Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Gnosticism of John Philip Newell & sorrow for Sacramento Presbytery

A local church in the Presbytery of Sacramento, is holding an event featuring the Rev. John Philip Newell. The event, occurring February 12-14 is entitled, “Cultivating the Inner Courage to Change the Outer World.” Davis Community Church, a Presbyterian (U.S.A) church is progressive and has a long relationship with the Covenant Network of the PC (U.S.A.) The speaker, although billed as one who promotes Celtic theology, is rather, theologically gnostic. Newell uses the writings of Jung, Teilhard de Chardin and gnostic texts.

Newell was formerly a warden of the Iona Abbey in Scotland and Companion Theologian for the American Spirituality Center of Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch, a PC (U.S.A.) conference center. Both the Ghost Ranch web site and the Davis Community Church state that Newell “is an ordained Church of Scotland minister with a passion for peace among the great wisdom traditions of humanity.”


Newell, in one of his many books, writing of giving ourselves for love, states:

“And in the Christian household, we hear again and again in word and song that Jesus saved the world. But must we not also say that the hidden part of the story is that the world saved Jesus? Because Jesus found in the world the true object of his love, and in giving himself in love, he found himself forever.”

He quotes “Jesus” from the Acts of John, insisting that this gnostic text was left out of the Christian canon of scripture because of the alignment of the ancient church with Empire.

The Christology of the Acts of John is “Docetic.”[1] That is, Christ is either separate from Jesus or Jesus’ body was illusionary. This is a false teaching that denies the incarnation. In Christian Gnosticism God did not become human. In most cases humanity was perceived as possessing a divine spark and Christ came to remove humanity’s ignorance about their divine essence.

Newell, using a radical Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, insists that Jesus is not unique, but rather we are all the only begotten and he speaks of our christhood.


Humanity, according to Newell, was created out of the essence of God, rather than out of nothing. Humanity has a need to return to a “sacred oneness of everything” and the “sacred feminine.” Jesus does not come to save by way of the cross but by example, to return humanity to their knowledge of their own sacredness and the sacredness of all things. Newell in a video, The Rebirthing of God, states:

“Jesus in the Celtic world is often referred to as our memory; we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten our true essence. He comes as our memory to enable us to remember that we are of the only one, we are only begotten.”

This is pure Gnosticism and it is not true Celtic Christianity.

Yes, there is unity, but we are only united to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. We are adopted sons and daughters because of Christ’s bloody cross and resurrection.  And we and creation will not be totally reconciled until the coming of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of our bodies.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:22-23)

I looked at Newell’s brochure sent out for Davis Community Church by the Presbytery of Sacramento. One could and should weep for the congregation and the community because of the heretical teaching. But there is one more problem that caused me grief.

The brochure called for unity and reconciliation with other faiths; wisdom traditions as they are called. “Finding Faith in Each other’s Faiths” one presentation is called. But just a few weeks before this event the Sacramento Presbytery will vote to place an administrative commission over my church, Journey Church in Folsom California. Our session, including myself, will be removed as will our pastor. We will leave our church property and assets behind, and why? Not because we uphold heretical views, not because we lift ourselves up to be equal with Jesus Christ as this false teacher does.

The question simply hangs in the air—unity with all including the heretical who allow Jesus to be defamed—but no care for those who embrace the Lord of all creation.

[1] P.J. Lalleman, “Apocryphal, Acts and Epistles,” Dictionary New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Editors, Craig A. Evans & Stanley E Porter, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2000) 66.


Liinda Lee said...

Thanks Viola, I am sharing this as an example of false teaching. The women in the Bible study group need to be aware of these
kinds of false teaching. We are studying Judges and how the Israelites failed to be influencded by the idols and ways of the
Amorites and culture around them. I appreciate your seeing and speaking to us,

Viola Larson said...

I am glad it is being shared, thank you.