A Guide to New Religious Movements
Reviewed in conjunction with Encountering New Religious Movements, edited by Irving Hexham, Stephen Rost, and John W. Morehead II.
Encountering New Religious Movements consists of essays by the editors and ten other contributors from the United States, Canada, and Australia in a “Who’s Who” in apologetics and missiology. The contributors replace the term “cults” with “new religious movements.” The term refers to movements originating relatively recently—most within the last century. These movements include the Latter-day Saints, Christadelphians, LaVeyan Satanists, Wiccan and Mother Goddess devotees, and more. The book “proposes a missiological change from ridicule to empathy, from confrontation to incarnation, from strict apologetics to evangelism, from propositional to narrative” (p. 14). Part one looks at biblical and historical perspectives, part two addresses methodology issues, and part three provides practical application.
Some of the more valuable essays include Mikel Neumann’s “The Incarnational Ministry of Jesus.” He writes, “Most people find it difficult to accept something they perceive as an attack. . . .Without the benefits of incarnational ministry, we are often perceived as egotistical and arrogant. When our approach is only apologetic and not incarnational, resentment and resistance will often be the consequence” (p. 35). Howard Taylor’s “Contextualized Mission in Church History” is helpful in directing churches on being “faithful in [their] mission to these new religious movements and [in] offer[ing] a gospel that is relevant and contextual” as well as scriptural (p. 43). Extremely helpful is Stephen Rost’s chapter on “Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17,” which establishes a biblical basis for developing a paradigm for applying apologetics and missions to new non-Christian religious movements. David Hesselgrave’s pivotal chapter offers five helpful guidelines for communicating Christ and the Christian faith to adherents of traditional and new religious movements. Each essay ends with questions for discussion.
A Guide to New Religious Movements offers “to help serious, caring Christians to compassionately understand several contemporary religious movements and equip them to introduce people in those groups to Jesus our Lord” (p. 13). The contributors recognize that “evangelical Christians have focused almost exclusively on doctrinal concerns and neglected the psychosocial dimensions of these groups” (p. 13). Rather than totally examining new religious movements as “cults” and apologetically addressing just their doctrinal beliefs this book “is intended to demonstrate a more holistic approach . . . and includes insights of the social and behavioral sciences” (pp. 13-14). This helps readers study the basic content of the beliefs of these new movements and also better understand them internally, that is, both historically and sociologically. The contributors examine Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yoga and Hinduism, the Unification Church, the Latter-day Saints, the New Age movement, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, and more. LaVonne Neff’s chapter on “Evaluating New Religious Movements” is most useful, as are the conclusions and suggestions found in the other chapters. The authors assess the beliefs and appeals of each religion, and describe how Christians can respond to these beliefs with truth and love.