In the early 1990s, evangelicals from a variety of countries began to approach the subject of new religious movements in different ways. This included those from Australia, Denmark, the UK and the US. Three elements could be found in their understanding of various groups, and the way they interacted with them. First, they conceptualized these groups as new religions and distinct religious cultures, rather than as heretical “cults.” Although they recognized that these groups often involve teachings at odds with historic Christianity, nevertheless the way the new religions were understood was broadened to account for more than theological differences. Second, the study of new religious movements moved beyond theology to include a variety of academic perspectives on new religions. While theological comparison was still of interest, there was a recognition that the work of scholars on the history, sociology and other aspects of new religions represented a rich source for a deeper and wider understanding of this religious phenomenon. Third, and finally, these evangelicals maintained an interest in missiology and combined a more academically informed understanding of new religions with the heart of missional engagement. Mission was not sacrificed in the integration of new perspectives.
As these evangelicals began to network, they shared their research and engagement approaches with each other. Relationships formed, and various cooperative opportunities presented themselves. Several of these came out of the 2004 meeting of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization held in Pattaya, Thailand in 2004. A group of scholars and practitioners from around the world came together and produced the Lausanne Occasional Paper: Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality in the Western World. The connections formed in Thailand resulted in the creation of an ongoing Lausanne Issue Group that explored Christian responses to alternative spirituality and new religious movements in the Western world. One of the resources produced by this issue group was a 2008 consultation on post-Christendom spiritualities held at Trinity International University. This meeting brought together some of the leading evangelical scholars and researchers, as well as missionaries, and other practitioners who addressed a wide variety of groups and spiritual phenomena.
This book was produced as an outcome of the 2008 consultation. The intention was to create an educational volume that will be of value to Christian academic institutions as well as churches and missionaries seeking to understand our ever-changing religious landscape. I was privileged to be a part of this “new” group of evangelicals and was present at the events and involved in the activities listed above. I am also a contributor to this book and can say with confidence that the reader will find it a helpful resource that can be turned to repeatedly to assist in understanding our neighbors pursuing post-Christendom spiritual pathways.
We are also happy to introduce an online graduate course on New Religious Movements. In partnership with Ephesiology Masterclasses and Kairos University, this learning experience is designed for those interested in the religions in their neighborhoods. You can learn more at https://masterclasses.ephesiology.com/courses/new-religious-movements
John W. Morehead, “Preface.” Perspectives on Post-Christendom Spiritualities: Evangelical Reflections on New Religious Movements and Western Spiritualities. Ephesiology Press, 2022.