Rhonda Byrne, The Secret. New York: Atria Books, 2006.
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted Jan 08, 2012
I watched all 93 minutes of the film version of The Secret. Apparently the book The Secret has sold two million copies. I was both surprised at how much of what was recommended are things I do and yet how far short it falls at the very end. After promising happiness, health, and wealth, we are told everything hinges on the law of attraction. We attract what we think about most. "Thoughts become things." "What you think about you bring about."
While there is no need to discredit what is valid here, I am concerned that "success" is reduced to one law. Might there not be more laws or principles? Is this an oversimplification?
Eastern mysticism taught that the secret was the elimination of desires. Western materialism uses "the secret" to get what we want. I am also concerned that this principle might be corrupted by appealing to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Realistically, we do have needs, but the balance is to give thanks for what we do have, trust God for what we need, submit to his providence, allow him to purify our desires, and pray for his guidance. I have not actually needed everything I thought I wanted. The country song written to express this realization was titled, "Thank God for unanswered prayers."
The film teaches that thoughts cause feelings and that we should seek good feelings. This happens in three steps:
1. Ask or make a command to the universe
This is not a new magic formula. Phoebe Palmer began teaching this as a shortcut to faith for sanctification in the 1850s, except that the asking was directed to God, not to the universe. It was later applied by the faith healers and then by the prosperity gospel. It is generally referred to as "name it and claim it." This metaphysical philosophy was brought into the church through E. W. Kenyon a hundred years ago. The term "metaphysical" refers to that which lies beyond the physical realm.
Yet true faith is based on God's Word. We must ask according to God's will. What we have on the film is a generic version without the Christian terminology. The law of "the universe" is constantly appealed to, as though "the universe" was God. We were encouraged to have faith, but it was never clear what was to be the object of our faith. Scripture, however, is clear that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father through Jesus Christ.
We were then encouraged to develop an attitude of gratitude. There is no problem here. Paul said, "In everything give thanks." We were also encouraged to visualize. "When you visualize you materialize." Visualization can be either good or bad. I think it is helpful to visualize the stories of the Bible. But we cannot create reality simply by visualizing it. We perish without a vision, but we must pray until God gives the vision.
Yet the promise of the film is that what we can visualize, we can materialize. Wealth is dealt with first, then relationship, and finally health. But there is a difference between psychosomatic illness and physiological disease. That is why faith healers tend to avoid certain types of problems. If you arm has been cut off, you cannot grow it back through visualization. However, if your illness was caused by anxiety or anger, a good attitude adjustment can produce physical results.
The basic assumption at this point in the film is that we have the power of creation. Here the distinction between the Creator and the creation is blurred. God has the power of creation and he simply spoke the universe into existence. But we are not gods. Toward the end we then got a fairly heavy dose of new age philosophy.
New age philosophy is actually old Eastern mysticism. Both teach that God is an impersonal force (the universe), that the Creator and the creation are one (monism), that everything is God (pantheism), that all religions are one, that life is governed by karma (the law of cause and effect which determines fate), and that we are evolving into a new world order. All this is taught or implied in the film. The film especially emphasized that everything is energy and that God is energy. The result is that God is a force. Yet the Bible reveals God as a person or being with all power.
It was also asserted that everything is connected and "you are eternal life." Then we were told "you are God manifested in human form." No. Jesus Christ was God manifested in the flesh. That is what the Incarnation means. But there is an important distinction between saying that we are God and that we are created in the image of God. To be in the image of God means, in part, that we were created in righteousness and holiness. Unfortunately, this was lost through the Fall and can only be restored through faith in Jesus Christ.
The image of God also consists of reason, will, and freedom. We have not lost these qualities, but our reason is darkened, our will is perverted, and we choose wrong over right. The image of God is also the responsibility of mankind as steward and caretaker of creation. While the doctrine of creation in God's image and likeness is comprehensive, it does NOT mean that we are God.
Therefore the concept of unlimited potential does not apply to humans. There are limits — even if we could attain much more. By definition, God alone has unlimited potential. And yet strictly speaking, God cannot do anything inconsistent with his nature. For example God cannot lie. However, the reason the film declares we have unlimited potential is because it teaches that we are gods. Then we are told that there is no blackboard in the sky on which our purpose for life is written. However, those who are the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. God does have a plan or purpose for our lives and while it is not written on a blackboard, it may be discovered through prayer and obedience in the life of the believer.
Finally we are told that in the past only a few people knew the secret but these are the best days in which to live because now the secret is out and man can evolve to a higher level. There is no need to be concerned with social justice, just seek personal fulfillment. But the most fulfilled people are those who devote themselves to helping others and advancing the kingdom of God on earth.
At the very close we are told that through the film we have already been introduced to many of the world's great "avatars." This is a pagan term and concept meaning the incarnation of any god into any living form. In Hindu teaching an avatar is a reincarnation of Vishnu — the supreme being or ultimate reality.
Yet Jesus Christ is the only incarnation of God. According to 1 John 4:2-3 to deny the unique incarnation of Jesus Christ is the spirit of antichrist. Please note that the prefix "anti" can mean "in place of." Therefore to teach that we are God manifested in the flesh is to trust in self instead of in Christ.
This film is rather simplistic in its philosophy and overstates its case. We need to be cautious about the pagan presuppositions on which it is based. I suspect that the real purpose of the film is to introduce the concept of karma and the value of meditation in changing our karma. Yet the good news of the gospel is the concept of mercy and grace — not an impersonal law of cause and effect, but that through Christ we do not get what we do deserve and that we do get what we do not deserve.
Yet there is no need to throw out the baby with the bath water. There is no virtue in negative thinking. In that sense, a positive mental attitude is not a secret. Norman Vincent Peale taught that fifty years ago. However, a PMA is not the same as true faith. The faith which can move mountains is a gift which comes from God, which is based on his Word, and which operates according to his will. Unfortunately, all this was left out of The Secret.
In closing I am afraid that the cultural Christianity of America is not as appealing as "the secret" because many churches are controlled by people who have never been born again. They do not live by Scripture and are not filled with the Spirit. If Christ walked into the average church on Sunday morning to preach he would get kicked out. And so I am advocating a true Christianity which our culture has never seen but rejects because the nominal Christianity they have seen has left a bad taste in their mouth. However, to give an example of what I mean, read Paul's prayer for those in the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 1:18-23. Paul prays that we might get our eyes opened to the hope of his calling, the riches of our glorious inheritance, and the might of the divine power made available to us.
We are called to experience the treasury of blessings for the people of God in time and in eternity. Our glorious inheritance does not mean the glory of heaven, but the present manifestation of the glory of grace in believers who are gradually ‘perfected into one' through their union with the Redeemer. This resurrection power has already raised the dead sinner to life and will raise our bodies from physical death in the future. In the present, we sit in heavenly places with the resurrected Christ and he exercises his authority through us.
While this is just one of many such prayers in the New Testament, if we really could grasp the possibilities available to us through the grace of God, a film like "the secret" would come across as pretty hollow.