'Another Gospel' is an uncomfortable read

Monday, December 6, 2004

In the last half-century, several movements espousing to be Christian have emerged with religious beliefs that do not fit with the common beliefs found in historic Protestant and Catholic creeds.

That is nothing new, though, as the 19th and early 20th centuries produced similar movements, many of which continue, often with an influence that seems disproportionate to their numbers.

A professor of missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich, author Tucker treads a firm line in maintaining her objectivity as she discusses points, some of them relatively discrete, where religious groups conflict with orthodox Christianity.

Her research includes interviews with key cult members and scholars, and on-site investigation of key cult centers.

The very word, "cult," is a problem, with many definitions. For her purposes, Tucker takes the approach that a cult is defined by a heretical teaching, conflicting with mainline religious teaching, be it Christian, Islamic or that of any other world religion. She notes that the Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, is approaching the status of being a world religion.

Readers may feel uncomfortable about what they read about faiths practiced by their friends and neighbors ---- faiths such as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Science, just to name some that have adherents in Carroll County. But as one reads, it becomes easier to see how such alternative religions movements meet people's needs.

With the help of an appendix containing the major tenets of Orthodox Christianity, the Christian reader can acquire a better understanding of his own faith. Other appendices address specific beliefs of the cults addressed in the book, and brief discussions of lesser-known cultic movements.

Tucker states that some of the movements she discusses are more heretical than others. Seventh-day Adventists have become more orthodox since that church was founded in the mid-19th century. The Worldwide Church of God has been in the process of reformulating its doctrine, for lack of a better term, since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong in 1986.

With other movements, the cultic nature is more readily apparent, such as the new messiah in the Unification Church; the Hookers for Christ evangelism, or Flirty Fishing, of the Children of God; the belief in the unity of all religions found in Baha'i; the dianetics of Scientology; and modern technology and the revival of pagan religious beliefs in the New Age movement.

Most of the movements addressed by Tucker have certain redeeming social qualities. Almost all, however, tend to separate adherents from society at large.

While most readers might be disturbed about the teachings of these various groups, Christians can well take to heart Tucker's observation that their success can be linked directly to orthodox Christianity's failures.

Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age Movement; by Ruth A. Tucker; 464 pages with notes, bibliography, index and appendices; paperback; $17.99; Zondervan.

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