Why a Christian would study Wicca, Astrology, or other Belief Systems

I would like to start with an excerpt from my favorite book outside of the Bible, Celtic Way of Evangelism. This is just a small excerpt that doesn't do the book justice. If you have never read this book, it is the one book out of all books written today that I would recommend.

"Generally, a mission team would visit a Celtic settlement, befriend the people, and engage in conversation and some presentation to 'make known God's gift and the eternal comfort He provides.' In time they would invite the people to confess faith and form into a church, but there was no manipulation, coercion, or force; they believed Christ wanted people's free response. They affirmed and built on every indigenous feature they could. They affirmed the Celtic people's religious aspirations, their sense of divinity's closeness, their belief in an afterlife, their love for creation and, as we have seen, their fascination with the number three. Celtic missionaries seem to have believed that God's prevenient grace had preceded them and prepared the people for the gospel. They seem to have believed that, just as Jesus came to the Jews not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, so he comes to every people 'not to destroy, but to fulfill' their religous tradition.

We can see this policy visually in the evolution of the tall Celtic stone crosses. When Patrick returned to Ireland, the Irish Celts already worshiped around tall 'standing stones.' The pillars stood as a symbol of the people's desire to reach up to the heavens and the High God; they stood as a symbolic link between heaven and earth. Once, when the people were more nomadic, a tall tree might serve as such a symbol; when they gathered into settlements, the standing stone became the favored symbol. When a people turned to the Christian faith, the people often 'Christianized' their standing stone by carving or painting a cross, the sign of the fish, or the Chi-Rho symbol on the stone, and it became a place made sacred for Christian worship. In time, this practice led to the sculpting, from tall stones, of tall standing Celtic crosses with the circle intersecting the cross. In time, biblical scenes and/or nature scenes were carved onto some crosses.

The Celtic Christian movement often built chapels on or near the grove, or the well, or the hill that had served as a sacred site for the primal religion. The sacred site would often retain its former name or a reminiscent name. Celtic Christianity often retained, and 'Christianized,' some of the prior religions's holy days, festivals, and ceremonies, thereby 'grafting' the new onto the old. Christian priests and monks often wore a clothing or hairstyle reminiscent of the people's former priest. Celtic Chrsitianity preferred continuity rather than discontinuity, inclusion rather than exclusion. Celtic Christianity was a fairly 'religion-friendly' movement.

It is important to note that Celtic Christianity's 'religion friendly' policy would not have been very controversial in the early Middle Ages; indeed, the Roman wing's mission practice often followed a similar policy. This is most memorably noted in the letter, which Bede has preserved for posterity, that Pope Gregory once sent to his missionaries at Canterbury. 'I have decided after long deliberation about the English people, namely that the idol temples of that race should by no means be destroyed, but only the idols in them. Take holy water and sprinkle it in these shirnes, build altars and place relics in them. For if the shrines are well built, it is essential that they should be changed from the worship of devils to the service of the true God. When this people see that their shrirnes are not destroyed they will be able to banish error from their hearts and be more ready to come to the places they are familiar with, but now recognizing and worshipping the true God...'

Gregory also directed a missiological response to the Angle practice of slaughtering cattle as sacrifices to devils. 'Do not let them sacrifice animals to the devil, but let them slaughter animals for their own food to the praise of God, and let them give thanks to the Giver of all things for His bountiful provision.'

We read about a similar way of evangelism in the Bible in Acts 17.

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For "In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring.' 29 Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Paul didn't avoid the pagan statues in the city of Athens. He went around and read them. Through reading them, he found a way to explain the Gospel to the Athenians. The Gospel never changes, but the way we go about telling it would change depending on our audience.

He also didn't avoid pagan literature. He actually quotes pagan writings to them to prove the Gospel rather than quoting Scripture.

We see this lived out in another story in the Celtic Way of Evangelism:

"(Another example) focuses upon a contextualized way to interpret the death of Jesus, developed by St. Aidan as he came to understand the history and values of the Anglo-Saxons of northern England. In A.D. 625, eight years befor Iona commisioned Aidan to Northumbria, Canterbury had commissioned Paulinus to the same region. Paulinus, in the traidion of Ninian, must have imported left-brained culturally Roman Christianity. Bede's account begins by asserting that 'the Northumbrian race...accepted the word of faith through the preaching of Paulinus.' Bede soon admits, however, that the 'heathen' were unresponsive to Paulinus's preaching and, indeed, Paulinus had to work 'to prevent those who had come with him from lapsing from the faith!' Paulinus did, however, make some progress with King Edwin and his associates, though the king did not immediately accept the faith.

One day a neighboring king sent a messenger to Edwin's court. Inside the scroll was a poisoned dagger. As the messenger charged to stab Edwin, one member of the court, Lilla, was close enough to step across and take the dagger in his own stomach. The dagger passed through Lilla's body and also wounded Edwin, though not fatally. That night Edwin's queen gave birth to a daughter. Following these two experiences, Edwin asked Paulinus to baptize his baby daughter and eleven other members of his household. In time, after more teaching and reflection (and in inviting letter from the pope), 'King Edwin, with all the nobles of his race and a vast number of the common people, recieved the faith and regeneration by holy baptism in...627'

In time, King Edwin was slain, and Paulinus moved on to serve the church at Rochester. One gets the impression reading Bede's sections on Aidan's ministry from Lindisfarne, that Aidan and his people found the number of common people who were converts, or even preevangelized, to be much less 'vast' than Bede's hype of Paulinus's earlier work suggested.

Nevertheless, Aidan built upon something important from that history. People told him the story of Lilla, King Edwin's associate, who had taken the poisoned dagger for the king. Aidan perceived that the courage, loyalty, and devotion that were embodied in Lilla's deed represented ultimate values in this people's culture. Indeed, the deed steeled their conviction that there would be no greater honor than to die for the king you serve.

David Adam reports that in Aidan's rhetorical response. Aidan told them that he and his people also served as the 'soldiers' of a King--for whom they were willing to risk wild animals, or hostile armies, or even death until this whole world becomes the Kingdom of their King.

Then Aidan added the punchline. He and other Christian soldiers represent the King who loved his soldiers and people so much that King laid down his life for them!

In dying, he won a kingdom for his followers. So Christians have a definite purpose for living, to serve Christ and to live for the glory of God in doing his will. They also have a definite reward. Soldiers on earth can only be rewarded if the king is the victor. Life is eternal, people are free, for Christ has won the victory."
When I started working in Farm Bureau's home office, my manager and a fellow co-worker were deeply involved in astrology. Their life seemed to be a roller coaster of crazed emotions, fatalism, and despair. I could've taken the approach that I would just tell them it was wrong because the Bible says so (which is probably a valid approach) and not communicate with them on their level. Instead, I went out and bought some books on astrology and read them. I was trying to find bridges in the astrological framework for the Gospel. I was trying to find places where believing in Christ would bring freedom. Then when we had religious conversations in the office, going out to eat, or at parties, I could highlight the areas where they wouldn't have to change - where I admired their devotion and faithfulness. There are things that astrology has right, just like (I assume) there are things that Wicca has right. But this didn't mean that I ignored the hard-hitting truths of the Bible. Not at all. But it allowed the hard-hitting truths of the Bible to be heard by affirming the other areas that are right.

In the process of teaching them where there faith is right and wrong, my faith is increased and sometimes improved. But then there are areas where they are way off and need to be lovingly corrected. The only way I can know where to correct them and where to affirm them is to know exactly what they believe. That is why I read books about astrology written by astrologists rather than by Christians who hate astrology. It's about dealing with them and their faith honestly. The whole reason for our discussion was redemption, not destruction.

I am happy to say that when I left Lansing, they had both became Christians and were going to church. I don't know where they are now, but I do know that our conversations were much more fruitful because I dealt with what they believed honestly. That is what I plan to do in studying Wicaa. The guy I know who follows Wicca is a great guy. He seems to have a good heart. I would assume that he has been burnt in the past by unhealthy church and unhealthy Christians. So far in reading Wicca there is a lot of common ground, but there are some serious gaps. I'll deal with these in future posts.

In all of it, I have to remember that it is about redemption and not destruction.

Watch out for the potholes.