[A]ll of you have joined us in this global community to talk about what I believe is one of the most important subjects—and presented by one of the most important books of our time —A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. —Oprah Winfrey
On March 3, 2008, Oprah Winfrey hosted a unique online class in cyberspace that reached 500,000 people in more than 139 countries. The interactive webcast, which featured spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and his mega-bestseller A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, ended up making headlines as "one of the largest single online events in the history of the Internet."
But this was only the beginning. The momentous event kicked off a ten-week, Oprah-hosted study of A New Earth and its importance to everyone's spirituality—a quest for enlightenment in a virtual classroom where seekers worldwide could ask questions via email, telephone, and Skype connections. As Oprah commented with unbridled enthusiasm during her first evening's class: "I don't think there's anything more important than awakening and also knowing what your purpose is."
The seminar was a resounding success. By week five, the number of online students watching it had risen to one million, and more than ten million copies of the previous webcasts had been downloaded by fans of both Oprah and Eckhart. It was a remarkable achievement that once more demonstrated the talk show host's giftedness in the areas of entertainment, public relations, and media resourcefulness.
Even prior to the event, A New Earth had already skyrocketed in sales. Oprah's recommendation of the volume, coupled with her listing of it as a selection for Oprah's Book Club, sent Tolle's self-help guide to the #1 spot at amazon.com and made it the fastest-selling pick in the history of Barnes & Noble. Retail sales of 3.5 million copies came through in just one month. And at Penguin—the publisher of A New Earth—Tolle's spiritual tome set a "record shipment in a four-week span" for any previously released title....
The claims made by Tolle regarding the benefits available from his teachings are impressive. Along his road of enlightenment can be found an end to suffering, solutions to psychological troubles, and even cures for physical ailments. Total peace and happiness are there for the taking as well. Addictions can become a thing of the past, and everything desired can be achieved. You can even be a better parent!
All of these wondrous blessings will allegedly occur in readers as they open themselves up to Tolle's "spiritually alive and therefore transformational" teachings, which will cause a "shift in consciousness" —a "transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution." Those who embrace Tolle's ways will be able to "leap to an entirely different level of Being."
But there is more to be gained. According to Tolle, if enough people become enlightened to his truth, then humanity will finally be able to achieve worldwide peace and harmony—i.e., a New Earth populated by "a new species" of human being. Crime will be eradicated. Wars will cease. Selfishness and greed will no longer reign in our governments. Awakening is our only hope for survival, asserts Tolle, who believes that "[a] significant portion of the earth's population will soon recognize, if they haven't already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die."
We are coming to the end, Tolle says, of all mythologies, ideologies, and belief systems—i.e., "A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH."
The reimbursements seem endless, as evidenced by an Oprah-produced PR video for Tolle's book (downloadable from oprah.com). It is an emotionally moving series of images that feature all kinds of people interacting joyfully, blissfully, and lovingly in a variety of situations and at beautiful locations: a park, a hillside, a picturesque street corner. The musical soundtrack is lush and heartrending, perfectly complimenting the subtle text that gently fades on and off the screen:
Discover the depth within yourself. A sense of awe, of wonder, will arise within you. It can only awaken those who are ready. Are you ready? Find the goodness already within you.... The past has no power to stop you from being present now.... Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. To love is to recognize yourself in another. In order to attract success, you need to welcome it wherever you see it.... The source of all energy is within you. You will come to life. A new year. A new you. A New Earth.
These sentiments may sound wonderfully poetic and inspiring. But what do they actually mean? What is "the depth" within yourself? What does it mean to be awakened? What does it mean to be "present now"? What does it mean to be "aware"? Aware of what? And what is the "truth" about who I am? We must also ask: How might Tolle's teachings contradict or compliment scripture? What does he say about religion in general, and about Christianity specifically? Where does he stand on God, Jesus, and salvation?
The answers to these and related questions are found in Tolle's book, which one reviewer called "a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life—and for building a better world." However, what many people do not realize is that Tolle's answers, once all the evocative language and colorful imagery is stripped way, reflect the same teachings that have been around since the sub-structures of the New Age Movement were laid back in the mid-1800s. Tolle, in other words, is saying nothing new. He has simply restated New Age beliefs using a fresh vocabulary.
Doctrinally speaking, Tolle's writings categorize him as a typical New Ager who advances the same list of beliefs that have long been popular with persons in the Western world who are enamored with the spiritual philosophies of the Eastern world. But Tolle discusses these beliefs in a way that is far removed from how they are usually discussed in New Age circles. Instead of plainly stating his case, he runs his teachings along a circuitous route of emotional appeals, invented words/terms (e.g., the "pain-body"), and even self-contradictory statements.
This is not to say that Tolle is insincere. He often expresses himself using extraordinarily sincere and heartfelt arguments, poignant observations, and deeply personal anecdotes. But sincerity and best intentions are not the issue. Truth is the issue. Is Tolle communicating truth? The answer to that question, surprisingly, is sometimes yes. For instance, on pages 10-11 of A New Earth he correctly notes that humans have "suffered more at the hands of each other than through natural disasters," going so far as to equate human brutality with a kind of madness that takes hold again and again. Then, on page 12, Tolle astutely identifies fear, greed, and the desire for power as prime reasons for the destruction of so many personal relationships. He writes: "They bring about distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless whole that can never be filled."
None of this sounds too problematic. In fact, when it comes to certain issues, Tolle makes some rather interesting and thought-provoking points. But herein lies the problem. His insightful comments, which resonate as true, lull readers into believing that everything else he says is true. This, in turn, leads them to accept without question or pause what he states about: (1) our real identity; (2) the only way to peace and purpose; (3) the substance of truth; (4) the identity of Jesus; and (5) the nature of "God."
According to Oprah, the "number one question" people have been asking about Tolle's message is: "Will it interfere with my religious beliefs?" Oprah's response, as expressed through her on-site spiritual advisor, Elizabeth Lesser, has been: "I don't see why it would. It's not a belief system." And under the heading "Religion and A New Earth" at oprah.com, we find another comforting claim: "This online class is not for or against any religion."
But the truth is that A New Earth, along with Oprah's online class, promotes beliefs that contradict the Bible. Tolle's teachings dismiss the most important foundational doctrines of the church! And in reference to one of the Christianity's most sacred beliefs, Oprah herself made the following admission during a special April 9, 2008, edition of The Oprah Show, which featured Tolle's fans praising his teachings:
I thought Jesus came, died on the cross. That Jesus' being here was about his death and dying on the cross, when it really was about him coming to show us how to do it. How to be. To show us the Christ Consciousness that he had, and that that consciousness abides with all of us.
Such ideas cannot go unchallenged. Christians must "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). This command is more than applicable to Tolle, who often quotes scripture to support his views, boldly claiming that he can provide the true teachings of the Bible based on his own understanding of what the text really means. In reality, however, he manipulates the verses in order to conform them to his views.
It is time for every Christian, in my opinion, to spiritually and mentally prepare themselves to respond to an unbiblical theology that represents a direct assault on the faith, especially in light of how it is being presented as a worldview consistent with Christian doctrine and values ( (Eph. 4:14-15; 2 Tim. 2:24-25). Believers must be both willing and able to share with clarity of thought why Tolle is in error (1 Peter 3:15). We are to "preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2). We also are told: "Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
Romans 16:17-18 further commands us to take note of those who spread any doctrines "contrary" to the Bible and "keep away from them" because they do not serve the Lord, but instead are serving another gospel, another spirit, and in Tolle's case, most definitely another Jesus (i.e., a Jesus who is redefined in a way that is inconsistent with how he is defined by scripture; see 2 Cor. 11:3-4). Jesus himself said to beware of false teachers (Matt. 7:15), as did Peter, who warned: "There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you" (2 Peter 2:1).
My response is A New Earth, An Old Deception, which I hope will lovingly yet firmly address from a Christian perspective the "Truth" being offered by Eckhart Tolle. Each chapter includes a point-counterpoint refutation of his major beliefs, arranged topically. Such a format will enable a reader to easily understand exactly what Tolle says on any given issue, then see a biblically based answer to his position. To find a particular subject, all one has to do is refer to Appendix B, which lists the major questions answered in each of the numbered responses that appear in the various chapters.
Eckhart Tolle claims that A New Earth is nothing less that a "transformational device" that has arisen out of not only his own "new consciousness," but out of the "new consciousness" he sees engulfing the planet as our species moves ever closer to an evolutionary leap of the spirit. Given the troubling state of humanity, it is not difficult to understand why Tolle would long for such a change. But as the following pages will demonstrate, his hope is very different from the hope that Christians have in Christ.
A New Earth, An Old Deception: Awakening to the Dangers of Eckhart Tolle's #1 Bestseller by Richard Abanes
Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764206641
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.