From Christian Answers for the New Age:
“Thoughts are things.”
“Believe it and receive it.”
Though the term is not well known today, New Thought is a movement whose beliefs are growing in popularity. New Thought uses the label Christian but denies all the essentials of the historic Christian faith. The threads of New Thought, like a fine cobweb that is strong but invisible, have been cast so widely into the culture that it is crucial for Christians to be aware of and know how to recognize New Thought.
The Roots of New Thought
Though many helped to spread New Thought, the origins and development of New Thought are often attributed to three major figures: Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), an accomplished scientist; physician hypnotist Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815); and Phineas P. Quimby (1802-1866), trained as a clockmaker, but who soon became a healer after studying Mesmer’s teachings.
Although he died in the 18th century, Swedenborg’s long shadow reaches into the very nooks and crannies of twenty-first century religion, healing practices, and philosophy. Swedenborg abandoned science to listen to beings he called angels, and stated that the invisible spiritual world had more reality than the visible one. 1Everything in the visible world had a correspondence to the invisible world, though the material world is a cruder version of the spiritual. 2 The Bible was viewed as being an esoteric book whose words are symbolic of higher truths understood only by the enlightened. 3 Heaven and hell, Swedenborg declared, are states of mind. 4Swedenborg founded the Church of the New Jerusalem, still in existence today. 5
Mesmer claimed that a universal fluid, animal magnetism, could be manipulated (at first with magnets and then with his hands) to bring about healing in people. 6Mesmer’s ministrations caused a person to fall into what were apparently hypnotic trances, which was first called mesmerism, or mesmeric sleep. 7 The verb ‘to mesmerize” comes from Mesmer’s name.
Influenced by mesmerism, Phineas Quimby came to believe that healing resulted from an inner belief. 8 After further contact with people influenced by Swedenborg and spiritualism, 9 Quimby came to believe that God is humanity’s true nature, and that the source of healing is a science called Christ, or Christian Science. Quimby had enormous influence on Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, known more commonly as Christian Science.
Warren Felt Evans
A Methodist minister turned Swedenborgian, Warren Felt Evans believed that he was healed by Quimby; thereafter, he further developed Quimby’s ideas 11 and blended them with Swedenborg’s. Evans wrote that illness results from a wrong idea in the mind, and that thinking positively would bring health. 12 Evans wanted to fuse Christianity with these beliefs, and taught that Christ is a principle, a “divine spark,” that resides in every person. 13
Syncretism between Christianity and early New Thought was a hallmark of this movement. The biblical teaching that salvation and redemption of sins comes through faith in Christ was rejected, replaced with the view that union with what was called Divine Mind would bring health and happiness. This became a central teaching of New Thought, which by the 1890s was known by that name. 14
Man’s problem was not sin, but rather incorrect thinking about his nature; the Bible was interpreted allegorically through the filter of New Thought; and salvation was not related to redemption through faith in Christ, but rather was a matter of birthing a new thought or consciousness to provoke awareness of one’s innate divine nature. 15
A basic tenet of New Thought is that man is God or a part of God, and achieves a state of “Christ consciousness” when aware of this divine nature. 16 “Christ Consciousness,” or “God Consciousness,” is a term pervasive in the New Age movement, which absorbed some New Thought beliefs, and refers to the realization of one’s divine or Christ nature.
New Thought did not deny God or Jesus, but redefined them, and this is seen in three major New Thought churches that exist today: the Church of Christ, Scientist (or Christian Science Church), Unity School of Christianity (now usually called Unity or Unity Church), and the Church of Religious Science. 17
Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), founder of Christian Science, was heavily influenced and allegedly healed by Quimby, and claimed that she was reinstating “primitive Christianity and its lost art of healing.” 18 She proposed that mind is the only reality, and that Christ healed by a spiritual influence, which she had discovered in the Scriptures. 19 Right thinking was necessary for healing, since illness resulted from an erroneous view that the material world is real. 20
Christian Science views the Bible as allegorical and only meaningful as interpreted by Eddy, whereas Eddy’s work, Science and Health, is accepted as divine and infallible. 21 God is a divine principle and is Divine Mind, and all that exists is Divine Mind; nor are God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit personal beings. 22 Jesus and Christ are separate; Jesus was a mere man, but the Christ is a principle identified with God. 23 Death is illusory, because man is neither mortal nor material. 24Since man is good and equated with God, there is no sin, and heaven and hell are states of thinking. 25
The Unity School of Christianity, founded in 1889 by Charles Fillmore (1854-1948) and his wife, Myrtle, remains one of the largest offshoots of New Thought. 26 In spite of the influence of Eastern beliefs on Fillmore, and his acceptance of reincarnation, Unity perhaps maintains a stronger focus on Jesus Christ than other New Thought churches. 27 Actively promoting itself as practical Christianity, Unity freely uses biblical terms and language, thus perhaps proving to be a more subtle deception than other New Thought organizations, especially since it is not restrained by the more narrow teachings of a strong founder (such as Mary Baker Eddy in Christian Science). Unity publishes the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, a guide to esoterically interpreting Bible names, places, and events, and maintains an open prayer line at its headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. 28
Unity teaches that:
- God is a principle of love and goodness
- One must reject the false ideas based on what is perceived as reality
- Correct thinking will bring health, harmony, and prosperity
- Man’s personality disguises his true divine nature, but once man realizes this nature, he becomes Christ or “God-man,” thus attaining the higher state of Christ consciousness
- Jesus realized his oneness with Being (a term for God) as an example for mankind; and the Bible must not be read literally 29
One Unity brochure offers meditative statements such as, “O Christ, Thou Son of God, my own eternal Self,” and Unity recommends repeating an affirmation 30 that one is Christ in order to realize the truth of this belief. 31
Church of Religious Science
The third major New Thought church is the Church of Religious Science, founded by Ernest Holmes (1887-1960). Holmes, influenced by transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Swedenborg, spiritism, Theosophy 32, hypnotism, and Hinduism, held to and developed many New Thought beliefs, which he called Science of Mind. 33
Holmes taught that Jesus was a man who used Science of Mind principles; there is a distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ (the latter is a state that can be realized by all); man is divine; sin is error or ignorance; death is an illusion; and heaven and hell are states of mind. Holmes also taught that all religions are essentially one and teach one truth.
Holmes’ contribution to New Thought (eventually incorporated by the New Age and the Word of Faith Movement 34) was his emphasis on positive affirmations and negative confessions. This is rooted in belief in a spiritual law that if one unites one’s mind with Divine Mind and affirms what one desires, speaking it as though it is a present reality, then it will be manifested. Since unwanted conditions are not actually real, one must affirm that which is true reality. 35
Positive Thinking, a Fox, Oprah, and Chicken Soup
Due to its use of Christian terms and the Bible, and its claims to be Christian, New Thought has influenced many in the Christian church through admired ministers such as Norman Vincent Peale (d. 1993), author of The Power Of Positive Thinking, and popular New Thought writer and Divine Science minister Emmet Fox (d. 1951).
Peale’s bestselling book, The Power of Positive Thinking, influenced many, especially in the human potential movement. Most people believe that to “think positive” merely refers to a sunny disposition or positive outlook. However, the term is based on the belief that thinking something in a positive way can manifest it into reality. This technique is originally found in the occult, especially the practice of occult magic (sorcery).
The bestselling video and book, The Secret, is an example of New Thought principles. 36 Those promoting The Secret claim it is compatible with Christianity, and both the book and video frequently quote or refer to the Bible and to Jesus.
Peale and Fox further blended New Thought teachings with Christianity through misinterpretation and misapplication of Bible passages. Peale and Fox were both influenced by Fillmore, founder of Unity, while Peale was also influenced by Holmes, founder of the Church of Religious Science. 37
Fox wrote the popular book, The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life, which is sometimes sold in Christian bookstores. 38 In this book, Fox denies the existence of sin and the atonement of Christ, and declares that reality is merely the expression of inner thought. 39 Fox claims that the “Plan of Salvation,” as he calls it, taught in evangelical Christianity, “is as completely unknown to the Bible as it is to the Koran.” 40
For Fox, man’s main purpose is “the changing of one’s consciousness,” 41 by which Fox means replacing the delusion that we are separate from God with the realization of our oneness with God, and that we are on earth to manifest and express God through creative power that is like God’s. 42 Fox asserts that this is what Jesus meant by “entering in at the strait gate” in Matthew 7:14 (KJV). 43
In his book of devotionals, Fox writes that Jesus was concerned with “mental states, for he (Jesus) knew that if one’s mental states are right, everything else might be right, too.” 44 Fox uses familiar Christian or biblical terms that seem correct if the reader does not know what Fox means by them, and is not familiar with Fox’s true beliefs.
Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential women in the United States, 45 claims a book by Eric Butterworth (d. 2003), a Unity minister, influenced her view of Jesus. 46 In a 2008 television broadcast, Oprah said that she is a Christian but, due to Butterworth’s teachings, she came to understand that Jesus did not come to die on the cross; instead, he came to show us how to achieve “Christ Consciousness.” She said that rather than the cross, what Jesus really was about was “Christ coming here to show us how to do it —- how to be —- to show us the Christ consciousness that he had, and that that Consciousness abides with all of us.” 47
In his book, Discover the Power Within You, Butterworth writes that Jesus was a “great way-shower,” and that “Christ is not a person” but rather he is “a degree of potential stature that dwells in every man.” 48 He also states that “Jesus’ real mission was to bring the message of the Divinity of Man to all the world.” 49 The book is dedicated to the founders of Unity, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, and Butterworth’s philosophy is a fitting tribute to Unity beliefs.
In light of Butterworth’s influence, it is not surprising that Oprah Winfrey heavily promoted the bestselling book and DVD, The Secret, which is essentially re-packaged New Thought philosophy. The Secret even heavily quotes from earlier New Thought pioneers.
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Almost everyone knows about the popular series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, whose chief editors, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, are New Thought proponents, though this fact seems to be barely known. Misleading many is Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, which contains essays from well-known Christians Corrie Ten Boom and Chuck Colson, as well as some other Christians, but also offers essays with New Thought or New Age outlooks. Many are unaware of Canfield’s and Hansen’s true beliefs, and may assume this series is harmless.
Although New Thought uses Christian terms, it distorts the biblical meaning. The result of this in the church has been prosperity teaching, gross misunderstanding of scripture, and a subtle shift from Christ to self.
One of the panelists in The Secret cites Jesus as saying that we will receive what we ask for. He is probably referring to Mark 11:24: “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” These statements by Jesus are commonly used by New Thought proponents as proof that if we believe in what we ask for, we will get it.
This passage raises two questions for the Christian desiring to respond to this New Thought allegation. What should one believe in when Jesus says to believe? And what is prayer? The Bible is not a book of sayings from which one extracts a sentence or two here and there to support a teaching totally at odds with the context of those sentences, or at odds with other biblical passages. What Christians should believe and what prayer is should be informed by how the Bible defines this.
Two verses prior to this statement, Jesus says, “Have faith in God.” He then makes a statement that many consider hyperbole about casting a mountain into the sea.50 The point here is to have faith in God. The teaching is not, as New Thought champions claim, to have faith in oneself or in one’s desire, nor to use faith as a technique to obtain what one wants. As one Bible commentator states, in this passage Jesus was teaching “unwavering trust in God, that the petition will be granted. Such faith contrasted with Israel’s lack of faith” (illustrated by the preceding verses recounting Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree). 51
Remarking on a parallel passage to Mark 11:24 (Matt. 21:18-22), another Bible commentary states that this account illustrates the “power available to disciples through believing prayer,” and adds more pointedly that “this kind of faith, however, will only ask those things that it knows to be God’s will.” 52
Prayer should be understood biblically, since “ask” in this passage is in the context of prayer. Prayer, as taught in the Bible both implicitly and explicitly, is submission to God’s will; prayer keeps us humble and dependent on God. It is not a technique. Believing that we can get something is not what Jesus is teaching here, but rather believing in God (v. 22b). Looking at the context and other similar passages, one sees that belief here means believing and trusting in God, and believing in Christ. This core biblical principle is not acknowledged in any way by New Thought.
Jesus modeled prayer while on earth, clearly showing that prayer is petitioning God and submitting to His will (Matthew 6:8-10, 26:39, 42, 44; Luke 6:28, 18:13, 21:36, 22:40; John 17). Prayer as Jesus demonstrated it is to align one’s will with God’s will, so that God’s desires for us become the petitioner’s. Jesus was echoing what is taught in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). The key here is to “delight yourself in the Lord,” which precedes the portion about the desires. How does one do this? The rest of this Psalm directs the reader to trust in God (vv. 3 and 5) and to “commit your way to the Lord” (5). This Psalm informs us that a good person “delights” in God’s way (23), and urges man to reject evil and do good (27).
Prayer changes the petitioner; it is not a method to control the universe, but rather it is a petition before the one true Creator of the universe. Jesus also follows up this statement in Matthew 21 with a commandment to forgive while praying to God (25). It is evident from God’s word that Jesus never taught that man can manipulate secret spiritual “laws” through prayer or belief.
Another verse used in New Thought is Matthew 7:11. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Here again, this must be understood in the context of the whole counsel of God. God is the one who decides what is good for anyone; until we are willing to align ourselves with God”s will, we may not agree with God about what is good. What we think is good for us may actually be wrong for us (check out the story in Genesis 3).
A further point of this statement in Matthew is that God is good. There is a contrast between man “being evil,” and the Father, who is good. God does not play confusing games with words, hiding a “real” abstruse meaning beneath an apparently normal meaning. The context of the passage, the particular book, the entire New Testament, and relevant Old Testament passages must be taken into consideration.
New Thought seeks to use these passages to support their principle that God is merely a source for what man may want, whatever it may be. The New Thought Jesus is merely an enlightened man who understood the spiritual laws behind the formulas for obtaining what one wants. Therefore, New Thought renders God and Jesus inferior to that which one desires. In other words, one’s desires become one’s god: this is idolatry, pure and simple.
Proverbs 23:7 “As a man thinks, so he is”
Another misused Bible passage is Proverbs 23:7a, which states, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” This is torn from its context and used to teach that whatever one is thinking will manifest itself or will draw that condition or object to the person. If one thinks of and affirms a new car, good health, a raise in salary, a wonderful husband, or anything desired, then one’s thinking can draw that into the person’s life.
In examining the entire passage, it becomes obvious that the message here is actually denouncing acting outwardly one way while inwardly thinking another way. Starting at verse 6, the passage states: “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies; for as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, ‘Eat and drink!’ But his heart is not with you.” Rather than supporting New Thought principles, this passage is condemning selfish, hypocritical behavior!
Luke 17:21 “The Kingdom of God is within you”
Very common in New Thought misuse is Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 KJV).53 This phrase is used to imply that everyone has a divine nature; therefore, one can seek and find God within one’s nature. Other translations render this as “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (NASB), or “the kingdom is within your grasp.” 54
Without going specifically into the biblical teachings of the kingdom, it is clear that Jesus was not telling the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was inside them in a mystical way. He is referring to the fact that he, as the Messiah, is offering the kingdom or is the one who is bringing it. In fact, Jesus is answering a question from the Pharisees as to when the Kingdom of God is coming (v. 20). Jesus’ point is that the Kingdom is not coming “with signs to be observed” (20).
Jesus further illustrates this elsewhere when he says, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The kingdom cannot come without Jesus.55 In contrast to a political uprising, which some were expecting as part of the Messiah’s program, Jesus was instead revealing that the kingdom was “present in the ministry of Jesus.”56 One enters the kingdom through faith in Christ as the Messiah (Matthew 21:32; John 3:3, 5, 14:6); but the Pharisees, while seeking an answer to this from Jesus, were ironically rejecting the very Messiah who was bringing the kingdom they were ostensibly asking about! 57
Elsewhere Jesus deals the Pharisees a stinging rebuke, telling them that not only are they not entering the kingdom, but they are shutting it off from others (Matthew 23:13), and that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before them (Matthew 21:31). New Thought’s distortion of the Bible completely twists and obscures the points of these passages, revealing a total blindness to Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom.
In declaring that we are to seek material gain, New Thought contradicts Jesus’ words that we should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt 6:33), and the instructions that we are to make Christ our priority (Rom.7:4; 2 Cor. 10:5; 2 Cor. 11:3; Phil. 3:8; Col. 3:1,3).
In advocating that one should always have good health and be happy, New Thought is in conflict with the biblical teaching that the Lord allows Christians to suffer, and that suffering can bring growth in Christ, because in weakness, those who trust in Christ glorify the Lord (Matt 5:12; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 6:4-10, 12:9, 10; 2 Tim. 1:8, 2:10, 3:12; James 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:7, 3:17, 4:11-13).
New Thought claims to reveal “secret” or hidden laws not discoverable through normal knowledge and understanding; this is a hallmark of esoteric occultism. Advocates of New Thought ignore these words of Jesus: “I have spoken openly to the world . . . I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret” (John 18:20).
Jesus was neither a teacher of secret laws nor a manipulator of them. Jesus’ display of supernatural power signified and confirmed that he was the prophesied Messiah, that he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and revealed his power and compassion (Matthew 4:23; 8:7, 13, 16; 9:35, 36; 11:2-5; 14:14; 15:28, 30; 20:34; Mark 1:34, 41; 6:2; Luke 4:40; 5:15; 6:17-19; 19:37; 24:26-28, 44; John 2:11, 23-24; 6:2; 14:1; Acts 2:22).
Many teachers and groups designate their beliefs as Christian although their views depart from or even deny the Bible. New Testament warnings against false teachers abound (Matt. 7:15, 24.24, 1 Tim. 1.3-5, 4:1, 6.3-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:3-17; 2 Peter 2:1; Gal. 1:8, 2:4). Referring to false teachers who claimed to be Christian, Paul wrote, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” 2 Cor. 11:13).
New Thought continues to pose a danger to the church; to those outside the church, it is a deadly deception. Christians are told to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Therefore, the teaching and study of God’s word in context, a proper understanding of biblical teachings and the meaning of biblical terms, as well as knowledge of the nature of God, man, and salvation, is vital.
In New Thought, despite the biblical language:
- God is not the personal God of the Bible
- Jesus is not the unique Son of God (he may be called God’s son but only in the sense that we are all God’s children
- Jesus is not the second person of the Trinity but rather a man who realized his divine nature
- Prayer is not petitioning God but rather affirming what we want
- Sin is incorrect thinking
- Man is not separate from God, but rather possesses a divine nature
- The Bible is read as an esoteric code book to uncover hidden spiritual laws
- Illness is illusory or a crude projection of erroneous thoughts
- Salvation is achieving right thinking through realization of one’s divine “Self” and one’s ability to create or alter reality with thought
The apostle Paul rebuked the false prophet Elymas, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10).
Christians must still beware those who would “make crooked the straight ways of the Lord” through the deceptive teachings of New Thought, and instead confess and follow God’s wisdom: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:6).
If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you can receive Him into your heart and He can deliver you from darkness and sin and have your name written in His Book of Life.
If you are sincere you can say this simple prayer to the Father (it doesn’t have to be word for word):
“God, I recognize that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. Please forgive me of all of my sins just as I forgive others. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your only begotten Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross, I believe in my heart Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the Lord and GOD Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.”