Friday, September 14, 2007

Forthcoming Book on Pagan-Christian Dialogue

I am pleased to announce a new project that I have been privileged to work with serving as editor and project coordinator. The project is a forthcoming book by Christian author Philip Johnson and Pagan author Gus Dizerega, titled Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion Publishing).

A new discussion group has been created in Facebook for readers to discuss the volume once it becomes available (scheduled for year's end). In the discussion group I recently posted the following background and description:

The historical relationship between Christians and Pagans has not been a very good one, whether in the past or the present. Pagans have many justifiable reasons for being wary of Christians. They have often been persecuted by the Church in Europe and North America. In addition, several Christian books about contemporary Paganism misrepresent and distort it. This problematic history has led to acts of bigotry and confrontation between these spiritual communities, as when Christians held a series of Witchcraft trials that still linger in the minds of Pagans and other Witches today, a time they refer to as “the Burning Times.” With the resurgence of Paganism in the West the Church needs to understand this spiritual phenomenon, and to be more effective witnesses, all in an effort to move Beyond the Burning Times.

There is a great need for understanding between Christians and Pagans. In the past, representatives from Christianity and Paganism have written about each other’s spiritual paths, and in one case, a Pagan author attempted to present a Pagan and Christian in dialogue in book form, but the Pagan represented both sides of the discussion. There is a desperate need for Christians and Pagans to talk to each other, which is a point that can be confirmed anecdotally by several Pagans I have met. Beyond the Burning Times addresses this need in a way that has not been done before. It brings together qualified and responsible representatives of the Christian and Pagan communities to dialogue on key spiritual topics (outlined below). As the dialogue participants work through the issues they will provide clarification and understanding, and discover not only areas of disagreement, but areas of agreement as well. Pagans will gain a balanced understanding of the Christian message presented in ways that speak meaningfully to them. Christians will gain a balanced understanding of Paganism, and will come to understand that Paganism has something serious to say and offers some significant theological challenges to the Church. Other interesting features of this book include the contributions of qualified Christian and Pagan respondents, and a guest foreword.

Evangelicals have dialogued with representatives of other religious traditions in the past, such as Mormonism (How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & Evangelical in Conversation by Craig Blomberg and Stephen Robinson [IVP, 1997]), but this has never taken place with Paganism. Gus diZerega, wrote the book Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience (Llewellyn, 2001) that attempted to provide a dialogue between these spiritual communities. We appreciate the attempt that was made by a member of the Pagan community, and believe the book is important, but there are distinct advantages to a genuine dialogue between qualified representatives of these two spiritual communities. Genuine dialogue provides the benefits of interaction and genuine understanding, and it also provides an example for what respectful dialogue can look like. To our knowledge, nothing like this book has been attempted before.

Book Outline

Guest Forewords by Dr John Drane and Dr Michael York

Topical dialogue chapters – Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega (alternating expositions)

1. The Nature of Spirituality
2. The Divine
3. Nature
4. Humans and the Divine
5. Spirtual Authority
6. Paganism, Christianity and the Culture Wars
7. Conclusions
8. Critical Responses Summing Up the Dialogue by Michael York and John Smulo

Suggested Readings
Paganism
Christianity

Index

Style

The book will be written in a style that is accessible by a popular audience that is literate, but not necessarily academic. It will follow basic academic conventions with respect to endnote documentation. The premise of the book is to engage in real dialogue rather than debate, and for the principal contributors to engage in real discussion on the issues in terms of a description of their views and response to those of the other. With this intent in mind, the respondents would not treat the dialogue exchange as a debate with a winner and loser, but instead, would comment on the merits of the exchange, and what the differing spiritual communities might learn as a result.

Target Audiences

There are several target audiences for this book, including a popular Christian audience, Christian academics, and Pagans.

For the popular Christian audience, this book will provide a balanced introduction to a growing and increasingly popular expression of spirituality. Christians be able to learn about the beliefs and practices of Paganism in a fashion that is unavailable in evangelical apologetic treatments of the topic. In addition, the dialogue and response format of the book will also provide an example of an informed, respectful, and biblically faithful interfaith dialogue.

For Christian and Pagan academics, this book will serve as an important resource for this rapidly growing area of study. It will provide an understanding contemporary Paganism in contrast with Christianity, and the dialogical format of the book will provide learning opportunities not found in traditional expositions of Paganism. For Christian academics the book will also be useful in providing information for seminary, university, and Bible college students, relevant to a variety of study perspectives, including missiology, theology, “cults” and new religions, as well as religion and popular culture. For Pagan academics the book will serve as an example of a balanced exposition of Christianity in contrast with Pagan spirituality and may serve as a textbook for university courses.

For the Pagan community the book will be of interest for at least three reasons. First, many Pagans come to their path after unpleasant experiences in the Christian church. Encountering fair-minded discussions of the two faith traditions will help them better clarify their own beliefs, more sympathetically understand those of good Christians, and see the points of similarity as well as difference between the two. Moving beyond defining themselves by what they are not (their image of Christianity) is an essential step in developing who they really are. Second, many Pagans are very active in interfaith communities. A book such as this could be a major assistance to the increasing numbers of Pagans working with Christians in these contexts. Finally, this volume could become a valuable book for Pagans to give to family members and friends who are concerned about their spiritual beliefs.

Interested readers can sign up through Amazon.com to be notified as to when pre-orders can be secured, and pre-orders are already available at Amazon.co.uk.

8 comments:

Jarred said...

I'm pleased to learn about this book. I read "Pagans and Christians," with great enjoyment, but also found it lacking. I'm hoping that this book will build on the positive foundation of that book while addressing what I felt were some of its shortcomings.

Lainie Petersen said...

I am so excited about this book, John, and I am really looking forward to reading it! I am also looking forward to discussion on the Facebook group.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to come out with another issue of "Sacred Tribes"?

John W. Morehead said...

As to Sacred Tribes the editors are in discussion with an academic institution about the publication coming under their umbrella thus increasing the credibility and exposure for the publication. Once these details are taken care of we hope to come out with another edition of the journal in the near future.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Interesting that the post mentions "Christian academics" but not "Pagan academics," of which there are some.

John W. Morehead said...

Chas, I appreciate your concern. Perhaps the context of the post will be helpful as an explanation. The majority of this post, including the mention of Christian academics, was taken from the proposal sent to a Christian publisher that accepted the project. Thus, the emphasis on Christian academics. We recognize that there are Pagan academics, and Gus DiZerega as a partner in the project is a prime example of this, and the book will surely be of benefit to other Pagan academics as well.

I hope the context for the posted material is helpful in addressing your concern. It struck me as curious though in that many times when you interact with my work either though comments on my blog or references to my work on your blog that I am given the impression of, how shall I say it?, a "chip on your shoulder" in responses. Perhaps this is not the case, but this is how it comes across to me many times. One of the reasons why we are engaged in this cutting-edge and risky book project is to move beyond such lack of trust between our spiritual communities, and to foster understanding and to take our relationships to new and more positive levels. I hope you are pleased with the results of the book project, and that our interactions on our blogs can evidence greater trust in the near future.

John W. Morehead said...

Chas, I just modified the original post to include mention of Pagan academics and the value the forthcoming book should have for them.

Yvonne said...

Regarding the Witchcraft trials: I would hope that most Pagans know by now that most of the victims probably identified as Christians, and that there wasn't a secret underground Pagan religion in medieval times.

However, there were earlier persecutions of Pagans, such as the killing of seiĆ°r men in Norway, the martyrdom of Hypatia, the wiping out of the Pagans of Lithuania by the Teutonic knights.

There have also been some pretty unpleasant incidents more recently, such as the death of Tempest Smith, attacks on Pagans' houses and shops, and even their pets.