Resources for Christian Engagement with New Religions and Irreligious Spiritualities

Every now and then I get enquiries about “How do you share the gospel using tarot cards?” or “Where can I find papers from Philip Johnson now he isn’t blogging anymore?” or “How did we used to engage with people at Mind Body Spirit Festivals” or “What other resources do I have for engaging with people interested in New Age, Western Buddhism, and other new religious movements?”

Well if you are one of those people, or are just curious about what the hell I’m talking about, then this is the post for you. I have a bucket load of article here.

Now, there is some material I that I am not in a position to pass on because its either unpublished, or published but subject to some copyright restrictions, but what you should be aware of is that there is a gold mine of material freely available on the web from the Lausanne Group on Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality in the Western World (“New Age”), a group which included many friends and colleagues of mine and which thoughtfully explored many of these questions back some years ago.

The final paper produced was Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality in the Western World (“New Age”) and this should be the first one you look at. But there was a whole lot of background work done before that paper was published which in many cases included more detail. It is these papers I now draw to your attention to.  Being preliminary papers by individuals they should not be considered representative of the group as a whole, as there was considerable diversity within the group and differences over some issues, but I trust they will stimulate your thinking and hopefully encourage you to wrestle with some of the issues raised. They include reflections on Tarot, Astrology, Buddhism, Mormonism and New Age.

Drafts and suggestions to final statement

Suggested statement of IG 16
Annotated Bibliography on Astrology & Christianity
Suggested Bibliography
Suggested preface of a coming position paper or document
Forum Case Studies

Case studies:

Christian Naga Yoga
Exhibition evangelism and the local Church
Reaching Post moderns through “Seeker Course Evangelism”
In the Master’s Light booth ministry
Tarot read with Christian spectacles
Tarot Gospel Presentation
Bridging the Divide Cross-Cultural Mission to Latter-day Saints
Methods and Perspectives in Understanding and Reaching Satanists
Mission to Western Buddhists
Hinjews, JUBUs and New Age Judaism
Mormonism Case Study
The Iglesia ni Cristo
Gospel Choirs

Provided background papers:

New Age, NRMs etc:

An Introductory Training Manual on New Age
Moving New Religions from the Fringes to Mainstream
Astrology Paper by Johnson, Payne & Wilson
Encountering New Religious Movements
Evangelical Countercult Apologists Vs Astrology
The Aquarian Age and Apologetics

Western Buddhism:

Initial reflections on Buddhism in the West as an NRM
Love, Compassion and a Warm Heart
Mission to Western Buddhists – some practical case study reflections

Youth Spirituality:

Youth Spirituality in Rave Dance Cultures

General missiology and apologetics:

A Fresh Apolgetic Agenda for the 21st Century
Alternate Spiritualities as the unpaid bills
Mapping areas of affinities, mutual concerns and spiritual conflict
Revised Spiritual Reality of Our World Section
Statement from Salvation Army
The Disenchantment and Re-enchantment of the West
The Spiritual Reality of our Western World
Toward Contextualized Apologetic Through Astrology

20 thoughts on “Resources for Christian Engagement with New Religions and Irreligious Spiritualities

  1. Some of these articles are quite interesting. At least here are many people willing to ‘think outside the square’ (or some other modern business cliche). I guess my position is if the Church had anticipated the kinds of questions that were going to arise in about 1964 or so – and who could have?, although I suppose Vatican II made a good first start – and tried to provide at least a sense of adventure, rather than a sense of weary obligation to rote learning and careworn tradition, the perhaps they might have been driving this discussion instead of trying to jump on the bandwagon.
    My suspicion about New Age spirituality and even Western Buddhism is at least at deep as many of the writers here, although at this point in time I have to cast my lot with them. I guess I’d rather rub shoulders with a dolphin worshipper than a young-earth creationist, and I’m more likely to find the latter in Church.
    Our understanding of the cosmos and human affairs seems too mutifaceted and interdimensional now to subscribe to the still very linear cosmology of the Bible Story. Certainly there is a chance that I am being bamboozled by Old Nick in all of this, but it is one that I am afraid I will have to take.


  2. Well, I’m neither a dolphin worshipper (though I have been for prayerful walks with them) nor a young-earth creationist (though I share their commitment to monotheism) so I wonder where that leaves me in your estimation? I see the options as somewhat more expansive. Christianity for me is a living tradition that is as mutifaceted and interdimensional as the cosmos and Creator it engages with. And for me at least, post-modernity isn’t a bandwagon, I was there BEFORE I became a Christian. Christ just reframes it for me. I am wondering what your attitude to Jesus is?


  3. Well I regard Jesus as teacher, examplar, and all we could aspire to be – He is calling on us to be like Him (impossible as it seems, but He says it a number of times). To me Jesus is only meaningful if one responds to His call, if one actualy follows. You only follow what you really believe. What ‘actually following’ means is hard to see at times. It has not meant, for me, giving away all I have and following Him, although in an inner sense, I am learning that this is what is actually happening (just takes a long time!)
    The reason I practise meditation is because it clears a space within which “that” can become more clear to me. ‘Dharma’ provides an intellectual and cognitive framework within which the teaching of Jesus makes a lot more sense to me than within the Christian tradition of Augustine and Aristotle. Neither of these philosophers practiced Dhyana and so their understanding of ‘spiritual matters’ as they called them was duaistic. So I don’t see nearly as much conflict between ‘dharma’ and ‘gospel’ as most Christians do, but this is characteristic of the ‘oriental’ attitude. Most Christians think that this dilutes the importance of Jesus, but I don’t agree.
    If I had found the right interpretation of Jesus no doubt I would have stayed Christian, and in deep ways I still am. See The Heretical Imperative by Peter Berger.


  4. Interesting Jonathan, because I actually find myself agreeing with much of this. Although I regard Jesus as more than a teacher and exemplar I certainly do not regard him as anything less than that. In fact I would say that the highest form of worship is imitation of Christ, not ritual. Although ritual remembrance and celebration has its place, if you are not living the life you are not following, nor really believing. In following Jesus I have not been asked to give up everything, but I have been asked to reframe everything in light of his Lordship over my life. And yes, that is a process that takes time. In fact we can expect it to take our entire lives as our understanding of the implications becomes clearer and clearer.
    I would be helpful for you to clarify what you understand Dharma to mean and in what way it functions as an intellectual and cognitive framework for you. From my side you should be aware that I see neither Augustine’s theology nor Aristotle’s philosophy as essential to a Christian cognitive framework. Augustine was influential in the West, sure, but he represents one line of tradition only, not all, and even where it’s influential it is not considered gospel. As for Aristotle, he was Pagan. Given his influence in via the Greeks and Romans, Western Christians of various eras have found it necessary to explain themselves in light of his philosophy, but that’s a process we call contextualization. He holds no actual authority for Christianity as a whole. If you look further deeper into the history of Christianity you will see their influence is not universal, and southern Christian theologians in particular have been doing a lot of work towards articulating Christianity in alternative ways utilizing different thought categories.
    I myself am heavily critical of the mind-body dualism that has often been espoused by Western Christians in the past. It was not native to the Hebrew context of Jesus, it is not essential to Christian thought today, so where it is problematic we can abandon it without a second glance. I understand some Christians still have an attachment to that paradigm but I am not one of them. I don’t think it dilutes the importance of Jesus, and once it is recognized that the centre of gravity of the Christian movement has shifted to the south this century, it becomes clearer that far more Christians think this way than most westerners suspect. I would encourage you to read more on eastern Christian theology.


  5. I do find the Eastern Orthodox traditions very attractive although they are somewhat culturally alien. I mean, I would have trouble identifying with that tradition, not being Greek or Russian. Nevertheless the Vladimir Lossky book ‘Mystical Theology of Eastern Faiths’ I think is a very profound book. (Apparently had a big impact on Rowan Williams.) I also have a really interesting book called ‘Different Kind of Christianity’ by Robin Amis.
    Dharma is ‘sacred law’ or the underlying order of everything. I don’t know if there is a corresponding term in the West. The reasons it provides a framework are probably much too deep and diverse to be explained here.
    Thanks for the feedback, I will keep visiting. Very interesting site and diverse array of viewpoints.


  6. Further to my previous comment – I have read the ‘Unpaid Bills’ article, about how the alternative religions represent shortcomings in the way religious teaching has been construed in the West. I think this is basically true for me also. I went looking in the Eastern traditions precisely because I had questions, and experiences, which generally speaking weren’t dealt with at all in the traditional Church. However, I don’t think I will be coming back (to the Church, I mean, not the site:-)


  7. From the Unpaid Bills of the Church:
    In the section on ‘Fall and Creation’, we read: “Karmic understandings of suffering and evil are widely accepted among Westerners. Western views of karma tend to incorporate it in a narrative about spiritual progress and evolution, which is positive and forward-moving.”
    Perhaps the reason it is “widely accepted among Westerners” is that the idea of the “evolution of consciousness” towards the eventual spiritual fulfillment of all beings is both more satisfactory, and more plausible, than the orthodox doctrines of Eternal Damnation, the Day of Judgement, and the resurrection of the dead!


  8. In response to your question about how Dharma provides a framework, this article nails it prtty well:
    From which I quote:
    “Dharma is not religion!…Dharma is non-divisive, non-exclusive, and non-conclusive. Dharma is a quest for understanding cosmic order of the universe and consciousness order at a personal level.”


  9. Jonathan, I have always thought the ‘Unpaid Bills’ article was one of Philip’s best. Its certainly the one I go back to most frequently. Glad you found it of valve. Even though you have no intension of coming back to the Christian fold its encouraging for me to see that its at least scratching in the right place. I’ll have a think about the rest of your comments over the next few days.


  10. Revelation versus Enlightenment
    I have been thinking about this a lot more. One major question has formed for me, for which I am not looking for a yes-or-no answer. The question is – does the idea of ‘enlightenment’ in the sense of ‘moksha’, ‘nirvana’, or ‘spiritual liberation’ exist in Western civlization generally, or in the Western church, in particular?
    I am inclined to think that it doesn’t. I think there are individuals within the tradition who understand it, and marginal and minority traditions that do, but I think it has always been denied by the ecclesiastical authorities, and that there is a good reason for them to deny it.
    Big question, I know.


  11. I would phrase it this way, the emphasis in Christianity is on ‘enlivenment’ more than ‘enlightenment’. Think ‘resurrection’ in contrast to ‘pari nirvana’. Wisdom and awakening is spoken of, truly it is, but often in a deeply paradoxical way that relativises its value.
    An important book here is 1 Corinthians, particularly chapter 1, where Paul inverts the normal understandings of foolishness and wisdom, and chapter 13, when Paul holds up faith, hope and love as higher than knowledge and wisdom. Proverbs is another important book, particularly the passage which asserts fear (i.e. awe, respect) of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom. There is a sense that any God who is truly God will transcend our capacity to put him in mental boxes. Rather than speak of attaining enlightenment we speak of ‘the light’ seeking us out. God takes the initiative. There is a denial we can transcend the self through self effort. Other effort is required. It is not that we know but that we are known.
    Ecclesiastes is also worth a read here too, full of cynical wisdom as it is, but note that the last chapter reframes everything that comes before it.
    The closest we see to this understanding in Buddhism is Pure Land Buddhism; in Hinduism the cat school of Bhakti yoga.
    Note: This is not to say that Christians should not seek God out in meditation, but we do not see it as having any salvation value. Worship is ‘right attitude’ for all Christian disciplines.


  12. I would never dispute the truth, nor the beauty, to be found in Corinthians. It was read at my wedding (and those of countless others.) However it doesn’t really come to terms with the question that is occupying me. But I don’t wish to argue the point. I really respect and appreciate the great work you are doing here, and the many risks you are taking in doing it. Peace be yours.


  13. Maybe I didn’t understand the question well enough. Part of the problem here is language, part of the problem is that different religions have genuinely different concerns. Feel free to stir the pot and help enlighten me.
    Oh, and don’t be concerned with any risks on my part. Firstly, my church is reasonably easy going, being full of Aussies. Secondly, I avoid senior roles that would create conflicts of interest. Thirdly, one more heresy accusation would hardly make much of a splash. And most importantly, risks are fun.


  14. Here’s a question. Do you think the saying, of children, ‘he (she) is an old soul’ – has any actual meaning?


  15. There are number of ways to interpret the symbolism found in tarot Cards. There are various points that exists about what each card means or represents. This is just one way of interpreting them. When you understand this method you will find it to be extremely accurate.


  16. Astrology symbols are not the discovery of the century. People know about the astrology symbols for many years. For many years astrology symbols have been used to stand for the different signs of the zodiac. The symbols represent certain zodiac signs so that zodiac signs can be distinguished from one another. If you learn the meaning behind the astrology symbols you realize that they are easy to remember and to recognize.


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