Difference Between Faith and New Thought

Faith is confidence in God, while New Thought is confidence in self. New Thought is a self-improvement form of the Tower of Babel, encouraging its followers, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4 NIV). God’s glory is not their goal.

When I was an impressionable high school student (1971), I was introduced to a Hollywood musical, “The Music Man” (1962), set in the midwestern US in 1912. A traveling salesman, Professor Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston, descended upon a fictional River City, Iowa to relieve the townsfolk of their money by selling instruments and uniforms to organize a boys’ marching band. As the classic con man, he feigned he would instruct them, though he “didn’t know a trombone from a treble clef.” He assured a very young Ron Howard about his cornet, You don’t have to bother with the notes, because you simply use The Think System. Meredith Wilson — who was responsible for the book, music, and lyrics — and Franklin Lacey —  who was credited for the story — demonstrated an extraordinary sense of capturing the pulse of Americana down to their deft choosing of the name of Hill, which by this time had become synonymous with a think system to riches. Both Hills simply gave people what they wanted — a better feeling about themselves. Napoleon Hill’s book, “Think and Grow Rich” (1937) — visualize your dreams and good things will come — has sold more than 15 million copies and has been emulated by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (“The Power of Positive Thinking” 1952) and even promoted by Bible teaching Dr. Charles Stanley (“I read [it] every year”). Hill’s book is a best-seller in business, motivation, and self-improvement, and it would be futile to attempt to refute whether the readers would have accomplished their resolute goals without it. In the movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), the reporter concluded with this remark, after Jimmy Stewart attempted to clear the record about the famous shooting, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” A more recent article by Matt Novak in Gizmodo Magazine (12/6/16) attempts to recast the biography of the famous writer, The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time: All American Huckster. As “Think and Grow Rich” is only a variant of New Thought, what then is the difference between Faith and New Thought, when Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NIV)? I’d like to address that.

When Jesus taught: ask, prayer, believe, and receive (11:24), it represented not just His teachings; but, the position of the New Testament, and all the Scriptures. Being more than a quaint or idle book, Scripture has the unique quality of being the very words of God. “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1Thessalonians 2:13 NIV). And, being God’s very words, it has exclusive rights to grant salvation, teaching, and equipping to the reader. “And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:15-17 NIV). Even more, Scripture has the sole privilege of being able to accomplish whatever God can accomplish. “So is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV). As you can see, God’s Word is incomparably more worthy than our words.

What is the significance of ask, prayer, believe, and receive (Mark 11:24)? Asking and prayer are so naturally joined together that whenever you petition God, you are praying. If you do not purposely ask Him in prayer, how can you particularly thank Him for the answer? If you appreciate being acknowledged, imagine how God feels, when He is thanked for answering prayer. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV). Never put an “if” on God’s ability to answer prayer. According to Jesus, the issue is our faith. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us. If you can? said Jesus. [Pause] Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:22, 23 NIV).

And, what increases our faith? “Faith is confidence” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) in God, encouraged by His Word. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV). As Jesus Christ is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV), conscience requires us to act on our newly acquired, clear understanding of His Word, for “in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17 NIV). Thus, the true mainspring of human progress is “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Peter 3:18 NIV).

Receiving from God in answer to prayer is possessing the will of God. To illustrate. 

What trusting child wants to ask anything contrary to their loving parent’s will? “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1John 5:14-15 NIV). God uses our necessities to compel us to pray; nonetheless, prayer should still be more interested in God’s will being done (Matthew 6:10) than even fulfilling our particular requests. If Scripture is mere hyperbole, then it does it a lot, and quite well. Either we lower our expectations or raise our conduct to adjust to our understanding of its speech. I think readers of the Bible are constantly doing just that. A preeminent example of that effort was C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), who collected Bible promises in Faith’s Check Book, where each day for a year, a promise is given to the reader to be cashed like a check, when needed. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble” (Psalm 41:1 KJV).

New Thought, as found in Wikipedia, has its origins in the teachings of Phineas Quimby (1802-1866), “an American mesmerist and healer.” “The trouble is for the mind, for the body is only the house for the mind to dwell in.” Jesus already answered the objections of Quimby, when He was asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 NIV). Is there always a metaphysical connection between our physical illnesses and our mental or spiritual condition? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3 NIV). Sure, it was important to the blind man to be healed, but it was even more important to God for the man to be born blind then healed, so the healed blind man could tell the unbelieving Pharisees, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (9:32-33 NIV). Both the Pharisees and New Thought should glorify God for Jesus’ healing of the blind man. As unheard of as it was for a man to receive sight, who was born blind, it is even more important that God should be glorified for it. Paul said it well, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20 NIV).

New Thought is a self-improvement form of the Tower of Babel, encouraging its followers, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4 NIV). God’s glory is not their goal. The serpent seduced our first parents in the garden, “Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (3:1). Don’t trust God. He’s not looking out for your good, only his good. After all, you’re only seeking to be the best you can be by eating the fruit. Who but the Father of All Lies would concoct such a vicious falsehood against our Faithful Creator? God’s command was clear. All we needed to do was obey, but we have cleverly excused ourselves from obedience by creating our own false explanations for reality, even since the beginning. Any surprise Pontius Pilate stared into the face of Jesus of Nazareth — who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) — and pathetically uttered, “What is truth” (16:38), then executed Him?

Faith is confidence in God, while New Thought is confidence in self. If we understand the New Testament’s injunction against the flesh — have “no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3 NIV) — then confidence in the flesh is the opposite of trusting God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). Faith “conquered kingdoms,” “gained what was promised,” “shut the mouth of lions,” “quenched the fury of the flames” (Hebrews 11:33,34 NIV); but, faith also experienced “jeers and flogging,” “chains and imprisonment,” and “death by stoning” (11:36,37 NIV). In other words, faith trusts in the sovereignty of an all knowing, all wise, just but loving God, acquiescing to what He deems best — deliverance or death. New Thought ultimately resents anyone or anything but itself deciding the outcome. Faith is submission. New Thought is rebellion.

Why can’t we see the wolves in sheep’s clothing calling us to distrust one another? Who are we to believe? God. How do we heal the divisions among us? Not by choosing up sides with man, but by defending God. When Jesus was stalked by the Pharisees, they asked, Should we pay taxes or not? If He answered yes, He would lose the support of the working class. If no, He would be attacked for promoting rebellion and sedition against the government. Do any of these scenarios ever change? In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus wisely answered, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17 NIV). And, they were amazed at Him!

In summary, our greatest concern should be to glorify God. Faith is confidence in God, while New Thought is confidence in man. To the degree He would give us wisdom, let us “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV), then let us love our neighbor as ourself (22:39), “hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 1:23 NIV) of New Thought.

Postscript: If anything worthwhile was received from this article, thank God. May God’s Spirit guide you incorporating the concepts into your own life. The best outcome for this article is give God all the glory.