Book Review - Jesus in an Age of Controversy

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 2, pages 214-215. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Jesus in an Age of Controversy. 

Douglas Groothuis. 

Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1996, 373 pages.

Since the early 1980s a number of Christian authors have targeted the New Age Movement as the harbinger of a coming "satanic" world religion. One of the first to capture national attention was Constance Cumbey with The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism (1983). Cumbey and others considered the announcement by an obscure channeler that Maitreya, the Christ would appear to all the world in the spring of 1982 as an important event. The channeler was (and is) Benjamin Creme, a pleasant, whitehaired Scotman from London. Creme has a decades-long history as an esotericist influenced mostly by Theosophy's Alice A. Bailey's writings. In 1982 Creme and his Tara organization placed full page ads in many major newspapers worldwide announcing, "THE CHRIST IS NOW HERE."

By that summer, after a world tour of lectures, television talk shows, and a host of interviews with Creme, all but a few hardcore Tara members realized that another prophecy had failed. Nevertheless, old and new Tara people today believe that there truly is a Christ--namely an obscure Pakistani man in London, who is yet waiting for the world to accept him before he comes out of his divine closet. Cumbey, taking her cue from Creme, discovered the occult underbelly of many New Age notions in Bailey's and Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy. Cumbey linked Nazi "religion" with the same Theosophical occultism. She sounded the warning that New Age beliefs and underground networks were already in place to implement the designs of a satanic world ruler whose seductive charm would deceive even Christians.

I had met Creme twice and had spent many years deeply interested in New Age occultism by the time I read The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow in 1983. The book disappointed me. Despite Cumbey's impressive research, her book came off as overstated, naively fundamentalist, and paranoid. Conversely, in 1985, when I read Douglas Groothuis's first book, Unmasking the New Age, I realized that a Christian had finally come out with a compelling but sober critique of this unwieldy spiritual movement. Since Unmasking, Groothuis has written two sequels: Confronting the New Age (1988) and Revealing the New Age Jesus (1990). His latest book, Jesus in an Age of Controversy, the one reviewed here, is an extensively revised version of Revealing the New Age Jesus.

In his new book, Groothuis responds to a host of common New Age blunders about Jesus, his life, and his teachings. He establishes the orthodox view of Christianity and why it remains reliable. He tackles thorny theological questions about Jesus' relationship to Gnostic teachings, and why Christian gnosis is not the Gnosticism of the New Agers. His chapter on the socalled "lost years" of Jesus eloquently dismisses unprovable legends about Jesus traveling in India as St. Issa when he was between 12 and 30 years old. Likewise Groothuis gives strong evidence why Jesus was not an Essene, dispelling another common New Age notion. In his chapter "Jesus of the Spirits," Groothuis explores channeled "Christs" -- for example, A Course in Miracles, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus, and Edgar Cayce's trance readings.

By context, this last chapter dismisses the Creme/Maitreya cult even though Groothuis does not mention it. Groothuis also clarifies Christian doctrine in relation to "God-lite spirituality," the comforting views of the newest angel fads and the many claims of those who have experienced "death" or "near-death," and have come back to talk about it. If there is a weakness in Jesus in an Age of Controversy, it is in the author's apologetic stance toward the religion he loves and believes. NonChristians may have difficulty with the "confidence" that Groothuis has in what remains, after nearly 2,000 years, a controversial claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the exclusive divine incarnation for all of mankind--perhaps for all universes for all time. On the other hand, Christian scholars are not the only ones perturbed by the Godlike fads. Harold Bloom, a professor of humanities at Yale, recently wrote Omens of Millennium (1996), in which he takes issue with the same popular angel and near-death claims. Bloom argues, for example, that angels are essentially terrifying. Bloom, however, is a selfproclaimed Gnostic, albeit one who has far more academic integrity and rigor than his New Age counterparts, epitomized by James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy. Just as Groothuis proclaims his Gospel, so does Bloom proclaim his, especially in his book's final chapter subtitled, "A Gnostic Sermon."

Jesus in an Age of Controversy is well researched, with good references. I recommend it to anyone who has a need to understand a sober Christian view of New Age distortions about Jesus.

Joseph Szimhart

Cult Information Specialist

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1996