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Cult Evangelism: Which Methods Are Effective?

by Robert M. Bowman

from the Witnessing Tips column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 7. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Cult evangelism is an especially difficult field of ministry. Many Christians are not at all sure just how to go about it. However, various fruitful methods of witnessing to cultists have been used, each of which has something to offer.

One method is simply to present the gospel to cultists, just as one would to anyone else. An argument in favor of this approach is that until the cultist has repented of his or her sins and trusted in Jesus for salvation, the cultist is in spiritual darkness and cannot be expected to see through the error of the cult.

Since the cultist cannot trust in Jesus without abandoning the cult's heretical view of Him in favor of the biblical view, many Christians concentrate on challenging the cult's view of Christ head-on, discussing in as much detail as necessary the biblical passages which the cultist has been taught to misinterpret.

Another method, used especially by former cult members, seeks to lead cultists to become ex-cultists by directly criticizing the organization -- before trying to preach the gospel to them. Advocates of this approach maintain that the cultist is committed to the cult as an authority and therefore will not be open to the gospel until he or she first sees that the cult is a false religion.

Still another method is to present a personal testimony to the cultist. It is pointed out in favor of this method that a personal testimony is the one thing a cultist cannot dispute.

All of these methods have been used by Christians with success. Some Christians, however, have argued that only one of them is right, or at least that one is better than the others. Advocates of these methods usually can recount stories of cultists who were not touched by other methods but who converted through the favored approach. Moreover, each method has some biblical precedent.

How can we resolve this question? Rather than insisting on only one method or taking an "anything goes" attitude, I recommend viewing a variety of methods as valid within a comprehensive approach to cult evangelism.

Since Christians have different gifts and abilities (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:14-27; etc.), it is perfectly legitimate for them to favor differing methods in cult evangelism, in keeping with their strengths. Christians who are also ex-cultists, for example, tend to be very knowledgeable about the internal problems of the cult they left and therefore can speak convincingly to persons still in the cult about its faulty authority. Christians who are not ex-cultists may have other strengths, such as extensive knowledge of biblical doctrine, an ability to proclaim the gospel in a stirring fashion, or a personal testimony that vividly illustrates the power and truth of the evangelical faith. Moreover, since cultists are likely to meet several, if not many, evangelicals over a period of time, they may eventually be confronted by Christians using all of the various methods.

On the other hand, all Christians should seek to gain at least some measure of competency in the use of all of these methods. Every Christian should be able to present the gospel, defend biblical doctrine concerning God and Christ, and share his or her own testimony. And most Christians should be able to learn enough about the major cults to be able to present an effective challenge to the cult's authority claims. Thus, as Christians mature they should become more comfortable using a variety of methods.

In fact, the seasoned Christian apologist will be able to discern which methods will be most effective in dealing with different cultists, or in dealing with the same cultist at different points in the discussion. In some cases the cultist may initiate the conversation, and generally it will be important to respond to the cultist's concerns directly before shifting to another subject. Some cultists may be at least somewhat open to what the Bible has to say, while others may need to have their faith in their cult leaders directly challenged and shaken before they will listen to anything else. Still other cultists may be resting their faith on their own personal experience, and may therefore need to hear a testimony to the power of the real Jesus Christ to change lives today. Thus, even the best "canned" approach (though indeed God may use it in many cases) is better treated as one method among many than as the one right way to witness.

Finally, these different methods can be adapted to one another in such a way that each becomes a perspective from which to use the others. For example, suppose a person begins with the method of sharing his personal testimony. A strong testimony will always include a presentation of the gospel and a call to accept Jesus Christ as one's great God and Savior (Tit. 2:13). Furthermore, a mature testimony will draw freely on Scripture to show that the testimony is not simply one person's subjective experience, but is rooted in the objective teaching of the Bible. Finally, a testimony can be used to contrast a biblically sound understanding of authority with the defective authority claim of the cult.

Or suppose we begin with the method of seeking to undermine the cultist's faith in the cult leaders. We can do so in a variety of ways: by exposing their false prophecies (but in doing so, we will need to discuss what the Bible says about false prophecy); by showing that the cult has grossly misrepresented the Bible's teaching about Christ and the gospel; or by contrasting the claims made by the cult with the reality of what an ex-member has experienced -- first in the cult and then after receiving the love of God in Christ.

We all can learn much from one another about how to witness -- not only to cultists, but to all who are lost. While some methods may be more effective than others with certain groups, none should be ignored or rejected.

End of document, CRJ0045A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Cult Evangelism: Which Methods Are Effective?"
release A, March 21, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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