Western Christians Are Still Grappling With Influences From Animists, Says Bible Translator

A Ouija board.

Christianity in developed countries still grapples with encroachments of animism, according to a Bible translator who has experience witnessing to animists.

Cambridge Dictionary defines Animism as a "belief that all natural things, such as plants, animals, rocks, and thunder, have spirits and can influence human events."

Ken Nehrbass, associate professor at Biola University and member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, talked about animism last week in a Dallas Theological Seminary podcast hosted by professor Darrell Bock called "The Table."

Nehrboss explained that western societies like the United States have elements of animist thinking "in our modern vocabulary."

"I'm sending you positive energy. Just think good thoughts, the sense that you can control your environment by what you think. Sometimes we talk about having bad luck and I'm not sure if that means just a misfortune or that it's something that somehow accumulates around you," noted Nehrbass.

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(Screenshot: YouTube/Dallas Theological Seminary)Ken Nehrbass, associate professor of Intercultural Studies and Program Director of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, talking about animism in a Dallas Theological Seminary podcast hosted by Professor Darrell Bock in May 2018.

"Or if someone says deaths happen in three or calamities come together. Somehow there's something in the supernatural world that's causing tragedies to run together. I think that the way it encroaches in our Christian faith a lot is this sense that if something bad happens, I must've done something wrong, which of course there is" ... "it can be a view of God's sovereignty and God being involved in the universe."

Nehrbass went on to cite more examples, arguing that there is "a branch of animism that has continued along in western society and in new age charms and amulets."

"Crystals were popular in the 1980s. I don't know what the equivalent would be now, but other behaviors related to animism, even getting high on marijuana, for instance, is often used in societies as a way of communicating with spirits. And somehow entering a different, a more supernatural state," continued Nehrbass.

The podcast episode centered on "respectfully engaging animism." Nehrbass explained to Bock that witnessing to an animist can be easy in the respect that they tend to be "very happy to talk about supernatural," but challenging in explaining how "God is loving and sovereign."

"Often animists see God as subservient to the rules. The rule is what goes around comes around, that bad deserves bad," explained Nehrbass.

"There's no way around it, but to show that God is actually above that and that He can forgive sins, ... that he's loving and not just an impersonal force. You can't just say it once and someone will be convinced. It does take a lot of conversations on if God's father, what does that mean? Is he loving? Why do you suppose He created us?"

Nehrbass' comments about animism persisting in western society comes months after a California professor performed a libation ceremony at a Hollywood church meant to summon the spirits of African-Americans killed by police.

Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, performed the ceremony at Hollywood United Methodist Church in January.

"This is also a spiritual struggle, so it's appropriate that we're here in this setting (a church). And it's also important that we summon the right energy into this space no matter what faith you are. We have to understand what the struggle is about," stated Abdullah during the ritual. "So this is ancestral and spiritual work that we must do. So we are going to pour libation in the names of our ancestors, in the names of those who struggle right now."

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