Monday, December 29, 2014

IBMR explores "Witchcraft and Mission Studies"


The January 2015 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research explores the topic of "Witchcraft and Mission Studies."Essays exploring this topic include:

"Putting Witch Accusations on the Missiological Agenda: A Case from Northern Peru by Robert J. Priest

"Beyond the Fence: Confronting Witchcraft Accusations in the Papua New Guinea Highlands" by Philip Gibbs

"Healing Communities: Contextualizing Responses to Witch Accusations" by Steven D. H. Rasmussen, with Hannah Rasmussen

"Toward a Christian Response to Witchcraft in Northern Ghana"by Jon P. Kirby

"Witchcraft Accusations and Christianity in Africa" by J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu

As an Evangelical who has researched and written on Witchcraft in the West academically, who has engaged Witches in relationships and conversations, and who has called for work to address human rights abuses in South Africa and elsewhere in relation to accusations of Witchcraft, I'm glad to see IBMR address this topic. I have yet to read the issue and am a little nervous about how sympathetically it will be explored, but some of the comments from J. Nelson Jennings in the opening editorial give me hope:
"Contemporary Europeans and North Americans may blush at the early modern witch trials in Europe and in Europe’s North American colonies. Accordingly, modern Western theologians and missiologists have for generations conveniently turned a blind eye to such phenomena, which have been rumored to take place elsewhere. In actuality, however, witchcraft-related activities—including violent witch hunts directed toward women and children—stubbornly plague Christian communities all around the world. Missiologists must catch up with these acute, long-neglected spiritual and pastoral issues."
In order to read this issue you must register your email address for free. You can find the publication at

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EID journal - Mission and Dialogue: A missing element for consideration

There is a new edition of Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue journal available, the Fall 2014 edition. It focuses on "Mission and Dialogue: Critical Conversations for a Global Church." This issue includes a number of contributors from around the world, including not only Evangelicals, but also a Roman Catholic. Many of the pieces are thought provoking as Evangelicals consider the relationship between mission and dialogue.

One element is missing in my view, and that is recognition that some religious traditions view Evangelical participation in dialogue with suspicion as merely a covert for of mission and proselytizing. I have been accused of this by some Pagans, and it is helpful for Evangelicals to be aware of this concern, and to articulate the separate activities of mission and dialogue, when they may overlap, and how this might relate to those in religious traditions who see mission as incompatible with interfaith dialogue.

This edition of EID can be read here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Patheos Book Club Roundtable Review of "Rise of ISIS"

Patheos Book Club Review
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Patheos Book Club Roundtable by contributing a review of Jay Sekulow's book Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore. Sekulow is a noted lawyer, conservative pundit, and Evangelical. I provide a conservative political and theological alternative to Sekulow's thesis. My review can be found on the Evangelical FRD website here.

Grant project Multi-Faith Matters Team Meets

Multi-Faith Matters Team
On Saturday, November 15, the Multi-Faith Matters team came to Salt Lake City from coast to coast. You can see our group in the picture above, from left to right, Pastor Jill Riley, Pastor Bob Roberts, Dr. David Sang Ehil-Han, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, yours truly, and Pastor Phil Wyman. The group came together for the first meeting as part of a Collaborative Inquiry Team exploring Evangelicals and multi-faith engagement, made possible by a grant from The Louisville Institute.

This first meeting exceeded my expectations. While some of us knew each other previously, this diverse group of people quickly discovered they had wonderful chemistry, and they were very productive in their first meeting together.

After some discussion the decision was made to adopt "Multi-Faith Matters" as our group name, slogan, and Twitter hash tag. We also adopted the descriptive "subtitle" of "Learning to Love our Multi-Faith Neighbors." As team members blog and discuss things related to our project we will use "#MultifaithMatters" as a way of branding and uniting our diverse efforts until we create a website or other central place for hosting our stories and other information.

We will continue to work between meetings, and will get together again in April of next year in Texas.

We think exciting things are going to come out of this group and our project. To learn more see the press release we wrote after receiving the grant.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices


I just received my contributors' copy of Handbook of Religion (Baker Academic, 2014), edited by Terry Muck, Harold Netland and Gerald McDermott. My essays are on Paganism, including a descriptive overview, and a piece on theological exchanges and current issues. My contributions are followed by Gus diZerega's essay as an adherent of Paganism.

 I think this is one of the best volumes produced to date by Evangelicals on religion. It includes a number of top notch scholars on the topic, and the tone and content is far different than approaches of the past. It also includes contributions to practitioners and adherents of various religions so that they might speak for themselves. Pick this one up.

From the dust jacket:

"This comprehensive handbook provides a Christian perspective on religion and its many manifestations around the world. Written by top religion scholars from a broad spectrum of Christianity, it introduces world religions, indigenous religious traditions, and new religious movements. Articles explore the relationship of other religions to Christianity, providing historical perspective on past encounters and highlighting current issues. The book also contains articles by adherents of non-Christian religions, offering readers an insider's perspective on various religions and their encounters with Christianity. Maps, timelines, and sidebars are included."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Evangelical FRD Podcast Conversation with Paul Louis Metzger and Kyogen Carlson on Christian-Buddhist Relationships

The latest podcast for the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy is now available. It is a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger and Kyogen Carlson on Christian-Buddhist relationships. Metzger is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Carlson is a Soto Zen priest and abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center.

This conversation was recorded on September 17. Kyogen Carlson passed away the following day. This was his last work in multifaith engagement. We are privileged to have known him, to have had him as a friend, and to have worked with him in religious diplomacy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review of "Mormon Christianity" in Dialogue

I have written a review for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 47, no. 2 (Summer 2014). The review can be downloaded through my page at this link. Here are the introductory paragraphs.

Stephen Webb is a Roman Catholic scholar who has made a great effort to understand and interact with Mormonism in sympathetic ways. In his prior volume on this topic, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2011), Webb considered the possibility of the materiality and divine embodiment of God by way of elements in the history of Christian thought, specifically “heavenly flesh” Christology. In Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints, he narrows his focus to consider Mormon materialist metaphysics and what this might mean for his own Catholicism, as well as the doctrine of the rest of historic Christendom.

In contrast with classical theism where God is an immaterial spirit, Webb entertains the idea that God possesses a material body (5). He wonders whether this might be a possibility for traditional Christians as they consider the implications of Joseph Smith’s interpretation of his “First Vision” which provided him with an “insight into the materiality of the divine” (9). This has resulted in a Mormon metaphysical teaching on matter wherein God is not only embodied and material, but also, “Most fundamentally speaking, spirit and matter are not opposites at all. Spirit and matter complement each other and are not ultimately different in substance” (34).

Webb recognizes the serious implications of this for traditional Christianity, if true, in that it “calls for the revision of nearly every Christian belief ” (124). For this reason a thoughtful analysis from the perspective of traditional Christianity is in order. At several points Webb calls for civil and respectful engagement of Mormonism (23, 113–14, 159), and notes that unfortunately “skeptics can be tempted to reduce it to a simple set of claims for quick criticism and polemical rebuttal” (23). This reviewer eschews such approaches, and what follows is a respectful and thoughtful critique of Webb’s thesis incorporating Mormon ideas. In the review that follows I bring the perspective of an Evangelical scholar with a background in Mormon studies, appreciation for interreligious engagement, and a desire for religious traditions to critically engage each other in civility. The following areas of critique are especially significant to traditional Christianity both Protestant and Catholic, in my mind.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tour of Khadija Mosque

Last night I had the privilege of visiting the Khadija mosque in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is home to at least 20,000 Muslims. The mosque's imam, and a representative of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake, spent some time with me and my small group including members from two different churches. We had a great time, and put down a foundation for future conversations and hopefully ongoing relationships. We will be returning in June or July to be a part of their Ramadan celebration.

The Good Samaritan and the Compromise of Convictions

Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most powerful of his illustrations regarding love of neighbor, and it provides an important foundation for how to engage others in a multifaith world. But at the same time, popular interpretations of the story rob it of much of its subversive power.

Rebecca Trotter has written a piece on her blog "The Upside Down World," that steps back to reassess this story in light of a statement that Evangelical often make in relating to others: "You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate." On the surface this sounds good, particularly for those of us working in multifaith contexts where conservative Evangelicals are concerned that such efforts are risky, and leave practitioners open to compromise. But Trotter reminds us that the parable of the Good Samaritan challenges this idea. Sometimes you do have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Consider the familiar story again. When the priest and the Levite saw the injured man, they made a conscious choice not to help as acts of faithfulness to their religious convictions, particularly those related to fears about ritual impurity and contamination. But the conclusion of Jesus' story indicates that the one who truly loved neighbor in God's way was the one who ignored these religious convictions and offered aid anyway.

This should give Evangelicals pause for reflection. Our religious convictions concerning how we relate to and engage others in our multifaith world should not be cast aside casually, but there may be times when love of neighbor trumps these convictions. At the very least, we should be willing to engage in more theological self-reflection in such matters.

Read Trotter's piece and give Jesus' parable another look.

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Springer Book Series on Popular Culture, Religion and Society

Announcing the New Springer Book Series Popular Culture, Religion and Society 
A Social-Scientific Approach

What happens when popular culture not only amuses, entertains, instructs and relaxes, but also impacts on social interactions and perception in the field of religion? This series explores how religion, spirituality and popular culture co-exist intimately. Religion sometimes creates and regulates popular culture, religious actors who express themselves in popular culture are also engaged in shaping popular religion, and in doing so, both processes make some experiences possible for some, and deny access to others. The central theme of this series is thus on how religion affects and appropriates popular culture, and on how popular culture creates and/or re-enforces religion.

The interaction under scrutiny is not only between the imaginary and ‘real’ world but also between the online and off-line one, and this revitalises the study of popular religion through its involvement in popular culture and in new social media technologies such as Facebook and Twitter.

Works presented in this series move beyond text analysis and use new and ground-breaking theories in anthropology, communication, cultural studies, religious studies, social philosophy, and sociology to explore the interrelation between religion, popular culture, and contemporary society.

Call for Book Proposals

Book proposals are invited for research monographs and edited collections that fit within the series’ scope and themes. Please email your initial book proposals to the Series Editor.

Series Editor: Adam Possamai, University of Western Sydney (

Editorial Board: Stef Aupers, Erasmus University of Rotterdam Netherlands
Roberto Blancarte, El Collegio de Mexico, Mexico
Douglas Cowan, Renison University College, Canada
Giuseppe Giordan, University of Padua, Italy Danielle Kirby, RMIT, Australia
Joseph Laycock, Texas State University, USA
Eloisa Martin, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
John W. Morehead, Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, USA
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Heinz Scheifinger, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia
Vineeta Sinha, National University of Singapore, Singapore
James V. Spickard, University of Redlands, USA

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Interview at PARSE: Religious Diplomacy in a Multifaith World (Part 1 & 2)

I was privileged to be interviewed by Paul Pastor at PARSE, which explores ministry and culture in connection with LEADERSHIP JOURNAL. The first installment can be read at

The second installment is at

Please give it a read and start a conversation as I respond to questions about religious diplomacy in contrast with dialogue and interfaith.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

US and THEM: Religious Rivalry in America Screening in Salt Lake City

Experience a Change of Heart
Learn how to feel differently towards people of another faith
Free Religious Film Screening
Film: US and THEM: Religious Rivalry in America

When: Saturday, February 8th at 7:00 p.m.
Where: First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City
12 C St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103
(801) 363-3889
There will be a Q&A and discussion after the film.
Come participate in this great opportunity
to resolve religious misunderstandings.

Perry's 'Dark Horse', Evangelicals, and Pop Culture Demonic

Update: One reader pointed out that the previous edition for this essay mistakenly attributed one of the sources to Christianity Today online in the US, but should have listed this as Christian Today in the UK. This post has been revised to correct the error.

At the recent Grammy Awards Katy Perry performed her song "Dark Horse" which has fueled a controversy in some circles. For them all hell has broken loose (literally). On Glenn Beck's radio program today he labeled the performance demonic, and a writer for Christian Today online agreed. Jennifer Jones' views are summed up in the title of her piece on the event: "Katy Perry Grammy Awards 'Dark Horse' performance had witchcraft and satanic symbolism; Show's singer's rejection of childhood Christian values." Jones' opening sentence reinforces the title as she describes Perry's performance that is said to have "shocked some fans as it displayed dark satanic imagery, including witchcraft and demons."

These interpretations were echoed in reactions shared in social media. Christian gospel singer Natalie Grant walked out of the performance and sent two tweets expressing her concerns. Even E! News raised the possibility of sinister activities with the tweet, "Um, did we just witness actual witchcraft during Katy Perry's #Grammys performance?"

Others characterized Perry's performance as a Satanic ritual. makes this claim and references several tweets by those who share the viewpoint, including one that states "I'm like 99% sure Katy Perry just summoned satan during her performance."

For those who missed the performance Sunday night, or for those who want to revisit it for the purposes of discussion, in the video Perry begins singing inside a sphere reminiscent of a crystal ball. The stage is dark with trappings and symbolism familiar from horror films. As she performs the song dancers move about her dressed in dark costumes, some have horns, and broomsticks are featured as props. The performance ends as flames seemingly consume Perry, perhaps as a witch and reminiscent of witch burnings in times past.

But are the negative interpretations accurate? Was Perry incorporating the symbolism of witchcraft and satanism as real Pagans and esoteric practitioners understand and practice their spiritual pathways and philosophies? My answer is "No." Instead, this performance is better understood as drawing upon the concepts and symbols of witchcraft as expressed in horror films that have informed the collective cultural imagination (particularly the trope of the satanic witch said to be devoted to the service of the devil), and this is then combined with Judeo-Christian ideas about Satan and the demonic. This use of horror symbolism from popular occulture is not new. Recall the fears in previous decades when Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and other rock stars and groups were said to be drawing upon Satanism in order to spiritually enslave a generation of teenagers. (See my article "Devil's Music: Rock N' Roll, Heavy Metal, and the Danger of Satanic Panics" from Diabolique magazine on this issue.)

In light of the strong and negative reactions to Perry's performance several thoughts come to mind by way of critical reflection.

First, many Christians in America must grapple with religious illiteracy and privilege in regards to some forms of esotericism. Horror film symbolism appropriated by a musician for sensationalism, attention, and music sales is mistakenly assumed to be either witchcraft or satanic ritual, demonstrating that many Christians know little to nothing about witchcraft or satanism, and our fears of such things fuel our stereotypes even further. And even if this were the incorporation and expression of these, the assumption on the part of some conservative religious people is that this apparently has no legitimate place in popular culture. Suppose Perry were a witch or a satanist (in interviews she has expressed her spirituality in terms that sounds like the growing religiously-unaffiliated "Nones" from the Pew Survey), and incorporated that into a public performance. Is that out of bounds in American popular culture? Doesn't the support of religious freedoms for all mean that we must extend such opportunities to everyone, including those who practice and believe things Evangelicals find distasteful?

Second, satanic and demonic fear has a large footprint in American culture at the present time. From horror films on demonic pregnancies such as Devi's Due, to Bob Larson performing an exorcism via Skype, to an alleged possession of the Ammons family in Indiana described in ways that are reminiscent of The Amityville Horror, Americans have Satan on their minds. This is particularly the case for Evangelicals. In the opinion of Scott Poole, author of Satan in America: The Devil We Know (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), the influence of Evangelical demonology has helped the country become "a kind of demonic echo chamber of rumor, panic, conspiracy theories, and deep cultural unease." Are we really witnessing an increase in demonic activity, as many Evangelicals may believe, or is there some other social and cultural dynamic going on that causes us to look to Satan and the demonic as a way of expressing our fears?

Third and finally, I fear that in relation to many Evangelicals, as J.B. Phillips put it in the title of his book, Your God Is Too Small. Conversely, our Devil is too big. When Evangelicals fear that demons are seemingly everywhere in popular culture I think we need a larger concept of God, a balanced understanding of principalities and powers, and a reminder that evil is already defeated through the work of Christ. He calls us to join him through sacrifice and service to others in the divine work of reconciliation. As N.T. Wright has summarized it:
"We celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ in a way which, by the power of its symbolic action, resonates out, into the city, into the country, into the world . . . that God is God, that Jesus is his visible image, and that this God has defeated the powers of evil that still enslave and crush human beings today."
Readers who want to explore some of these ideas in greater depth can do so at my other blog in these posts.

Scott Poole: Satan in America

Satanism, Exorcism and Social Horror Trends

Satanic Cinema

Carrol L. Fry - Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film

Metaphysical Media and a Typology of Media Portraits of the Witch

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

'Loving Our Religious Neighbors' National Launch in Fall 2014

The Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy as as one of its goals the education and equipping of college and university students on interreligious engagement. Our primary resource for this is called Loving Our Religious Neighbors. This was designed by Josh Daneshforooz, who was previously on staff at Northwood Church under the leadership of Pastor Bob Roberts. Josh comes from a bi-religious family. His dad was Muslim and his mom is a Christian. As a result he's had a passion for helping Christians engage other religions in more positive ways than we have tended to in the past. Josh sits on the advisory board for our FRD chapter.

Josh wrote a book on the subject and more recently has transformed that into a study series. I was privileged to provide some feedback on revisions as the material came together, and our Evangelical FRD chapter is partnering with Josh to promote LORN as a major tool for churches and also Christian universities and colleges. Here's a link to a story on how this program helped students at Gordon College.

We are working toward a national launch for LORN in the fall of 2014. We need to find 10 churches and schools that will commit to being a part of this that will include major social media promotion.

If you're a pastor, Christian educator, or Evangelical student, please take a few moments and look at the description and sample video of LORN at the its website. And then let me know if you'd like to discuss the formation of a LORN study as part of our national launch of the program later this year.

Review of 'Mormon Christianity' coming in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

I was asked to submit a review of Stephen Webb's Mormon Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2013) to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. I was pleased to hear earlier this week that the review has gone through the initial phase of editorial review and was very well received. Dialogue editor Kristine Haglund will have a look at it and it should be published in the near future. I hope it can be posted elsewhere at places like By Common Consent, at least an excerpt, as a conversation starter between Mormons and Evangelicals. I'll post an update when the review is published.

Here's an excerpt from draft's the introductory paragraphs:

Webb recognizes the serious implications of this for traditional Christianity, if true, in that it “calls for the revision of nearly every Christian belief” (124). For this reason a thoughtful analysis from the perspective of traditional Christianity is in order. At several points Webb calls for civil and respectful engagement of Mormonism (23, 113-4, 159), and unfortunately notes that “skeptics can be tempted to reduce it to a simple set of claims for quick criticism and polemical rebuttal” (23). This reviewer eschews such approaches, and what follows is a respectful and thoughtful critique of Webb’s thesis incorporating Mormon ideas. In the review that follows I bring the perspective of an Evangelical scholar with a background in Mormon studies, appreciation for interreligious engagement, and a desire for religious traditions to critically engage each other in civility. The following areas of critique are especially significant to traditional Christianity both Protestant and Catholic, in the mind of this reviewer. 

Douglas Johnston at Westminster on Religion, Terror, and Error

Last night I had the pleasure of attending this lecture by Dr. Douglas Johnston, Founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. The event was put together by the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.

This presentation was a summary of his book with the same title as his lecture. The book description provides a better feel for last night's presentation:
How should the United States deal with the jihadist challenge and other religious imperatives that permeate today's geopolitical landscape? Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement argues that what's required is a longer-term strategy of cultural engagement, backed by a deeper understanding of how others view the world and what is important to them. The means by which that can be accomplished are the subject of this book.

The work realizes three important tasks. It shows how the United States can reposition itself to deal more effectively with the causal factors that underlie religious extremism; offers a successor to the rational-actor model of decision-making that has heretofore excluded "irrational" factors like religion; and suggests a new paradigm for U.S. leadership in anticipation of tomorrow's multipolar world. Describing how the United States should realign itself to deal more effectively with the factors underlying religious extremism, this innovative treatise explains how existing capabilities can be redirected to respond to the challenge and identifies additional capabilities that will be needed to complete the task.
 You can order the book through