant readings listed in modern Bibles.[xi] Although numerous translations of the New Testament are available, each modern translation appeals to the best ancient manuscripts available. They do not simply refer to the latest in a succession of translations. In fact, as time goes on more and more manuscripts are uncovered by archaeologists.

The date of the original composition of the New Testament books is quite close to the events described—in most cases, not more than a generation. We know that nearly all the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were in circulation by the end of the first century, because early church theologians such as Ignatius and Clement (writing at the turn of the century) refer to them or quote them. The original writers of the New Testament were also in a good position to ascertain the truth of their research, being either eyewitnesses (such as the apostles Matthew, Peter and John) or (like Luke) privy to eyewitnesses. Luke’s affirms that the material he used was “handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” that he might present an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:2-3).[xii]

Concerning the canonization of the New Testament, New Age writers protest is that it was the product of a fourth-century theological elite which excluded legitimate sources such as Gnosticism for purely self-serving reasons. But this scenario doesn’t bear historical scrutiny. The canonized documents were not given authority as much as they were recognized as already functioning in the churches with authority. These books predate the church councils that canonized them by several hundred years. They were not produced or altered ad hoc. Furthermore, books were excluded from the canon for specific reasons, such as late date of composition, questionable authorship, doctrine at odds with the primitive “rule of faith,” and lack of use in the early church; they were not rejected for merely political motives.[xiii]

In light of this evidence, the burden of proof lies on any other purported record of the life of Jesus that contradicts the New Testament. Can the New Age revisionist documents bear historical scrutiny?

Testing New Age Documents

The New Testament is far better attested than Gnostic texts. The Gnostic texts are second- or third-century documents that editorially alter an already existing orthodox view of Jesus. None of the Nag Hammadi texts, for instance, is an actual gospel of the form of the canonical Gospels. Rather, they are largely metaphysical discourses that for the most part bear little resemblance to the New Testament either stylistically or theologically.[xiv]

The Notovitch material (claiming to reveal “the lost years of Jesus”) was roundly condemned as unreliable by such noted orientalists as F. Max Muller and others shortly after its publication because of its contrived and unhistorical character. Despite continued interest in The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, the supposed Tibetan original manuscript has never been available for scholarly study; there exists no adequate verification of its existence, let alone its credibility. Most scholars have flatly rejected it as a fraud. It is better to have 5,366 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the hand than (at most) one exotic manuscript lost in the Tibetan bush.[xv]

Claims that Jesus was an Essene do not hold up either. The Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls were not proto-New Agers. Rather, they were monotheistic Jews who, despite sectarian idiosyncrasies, affirmed human sinfulness, an eternal hell and a predestinating, personal God. Despite some similarity between Jesus’ teachings and the Essenes’ (due to their common belief in the Old Testament), there is a deep rift between them concerning asceticism, ethics, salvation and other issues. The Essenes were not New Agers, and Jesus was no Essene.[xvi]

With regard to channeled material, we should question why credence should be given to a revelation with no historical verification over documents with considerable historical verification—especially when channeled sources deny the central tenets of what Christians have affirmed for two thousand years. Because of this danger, the Apostle John warns: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He goes on to encourage his readers to test the purported revelations by their views on Jesus; if they reject the biblical Jesus, they must be rejected as false messages, whatever their supposed source (1 John 4:2-3; see also Colossian 2:8).[xvii]

The simple fact is this: The evidence supports the reliability of the New Testament over the materials concerning Jesus given weight in New Age circles.

The Claims and Credentials of the Christ

But who is the Jesus of the New Testament? He speaks with a voice of authority based on both his claims and credentials.

Jesus calls himself God’s “one and only son” who was sent in love by the Father to bestow eternal life to those who believe in him (John 3:16). No other shares that status. This is no idle matter, since Jesus goes on to say that “whoever does not believe [in Jesus] stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son” (v. 18). Peter declared:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul affirms that “Christ Jesus” is “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9; see also Ephesians 1:18-23).

Another authoritative affirmation comes from Jesus’ lips: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; see also Matthew 11:27). In context, the exclusivity of this statement cannot be honestly avoided, although some, through “esoteric interpretation,” assert that Jesus is not speaking of himself as the way, but of the impersonal “I Am presence” (or God) in us all. Such interpretive innovation, often practiced in New Ager circles, is the result of “world-view confusion”—an entirely alien philosophy, in this case pantheism, is superimposed onto the text.[xviii]

Esoteric interpretation is countered by common sense. If nothing stated in the text indicates the esoteric meaning, and we have good independent evidence indicating that the document is written in code language, what grounds can be given to support the esoteric interpretation, besides wishful thinking? Although the Bible is not always easy to understand, no secret code is needed to decipher it.[xix] Peter warns of those who distort the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).[xx]

By what credentials did Jesus back up his claims? Because those involved in the New Age movement grant the reality of a paranormal, dimension that affects the natural realm, they should be impressed with Jesus as an unsurpassed wonder worker. Jesus restored the blind, deaf, dumb and leprous, cast out demons with a word, commanded the elements to obey him, and summoned Lazarus from the grave. In the grandest miracle of all, he himself rose from the dead on the third day, just as he predicted. There would be no Christianity without the Resurrection.[xxi] A reading of the Gospels will disclose Jesus as another shaman or mystical holy man. He is far greater.

Jesus never claimed to tap into an impersonal realm of power. His demonstration of power was thoroughly personal. Jesus miraculous power was grounded in his identity as God’s only Son, his relationship to God, the Father, and his empowerment by the Holy Spirit. His miracles displayed his compassion and integrity. This is seen when declared that a crippled man’s sins were forgiven—an act only God could perform—and backed it up by healing him on the spot (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus healed both soul and body, and in the process forgiven the man’s sins, declaring the prerogatives of deity.

The sheer number, power and attestation of Jesus’ miracles put him in a category by himself; but the miracles alone are not sufficient to establish Jesus as Lord. We must also consider Jesus’ unrivaled authority as a teacher; the certainty of his words regarding his mission, his identity and the need for human response; his fulfillment of prophecy;[xxii] and his love toward those he came to rescue. These factors show Jesus as a man of integrity and compassion as well as a man of power. He claimed to have the power to save the lost, whom he loved.[xxiii]

Jesus’ View of Salvation

Jesus was on a redemptive mission. However, New Age theology to the contrary, his mission was not to convince humans that they were really divine. He declared, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus understood being “lost” as sinfulness.  He catalogued thirteen items of infamy—such as adultery, greed, impurity—as “coming from within” and making a person unclean before a holy and personal God (Mark 7:21-23). Where the New Age sees a sleeping god, Jesus finds a tempest of transgression. It is no wonder that Jesus often warned of the horrors of hell (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus presented himself as the answer. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Speaking of his impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Christ’s crucifixion offers something alien to a New Age theology, which understands God as an impersonal and amoral Force, Principle or Vibration. From this perspective, humans all partake of the divine essence, but the ultimate reality is impersonal and inhuman.  The Great Void makes no friends and sheds no blood. Yet we all yearn for loving relationships with other persons, for love, intimacy and acceptance.

We find our highest meaning in the inter-personal realm, not the im-personal realm. The Cross of Christ announces God’s sacrificial love toward us. God’s uncompromising holiness demands that a price be paid for sin: Jesus goes to the cross to bear that penalty. Yet God’s love provides a sinless sacrifice for a guilty race. As Paul said:

When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Finding the Genuine Jesus

The gospel of Jesus Christ is an objective claim on every individual (Acts 17:30). Christ offers the life we crave but which we cannot achieve by looking within ourselves. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Although Jesus singled himself out of the spiritual crowd through his exclusive claims and unmatched credentials, he issues an inclusive invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28)

Christ promises and provides rest from the futile human quest for Christhood. We may, by his grace, become his friends, but never his peers. We must surrender our quest for autonomy, turn from our selfishness, and turn toward the only one who can forgive our sins, give us eternal life, and equip us for good works for the glory of God. The first word of the gospel is repentance. Jesus said, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). If we admit our sin, repent of our wrongdoings, and put our faith in the sinless sacrifice of Jesus, we can find eternal life—beginning now and continuing for an eternity in paradise with Jesus. Only through faith in Jesus can a new age truly begin (2 Corinthians 5:17).[xxiv]

[i] For more on the New Age as a movement and a worldview, see Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill,: InterVarsity Press, 1986), and Douglas Groothuis, “New Age Spiritualites,” in Christopher Partridge, Douglas Groothuis, eds., Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 278-280.

[ii] David Spangler, Reflections on the Christ (Glasgow, Scotland: The Findhorn Foundation, 1977), 103.

[iii] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 57. This material, based on an interview with Bill Moyers, was also made into a PBS television interview, which is still shown during pledge drives.

[iv] Janet Bock, The Jesus Mystery (Los Angeles, Calif.: Aura Books, 1984), 112.

[v] Mark L. and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Science of the Spoken Word (Livingstone, Mont.: Summit University Press, 1986), 86-87.

[vi] Campbell, 56.

[vii] Quoted in Otto Friedrich, “New Age Harmonies,” Time, December 7, 1987, 66.

[viii] Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New York, N.Y.: Bantam, 1989), 181.

[ix] See Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 95-98.

[x] See Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 227-228.

[xi] See Groothuis, Jesus, 38-41.

[xii] For more on the reliability of the New Testament see Groothuis, Jesus, 17-63, and F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? 6th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).

[xiii] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), and Groothuis, Jesus, 307-312.

[xiv] For more on the historicity of the Gnostic texts see Groothuis, Jesus, 102-118.

[xv] For more on the lost years of Jesus see Ibid., 119-151.

[xvi] For more on Jesus and the Essenes see Ibid., 152-180.

[xvii] For more on channeling see Ibid., Jesus, 181-214.

[xviii] See James Sire, Scripture Twisting: Twenty Ways Cults Misinterpret the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 23-30, 127-44.

[xix] On proper biblical interpretation see Gordon Fee and Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 2nded. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993).

[xx] For more on esoteric interpretation see Groothuis, Confronting, 87-91; Groothuis, Jesus, 282-284; and Sire, 107-115.

[xxi] See Groothuis, Jesus, 272-282, and Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), especially Part I.

[xxii] On Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, see John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Walter Kaiser, The Case for Jesus, the Messiah (Chattanooga, Tenn.: The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1989).

[xxiii] For more on the claims and credentials of Christ, see Groothuis, Jesus, 237-260.

[xxiv] On coming to terms with Jesus, see Groothuis, Jesus, 285-306.

The Vapidity of Pop Spirituality

My Audible.com subscription offers free audio for “finding bliss” every day. Out of curiosity—and not in hope of edification—I began to listen as I exercised at the recreation center. This bliss-promising offering ill fit with my audio books by Os Guinness, C. S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Francis Schaeffer, and their edifying kin. My interest didn’t last more than about two minutes (my crap detector was ringing too loudly in my ears to go on), but during that time a sense of spiritual disgust came over me. Oh, the vapidity and vacuity of the pop spirituality of bliss, yoga, self-esteem, mindfulness, and the rest!

To truly live in, and through. and by the Spirit, to be spiritual, comes only through faith in, submission to, and friendship with the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has mercifully come to us in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus warned of false Christs and counterfeit gospels, as did his Apostles (Matthew 7:15; Colossians 2:8; 2 Peter 3:16; 1 John 4:1-6). Christ confronted the twisted, but pious, religiosity of both the Scribes and Pharisees with the gospel of repentance from dead works and faith in himself as the source of eternal life (Matthew 4:17; John 3:16-17). But what is pop spirituality?

I have studied New Age spirituality for many years. When I began research just after my conversion in 1976, the worldviews and spirituality of Hinduism, Buddhism, and occultism were beginning to flower like a poisonous plant. Yoga was viewed as a bit exoteric and exotic. Buddhist mindfulness were not mainstream. But even then, when these Eastern philosophies hit American soil, they tended to be diluted by American values and ideals—especially our optimism and boosterism. Today, we are sold a pop spirituality that fails to rise or fall to the level of any one religion, but which combines religious ideas with American sensibilities to form something nearly insufferable. Let me explain.

Second, pop spirituality is simplistic and deceptive. Real peace, it claims, can be found merely by practicing yoga, visualizing what you want, or cultivating a new, positive self-image. The program I heard told the listener to say, “I am grounded. I am grounded.” But you may not be grounded in the good, the true, or the beautiful. You may be about to run aground into one of the many unpleasant realities out there. You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you. Worse yet, you can feel at peace but not be at peace with your neighbor or with your Creator. That is no small matter.

You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you.

Third, pop spirituality can be dangerous when it plays with spiritual practices not grounded and sanctioned by the one, true God. Any so-called meditative practice that shifts your mind into intellectual neutral provides an opening to deception and even spiritual bondage. It is one thing to de-stress a bit through getting relaxed and not worrying about life. Jesus told us to ponder the birds and the flowers, remembering that if God cares for them, he will care all the more for us (Matthew 6:25-34). It is something else entirely to “let go of your thoughts” and enter a state without judgment or evaluation.

The mind is as much a battleground as it is anything else. Since “the heart” includes the mind, consider this wisdom: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23; see also Philippians 4:8). We guard our hearts through treasuring the truth and resting in the God of all truth, not by emptying our minds or letting it run free. The enemy of our souls is all too eager to find a mind idling in neutral and to shift it into reverse and over a cliff (John 8:44). Surely, we can do better. It is the truth of Jesus that sets us free (John 8:31-32). We do not find freedom by floating on the dangerous sea of consciousness without Jesus as the anchor of our souls (Hebrews 6:19).

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself.

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself. He is too wise to assume that we are fine the way we are and that he merely provides a means to our own autonomous ends. No, he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and to follow him (Luke 9:23-26). And while the gospel is simple, it is not simplistic or one-dimension, unlike pop spirituality. You can never get to the bottom of God, Creator, Designer, Redeemer, Judge. The Christian life is a deep voyage into meaning, truth, and life. In self-denial, there is self-liberation. In truth, there is love. Even in suffering, there is meaning. Abandon vapidity, all you who enter here!

 

 

 

 

 

On the Decline of the Footnote: Another Declinist Lament

Serious reading and study has been my fate and pleasure since I began college in 1975. Along the way, footnotes became my friends. Before college, I flitted with a few books here and there, mostly related to my interests in music and the counterculture I read the pop rock magazine called Cream and the more serious Rolling Stone. I read a book or two by Aldous Huxley. By looking up big words, I could whip off a sesquipedalian once in a while. I also enlisted them in writing for the West High School newspaper, The Eagle’s Cry (1973-75).

My writing in college required genuine research and official documentation. Enter the footnote. Since I was now philosophy major (after two years in journalism), my professors assigned papers—many papers. I wrote eighty-five pages of papers (on an electric typewriter, no less) in one quarter. They are all in my files somewhere.

As I began publishing in magazines and then writing books and academic articles, I had to master the fine art of the footnote. Gary North, a fiery and prolific writer, claimed that we could win the culture war through footnotes! That was an overstatement, but I mostly agreed. (In the preface to one of my books, I encouraged the readers to consult the footnotes, since I had spent two days rechecking them.)[1] Christians should out-think and out-write the world for Christ and his Kingdom. That requires thorough and proper documentation—and it was laborious before the word processor.

Thus, the footnote has been my nearly constant companion in the world of ideas. My first wife, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (1954-2018), edited all my published work through Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011). She was fastidious to ensure that the footnotes were shipshape. Christian Apologetics has well over a thousand footnotes. (I prefer footnotes over endnotes, since footnotes allow you to read the citation more easily than turning to the end of the chapter or the end of the book or article.)

Sadly, this old philosopher has noted a decline in the quality of the footnote in recent years. Of course, footnotes can just be flubbed—dates of publication are incorrect, titles misstated, page numbers are off. But, I detect a general shift in the specificity and—the authenticity—of footnotes. I will speak primarily of footnotes in publications, not in student papers, thousands of which I have graded. Concerning these efforts, I have two points First, too many students get creative or sloppy in footnotes. Be creative in your use of sources? Yes. Be creative in the form of the footnote? No! (The same goes for grammar, of course.) And concerning sloppiness—is it ever good to be sloppy? The student record for errors in one footnote (at the time of this writing) is six. Second, and on the happy side, I am proud of my student who correctly planted three footnotes in one sentence! Now on to professional publications.

Citations should almost always invoke the original source. Thus, if you quote Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900), you cite the primary work, such as The Anti-Christ, from whence the quote comes. What if you find a juicy quote in a book that cites Nietzsche? If so, you hunt down the original quote for yourself. Libraries and inter-library loan still exist. Only rarely do you write, “as quoted in…,” which means you have not seen the original source. Relying on someone else’s primary research is not advisable, except rarely as when the original source cannot be tracked down. However, if your footnotes says, “as quoted in…,” you need to give the original citation, so the reader can know what the primary source is, even if you have not seen the primary source in the original form.

Sadly, I now often find footnotes that refer to a secondary work for a primary citation that omit the bibliographic details of the original source. So, we might read:

  1. Frederick Nietzsche, as quoted in Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 198.

That is inexcusably incomplete, because I gave the original source reference in Truth Decay. Therefore, it should be cited.

Pandemic is another footnote infraction—omitting the original date of publication of a book. When I read a footnote, I want to know when the book was first published because it places the work in a narrative of the author’s other work and in a general climate of intellectual opinion. It is rather important to know that C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain (a philosophical work) well before A Grief Observed (a lament over the death of his wife, Joy Davidman). Consider this footnote:

  1. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 16.

Lewis died in 1963, so that cannot be the original date of publication; that is, unless it is a posthumously published work—which it is not. Properly formatted, the footnote should read thusly:

  1. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (orig. pub., 1940; New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 16.

Yet another error is the missing footnote or the sin of omission. Most writing that directly quotes an author should include a footnote, unless the quote is common knowledge, such as “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” But much common knowledge is not true. Many cite Blaise Pascal as writing, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every person that only God can fill.” It is a profound statement, but he never wrote it. Rather, it is a paraphrase of a longer and more philosophically nuanced quote from Pensées.

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.[2]

My last bleat targets the content of footnotes. Historically, a footnote refers to a written source, usually published. Occasionally, a footnote will cite an unpublished manuscript. Now, I am finding footnotes to YouTube videos, which, of course, are not written sources at all. I found this in the otherwise excellent Competing Spectacles; Treasuring Christ in the Media Age (2019) by Tony Reinke. If the video is of an expert speaking on their expertise, this is forgivable. But, still, published sources, given their legitimacy, should have the priority.

I could belabor the point pedantically. Some of my readers may have already rendered that judgment about this essay as it stands. Nevertheless, the footnote can be a loyal advocate for truth about what matters. Therefore, let us respect it by using it virtuously.

 


[1] I forgot which book. If you read this footnote, then hooray.

[2] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, ed. A. Krailsheimer (New York; Penguin Books, 1966), 75.

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Candidate for the Presidency, on Abortion

“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights. And protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party. Understand this: When someone makes abortion illegal in America, rich women will still get abortions. It’s just going to fall hard on poor women.” From the New York Times.
Here are some points against the madness

  1. What grounds human rights, Mrs. Warren? Do you create them out of whole cloth? Are they determined by those in power? If human rights are objective and universal, then they need to be philosophically grounded in more than individual or collective preference or power. God alone is the guarantor of human rights.

 

  1. God has made all humans in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:25; 5:1-3). As such humans, at every stage of development or decrepitude, have

an Intrinsic,
Incommensurable,
Inexpugnable, and
Incorrigible
right to not be murdered.

  1. Yes, Mrs. Warren, if abortions are harder to get or made illegal in some states if Roe V. Wade is overturned and the abortions laws go back to the states (where they belong constitutionally), then more wealthy women may have easier access to illegal abortions. For example, a woman who can afford it may travel to another state that allows abortion if her state forbids it.

However, this is absolutely irrelevant to the essential moral question of the rightness or wrongness of abortion. If an act is unjustifiable killing, which abortion is, then it should be illegal for the sake the the innocent and voiceless living human beings who are being killed. Laws against abortion can help restrict its occurrence. They cannot eliminate it, since illegal means are available. Perhaps heroin procurement and use is easier for wealthy Americans than for poor Americans. But that is irrelevant to making heroin use illegal.

  1. If abortion is, in fact, “what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic party,” I advise one of two actions. A. Reform the Democratic Party or B. Leave it and work for a more morally sane party or be an independent (as I am).

Why I Am an Evangelical Egalitarian

I became an egalitarian through a long study of the issue in the early 1990s. My first wife, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (1954-2018), led the way through her research and writing, but we thought through every aspect of the issue over many years—first to come to the position of egalitarianism and second to defend it from frequent and multifaceted attack. Rebecca’s earthly work is over, but I sense a need to continue to encourage gifted women to serve God with all their abilities, even despite opposition from other Christians. As a Christian man with some influence through my writing and teaching, I offer this brief statement—not as a thorough defense, but as a statement of principles and as an outline of an apologetic for egalitarianism.

An evangelical egalitarian believes that gender, in itself and in principle, does not restrict women from any position of leadership in the church or society. Nor does gender determine a women’s subservient place in the home under the authority of her husband. As Rebecca put it:

Evangelical egalitarianism, or biblical equality, refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. In particular, the exercise of spiritual authority, as biblically defined, is deemed as much a female believer’s privilege and responsibility as it is a male believer’s.

As Rebecca and I thought this through we realized there were several obstacles to clear. A non-egalitarian believes that women, as women, cannot legitimately hold some positions of leadership in the church nor are they equal partners in marriage.

Non-egalitarians were called traditionalists until about twenty years ago when they coined the term complementarian. The latter term, however, is a misnomer that does not distinguish the view from egalitarians simply because both views consider men and women complementary to each other. The burning question is whether men, as men, have some unique authority over women. Egalitarians deny this. So, the better and more descriptively accurate term for the non-egalitarian is hierarchialist. Granted, this does not sound appealing, but it is truer to the position.

First, any such claim will be rejected as “feminism” by many evangelicals and thus associated with liberal theology and politics. Rebecca and I called feminism “the F-word.” But we found that the egalitarian view predated secular feminism and was held by leading evangelicals in the nineteen century. The secular feminism of the 1960 and onward has had no effect on our being egalitarians. We both tended towards being contrarians and curmudgeons, so going with the cultural flow never appealed to us (see Luke 16:15). Rebecca addressed this at length in Women Caught in the Conflict (Baker, 1994). This book was a prolegomena to her direct defense of egalitarianism in Good News for Women (Baker, 1997).

Second, egalitarians need to wrestle with texts that seem to contradict the claim that women should have access to leadership in the church and mutuality in the home (especially 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Rebecca and I held to biblical inerrancy on the order of the classic Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, which was endorsed by stalwarts such as Francis Schaeffer (1912-1985) and Carl Henry (1913-2003), two of my heroes. But, on the other hand, complementarians (as they call themselves), must come to terms with the many passages that depict women leading, prophesying, and teaching (such as Judges 4-5, Acts 2:17-18, and Acts 18).

There are formidable exegetes of impeccable evangelical prestige on both sides of this issue, but I am convinced that no biblical text forbids women from leadership in the church or from having an equal voice in the home as a matter of eternal and cross-cultural principle. Now is not the place to cite authorities or give footnotes, except to note a multi-author volume edited by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Ronald Pierce, Discovering Biblical Equality (InterVarsity, 2004). Rather, let us consider one theological matter, which is crucial and decisive.

Complementarians are committed to saying that God restricts women from some positions of leadership because of their gender. This view leads to the following.

  1. Women are equal to men in their essential human being as females.
  2. Women are barred from some leadership roles simply because they are females.
  3. Therefore (A): Women are unequal to men because they are female human beings.
  4. Therefore (B): Women are both equal to men in their human being as females and unequal to men in their human being as females. This is a contradiction and is, therefore, false. That is, the conjunction of (1) and (3) is necessarily false.

Since 1-4 shows complementarianism to be contradictory, there are only two possible ways to address the issue and be logically consistent concerning women and their authority.

  1. Women are equal to men in their essential being; therefore, there is no basis to restrict them on the basis of their female human being. This is the biblical equality position.

 

  1. Women are to be restricted based on the basis their female human being. This can only be justified by saying they are not essentially equal to men in their human being. Women lack, in their essential being, something men have in their essential human being. That means they are inferior to men. This is the older theological view of women in relation to men, a view today’s complementarians usually want to reject.

Complementarians, qua complementarians, cannot affirm (1) or (2). However, these are the only logical choices they have, given that I have ruled out their essential “equal in being, unequal in function” principle as illogical. Therefore, they are stuck in a logical pickle. Biblical equality provides the way for them to be un-pickled—that is, logically consistent.

The biblical equality view avoids these insuperable difficulties by saying that men and women are equal in their essential human being and that being a woman in and of itself never restricts a woman from exercising leadership gifts. (However, in some specific situations it will not be wise for a woman exercise some of her gifts, since this would produce unnecessary controversy.) The use of gifts is determined by God-given ability and the Spirit’s call on someone’s life.

While the final case for women’s equality rests on the Bible, I (and we) cannot deny the testimony of faithful, godly, and gifted women today who serve Christ and love his word. As a seminary professor since 1993, I have taught and gotten to know many women who are skilled in preaching, teaching, and leading. I have seen them win preaching awards, excel academically, and serve in churches where they sometimes do receive the respect they deserve. During one doctrinal interview, my colleague said to a woman we were examining, “I would love to have you as my pastor.” I concurred. During another doctrinal examination, I once asked a seminary student who held the complementarian view if he thought God had gifted some women with leadership skills equal to that of men. He agreed. I then said, “Let that haunt you.” I hope it has haunted him into changing his position.

 

Losing our Letters

Amazing as it may seem to many of us now, human beings wrote letters to each other before the arrival of electronic mail. My mother did. Along with her letters (sometimes typed on a typewriter, sometimes in longhand), she sent me clippings from another print medium that is in jeopardy—the local newspaper. She sent clippings about my high school friends, the moose are taking over Anchorage, Alaska, and other noteworthy items. She was a lifelong and consistent correspondent, and thus a dinosaur. Her Christmas cards arrived a month in advance. God bless her for it. But there are a few far younger “dinosaurs” out there, including one of my students who hates email and cherishes letter writing (“my correspondence,” as she affectionately calls it).

  What do we lose when we exchange email—or incessant cell phone chatter—for the sending and receiving of letters? We all know what we gain from email and cell phones—speed of communication, instant access, and more. But what features of a good life do we forfeit in the process? As with all communicative technology, there is a trade-off between gains and losses.

  For one thing, we tend to replace reflection with rapidity. Email is fast, very fast—and often, too fast. No intermediary object is required for an email. We type letters on a screen and launch them into cyberspace. With letters, we must inscribe symbols onto a page, a distinct physical object that takes up space and which has a marked history of its own. Writing by hand takes time, and is, therefore, inefficient given contemporary quantitative standards. However, the time and effort is takes to write a letter demands a slower pace and allows for more deliberation on what one is writing. In days of yore, many a letter was written only to be torn up and thrown out because one thought better of it. Or perhaps it was tucked away as memorabilia.

  In an email age and texting age we may be losing a literary fixture: the collection of noteworthy people’s correspondence, as The New York Times noted in Rachel Donadio’s essay, “Literary Letters, Lost in Cyberspace” (September 4, 2005). I have read books made up of the letters of C. S. Lewis (who was always in good form), Francis Schaeffer (the consummate thinking pastor), and others. It is not unusual to find the letters of literary figures or philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, bound for posterity or included in biographies. The letters between painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, released in 2006, are voluminous, and worthy of some reflection—even though neither was known for their writing. This is explored in Letters Like the Day by Jennifer Sinor.

  “Men of letters” were almost invariably men (or women) of letters. Letters of note tended to be saved or duplicated. Emails, on the other hand, are so multitudinous and so disposable (click or “oops!”), that often they are not translated into a more permanent form. (Digital storage is less permanent and more fragile than paper, since it often decays, is fragmented, or becomes unreadable due to new software. I took this up in The Soul in Cyberspace way back in 1997).

  Letters carry the literal touch of the person who wrote them. Even a typed letter is signed. It is crowned by the signature: one’s own name in one’s own hand. If a letter is handwritten, the sign of the personal is made more manifest. In writing a letter recently (a rarity, I admit), I realized that I seldom write by hand more than a few sentences at a time, usually on my student’s papers. Besides that, I may make a list (for shopping items or articles due to editors), check boxes for various purposes, or fill out forms. My handwriting is not superior. I do not write cursively. I print. It is slow and cumbersome. I must work at making my inscriptions legible. Nevertheless, our handwriting—heavenly or ghastly or somewhere in between—is our creation, the inscription of our identity placed on receptive material. We may choose the type of pen, color of ink (or inks), and make idiosyncratic notations. Yes, email gives us a plethora of choices, such as fonts, emojis  (now animated), text size, pasting photographs, and so on, but these are pre-selected for us by others. They are not created by us specifically for another. The manner of writing itself—apart from its overt intellectual content—may be revealing. A good friend of mine told me that her mother discerned the disheveled state of her soul not by the content of her writing, but by the contours of her handwriting.

  Simply because letters are irrepressibly personal, most of us still get a small thrill from finding a letter in our mail box addressed to us in handwriting, and not machine produced. These letters often have a telltale thickness, indicating that it houses several pages, folded and written by human hands. Perhaps we should send and receive fewer emails, yell into the cell less often, and instead give and receive the small but tangible joy a letter can afford. Perhaps—to consider something quite radical for most—we should even work on our penmanship as a way of working on our relationships. Perhaps.

Tales of Plagiarism

The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Recorded from the early 17th century, the word comes from Latin plagiarius ‘kidnapping’—Oxford online dictionary.

The eighth of God’s Ten Commandments is “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). The ninth is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Lives well lived under God avoid theft and lies. Virtuous people honor others’ right to their property and strive for veracity over mendacity in their words. Plagiarism violates both the eighth and ninth commandments, as well as being driven by what the tenth commandment forbids as well—covetousness. Incidentally, the penalty for kidnapping, which is the Latin root for plagiarism, under the Mosaic law was death (Exodus 21:16).

God alone knows all the word kidnappings that have occurred under the sun, but professors and writers have their tales of plagiarism. So, I will tell of a few—none of which are tall, all of which are true, and all of which are told in my words. 

My school and many others use a technology for detecting plagiarism in student papers called Turnitin. Their motto is  “Education with Integrity. Your culture of academic integrity begins with Turnitin.” I thought it began with honesty, but we’ll let that go for now. This digital conscience arose with the opportunities for plagiarism in the online word. Plagiarism required more work before the Internet—reading books and copying by hand what they said. Now it is so simple: cut, paste, arrange. Thus, the technologies fight each other, as they often do. 

I don’t bother with Turnitin. I tell my students at Denver Seminary that they are Christian adults who should not cheat. And if they do, God will get them. I have not used it at other schools, but I did detect a blatant example a few year ago while at Metro State University teaching Introduction to Ethics (how fitting).

The paper began with barely intelligible prose. That was enough for an F. He said that he was a moral relativist because he was a Christian. That, too, was enough to merit an F, but it got better/worse. The next two pages defended relativism in clear (if unconvincing) philosophical prose. I entered a few of these oddly placed sentences into Google and found the material at an atheistic web page. Plagiarism merits an F as well, so this paper was an F-cubed. In other words, its failure was overdetermined. It was a kind of perverse achievement in academic ineptitude. Poor soul.

As I was reading a paper written for me at Denver Seminary, I thought, “This is good. I really agree with this….Oh, this is me!” The benighted student has copied two pages from my vastly ignored book, The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997) verbatim and without attribution. A tense discussion with the student followed. He uttered excuses, but no apologies.

Some books supposedly written by Christian celebrities are not written by them, but by unnamed authors. Ghost writing is common and not a few publishing houses are haunted. A man once confessed (although I don’t think he felt guilty) that he had written a book for a well-known Christian personality with no little social clout. I challenged his ethics. He was paid for his work, he said, and the practice was common. The same could be said for mercenaries and hit men.

I was once asked to write a book for a famous Christian “author.” Of course, this is, strictly speaking, impossible. You cannot author a book you do not write. The rationale was that the author was busy with other things and more people would read it with his or her name on the cover than with someone else’s name (the real author) on the cover. I was not enlisted to this cause, suffice to say, since I am not a utilitarian.

One could go on, but I give one more personal anecdote. I received an email from someone asking me to look over a manuscript which the author hoped I would co-write with him. Although the book was not under contract, the wily fellow had gotten (or pretended to get) several notable authors to endorse his writing. I wished the man well but declined since I was too busy with other projects to consider co-writing a book. He responded by assuring me that he did not expect me to write anything. I could simply add my name as an author! That would be good for me, for him, and the Kingdom of God, of course. I don’t know what happened to his manuscript.

I said that plagiarism breaks (at least) three of the Ten Commandments: not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet. But can I plagiarize myself by reproducing my writing from one venue in another venue without saying so? I take it that I cannot steal from myself, since I have a right to dispose of my own property as I wish (within moral and legal limits). However, if I repeat writing done for one publication in another publication without mentioning this, I am, in a sense, lying, since the assumption by the reader is that this is new material. However, one might argue that if it was first published on your blog, it doesn’t count as being published or that you have reworked the material considerably, so the original source need not be mentioned. Well, maybe. While writing Walking through Twilight, my editor noted that some of what I wrote had appeared on my obscure blog years earlier. Apparently, they have Turnitin or something equivalent. Thus, a footnote was added. I get the point. (Now it would have been worse if I had cribbed something I wrote from a periodical that paid me for my work and which held the copyright.)

Other authors have been more egregious in self-plagiarizing. I know of an apologetics book that was lifted almost entirely from a book previously published by the author. (I don’t mean that the same ideas were rewritten. That is fine. I mean that they were copied word-for-word.) No mention was made of this. The implication is that someone—me in his case—could buy the derivative book without knowing of this duplication. If so, the buyer would be defrauded, since the presumption is that a book is made up of new material, unless otherwise stated.

Self-plagiarism, it seems, breaks the commands not to lie and not to covet. An author republishes himself without telling the reader because he wants more recognition, or more money, or both. By giving the wrong impression about the newness of the material, the author is lying. While breaking two of the Ten Commandments at once isn’t as bad as breaking three at once, it is still morally wrong in my book. And as James warns us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). 

A question of identity remains, however. If I copy word-for-word from an unacknowledged source (my own or another’s), that is plagiarism. But what if I appeal more to the spirit of the original source, and not the word? If my source is not my own previous writing, it should be referenced (unless it is common knowledge). However, if I am reiterating my own ideas that have been previously published, I don’t take the standard to be quite as high. We all repeat ourselves, so we don’t have to say, “As I said before…” all the time.

God calls us all to be above reproach as truth tellers (Ephesians 4:15). That is the highest standard. May we not sink below it through plagiarism, no matter how popular or common it might be. 

Religious Liberty and the Disintegration of Social Discourse

The following was recorded as part of Millington Baptist Church’s live Underground Sessions event on October 5, 2019. The topic of the event was Religious Liberty and the Disintegration of Social Discourse.

Follow the link to listen to the podcast.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/religious-liberty-keynote-christians-religious-liberty/id1479292290?i=1000452690830

Woodstock Fifty Years On

Woodstock happened a half century ago this month. I mean the rock concert, which was actually not held in Woodstock, but no matter. “Three days of fun and music,” as the owner of the property famously put it. The music spilled over into day four, when Jimi Hendrix, the headliner, played to a small and burned out group of several thousand at 9:00 AM. “Woodstock” supposedly defined the counterculture and what being a hippie was all about. The New Yorker recently ran a review of a 38-CD set which chronicles nearly every minute on stage of that mythic event. (No, I won’t be buying it.) So, having been a hippie and having seen the movie—I was too young (12) and too far away (Alaska) to attend—I offer a few reflections.

In case you missed the basic facts: The festival drew tens of thousands more people than expected, gate crashers forced it to become a free concert, the resources on hand were quickly exhausted, and it rained and rained, reducing the venue to a huge mud field. This great mass of hirsute humanity experience the best rock and folk music of the day (no jazz, sadly) by Santana, The Who, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and many others, partook copiously of illegal drugs, immoral sex, and generally tried to “blow their minds” in the process. Joni Mitchell wrote a haunting song about it called “Woodstock,” (which is by turns anthemic, optimistic, and nihilistic), although occluded roads forbid her come.

Woodstock was hailed by some as a new Eden, a utopia, a temporary hippie paradise of music, free love, and a vision of a possible future for America. Half a million youth shared their goods (and drugs and bodies), got along well in tough circumstances, and experienced a respite from the rest of “straight” and “square” society. “It really is a city,” said one agog man on microphone. Woodstock, by this view, was the antidote to the Viet Nam war and the “plastic” keeping-up-with-the-Joneses society.

The Jefferson Airplane’s song, “Volunteers of America” affirmed that we “got a revolution” because “one generation got old,” but “this generation got soul and had no hesitation at all.” How successful was this revolution, of which Woodstock was the epitome?

While Woodstock was relatively peaceful and idealistic, other gigantic music festivals were not. An eighteen-year-old man was murdered near the stage by a member of the Hell’s Angels during a Rolling Stone’s performance at the Altamont Festival in 1969. In an act of unbridled and unequaled stupidly, the Hell’s Angels (aptly named) had been hired to do security. This event was widely hailed as the end 1960’s idealism. Of course, profiteering and egotism was never lacking from the production, promotion, and performance of such events. Original sin was not erased, nor even diluted.

The public nudity and sexual expressions at Woodstock represent an attempt to return to the garden without the mediation of Christ. Nudism has historically been an attempt to regain innocence without redemption. We don clothes in public because of the shame of sin, as Genesis teaches (Genesis 3). The body is not shameful, but sexuality in a fallen world needs to be guarded.

Woodstock did not regenerate America. Nor was it a pilot plant for a better world. It did give us some memorable music and an emblem for the impossible: peace on earth without Jesus at the center. I wonder how many Christians came who were interested in evangelizing the hippies. The Jesus movement was underway by this time, so it may have happened. No Christian rock groups performed at Woodstock, since Christian rock was still in its infancy. Pioneers Randy Stonehill and Larry Norman had yet to establish careers.

Woodstock was instrumental in legitimizing non-Christian forms of spirituality. The concert began, not with a pastor’s invocation, but with Swami Satchidananda, surrounded by meditators in traditional Indian garb, giving the official opening remarks and leading half a million American youth in chanting “OM.” He would later be known as “the Woodstock Guru” and was a leading figure in bringing yoga and Hinduism to America. The film Woodstock depicts a yoga teacher giving techniques to induce an altered state of consciousness through extreme breathing. Still, in 1969, yoga was an exotic practice. Today, it is mainstream and a supports a gigantic industry (consider yoga pants and mats), with its essential roots in Hinduism often obscured by the hawking of its purposed physical benefits. This domestication of yoga has done as much to bring the East to the West as any other factor.

The brilliant leader of The Who, Pete Townsend, performed at Woodstock and was a follower of the guru Meher Baba, who is credited as “Avatar” on their signature rock-opera album, Tommy (1969). Athough he advocated no particular religion, Jimi Hendrix exuded the mystical sensibility of a Gnostic or animistic sort, fueled by hallucinogenic drugs. He performed “Voodoo Child” at Woodstock, which he deemed in other settings as “a new national anthem until we can get a better one.”

The New Age movement was budding at Woodstock and the concert did much to speed it along the way to the “Me Decade” (Thomas Wolfe) of the 1970s, to prominence in the 1980s, and to mainstream status in the last twenty-five years. America has never been the same. Pew Research tells us that 25% of Christians believe in reincarnation. Oprah Winfrey is considered a spiritual guru to her millions of fans. Many Christians practice yoga without a second thought—or even first thought—concerning its origins or spiritual dangers.

The term psychedelic was coined to give a favorable interpretation of drugs that were technically called hallucinogens. The latter term means a chemical substance that when ingested produces hallucinations—that is, something that artificially produces delusions. But the term psychedelic connotes a substance that when ingested enlivens or augments the psyche. The Jefferson Airplane reveled in this notion in “White Rabbit,” which was performed at Woodstock, hauntingly sung by Grace Slick. The last lines of the terrible poetry are:

When logic and proportion

Have fallen sloppy dead

And the White Night is talking backwards

And the Red Queen’s off with her head

Remember what the Dormouse said

Feed your head

Feed your head

Francis Schaeffer observed that the ideology of drug taking in the counterculture required an “escape from reason”—as in the death of “logic and proportion” in “White Rabbit”—in order to find some ultimate meaning apart from either Christianity or in any rational philosophy. As Schaeffer wrote in How Should We Then Live?

Timothy Leary, for example, said that drugs were the sacraments for the new religion. Of course. . . this drug taking was really only one more leap, an attempt to find meaning in the area of non-reason. Charles Slack, writing of his long relationship with Leary, reported in Timothy Leary, The Madness of the Sixties and Me (1974) that Leary had said to him, “Death to the mind, that is the goal you must have. Nothing else will do.”[1]

This optimistic take on hallucinogenic drugs mostly died out by the mid-1970s and was replaced by recreational use and a return to pure hedonism. But it’s hard to keep a strong drug down. Hallucinogenic drugs are making a comeback.

In How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, best-selling author, Michael Pollan advocates for “blowing your mind” once again.  The psychedelic-drugs-open-up-mystical-realities people never really went away (a lot of them went into computers), but the claim has come back with more establishment backing of late.[2] Some boosters of these drugs call them “entheogens,” taken from the Greek for “the divine within.” It’s Woodstock 2.0, this time with much of “the establishment” behind it. And, of course, pot is legal all over this land, and stoner speak befouls the air.

Christianity offers a worldview and way of life more true, rich, and bracing than anything the neo-romanticism of Woodstock has to offer.  Christians admit that we are a long way from the garden, but that we cannot find our way back unaided. Jesus Christ is the way back and the way forward, since he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The church, not any festival, is the pilot plant for a new order of being in the world in which true worship is returned to the Creator based on the mediatorial work of his Son and applied to our condition to us through the Holy Spirit. Here is the deepest loving fellowship. The taste of heaven on earth is experienced as we devote ourselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

 

[1] Schaeffer, Francis A.. How Should We Then Live? (L’Abri 50th Anniversary Edition) (Kindle Locations 2543-2546). Crossway. Kindle Edition. The best book-length treatment of the counterculture is Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973).

[2] Michael Pollan Drops Acid—and Comes Back From His Trip Convinced See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/books/review/michael-pollan-how-to-change-your-mind.html. On the idea that certain drugs lead to enlightenment, see Os Guinness, “The Counterfeit Infinity” in The Dust of Death.

Another Campaign Season

As we enter another season of political machinations, shouting matches, and incendiary idiocy, consider some meaningless phases that are and will be thrown in our faces.

  1. “I’ll fight for you.” How? Who is the “you’?
    2. “The rich must pay their fair share.” What is that? Who is rich? Why?
    3. “The American people want…” How do you know? Which ones? Should they want it?
    4. “When elected, I will do X.” Maybe you won’t be elected. You may want to do X, but will you? Can you do X? Can anybody do X, like end poverty in America.

You fill in the rest. Hold your nose as you engage your mind.

And, as always, read George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” and On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. And never forget that Jesus was the ultimate and implacable enemy of all cant, evasion, and prevarication. He was, after all, Truth Incarnate.