Anyone engaged in something more than a casual interest in apologetics will discover an incredible value in Walter Martin's classic "The Kingdom of the Cults." This updated edition is similar in structure as earlier editions, but fairly acknowledges major changes in theology and activity in various religious groups. Intended for the thinking Christian and the open-minded nonChristian, Martin's book has continually challenged people to rely on Scripture for their theology.
This is an unusual book in that it is neither an evangelical or fundamentalism critique of those who disagree, but a deeper look at the histories, documents, arguments at groups in opposition to orthodoxy. I first read this skeptically, but was impressed by the immense research by Martin and his team of editors.
There is a dual functionality to "The Kingdom of the Cults." Not only does it explain the distinctives of groups such as the Jehovah Witnesses and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, but in doing so, it teaches Scriptural fundamentals of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and provides direction for testing our own faith with the Bible. Martin's exposure of what the groups themselves are claiming will disturb many within the group as they discover the truth. He is quick to grant the strengths of a group, but points them to Scripture to make their own comparisons (as opposed to relying on Martin's views). He prefers the reader to think for himself, not content to depend on his book, or any other book but the Bible. This balance is rare in Christian literature, and a value in reading "The Kingdom of the Cults."
Martin provides a meaty analysis of all the major groups, as well as primary lines of thought within Protestant perspectives, and Roman Catholicism. Beyond specific groups, there is plenty of coverage of the general critical analysis on topics like mind control, apocalyptic cults, the impact of cults on the mission field, Eastern religions, and language and psychological issues.
He is sure to point out a group's popularity (like the fast growing LDS and Islam sects) doesn't make it truth, truth is not democratic.
Martin is bold to use the groups' own literature rather than hearsay, to prove his points. This has stirred controversy among those such as Muslim students, LDS laity and JW leadership who have not known of the difficult history of their church. He leaves room for the vagaries often existing when dependent on secondary sources.
This edition includes substantial portions of the refutations and other dialogues, providing the reader an idea of the response from the cult's leadership. Sadly, it shows that though the book is quickly disputed, none take Martin to task. In many cases, they agree, but are uncomfortable at the label 'cult.'
The bibliography is 27 pp strong, organized by topic and group. This is in addition to the 12-page Scripture Index.
"The Kingdom of the Cults" includes an appendix of several groups. For example, the Worldwide Church of God's full acceptance of the Trinity is explained, as well as the foundation for this significant move in their theology.
"The Kingdom of the Cults" also criticizes the Word of Faith movement. It is careful to show what this movement believes, and how it is not simply Pentecostalism under another name. "The Kingdom of the Cults" emphasizes "there are many sincere, born again believers within the movement" (Hank Hanagraaff).
I recommend "The Kingdom of the Cults" enthusiastically. Buy it, and read it contemplatively and compassionately as you discover what your neighbor might believe.
As one reviewer already mentioned, those who argue that Dr. Martin had anything derogatory in mind when he called his book Kingdom of the Cults, in reference to his study of various religions, have either purposely disregarded Dr. Martin's own direct statements in the book, or simply didn't read the book carefully. Despite false allegations about Dr. Martin's doctorate ("degree mill") education and other unsubstantiated assertions about people "lambasting" him for "inaccuracies," the Kingdom of the Cults remains a perennial classic in its field.
What Dr. Martin attempted to do, as he clearly stated, was to evaluate various belief systems as they compared with the doctrines of the historic Christian faith. All the cults, and many major religions like Islam, deny certain historic Christian doctrines: The trinity, the deity of Christ, etc. With scholarly information and exhaustive documentation using mainly primary source material, Dr. Martin evaluates, in about 20 chapters, religious traditions from The Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormonism, and Spiritism, to Islam, Seventh-day Adventism, and Unitarianism, to name a few. It should be noted that although Dr. Martin includes the Adventists in his book, he clearly says that he does not consider them to be a cult religious system outside of orthodoxy, but a Christian sect with some heterodox beliefs, such as soul sleep and soul annihilation.
Since the exhaustive nature of this book and limited review space does not permit a review that does justice to Dr. Martin's work, I will only give a few examples of how he evaluated some religious teachings in comparison to historic, orthodox doctrine, focusing on how Dr. Martin contrasted the Jesus of orthodoxy with the "Jesus" of the cults.
Explaining Jehovah's Witness doctrine using their own works in context, Dr. Martin wrote: "For Jehovah's Witnesses, their Jesus is an angel who became a man. He is a god, but he is not God the Son, second Person of the Holy Trinity" (p. 379). Earlier in the book, Dr. Martin demonstrated how the Watchtower Society purposely mistranslated John 1:1 so that Jesus becomes "a god" instead of God, which is pointed out as simply bad Greek grammar and exegesis (pp. 85, 86).
Quoting Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, from her "Science and Health" book, Dr. Martin demonstrates that her "Jesus" is also an unorthodox one: "The Christian who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist. Thus he virtually unites with the Jew's belief in one God, and recognizes that Jesus Christ is no God as Jesus Christ Himself declared, but is the Son of God..." (p. 378).
Dr. Martin also demonstrated from primary sources that Mrs. Eddy plagiarised from many sources to produce her "Science and Health" book. The plagiarism is obvious when you see it as it reads in Dr. Martin's book in parallel columns, as it was reproduced prior to his book in the New York Times of July 10, 1904. This was not something Dr. Martin invented, but a fact publicized in a well-known newspaper prior to his work.
Furthermore, by taking Dr. Martin out of context, one reviewer gave the false impression that he falsely attributed to the Christian Scientists the idea that they do not accept the inspiration and authority of the Bible. However, what that reviewer did not quote, conveniently, was this, "Christian Science, as a theology, and all Christian Scientists, for that matter, both affirm that the Bible is God's Word and quote Mrs. Eddy to 'prove' that their whole religion is based upon the teachings of Scripture. Mrs. Eddy said: The Bible has been my only authority. I have had no other guide in 'the straight and narrow way' of Truth (Science and Health, p. 126)." (p. 143). Then Dr. Martin went on to say, with documentation, that, "To the average Christisn Scientist the Bible is a compilation of ancient writings 'full of hundreds of thousands of textual errors...its divinity is...uncertain, its inspiration...questionable...It is made up of metaphors, allegories, myths and fables...It cannot be read and interpreted literally...'" (p. 144).
And finally, Dr. Martin deals with the Mormon view of Jesus from their own literature, which he quotes as saying, "Each of these gods, including Jesus Christ and his Father, being in possession of not merely an organized spirit, but a glorious body of flesh and bones..." (p. 380).
Dr. Martin then goes on to further explain their position by stating, "...in fact, the Mormons have a full pantheon of gods. Jesus, who before His incarnation was the spirit-brother of Lucifer, was also a polygamist, the husband of the Marys and Martha, who was rewarded for his faithfulness by becoming the ruler of this earth" (p. 380).
The sad fact is, most who criticize Dr. Martin's work either have not really read the book, have not thoroughly researched behind his information, or simply are not really qualified to make sweeping charges of "pseudo-scholarship" and so forth that they make in classic ad hominem style. Apparently those who are within the cults Dr. Martin exposes are bothered by the facts. But it is one thing to disagree with someone by emotional attachment, which is understandable, but it is another thing to prove he is inaccurate or misleading, which no reviewer here, and no one else of credible scholarship to my knowledge, has been able to do. The only one that even pretended to come close to proving Dr. Martin wrong on a point actually misrepresented him so badly that it becomes all too obvious that ulterior motives, not a quest for truth and honesty, are at work.
If you want a comprehensive, scholarly guide to help you discern the difference between the historic Christian faith and other religious systems (especially those using the name "Christian"), then this is the definitive work you need in your reading and reference library, especially the updated version. Buy it, read it with an open mind, and know the truth.
(This review is of the Bethany House expanded and revised edition, 1985)