Monday, September 19, 2005

Let's Do Our Homework and Engage in Personal Dialogue: Final Comments on Mariners Church and the LDS Temple

As the comments section of the post on Mariners Church and the LDS temple indicates, this post has drawn the attention of some in the countercult. I attempted a brief response, but this is a large and important issue. On further review of the entire article written by Keith Walker I noted several problems in understanding of the perspectives of those advocating missional and relational approaches to LDS, an inability to make a distinction between Mariners Church's approach and other missional and relational approaches to LDS, a false dichotomy between relational evangelism and confrontation, confrontational rhetoric, poor reasoning, a lack of any criteria of methodology, anecdotal testimonies presented as solid evidence for countercult praxis, and a general failure to interact with relevant perspectives on the issues as raised by this Blog and many other sources not the least of which is missiology and the history of Christian missions.

The intention of this Blog is to post comments, and to have brief comments in response, on key issues related to mission, theology, and praxis among emerging spiritualities and new religions in the 21st century. It is not a forum to bring folks up to speed with the wealth of material that provides a background for these comments. Effective dialogue on this topic can only take place if we bring a similar level of awareness to the issues. (I have extensive prior experience in countercult theory and praxis, and I would ask my countercult critics to bring some missional background to the discussion.) Therefore, Mr. Walker will be permitted to provide a very brief response to my comments on his article excerpt, this is not the forum for extensive commentary. Mr. Walker, and other interested parties in the countercult community, are free to familiarize themselves with the relevant background data and to then enter into personal dialogue with me (rather than continuing the Blog and email exchanges) as my academic and ministry schedule permits.

In the meantime, I will move on to post on other topics as they relate to the purpose envisioned for this Blog.


Jeff Downs said...

Note to the readers: You can not interact with John's comments, unless you have the extensive background he does in missiology.

John posts comments in response to Walker's article for the world to see (who don't have a background in Countercult methodology, know the people involved, etc.), but, we have to read the missiology works John recommends before we're able to interact with his specific comments.

And of course, if you do understand where John is coming from and continue disagree with some of his just need to do more reading in missiology.

John W. Morehead said...

Apparently the rationale was missed, Jeff. Perhaps I can help. If I was a missiologist and made critical comments on countercult ministry without having read the primary source material then I would be doing a disservice to both countercult methodology and our dialogue. In this instance I would have a responsibility to understand before leveling criticisms. I think this is fair.

But what is missed is that this is exactly what is happening with countercult criticisms of missional approaches to NRMs. They have not engaged the primary sources, or critically reflected on them. They merely offer comment and critique based upon their limited perspective from within the countercult paradigm. You have an obligation to do your homework before raising criticisms, and engaging those you criticize in dialogue.

One final thought: the writings critical of the missional model provide adequate evidence that countercult critics do not understand where I and others "are coming from." This has been noted by evangelical and secular critics of the countercult in popular and scholarly treatments of the topic.

Once again, please do your homework, Jeff, and try to step outside of your epistemic and ministry praxis boxes in order to truly understand what is being offered as an alternative. So far it hasn't happened.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve said...

1. John. What primary source materials do countercult ministries not consult? And with reference to which cults do you deem them deficient?

2.Beyond (1), it's it important, when dealing with real life cult-members, to play off of what they personally believe? It's possible to know more about a cult than the average cult-member. But, in that event, you're dealing with a hypothetical or ideal cult-member rather than the real deal. You're scratching the guy where he isn't itching.

3.Is there a danger that you yourself are caricaturing countercult ministries based on second-hand information rather than going to the primary source material?

Since Jeff Downs is heavily involved in countercult ministry, why don't you regard him as a valid informant? He's an insider, you know. And he knows other insiders.

Should we only listen to what cults have to say about themselves, and not listen to what countercult ministries have to say about themselves? Isn't homework a two-way street?

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for stopping by the Blog, and your comments and questions, Steve.

1. While the countercult community is familiar with the primary source materials that inform their discipline and perspective, they give no evidence that they have consulted sources from other disciplines that inform an interdisciplinary and missiological approach. Here I have in mind sources from missiology, the history of missions, sociology of religion, and religious studies.

2. Im not sure what you're trying to say with your second statement. Of course it's important to address what adherents of new religions (forgive me, I can't use the pejorative "cult" label), but countercult folks often engage in a form of reductionism that merely looks at what the official teachings of a group teaches, and does not consider the uniqueness of individual beliefs, or the broader cultural aspects of new religions.

3. I am not mischaracterizing countercult ministry. I was a part of this community for years, and utilized the dominant countercult model for ministry that was informed by Walter Martin and other pivotal countercult figures. My criticism of this approach comes from both intimate knowledge of countercult theory and praxis, as well as comparison with cross-cultural missiology.

4. I have nothing against Downs as representative of the countercult movement. My concern is with the lack of familiarity among countercult critics with the backbround that informs cross-cultural missions to new religions. You have a responsibility to adequately understand something before leveling criticism. Homework is a two-way street, Steve, and that's my point. I've done my homework and I'm asking my critics to do there's. So far they haven't.

Anonymous said...

John I have to say you sound so arrogant as if you have the God ordained approach; that you are the only one who has objectively read all the material (The material that you think needs to be read) and no one else gets it but you. To say that all countercult ministers have not done their homework and you have is laughable. It is possible for two people looking at the same material to come to different conclusions. Your approach may be right but you might want to use that same approach to reach your fellow countercult brothers and sisters. Now I realize writings can come across this way without hearing the tone and seeing the facial expressions so I will try to give you the benefit of the doubt.

e you the benefit of the doubt.

John W. Morehead said...

Dear anonymous, I must admit I was tempted to delete this comment, given the ad hominem nature of it, and that such strong comments did not include the mention of your name, but I believe that your comment provides an opportunity for sharing a few helpful comments for the countercult.

First, you say at the end of your comment that you will give me the benefit of the doubt after stating that I sound arrogant. In effect, you tried to soften an allegation that cannot be supported, and which was offered in ad hominem fashion. Please let's try to stick to the issues at hand without engaging in personal attacks or questioning character.

Second, I have never claimed that I am the only one who has read the relevant literature. What I have stated is that I have read a wealth of material that supports the countercult paradigm, and a significant amount of material that supports a missiological approach. Thus, I am asking critics of the missional paradigm to do their homework and to read from a broader spectrum of materials and approaches to new religions before rendering judgment from an apologetic perspective. This is a fair request, and it involves no arrogance on my part.

Third, I have been inviting countercult people to taste and see that the missiological approach is good for many years. In initially did this as a part of the staff of Watchman Fellowship, and as president of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. The poor reception on the part of my forger colleagues, and the frequent criticisms bordering on personal attack, made it necessary for me to pursue my research and methodology apart from the countercult community. I have not offered an attack, nor have I been arrogant. I have offered a model for ministry to new religions that incorporates, in part, a critique of the dominant heresy-rationalist paradigm. It has been presented in a variety of forums, including our Sacred Tribes e-journal, a scholarly paper delivered at the Evangelical Missiological Society, several popular articles posted at Answers in Action and The Ooze, and a book published by Kregel Academic. I would hope that those in the colleague would be willing to engage our paradigm, and the arguments that support it, as objectively and fairly as possible. Sadly, your comment did not attempt to do this, and such responses prevent missional minded Christians engaged in ministry to new religions to dialogue meaningfully with the countercult.

Anonymous said...

My comment was not ad hominem for I did not say that your position was wrong because of the tone in which you presented it. I only spoke of your tone. If I were to dismiss your position on account of what I perceived as arrogance, then my comment would have been ad hominem. As a matter of fact I think your approach is very positive and much more appropriate than the way in which many reach out to New Religious Movements. I only commented on the way in which you came across in your comment to Steve.

John W. Morehead said...

Thank you for your clarification. I stand corrected on misunderstanding your previous post, and I offer my apologies for misunderstanding and inappropriately alleging ad hominem on your part.

I think our exchange demonstrates the difficulty of discussing complex issues via website comments or email. My preference all along has been for all of us to get up to speed on the information behind the various perspectives on new religions, and to engage each other personally rather than trading web page jabs. I will do my part by putting greater emphasis on continued research, explication, demonstration, and experimentation with missional models, with only secondary emphasis on critique of existing approaches by way of contrast.

Thanks for these reminders, and the comments.