Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My Background

I currently live and work in Syracuse, Utah, about 25 minutes north of Salt Lake City. My family and I recently moved here from northern California where we were born, raised, and lived for many years.

My family background is a combination of agnosticism and membership in a Restoration offshoot, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ). I had a strong emotional experience as a junior high school student that caused me to attach myself to this group. Seven years later I read works by evangelicals critical of Mormonism that caused me to doubt the validity of my experience as a form of emotional and psychological self-deception. Evangelical writers did a good job at tearing down worldviews and religions, but left me nothing positive to replace it with.

As an open-minded agnostic I read extensively in the areas of philosophy and religion, and eventually encountered materials that, contrary to my expectations, demonstrated to my satisfaction that one could, in fact, be intellegent and be a Christian. Much as C. S. Lewis described his conversion experience, I would say that I was brought "kicking and screaming" into the Kingdom of God.

Given my previous background in a Restorationist Christian religious group, after my conversion to traditional Christianity naturally gravitated toward evangelical "countercult" ministry, and adopted its approach to addressing "cult" groups. This involved a comparison of the teachings of various groups with Protestant Christian orthodoxy, offering a biblical refutation of this doctrine as unbiblical, and often included a refutation of rational inconsistencies in a given religious group's worldview. My colleague, Philip Johnson in Australia, has labeled this the "heresy-rationalist" approach, one which used extensively in evangelical countercult ministry.

I utilized this approach in my own ministry, and in encounters with "cultists" at my door, for many years. But over the years I also read extensively, and beyond countercult literature, systematic theology, and apologetics. My reading was of an interdisciplinary nature, and it included missiology, religious studies, sociology of religion, and communication theory. As I read, and as I reflected on the history of Christian mission, specifically on contextualization (or the framing of the gospel in culturally-relevant ways across cultures) I noted a general contrast between evangelical evangelistic efforts in the American context contrasted with those overseas. In general, a missionary in an overseas contexts lives in the culture and seeks to understand its various facets, and how to communicate Christ's gospel of the kingdom from a modern American culture into the host culture of the missionary. While an overseas missionary will at times confront aspects of a culture, in general, the overseas missionary does not major on being confrontational or counter-cultural. By contrast, in the American context, with lingering notions of Judeo-Christian America, and the decaying Christendom culture, we have largely pursued aggressive and confrontational evangelistic methodologies that are often needlessly counter-cultural, and I would argue, counter-productive as well.

Although I worked with various countercult ministries for years, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the evangelical countercult paradigm of "cult busting" and have spent the last few years working with like-minded colleagues internationally to develop an interdisciplinary perspective and approach to new religions and alternative spiritualities from a cross-cultural missions perspective.

In the posts and discussions that follow, you will greatly I have been influenced by the missio Dei, God's mission in the world, which unfolds in the Old Testament and carries over into the New. The impact of the missional love of God for all peoples and cultures, and its resulting impact on my theology, praxis, and thinking, will be evident as you join me in the journey of conversation.

1 comment:

Jennifer Bogart said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog to read my preview thoughts on Generation Hex, John. I was raised in an LDS home until I too was born again...dragged forcibly by God. The kicking and screaming was all over by the time I finally gave in to Him. Praise the Lord for His work in your life! I pray that he continues to bless your work with alternative religions.

Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family