Kingdom 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.
3 Ibid., p. 18.