“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” Acts 20:28-31
This is a brief look at two people whose teachings and ideas have influenced many in the church, yet without most being aware of their beliefs, or of the connection between these two people.
EMMET FOX: A FOX IN THE HENHOUSE
Emmet Fox (1886-1951) was a minister of Divine Science, a belief system which grew out of New Thought, a movement that exploded in the United States, and which was one of the forerunners of the New Age. New Thought claimed to be authentic Christianity while all the time reformulating Christianity and reading its own theology out of the Bible by ignoring plain meaning and context in the text (New Thought is discussed in the sections below).
Fox wrote several books, including Around the Year with Emmet Fox: A Book of Daily Readings, and the highly popular The Sermon on the Mount, which are discussed here. Fox’s books are quoted by Christians and sold by Christian distributors, both in bookstores and online.
Like many New Thought pioneers and teachers, Fox was influenced by Spiritualism, a practice of contacting the dead in the belief that the dead are in an elevated position to pass wisdom on to those still alive. Spiritualism holds that the dead are really the ones who are alive, while those on earth are the ones who are the dead. Spiritualism fashioned itself to mimic Christianity, with churches, ministers, hymns, and the use of the Bible, while New Thought claims outright that it is the real Christianity.
New Thought is a movement that began in seed form in the 18th century with Emmanuel Swedenborg, but flowered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New Thought holds that man’s problem is incorrect thinking, and Jesus came to correct wrong thinking. Our perception determines our reality, and if we change our thinking and perceptions, we will realize our inherent divinity and live in a new reality.
It was not unheard of in the 1800s for Christian church members or even ministers to dabble in Spiritualism, both in Europe and the United States. The grooves were thus laid by Spiritualism for New Thought, which quietly sidled into churches using Christian terminology. Three major churches today rest on New Thought pillars: Unity (formerly Unity School of Christianity), founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore; the Church of Religious Science, started by Ernest and Fenwick Holmes; and the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science), founded by Mary Baker Eddy.
These New Thought church founders were heavily influenced by non-Christian streams of thinking (including Eastern religions) that were incorporated into their teachings. New Thought denies the essentials of the historic Christian faith, including the Trinity, the deity of Christ, that man is fallen through sin and needs redemption, and that Jesus came to pay the penalty for sins. Therefore, there is not a shred of validity in New Thought’s claims to be Christian.
Emmet Fox’s Around the Year with Emmet Fox: A Book of Daily Readings
Fox taught that Jesus came to teach us to think correctly (not to redeem man from the penalty of sin). According to Fox, all evil originates from wrong thinking, and everything in reality originates from thought. Evil is not from sin — sin is actually thinking incorrectly, and all illness originates from negative thinking. “The Law of the universe is thought first” (reading for Oct. 9). These are all New Thought tenets.
Fox’s views included beliefs that the dead are not elsewhere, but are all around us and sometimes come to our aid; you must “have faith in your own faith;” and the Bible needs a special spiritual key to understand it. In short, if you are a Christian according to the historic faith, you do not understand the Bible properly, and Fox is more than happy to guide you away from the traditional view of the Bible.
The risk in reading Fox is that some of what he writes sounds accurate, and he uses familiar Christian or biblical terminology that seems appropriate if the reader does not know what Fox means by it. This is a danger with most New Thought teachings and books.
Here is just a sampling of ideas and quotes from this book, which gives readings for each day of the year:
Communication with the dead does take place, but “the wise dead understand the necessity of our exercising our own power of choice and do not intrude. But they do often come to our aid” (June 24).
The dead are all around us but we don’t see them because “they are on different wavelengths” (June 20).
Jesus was concerned “exclusively” with teaching principles that had to do with one’s “mental states” because if our mental states are right, then “everything else might be right too” (March 22).
“Your destiny depends entirely upon your own mental conduct” (August 23).
“The Secret Place of the Most High is your own consciousness” (August 13).
“Have faith in your own faith” (May 29).
Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount
According to Fox’s book, The Sermon on the Mount, “the term ‘Christ‘ is “not identical with Jesus, the individual” but rather is a “technical term” that represents “Absolute Spiritual Truth” (114-115, paperback edition). In other words, Fox says that Jesus and Christ are not one and the same. This is a central teaching of New Thought. “Christ” in Divine/Christian Science is a higher spiritual understanding or state of consciousness that Jesus, a man, merely achieved and exemplified for the rest of humanity.
Fox writes that Jesus came to teach us to change our consciousness. According to Fox, this is what Jesus meant by the term the “strait gate” (128). In fact, Fox says that changing our consciousness “is in truth the only thing that is really worth doing at all” (129).
Fox also says that the “Plan of Salvation” which “figured so prominently in the evangelical sermons and divinity books of a past generation” is “completely unknown to the Bible as it is to the Koran”, and the concept of original sin and “vicarious blood atonement” is not taught in the Bible (4). Fox believes that sin is merely incorrect thinking. That is why, he asserts, we need the “change in consciousness.”
AGNES SANFORD AND NEW THOUGHT HEALING
When I was a very new Christian, I was browsing in the Christianity section of a bookstore and came across The Healing Light, by Agnes Sanford (1897-1982). After reading over parts of this book, I put it back because it struck me as New Age. Many years later, I discovered that the Theosophical Society (an Eastern-occult forerunner of the New Age) endorsed this book. I can guarantee with no hesitation that the Theosophical Society would never endorse a book that promotes authentic Christianity.
New Thought and the Church
Sanford by her own admission was heavily influenced by New Thought. Since New Thought uses the Bible and refers to God and Jesus, it misleads many. Moreover, some well-known professing Christians blended New Thought with what appears to be Christianity, infusing New Thought principles into their Christian teaching, thus misleading even more people. After 25 years as a Methodist minister, Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889) left the Methodists for the Church of the New Jerusalem (founded by Emmanuel Swedenborg), but his influence helped to propagate New Thought within the church (Richard Kyle, The Religious Fringe: A History of Alternative Religions in America, Downers Grove, IL:. InterVarsity Press, 1993, 117).
Christian minister Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) admired and was influenced by the teachings of Ernest Holmes, co-founder of the Church of Religious Science (Holmes’ ideas are clearly evident in Peale’s books). Robert H. Schuller (b. 1926), long time minister of the Crystal Cathedral, also admired Peale, and Peale wrote the introduction for Schuller’s book, Self-Love, and for another of Schuller’s books. Christian author Anne Lamott openly admires Emmet Fox and recommends that Christians read him (she has also endorsed two New Age books by popular New Age authors).
The concept of “positive thinking” comes from New Thought. Positive thinking is more than having a positive attitude; it is a belief that one’s very thoughts can alter reality through various techniques said to harness and direct the power of thought. Other beliefs of New Thought include: thoughts are “things;” God permeates the universe and/or is contained within creation (panentheism); we can channel God’s healing power through techniques and thinking; our words create our reality; and there are spiritual laws which we can learn and apply in order to heal and control reality (these ideas or forms of them are also found in the Word Faith teachings of people like Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin, but that is outside the scope of this article and ministry).
Positive Thinking and Thoughts as Things
Sanford writes that what Jesus called faith is, in reality, “positive thinking” (Agnes Sanford, Behold Your God, St. Paul, MN: Macalester Park Publishing Company, Fourth ed. 1964, 34). She continues by telling us that part of healing involves visualizing the person as being well, because doing this “sets in motion our powers of spiritual creativity. Those things that we see in our minds tend to become so” (BYG, 34) and “I know that there actually is within man the power to create by thought” (BYG, 35). She also asserts that “Man created by negative thinking as well as positive thinking” (BYG, 35).
Sanford writes that “Thoughts live — thoughts remain — thoughts and spoken words are vibrant in the air” (BYG, 161). This is the New Thought belief that thoughts are things, one of its chief tenets. She believes praying in one place can charge the place with “power.” This is in line with New Thought views that thoughts and words have vibrations which can spiritually impact people and places, not through meaning, but through the vibrations themselves.
Sanford believed that the blood of Christ was “the essence of His being” and possessed a “life-energy” that was dried up after his death on the cross and “was disseminated by the wind and mingled with all life,” remaining as an “invisible current of a heavenly energy, an ACTUAL energy, a PERCEPTIBLE energy, and EFFECTIVE energy” (BYG, 104; caps are Sanford’s). “We breathe in this energy today, and it is this energy that “accomplishes for us the forgiveness of sins” (105; italics are Sanford’s). These statements are a denial of the truth of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and turn the sacrifice of Christ into an energy that disseminates forgiveness by breathing it in.
Later, she declares that the death of Christ allows man’s “light-vibrations of the spirit” to increase “to a higher current of spiritual energy by the infusion of the Holy Spirit,” and that the Holy Spirit is “the highest vibration of the life of God” (138). Taken alone, this statement appears to deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
Views that all as energy, that this energy is in and of itself healing, that thoughts and words have special vibrational impact, and that man is made up of spiritual vibrations are New Thought beliefs, also embraced by the New Age Movement, and are ones with which I am very familiar, having been involved in the New Age for many years prior to salvation in Christ.
New Thought makes a case that we are spiritual, not material, or that material and spiritual are one and the same. In Sanford’s book, The Healing Light, she states that Christ
“…literally lowered His thought-vibrations to the thought-vibrations of humanity and received into Himself man’s thoughts of sin and sickness, pain and death. And as He was the Son of God and therefore able to transcend time, He took into Himself all of the sinful thought-vibrations of all humanity, past, present and future” (135).
The above is a blatant denial of the material reality of Jesus taking on the penalty of sins in a way that caused physical suffering and death. Instead, Sanford reformulates the atonement into a metaphysical process of absorbing sinful “thought-vibrations.”
Sanford further writes of Jesus, “So He cleansed the thought-vibrations that surround this globe as a purifying plant cleanses our drinking water, taking it in dirty, throwing it up into the sunlight and sending it forth clean” (p.136). This is based on New Thought views that sin is merely wrong thinking.
Sanford has other disturbing views on why Jesus came and what he did. She states repeatedly in Behold Your God that Jesus “opened the channel between the subconscious and the spirit” (92), and that He came on earth “to create a new order — to change the species” (91). According to Sanford, man “had become too densely veiled in flesh” (91). This reveals the New Thought belief that man is made of vibrations and that material flesh is either an illusion (as in Christian Science and other metaphysical cults) or is evil (Gnostic view).
Amazingly, Sanford states that “In the Garden of Gethsemane, He [Jesus] broke down the partition between God and man” (90; she refers often to Gethsemane in unorthodox ways in this book). However, God’s word tells us that it was through Jesus’ death on the cross that the veil between man and God was torn (Hebrews 10:20; see also Hebrews chapter 9). This was symbolized by the actual tearing of the heavy curtain in the temple at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45).
The paragraphs below on Sanford are excerpted from an article by David Cloud. Please note that Sealed Orders was written many years after Sanford claimed to be a Christian.
The next step on the downward path was delving into New Thought and the occult. She attended seances and studied Christian Science. She said that she couldn’t understand the latter very well, but she does not “scorn Christian Scientists” and is “grateful to them” for recovering the doctrine of healing (Sealed Orders, 113).
She was deeply impressed with Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount, saying that “it thrilled my soul” (p. 113). It teaches the heresy that there is a “spiritual body” within the physical body, and that the physical body can be healed by addressing the spiritual body.
“Therefore when I prayed for healing, I could accept the healing as already accomplished in the spiritual body, and so could know that it would be transferred to the physical body. … One time, for instance, I went forth from the dining room to the cloister in an agitated frame of mind, and banged the heavy door shut on my finger. … I said, ‘I have a spiritual body, and in the spiritual body this finger is perfect.’ Immediately there appeared a tiny hole in the base of the fingernail and all the black blood oozed out, and from that time forth the finger did not hurt at all” (Sealed Orders, 115).
The above statements are very similar to Christian Science thinking; Mary Baker Eddy taught that we are naturally perfect and that any thoughts of illness are deceptions or illusions. The way to heal is to realize the illness is not real. New Thought teaches that we are spiritual beings who happen to be in a body (this is also in New Age as well as Spiritualism). The New Age also believes in a “spiritual body.”
However, the Bible teaches that God made physical bodies for Adam and Eve, that our mortal bodies corrupted by sin will be transformed into new bodies, and that Christians have Jesus’ bodily resurrection as an example of this (1 Cor. 15). Angels, not humans, are spirit beings.
The term “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15 does not refer to a ghostly or angelic body, but to a body that is like the resurrected body of Jesus. Jesus still had scars on this body, and Jesus ate food in this body. “Spiritual” in 1 Corinthians 15 is contrasted with “natural,” which refers to the fallen, mortal body. It is not a dichotomy of matter and spirit, as New Thought followers believe, but rather a contrast between the fallen corrupt body and the resurrected glorified body.
Sanford resolutely rejects the view that a Christian could serve the Lord in sickness, stating that Paul and Job both rejected this idea (BYG, 96-97). While ill, Job was a “worthless outcast until he was healed, whereupon he became a well holy man” (96). Strangely hinting at reincarnation, she continues that sometimes there is an illness one cannot overcome “in this life,” but that may lead to overcoming it “in another life” (97).
Sanford’s Erroneous Views
The fact that Sanford was “deeply impressed” with a book by Divine Science minister Emmet Fox speaks volumes and raises questions about her agreement with the essentials of the Christian faith (she references Fox approvingly in her book, Behold Your God). Other reasons to reject Sanford’s teachings include many unorthodox views, such as this one: “I do not say that every living person must have an intermediary. There may be those who have no need of anyone to help them in this great work of being forgiven” (Behold Your God, 93).
Even more distressing is that Sanford expresses what seems to be a modalistic view of God (modalism is an ancient heresy that denies the Trinity, holding that God is one person who took on the appearance of 3 persons). Despite occasionally using the word “Trinity,” she states that God was “manifesting Himself in three different ways” (BYG, 76) and that “God is one and indivisible, doing His work of creation and redemption in three different manifestations of His own being” (BYG, 99). She rejects the view that God would allow anyone else (i.e., Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity) to take on suffering for others and states that: “God Himself in human form died for us–He did not send someone else to do it for Him. And God Himself, incarnated in Jesus Christ” (BYG, 99). This is a declaration that God the Father incarnated as Jesus.
Sanford would not be the first or last person to use the term “Trinity” but mean something else entirely by it. It is possible that she used the term but defined it according to her (previous and possibly ongoing) New Thought thinking.
NEW THOUGHT INFLUENCE TODAY
New Thought denies the deity of Christ, teaches the divinity of man, and that man can use his divine power to alter reality. New Thought teachings were a forerunner of and comprise part of the New Age Movement.
New Thought also has made inroads into the Christian church. Sanford is considered the founder of the ideas that have influenced many in the inner healing movement, including noted writer Richard Foster. Foster refers positively to Emmet Fox in his (Foster’s) well-known book, Celebration of Discipline. What further confirms an influence from Fox and/or Sanford on Foster is Foster’s advice on prayer and visualization, techniques as described by Sanford, and familiar to anyone who practices New Thought or New Age principles.
The Secret, a bestseller DVD and book, is a prime example of New Thought. Many earlier New Thought teachers are quoted in the book/DVD. The author herself, Rhonda Byrne, produced The Secret based on her “discovery” of the teachings in a New Thought book published in 1910, The Science of Getting Rich, by New Thought follower Wallace D. Wattles.
Much of the human potential movement and motivational teachings found today in business seminars and in the health field are based in New Thought.
Teachings cloaked in Christian terms and making use of the Bible are the most dangerous wolves in sheep’s clothing. Fox and Sanford are two too dangerous teachers.
Further information on Agnes Sanford from a New Thought website:
She taught various visualization techniques, teaching that one could forgive another’s sins through visualization. The technique of visualization became the key to her inner healing teachings.
She also promoted Jungian psychotherapy, and believed Jesus became a part of the collective unconscious of the human race.
Sanford called God “primal energy,” “the very life-force existing in a radiation of an energy … from which all things evolved,” that “God … made everything out of Himself and He put a part of Himself into everything.”
She believed that God could work through “good” spirits as well as the spirits of people who have died; she taught that God used some mediums to heal; she believed that angels and dead saints could “speak and act in and through us.”
Certainly Christians can agree that none of the above statements are compatible with biblical teaching.
Articles by Bob DeWaay
Abusing Memory: The Healing Theology of Agnes Sanford by Jane Gumprect
(highly recommended by CANA)