Although New Thought uses Christian
terms, it distorts the biblical meaning. The result of this in the
church has been prosperity teaching, gross misunderstanding of
scripture, and a subtle shift from Christ to self.
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 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 this.
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.50 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). 51
Remarking on a parallel passage to Mark 11:24 (Matt. 21:18-22), 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." 52
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 (Matthew 6:8-10, 26:39, 42, 44; Luke 6:28, 18:13, 21:36, 22:40; John 17). 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 the Hebrew Scriptures: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). 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 (vv. 3 and 5) and to "commit your way to the Lord" (5). This Psalm informs us that a good person "delights" in God's way (23), and urges man to reject evil and do good (27).
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 (25). It is evident from God's word that Jesus never taught that man can manipulate secret spiritual "laws" through prayer or belief.
Another verse used in New Thought is Matthew 7:11. "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 (check out the story in Genesis 3).
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, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21 KJV).53 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." 54
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 (v. 20). Jesus' point is that the Kingdom is not coming "with signs to be observed" (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" (Matthew 12:28). The kingdom cannot come without Jesus.55 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."56 One enters the kingdom through faith in Christ as the Messiah (Matthew 21:32; John 3:3, 5, 14:6); 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! 57
Elsewhere Jesus deals the Pharisees a stinging rebuke, telling them that not only are they not entering the kingdom, but they are shutting it off from others (Matthew 23:13), and that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before them (Matthew 21:31). 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.