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A monthly magazine for truth, faith, and logic.
The Art of Saving Face and the Fuss over a Holy Form
On the Benefits of the Free Market
Moving Beyond Confronting "Cults"
Thoughts on the Convalescence of the Soul
Upon a Dear Friend's Reconciliation
Primum Mobile Staff:
Anastasia P. Lytle
Louis A. Markos
Primum Mobile is a monthly web magazine. This issue and all its contents are © Copyright 2004 by the editors. All rights reserved.
Ministry to Alternative Spiritualities in Religiously Plural America:
First, missiology can work to reframe evangelical conceptions of new religions as distinct religious or spiritual cultures rather than primarily as heretical systems or "cults." The notion that new religions constitute unreached people groups or cultures is not new. In June 1980 the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization formally recognized new religious movements as unreached people groups. By conceptualizing new religions as cultures or people groups we can then understand the important cultural and social, as well as religious considerations necessary to reaching them. Conceptualizing new religions beyond heresy and more along the lines of religious cultures will bring the evangelical response to new religions more in keeping with traditional missionary responses to world religions.
Second, missiology can help contextualize the gospel for the cultures of new religions. In traditional evangelical methodologies the message presented to the new religions has been speaker-oriented, focusing on the apologists cultural matrix and theological concerns often to the neglect of the target culture of the new religionist. The evangelical has often been unaware that a mere monologue is taking place, and often times the evangelical speaker assumes the gospel message has been understood and rejected. The application of principles of cross-cultural missions can help in the development of culturally appropriate evangelistic models. Promising work has already been in this regard such as the Bridges program developed by Salt Lake Seminary for reaching Latter-day Saints,4 contextualized mission strategies for reaching Wiccans and new age adherents through booth ministries by Philip Johnson and The Community of Hope in Australia,5 and a culturally effective outreach to Iglesia ni Cristo by Anne Harper in the Philippines.6 The exploration of these creative mission strategies by missiologist will aid in the development of additional models desperately needed on the world's mission fields.
Incorporate missiological studies on new religion at evangelical institutions. Very few evangelical academic institutions devote serious attention to the study of new religions on the mission field. Missiologists who teach at Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries might integrate missions studies with courses on new religious movements.
Create formal relationships between missions and "counter-cult" organizations. Missions and counter-cult organizations might explore the establishment of formal relationships that will result in a number of helpful endeavors, including the creation of cooperative internships. Missions organizations can have their staff trained in mission to new religions in preparation for the mission field, and in turn, "counter-cult" ministers can be given internships in a missions organization to incorporate missions principles into "counter-cult" ministry. These relationships will not only benefit missionaries in training and "counter-cult" ministers, but can also serve as a channel for retired missionaries to focus their energies in meaningful ways.
Provide seminary students with field experience. To raise awareness among a future generation of missionaries and missiologists, we might explore ways in which students pursuing missions studies can be given practical field experience in sharing the gospel with adherents of new religions. Such programs would include practical assignments such as an interview with a Mormon or a Wiccan high priestess, for example. This interview would then result in an essay prepared by the student where they would explore the theological, missiological, and apologetic issues that arise from such encounters.
In addition to the above recommendations whereby missiology can benefit the evangelical response to new religions, the "counter-cult" community's emphasis upon fidelity to biblical orthodoxy in response to heresy can also benefit the missions community. In sharing his concerns about the dangers of syncretism, and the definition of orthodoxy and heresy on the world's mission fields, David Hesselgrave has stated, "Not all missiologists appear to share my concern, but it does seem to me that insofar as dialogue and cooperation can be achieved, the biblical commitment and concern for orthodoxy that has characterized counter-cultists for generations might well serve to focus added light upon complex faith issues that plague missiology today. That light should be highly valued because, in the final analysis, (missions) work without (biblical) faith is dead.7
The challenge and opportunity posed by the new religions is monumental. If we do not respond in obedience to our evangelistic mandate, surely we must respond in order to perpetuate the Christian faith in our postmodern climate of religious diversity, where evangelicalism hovers on the cultural fringe. As David Hesselgrave has stated, "During the era of modern missions, evangelical missionaries have focused on adherents of the major religions and, especially, on folk religionists. As we enter a new century and new millennium it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must also focus on millions who are being caught up in new religious movements emanating from both East and West. They constitute not only a new 'mission field,' but also one of our most aggressive competitors for the allegiance of multiplied millions who are turning away from the faiths of their fathers." As international mission leaders prepare for Lausanne 2004 in Thailand, it is my hope that the often-neglected mission fields of the new religions and world religions receive the attention of the missions community in fulfillment of the Great Commission.
John W. Morehead is a missionary with the Neighboring Faiths Project, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Sacred Tribes: Journal of Mission to New Religions (www.sacredtribes.com). Along with Irving Hexham and Stephen Rost, Mr. Morehead has co-edited and contributed a chapter in the book Encountering New Religious Movements (Kregel Publications, 2004).
This article first appeared in the Fall 2003 edition of Occasional Bulletin, published by Evangelical Missiological Society. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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