Tuesday, January 17, 2006

EMNR Annual Conference: Any Shifts in Perspectives?

In the past I served on the board of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), a membership organization for evangelicals involved in countercult ministry. For two years I served as president, and during my involvement with the organization I presented two papers that attempted to move the organization into healthy critical self-reflection in order to engage other disciplines in their understanding of new religions, most notably that of missiology. Unfortunately, these papers and my subsequent efforts generated more heat than light for some on the board, and their membership, so I resigned in an effort to develop my missional paradigm apart from the organization.

In February they will be holding their annual conference, and I recently reviewed their website conference information and developed some musings over plenary session and workshop titles.

The conference title is "A Clash of Cultures: Missionaries in the Marketplace of Religions." The mention and inclusion of the terms "cultures" and "missionaries" reflects an increasing use of intercultural and missional terminology in EMNR, however slight. The question remains to what extent these concepts are engaged independently of the apologetic heresy refutation paradigm.

The following conference sessions caught my eye. I will provide the titles and a few comments.

"Formal Education (Academics) Vs Hands-on-Experience (the Trenches): Which Approach and Form of Training is a Better Biblical Model for Apologetics and Evangelism?" by Craig Hawkins

Given my interests in seeing an increased interaction with academics on the topic of new religions, this title is of interest. Unfortunately, the title appears to be raising a false dichotomy: why can't academic training compliment ministry "in the trenches?" Indeed, the two should be pursued together, not pitted one against the other. Perhaps Mr. Hawkins will explore this option and avoid the dichotomy that appears in the title.

"Cults and Missions in the 21st Century" by Paul Carden

A few years ago when I heard that Paul was doing work on new religions and missions I was intrigued and pleased as this connection was an interest of mine. Unfortunately, in my engagement with his materials in the past on this topic, he has noted the cross-cultural savvy of some new religions on international mission fields, and has called for apologetic engagement by evangelicals in these contexts, but has not considered or developed the application of cross-cultural missions and contextualization in world missions contexts. Perhaps both aspects will be presented in this plenary session.

"Nietzsche, the Death of God, and the Emerging Church Movement" by Bill Honsberger

Several workshops address the emerging church movement, apparently an increasing concern to the countercult community. One of particular interest is referenced above, which notes the influence of Nietzsche on postmodern thought. I fear that such a discussion might be a bit simplistic and engage in guilt by association. First, Nietzsche has been an influential thinker among various postmodern academics, but this must be distinguished from the post-modernism (notice the hyphen) found on a practical level among people in the West. Second, the emerging church is a complex movement that must be understood in its various manifestations, some more problematic than others (a point missed by Don Carson in his book on the topic). Third, simply because the emerging church is experimenting with church community and forms to post-modern subcultures does not mean that they necessarily share post-modern concepts of epistemology and morality that are of concern to evangelicals. Perhaps this session will avoid these problems and provide a balanced assessment.

"Apologetics and Evangelism with Goddess Worshipper, Neopagans, Wiccans and Witches" by Craig Hawkins

I interacted very briefly with Mr. Hawkins through email exchanges and recommended several sources, including the Paganism and Wicca issue of Sacred Tribes Journal. Perhaps his apologetic approach will incorporate the insights of contextual missiology and the efforts of my colleagues in developing promising models of incarnational engagement with these communities.

"Mormons and the Vanishing God-was-once-a-man Doctrine" by Joel Groat

I appreciate the apologetic work of Joel Groat and Luke Wilson of the Institute for Religious Research. In my view they represent a more balanced segment of the countercult community. This title makes me wonder about the direction in which the seminar will take. If there is recognition of the "vanishing" notion of deification within Mormonism, will this be seen as a positive step that should be nurtured and encouraged through cordial dialogue and exploration, as well as through missional engagement with LDS culture, or will it be seen as something more sinister, perhaps masking an allegedly devious intent to deceive evangelicals? Perhaps this seminar will attempt to find middle ground by noting a shift in LDS theology, particularly among rank and file Mormons, and also note that for effective communication some LDS may downplay the significance of this teaching.

After I left the countercult community, I engaged one of the regular members of EMNR in dialogue over a missional approach to new religions. I will never forget the response I got as my perplexed dialogue partner asked, "How will a winsome, missional approach help me keep the forces of darkness at bay?" I found that answer insightful, revealing what I think is at the heart of many self-perceptions in the countercult. Do they conceive of themselves as loving ambassadors of Christ communicating a message of reconciliation through loving service and speech? Or are they twenty-first century crusaders engaged in a holy war against forces of darkness? I wonder which self-conception the upcoming EMNR conference will reinforce. I pray and hope for the former.


Call Me Ishmael said...

Hey! I try to be winsome! Doesn't anyone notice?

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of thoughts-
-In "Exclusion and Embrace" Miroslav Volf gives a nod to Nietzche. If Volf can connect with N., it seems to me that thinking Christians should be examining what bearing N.'s ideas could have on illuminating how to love and reach people in this day.
-Perhaps the drive for humans to become gods in Mormonism is a pale counterfeit of the very intriguing (and in light of recent theological work by NT Wright and others, for example, quite probably "biblical" idea) of Deification of Eastern Orthodoxy.

I have a little knowledge, which is, as you know, somewhat dangerous! But these things spark connections in my brain-

Dana Ames

John W. Morehead said...

Ishmael, I recognize and appreciate your winsomeness and humor on topics and among ministers not known for such things. It is appreciated.

Dana, I agree that there is value to understanding Nietzsche, and his influence in segments of Western culture. However, the question is whether this will be properly assessed in connection with postmodernism and the emerging church. I fear that many times countercult people raise issues related questionable connections and influences in groups they are critical of. I have also seen some of the criticism of the emerging church by some in the countercult and it is less than balanced. Hence my concern over these presentations.

Jeff Downs said...

John makes the following comment Unfortunately, the title appears to be raising a false dichotomy

Amazing. Simply Amazing, that you, make such a comment when "false dichotomy" is written all over your material.

Jeff Downs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John W. Morehead said...

Jeff, you are welcome to continue to participate in this blog, but if you're going to post comments you'll have to do so with a desire for accuracy and civility. I deleted your post on your conference because this is the second time that you've made posts that attempt to promote your work without interacting with the substance of my posts, and also do so while making accusations of intellectual dishonesty in other forums. You can't make such accusations in one forum, and then come here and expect to get promotion for your ministry.

As to your comment, you claim that a false dichotomy is "written all over" my material, and yet you do not provide a single example of such a thing to support your accusation. Your claim rings hollow, Jeff, and in fact it is untrue. The fact that you did not interact with the substance of this post, but were content to make unsubstantiated accusations is what is truly amazing. If this represents some of the best from one of the more active members of the countercult community than I fear this group has not come far since I moved away from it.

Jeff Downs said...

We've been there and done it, John. Right in your last paragraph you make a dichotomy that is unwarranted.

The promotion of my conference on your site is no real concern of mine. Your dishonesty is another.

John W. Morehead said...

Jeff, this last comment is also worthy of deletion, but I'm leaving it as an instruction for othe readers. Once again, you're great at making claims, but providing no examples to support them. You state we've "been there and done it," but this is not the case. I've seen your accusations in your review of the Kregel book, and your statements in AR-Talk, and we've exchanged a few emails on this topic. Through all of this you have not documented any false dichotomies, let alone dishonesty.

I hope you can participate in this blog in the future with civility. If you can't you won't be allowed to post comemnts. You might also consider that if you treat an evangelical brother this way I'd hate to see your interaction with new religionists. And folks wonder why I withdrew from the countercult!

Jeff Downs said...

So, it is uncivil for me to bring up the fact that you make sweeping claims of the Countercult community, but when confronted by someone, it is there problem, not yours.

I don't think, to this day, you have pointed out one person, who does not have missions minded ministry. Oh, you might have mentioned Tex Marrs, but you know full well, that those in the Countercult community would stand with you in your critique

You stated Do they conceive of themselves as loving ambassadors of Christ communicating a message of reconciliation through loving service and speech? Or are they twenty-first century crusaders engaged in a holy war against forces of darkness? I wonder which self-conception the upcoming EMNR conference will reinforce. I pray and hope for the former.

Are you telling me (from your Old and New Testament) that we are not engaged in both.

Perhaps, not many of us are taking your serious, because you are not really offering anything new. We agree on a lot things. We certainly disagree on the sharp separation between approaches.

BTW: John, I think we have gone back and forth on this stuff many time. I know the last time we conversed I have saved, but there was a time before that, if I remember, lasted quite some time.

John W. Morehead said...

I don't mind criticism of posts on this blog, or my ideas related to a cross-cultural missions approach to new religions. Criticism and constructive dialogue through it are welcome. Lack of civility is not welcome or productive. It is uncivil for you to make accusations of dishonesty and to provide no evidence to substantiate such a claim. By contrast, those of us who are critical of the countercult have provided summaries of countercult approaches, have noted the dominate heresy refutation approach, and have raised criticism of it through argumentation and contrast with cross-cultural missions. This has been done in print in a number of forums, and with respect for those with whom we disagree. Your conduct in this forum and elsewhere has not met the same standard.

As to those in the countercult being missions minded, of course I believe many are. I have never stated otherwise. However, as I pointed out in a previous post, simply having the self-conception and perception of being missions minded does not mean one engages in the a missions methodology. (See my previous post on this that includes a few of the elements necessary for a truly cross-cultural missions approach.)While the countercult may consider themselves missions minded, their approach and paradigm is anything but missional.

As to your quote from my post that juxtaposes images of a loving incarnational missionary with a crusader in a holy war, I recognize the biblical call for a sound apologetic, as well as a missional approach to sharing the gospel in various cultures. However, the biblical apologetic does not equate with the crusader imagery that I believe many countercult persons reflect.

As to whether we are offering anything new, missiological journals in the U.S. and U.K. have favorably reviewed our book that promotes the new missional paradigm. They, and popular periodicals such as Christianity Today (which gave us an award in the category of missions and global affairs) apparently do believe something new and promising is being put forward. Perhaps your refusal to take the new paradigm seriously does not hinge upon its lack of "newness."

Jeff Downs said...

Thanks for your time John.

Matt Stone said...

Oh Jeff, I don't think John is making sweeping claims, in fact I think they are rather pointed. You're doing nothing to change my perceptions by this knock-and-run style of interaction. Reinforcing them in fact. Go on, surprise me and engage in some more substantial dialogue.

Jeff Downs said...

Oh Matt, I'm sure you have made up your mind about those in Countercult ministry and the dichotomies that John and Philip have set up.

I have no interest in convincing someone like yourself, it would take too much time. If you really care about the issue, why don't you interact with some of the people involved in Countercult apologetics.

I will say, that according to John's blog entry, he shows that he has cut himself off from the Biblical idea of spiritual warfare with ideologies that go against Christianity. He is the one that make the dichotomy. Reread his last paragraph. Those in Countercult ministry do not see the sharp split in methodologies that John sees.