Marcia Montenegro

The New Thought Movement: Making the Straight Ways Crooked (Part 2)

Marcia Montenegro | 10 August 2020 | 8 min read

In the first part of this article we examined the roots and major proponents of the New Thought Movement. This part is a critical analysis of the New Thought Movement, focusing especially on the way scripture is misused in its teachings.

The New Thought Movement and the Bible

Although New Thought uses Christian terms, it distorts the biblical meaning of those terms. The result of this in the Church has been prosperity teaching, gross misunderstanding of scripture, and a subtle shift from being Christ-centered to being self-centered.

Mark 11:24

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 most certainly 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 it.

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.[1] 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).[2]

Matthew 21:18-22

Remarking on a parallel passage to Mark 11:24[3], 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.”[4]

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.[5] 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 Psalm 37:4 of the Hebrew Scriptures: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” 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 and to “commit your way to the Lord.”[6] This Psalm also informs us that a good person “delights” in God’s way, and urges man to reject evil and do good.[7]

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.[8] It is evident from God’s word that Jesus never taught that man can manipulate secret spiritual “laws” through prayer or belief.

Matthew 7:11

Another verse used in New Thought is Matthew 7:11 which reads as follows: “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.[9]

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 in Luke 17:21: “The kingdom of God is within you.”[10] 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.”[11]

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.[12] Jesus’ point is that the Kingdom is not coming “with signs to be observed” as stated in verse 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.”[13] The kingdom cannot come without Jesus.[14] 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.”[15] One enters the kingdom through faith in Christ as the Messiah;[16] 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![17]

Elsewhere Jesus gives the Pharisees a stinging rebuke, telling them that not only are they not entering the kingdom, but they are shutting it off from others, and that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before them.[18] 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.

The Fallacies of New Thought

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 as taught in Matthew 6:33, and the instructions that we are to make Christ our priority.[19]

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.[20]

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 in John 18:20: “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.”

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.[21]

Testing Teachings

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.[22] Referring to false teachers who claimed to be Christian, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:13: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”

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.”[23] 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.

In Acts 13:10 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?”

Christians must still beware of 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.”[24]

Suggested Readings

Ankerberg, John & Weldon, John. Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1999.

Clark, David K & Geisler Norman L. Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1990.

Herrick, James A. The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclispse of the Western Religious Tradition. Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Melton, J. Gordon, Clark, Jerome & Kelly, Aidan A. New Age Encyclopedia. 2nd. ed. Detroit: Gate Research Inc., 2001.

Steyn, Chrissie. Worldviews in Transition: An Investigation into the New Age Movement in South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA, 1994.

Zacharias, Ravi. Why Jesus: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed spirituality. New York: Faith Words Publishers, 2012.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.

[1] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1983), 158.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Matt. 21:18-22

[4] Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everett F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 966.

[5] Matt. 6:8-10, 26:39, 42, 44; Luk. 6:28, 18:13, 21:36, 22:40; John 17

[6] Ps. 37:3-5

[7] Ps. 37:23 & 27

[8] Matt. 21:25

[9] See Gen. 3 for the account of this story.

[10]This has widespread use in the New Age as well.

[11] Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1998), 479.

[12] Luk. 17:20

[13] Matt. 12:28

[14] Pfeiffer & Harrison eds., Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1056.

[15] Ryken, Wilhoit & Longman, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 479.

[16] Matt. 21:32; John 3:3, 5, 14:6

[17] One may doubt the sincerity of the Pharisees’ query since they were usually seeking to trap or trick Jesus with difficult questions (Matt. 12:14, 16:1, 22:15; Luk. 11:54, 20:20).

[18] Matt. 21:31 & 23:13

[19] Rom.7:4; 2 Cor. 10:5; 2 Cor. 11:3; Phil. 3:8; Col. 3:1,3

[20] 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

[21] Matt. 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; Luk. 4:40; 5:15; 6:17-19; 19:37; 24:26-28, 44; John 2:11, 23-24; 6:2; 14:1; Ac. 2:22

[22] 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 Pet. 2:1; Gal. 1:8,  2:4

[23] Jude 3

[24] Prov. 3:6



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