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By Gary F. Zeolla
Below are reviews of books which each deal with a variety of cults and other non-Christian groups. For details on my book Scripture Workbook mentioned in these reviews, see Scripture Workbook Preview.
Kingdom of the Cults
By Walter Martin, edited by Hank Hanegraaff
This is a standard reference work on cults. It has gone through numerous editions, the first being in 1965. Walter Martin was a premier cults researcher. And since Martin’s death, Hanegraaff has kept this volume up to date.
This volume covers the most important groups, like JWs and Mormonism, movements like spiritualism, and even world religions like Islam. For each group covered the volume presents a basic history and an overview of its teachings. Then it evaluates those teachings from a Biblical and logical perspective. And the rebuttals to the arguments of each group are very thorough.
Some members of groups that Martin discusses try to claim that this book misrepresents their teachings. But Martin includes numerous quotations from writings published by the group to document their teachings. And references for these quotes are given, so the quotes can be looked up to be sure Martin is not taking them out of context. So it’s hard to see how he is misrepresenting them.
It will be admitted though that Martin does come across as being rather “strong-headed” in his views. He does very much present a, “I’m right, you’re wrong, that settles it” attitude. And this can be a turn-off for some.
But he does cite plenty of Scripture references supporting Christian doctrines and refuting the arguments of the groups. And these enable the reader to look up the verses and decide for yourself if the position being presented is in fact Biblical. And for many more such verses on many of the topics covered in this book, see my Scripture Workbook. It presents hundreds of verses supporting the basic Christian doctrines discussed in this book, such as the doctrine of the Trinity. And as with this volume, my book also refutes many of the arguments that these groups raise against doctrines like the Trinity.
So I would highly recommend this volume. It is not the easiest to read book on this subject that you can get, and Martin’s attitude can be a little strong for some, but it is very thorough. It will prepare the Christian for dealing with members of these groups and should at least be thought provoking for those who are members of such groups. And for more Biblical study on many of the doctrines covered, see my Scripture Workbook.
By Ruth A. Tucker
This is the book I used as a textbook when I took a class on “Christianity and the Cults” at Denver Seminary. This book covers major groups that claim to Christian, like Mormons and JWs, along with New Age type groups like Hare Krishnas and Baha’i. The professor preferred this volume to Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults.” I believe the reason why is this book is comes across as being less “judgmental” than Martin’s.
IOW, when this book provides refutations of each group’s teachings, it does not come across as being strong-headed. It is presented more with the attitude of, “This is something that should be considered” than Martins’ “I’m right, you’re wrong, that settles it” attitude.
For each group covered, Tucker provides the basic background and history of the group. She also presents a short biography of the group’s founder and other important figures in its history. She then overviews the distinctive doctrines of the group. And lastly, she provides some “challenges” to the group’s teachings. But she emphasis that this should be done in a respectful manner.
She writes in regards to JWs:
Treating a Jehovah’s Witnesses or any member of an alternative religion with Christian love in no way negates the responsibility that Christians have to challenge false doctrines directly. This should be done with courtesy and respect, and the views and questions of the individual should be accepted as sincere. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine an individual making the required sacrifices to be part of the Watch Tower movement without deep personal or family convictions (p.146).
With this attitude I wholeheartedly agree. And Tucker presents this attitude throughout her book. So for this reason this book is very helpful.
But it should be noted that this book does not have that many Scripture references in it. Tucker seems to assume that the reader knows the Biblical evidence for such basic Christian doctrines as the Trinity. And her refutations of each group’s doctrines are more along the lines of showing logical not Biblical arguments against them.
To research what the Bible has to say on such doctrines, one would need to consult a book like my Scripture Workbook. It presents hundreds of verses supporting basic Christian doctrines, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, and it provides refutations of many of the arguments that groups like the ones discussed in this book raise against these doctrines.
So I would recommend Tucker’s book for the background information on these groups. Every Christian should have a basic knowledge of what such groups teach or at least have a book like this around to consult. That way, if (or when) you come in contact with a member of one of these groups, you won’t be completely in the dark about what they believe. But for a Biblical study on such topics, you’ll need to consult a book like my Scripture Workbook.
Handbook of Today's Religions
By Josh McDowell and Don Stewart
This book has four major sections: Understanding the Cults, Understanding the Occult, Understanding Non-Christian Religions, and Understanding Secular Religions. It closes with an article by Norman Anderson on “A Christian Approach to Comparative Religions.”
I read this book years ago when I first became a Christian. It helped to settle in my mind the uniqueness of true Christianity. It also helped to answer lingering questions I had about other belief systems. So it helped to solidify my belief that the Christian faith was true and that other belief systems were false.
In the first section on cults the authors first discuss “What is a Cult?” They then present the basic characteristics of cults and the beliefs of orthodox Christianity. The beliefs are present via quotes from important Christian creeds, with supporting Biblical references. It’s not a thorough Biblical study of such doctrines, but adequate for presenting the orthodox view. For a more thorough study on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, see my Scripture Workbook.
The first section of this book then looks at individual groups like JWs and Mormons. For each group it presents a very short history of the group. For a more detailed history of each group, one would have to consult books like Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” or Ruth Tucker’s “Another Gospel.”
But what this book does provide is a detailed Biblical discussion of each group’s teachings. The book first documents the group’s doctrines through extended quotes from it’s own literature. The authors then provide extensive Biblical refutations of these doctrines.
The tone of the book is one of presenting an exegesis of the relevant Scriptures. It is not strongly judgmental, just strongly Biblical. And my Scripture Workbook provides additional Biblical refutations of claims of groups discussed in this book.
The second section of this book gets into an area that I find rather uncomfortable to study: the occult. I never was attracted to the occult, and it just gives me the creeps studying about it. But the Bible does say not be ignorant of Satan’s devices, so at least a cursory knowledge of occult practices can be helpful.
This sections looks at occult practices like astrology, fortune telling, and parapsychology. For each practice, a basic explanation is provided, then a logical and/ or Biblical refutation.
The third section looks at non-Christian religions like Hinduism and Islam. When I first read this book I found this section particularly interesting. I had never really considered becoming a Mormon or JW, but before becoming a Christian I did investigate other world religions. And again, this book confirmed my previous studies that Christianity was to be preferred over these other religions.
The discussions in this section are similar to the ones in the section on cults. A very short history of the religion is presented and then a much more in-depth discussion and Biblical refutation of its teachings.
The last section looks at atheism and related belief systems. Again, a basic history is provided of each system, then logical refutations of their teachings. The authors are smart enough to focus on logical arguments as Biblical arguments would hardly hold much sway with atheists.
So overall, this is a very helpful book due to the breadth of belief systems it covers. But with such a variety of views discussed, it doesn’t provide as much detail on each group as some other books might. But for someone who was in the position I was of still having questions about competing worldviews to Christianity, this book can be very helpful. And it will provide the Christian with a basic knowledge of each of the systems discussed along with providing much material for Biblical studies. And for more Biblical study on many of the topics discussed in this book, see my Scripture Workbook.
The above reviews were posted on this website June 26, 2001.
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