what are ODMs?

December 17, 2008

ODMs are Discernment Ministries that have gone online.

Some have an offline presence: they pastor churches, write books, give invited talks, or host radio programs, but I’ll mostly focus on their online presence: weblogs, websites, email lists, and podcasts: mostly things I can quote, link, summarize, and contextualize.

What is a discernment ministry? Historically discernment ministries are countercult apologists. Walter Ralston Martin is the prototypical countercult apologist: a mildly ecumenical Baptist who focused his attention on groups on the perimeter of evangelical Protestantism, including Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. These are groups are largely or nearly Christian, but differ doctrinally in some important way, and correspondingly Martin’s focus was primarily doctrinal, as opposed to focusing on groups with fairly mainstream doctrine but peculiar behavior (e.g. separatists).

Similarly today’s ODMs focus on groups within Christianity that in their minds are (or are becoming) heterodox. They sometimes focus groups that are within mainstream Christianity but of a different tradition (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) and groups that mix and borrow between traditions. They rarely focus on actual cults (e.g. Branch Davidians, Jim Jones‘s People’s Temple) or directly on new non-Abrahamic religions (New Thought, Scientology).

As a footnote, there are probably online doctrine experts blogging about creeping heterodoxy in Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, but I don’t currently know what they call themselves or how to find them.

There’s a second major theme in ODMs concerned with broader cultural issues in (mostly) the United States. This is a more complicated problem since it isn’t strictly speaking a doctrinal issue, and it’s related to the question of whether one considers the United States a “Christian nation.” This is a prickly position, rife with implications, and I’ll try to deal with it carefully when it arises.

Finally: it’s reasonable to ask in what sense these groups are ministries, or these people are ministers; I don’t have a good answer for this question yet.

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