Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Culture, Missions & Countercult Aberrations

Jim Beverley recently gave a presentation at the Evangelical Theological Society on the ongoing activities involving the LDS Church, Ravi Zacharias speaking in Salt Lake City, Robert Millet, and LDS-evangelical dialogue. A summary of his presentation was provided at The A-Team Blog. The summary of Dr. Beverley's presentation, and the comments posted after it, are worth a read.

I posted some comments and had a brief exchange with one of the administrators of the blog. I'd like to clarify a couple of things upon further reflection. First, in one section I stated that, "I agree that traditional apologetic approaches and the emerging missional and scholarly apologetic paradigm need to co-exist and dialogue effectively somehow." To clarify, a scholarly apologetic, along the lines of The New Mormon Challenge book, is already in conversation and coordination with dialogical and missional approaches. The difficulty has arisen between those of us who are missionally and relationally oriented, and traditional countercult apologetic models. Communication and understanding among these camps is where the difficulty is found.

Second, one comment by the blog administrator mentioned his efforts at incorporating cultural awareness in his efforts at the Manti Miracle Pageant, for example. I want to clarify my views on this in that I do not believe such attempts reflect a missions approach to Mormonism. For one, an evangelical evangelistic presence at such a sacred event is missiologically inappropriate in that it is needlessly counter-cultural (and counter-productive). And for another, I do not believe that countercult personalities possess the tools or training to exegete a culture, nor do they apply the insights of cross-cultural missions in their efforts. To my thinking, this cultural and missiological deficiency means that even the best intentioned countercult apologetic and "outreach" is an aberration away from a robust biblical and missiological approach. While this assessment might be a bitter pill to swallow, I believe it is a fair assessment.

As opposition to this critique formulates in the mind of the reader (depending upon your perspective), consider that those of us utilizing a missions approach are merely applying the insights of the history of Christian missions, and cross-cultural missiology on the international mission field, to the specific cultural contexts of new religions in the West. With this comes the natural critique of those approaches that deviate from this model. How can this be fairly opposed if one truly believes in missions?


Roger Overton said...

"missiologically inappropriate in that it is needlessly counter-cultural (and counter-productive)"

Since this appears to be a pragmatic concern, how do you deal with the fact that people regularly come to faith through such mission outreaches?

"I do not believe that countercult personalities possess the tools or training to exegete a culture, nor do they apply the insights of cross-cultural missions in their efforts."

I'm not sure how to read this except as a direct insult. You don't know my personality, nor do you appear to know how I evangelized at Manti. But somehow, you're able to reject me and many brethren as ignorant, un-equipped, deficient, etc. It’s probably not a good idea to insult people you disagree with. I hope it’s not part of your missiological methodology.

I’m reading David Rowe’s book right now, and he abuses countercult apologists much the same way. I’m having trouble reconciling this with the genuinely positive information he offers. I’d be able to recommend the book (at least as much as I’ve read) if it weren’t for his bashing of fellow Christians. Do you see my dilemma here? Why would I be interested in researching and considering your position if you’re just going to insult my intelligence? Have I done this to you anyway? As your brother in Christ, I’m truly baffled.

John W. Morehead said...

Roger (and other countercult ministers who may share your feelings), I can understand how this post might be interpreted in such a way as to cause you to become defensive. I also understand how the criticism that has been raised of countercult methodology by myself and others has not been very well received by countercultists. We are calling for a paradigm shift, and ministries founded on another paradigm might understandably bristle at such a suggestion.

However, criticism need not result in offense or in defensive reactions. This defensiveness in countercult circles has been a concern of mine for some time. In other segments of evangelicalism, such as scholarly forums of ETS or EMS, ideas are presented and critiqued routinely. The presence of peer review and the criticism of peers is well accepted, and as a result the quality of the ideas is strengthened. In the countercult there is no peer review, and little by way of a critical process that assesses ideas and methodologies by any kind of interdisciplinary interaction. As a result, the quality of the ideas and methods suffers, and countercult personalities tend to react negatively and defensively to criticism, and unfortunately, also to evangelical critics.

As to your specific comments, my concern for evangelical efforts at Manti, Temple Square, and temple openings, is not merely pragmatic. My concerns and criticism flow from missiological principles that then inform appropriate practice. This results in the criticism that countercult efforts at Manti are counter-cultural and counter-productive, missiologically speaking. I define success as more than the "bottom line" of numbers of converts. Success must be understood as faithfulness to an appropriate biblical and missiological process. As to the few who may come to Christ through such efforts, of course we recognize that the Spirit works through all kinds of things. Indeed, he worked through Balaam's donkey, but this does not mean that we should strive to be asses in service to the Lord (if you take my play on words).

As to my charge that countercult personalities do not possess the tools or training for cultural exegesis, please do not take this as an insult. It is a judgment based upon observation. If you have missiological or cultural training, please let me know where you studied, or what missiological or intercultural studies books you have read, and how you apply this to your work at Manti. I would love for this to be the case, and I yearn to work with other evangelicals to develop a contextual missions approach to LDS and other groups. But my experience with countercult websites, books, articles, tracts, and observations of outreach events indicates that the efforts utilized are not based upon proper exegesis of the culture of LDS.

As to Dave Rowe's book, I know Dave, and am familiar with his book. Yes, he raises criticism of countercult approaches, but this is not the same thing as an insult. Again, countercult personalities unfortunately equate criticism with insult, "bashing," and "abuse." I'd suggest that a proper way to move forward might be to engage Dr. Rowe about the pros and cons of his book as you see them, and then proceed as a mature Christian to recommend the positive insights he brings even while you continue to wrestle with your disagreements.

I believe you are my brother in Christ, but that doesn't mean we won't disagree, and that we can't critique one another fairly. I hope all of this helps somewhat so that you might be less baffled.

Jeff Downs said...
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Aaron Shafovaloff said...

countercult personalities unfortunately equate criticism with insult, "bashing," and "abuse."

I disagree with this sweeping generalization.

In my experience, countercult evangelists are the very ones trying to convince others that criticism is often part of love and should not automatically be associated with hatred or abuse, while Mormons and some Christians who wholly condemn confrontation tend to send the message that criticism is unloving, "bashing", hateful, and not part of a smart missiological paradigm.

Grace and peace in Christ,


PS Mr. Morehead, why buy 10-dollar words when you can get a better deal? If you want to effectively communicate to more people you need to more consciously avoid what looks like pretentiousness.

John W. Morehead said...

Aaron, thank you for sharing your concerns. It is obvious that we disagree on this issue.

My generalization is based upon my experience of some twenty years in the countercult community, including serving on staff with Watchman Fellowship, one of the largest and oldest countercult ministries, as well as serving on the board (including two years as president) with Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. These experiences led to my observations and generalizations which I believe are accurate.

My experience over the last few years in raising constructive criticisms of the countercult as a former insider has confirmed this hypothesis.

I'm sorry that you find my vocabulary and terminology problematic in these posts. It's not pretentiousness, it's simply an expanded vocabularly that comes through academic reading and study. Perhaps we could meet half way: I could try to use more popular language, and you could expand your vocabulary.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...
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Aaron Shafovaloff said...
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