Friday, August 12, 2005

Lausanne Issue Group on Postmodern and Alternative Spiritualiites

I have followed and appreciated the work of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization for many years. Lausanne is an organization comprised of international network of missions organizations, missionaries, theologians, and others working together to address key challenges in the global missions task. I was especially interested in a paper produced in 1980 by a Lausanne issue group that addressed "mystics and cultists". One of the insights of this paper was that mystics and cultists warrante the classification as unreached people groups. Following the work of Ralph Winter, many in the missions community have recognized that Christ's Great Commission command was not merely to reach the nations in terms of geographical or geopolitical boundaries, but rather, to reach the ethne or people groups of the world. This necessitates an understanding of various sub-cultures where people identify with each other based upon not only a shared geographical living space and language, but also other aspects of culture, such as worldview, religious or spiritual practices, unique terminology, perceptions of reality and spirituality, and other cultural identifiers and boundary markers.

Evangelicals have readily recognized the people groups and unreached peoples of the world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, and even tribal cultures, but have not so readily recognized that the new religions and alternative spiritualities should be similarly understood. This shortcoming surfaced in the 1980 Lausanne paper, in that while it classified mystics and cultists as unreached peoples, the issue group did not draw upon cross-cultural missions principles available at the time in order to apply them to these groups. And while Lausanne recognized the missions implications of new religions as far back as 1980, very few evangelicals ministering in this area followed Lausanne's lead, or worked to develop and impliment missions approaches to these groups. Indeed, in the counter-cult community in the U.S., although there has been some discussion of missions to new religions, and even those in this movement who would consider themselves missionaries to "the cults", they have really been engaged in defensive apologetic approaches rather than cross-cultural missions methodologies.

I have been in contact with Lausanne for several years, and in 2003 was asked to participate in a Theology and Strategy working group meeting in southern California. This group was fine-tuning the issue group needs and subjects for the 2004 international Lausanne gethering meeting in Thailand. Eventually I submitted my application for the 2004 gathering and participated in Issue Group 16 addressing postmodern and alternative spiritualities. Our group met in Pattaya in October of 2004, and we produced one of the more extensive and "boundary pushing" papers. We began with the insights of the 1980 issue group and paper, and then moved to addressing its shortcomings, and then discussed incarnational missions strategy and how it should be applied to new religions (moving beyond counter-cult heresy refutation approaches), which was demonstrated in a handful of case studies. The paper also includes a significant bibliography, and recommendations to various segments of evangelicalism.

It was a privilege to work with this issue group, and to gain an international perspective on alternative spiritualities. We are currently planning a mini-consultation in Hong Kong for 2006. Those interested in postmodern spirituality in the West will be interested in our issue group paper. It is available on the Lausanne website (the link is included in the sidebar of this Blog. A 90-page paperback copy in book(let) form is also available. Contact me for more information if interested.

As we reflect on the gap in missional thinking and activity in regard to alternative spiritualities between 1980 and 2004, what might our missions efforts look like 20 years from now (should the Lord tarry) if we reflect on and apply the insights of incarnational missions in 2005?

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