Students learn New Age ideas & ways to reach its adherents
ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--"New Age" ideas are nothing new to Ted Cabal.
Even before this modern movement was named and in vogue, the young Cabal held beliefs common to the fastest growing religion in the Western world.
Now a Christian, Cabal joined other instructors teaching a June 7-9 "New Age" conference sponsored by the North American Mission Board's interfaith evangelism team. His past provided students unique insight into an increasingly prominent worldview.
"The purpose [of the class] was very clear and I think successfully met, and that was to equip Christians to understand and effectively reach New Agers with the gospel," said Cabal, dean of Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., the undergraduate program of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
More than 100 students from various Southern Baptist seminaries, colleges and churches took part in the conference. Southern Seminary student Dan Odle was one.
"I really hope this leads to taking the gospel to the world -- not just the world that looks like me," said Odle, a master of divinity student from West Frankfort, Ill.
As part of the conference, students not only attended sessions but also experienced a wedding in a Religious Science church and toured a metaphysical bookstore.
The 20 Southern and Boyce students in attendance received credit for the conference. Class requirements for the seminarians included eight hours of witnessing experience with New Agers. Odle has already completed his hours, but he is ready for more.
On Saturday, June 10, Odle presented the gospel to three New Agers, including the Wiccan owner of the metaphysical bookstore. Odle spent two hours witnessing to the 29-year-old soon-to-be high priestess.
Each New Ager among Odle's encounters shared one common characteristic -- all were disenchanted with the Christian church.
"Somebody didn't minister to them at a very critical point in their life, turned them off to Christianity and set them on a course of looking for whatever they could find meaning in," Odle said.
"That was really to me a very convicting thing," Odle continued. "How many people do we have in our churches and are visiting our churches who are at a crisis point? Are we going to drop the ball, or are we going to minister to them in the name of Jesus?"
The ministry of the church becomes even more crucial with the growth in popularity of New Age ideas, Odle added. But the danger of the movement stems not only from its pervasiveness but also from its subtlety, he said, noting that ideas such as universalism, relativism and "looking within yourself" all have roots in the New Age movement and are believed by certain people who embrace Christianity.
"Many Christians who claim to be evangelical and born again see no conflict between New Age and Christianity," Cabal said, "and, in fact, hold New Age ideas such as other religions being equal ways to salvation."
Most Christians, he said, think of New Age religion in connection with its extreme advocates -- witches, astrologers and ecotheologists. However, the New Age movement is much more diverse, he noted, and many other groups dwell under the New Age umbrella.
"There is no one New Age religion," Odle said. "There isn't one single pattern that they're going to follow."
Because of the differences in worldviews and beliefs, witnessing to New Agers differs from traditional evangelism.
"You have to determine first of all what is their understanding of God, what is their understanding of truth, what is their understanding of reality," Odle said.
A listening ear also is crucial as the Christian carefully dialogues with the New Ager and shows contradictions in his or her basic beliefs. Patience and relationships must be employed as well.
"It isn't like you're going to show up, knock on the door, present the gospel and they're going to get down on their knees and be saved," Odle said. "You have to develop a relationship, some common understanding."
But the conversation must always lead to a "gospel clash," Odle said.
"It's more than just talking about New Age. But at some point you have to create this gospel clash where the Word of God conflicts with what they believe," Odle said.
With this knowledge of the movement itself and witnessing principles, Cabal hopes the students will teach other Christians to reach out to New Agers.
"I'm very hopeful as these people go out and train others that we're going to be a lot more effective not only in preventing people in our churches from following New Age ideas, but we are going to be a lot more effective in winning New Agers to Christ," Cabal said.