Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin

Kingdom of the Cults, TheKingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin was first written in 1965. Since the over 40 years since its original publication, this book has been the go-to book on the subject of the cults. In this revised, updated, and expanded edition, the reader will find perhaps the best overall reference book on what the cults are, what they believe, and how they can be properly answered from the Christian worldview. Additional authors have contributed and expanded the content to meet the relevant contemporary issues. As the book is around 700 pages, covering an immense amount of material, this review will only serve as a thumbnail sketch for prospective readers.

Citing Charles S. Braden and John C. Schaeffer, the author defines a cult in this way:
By the term cult I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture.1 
The author adds that, “a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.”2  The goal of the book, as laid out in chapter one, is threefold:
(1) historical analysis of the salient facts connected with the rise of the cult systems; (2) theological evaluation of the major teachings of those systems; and (3) apologetic contrast from the viewpoint of biblical theology, with an emphasis upon exegesis and doctrine.3
This approach serves well to make the book as a whole a useful overall reference tool. While the book can be read in a linear fashion, it is more suitable for reference, or for systematic study of the cults in general. A linear reading will perhaps emphasize the recurring themes common among the cults.

Notable in the outset is a chapter dealing with “scaling the language barrier.” Common to the cults is their usage of Christian-sounding terminology. The author emphasizes the need to learn the relevant terminology of the cult in question (how they use their terms), being sure to define terms in dialogue (looking at context and other pertinent factors). This emphasis on proper use of terms and definitions is of course helpful in all apologetic interactions.

Another introductory chapter addresses the psychological issues involved in cultism. When the Christian understands the sort of closed-culture of many of these false religious institutions and how they influence people psychologically, it goes a long way toward building bridges to the Christian message. The prospective reader would perhaps do well to read the introductory chapters from the outset, and then go on to the relevant chapters dealing with the particular cult in question at the time.

At this point, Kingdom of the Cults launches into its multiple topical chapters addresses the following cults: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormons, Spiritism, Theosophical Society, Buddhism, Baha’i, Unitarian Universalism, Scientology, the Unification Church, Eastern Religions, New Age, and Islam. (Islam is not classified as a cult, but nevertheless is covered here because of its significant global impact.) Additional chapters help the student understand and engage in cult evangelism, while a number of appendices offer additional material dealing with four smaller cults.

For those looking for the standard reference book on cults, this is it. Kingdom of the Cults is a substantial tool and will serve the Christian apologist well.

1 Warren Matthews, Kingdom of the Cults: Revised, Updated, and Expanded Edition, October 2003 (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), p. 17.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., p. 18.


Nick Potts said...

ABOUT TIME!!! haha, jk. I'm anxious to start reading my copy! been reading a ton of stuff lately, especially on the historical Jesus.

thank you for your diligence!

Brian said...

One great thing about finishing a LARGE book is that you feel like you are flying through anything else you read after that. I actually finished two other books right after reading this one!

Nick Potts said...

haha! understandable. I'm trekking through F.F. Bruce's New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? ugh. lol

Brian said...

Oh, yes... that's a beast! : )

Eddie Eddings said...

I have had that book, in it's many editions, ever since my first year as a Christian. It is priceless.

Mike Felker said...

Brian, I have two questions:

1. Was it tedious or enjoyable reading this sort of "reference" book all the way through?

2. Do you have any tips for how one might be productive in their reading, given the vast array of apologetics material that is out there? For example, the system I created is to read 4 books at a time; one chapter at a time for each round of books.

Brian said...

Apologetic Front (Mike!)

1. Some of the content on this particular book was tedious. However, there were other sections that were absolutely fascinating to me. (Think Scientology!) I don't think I would recommend someone to just read through this book in a linear fashion unless their goal is to survey the topic generally.

2. My suggestion would be to adapt your reading style to your goals and what you find personally effective.

I personally like to take a number of books on a topic and read them all in turn (on that topic) in order to get multiple authors input on one thing. This topical reading strategy allows me to focus on one thing for a longer period of time, rather than hopping from one subject to the next with every book I read.

However, I do keep other "side books" going on the back burners. Ones that don't need my constant attention for benefiting from the content. Things like parenting books, self-improvement stuff, time management, communication, and other interests can be bookmarked and read in small pieces when I have smaller time chunks, or before bed, or when I am just in the mood for that sort of thing.

But the overall thing that helps me is to have a goal of understanding a certain subject, select what I find to be the best 5 or so books on it, then delve in one after another.

Seth said...

This book is an excellent book. I learned Christian doctrine by reading this book. I read it to appease a friend, but in doing so I finally understood Christian doctrine.

Brian said...

You know, Seth, that is a super point.

Through all these cult critiques you will see the correct Biblical doctrines spelled out and reasons given to why they are correct. And then you begin to see just how important it is!

Ex N1hilo said...

This is a great resource. As a young Christian, I bought the audio tapes of Kingdom of the Cults, read by Walter Martin. His words still ring in my head quite often, in that distinctive voice of his, as he recounted his experience sharing Jesus Christ with a cultist:

     “I believe in Jesus,” the cultist proclaimed.
     “Which one?” Martin inquired.
     “What do you mean, 'Which one?' There's only one.”
     “Oh, no. Didn't you know? There's LOTS of them.”

He showed me for the first time that it is against the backdrop of error and the exposition of why, based on scriptural, that a particular error is false, that the authentic doctrines of biblical Christianity are seen and comprehended perhaps most clearly.

Nick Potts said...

Brian, haha. yea. it's so tiny, but it's a pain to read. I'll finish it up today, and then on to Frank Morison's "Who Moved the Stone?" which should take about a week, and then I don't know what's next. I just counted all the books I have for my Historical Jesus project, 37 books now, 2 in the mail on the way, 1 of these books is the Apologetics Study Bible, and 4 of these books are either my theology or NT/OT text books from college.

i'm getting a little obsessive over this topic. lol

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