It is with some reservation that I post this article. I do not agree with Roger Olson on many issues, but on this one we find common ground. I mean no disrespect to Mr Olson, but feel I should advise discernment when reading anything from the Patheos blogs.
Having said that, I believe this article has some valuable insights worth considering. Many years ago, cult expert Walter Martin was writing about the explosion of cults and new religions he was witnessing. I see no evidence that this trend is slowing. Quite the opposite in fact, as many people can attest to.
For 17 years I taught a course on America’s Cults and New Religions on the college level (and occasionally on the seminary level, too). I promoted the elective course to the student population as “Unsafe Sects.” For years I’ve thought about writing a book with that title.
Have you ever wondered why you just don’t hear that much about “cults” in the secular or Christian media anymore? One reason is because “cult watchers” can be successfully sued for calling a specific group a cult. Another is because secular sociologists of religion (and some religious ones) have virtually abandoned the word because its use risks violence against religious groups that are non-traditional. In the popular mind “cult” evokes a fanatical religious group stockpiling weapons and abusing children, etc. So the word has virtually fallen out of use except for those few groups that are notoriously and universally known to be engaging in illegal activities (and most of them are underground).
One thing I discovered when teaching the course (and talking about “cults and new religions”) in numerous churches) was a term coined by some sociologist of religion: “T.A.C.O.”–”Totalistic, Aberrational, Christian Organization.” I don’t recall who coined the term (if I ever knew). It was used in print by sociologists to describe a category of churches and sects.
I think it’s time to resurrect it.
Read the rest of the article here.