from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990, page 36. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
A Summary Critique
Another Gospel: Alternative Religions and the New Age Movement by Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan Publishing House -- Academie Books, 1989)
Many textbooks on cults and new religions have been published since Walter Martin's classic, The Kingdom of the Cults, first appeared in 1965. The first such textbook to conceivably rival Martin's work appeared on bookshelves roughly the same week as Martin's death in June 1989. Ruth Tucker's Another Gospel covers much of the same ground and is typeset, organized, and bound in fairly obvious imitation of The Kingdom of the Cults.
TUCKER AND COUNTERCULT WRITERS
In the first half of her book, Tucker expresses strong criticisms of Walter Martin's views. Martin's opinion that the role of women in founding some of the cults corroborates Paul's view of women as more prone to deception (1 Tim. 2:11-14) is denounced by Tucker as "unthinkable," "preposterous," and a "perversion of Scripture" (p. 25). Tucker offers other criticisms of Martin -- some of which have merit, others that seem to border on carping (pp. 89, 122, 146, 182, 218).
Otherwise, Tucker rarely mentions Martin (pp. 112, 113, 222), and even her citations from him in footnotes are sparse, except for her chapter on the Children of God cult, in which she cites him seven times (pp. 231-39).
Furthermore, Tucker never cites any published works of persons other than Martin associated with Christian Research Institute. Nor is reference ever made to the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL. Apparently, Tucker either was unaware of CRI and the JOURNAL when she wrote her book, or else has the same low opinion of CRI as she has of Walter Martin.
On the other hand, Tucker does draw frequently on the work of various persons presently or previously connected with Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) in Berkeley, California -- Ronald Enroth, Brooks Alexander, Robert Burrows, and others. She also cites several times from Jack Sparks, who was associated with SCP in its early days. Others whom she cites include J. K. Van Baalen, Bob Larson, Anthony Hoekema, Douglas Groothuis, Texe Marrs, and Josh McDowell. Most of these writers are soundly evangelical and basically on track in their analysis of cultic movements, though some can be superficial and/or sensational in their treatment.
AN UNCRITICAL SURVEY OF THE CULTS
In her introduction Tucker makes it clear that the major theme of the book is understanding cultists sympathetically (pp. 11-13). This is at once the book's greatest strength and its most disturbing weakness. As an example of the positive side of this approach, Tucker may be commended for wishing to portray certain cult founders, notably Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell, in an evenhanded way -- as neither saints nor villains.
Too Much Respect
On the negative side, Tucker often takes this concern for showing respect to cultists too far. For example, she says that Mormons "are to be highly commended for their honest scholarship" (p. 13). More generally, Tucker presents the heretical views and aberrant practices of the cults as though she were reporting them in a newspaper. When she does offer criticisms, they are almost always represented as coming from others. In a notable example, Tucker presents the Unity rewriting of Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my banker; my credit is good") with only the comment that "some would feel [it] borders on blasphemy" (p. 189).
The one exception is chapter 10, "The Children of God: Evangelism and Sex Perversion." In this chapter Tucker takes off her gloves and attacks David Berg (the cult's founder) as the evil, perverse man he clearly is.
Giving Cultists Their Say
Not only does Tucker avoid criticizing cultists directly, she frequently presents their own rationale for their beliefs without giving a Christian response. In effect, the book gives some of the cults a platform. The most blatant example of this tendency is found in Appendix B (entitled "Cultic Statements of Belief") in the section on "What Jehovah's Witnesses Believe." Here some 40 points of doctrine are listed with over 130 Scripture references cited, none of which are discussed by Tucker anywhere in the book (pp. 392-93). Another example is found in the chapter on Seventh-day Adventism (SDA), where she lists five SDA arguments against eternal punishment, complete with Scripture citations, with no response to be found in the book (p. 114) (though she does offer a summary/synopsis of orthodox Christian beliefs in Appendix C).
In this light, a tension in Tucker's own stated purpose in writing the book appears. She says that the book is not "theologically oriented" and "not an apologetic for orthodox Christianity," but simply presents "a historical and contemporary overview of alternative religious movements" (p. 14). Yet she does give the cults' apologetics for their theological errors.
When Tucker does venture to give theological critiques of cultic teachings, she often repeats the mistakes of others or makes new ones of her own. For example, the popular view that the Hebrew word for "one" (echad) means "a composite unity" and thus implies the Trinity is repeated (pp. 400-401) -- although this argument, in my opinion, is faulty. Tucker's most glaring error is the statement that theos ("God") in John 20:28 does not have the definite article (pp. 146-47).
Although Tucker is at her best in recounting the histories of the religions she surveys, at places she is not critical enough of the historical accounts that have been published by the cults themselves. For example, Tucker reports the claim of Victor Paul Wierwille (founder of The Way International) that a snowstorm appeared suddenly in answer to his prayer (p. 226). But she does not report the fact that no snowstorm occurred at the time and place specified by Wierwille. This is just one of the omissions I noticed. Throughout the book, such "wonder stories" connected with the cults are reported with no critical analysis or evaluation.
Some of the chapters on specific cults are fairly good as far as they go. The chapters on Mormonism, Christian Science, New Thought and Unity, the Worldwide Church of God, the Children of God, the Unification Church, Hare Krishnas, and Scientology appear to me to fall in this category. (I confess that I am not very knowledgeable on the last four of these cults.) Overall, I found the chapters on Mormonism and Scientology to be the best.
Tucker ably summarizes the history of the SDA and reviews most of the important doctrinal controversies. Her conclusion that SDA is essentially an evangelical denomination (p. 116) bypasses most of the evidence for a cultic side to the SDA. (See the Summer 1988 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL.) For example, Tucker fails to report that many in SDA still hold to Joseph Bates's view that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast (p. 98, cf. pp. 112-14). This is important in light of the fact that Tucker criticizes Herbert W. Armstrong -- founder of the Worldwide Church of God -- for holding a more "dogmatic" view of the Sabbath than the SDA, when it is obvious that Armstrong got his view from them (pp. 205-6). Perhaps most important of all is the fact that many Adventists do not hold to the "evangelical SDA" interpretation of the "investigative judgment" doctrine promoted by some Adventists (cf. pp. 109-12).
The area of cult studies in which I have done the most work is the Jehovah's Witnesses, and predictably I found more problems in this chapter of Tucker's book than in any other. On the positive side, Tucker helpfully characterizes the movement as a "religion of protest" against big government, big business, and especially big religion (pp. 117-18).
The chapter is flawed, however, by its almost exclusive reliance on works by ex-Witnesses, several of whom are not orthodox Christians (notably M. James Penton, Ray Franz, and Heather and Gary Botting). I am particularly dismayed at Tucker's endorsement of the Bottings' book, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses (pp. 147-48). By contrast, Tucker made no use of any of the several sound evangelical ministries specializing in literature on Jehovah's Witnesses (e.g., Bethel Ministries, Witness Inc., Comments from the Friends, Personal Freedom Outreach, and CRI).
It was also disappointing to find that, except for two statistics taken from the 1984 and 1988 Jehovah's Witnesses yearbooks, no Watchtower literature from the past 20 years was cited. This is important because Jehovah's Witnesses regard only the most current literature as representative of their beliefs.
Of the specific problems I found, I will mention that Charles Taze Russell and the Society calculated the 2,520-year prophetic time period on which their prophetic interpretations depend as beginning in 606 B.C., not 607 B.C., as Tucker reports (p. 123). They arrived at A.D. 1914 as a pivotal year in prophetic fulfillment by forgetting that there was no year between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. The 606 B.C. date was quietly changed in the 1940s without any admission of error. Moreover, the Witnesses and their splinter groups are the only ones ever to date the destruction of Jerusalem in either 607 or 606 B.C.; everyone else agrees that it occurred in 587 or 586 B.C. Tucker obscures this fact by saying that 607 B.C. was "the date believed by some" (p. 123).
Also, the Jehovah's Witnesses do not teach that the Greek ho theos always refers to Jehovah God and that theos without the article always refers to a created "god" (p. 146). Rather, their argument is that the lack of the article allows the translation "god" where context supports it.
The Way International
This chapter is very up-to-date and has some good material. I do have a few complaints, however. Tucker is much too easy on Victor Paul Wierwille regarding his exaggerated claims to higher education (pp. 217-18) and miraculous experiences (p. 226). She also fails to make more than a passing reference to his plagiarism (p. 230). Students of The Way know that Wierwille plagiarized a large portion of his writings. Moreover, Tucker states that Wierwille held that the Son is a mode of the Father, which is far from accurate (p. 225).
Perhaps more than any other chapter, Tucker's chapter on Baha'i is long on description and short on critique. She fails to note, for example, that some of the views of God taught by the alleged nine "Manifestations" of God contradict one another (cf. pp. 292-93). She also fails to note that the Baha'is deny the physical resurrection of Jesus, an easy and effective point to make with Christians confused by the claims of Baha'i.
The New Age Movement
Overall, Tucker's treatment of this often sensationalized subject is sound. She carefully steers a course between conspiracy theories and denials of the NAM's threat (pp. 323-26), and rightly argues that the NAM's influence on the church is significant but often exaggerated (pp. 353-55).
Still, there are a few problems. Calling NAM optimism "a grandiose version of postmillennialism" (p. 336) suggests a shallow understanding of the true nature of Christian postmillennialism. Indeed, since some New Agers look for a Christ figure to herald the New Age (pp. 336-37), such a belief might be called a form of "premillennialism"! Both suggestions are equally misleading and prejudicial to the Christian beliefs in question.
My other criticisms are somewhat minor. To the best of my knowledge, ancient Babylon had no worship of Lucifer (p. 342). It is a bit misleading to treat astrology as exclusively a part of the NAM (pp. 343-47). Tucker (p. 350) erroneously refers to the Movement of Inner Spiritual Awareness (MISA); it should be Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA).
Tucker's Appendix A deals with twenty "lesser-known" groups, including such famous ones as est, Jonestown, Satanism, and Zen. Most of these treatments, though brief, are fairly good. At least one, however, I find misleading. Tucker rightly identifies the United Pentecostal Church as heretical for its denial of the Trinity (pp. 384-85). But it is misleading to call their view "unitarian" and to say that it is based "largely" on one text, John 10:30. Moreover, contrary to Tucker, denying the Trinity is not the only way the UPC differs from other Pentecostal bodies (e.g., many or most regard speaking in tongues as initial evidence of salvation).
In spite of the criticisms raised here, Ruth Tucker's Another Gospel is, in several respects, the best general textbook on the cults. It is more up-to-date, more readable, and more respectful of the cults than any other such textbook. But, because it is lacking in biblical critiques of the cults (which is understandable, given the author's areas of expertise), it cannot replace those books which do provide such critiques, however much fresh treatments are needed.
Many of the problems highlighted in this review could be fixed in a second edition without great difficulty, and I hope this is done. The book might be greatly improved by her consulting evangelical countercult ministries that specialize in various cultic movements, something which she did not do except for consulting Jerald and Sandra Tanner on Mormonism. The book can be used profitably in a course on cults or read by interested laypersons, as long as some evangelical critiques of the cults are consulted for sake of balance.
The Agony of Deceit by Michael Horton, Editor (Moody Press, 1990)
As I was taking over the leadership responsibilities of the Christian Research Institute, Dr. Walter Martin -- CRI's founder -- warned me about the "no-win situations" I would face. He went on to point out that this particular ministry is definitely not a place for popularity contests.
When Elliot Miller, editor of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, asked me to review The Agony of Deceit -- subtitled What Some TV Preachers Are Really Teaching -- I was fully aware that I would be in a classic no-win situation.
On the one hand, there are advocates of the book who will fault me for not giving it an unqualified endorsement. Already I have received calls and letters denouncing me for not publicizing a book to which Dr. Martin contributed a chapter.
On the other hand, there are opponents of the book who -- because it relied heavily on CRI research documentation, and was dedicated to our founder -- have condemned me along with Dr. Martin to the fate of "everlastingly burning in hell."
Therefore, recognizing that I will be vilified regardless, I forge ahead in this review to "tell it like it is."
Let me begin with what will surely displease those involved in the so-called faith movement: most of the material in the book regarding the theology of the faith teachers is both accurate and appropriate -- particularly Walter Martin's chapter entitled "Ye Shall Be As Gods." In this chapter, Martin clearly demonstrates and documents the heresies maintained by the faith teachers, who mix cultic and occultic doctrine with biblical truth, thus perverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Despite my strong affirmation of much of the content of this book, I believe it contains significant flaws that simply cannot be overlooked. First, Michael Horton -- the editor of this volume -- violates a primary rule that the Christian Research Institute has sought to uphold throughout its 30-year history: we do not openly criticize a brother or sister in Christ without first going to him or her in the spirit of Matthew 18. As a case in point (p. 137), he states that Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, denies the doctrine of original sin, yet -- by his own admission -- he has never attempted to discuss this matter with Robertson. Dr. Martin, who considered Robertson to be a brother in Christ, as well as I myself, have found Robertson and others at CBN to be teachable and open to dialogue on issues of concern.
Moreover, regardless of what might be said about Pat Robertson, to paint him into the same corner as that occupied by faith teachers like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Robert Tilton, is inaccurate and patently unfair. This is painting with a broad brush, or perhaps even a broom.
Second, while the book clearly and accurately denounces certain Christian programming which airs the faith movement's "little gods" doctrine, it also makes a stirring appeal to Christians and denominational leaders to watch, promote, and support networks like VISN ("Vision") cable. VISN also brings the "we can become gods" teaching into our homes in the form of Mormon programming (not to mention many other warped theologies carried by VISN). Although I acknowledge the right of VISN cable to air whatever kind of programming they like, I find it strangely inconsistent to encourage Christians to support it while in the same breath criticizing the programming schedule of ministries like TBN.
Third, I found it unfortunate that the book "mixes metaphors" at times by getting into issues that unnecessarily cloud its central message. Instead of simply dealing with the deviations of the faith teachers with respect to the essential doctrines of the historic Christian faith, Agony also gets into issues on which honest and committed Christians can differ in good conscience.
For example, in chapter nine former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop makes a case against the perpetuity of spiritual gifts. This is an issue on which many orthodox scholars (and Walter Martin was one of them) hold a differing view. The maxim should have prevailed: "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity."
In summary, while I thoroughly enjoyed contributions in The Agony of Deceit made by R. C. Sproul, Rod Rosenbladt, Walter Martin, and others, because of its significant inconsistencies, the Christian Research Institute does not list this book in its Resource Catalogue, nor can CRI wholeheartedly endorse it.
In my estimation, the best single volume presently available on this issue remains A Different Gospel, by D. R. McConnell (Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).
"Recent Releases" (a column from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990, page 38)
The Battle for the Resurrection, by Norman L. Geisler (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989; $9.95). Geisler brings into sharp focus the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ, a doctrine commonly denied by the cults, and now being subtly denied by some within the evangelical church. Before this book was written the subject had received little in-depth treatment at the popular level.
Does God Exist?: The Great Debate, by J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990; $17.95). Also features atheist philosopher Antony Flew. Includes contributions from evangelical scholars Peter Kreeft, William Lane Craig, and Dallas Willard.
Disarming the Secular Gods: How to Talk So Skeptics Will Listen, by Peter C. Moore (InterVarsity Press, 1989; $8.95). A creative, thoughtful approach to help the reader prepare for dialogues with non-Christians on a variety of popular philosophical topics.
How to Rescue Your Loved One from the Watchtower, by David A. Reed (Baker Book House, 1989; $9.95). Reed does a nice job of packaging good counsel, strategy, argument, and documentation without overwhelming the reader.
The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge, by John Ankerberg and John Weldon (Moody Press, 1990; $9.95). The most comprehensive Christian response on the subject yet. Extensively detailed, it includes subject and name indexes, a succinct one-page fact sheet, a select bibliography, and almost 800 endnotes.
Soothsayers of the Second Advent, by William A. Alnor (Fleming H. Revell, 1989; $7.95). Errors in date-setting and end-times speculation have long been used by Christian apologists as a test of truth for the cults. To its shame the church has for the most part failed to use the same standard on itself -- until now. Alnor sounds a long overdue cry for integrity while exposing some of the worst cases of eschatological irresponsibility within the body of Christ. Winner of Cornerstone magazine's 1989 Book of the Year award in current church issues.
End of document, CRJ0072A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Book Reviews and Recent Releases"
release A, April 25, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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