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4 religious movements in America examined in SWBTS journal

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The latest edition of the Southwestern Journal of Theology provides insight into the religious marketplace mentality that shapes most Americans and examines how views drawn from other religious traditions have infected Christian churches.

“Americans and others … do not appear to be single store shoppers,” the edition’s editor, Paul Gritz, writes in the editorial introduction to the volume. “A more subtle challenge for evangelical Christians arises from the ‘mixing and matching’ of religious beliefs from several stores. People seem to want to customize their religious lives and draw on many sources to do so.”

Gritz, professor of church history at Southwestern’s Fort Worth, Texas, campus, cites a 2002 Barna Research Group study which notes that Christians have adopted spiritual views from Islam, secular humanism, Eastern religions and even Wicca. Barna cites biblical illiteracy as the reason for the trend.

The journal, published by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, focuses on four of the most prominent non-Christian religious movements today — Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Wicca and the “Pop Psychology” movement.

Cky Carrigan, national interfaith evangelism missionary with the North American Mission Board and visiting professor of missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., contributes an article on the theology of Mormons, one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the United States.

Carrigan addresses primarily the Christological doctrines of Mormonism, including the atonement and the belief that Jesus Christ was born as the result of sexual intercourse between Elohim and Mary.

The article on Mormonism supplies numerous statements from Mormon leaders and “apostles” who make claims contradictory to 2,000 years of historical, biblical Christianity. The article also examines implications for evangelizing Mormons.

Meanwhile, an article by Kevin Kennedy, assistant professor of theology at Southwestern, compares the teachings of the ancient heretic Arius with the modern teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The presumption and impiety of Arius and his associates are echoed in the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, from the earliest days of their history, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have viewed Arius as one of the great champions of the ‘true’ faith because he rejected the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the trinity,” Kennedy writes.

“In many respects, the Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is analogous to that of Arius. Jesus in his pre-human state was a creature. Before the Father created him, he did not exist. The Son alone was created directly by the Father, while the Son brought into being all other created reality,” Kennedy writes. He adds that such beliefs lead to further “absurdities” in theological thought.

William E. Gordon Jr., an associate with the interfaith evangelism team of the North American Mission Board, discusses the rapid growth of the contemporary Wiccan movement in the previous century. The occult movement has grown so rapidly that witches now boast that their belief system is the fastest-growing movement in America, with some 5 million adherents to the mythology.

Gordon examines the roots of Wiccan beliefs in animism, polytheism and pantheism. He also examines the rituals practiced by “covens,” or Wiccan groups, and he provides insight in how to best share the gospel with Wiccans.

W. Michael McGuire, professor of psychology and counseling at Southwestern, examines the voices of two prominent “pop psychologists” that are competing with the church’s role as a place of hope and counseling.

Those voices, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. Phil McGraw, have become the guiding light for many Americans when their advice really amounts to anecdotes and a fair dose of common sense, McGuire writes. “Schlessinger’s earlier works reflect her secularism and her last is distinctively Jewish. McGraw, who professes Christianity but admits no theological expertise, promotes a number of speculative ideas that are difficult if not impossible to reconcile with Scripture.”

Doug Blount, managing editor of the journal, said he hopes the journal will be a “useful tool for people who are ministering in a context where they will be rubbing elbows with people in non-Christian traditions and especially those with a particularly American cultural origin.”
The issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology that examines American religious movements is available for $12. To subscribe to the Southwestern Journal of Theology, write to Editorial Assistant, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 22608, Fort Worth, Texas, 76122, or call 817-923-1921 ext. 2820. A one-year subscription is $31.

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  • Gregory Tomlin