Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Brother, can you paradigm?

John Morehead said:

“When viewed from this perspective, the presence of a book by an evangelical en publisher that articulates a Mormon neo-orthodox or minimalist theology tends to provoke a defensive response by evangelicals, as we see in the new Robert Millet book.”

Actually, John, if you were to pay closer attention to what I wrote, you’d notice that I never talked about the propriety or impropriety of Eerdmans publishing Millet’s book.

I happen to agree with the critics, for all the reasons they’ve given—which I need not reiterate here. But I decided to bypass that aspect of the controversy since what Owen went on to say was so much worse than the publishing angle--which was the least of it.

As to Lausanne—since you refer me to it, I’ll assume, for discussion purposes, that you agree with it. If not, it’s up to you to issue your own disclaimers.

1.There is a charismatic flavor to Lausanne, as it seeks “new direction from the Holy Spirit.”

This is contrary to sola Scriptura. Perhaps you reject sola Scriptura. If so, the difference runs deeper than missionary methodology and evangelistic strategy. Are you saying that a missionary should be a charismatic?

“Practical Angelology?” Where do you intend to go with this? Are you saying that we should reply on angelic apparitions for guidance in life?

Where decision-making is concerned, a good place to start is Bruce Waltke’s book on the subject.

2. There is a political flavor to Lausanne, and a far left flavor at that, what with its pacifism and Swiss-style neutrality. Are you saying that a missionary should be opposed to just-war theory?

There are times when we must make a choice between attempting to save the enemy and saving ourselves, or saving the church from the enemy.

And I’d add that “talking” about peace does not make you a peacemaker.

Or take this statement: “Evangelicals have an appalling lack of regard for caring for God’s creation and naming that environmental destruction as a sin.”

Are you saying that a missionary must be a member of the Green Party? How do you define biodegradation, anyway? And where are the Scriptural references to this particular “sin”?

This sounds like radical chic opposition to technology by those who enjoy a hi-tech lifestyle.

Then we have this statement: “Animal Theology…Many adherents of New Spiritualities are opposed to the destruction of species, the treatment of animals as commodities, and medical experiments on animals.”

So a missionary ought to be a disciple of Peter Singer? A missionary should be a radical animal rights activist? He should value the life of a lab rat above a child in the cancer ward?

Here’s another example: “In this regard the Church needs to rediscover the positive biblical teachings about females and males in the original creation and in Jesus’ kingdom teachings.”

Is this code language for feminism? Must a missionary be an egalitarian?

To the extent that many cults and non-Christian cultures are “patriarchal,” what you are proposing here is the very opposite of being sensitive to other cultures and ethnicities. You are trying to impose your liberal values on illiberal cultures and subcultures.

And yet another example: “Christians find the notion of tolerance both threatening and difficult. We must be tolerant. This does not mean that we agree, but rather that we politely disagree, accepting differences while respecting the other person. Tolerance defends the dignity of the other person and their right to live according to their spirituality.”

Notice, once again, that this is the antipode of cross-cultural evangelism. Rather, it’s countercultural.

Speaking for myself, I have no duty to defend the rights of a jihadist.

3. You are very soft on unbelievers and very hard on believers involve in countercult ministry. Your selective charity is conspicuous.

4.There is a heavy emphasis on buzzwords like “relational,” “incarnational,” “holistic,” “alternative spirituality seekers.” But words do no work.

5. On the one hand, Lausanne criticizes “armchair” apologetics.

On the other hand, there is an elitist flavor to Lausanne, with its fawning attitude towards academia, the “social sciences,” and peer review. What is the direct connection between “street-life realities” and the halls of Harvard, Stanford, or MIT?

“Perhaps we need to briefly wear the moccasins of a devotee of a new religious movement and reflect on how they must feel when we label their faith as a ‘cult.’" They had worn those moccasins all their life.

It’s my impression that many men and women working in countercult ministries came out of a religious cult—as even Philip Johnson makes note of. As such, they already have all the “field” experience they need.

It is striking how Lausanne assumes that an education from a secular university is superior to an unaccredited Bible college.

One mark of the “social sciences” is statistical analysis. So where are your stats? What hard statistical data do you have to show that your missionary methodology is more effective than traditional countercult ministry? Has Paul Owen’s touchy-feely style won him more converts than, say, the Tanners?

6.This material reminds me of how environmentalists talk about oil companies. The environmentalists tell other people to invest R&D in alternative fuel sources. They don’t invest their own R&D in such a project.

If you have a better way of reaching the unreached, then show us how. Do it yourself. Set an example. My impression is that most countercult ministries are already overworked and underfunded.

7. You fail to draw some elementary distinctions in apologetics, depending on the audience and the medium. There’s a difference between the written word and the spoken word, between mass communication and one-on-one communication.

If you judge countercult ministries only by their books, then, of course, you will get a very bookish impression of countercult ministry. This is an illusion due to your lopsided selection criteria. How much fieldwork have you done with countercult ministries?

“A written argument lacks many of the essential interpersonal elements required for evangelism and missions.”

Trivially true. That doesn’t stop you from recommending your own literature, viz., Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach.

Christian cults and false religions churn out books to promote their point of view. Countercult ministries churn out books to rebut their claims. Yes, this has a brain-in-a-vat feel to it, but we’re answering the cultist on his own level. There is more than one level on which to answer him. But that is one level at which he must be met.

The fact that countercult ministries use the word “cult” doesn’t mean they use it when witnessing to a cult-member, mono-a-mono.

The Bible uses some rather choice language to describe unbelievers: “children of darkness,” “children of the devil,” “stiff-necked,” “uncircumcised.” But this is in-house talk. It is not how we address the unbeliever in a witnessing situation.

Likewise, the ferocious tone of the debate over Eerdmans and Paul Owen is an in-house debate.

8.You underestimate the power of ideas. Yes, most folks are not ideologies. But ideology has a trickle down impact. One reason Europe is so secular these days is the dominant ideology.

You also have a way of caricaturing cult-members. Cults have their share of intellectuals. Ever heard of BYU? Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam have a philosophical tradition.

9. You draw a false dichotomy between heretics and the unreached.

10. Take another false antithesis: “We currently present and understand God in concrete, cognate, propositional terms, rather than in relational and trinitarian terms.”

This is just gibberish. To what are we relating? In this life we live by faith, not by sight. To follow Jesus is to believe in certain revealed propositions about Jesus, and then act upon them.”

11. “Wrong Context, Wrong Texts. Those biblical passages that are foundational to this apologetic model, when read in context, are not dealing with evangelistic issues. These passages are directed at Christians where correct doctrine was in dispute. Texts refuting false prophets apply to contexts within the Church. Paul rebuked heretics who were inside the Church and his main complaint was against teachers who believed that Gentile disciples should be circumcised. New religions are by definition located beyond the walls of the Church.”

This is semantic double-talk which equivocates over the meaning of “Christian” and “church.” Is a Christian heresy “inside” or “outside” the church? These reproofs are directed against apostates and false teachers. It begins in the church. Moves from one church to another. At some point it becomes a breakaway movement. There is no material difference here than in the case of modern-day Christian heresies like Mormonism and the

And it’s not just Paul (2 Corinthians; Galatians). It’s also Peter (2 Peter), John (1 John; Revelation), and Jude.

Then we have Philip Johnson bringing up Acts 17. What planet is he living on, anyway? Does he suppose that countercult ministries don’t view Acts 17 as an apologetic paradigm? He knows better than that.

Now, not all cults and false religions are Christian heresies (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, astrology, necromancy). But in that respect you can classify them according to the more general and Scriptural categories of idolatry.

12. “We see adherents as people who are made in God's image and not as some version of Frankenstein's monster or Dracula that must be dispatched by metaphorically burning or driving a stake through them.”

You really think that’s a fair characterization of the premier countercult ministries?


  1. Thanks so much Steve for taken the opportunity to join this conversation. In my humble opinion, we need more individuals who have a strong theological, historical, etc. background to help in this fight.

    Now, let me first state that I myself, and I know others have as well, been round and round with Mr. Morehead on these matters.

    Mr. Morehead was once one of us and because his ideas were not sticking, he decided to leave us ("us" referring to Countercult apologists). That, of course, is his prerogative and I don't necessarily have a problem with it. The problem comes is when he describes the work of others in Countercult ministry. Mr. Morehead is off base and you have been able to pick up some of this (e.g. book writing vs one-on-one, etc...).

    John has taken is paradigm not from the text of scripture, but from the social sciences (aka Peter Berger) and the work of Doug Cowan, whom the cults just love. But, hey so should I, since my name is mentioned twice and the book sell for $70. John has also bought into the Emergent Church stuff.

    In all my conversation with John, it ends up with him telling me that I do not understand his position and that I need to read the social science and missiological material. And until then, I will not be enlightened. The fact is, I think I have a good handle on where John is coming from and it is not all bad. As a matter of fact, I think review of his article in Encountering New Religious Movements was balanced.

    I look forward to seeing where this is going to go.

    FWIW: A lot of the material Mr. Morehead presents in the article that appeared in Encountering New Religious Movements can be found in this (PDF) article.

  2. Steve, I don't think appealing to all that is wrong with Lusanne is more than the genetic fallacy. However, your other points are much stronger. Mr. Morehead seems to be using similar language to the postmodern/emergent church proponents. I've been perusing those blogs and it helps provide context for what Mr. Morehead is speaking about. Not that it makes his propositions true, just converges with alot that is emerging. Feel free to visit the Umblog for this outsider's looks into the emergent.

  3. I don't see a genetic fallacy lurking here. The fact that you and I disagree with Lausanne at this juncture does not mean that Morehead does. Since he himself referred the reader to Lausanne, the onus is on him to distance himself from whatever he disagrees with, assuming he disagrees with any of it.

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