From confrontation to incarnation

November 7, 2005

‘EUROPE IS FILLED WITH BELIEVING UNBELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVING BELIEVERS’. So said Daniel Hari, a soft-spoken former Salvation Army officer from Switzerland, at the recent Evangelism in a New Age consultation in Basel. Hari explained that the disciples came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God because of his power for healing and other miracles. Yet while today the belief is widespread that Jesus is the Son of God, his power is not widely known.

The consultation, organised by YWAM Europe on behalf of the Hope for Europe evangelism network, was attended by representatives of several missions and local churches from Sweden, England, Ireland, Austria, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.

Hari, who regularly holds healing seminars at body, soul, mind fairs, claimed that miracles were good news for New Agers. Signs and wonders reached spiritual seekers where dogma and apologetics often failed. Jesus never told his disciples to pray for healing for the sick, explained the unassuming Hari matter-of-factly; he just told them to heal the sick. Healing the Jesus way was for everyone, he claimed. ‘Just read the gospels as if they were true!’ he challenged his audience.

Naïve and unrealistic? Hari practises what he preaches. Days after the consultation, Hari was due back in Basel to hold healing seminars at the annual Psi-Tagen festival, one of the biggest psychic healing fairs in the world. He described how New Agers lined up for healing at his stand at this event in recent years, and after experiencing a healing touch, readily turned around to pray for others.

Hari invites his esoteric audiences to attend week-long Omega seminars at a retreat centre, where they receive further teaching on Jesus. There they are invited to pray a prayer to the Highest Being in the universe:
Are you really a Father who is following what I’m doing? Did you reincarnate in Jesus, and live as a human being? If so, please reveal yourself to me.

John Warwick Montgomery, known the world over for his stalwart defence of the gospel both in writing and in debates with such outspoken atheists as Madeline Murray O’Hare, concurred at the consultation with the need to help the seeker through a tender-minded approach, seeking common ground. But tough-minded apologetics was also essential, he said, to help the seeker eventually see objective truth and reality. It was essential not to let New Agers compartmentalise the world, he urged. We all lived in the same reality and spiritual seekers had to recognise and accept that reality, including the ultimate reality of death. The Resurrection of Jesus, testified to by credible eyewitnesses, was a key element in the good news New Agers needed to hear, said Montgomery.

A third speaker at the consultation, Jonathan Campbell, emphasised the need for demonstrations of love as well as truth and power, and for new wineskins for new believers from New Age backgrounds. Workshop sessions also included a study of the Apostles’ Creed as the Church Fathers’ response to gnosticism and other spiritualities of the early centuries, and an analysis of The Da Vinci Code as a case study in contemporary gnosticism.

Despite his last-minute absence, keynote speaker John Drane urged his listeners, through a recorded message and screenshow, to follow the incarnational model of Jesus. There were no ‘no go’ areas, he stressed. Just as Jesus engaged with the woman at the well, we should go to where the people were, and not focus on bringing seekers into our safe places and church cultures.

Highlights included the alternative worship sessions engaging Celtic prayers and songs, an interactive contemplation on water (a scarce cosmic commodity known only to planet earth), and a meditation on Rembrandt’s painting, The return of the prodigal, in which the Father embraces the returning son (spiritual seekers?) while a condemning older son looks on (the established religious community?). The final evaluation session, involving group discussion, was also named a highlight by at least one participant as consensus was expressed for future consultations to be held annually, preferably overlapping with the Psi-Tagen in Basel, allowing for practical application and demonstration.

Before returning home, we scanned through the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Religious and Non-religious Spirituality, compiled at last year’s Lausanne Forum in Pattaya, Thailand. This excellent 70-page document (see: was the ideal homework document, as a reputable summary of topics addressed in the consultation, and much more (including a brief description of how and why Tarot cards can be used in explaining the gospel to esoterics! See ww 17 oct 05 Tarot for dummies).

The paper, principally drafted by two of Drane’s co-authors, Philip Johnson and Ross Clifford, suggests a ‘fresh pathway for meeting the New Spiritualities’:
“We are urging the church to reconsider relying solely on confrontational apologetic methods when responding to new religious movements and alternative spiritualities. Our call entails shifting confrontational styles to a relational form of outreach that missiologists call a critical incarnational approach.
“All over the world Christians are meeting followers of new religions and world religions at a time when new technologies and social changes abound. Once Western Christian missionaries met these faiths only in Asia and Africa. Now Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic believers meet us in all Western countries. The new religions form global sub-cultures of unreached people groups. The broad brushstrokes of modern history suggest to us that here we have a fresh missional challenge that cannot be avoided. This is a new frontier for missions.”
“…If we look to Jesus’ way of communicating with people, He was relational with those He sought. If Jesus were visiting our churches He would probably rebuke us as He did the Pharisees, but He would treat a Mormon, a Wiccan and a New Age adherent in the same way He treated the woman at the well (John 4). Similarly, when Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers he did not commence his oration by branding them as either heretics or demonic emissaries (Acts 17).”

The following recommendations of the Lausanne paper are among the many pertinent suggestions to be heeded by leaders and students, evangelists and pastors, all over Europe and the West in general – in YWAM schools, theological seminaries and mission conferences:

· Recognise New Religions as Unpaid Bills of the Church – When the Church fails to address important issues then new religions are all too quick to fill the void. Just as the ancient heresies provided an opportunity for the early Church to provide a greater clarity of teaching, the presence of the new spiritualities in response to our failings provides an opportunity for the Church to sharpen her confession and witness.

· Develop incarnational ministries to new spiritualities – We suggest that churches:
1. Come to a balanced understanding of the New Spiritualities. We must listen and comprehend before we offer criticism.
2. Offer a holistic response that involves cross-cultural missions combined with contextual apologetics.
3. Develop new expressions of church that seek a culturally relevant missional presence in the midst of the New Spiritualities.
4. Reappropriate expressions of spirituality from the Christian past, including different forms of spiritual disciplines, pastoral care and spiritual direction. Also seek to develop new expressions of spirituality.
5. Create workshop-based and experientially-oriented introductions to Christian spirituality, discipleship, and faith.
6. Develop different forms of outreach such as booth ministries at New Age festival

s and other forms of incarnational presence at neo-spiritual events.
7. Engag
e in forums (including the I
nternet) for conversations that are nonconfrontational between well informed Christians and New Spirituality practitioners.

· Prepare to be welcoming communities – We should:
1. Revise the theological agenda of the local church and Sunday school to include world and new religions as vital parts of the curriculum for the education of pastors and laypeople as a necessary part of living as Christians in the contemporary world.
2. Explore creative and experiential workshops and services to include topics such as meditation and healing.
3. Reformulate pastoral care and spiritual disciplines to address the insights gained from an interaction with the needs of those engaged in the new spiritual quest.

· Encourage youth to have an inquiring faith – A church that stifles inquiry or tries to control youth with trite answers about other religions, will forfeit youth loyalty. Simplistic “pat answers” to questions about other religions or New Age must be avoided. Our youth need to be able to develop life skills in their faith that prepare them as adults to live in a multi-religious society. We suggest churches:
1. Create discussion groups where the practical problems of life, faith and other beliefs can be explored without inhibitions, so that youth are empowered to discover for themselves how to live in a multi-religious world.
2. Explore the lives of biblical characters like Joseph, Ruth, Daniel and Paul, and discover how their faith survived and was strengthened by living in multi-religious contexts. 3. Invite returned or retired overseas missionaries to interact regularly with youth groups about how they lived in a different religious context and then explore ways in which those experiences help illuminate living in one’s homeland.
4. Foster genuine friendship with youth who follow other pathways (and not disingenuous social contact that is based on the unbiblical idea “I’ll only be your friend if you repent and follow Christ”).
5. Encourage suitably talented young people to pursue training in missions and mentor those who have a vision for contextual ministries in the community. Churches also need to explore fresh ways in which the foundational beliefs of Christianity can be taught and reinforced to children and youth, while also teaching them appropriate ways to share their faith with their peers. In a religiously plural environment the Church must pass along the Christian faith to the young and nurture it, while also fostering evangelistic attitudes and styles that move beyond the defensive and confrontational approaches of the past.

Meanwhile, we have all returned from Basel greatly challenged to follow Jesus’ model of incarnational engagement with the spiritual seekers of his day.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain
p.s. Messages and papers from the Basel consultation are available in mp3 and pdf format. For further information, contact

Till next week,

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