Thursday, August 28, 2014

May the "Christ-force" be with you—Debunking the Jedi Jesus of the New Age

I've often been taken off guard when Christian friends or acquaintances have spoken highly of New Age books such as Eckard Tolle's widely acclaimed The Power of Now or Rhonda Byrne's bestselling The Secret. Oprah Winfrey-dubbed "spiritual gurus" such as these promote an insidious form of false teaching under the guise of a benign self-help ethos. Although these teachings mask a treacherous departure from the gospel of Jesus Christ and claim to hold the key to a new spiritual awakening, they are appealing to some Christians who are evidently sucked in by the self-esteemism, widespread popularity, and aggressive marketing of such books. Indeed, Tolle has sold more books than almost any other spiritual author. His #1 New York Times bestseller, The Power of Now, (translated into 33 languages) and his vastly popular follow-up, A New Earth, are frequently touted as two of the most influential spiritual books of our time.

The widespread influence of New Age teaching poses a very real, albeit inconspicuous, threat that the church should take seriously. Despite popular belief to the contrary, the multifaceted movement is still going strong, but less overtly now that many of its concepts have become more subtly ingrained into our collective consciousness. The movement is not relegated to a trippy-hippy, tie-dye clad fringe group, but has been embraced by mainstream culture thanks in large part to the army of celebrities that promote its teachings.

For example, there's been growing respect for, and adoption of, the practices and philosophies of Eastern religions among Christians. One example is Hatha Yoga, which involves poses and hand positions many of which are depictions of Hindu deities. The hand positions are traditionally called mudras and are thought to help manipulate and channel prana, a supposed divine force or breath of the universe.[1] The purpose of Hatha yoga is traditionally a spiritual practice designed to foster the realization that the true self, the Atman, is divine.[2] Many Christians who practice yoga, however, do not buy into the spiritual side of it, using it for the physical benefits of exercise, flexibility, and muscle-strengthening alone. But some argue that by dabbling in such practices, Christians are opening the door to ungodly spiritual influences. The meditation and relaxation practices in yoga that encourage the emptying of one’s mind, for example, is unbiblical in that contradicts our God-given ability to exercise reason and sound judgement. It also conflicts with Jesus' command to love God with all of our minds—which necessities a conscious mental state (Matt. 22:37; Luke 10:27). Furthermore, some hold that mindfulness and mind-emptying meditation hold the potential to open us up to demonic persuasion. Due to the popularity of yoga among a significant number of Christians, however, this is a touchy subject. The question becomes, can (or perhaps should) Christians safely practice yoga without compromising themselves spiritually? I will default to former New Ager turned Bible-believing Christian, Marcia Montenegro, in her article on this one.

While the strains of New Age thought that have seeped into our churches may not be immediately evident to us all, those who have been saved out of the New Age movement into Christianity are all too aware of the wolves in sheep's clothing that lurk around us. Two former New Agers who were miraculously saved into the Christian faith, sister bloggers Christine Pack and Cathy Mathews, have expressed their "concern over false teachings that we realized were coming into today's Church. Having both been saved OUT of the New Age and occultism, we were alarmed when we began to see some of the same things we did in the New Age creeping into the church...only now, these practices have been cleverly repackaged with Christian terminology, rendering them all the more deceptive."[3]

In his book, O God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, Josh McDowell demonstrates how Oprah uses words that might sound like they are based in Christianity, but her real message is radically different from the Christian faith. Likewise, many of Tolle’s ideas are derived from pre-existing, often ancient beliefs with Christian influences. As Montenegro further explains, “The New Age is always a blend of beliefs; intermingling strands from Eastern accepted wisdom, New Thought, Gnosticism, the occult, and even Christianity.”[4] Yet New Agers believe they are rescuing the enlightened parts of Christianity from centuries of male-imposed dogma and have rediscovered its truth through mystical interpretations of the Bible. And for the undiscerning Christian, their use of Christian terminology can be dangerously misleading.

And where is Jesus in all this? Unfortunately, right up front; the name of Jesus is misused frequently within New Age teaching. Many psychics, astrologers, etc. display crosses or pictures of Jesus on their walls. But the New Age Jesus is a Counterfeit Christ who represents an unapologetic departure from the "constraints" of biblical teaching. New Agers unabashedly claim to have freed Jesus from the shackles of religious dogma (i.e. biblical truth) and consequently, on closer inspection, he bears very little relation to the Son of God we know as Christians.

Indeed, the New Age Jesus is devoid of any salvific purpose, being presented an imparter of wisdom, rather than a savior from sins, despite the fact that Scripture clearly claim His purpose on Earth was to do just that (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11; Luke 19:10; John 4:42; Acts 13:23; 1 Tim 1:15; 1 Tim 4:10; Titus 2:13; 1 John 4:14).

In fact, the New Age Jesus is generally believed to be a mere man who achieved a high level of spiritual enlightenment, which afforded him godlike attributes. He is esteemed as one of the “Masters,” along with Buddha, Krishna, and others, all of whom illuminate the path for humanity to spiritual enlightenment.

The New Age Jesus is disturbingly more Jedi than he is biblical. A widespread New Age belief is that Jesus is actually a separate being from a divine entity, which is often referred to as “the Christ.” Many prominent New Agers, like Tolle and Byrne, perceive “the Christ” as being impersonal, cosmic, and abstract in nature—in essence, a “Christ-force” or "Christ-consciousness." New Agers claim that this Christ-force took possession of the body of the man, Jesus, in order to guide humanity towards a process of spiritual evolution. “The Christ” is said to lie dormant within each person, waiting to be fully realized so that humanity as a whole may experience spiritual awakening.[5] As Andrew Harvey puts it in his virtual seminar, The Christ Path, "By seeing Jesus’s life with fresh eyes, we take him off the pedestal as an untouchable Savior and begin to see him as a way-shower for all of us to embody more of our innate divinity as we co-create a more just and compassionate world."[7] 

The Christ-force theory finds its origins in the Gnostic movement that begun in the second century AD, as a heretical sect of early Christianity. Basic Gnostic beliefs hold that humans are emanated from a Supreme Being and are divine spirits trapped inside physical bodies. In Gnosticism, salvation of the soul from the material world is achieved through the realization of gnōsis[8]—esoteric or intuitive knowledge of the truth—rather than the atoning death of a Christ figure. Some Gnostics identify Jesus as an embodiment of the Supreme Being who became incarnate in order to bring gnōsis to the earth. Others, like contemporary Gnostic Reverend Todd Ferrier, founder of The Order of the Cross, suggest that the word “Jesus” was merely a codeword assumed by a historical being. Most Gnostics believe that there has been more than one authentic Messiah, and that “the modern Christian claim that Jesus was the only Christ (or Messiah) is simply not tenable.”[9]

While the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus are central to the Christian faith, in Gnostic tradition the crucifixion is deemphasized (along with the Trinity and other inconvenient truths about Jesus). The Institute for Gnostic Studies states: 

For the Gnostic, pain and suffering are part of the fallen world’s condition…certainly Jesus suffered perhaps inasmuch that he had to take a fallen physical vessel as in the indignities of his crucifixion. However, there is no grace in suffering. The aim is to transcend matter, not wallow in its more painful aspects. The suffering and death of Jesus illustrated the reaction of the ignorant to the Gnosis, while his resurrection illustrated how death and matter could be overcome. It is irrelevant whether Jesus physically came back from the dead or not, since the Gnostics and Jesus have such contempt for matter, it seems highly unlikely that the resurrection had much to do with a re-enlivened corpse. It was an awakening to light, a Transfiguration rather than some ghastly re-animation.[10 emphasis added]
In Gnosticism, Jesus' role is not to die on the cross as ransom for our sins. Instead, “Jesus comes as a revealer, a bringer of Gnosis, an opener of doors, he works to shatter the prison that locks the true Self into the body and awaken the light which is hidden within the heart of man.”[11] The New Age Jesus paves the pathway for humanity to spiritual enlightenment. 

Another manifestation of the New Age Jesus is the astrological Jesus, aka the Piscean Avatar. Former astrologer, Montenegro, explains how in astrology, Christ has become the living symbol of the Piscean Age that spans from His birth to 2,000 years later. Montenegro states: “Since Jesus is considered a higher spiritual being, an Avatar, by many astrologers, he embodies the highest aspects of Pisces: universal love, compassion, sacrifice, intuition, servanthood, martyrdom, and spirituality.” Like the biblical Jesus, the astrological Jesus possesses character traits that set him apart from most men—yet this Counterfeit Christ is not unique in his deity. In keeping with New Ageism, “The astrological Jesus is still a New Age Jesus, or, in more contemporary terms, the Jesus of the new spirituality. Jesus is the man who realized Christ-consciousness, the innate divinity in all men.”[12]

And therein lies the rub. It's that old Satanic lie that we can attain personal godhood—the same lie that's been repeated over and over throughout history in Gnosticism, the Religion of Reason, Marxism, Mormonism, secular humanism, selfism, and the New Age movement—to name just a few—which all hinge on the belief in human perfectibility/deification though human effort. These false religions, spiritual awakenings, and philosophies each distract from—or attempt to completely negate—the human need for a supernatural Savior. (For more on this refer to our previous post on "A Brief History of Bad Ideas").

And so there is, in fact, nothing "new" about the New Age Jesus at all...He's been slithering around since the original fall of man in Genesis 3 when Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the lie that if they accessed secret knowledge or wisdom (Gnosticism), their eyes would be opened (enlightenment), and they wouldn't need to submit to the sovereign God anymore, for they themselves would be as God is. (Gen. 3:1-5). Satan knows exactly how to appeal to our innate desire for self-deification nowjust as he did then.

Rather than flatly rejecting Jesus altogether based on the biblical claims about Him, then, New Agers have incorporated the figure of Christ into their occultist beliefs. And by using Christian vocabulary and loosely reappropriating Christian concepts, they have pulled the wool over the eyes of an alarming number of Christians. This strategy of deception is an age-old ploy of Satan: high-jacking God's truth by using partial truths to lure people in and ultimately to dupe them altogether. Remember that Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” and “his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:3, 14-15). In the same way, the New Age Jesus masquerades as one who will lead us to our own inner light. 

For this reason, it is important for us as Christians to be aware of the erroneous ideas about Jesus that are propagated by the New Age movement—along with its books, its proponents, its self-esteem gurus, its practices and teachingsso we may escape its ungodly influence, and cling instead to God's Word on the authentic Son of God, who is the only way, the truth, and the life.

[1] Although many Yoga classes do not use the correct Eastern terms when teaching Yoga, but instead talk about “breathing techniques” in place of pranayama and “center” for meditation, for example.
[2] Marcia  Montenegro, article: “Christian Yoga: An Oxymoron?” Christian Answers for the New Age.
[3] retrieved 2/14/13
[4] Marica Montenegro, Christian Answers for the New Age
[5] Hanegraaff, Hank, “The New Age Christ: What is the New Age view of Jesus?” article published by the Christian Research Institute
[7] Harvey, Andrew, A New Life Virtual Training: "The Christ Path, A 7-Week Journey to Awaken and Embody Christ-Consciousness" March, 2013
[8] Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge
[9] Institute for Gnostic Studies, online posting, June 2000.
[10] “The Gnostic Jesus” Institute for Gnostic Studies, online posting, June 2000.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Montengro, “The Piscean Avatar: The Jesus of Astrology,” Christian Answers for the New Age

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Courage to Encourage

Everyone needs encouragement. Humans are created to be relational beings and we naturally take comfort in an encouraging word from a friend during a time of difficulty, fear, or uncertainty. Sometimes, even more than words, just the encouraging presence of loved ones can ease feelings of pain or worry. The importance of such relationships cannot be over-estimated. Studies have shown that those who live in healthy community with others, live longer, whereas isolation and loneliness breed depression and anxiety.

Paul taught the early church that the Body of Christ should be a loving and encouraging fellowship of believers. In his letter to the Romans he paints us a striking picture of what it looks like to live in biblical community (Romans 12). Among other things, he urges us to be empathetic with one another; to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15).

Isn't it true that when we experience a blessing or victory in our lives, we long for others to rejoice with us? True friends will be glad when God uses us to achieve something or when He blesses us. They will celebrate with us as if the victory or blessings are theirs also! But, sadly, the achievements or gifts of others can breed discontentment, insecurity, and jealousy in the hearts of some. And sometimes, people secretly take pleasure in the failures of others, because it makes them feel temporarily better about themselves in comparison. But to rejoice with those who rejoice is to let go of our insecurities and the prideful temptation to one-up each other. It is to think of others as more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3). It is to show selflessness, empathy, and humility.

Mourning with those who mourn can also be a challenge in our busy lives today. We are a society of hectic, over-scheduled people and in the midst of our "crazy" lives, when do we really have the time to sit down with a brother or sister who needs encouragement or walk with them through their time of hardship? When do we have the time to visit the shut-in? To spend time with the lonely, elderly, or sick...or even to pray for them?

But Paul is clear that encouraging one another is key to a loving church community. He knew firsthand what it was like to be afflicted, isolated, and in dire need of encouragement. He even lists encouragement as a spiritual gift (Rom 12:7-8). He uses here the Greek word, paracletos, which literally means “to call to one’s side,” and is translated as to “exhort,” “urge,” “encourage,” and “comfort.” Exhortation (to emphatically urge someone to do something) isn't always associated with encouragement as much as comforting someone might be. But just as the Holy Spirit—whom Jesus referred to as our “Helper” or “Comforter” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26)—both comforts and convicts us, those with the gift of encouragement will both comfort as well as counsel others, exhorting them to remain true to the Lord with all their heartsas modeled by Barnabas, “the son of encouragement." (Acts 4:36; Acts 11:23; Acts 13:43).

The words we speak to one another can have huge impact. They can serve to tear us down or build us up. They can further laden a heavy heart, or uplift it with hope. They can feed self-centeredness and self-deception or help to point us to Jesus Christ. Scripture has much to say about the power of the tongue, describing rash words like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise to bring healing (Prov 12:18). The tongue is an outlet for what ever is in the heart; "the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:4-5). We should take this seriously, for Jesus said: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:36-37). And in James we read, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." (James 1:26). In this vein, Paul wrote: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29).

Indeed, anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad (Proverbs 12:25). So, what exactly is a "good word"? To answer this, it's helpful to take a look at what biblical encouragement actually isand also to identify what it is not:

1. Encouragement is to empathize not to give a pep-talk. To truly comfort some one involves empathy and depth of understanding. When you're dealing with a difficult time of fear and uncertainty, the hollow, "it will be alright," doesn't really cut it, does it? And in the midst of suffering, a cursory, "it will be fine," doesn't resonate. This is because it isn't really true. Things aren't always "alright." Things aren't always going to be "fine." The reality is, sometimes things are difficult, painful, or even tragic. Often, statements like these are defaulted to in order to alleviate the awkwardness of not knowing what to say. To truly empathize with another person, however, there must be a genuine level of emotional commitment to that person. But in a commitment-phobic society in which we're all being pulled in so many different directions, to truly encourage one another is counter-cultural. It involves an investment of time and emotional energy that many of us may not feel we have to give. But Paul reminds us that now more than ever, investing in, and committing to, one another is important. He exhorts us to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10:24-25). This involves taking the time to listen to, and trying to understand, what a brother or sister is actually going through. It involves the act of prayerfully loving others as ourselves.

2. Encouragement involves exhortation not enablement. In other words, encouragement is to urge others to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God—not to succumb to, or be overwhelmed by, feelings of hopelessness (Rom 5:2). Enablement, however, perpetuates hopelessness. It's true that misery loves company. But to indulge the fears, insecurities, or pride of others without pointing them to Christ is not to comfort them with everlasting hope, but to provide only temporary relief. Encouragement, on the other hand, is to point them away from their problems to fix their eyes on Jesus. Encouragement, then, must be rooted in the gospel. When Paul tells us to encourage one another and build one another up, he consistently does so in the context of the gospel message. He lays out the basis for our hope and encouragement, which is our "salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him." (1 Thess 9-11).

3. Encouragement is sincere not flattery. We should absolutely give credit where credit is due. Recognizing the achievements of our peers is important. And to live in unity is to celebrate each other's strengths and give thanks for each other's blessings as if they are our own. But encouraging words must be anchored in truth. Speech that is peppered with gushing accolades or disingenuous compliments does not reflect Christ-like love for others. Words of encouragement shouldn't be based on what the other person wants to hear. Instead, Paul urges us to speak the truth in love in order to build up the Body of Christ (Eph 4:15-16). We can especially encourage one another with the truth that God knows, cares for, and loves, each one of us intimately (Psa 139) even though we are sinners. We need to be vigilant, however, that the message of God's amazing love for us doesn't get confused with the popular lie that "you are perfect just as you are." This lie feeds the human desire to remain unchanged and self-antonymous. In effect, it negates our perceived need for sanctification, for submission, and—if taken too far—even for salvation. Thus, Scripture warns us that a man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet (Prov 29:5). Our words of encouragement must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Furthermore, encouragement involves exhorting one another to boast only in the Lord and to fully rely on God's strength, not enabling self-centered attempts to be self-reliant and confident in our own strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 2 Cor 10:17). When we seek to encourage others, we might ask ourselves, what am I seeking to encourage my fellow believer to hope in? His own abilities? His own success? Or am I ultimately pointing him to Christ for God's glory?

4. Encouragement is self-sacrificial not self-serving. While flattering lips are motivated by self-gain, speaking genuine words of encouragement—speaking the truth in love—can be costly to us. But sometimes, our church communities can be consumer-driven rather than service-minded, seeming more akin to social clubs than spiritual families. They can be full of relationships based on expediency and quick-fix community. Some churches have a tendency to promote organized fun over authentic fellowship. And an overemphasis on common interest- or convenience-based community gives rise to the ever-pressing problem of church cliques and creates an environment devoid of open-heartedness and outreach-mindedness. Stepping out of our comfort zones, social circles, and interest-areas to encourage the lonely and the afflicted with the gospel was clearly modeled by Jesus during His earthly life. But to genuinely comfort a suffering brother or sister can be in be time-consuming, inconvenient, even messy. There isn't always an easy answer to someone's difficult situation or painful condition. Jesus, however, spent time pouring His love into the afflicted, the lost, the weary, the ostracized—not those from whom He would gain something. He didn't work His way up the social ladder or seek out politically expedient relationships. Instead, He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Phil 2:7). 
Encouragement, then, is to seek first His Kingdomnot a church clique. Indeed, when we step back and look at ourselves, we might consider our own motivations: are we encouraging others selectively so they might like us more or because we want to feel needed? Are we practicing favoritism or are we non-discriminatory in building up the Body of Christ, which transcends personal preferences, along with social, cultural, and even national boundaries?

In light of all this, it is safe to say that encouragement takes courage. It involves self-sacrifice and getting out of our comfort-zone, 
giving selflessly of our time and energy. It's about avoiding flattery and people-pleasing for self-gain. It may mean addressing inconvenient truths from time-to-time and exhorting others to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. It may involve getting our hands dirty, dealing with some messy situations, and confronting difficult, even heart-wrenching, realities (not brushing the suffering of our brothers and sisters under the carpet). And because encouragement is about pointing ourselves and others to Christ, it's counter-cultural. Encouragement, therefore, will mean swimming against the tide.

But we can be encouraged by the fact we are not alone. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to encourage others. We don't have to rely on our own strength to build up the Body of Christ, but can take courage in the Lord's strength. For He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:19). Now that is encouraging!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Counterfeit Christ

As Christians, we are commissioned to share the good news about Jesus with others (Acts 1:8). But who is this Jesus that we follow? There are, in fact, many different perspectives on who Jesus is that exist throughout the world—we may even encounter differing ideas among our friends or in our own neighborhoods. Our Muslim neighbors may revere Him as a great prophet. Our Mormon friends may proclaim Him to be their Savior. Agnostics may admire His moral teachings, but deny any certainty of His divinity. Spiritualists and New Agers may believe Him to be divine, but reject the uniqueness of His divinity. And Jehovah’s Witnesses may tell you He is an archangel. We may even find varying opinions about Jesus within the Christian community. Living in the DC-metro area, and having worked in the areas of international development and missions & outreach, I've been exposed to a diversity of opinion on who Christ is. And these conflicting opinions cannot all be right, (even if your pluralist Religion professor might have you believe so!).

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13-15). Our answer to this pivotal question will be the most important one we will ever give. The Bible tells us that knowing the true Christ is a matter of critical, life-and-death importance. This is because you cannot follow Him, without finding Him first.

The early church recognized that “an understanding of Jesus’ identity is essential to genuine Christianity and a prerequisite for experiencing salvation and enjoying a relationship with God.”[1] Indeed Jesus made this clear when he said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” (John 16:6-7, emphasis added). But the fact is, many who use His name do not actually know the true Christ. Jesus said:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23).
To know Him and to do His will involves understanding the truth about who He is, what He did for us on the cross, and what His Word teaches.

But Jesus warned against false teaching and urged His followers to watch out that they are not deceived, for “many will come in My name” to lead people astray. (Luke 21:8; Mark 13:6). False teaching about Jesus poses a very real danger that will lead many down a fatal path of deception. Jesus gave a sobering reminder of how vigilant we should be: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15-16).

Indeed, some "woolly" forms of false teaching use deceptively Jesus-friendly language, as is now becoming common in today's pluralistic—and increasingly heretical—culture. Furthermore, false teaching about Jesus gives rise to Counterfeit Christs who come not only the in form of false messiahs (such as contemporary Korean false messiah Sun Myung Moon), but also in the form of misleading concepts that distort people’s view of who Jesus really is. Take, for example, the Convenient Christ of the powerful celebrity-pastors that preach Word of Faith theology. The New Age Jesus is another insidious counterfeit that masquerades as the authentically Divine, and he even worms his way into our Christian communities undetected through various bestselling self-help books[2] and the popular Life-Class teachings of Oprah Winfrey. You might think the Jesus of Jihad would be a more obvious offender, until you realize that this treacherous counterfeit is cozied up to by an alarming number of evangelical missionaries in Muslim ministry like those practicing "C5" or "high-spectrum" contextualization or the "Jesus in the Qur'an" method. And within our prevailing culture of religious pluralism it is becoming more common to hear outlandish statements from prominent evangelical leaders like that made by former Fuller Seminary President, Richard Mouw, when he pronounce on that the Counterfeit Christ of Mormonism is essentially one and the same as the biblical Jesus.[3]

The Counterfeit Christ is very real. And today, perhaps more than ever, he has alluring appeal...He may be more politically correct. He may fit comfortably within one’s preexisting worldview or religious background. He may provide a safeguard against fear and anxiety with the promise of health and prosperity. He may be a benignly loving, warm & fuzzy figure who let's us just "be who we are" without any need to pick up our cross and follow him. He may form the basis of a social structure that draws people together in a community that bears little resemblance to the true Body of Christ. Or He may even gracefully bow out when the mention of his name might be an inconvenient obstacle in interfaith relations as demonstrated by the Christian/Muslim Common Word movement (that, incidentally, has received widespread evangelical support [4] ).

Wherever the Counterfeit Christ can be found, there also exists a powerful, earthly motive drawing many to his feet.

This is, indeed, a warning to the elect, for in Jesus’ own words, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” (Matt. 24:24). While those who are reconciled to God and are abiding in Him cannot be deceived by false Christs, it is possible for those who may consider themselves to be Christians, but are not yet fully reconciled to Him and abiding in Him, to be led astray. We know this because Paul warns that, “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” (1 Tim 4:1). Paul also talks about the dreadful consequences of apostasy (Heb 6). As believers, we must have the courage to speak out against false teaching when necessary—even if we are accused of being "unloving" by doing so, for this is an act of love toward those who are being deceived.

To this end, we be should on guard against any teaching about Jesus that strays from, adds to, or distorts, Scripture. There are varying degrees of this. For example, in Jesus Calling—an enormously popular book among Christian women—Sarah Young reports words she claims to have received directly from Jesus. While she states up front that, unlike Scripture, these words are not inerrant, she nevertheless presents them as first-person speech from Jesus Himself. This is problematic. How does one know if the words she claims to have received are really from Jesus? When her book is compared to Scripture, her claim appears unfounded. Young's book doesn't contain many words that reflect the thrust of what Jesus actually preached during His earthly ministry and it's devoid of the main themes of Scripture. Her focus is on how much God delights in us, which is certainly true, but Scripture consistently points us to Christ, and not back to ourselves like Young's book unfortunately does. In Jesus Calling, there is nothing of God's pure holiness, His wrath against sin, man's inability to save himself, and his desperate need for a Savior. There's nothing of the cross, and no call for gospel of salvation.[5] Isn't this the message Jesus consistently preached?

And why look elsewhere when every word of the Bible is the voice of Jesus? God's Word is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). And we should not add to it (Rev 22:19). Why would Jesus speak additional words to one woman today and contradict Scripture? While we are guided by the Holy Spirit and can enjoy an interactive, communicative relationship with God through prayer, today, we do not hear additional words directly from God that mimic Scripture, as Young has claimed. God speaks to us through Scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit. For the Bible tells us, “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Prov 30:5-6). This is a stern warning. Be on guard against extra-biblical writing that claims to be directly from the voice of God. Avoid books like these and stick to Scripture as the sole source of God's Word.

Two of the more extreme examples of extra-biblical writings about Jesus can be seen in the Book of Mormon and the Qur'an, both of which go further than distracting from the gospel. Instead, they respectively distort and deny it. Therefore, the Jesus of Mormonism, who is the spirit brother of Satan, who was purportedly married[6], and who is not part of the Trinity, is not the authentic Son of God, even though certain evangelicals, along with a whole host of religious pluralists, would like to believe so. Similarly, the Jesus of the Qur'an who was not crucified, who is not God, and who will come back in the end times to break the Cross, kill the Jews, and destroy all religions other than Islam, is certainly not the same Jesus. Therefore, missionaries in Islamic contexts, should not use the Qur'an to witness to Muslims—even though the The International Mission Board, a missionary-sending agency affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, has promoted the use of the Camel Method, which uses verses about Jesus from the Qur'an, rather than the Bible, to present the plan of salvation by relating it to the Islamic feast of sacrifice. These Quranic verses describe a deadly Counterfeit Christ and are not an introduction to the true Jesus.

As disciples of Jesus, we are commanded to abide in, and uphold, God's Word—not the impaired beliefs of false religions (whether there is a perceived "common ground" somewhere in there or not).

Another red flag is any teaching that attempts to define God by human rules and logic. Interestingly, all false religions/spiritual movements that lay false claim to Jesus, such as Mormonism, Islam, and the New Age movement, deny the biblical view of the Trinity. I have speculated that this is because the Trinity prevents us from creating our own fictitious god and forces us to live by faith in an infinite God who is beyond anything we can comprehend in human terms. False religions and philosophies are of this world (being, therefore, either man-made and/or of demonic origin), and are not products of divine revelation. Therefore, the Trinity cannot fit into their limited theology and must either be rejected outright (as in Mormonism or Islam), blurred (as in the work of former evangelical Congressman Mark Silanger [7] or in early Gnostic texts) or completely perverted (as in Buddhism[8], New Age thought, and other syncretistic beliefs). If you come across anyone questioning the Trinity, like TD Jakes has been known to do, be on guard. The doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable and fundamental to who Jesus is. It cannot be discarded without distorting one's view of the very essence of Christ's true identity.

But while the Trinity is a mystery of faith, the good news is that Jesus is not an elusive figure; He is accessible to anyone who truly seeks Him. We are told that we will find Him if we seek Him with all our heart and with all our soul (Deut 4:29). And we must seek to know Him better through studying the Word; Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, emphasis added). In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote: “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16). Scripture is the only dependable source of doctrine about Jesus; the doctrines and claims of other faiths, philosophies, or musings that might use His name, should not be trusted.

As Paul exhorts us, we must always be prepared to give an answer—with gentleness and respect—to anyone who asks us why our hope is in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Our goal, then, is to grow in our knowledge of the one true God and to make Him known. In addition to upholding biblical truth, Faith Actually works to expose popular, and sometimes subtle, misconceptions about who Jesus really is, to identify Counterfeit Christs in common beliefs, and to help equip Christians to talk knowledgeably and truthfully with others about Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

Join with us to shatter the lies by proclaiming the perennial truth about Jesus Christ who is the SAME yesterday, today, and forever!


[1] Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown, Part II, chapter 3

[2] For example: The Power of Now by Ekart Tolle; The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Both authors tout the theory of Christ consciousness

[3] My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult,” Richard Mouw, CNN. Oct 9, 2011.

[4] A slew of evangelical leaders (Wheaton College President Duane Litfin, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren[3], and former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, to name a few) signed what was to become a controversial document produced by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture titled, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You.” The document was in response to an open letter in which 138 Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals came together to declare that there is common ground between Christianity and Islam. The “Christian Response,” in agreement with the Muslim open letter states, “What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor.” Essentially, then, the “Christian Response” refers to the love of one shared God. It treats the God of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible as the same and makes no mention of the fact that the love of God, as represented in the Bible, is expressed most significantly through Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ Himself is the central component of Christianity, but is completely omitted in the Common Word documents, while “common ground” is declared “absolutely central” in His place. Patrick De Leon illustrates well the difficulties with the Common Word movement: “If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, must we not be true to ourselves? Must we reject our own faith and deny the very persons we are in order to live in harmony? Such a peace is false from the beginning, and we would question if it is even possible to last. Can a peace founded upon falsehood be lasting?”

[5] For more on this see Christine Pack's review of Jesus Calling:

[6] Journal of Discourses 2:82

[7] Former US Congressman, and self-described evangelical, Mark Silanger, in his recent book, A Deadly Misunderstanding, writes about his experiences seeking common ground between Islam and Christianity. In dialoguing with Muslim clerics and leaders in the Middle East, he found that the biggest “stumbling block” he encountered was “always about Jesus." This is not surprising; the pivotal nature of Christ's work on the Cross will always present an obstacle to those seeking common ground with other religions. But Silanjer, in his quest for compatibility, passes off this stumbling block [the biblical view of Jesus Christ] as a “diversion.” In his effort to promote love, peace, and friendship between neighbors, Silanjer ends up glossing over the Trinity, saying he respects the idea, but “nowhere is it to be found in the Bible” (an increasingly common argument that is thrown about today). Silanjer finds the “attributes of Deity—God, Holy Spirit, and Messiah” to exist in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur’an alike. He explains how he has “asked distinguished clerics, both Muslim and Christian, if they could explain to me the interaction of these three deified attributes, and after much bantering back and forth, in the end they all have given me the exact same answer: ‘Mark, it’s a mystery.’ So what are we all arguing about?” Silanjer’s implication that the Trinity holds little significance because it is a mystery, and his description of three “attributes” in place of three Persons in one God, shows a radical departure from biblical teaching. He marginalizes the Trinity, passing it off as a “theological red herring,” and implies that it should be by-passed as an inconvenient barrier to true peace and reconciliation. Silanjer exemplifies for us how seeking common ground between faiths can quickly end in theological syncretism if the end goal is friendship and compatibility above all.

[8] Some Buddhist traditions hold that Buddha is the Holy Spirit.