Saturday, June 18, 2005

New Sacred Tribes Journal on Paganism

You can skip all the below, and simply go to the new issue of Sacred Tribes Journal on Paganism & Christianity. Or you can keep reading here to find out what and why that online journal is mentioned here by me.

My journey in faith has included various threads. Along with the political / social implications of the gospel, there is also that element or elements known variously as "soul-winning," "evangelism," and "apologetics." The latter in its classical form usually consists of constructing elaborate arguments against whatever belief system the person one is speaking with holds, then showing them how the Christian belief system is superior. I confess that to this day there are times such an approach still seems to work. But more often than not, this approach comes off as paternalistic, arrogant, and even demeaning to the person so being addressed.

There is no arena where this old school approach shows up more plainly than when evangelicals address what they call "the cults." Groups as diverse as Mormons, Scientologists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Falun Gong, the Unification Church ("Moonies"), Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, and so on and so on, are often grouped together under the cult label.

A few years ago, some friends of mine and I decided to try an alternative approach to such groups (often called "NRMs" or "New Religious Movements"), one emphasizing a missional dialogue rather than confrontational monologue. We created Sacred Tribes Journal. The first issue emphasized our purpose and goals long-term. Our second issue on Paganism & Christianity took us two years to finish, and was just posted yesterday.

I think the tie-in between my political views personally and my understanding of how to do evangelism, especially when speaking to those in New Religious Movements, is fairly simple. Christ says I'm to love my neighbor. He also says that I am to spread the good news about his coming kingdom. That kingdom is within, and requires an individual to surrender to Christ completely, so convincing someone that such a surrender is not only necessary but desirable is no simple task.

My own experience in encountering Christians before I myself had become one tells me that the old school apologetics approach has limited usefulness. Though I did have legitimate intellectual barriers erected, and did benefit from apologists such as C. S. Lewis, Os Guiness, and Francis Schaeffer, I ultimately had questions that were far more existential -- that is, rooted in my felt needs -- than intellectual. They required Christians who understood that effective evangelism is first and foremost an exercise in being and only secondarily an exercise in doing. That is, I was hungry for love, acceptance, and a sense of meaning that did not violate my intellect or my sense of personhood.

The Christian Right, to me, is the political corrollary to the evangelical and secular "Countercult" community. Both of these groups tend toward being led by white males; both seem fairly unaware of a Christian tradition outside American protestantism, and both seem willing to make cartoon stick persons out of those they disagree with. While I also could be charged with doing the same to them -- Lord willing, I will remember that such a critique does cut both directions -- I have seen little to encourage me that either of these groups "gets it."

One well-known counter-cult figure, for instance, described his shock that anyone could find the now-deceased Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen's writings to be Christian. Nouwen, for those unaquainted with him, is perhaps one of the twentieth century's great devotional writers, with a depth absent in ninety-nine percent of evangelical "devotional" literature. A number of counter-cult ministries believe the Catholic Church is nothing more than a giant cult, an idea laughable when studying Christian history. (In my opinion, it's a bit like calling one's parent a non-relation.)

It is true that at least one of the NRMs (the Unification Church) does indeed have ties to the Christian Right. But it would be an interesting exercise overall to find out just how in sympathy with one another the leaders of the Christian Right and Countercult movements are. Again, their shared cultural mileu is something worth noting and analyzing carefully.

Anyway, enjoy the Sacred Tribes Journal... some of the articles are long enough that you may be reading it almost for as long as we worked on it!

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