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Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians - Linda W. Duddy

by Harold L. Busséll, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983. Reviewed by Linda W. Duddy.

Currently Dean of the Chapel at Gordon College, Harold Busséll has spent 15 years in both pastoral and parachurch ministries in the United States and Europe. That breadth of experience serves as the author's bedrock from which he observes tendencies among evangelical Christians that make them vulnerable to new religious movements.

In ten succinct chapters (each of which concludes with questions for discussion), Busséll highlights several reasons for that vulnerability. For example, both members of new religions and orthodox Christians esteem spiritual zeal, value similar signs of spirituality, and adhere to common ideas of authority, loyalty, and submission. Often, cult movements use the same vocabulary as Christians in discussing those topics, but their definitions and subtle nuances of meaning can be quite divergent.

Therefore, Busséll encourages evangelicals to shift (but not forsake entirely) their concentration from solely comparing heretical doctrines with biblical truths to recognizing how social and emotional patterns in church life render people susceptible to the promises of cult leaders. Are Christians naive, he asks, when they confuse the results of the gospel with the gospel itself?

If results in our lives or our hearts are the gospel, then Rennie Davis's experience with meditation is also the gospel, because the criterion is change instead of Christ. Do you ever wonder if you are useless to God because you have no great spiritual experience about which you can boast? If so, you may be susceptible to a cult that will promise you "results." Cults always offer that something more that seems to be lacking.

Aren't there inherent dangers in adopting a sacred-secular view of the world? Could Christians be myopic in elevating their subjective experiences of faith above a doctrinal basis for that faith that is rooted in a study of the Bible and Church history?

Busséll also lists confused expectations of fellowship, judging church leaders according to their charisma and ability to emote, and yoking cultural convictions with definitions of what true spirituality is (to the exclusion of obedience to key biblical principles) as evangelical predispositions that either parallel cultic patterns or create an environment conducive to cultic influences.

Unholy Devotion's best chapter is titled "The Many Paths to Spirituality." Citing Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs' Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience, Busséll explains how our materialistic Western cultures can produce "practical atheists," that is, Christian men and women who never ask themselves how the fact of the existence of God influences their daily personal and moral decisions, thus leading them to view religious experience only in terms of psychological phenomena (a trend which characterizes cultic groups). A second attitude abroad in the Church today is the Platonist idea of the superiority of the spiritual realm. Cults and Christians alike come to see "redemption as only a 'spiritual' problem" rather than regarding the individual as a corporeal (and spiritual) body in relationship to family, friends, the church, and the state. Adoption of one or both of those philosophical premises can contribute to an evangelical's conversion to an aberrational movement.

Many Christians will bristle at Busséll's suggestions, yet his counseling sessions with students at a Christian college and laypeople in mainline churches seem to substantiate his conclusions and exhortations. The tocsin he tolls is a crucial one, albeit expressed in simplistic, common-sense terms for the evangelical layreader. The author is firm and incisive as he challenges evangelicals to think perceptively about their faith and ten exercise their God-given capacity to judge and test the prevailing trends in both the Church and society. The renewed mind is definitely a "safeguard against deception." In neglecting to use those powers of thought (favoring, instead, subjective experience or highlighting personal piety or focusing on obedience to humanly designed restrictions), it is conceivable that Christians, while straining the gnat, have swallowed the camel.