Book review: Another Gospel: Author's research of alternative religions is well-documented, easy to understand

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

One way of identifying a Christian cult, according to some, is whether you are given another book beside the Bible to study.

While there could be a lot of truth to that, other means of unscriptural input can be utilized, perhaps through denominational magazines, application of different interpretation of Biblical scripture, or peer pressure, for lack of a better term.

There are churches which were once widely considered to be cults, such as the Seventh-day Adventists with a strong penchant for date-setting, which have tempered their teaching, if not their doctrine, to the point that, except for their Saturday worship, they appear more orthodox than several mainline protestant churches.

Then there are Jehovah's Witnesses, who spun off from the Adventist movement and whose founder, Joseph Franklin Rutherford carried the penchant for date-setting further. Taking his cue from the Book of Revelation, he reinterpreted the Battle of Armageddon as a universal war during which all people outside the Watch Tower organization would be destroyed.

Jehovah's Witnesses formally denounced false prophecies in 1968, but suspicions of Orwellian control of its membership, and yet another prophecy of the end of the world in 1975, and the church's "remnant" class now far exceeding the 144,000 its own theology prescribes, throws much of its doctrine into question.

Most Christians would probably have no trouble classifying the Children of God, also known as the Family of Love, as a cult. If nothing else, the evangelical method of "flirty fishing," essentially religious prostitution, would raise eyebrows significantly.

Ms. Tucker has done a masterful job of describing in depth the doctrines of these and other questionable religious groups, including Hare Krishna, Mormonism, Christian Science, Unity, The Worldwide Church of God, The Way International, The Unification Church, Baha'i, Scientology, and the New Age Movement.

Within the appendices, is a collection of briefer descriptions of lesser-known cultic movements, including Arkansas' Alamo Christian Foundation, Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), Church of the Living Word (The Walk), Church Universal and Triumphant (formerly Summit Lighthouse), Divine Light Mission, Eckankar, est (Erhard Seminars Training), "I AM" Ascended Masters, The Love Family (Church of Armageddon), The Peoples Temple, Rajneesh Ashram, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Rosicrucianism, Satanism, Swedenborgianism, Transcendental Meditation, PUJA, United Pentecostal Church (also known as "Jesus Only" Pentecostals), Yoga, and Zen.

The reader may be surprised at the inclusion of some of these. Some, such as Zen, make no pretense at being Christian in orientation.

Other appendices outline basic beliefs of certain groups discussed in the main part of the book, and the major tenets of Christian Orthodoxy, useful for purposes of comparison.

Ms. Tucker has done well to avoid condemnatory language when discussing these groups, and counsels against such an approach. As a result it becomes easier to understand how these and other alternative religious movements are appealing to people.

Another Gospel; by Ruth A. Tucker; 462 pages with index, bibliography, notes and appendices; paperback; Zondervan; $17.99.

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