Saturday, April 21, 2007

Interview with John Smulo

John Smulo is going to be joining us for the conference God for People Who Hate Church in a couple weeks. He will join me on a discussion panel as we talk with some local Neo-Pagans to discuss what they believe, and practice, and how they have been treated by Christians. There are not too many people as likeminded, and understanding toward developing relationships with the Neo-Pagan community as John. I can really track with this guy, and have been pleasantly surprised by his progressive, and intelligent thinking. I had you consider sending some support to JJ the Smu a few days back. If you like what you see, go here to support John Smulo. John also runs a site called Missional Apologetics.

So I asked John if he would do a quickie interview for me. Here it is:

PHIL: Give us a sense of your background in ministry. You've spent time in Australia, you've pastored, taught in Bible College, and worked with New Religious groups. Describe some of these experiences for us.

JOHN: I’ve taught at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. I was also the Founding Director of the School of Apologetics at the Centre For Evangelism and Global Mission at Morling College. I miss this a lot. I found it a supporting environment to explore creative evangelistic and apologetic approaches. I’m currently teaching at Capitol Bible College in Sacramento, California. It’s a very different environment compared to Morling, but I’m enjoying it and it’s a privilege to be able to teach.

I’ve been a pastor in Australia and the US. This has been a source of joy and pain for me. I’ve increasingly transitioned from traditional churches and pastoral ministry to more of a emerging missional church context. I’m currently at the initial stages of planting a church.

My work with new religious movements has especially focused on Pagans and Satanists, which are quite different from each other. This has involved the blessing of making a number of friends in both communities, and the opportunity to be involved in speaking at events such as Pagans in the Pub. I’ve also focused my writing in these areas, and sought to develop missional apologetic approaches that interact with Satanism and Paganism.

PHIL: Have you had any experience with severe misunderstanding, rejection, or mild persecution in your dealings with New Religious Movements, such as Neo-Pagans and Satanists?

JOHN: I’ve not only experienced severe misunderstanding, rejection and persecution from fellow Christians because of my friendships and involvement with Pagans and Satanists, I still continue to. The ironic thing is that overall I’ve experienced far more support, and very little criticism, from Pagans and Satanists. Some have even been kind enough to put up portions of my work on their websites. At times, they’ve done this even when its somewhat critical. I think that we’re able to have open and productive conversations when there’s mutual respect.

PHIL: What are your current hopes for evangelical Christianity in its relationship to New Religious Movements, and how do you see yourself helping make these changes come to pass?

JOHN: My hopes are somewhat low for evangelical Christianity in its relationship to New Religious Movements, and only mildly optimistic for those who associate with the emerging church. We have to overcome a significant part of church history that has been antagonistic to people of other faiths. We also have to overcome largely negative apologetic methodologies that typically create barriers instead of bridges. What I am optimistic about, however, is the fact that each of us can make a difference in this regard by loving people like Jesus did, using our ears more than our mouth, and seeing people through God’s eyes rather than our stereotypes.

As for how I see myself helping to make positive changes come to pass, I think that the best I can do is work with like-minded people such as yourself for change, while continuing to build healthy relationships with people of other faiths.


cern said...

John is a way cool dude. Spit, curse... I'm not going to be at the conference, getting to meet great people like John!

Heh, I was writing something on Johns Blog and he emailed me to ask me how I coped when certain people were being patronising. I'd only vaguely registered that they WERE! It's almost like he's more finely tuned to the potential offensiveness of others than I am... which I suppose is possible as I may have become de-sensitized to it all with the kinds of communication I've thrown myself into with some of the more negatively extreme flavours of Christian. :)

I can't help feeling John has got the right approach though, just as you do Phil. :)



Shiloh Guy said...

John and Phil,

Good interview! John sounds like the kind of guy I would enjoy getting to know. Thanks for the post!


John W. Morehead said...

Wish I could be at the conference with you guys. Great to see you two working together, and John getting some exposure. However, the photo with the story might scare some. It did me, and the guy's a close friend. :)