A Crystal Clear Gospel
Despite the difficulties of evangelizing New Age adherents, there are encouraging reports. Eternity Team member Rob de Bruyn is also on the Jesus Evangelism Team of St. Martin's Anglican Church in the Dandenongs township of Belgrave Heights. Once a month the team heads deeper into the hills to Kallista, where the town's community market has become a pretext for a New Age expo.
After chatting with one stallholder, de Bruyn gave him a Bible and some literature on forgiveness. For the next hour he watched the man as he retired to the back of his stall and pored over the text, leaving his wife to deal with customers. Then the man came back wanting to give his life to Jesus.
"He looked deeply disturbed, and he couldn't understand how his past--he was a soldier, and he did some bad things--could be forgiven by God," de Bruyn said. He answered the man's questions and led him to Christ.
However, all teams agree it is hard to settle former New Agers into the church. "They're scared stiff of churches," Bond observes, and stresses the importance of committed mentoring to provide a firm grounding in the faith.
Benn also knows it can be a long process. "Their spirit can be born again, but they've still got to work through that mind-set that says it's all about their personal peace and happiness," she points out.
Lisibach is living testimony to this, having encountered a very bumpy road during the year after she accepted Jesus. For a while she continued earning her living by talents such as Tarot readings.
"I was still fighting with the church and my beliefs," she says. "I had a foot in both camps and was very confused. I had lots of people saying they'd pray for me and trying to tell me my beliefs were wrong, but I had nobody I could actually talk to who had been down the same road. So to come into a church with all that was very hard."
The reactions of some Christians to her dilemma almost wrecked her faith, she admits. Fortunately she met Bond, who was able to disciple her from a basis of shared experience.
Philip Johnson's book Jesus and the Gods of the New Age, scheduled for release in the United States this summer, addresses this task of having an effective Christian mission to the New Age movement. Johnson believes the church needs to discard its New Age phobia and learn how to work the subculture as a fertile mission field.
He points out that it has many altars to unknown gods, like the one the apostle Paul found in Athens. Even astrology presents an opening for the gospel through the three wise men of the nativity--whose star led them to Jesus.
Bond calls her salvation in Christ a homecoming that finally satisfied her spiritual hunger. Her experience refutes the criticism that Christianity is too narrow. "Because it is narrow," she says, "I've been able to put roots down, I've been able to grow, I've been able to flourish. I was never planted in New Age. I had hundreds of options, but you're never planted, you're never home."
Yet, Johnson insists, it is just the sort of place where Jesus would have been--introducing the God who is permanent, unchanging and greater than all other options combined.
Adrian Brookes is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. His particular interest is writing on missionary activities in Australia and around the world.
Largest concentrations:Europe, South America, United States, Australia
History:The New Age Movement is the result of the teachings, practices and philosophies of many different religions, primarily Hinduism and Buddhism. It is not a true religion but a set of beliefs from which adherents may pick and choose based on their own spiritual interests. It became prominent in the United States as a result of the influence of various Eastern philosophers and 19th century spiritualists. It wasn't until actress Shirley MacLaine declared her affiliation with the movement in the 1980s that people saw how widespread it had become.
God is the divine energy that flows within all things--the "Ultimate Reality," "Universal Mind or Self" or divine "Oneness."
Everything is fundamentally divine--and therefore good--because it flows from this divine Oneness.
Mankind's problem is that we have lost sight of our true nature as beings who are connected to the Universal Self. We need enlightenment to see ourselves as we are.
Man is able to shape reality through the power of his mind.
Reincarnation is necessary for the process of spiritual evolution.
Though God Himself is impersonal, there are spiritual beings who can be contacted through various means (channeling, for example) to act as spirit guides.
The goal of the New Ager is to relinquish his individuality and achieve unity with the Universal Self.
A small town in Arizona has become a New Age stronghold in the United States.
Yoga and dance teacher Beth Rigby can't really explain why so many people are attracted to Sedona, Arizona. But she knows that this small community of 12,000 people--surrounded by the red-rock formations of Oak Creek Canyon--is "magical."
"Sedona calls people," Rigby says. "I can't explain it. When people come, they often have a deep sense of home." After moving here in 1997 she founded Healing Retreat Adventures. Several times a year she takes tourists on seven-day excursions into the wilderness for yoga, "transformational dancing" and what she calls "past-life remembrances."
Her clients come from all over the world. What calls tourists to Sedona?
Rigby believes the town is in the middle of a New Age "vortex," or power center, where "electromagnetic energy comes out of the earth." She doesn't exactly know how the supposed energy field works, but she suggests that Native American tribes tapped into the source of it centuries ago.
"There are so many power spots here," says Rigby, who compares Sedona to Stonehenge in England, or the Egyptian pyramids. She hires Native American healers to accompany her on the outings.
Rigby is not alone in her pursuit of Sedona's magic. Despite its tiny size, the town has more than 70 New Age bookstores, astrology centers and healing studios. One Web site advertises the city as a new "spiritual capital" and claims that psychic energy is released from a spiritual portal created by nearby Bell Rock, Table Top Mountain, Boynton Canyon and Cathedral Rock. Another group in town, Ashtar's Trinity, is using crystals and light rays to lay a metaphysical "grid" over Sedona so that extraterrestrial beings will help earthlings "ascend" to a higher realm.
Current research suggests that New Age spirituality is growing in the United States. While there are many other cities with larger numbers of New Age bookstores and crystal shops, Sedona probably has the highest number per capita. Other communities with unusually high New Age activity include Seattle; Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; Gainesville, Florida; and Asheville, North Carolina. (One directory says that Asheville has 422 New Age establishments, more than some entire states.)
In Sedona, spiritualist groups outnumber evangelical churches at least 3 to 1. "We are definitely the minority," says Gordon Story, 55, pastor of First Assembly of God, one of only two charismatic or Pentecostal churches in the town. His congregation, which has about 50 members, is "larger than most evangelical congregations here," he says.
But Story adds there are signs that the gospel is making an impact: Bible-believing pastors are working together, and new doors are opening for outreach. "Good things are starting to happen," he adds. "We are determined to push back the darkness."
J. Lee Grady
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