It seems that Eckhart Tolle compared to many of today's esoteric teachers is most influenced by Jesus Christ. Even his name was changed from Ulrich Leonard to Eckhart Tolle after Meister Eckhart a 13th century Christian German Mystic. In his recent book "A new Earth" there are 29 references to Jesus and one to the Apostle Paul. This in itself is quite a decisive measuring stick as to where a Christian may place ET on the Liberal / Conservative spectrum. ET clearly makes no reference to the Pauline theological view of salvation but lays much more emphasis on the teaching of Jesus. It is not his death and resurrection but his teaching in the gospels that Tolle uses in this book. The term 'Salvation' is not used in relation to a moral infringement of God's law but rather the liberation from the 'egoic self' and it is not through the death and resurrection of Jesus that this salvation is procured but rather through a shift in perception from unconsciousness to consciousness. Like I said the Christian vewpoint you hold will determine how much you can adopt the teaching of ET. Two extremes can be seen when we look at Father Richard Rohr and The Moody Church. Father Richard Rohr has just brought a book out called 'The Naked Now' which I am still reading (see my google books in the sidebar) I hope to do a write up on it. Richard mentions Tolle quite alot and it is good to find a book that is up to date enough to include him. Furthermore he has also published a defence of ET here. On the other end of the spectrum we have the Moody church check this out.
The thing about ET is that he manages to describe an approach to personal spiritual growth which hitherto Christians had claimed for themselves and only through the help of Jesus. Tolle seems to bypass the need for salvation in its most conservative form to produce the same results at least in terms of how one relates to self others and the world. The Present Moment takes the place of the Cross. For the Christian it is the Cross that eliminates the self. 'I am crucified with Christ' says the Apostle Paul 'Nevertheless I live yet not I but Christ lives in me'. For ET it is the Present Moment. He claims that the egoic self (which is to the Christian the "old life", the "flesh", or the "self life") draws its strength from thought forms which are related to past achievements or future dreams. The NOW which transcends thought form and is not perceptible through the egoic mind thus frees us from the self in that it disconnects us from past and future wherein the egoic mind draws its strength. (I guess one question is: 'Does the egoic self have to be solely related to past or future? ... or cannot the egoic mind still operate in the immediate present?') If the Christian would wish to join hands with ET he could argue that the NOW (or The Present Moment) is identical to the Cross in how it relates to the self or the egoic mind. In a Cross like way it pierces vertically through the horizontal layer of time thus bringing consciousness / salvation. Of course this negates any real purpose of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Why bother to die for our sins (our egoic mindset) if a simple repose in the NOW would suffice? The only reference I have found by ET regarding the Cross is in a transcript from an interview with Oprah winfrey in her book club:
I'd like to share with you something, I had an insight some years ago, I was walking in England into a village church. It was all very quiet. I was the only person in that 600-year-old church, and I saw the cross and the altar and Jesus on the cross. And this is an image that we are so used to, we don't question it, but at that moment, I saw it as if I had just arrived on this planet and had never seen it before. And I was struck by the strangeness of that symbol. And I looked, there's a suffering human being in agony on this cross. And at the same time, there was another cross without Jesus on it, and I saw this golden cross was the same cross. That cross that is the torture instrument is at the same time a symbol for the divine. And suddenly I saw a very deep significance in that that can be appreciated and recognized, I believe, by anybody, even in they are not Christians. Jesus on the cross stands for humanity. Jesus represents every human being that has ever lived or will ever live. Jesus represents something that is part of the human condition, and this—what he experienced at that moment, I saw when I was looking at the cross in the church, I saw that what this represents is a human being who experiences an extreme form of limitation. He's totally unfree, totally limited, in deep suffering, and, at the same time, the words are suddenly remembered from what is said on the cross, "Not my will, but thy will be done." And that was the act of complete acceptance of suffering. He went to the depths of suffering and then totally accepted suffering. And through this total acceptance of suffering, sudden transmutation happened, and the very torture instrument, the cross that had produced the suffering, was transformed and became a symbol for the divine. And that explained the paradox that I had seen when I went into that church as if I had never been to a church before and I saw, how can the torture instrument at the same time be a symbol of the divine? And so in every human being's life, every human being will experience some form of suffering, sometimes very intense.
This perception of the Cross by ET reflects again the contemplative mystical side of the Christian faith. Many Christians I know when thinking of the Cross stop simply at its substitutionary work where Jesus takes the punishment of mankind upon himself. This for them is sufficient in all its simplicity. "Jesus died for my sins and now I am right with God" - "nothing else is needed". For others this simply will not do. While they may agree with the former statement there is a deep hunger for for greater imtimacy with the Divine which cannot be satisfied by a mental assent to the forensic theory. Life is just not that simple. The mystic finds meaning not just in the fact of the death of Jesus (symbolised by the 'blood') but also in the manner in which He died. ET picks up on this when he sees in the Cross the acceptance of suffering with which we can be participants in our daily lives and thus become partakers of the Divine. It seems that ET is embracing a deeper aspect of the meaning of the Cross without embracing distinctive Evangelical theology.
This poses a problem. If for one moment we were to assume that there is a personal God 'out there' looking down on us what would he actually be looking for? A mind that embraces a 'right' theology or a heart of all embracing love? If we were to accept the latter then the God 'out there' might well favour those who reflect the spirit of the Crucified One who have no knowledge of biblical doctrine whatsoever. ET could be more of a Christian than many churchgoing Bible students who own the title!
Of course we need not introduce a dualism where there need not be one. It is quite possible to embrace both. Leon Morris speaks of "Inclusive Substitution" where the one who embraces "Jesus died for me" must also accept "I died with him". The one necessitates the other.
What Sort of God?
14 minutes ago