By Ole Skjerbæk Madsen, Missions pastor for Areopagos and Convener of Issue Group 16 and chair of the Lausanne network on Christian encounter with the new spiritualities
The work Issue Group 16 from the Lausanne gathering in Thailand in 2004 continued their work with a consultation in Hong Kong in 2006. Through this meeting the new missional apologetic paradigm to new religions and new spiritualities was discussed, as well as the work of the issue group since 2004, and future planning took place. This included plans for a conference in 2008 and preparations for the continued work going into the preparations for the Lausanne gathering in connection with the 2010 centenary of the Edinburgh meeting.
The consultation was a follow up on IG 16 of the Lausanne 2004 Forum in Thailand. The participants of IG 16 (LOP 45) and the 2006 consultation will continue their work as a Lausanne network on Christian Witness to New Religious Movements (NRM) and New Spiritualities (NS).
Through our sessions we confirmed the continuing development of an emerging new paradigm for a Christian engagement with the adherents and practitioners of NRM and NS.
This paradigm begins with and builds upon the insight of the 1980 Thailand report (LOP 11) that adherents of new religious movements are unreached peoples. The development of the NRM and NS affirms this insight in light of the spiritual reality of the Western world which calls for mission and Christian witness as a priority of the Western Church and Evangelical Christians. Furthermore the process of globalisation brings this development to the Two-Thirds world, especially in the big cities.
Since NRM and NS represent unreached peoples, they should be encountered missionally as any other unreached people group, i.e. the gospel should be contextually communicated to adherents and practitioners of new religions,
This new paradigm calls for an abandonment of the atmosphere of fear in the relationship with adherents of the NRM, of the automatic demonization of their spiritual practices, and of the typecasting of them as spiritual enemies.
The new paradigm looks upon the adherents of NRM and practitioners of NS as people whom God loves, potential disciples of Jesus Christ, and as neighbours for whom Christ died on the cross.
This does not mean that the discernment of spirits is abandoned in relation to NRM and NS, but it means that Christians should not be afraid of establishing friendships, of studying and understanding their beliefs, their practices, their hopes, their hurts, and their fears, and we recognize in and among ourselves the same beliefs, hopes, and fears shared in our common humanity and imago Dei.
In ministering among the people who comprise the NRM and NS, we are dealing with a group of people who many times have been deeply hurt by Christians, and who have suffered from rejection and suspicion from Christians. In the same group of people we find many who have misunderstood Christian teachings and practices, and who are unaware of the message and viability of Christianity in the post-modern world, but who nevertheless in their search for a spiritual dimension and meaning have found inspiration in new expressions of East Asian religions, in nature-based spiritualities such as Contemporary Paganism, Neo-Pagan movements, Wicca, and in various esoteric traditions.
A new paradigm includes learning from the NRM and NS, since their practice and beliefs may reflect the unpaid bills of the Church (LOP 45, par. H), or failures of the church in engaging significant issues, and in so doing, creating a vacuum filled by NRM and NS. This reflection, as well as the discerning of the points of contact and the areas of potential conflict (LOP 45, par. G), may help the Church to understand the questions of post-modern men and women, and this in turn may help Christians to proclaim the gospel by meeting actual concerns instead of answering questions which may be of interest to the Church but which are often not raised by the people we seek to engage. The recognition of these unpaid bills and points of contact may help the Church to find new expressions of its life and spiritual practice, which may contribute to an atmosphere and the creation of a revitalized Christian community where the spiritual seeker and the new follower of Christ may feel more at home in Church and accepted in Christian fellowship. In addition to these positive aspects, the new paradigm also recognizes the reality of syncretism and therefore attempts to exegete religious and spiritual cultures, critically reflects on religious practices in light of historic Christianity, and develops culturally relevant Christian practices.
The consultation participants shared experiences and insights from American, Australian, and European settings and discussed religious phenomenology and a missiological models for cultural engagement.
The participants decided to continue as a network of missiologists, practitioners, and scholars from the 2004 Forum IG as well as from this consultation, and from an invited group of participants over the course of the near future.
Goals and Conferences
The IG 16 reached its goals established in the 2004 Forum in Thailand concerning forming a network and establishing a web portal, but the network will continue to work at reaching its additional goals of producing resources and working on cooperative projects. These goals will be addressed in part at the conferences scheduled for 2008 and 2010.
The network plans a conference in 2008 at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, USA entitled “Post-Christendom Spiritualities: The New Unreached People Groups.” The aim of this conference will be to continue to define and develop the new paradigm of Christian witness to NR and NS.
In the time leading up to the conference a call for papers from scholars and missional practitioners will go out that will solicit suggestions for academic papers. Some suggested topics of praxis, theology and missiology include:
- Developing a missiological model for engagement with NR
- Defining Church in a post-modern world
- A sociological analysis of NRM and NS as the biggest mission field in the Western hemisphere
- The work of the Spirit in mission and New Spiritualities
- Contemporary spirituality in relation to Christian tradition in cross cultural mission and/or the study of world religions
- Creation and redemption in Christian theology
- Goddess spirituality and the theology of God
- Inter-religious apologetics in post-modernity
- The emerging church and emerging spiritualities
- Science and new religions
- The Christian and the paranormal
- Christian approaches to complementary or holistic medicine and energy healing
Co-authoring of papers will be encouraged, and critical responses will be sought to papers from experts in the appropriate fields.
In the time leading up to the conference, models and case studies of Christian witness to and presence among NRM and NS will be shared and prepared for workshops at the conference. The models and case studies may deal with subjects relating to the topics of academic papers and subjects such as:
- Ethos in participating in neo-spiritual events
- Offering guidance as Christians in relation to prophecy and divination
- Energy healing paradigm and Christian healing
- Material for discipling converts from NRM and NS
- The use of religious language in NS settings
- Worship and ritual for Christians working in the NS milieu
- Engaging with pluralist understandings of Jesus in NS
The conference is envisaged as taking place from a Thursday afternoon registration through Sunday lunchtime. The accepted abstracts will be used to produce a brochure for the conference with intention of attracting participants from a wide spectrum of academics and practitioners in the field.
The issue group will meet before and after the conference to ensure the material from the conference is taken forward to fuel progression in both learning and practice in this area.
One of the outcomes of the completion of the conference will be a book and other materials that will be produced as a record and collection of resources from the cutting-edge of theology and praxis in this area.
2010 Lausanne Congress
Concerning the 2010 Lausanne Congress, the Lausanne network on Christian Witness to NRM and NS envisage these issues:
- The need to recognise that the NRM and NS are major unreached people groups that encompass the globe, if not increasingly the major unreached people groups in the developed nations of the Majority World where they often represent mainstream spiritualities that often replace or supplant traditional religions (including Christianity).
- The new missiological challenge stemming from the spread and adaptation of such spiritualities as part of globalisation in developing nations.
- The close linkage of the New Spiritualities to the spiritual search of women and young adults and its importance to this area of mission amongst these groups.
We therefore believe that the importance of this issue requires representation in the main plenary sessions for Lausanne as part of the programme for the 2010 conference, and this issue group offers to work with the conference organisers to enable this to happen.
The participants of the consultation extend their thanks to Areopagos for providing scholarship support for the attendance and participation of several members of the network at this consultation.