John W. Morehead
John Morehead’s November 21, 2004 Letter to Ravi Zacharias
Dr. Zacharias and evangelical colleagues in ministry,
As a person who has worked in ministry to adherents of alternative spiritualities for many years, and who previously has served on the board of directors for Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, and on staff with Watchman Fellowship, I think it might be appropriate to share an alternative view that the concerns expressed by Mr. Press.
Before I begin, let me note something of my background and spiritual journey that has a bearing on my current perspective on the issues. Many years ago I was a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a Mormon splinter group), before becoming a Christian and an evangelical. I eventually became involved in ministry through the counter-cult community where I served for many years. During this time, and continuing today, I have approached the study of new religions (popularly labeled “cults” in evangelical discourse) from a multi-disciplinary perspective, most notably informed by missiology. As a result of my studies and practical field experience, I no longer approach new religions from the counter-cult model. Instead, I believe a more fruitful approach is to understand new religions (including Mormonism) as an unreached people group, and to utilize a cross-cultural missions model. My comments below should be understood from this perspective.
Background on the Temple Square event was provided to me through my colleague Greg Johnson. I find it amazing (shocking really) that this historic event was nearly brought to a hault, and continuing criticisms threaten a repeat of this in the future, not through complaints from Mormons or the LDS Church, but rather through evengelicals. And the criticisms as we find exemplified below have come through a specific part of evangelicalism, the counter-cult community.
I appreciate the work that many in the counter-cult have done over the years in helping the church to define and defend her theological boundaries. The Scriptures surely teach us that we must understand what we believe and why we believe it, and that when necessary, we must defend the faith delivered to the saints. However, in my view, and the view of a growing number of evangelicals internationally, the counter-cult method of heresy refutation results in an unnecessarily confrontational approach that builds more fences between evangelicals and those in new religions than it builds bridges. I fear that we have taken a handful of biblical texts that warn of false teaching *within* the church, and have used them inappropriately as a foundation for evangelism to alternative spirituality adherents outside the church. The church might be better served in the future by re-examining not only our attitudes, but also the Scriptures in order to recover a winsome, dialogical, and culturally-sensitive approach as modeled in a number of biblical texts (e.g., the Samaritan woman in John 4; Paul among the Pagan philisophers in Acts 17).
I’d like to pass along a few comments specifically responding to Mr. Press’ concerns about Richard Mouw’s comments in Temple Square. I believe it was entirely appropriate for Mouw to apologize for misrepresenting Mormonism, because we have. Evangelical polemics on Mormonism seem more interested in attacking 19th century Mormonism rather than understanding and responding to 21st century Mormonism and a religion that is in a state of flux (as are all religious traditions). A secular sociologist, Douglas Cowan, recently published a book entitled “Bearing False Witness?,” and in this book he documents the serious problems besetting the evangelical counter-cult community, not the least of which is misunderstanding and misrepresenting non-Christian religions. In light of the biblical command not to bear false witness agains our neighbor, is there not a place for a public apology to Mormons for our sins? Those of us adopting a new model for ministry to Mormons and other new religions believe there most certainly is.
Dr. Zacharias, you are to be commended for accepting the invitation to speak in Temple Square. And those leading evangelicals who participated in this event with you (Craig Hazen, Craig Blomberg, Joseph Tkach, Greg Johnson) are to be commended as well. You have modeled a new way of ministry that moves beyond fear, defensiveness, and confrontation to loving engagement that incarnates the gospel in culturally-appropriate ways so that the gospel may be understood.
I am encouraged by the Temple Square event, because it is yet another example that a new paradigm is emerging among evangelicals in response to new religions. The confrontational counter-cult methodology has seen its day, and God is doing a new thing. I am glad that you are a part of it, and that God is pulling together a growing network of evangelicals.
Yours in Christ,
John W. Morehead
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