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An old deception

Books | Author and cult expert Richard Abanes explains the attraction and heresy of A New Earth

Issue: "Left behind," June 28, 2008

Eckhart Tolle is the author of the 2004 bestselling book The Power of Now, and 2005's A New Earth, which Oprah Winfrey named an Oprah Book Club selection in January 2008. That catapulted the book to the top of the bestseller lists at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and The New York Times, where it has been No. 1 on the Advice List.

Oprah put her full marketing power behind Tolle's New Age manifesto, asking on her website, "Are You Ready to be Awakened?" She advertised a 10-week online course taught by Tolle that would lead readers through the book chapter by chapter. More than half a million readers from more than 100 countries signed up for the first course, which is being offered again this summer.

In the first month after the Oprah selection, publisher Penguin Group shipped 3.5 million copies of the book, breaking previous records for the publisher. In A New Earth, An Old Deception: Awakening to the Dangers of Eckhart Tolle's #1 Bestseller, due out on July 1 (Bethany House), cult expert Richard Abanes critiques Tolle's bestseller.

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WORLD: Why did you think it important to write a book refuting Eckhart Tolle?

ABANES: Tolle claims that his teachings are fully compatible with Christianity. To make matters worse, he misuses the Bible to support his beliefs, going so far as to say he knows what Jesus really meant in various New Testament passages. We also have Oprah regularly assuring her audiences that Tolle's views in no way contradict Christianity. This has confused many people, especially young Christians, potential Christian converts, and Christians not rooted in God's Word. Someone had to show not only where Tolle has theologically erred, but where he is utterly misrepresenting and misinterpreting Scripture.

WORLD: In what ways has Tolle merely repackaged New Age teaching?

ABANES: Tolle wraps classic New Age-ism in a very attractive package that promises relief from what everyone wants to escape: suffering. By embracing his outlook on the "self"-i.e., who we really are-a person can allegedly experience lasting peace. Who are we? Tolle says we are "God."

WORLD: Tolle frequently cites Scripture in making his case. Why do you think he does that?

ABANES: God's Word is "living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). People are drawn to it. I think Tolle can sense the power, majesty, and uniqueness of Scripture, and he's attracted to it for the same reason others are drawn to it-life is there. Sadly, the god of this world and the sinful nature work together to twist the understanding of people like Tolle, which causes them to pervert Scripture to serve their own agenda.

WORLD: Could you give some examples of how he misinterprets Scripture?

ABANES: The very title of Tolle's book, A New Earth, is a perversion of Revelation 21:1. He claims: "[Heaven] refers to the inner realm of consciousness. . . . Earth, on the other hand, is the outer manifestation in form. . . . 'A new heaven' is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and 'a new earth' is its reflection in the physical realm." But numerous passages mention the new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; Matthew 5:18; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 2 Peter 3:12) and in each case, a literal new heaven and new earth are the backdrop for the City of God, wherein the Lord and His people will dwell together for all eternity.

Another example is Matthew 5:5. Tolle states: "'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.' . . . [T]he meek are the egoless. They are those who have awakened to their essential true nature as [divine] consciousness and recognize that essence in all 'others,' all life forms." Again, this has no biblical support. The verse is referencing Psalm 37:11, where God promises rest and peace for His people in a redeemed earth (Revelation 21:1). As the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries explain, the meek refers to those who "humble themselves before God, because they acknowledge their utter dependence upon him."

WORLD: What is the reason for Tolle's success? What does he tap into?

ABANES: First, Tolle is a likable guy. He's soft-spoken, gentle, kind-hearted, and compassionate. Second, he actually makes some insightful observations about human nature, rightly noting, for example, that too many individuals create problems for themselves by either dwelling on painful memories or worrying about the future.

The way he talks about such things is appealing and it gets people to re-evaluate these issues, which can temporarily help them. Third, his backing by Oprah has gone a long way in helping him gain acceptance among trusting fans of the celebrity talk show host.

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