Book Tracks and Critiques Shift in
Posted May 13, 2003
HOLLAND -- A new book by Dr. James Herrick of the
Hope College communication faculty tracks and critiques how
a new way of viewing spirituality has displaced the Judeo-
Christian tradition of Western culture.
Herrick is the author of "The Making of the New
Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious
Tradition," published this spring by InterVarsity Press,
which considers the development of the "New Spirituality"
across the past three centuries through popular culture.
With its emphasis on divinity in the self and
often in all things, Herrick noted, the new spirituality
runs counter to traditional Christian thought. With its
accompanying message of elitism for the spiritually
awakened, he believes, it is even dangerous.
"There is an old Christian theological formula
that states: God created everything that is, seen and
unseen. It follows that nothing in that created order is
God. The new spirituality denies both ideas," said Herrick,
who is the Guy Vander Jagt Professor of Communication and
chair of the department. "There is no longer a pre-existing
creator God, only the evolving, divine cosmos. And, what
Christians would term created things are now, in fact,
"The new spirituality will always turn Christian
assumptions on their heads," Herrick said. "For example, in
place of spiritual transformation through faith in a
publicly proclaimed gospel of grace freely offered by a
personal and redeeming God, we get gradual spiritual
evolution through the acquisition of secrets of spiritual
ascent from the realm of
science or through direct contact with more highly evolved
Herrick has found the new message or reflections
of it both explicitly stated and implied. He follows the
thread through a range of sources, from the scathing
critiques of Christianity in the early 1700s by writers such
as England's Thomas Woolston, to the thinking of popular
19th century writers such as Emerson, to contemporary
entertainment such as the film "The Matrix."
Irving Hexham of the Department of Religious
Studies at the University of Calgary has called the book "an
excellent overview of the development of Western religious
thought and life that reveals the roots of much of 'modern
spirituality.'" In his review, James W. Sire, author of
"The Universe Next Door," said, "The dominant god today is
the cosmic spirit embodied in the self. Herrick shows us
how this shift has come about."
Herrick is troubled by the elitism that he sees in
the new movement, which he feels places greater value on
those considered to be more enlightened--and greater power
in the hands of those who claim to know the way to
"We have moved away from the notion of a personal
creator God and toward the divine self," he said. "Secrecy
and codedness have displaced proclamation and openness.
Hierarchy and elitism are replacing community."
"I am most concerned, however, that we have wholly
embraced the idea of 'spiritual evolution' and its attendant
idea of an ascending spiritual elite," Herrick said. "This
is a truly dangerous idea that has had horrific consequences
Herrick has been a member of the Hope faculty
since 1984, and specializes in courses in argumentation and
rhetoric. His previous books include an in-depth treatment
of the controversy that resulted in England as Woolston and
like-minded others wrote and debated: "The Radical Rhetoric
of the English Deists: The Discourse of Skepticism, 1680-
1750." His other books are "The History and Theory of
Rhetoric: An Introduction," "Argumentation: Understanding
and Shaping Arguments," and "Critical Thinking: The
Analysis of Arguments."