The New Age Church in the Emergent Village

Has the Emergent Village changed the church into a part of the New Age movement?


Emergent History

Peter Drucker and Bob Buford aided and mentored two of the most well known churches in USA, Willow Creek and Saddleback, both with more than 20,000 parishioners. In 1997 their organisation, Leadership Network, hired Doug Pagitt to become Young Leader coordinator. Doug found innovators and hand picked them into this personal network

Doug Pagitt created a network for people who should know one another to have a chance to meet and collaborate together. Among them were Dan KimballMark Driscoll, Rob Bell, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Chris Seay, Deater Sanders, Sally Morgenthaler and Andrew Jones. Months later, Pagitt brought in Tony Jones and Brian McLaren to help lead this team of young men. This team of pastors morphed into what was known briefly as the TerraNova project which included theologians such as Lenoard Sweet and Stanley Grenz.

Bob Buford became unhappy with what the movement had become and Leadership Network withdrew its support in 2000.  But someone was happy and the network continued on its own as an independent entity. The network got the emerging/emergent names in 2001 and the organisation took the name Emergent Village.

Emergent Village became known as, “a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” One of it's central messages was that the church was out of date. Among the first emergent books were A New Kind of Christian (2001), by Brian McLaren and Postmodern Youth Ministry (2001) by Tony Jones. Over the past decade and more, Emergent Village has published more than one hundred books and written miles of blogs, and hosted theological conversations and annual gatherings. Their target was mostly the postmodern generation, but at the same time there was an odor of New Age in its message. There has been a lively discussion about whether and in what sense New Age can be described as a postmodern phenomenon. For a great part they go hand in hand, and in many ways it seemes that postmodernism is a philosophy made for the New Age religion.

Spiritual Formation

The initial kind of emergent Christianity was to a large degree aimed at the backsliders and unchurched. After a while this new kind of church discovered it needed more religious content. That's when it adopted spiritual formation.

The emergent trinity (Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren) all embraced spiritual formation: Pagitt published Reimaginating Spiritual Formation in 2004, Jones published Divine Intervention: Encountering God through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina in 2006 and McLaren published Finding Our Way Again: The return of the Ancient Practices in 2008

To understand spiritual formation, we need to rewind history almost two thousand years. We won't go as far back as the apostolic era, but to the apostate era in the early middle ages.

The Desert Fathers were Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the deserts of Egypt from the fourth century AD. They attracted many followers and their societies developed into monasticism. So, in their own way, they searched to experience God in the wilderness and in the inner rooms. They practiced a form of prayer which could be described as meditation. There are striking similarities between the practices of the Desert Fathers and those of Buddhist monks and hermits; both sought to quiet the constant inner chatter of the mind so as to achieve a closer union with the divine. This tradition influenced Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He wrote the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1522-24), which contain numerous meditative exercises.

The Catholic monk Thomas Merton (1915-68) traveled to Asia and discovered great similarities between monastic contemplation and Eastern Meditation and determined that they were both in touch with the same mystical source. Merton advocated moving the practice of contemplation from its marginal state of use by only the Catholic monks behind the cloistered walls to a broader use by the common man. The Catholic priest Henri Nouwen (1932-96) was strongly influenced by Merton and combined the teaching of eastern gurus with ancient Catholic practices. Other leading spiritual formation pioneers is the Quaker Richard J. Foster (1942-). His book Celebration of Discipline (1978) was named by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the twentieth century. Dallas Willard (1935-2013) was Foster's spiritual twin. His book The Divine Conspiracy(1998) was Christianity Today's book of the Year for 1999.

The Second Vatican Council says there are things true and holy in pagan religions. The Catholic monastic orders have responded in a big way and developed intimate ties with their counterparts in the pagan religions, and they have discovered that contemplative mysticism is an effective bridge for interfaith unity.

We find that the early spiritual formation promoters in the twentieth century were Catholics, but then Protestants appear on the podium. And at a time when evangelicals are becoming increasingly Catholic, Catholicism is becoming increasingly pagan!


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was trained as a paleontologist and geologist. He synthesized his scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of evolution. In 1926 he was forbidden to tech in the Jesuit Order. Rome banned his work in 1939. In 1947 he was forbidden to write or teach on philosophical subjects. In 1957 The Supreme Authority of the Holy Office, in a decree forbade his works to be retained in libraries, including those of religious institutes. His books were not to be sold in Catholic bookshops and were not to be translated in other languages. But after Vatican II things changed gradually. And now, no one would dream of saying that Chardin is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied.

Le Phénomène Humain[The Phenomenon of Man] was written 1938–40, but couldn't be published before Chardin was dead in 1955. It is a scientific exposition of Teilhard's theory of evolution. The book has been voted the `best spiritual book of the twentieth century'. The book is most engaged in complexification - the genesis of increasingly elaborate organisation during cosmogenesis (subatomic units -> atoms -> inorganic molekules -> organic molekules -> subcellular living units / self-replicating assemblages of molekules -> cells -> multicellular individuals -> cephalised metazoa with brains -> primitive man -> civilised societies). In a similar way he saw a gradual evolution of mind. The next level in the conscious evolution is the unified consciousness. Meditation is the vehicle to bring the human race there. And the Kingdom of God is this big family of unified, common consciousness. And because of his works, he has been called the father of the New Age movement.

There aren't many references to Chardin in Emergent litterature. But ther are plenty of endorsements to other authors who draws on Chardin's philosophy. One of them is Ken Wilber. He is a New Age leader with a background in Buddhism. Wilber is a mystical Darwin, promoting a "holistisk" concept of evolution in which things are not only evolving physically but also spiritually. Everything is evolving into something better. The world evolves into a physical/spiritual paradise over time. Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis ("set aside three months", footnote 143) and Brian McLaren (one of his favourite books in 2003) recommends Wilber's A Brief History of Everything (1996).

Jürgen Moltmann (1926-) may be the most renowned theologian living today. His first book, Theology of Hope (1965), represents a groundbreaking work in theology. Moltmann believes that God's promise to act in the future is more important than the fact that he has acted in the past. What is implied by this focus on the future, however, is not withdrawal from the world in the hope that a better world will somehow evolve, but active participation in the world in order to aid in the coming of that better world.

A group of Evangelical leaders in the late 1970s was openly meeting with the New Age leader Willis Harman. These Christian leaders were exploring new and alternative views of the future. Disregarding the prophetic teachings of Scripture, they were looking for a different, more optimistic and hopeful view of the future than the one described in the Bible. In 1979 Lutheran Brotherhood published the book Dialogue, by Willis Harman and Jürgen Moltmann. They also published a 43 min. tape by the same name.

Doug Pagitt arranged “The 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann”. Tony Jones declares himself to be a Moltmanniac. Moltmann is also praised by several others in the Emergent Village.

N. T. Wright (1948-) is an Anglican, but "a Protestant writing like a Catholic".As a Bishop in Durham he invited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. N. T. Wright is central when it comes to the emerging church movement's Kingdom of God. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger remark in their pro-Emergent book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (2005), page 54:

"Rooted in the work of N. T. Wright, emerging churches embrace the gospel of the kingdom as revealed  in Mark 1:15. At the outset of the Gospel narrative, the good news was not that Jesus was to die on the cross to forgive sins but that God had returned and all were invited to participate with him in this new way of life, in this redemption of the world. It is this gospel that the emerging church seeks to recover. As one [Emerging Church] leader confided privately, “We have totally reprogrammed ourselves to recognize the good news as a means to an end–that the kingdom of God is here. We try to live into that reality and hope. We don’t dismiss the cross; it is still a central part. But the good news is not that he died but that the kingdom has come."

Michael Dowd (1958-) is an American Progressive Christian minister, author, and eco-theologian known as an advocate of Religious Naturalism, the Epic of Evolution and Big History. The Big History Project was started by Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft) and David Christian to enable the global teaching of Big History. Dowd has authored Thank God for Evolution (2009) and he is very much influenced by Chardin.

Dowd became an itinerant "evolutionary evangelist" in 2002. Dowd is teaching his "Gospel of Evolution" and present his case for "the marriage of religion and science". He works for a global movement of people together with New Agers like Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Barbara Marx Hubbard and many others. They want to create an evolutionary shift of consciousness that in turn will lead to a more enlightened society, one built on principles of peace, sustainability, health, and prosperity.

Emergent Village closed down

The Emergent Village was closed down in 2014. But the Emergent Village's work has in many ways been an unqualified success. Ideas and practices that were fairly unique to the emergent conversation a decade ago are now commonplace within mainstream Christianity, and continue to spread. The Emerging Church movement handed the remaining tasks over to a myriad of new emergent/progressive Christian groups now working to make it mainstream Protestantism. The Emerging Church movement has changed the Protestant landscape and has been compared with the Reformation. And it has made Protestantism embrace Catholic mysticism, higher consciousness and more or less the New Age version of the Kingdom of God.

The Emergent Village on their Way to New Age

Mark Driscoll had to distance himself early from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled him. March Hill Church had 14.000 members when it was dissolved in 2014 as a result of several controversies relating to Driscoll.

Tony Jones had an affair with a married woman in the Emergent Village organisation. Julie McMahon, ex-wife of Tony Jones, has shared bits and pieces of her experiences of alleged emotional, spiritual, financial, legal, and physical abuse from Tony. She challenged Tony and his “commender” supporters in Emergent Village to apologize for their behaviors during the time of the Jones’ divorce proceedings and afterward.

Brian McLaren was the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, which he left in 2006 to pursue writing and speaking full-time. Together with Doug Pagitt and 35 other catholics, mystics etc. he joined Michael Dowd in an audioseminar in 2010. He participated again in January 2015 in The Future is Calling Us to Greatness together with such New Age leaders like Deepak Chopra, Barbara Marx Hubbard and Ken Wilber and about 50 others.

Rob Bell was never a member of the Emergent Village organisation, but he was an influental leader in the emerging church movement. His book Love Wins (2011), where he promotes universalism (everyone gets saved) caused a major controversy within the evangelical community, and he lost quite a bunch of supporters, but accumulated some others. At the end of 2011 he left his 13 years old Mars Hill Bible Church with an estimated 11,000 people. In the autumn 2014 he toured The Life You Want with Oprah Winfrey, Iyanla Vanzant, Elizabeth Gilbert, Deepak Chopra and Mark Nepo. All of them are New Age leaders. Since then Rob Bell and the Catholic priest and mystic Richard Rohr have arranged some conferences like The New Thing in the Air where they taught "God, Jesus, expanding consciousness, your true self, etc."

Doug Pagitt and Sally Morgenthaler from Emergent Village has also contributed to Michael Dowd's seminars together with christian leaders like Matthew Fox, Neale Donald Walsh and Richard Rohr. In Flipped (2015) Pagitt calls Dowd his friend.



New Age Influence in the Emerging Church

Leonard Sweet

Leonard Sweet is kind of a grandfather to the Emerging Church movement.  He has told that he wouldn't have written Quantum Spirituality: a Postmodern Apologetic (1991) 20 years later.  But he is still promoting it and selling it, and he has not told what he would have written differently.

  • In the Preface of Quantum Spirituality, p. 3, Sweet (referring to other New Agers such as Gary Zukav) says: "Unfortunately, little of this literature is known or celebrated in the religious community." Zukav's book, The Seat of the Soul, teaches people how to get in touch with their spirit guides.

  • In the Acknowledgments of Quantum Spirituality, Sweet expresses his deep gratitude and admiration to various "New Light Leaders".   Included in this group are a number of New Age leaders, i.e. Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Morton Kelsey, Ken Wilber and M. Scott Peck.

    I believe these are among the most creative religious leaders in America today. These are the ones carving out channels for new ideas to flow. In a way this book was written to guide myself through their channels and chart their progress. The book’s best ideas come from them.

    Sweet describes these three men - along with all the others -  as "extraordinary" and "great" New Light" leaders: 

    They are my personal role models (in an earlier day one could get away with "heroes") of the true nature of the postmodern apologetic.  More than anyone else, they have been my teachers on how to translate, without compromising content, the gospel into the indigenous context of the postmodern vernacular.

  • Leonard Sweet acknowledges in Quantum Spirituality that he was privately corresponding with channeler David Spangler. In Quantum Spirituality, Sweet writes about what he calls his “new cell” understanding of New Light leadership, then closes his book by thanking Spangler for “his help in formulating this ‘new cell’ understanding of New Light Leadership.” Sweet Writes in Quantum Spirituality, footnote #86, p. 312: I am grateful to David Spangler for his help in formulating this “new cell” understanding of New Light leadership…
  • Quantum Spirituality, pp. viii-ix, xi: Even though I had no idea where I was headed when setting out on my quest of the quantum, I did have some notion of who to take with me. Certain extraordinary people…. But some of those who led [me] into new light are: ... Matthew FoxRichard J. Mouw… Rowan Williams…. Morton KelseyM. Scott PeckWalter BrueggemannKen Wilber … Thomas Berry….

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard is a management expert.  He turned his life over to the Lord in 1987-88 after influence from Bob Buford, Norman Vincent Peale, and Bill Hybels.Ken Blanchard endorsed:

  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (1994) by Deepak Chopra
  • Ken Blanchard and Deepak Chopra back cover endorsed By the Seat of Your Pants, (2005) by Tom Gegax which also preach meditation.
  • From A Wonderful Deception, p. 71-72: In july 2005, Ken Blanchard posted a statement, admitting that his New Age endorsements were "problematic". ... Blanchard promised he would try to "exercise better discernment in the future." In January 2006, just six months after the assurance that WF would be providing oversight and that Blanchard would stop endorsing New Age books, Blanchard endorsed Jon Gordon's The 10-Minute Energy Solution: In this book, Gordon favorably quotes and references numerous New Age sources inluding A Course i Miracles, Wayne Dyer, Marilyn Ferguson, Paramahansa Yogananda and others. The book also points readers to New Age writings by Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and Gary Zukav.
  • Roadmap to Success (2011) was written together with Nancy B. Irwin (certified hypnotherapist) and Deepak Chopra.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church

  • The Daniel Plan is a 52 week health and wellness program, initiated at Saddleback Church January 15th 2011. It envisions starting a movement so the result is better physical and spiritual health for current and future generations. Warren recruited three best-selling authors to dreate and oversee the Daniel Plan Curriculum - Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr Mark Hyman. Although these three physicans are all involved with New Age teachings, they describe themselves respectively as a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew.
  • Ken Blanchard signed on to train and equip church leaders in conjunction with Warren's P E A C E plan.

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