"From 'Cults' to Cultures: Bridges as a Case Study in a New Evangelical Paradigm on New Religions”
Several cultural segments have helped contribute to the marginalization of the new religions in the United States over the past several decades. In Protestantism the driving force toward marginalization has been the evangelical counter-cult movement. The counter-cult has existed as a cultural phenomenon alongside the secular anti-cult, but it has followed a decidedly different trajectory. With its interest in doctrine and Christian worldview it has tended toward a boundary maintenance stance connected to polemic denunciation of new religions. This has served not only to delineate the boundaries between evangelicalism and the new religions, but also to marginalize the new religions in common perception within evangelicalism, and at times it has contributed to the strained credibility of the new religions in the public sphere as well. An unintended consequence of the counter-cult approach to new religions was the marginalization of the counter-cult itself, not only in the academy but also in how it was perceived by the new religions themselves, the very groups the counter-cult wishes to engage.
In recent years a new paradigm has developed among evangelicals that is multidisciplinary, academically informed, and concerned with a more responsible understanding of the new religions and engagement with their adherents. This paper and workshop will sketch the prevalent evangelical approach of past decades and will contrast this with the emerging paradigm. A specific example and case study will be considered in a new evangelical approach to Mormonism developed by Salt Lake Theological Seminary and promoted by the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies.