Introducing World Religions

A Christian Engagement

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10. New Religious Movements

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the appeal of “world-denying” and “world-affirming” new religious movements for people in the United States and Western Europe? Are these movements appealing to something missing in the lives of Westerners? What might be lacking in mainstream religions (e.g., Christianity, Hinduism) that the new religious movements have foregrounded?
  2. Some religions that emerged in the nineteenth century (e.g., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses) claim to have restored the Christian church. In what ways are the ideas of these restorationist movements new and in what ways do they seem distinct from historic Christianity?
  3. The presence of new religious movements raises questions about the concept of revelation. For instance, most leaders of new religious movements claim they have such significantly new insights that a new religion is warranted. On what basis do they make such claims? The history of the world is replete with people making claims about receiving new revelations. What are the criteria for genuine revelation? Does the church provide insight?
  4. Several new religious movements concern health and matters of the human body. Compare and contrast the Church of Science with Seventh-Day Adventism. How do they understand the human body, the soul or spirit, and health? Do you see any similarities or differences between these perspectives and those provided by Christianity?
  5. What similarities do you see among the leaders of new religious movements?
  6. Describe the new religious pluralism that marks contemporary Western societies. How might the church respond meaningfully to this new religious context? For instance, what needs seem to be met by these new movements and how can the church respond?
  7. Nowadays, perhaps more than in the past, people feel free to choose religious options to satisfy their tastes for spirituality, resulting in hybrid combinations of elements from different religious traditions that cohere as a single “religion” or “spiritual” orientation, at least in the life of the believer. Describe the prominent features that get combined in the “spirituality” of people today. Which ideas or orientations seem most important?
  8. In the early twenty-first century, all kinds of religions are growing. The secularization thesis, which predicted the demise of religion in the modern and late-modern age, has failed to capture the enduring nature of religion. Yet both secularization and religion seem to be doing quite well nowadays. Describe the current relationship between the two important forces of secularization and religion, using examples from new religious movements.
  9. Several of the new religious movements offer insight into great mysteries or secret knowledge, often accessible only through the wisdom of the leader. Compare and contrast the claims of the new religious movements with the biblical affirmation that Jesus Christ was the revelation of the “mystery of God” (e.g., Colossians 2:2).
  10. When considering the categories of theology of religions (i.e., exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist), which perspective describes your understanding of the relationship between religions, and particularly between Christianity and other religions?