All you need is love...or is it? Answering a fellow believer interested in New Age & other spiritualities

I have a good friend, a wonderfully accepting and servant-hearted Christian brother, who is fascinated with New Age and other spiritualities. He has encountered a vibrant New Age / spiritual community and has been embraced in a way he has has not always experienced in the church—and these encounters have cultivated an abiding interest in alternative spirituality. Despite acknowledging orthodox answers, his experience remains compelling.

Accordingly, he asks: If people in this community are more Christ-like than many Christians in their love, isn’t that “producing good fruit?” Is it maybe the same Spirit at work?

We’ve discussed this and related topics at length…but he is still unsettled. It seems my approach to the matter may not resonate with him (a serious possibility: we are really different!) so I wonder if some of you in the Connect community would share how you might approach my friend? I have been really blessed to journey with this friend, so I am eager to gain new insights or angles of approach to this topic which can enrich our conversation.

3 Likes

Perhaps, if you haven’t tried this approach, talking about the idea that New Age could be a counterfeit. What is the underlying foundation of such a belief as New Age? Buildings may look the same, but, if they differ in their foundation one is doomed to collapse while the other is secure and stable. Maybe that could be a seed germ of a good conversation?

4 Likes

@Lizibeth I think you could safely acknowledge that we are all image bearers, God is at work in the world, and the law of God is written on our hearts. With all of those things taken into account, its not surprising that non-Christians can be generous, kindhearted people. Some questions I may ask to continue the conversation are:

  • when you say they are more Christ-like, what exactly do you mean? Could you share some examples? How has that been different from your experience of Christians? Can you think of Christians who have shown Christ’s love to you? (cough cough, Liz Fischer)
  • what do you think the difference is between doing good deeds because we are image bearers with God’s law written on our hearts and living a Spirit empowered life? What changed in your own life when you began to walk with Jesus?
  • why do you think God’s people, from the time of Israel straight down to today, have struggled so hard to walk in the light they have received? How does spiritual warfare factor into your expectations of Church life? Do you believe there is an adversary seeking to sow discord and false doctrine among God’s people?
  • Does Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares help you process the brokenness you see in the Church? People in Church are in different places spiritually and there are plenty who haven’t even crossed the threshold into the Kingdom yet.

Below are some additional resources you may find helpful as you ponder. Christ grant you wisdom and open the eyes of this fellow to understand the world around him in the light of Jesus :slight_smile:

John 13:35 - By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Kevin Halloran Article

I thought this article made some excellent points.

  • First, as Tim Keller says, Christians “should expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Why? Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ’s work on their behalf.”
  • God’s common grace means that he is at work restraining evil and testifying to the truth among all people
  • All Christians started somewhere different and are at a different point in their Christian journey - see C. S. Lewis bit below on ‘raw material’. It could take generations for some sins to be rooted out after conversion if they are culturally rooted.
  • Some of us grew up in loving, secure, socially healthy environments and others are still wrestling with many hurts / struggles from the past
  • God judges the heart - right behavior for the wrong reasons is not from God’s Spirit. Kind behavior can be a way to earn affection, succeed in life, get what you want, or a habit formed among family friends. It does not necessarily flow out of self-sacrificial love.

Tim Keller Sermon

Keller makes a good point here that different religions - like New Age - have a spiritual influence behind them. I feel your friend may be struggling with the exclusivity of Christianity and Keller makes a some good points about how all other paths are empty cisterns.

Jeremiah 2:13 - My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

You mustn’t make the mistake to think that religious views are merely intellectual or cognitive phenomena. Behind the range of religious views there is a range of real spiritual influences. Tim Keller

C. S. Lewis - Different Raw Material

Lewis makes the point that one person may have been taught to behave properly, not exposed to many temptations and generally be healthy - and for them it is far easier to behave in a way that appears moral than for someone who was brought up in a broken family, exposed to lots of temptations and has other psychological issues. In that sense, it is what we do with the raw material we have, rather than the raw material, that is what truly sets us apart.

The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing does dome tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

5 Likes

Hi @Joshua_Hansen, Thanks for this. In other conversations, he definitely acknowledges the existence of spirits that are not of God, but he struggles to see them at work where everything seems focused on love.

For myself, in discussing other religious paradigms, I find (depending on what specifically is in question) I move back and forth from positive “common grace” accounts (all wisdom is God’s wisdom!) to negative “counterfeit” accounts (the enemy masquerades as an angel of light!). And my friend and I have discussed it from both angles! But he is tender-hearted, and (like our Lord) does not wish that any would perish. So underlying his questions about the Spirit at work in other spiritualities is a heartfelt question about the goodness (or possibility) of the gospel’s exclusivity.

2 Likes

Good listening, @SeanO. It has been hard for me to discern which of his questions is the most fundamental since our conversations cover a lot of ground—but increasingly I find links back to exclusivity, and with it, the love / goodness of God.

C.S. Lewis’s “raw materials” perspective was at one time very helpful for me personally; always good to have that in view:) But thanks particularly for drawing my attention to Keller’s sermon—I am looking forward to listening to that; it might be a good one to share!

I appreciate the different lines of questions you suggested:

I brought this up today. It was helpful to press the issue of how we are defining love.

LOL thanks, Sean. I appreciate your affirmation here, especially in light of some insight from James K.A. Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts which has resonated with me:

“Sometimes plausibility is pegged to a person. What ultimately shifted Augustine’s plausibility structures? Love. …Ambrose’s kindness…was the affective condition for [Augustine] to reconsider the faith.”

Smith elaborates on the “relationality of plausibility” and how being loved personally, faithfully, and well by a follower of Christ destabilizes ambiguous claims of a generalized failure of Christian love in the world. I think of my relationships in this light lately, and appreciate your recognition that relationship and experience play a significant role in my friend’s wrestle with these questions.

This has me thinking in a new direction, and brings together a few things I have recently tried to articulate. Thank you! He definitely acknowledges spiritual warfare in other contexts so considering it in this context might make sense. We were discussing the world as non-neutral territory yesterday, so this could prove a helpful direction.

In sum, thank you for these varied lines of thought for me to think and pray about, brother!

1 Like

@Lizibeth Really like this phrase - destabilizes ambiguous claims of a generalized failure of Christian love in the world. I think that really captures both the power of being invited into relationship by individual Christians and the error of making vague generalizations about the failings of the Church.

May Jesus guide your conversations!

Thanks, @SeanO! I routinely call that the ministry of problematizing stereotypes. When people personally encounter (and are embraced by) a faithful believer who embodies the love of Christ, they are pressed to reevaluate their generalizations about Christians. And new possibilities open.

It delights me that the Lord works in this relational way, through persons, through us. He is wonderfully personal, attentively involved with individual people—not merely humanity en masse. It is a gift to participate in this ministry that grows out of Christian life like fruit from a branch connected to a living Vine (as in John 15).

1 Like

Hi @Lizbeth,

I hope this post provides some additional ideas for discussion though some great points have already been made. I am going through a similar situation right now with a friend who has heard a lot about Christ for the last four years or so and is able to accept Jesus as a god but only as one among other gods. The comment I hear the most is, “It doesn’t matter what we follow as long as we love others”. It is true that the fruit of worship to the true God results in love for others but one question to contemplate on is, “Would God define love the same way as man does?

When we are recipients of a kind act, when we feel an urge in us to stop suffering, whether Christian or not, we could be experiencing the vestiges of God’s image that continues to remain in man, the moral law written on our hearts. That is definitely to a degree a reflection of God’s love. Are we though as humans too quickly satisfied with this love we show? What if we could have been conduits of greater love that we have not yet experienced? Are we prematurely comparing the love possible without Christ and the love possible with Christ? How can we as men even define love with our limited perspective? If love is doing good, even well-intentioned love that is misinformed cant bring about good for another. We need true revelation to truly love. What if we could be more fruitful in our love to others being directed by the Spirit of God, as for example when Christian brethren warned Paul about his travels in Acts 21. We as humans tend to define love as alleviating all kinds of pain but a love that reveals our pride is often not seen as love. Yet, there are so many stories of Christian missionaries understanding God’s love when in extreme pain, a love only God can teach as he works on our pride. To discern love man may look at acts of social justice but God looks at the heart.

1 Corinthians 13:3-7 NKJV
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, a but have not love, it profits me nothing. [4] Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; [5] does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; [6] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; [7] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In this definition, we also see that love rejoices in truth. I think we must not be fooled by abilities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control if its purpose is not for objective truth based on reasonable evidence. With these abilities, we could probably manage without Christ in our earthly life, but if we have a soul that outlasts our body, we would want hope based on truth not just fruits in this life. So it may be important to ask, “What is the hope offered by these other faiths?

Another thing to consider is that it’s easier to walk in what appears as the fruits of the Holy Spirit or love while ignoring doctrinal differences of faith as in new age. To walk in unity while facing the differences will quickly reveal the depth of love and the genuineness of the fruits! We have to be careful in our discernment of what we perceive as love.

Finally, I want to talk about the example of the Pharisees who thought they followed God’s law, yet couldn’t love His own Son. What value would our love bear if we chose to reject the love of God’s only Son, if the story of Jesus were to be true? In Matt 21:33-44, Jesus explains through the parable of the vine dressers how we can reject what God considers chief and valuable bringing ourselves under condemnation.

These are just some thoughts I am working through for my situation as I seek answers. I will stop here and hope they are helpful. It seems like you are having good conversations with your friend. May God continue to bless these conversations and bring your friend closer to truth!

2 Likes

@Lizibeth Hi!

So, it’s the question of why can’t people be “good” outside of Christianity?

Well, since Christianity is True, and one of the ways we relate to God is like that of a marriage, then the only “spiritual marriage” that should take place is between the God of Christianity and humankind. So, any “spiritual marriage” to any other spiritual system or lack there of, would be an illicit relationship, and I don’t think any “good” deeds in the name of an illicit relationship can ever be truly good. For example, in an earthly marriage, let’s say a spouse was having an illicit relationship outside of that marriage, and the spouse treated that other person, incredibly great and did many kind deeds for that person. Even though the deeds in and of themselves might be considered “good”, due to their association with an illicit relationship, I don’t know that those deeds can truly be considered good, since they are the fruit of that illicit relationship. So, although people in other religious systems, or no religious system, may do “good” things, since they aren’t directed towards their true “spiritual spouse”, I think they would be considered as being performed in the context of an illicit relationship, even though their deeds may be “good” in and of themselves. And since I do think there are a lot of well meaning people, who are currently outside of Christianity, I think that should be a good motivation to share the Gospel with them, in order for them to have the chance to enter into their True spiritual marriage with Christ, which would make their deeds truly good.

2 Likes

Hi again @Lizibeth, I was talking about your question to my eight year old son, why love alone is not enough. He responded, “That would be making love as God when God is love”. He saw love as an idol. I was quite taken aback with his simplicity of response but still getting to the core of the problem. Thanks for your question.

2 Likes

Lovely to hear from you, @Lakshmismehta! So apparently I think like an eight-year old…because I said that almost verbatim to my friend last week! And as your son pointed out, it makes all the difference in the world. This is a confusion I have heard before and is very important to address in conversations of this kind. So thank you (and your son!) for highlighting it explicitly in this thread.

1 Like

Thanks for sharing, @joncarp. Interesting, we have frequently discussed the covenantal nature of our relationship to God, and illicit spiritual dabblings as explicit unfaithfulness. The Old Testament prophets routinely use this imagery of marital infidelity to characterize the idolatry of God’s covenant people. Thinking of his relationship with the Lord in terms of marriage faithfulness was eye-opening for my friend.

Interestingly, this is where I landed in one of our most recent discussions. If you are concerned about sincere and virtuous people not hearing about Christ, share the gospel with them! I believe I read something of this nature from C.S. Lewis and it was so practical…whilst also being wildly convicting. For me, this exhortation turned the conversation from abstraction and speculation to personal involvement and response. Game changer.

I will be the first to say we need to wrestle with the theological and philosophical repercussions of the exclusivity of the gospel—I’m still doing it myself!—but if our concern is genuine and born of love, then it seems evangelism (not speculation) should top our priorities.

1 Like

Your reply made me chuckle! :smile: There’s some truth though to thinking like an 8 year old! Unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom of God…which seems to include their wisdom and trust. Too often I overthink and miss the obvious! :blush: Thanks @Lizibeth!

1 Like

@Lizibeth Just to add to what you were saying about sharing the Gospel. Since it’s Purim, I was listening to some sermons on the Book of Esther on YouTube, and in one of them, Tim Keller was talking about pride, and how it can manifest itself in two different forms, the “superiority”, and the “inferiority”, forms. So, both manifestations are two sides of the same coin of pride. Now, I’m not saying that your friend has a pride issue. I’m just saying that I think it’s interesting that the same attribute can have different manifestations. However, I wonder if what your friend is experiencing is one of the sides of what I might refer to as “the Jonah coin”. Meaning, Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh because, to me it seems, he actually wanted them to be destroyed, because he thought they were “bad”. Whereas your friend might feel hesitant about preaching the Gospel to the people he is referring to because he feels they are “good”. So, it almost seems like two sides of the same coin regarding the issue that Jonah was having. However, in both cases, whether you don’t want to preach the Gospel because you think the person is “bad” or “good”, the underlying cause and result would be the same. So, perhaps the book of Jonah could be a good place to go in order to touch on the underlying thought process of not sharing the Gospel, as well as the motivation that a person should have to share the Gospel despite any personal reservations.