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What is a Cult?

by Ronald Enroth, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1982. Reviewed by Neil Duddy.

For delivering an introductory lecture on cults, Ron Enroth’s pamphlet What is a Cult? is a good piece of literature to have on hand. His short overview of the question in the title is appropriate for distribution among church groups or at parents’ meetings.

For the last five years, the word cult has been used to describe a select number of new religions popularly portrayed in the media as socially restrictive religious groups. In less popular parlance, the word cult has been used in theological circles to describe heretical movements and alien worldviews. People in each group often accept the cult label without knowing how valid that label is, and they rarely have an understanding of how to relate the theological and sociological definitions. Enroth, a prominent Christian sociologist who has written extensively on new religions, comments from both sociological and theological material and uses illustrations from various cults to make his point--a group is a cult when it embraces either major theological error or aberrant social behavior or both.

Current developments in new religions indicate that many small, unpublicized cults, as well as larger movements, are causing confusion and raising concern in their communities. Enroth’s flexible, thoughtful discussion helps concerned observers use fair criteria in evaluating the difficult situations that arise when the thorny issues of cultism pierce the religious bases that most people operate from.