Cult documents to be housed at MBTS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--When James Walker hears of another person converted to faith in Christ after years of deception in a cult, he rejoices at the news. But if that new believer is eager to discard newsletters and books filled with the false teaching that once entrapped him, Walker is likely to respond, "Not so fast!"
What is reasonably regarded as harmful literature can serve to enlighten those who study Christian apologetics. Former practitioners are just one source of materials that Walker and the staff of Watchman Fellowship acquire to build an extensive library of primary source material.
Over the past 30 years, materials from countless cultic groups that range from the New Age Movement to the Unification Church have been collected by scouring yard sales, used bookstores and family files.
Because making such materials available to seminary students will help equip future ministers recognize cultic deception and counter it with a Christian witness, Watchman Fellowship in placing part of its collection at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
"Our institution's interest in the Watchman library stems from our desire to understand and reach cultic enthusiasts with the Gospel," Thor Madsen, Midwestern's academic dean, said. "We trust that expertise gained from careful research in these materials will serve that end."
Such preparation is essential in a postmodern world in which the desire to find something to believe in remains strong.
"We might suppose that as America gives up Christianity, it will default to naturalism, which rejects all forms of religious belief," Madsen said. "What we actually see, however, is a turning to all sorts of do-it-yourself, garage-band worldviews, prime examples of which are studied by the Watchman Fellowship."
It was the frustration of being inadequately trained to answer the Jehovah's Witnesses who came to his doorstep that motivated Watchman founder David Henke to search for literature on the subject, contacting every author or organization for which he could find an address. In 1978 he became a full-time missionary to cults. The organization expanded to staff offices in eight states, involving many ministers with Southern Baptist ties.
Having been a fourth-generation Mormon, Walker walked away from serving as a deacon, teacher and priest in 1976, later studying theology at Criswell College in Dallas. Ten years after joining the staff of Watchman Fellowship, he became president in 1994, developing curriculum materials and leading conferences in local churches and theological schools.
"Our goal is to equip the body of Christ for discernment and evangelism, to educate the community to the dangers of religious cults and to evangelize those lost in cultic deception," Walker said.
He advises incorporating two elements for an effective witness to someone trapped in a cult: love and authority. An expression of personal concern and interest in the individual as a person, not just a cult member, communicates that love. Then a Christian relies upon the authority of God's Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. By helping cult members recognize the control being exercised by a person or group and how their faith has been misplaced, they become more open to the Gospel.
Walker combines original cult source materials with witnessing manuals to teach Christians an easy, practical and effective method of opening the eyes of cult members.
Watchman Fellowship's research library contains more than 35,000 volumes with about 10,000 files on cult-related issues. Original materials produced by groups such as the Church of Scientology, the New Age movement, Unification Church, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are among the holdings. Duplicate copies are being provided to Midwestern Seminary for use by students and other researchers.
"Our library eagerly anticipates the arrival of these new resources and we will find opportunities to share these resources with our students and the community," librarian Craig Kubic said.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.