Most Highly Recommended Titles
By Hook or By Crook: How Cults Lure Christians, by Harold Bussell.
(New York: McCracken Press, 1993). ISBN 1-56977-585-0 (paperback).
Previously published as Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians,
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983).
|When it was first published under the title of
Unholy Devotion, this was a ground-breaking book. It effectively
identified the "areas of overlap" between the cults and mainstream evangelical
churches. As Harold Bussell wrote: "This book is not an attack on
either cults or Christians. It is an examination of the things cultists
and Christians hold in common." (p. ix) The author is
an evangelical Christian himself, and his premise is that Christians are
lured into cults because there are many things that are found in them which
is familiar, due to the fact that they are also found in the church --
including unhealthy and unbiblical dynamics -- and this familiarity causes
Christians to drop their guard under the false assumption that familiarity
When the book was re-published ten years later (prompted by the Waco/Branch Davidian incident), it was tragic how little had changed, and how much this work was still needed. In addition, by that time another phenomenon had been identified within many supposedly non-cultic, Christian groups: the problem of Spiritual Abuse. But it was a problem of which Bussell himself was already aware: "Many groups on the religious landscape that have traditionally been defined as cults doctrinally do not abuse their members in aberrant ways. An increasing number of groups that are thoroughly Christian in belief, however, are using aberrational methods of control and in that sense fall into the category of a cult from a psychosocial perspective." (p. xi)
This book is every bit as relevant and helpful for victims of spiritually abusive Christian groups as it has been for victims of cults.
|Churches That Abuse, by Ronald M. Enroth.
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
ISBN 0-310-53290-6 (hardcover).
|This was the first book on spiritual abuse that
I ever read. It was also the book that helped me muster up the courage
to leave my own spiritually abusive group in 1992. Furthermore, it
was the book that taught me -- quite indirectly -- that spiritual abusers
talk about of both sides of their mouths. While still in the group,
I told our leader that I had read the book, and he was outraged!
(So much for all his rhetoric about how we could think for ourselves.
He himself admitted that he had never read the book; nevertheless, he called
it "a dangerous book." Hmph!)
I have found this to be possibly the most valuable book for aiding both spiritual abuse victims, and their friends and family who are trying to help them cope with the recovery process. It is more narrative in its approach than many of the other books on spiritual abuse, but this actually enhances its effectiveness. It describes more than it defines, and for a phenomenon that really must be experienced before it can be fully understood, this is the most effective way of communicating dynamics to those who will (hopefully) never have to go through it themselves, while simultaneously assuring victims that they are not alone in their experience.
|Damaged Disciples, by Ron and Vicky Burks.
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
|Ron and Vicky Burks were part of the "Shepherding
Movement" (or "Discipling Movement"), which flourished primarily in charismatic
circles during the 1970s and early 1980s and influenced Christians all
across the denominational (and non-denominational) spectrum.
Even though the movement officially disbanded in 1986 in the fact of mounting charges of spiritually abusive cult-like practices, the influence of its authoritarian, chain-of-command teachings continues to be felt in many in Shepherding splinter groups, parachurch organizations, and even mainline denominations.
Ron and Vicky were in on the ground-floor of this movement and witnessed its tragic consequences first-hand. Their book is partially a record of their own spiritual journeys, and partially a helping-hand extended to fellow-victims.
|Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals, by Stephen Arterburn
and Jack Felton.
(Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992).
ISBN 0-8407-9657-9 (paperback). Originally published under the title Toxic Faith.
|In Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals, Arterburn
and Felton are primarily concerned with diagnosing and curing something
they call "religious addiction," which in many ways resembles what we refer
to as "Spiritual Abuse," especially what they describe in chapter six:
"Ten Characteristics of a Harmful Faith System," which are as follows:
|Healing Spiritual Abuse, by Ken Blue.
(Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
ISBN 0-8308-1660-7 (paperback).
|Ken Blue is a seasoned pastor, and a widely-read,
deep-thinking Christian who is personally acquainted with the subject on
which he writes. The subtitle of this book is "How to Break Free
from Bad Church Experiences," and true to this claim the final three chapters
bear the titles, "Healed by Grace," "Healthy Church Leadership," and "Healthy
Church Discipline." Reading this book provides an experience similar
to talking directly with its author -- it is a breath of fresh air!
|The New Charismatics: A Concerned Voice Responds to Dangerous
by Michael G. Moriarty.
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
ISBN 0-310-53431-3 (paperback).
|So much Spiritual Abuse is taking place in charismatic
circles today that it is difficult to keep up with it all. In fact,
it is probably impossible to catalogue all of the various splinter groups
and quasi-cults that have trickled down from the main movement, which began
in the early 1960s.
But Michael Moriarty does an excellent job in identifying the core trends and teachings that pose the greatest threats to the spiritual health of Christians who get involved in the more aberrational varieties of this movement. Especially helpful is Moriarty's twelfth chapter, "The Power Abusers," which addresses the authoritarian, chain-of-command teaching known as "the Covering."
|The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson
and Jeff VanVonderen.
(Minneapolis, MN, USA: Bethany House Publishers, 1991).
ISBN 1-5561-160-9 (paperback).
|Johnson and VanVonderen divide their systematic
and helpful book into three sections:
Kingdom of the Cults,
by Walter R. Martin.
(Minneapolis, MN, USA: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Publisher, revised 1977).
|This is the grand-daddy of all books on the cults!
When it was first published (1965) it was still possible to write a book
that could be considered a comprehensive treatment of the cult problem,
and this one placed Martin at the forefront of Christian counter-cult ministries.
But by the time of the book's revision (1977), things had already begun to change dramatically. In the late 1960s and into the '70s, cults multiplied at a phenomenal rate. So now it is now no longer possible to provide a comprehensive, one-volume treatment of all the significant cults with the depth that Dr. Martin was originally able to achieve.
In addition, in the late '70s and early '80s, many characteristics that were typical of cults (manipulation, authoritarianism, excessive discipline, etc.) were beginning to be noticed among Christian churches and groups as well.
Despite all these changes and developments, this book retains its usefulness because many of the new cults are simply splinter groups of old cults that Martin covers, and also because Martin's third chapter, "The Psychological Structure of Cultism," is especially helpful for Spiritual Abuse victims. This chapter was a ground-breaking essay when it was first published, and Christians who shy away from considering the psychological and sociological aspects of cults (usually because they are afraid of their implications for some Christians groups) would do well ponder its contents.
Note: it is important for me to add that later in his life Martin revised his view on Seventh-Day Adventism, which in this book he did not identify as a cult. Not long before he died he reconsidered this position, and adopted a sterner view. For details on this, please consult the Christian Research Institute, which Martin founded.
|Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways
the Cults Misread the Bible, by James W. Sire.
(Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1980).
ISBN 0-87784-611-1 (paperback).
|Most books on biblical hermeneutics (the science
of proper biblical interpretation) are devoted to identifying and explaining
the proper methods of biblical interpretation, so that readers can be careful
to apply them. But in Scipture Twisting, James W. Sire's watershed
book, biblical hermeneutics meets the world of the cults, and because of
this his approach to hermeneutics is different.
Instead of identifying proper methods of interpretation, Sire identifies improper ones, so that we can understand what is actually going on when cultists open up their Bibles and try to use it in order to prove their beliefs.
Sire here identifies 20 common ways in which the cults misread the Bible, helpfully labels these "misreadings," and groups them according to category. He also provides much helpful additional material, but the 20 "misreadings" themselves may be broken down as follows, within their respective categories:
A Basic Guide
to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules,
by Robert H. Stein.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994).
ISBN 0-8010-2101-4 (paperback).
|Spiritual abusers do not play by the rules.
They do not play by the rules that Christ set up for His church, nor do
they play by the rules that Christians down through the centuries have
acknowledged as being the key to understanding the Bible. Instead,
they make up their own rules as they go along, because in spiritually abusive
groups, there is really only one basic rule: the leader rules.
But perhaps if more run-of-the-mill, everyday Christians knew what the rules for interpreting the Bible were, fewer of them would fall into spiritually abusive groups. Spiritual abusers take advantage of the fact that few Christians are even aware of the fact that there are rules for interpretation, let alone know what they are.
One reason that few Christians study the principles of interpretation is their own impatience. They want results now. They want someone to give them fish, rather than teach them how to fish. They want someone to give them interpretations now, rather than invest the time to learn how to do it themselves. "Why study a book on interpretation," so this attitude goes, "when I can go directly to someone who will tell me 'the answers?'" Well, if you've been sucked into a spiritually abusive group, you should know how to respond to that one! Failure to know the rules keeps people from knowing who has the right "answers," and makes them vulnerable to spiritual abusers.
But understanding the Bible sometimes seems so complicated, some people complain. Isn't there anyone out there who can explain the principles of interpreting it in a way that almost anyone can understand?
Fortunately, Robert H. Stein has provided just such a book. It is written at the layman's level, and yet it is completely up-to-date on the latest issues that face people who want to read their Bibles with understanding. Whether you have taken courses in this subject before, or you are just starting out, this book will help you. If you've never studied the subject of Biblical interpretation before, this is an excellent, inexpensive place to start. If you fail to study this subject at all, you do so at your own risk.
|Concise Theology, by J.I. Packer.
(Wheaton, IL, USA: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993).
ISBN 0-8423-1111-4 (hardcover).
|Victims of spiritual abuse typically exit their
abusive groups in states of spiritual, mental and emotional disorientation.
Because of this, the simple act of reading their Bibles, or reading books
or articles on biblical teachings or spiritual matters often sends them
into states of depression, panic, hysteria, or worse. So many Scriptures
have been twisted, and so many common terms re-defined, that a long, difficult
process is required before they can regain their spiritual bearings.
But sooner or later, victims must come to the point where they begin the job of spiritual and mental housekeeping -- "renewing their minds," as the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 12 -- taking out the trash (so to speak) which their abusive groups used to clutter their thoughts and keep them in bondage. When that time comes, it's good to have a single source that can cover key topics that every Christian needs to have straight in order to live a fruitful Christian life.
There is probably no one today better qualified to instruct Christians on everything from the basics of the Christian faith to the intricacies of biblical doctrine than James Innell Packer. This book takes all the truly important topics of the Christian life and places them under the following categories:
This book is quite simply a treasure, and should remain so for generations to come.
|Exegetical Fallacies, by D.A. Carson. 2nd edition.
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA, and Carlisle, Cumbria, UK:
Baker Book House and Paternoster Press, 1996).
ISBN 0-8010-2086-7 (USA). ISBN 0-85364-677-5 (UK).
|Did you ever come across an interpretation of
a biblical text that you knew was wrong, but you either could not put your
finger on exactly why, or else you just could not articulate the reason
for your disagreement with it? If so, and if you have been looking
for help in this area, then this book is for you.
The word "exegesis" is a fancy theological word that means "interpretation," but it also implies that a given interpretation will "draw out" the meaning of the Bible, rather than reading a foreign meaning into the Bible (which would be called "eisegesis"). Carson identifies the interpretive fallacies that cause people to abandon exegesis for eisegesis. He places each fallacy into one of four broad categories:
| Fallacies of causation
are faulty explanations of the causes of events. Fischer lists quite
a few, including post hoc, propter hoc, "the mistaken idea that
if event B happened after event A, it happened because of event A"; cum
hoc, propter hoc, which "mistakes correlation for cause"; pro hoc,
propter hoc, "putting the effect before the cause"; the reductive fallacy,
which "reduces complexity to simplicity, or diversity to uniformity, in
causal explanations"; the fallacy of reason as cause, which "mistakes a
causal for a logical order, or vice versa"; and the fallacy of responsibility
as cause, which "confuses a problem of ethics with a problem of agency
in a way which falsifies both."
| Don't be intimidated by this
quote -- the rest of the book is not usually this technical, and Carson
does not frequently use Latin. When he uses a word or phrase from
the Greek or Hebrew original of the Bible, he is careful to both transliterate
it (i.e., put it into our alphabet) and translate it so that you know how
to pronounce it and what it means.
This book is extremely helpful for both scholars and laypeople, and it can be a comfort to know that the same kinds of mistakes in biblical interpretation that non-scholars make are also made by scholars. This book will give you an extra tool for occasions when cultists or spiritual abusers try to muddle your thinking with a misused text.
|How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth: A Guide To Understanding
by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982)
|When I purchased my copy of this book in the
mid-1980s, I bought it as a clearance item. It had only been in print,
but it looked as though it would soon be no longer available. As
I read it, this made me sad. Such a good book to have so few Christians
Well, someone must have overheard me mumbling that to myself, because the book remained in print many years after that, and as far as I know, it still is.
Fee and Stewart will take you deeper into the area of how to interpret the Bible than Stein does, and they wrote their book at a more scholarly level. Take this into account if this is the first book you are buying on this subject, or if you have a limited budget. Both books are excellent.
|Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament, by
Robert H. Stein.
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Book House, 1996).
|In this book Stein follows up his book A
Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (which
I also recommend) with this collection of case studies that applies the
rules of interpretation to uniquely difficult texts. These are the
same kinds of biblical texts that spiritually abusive groups major on,
and like Carson's book (above) this book is helpful in exposing the poor
thinking and misuse of Scripture that is behind their misuse.
Combatting Cult Mind Control,
by Steven Hassan.
(Rochester, VT, USA: Park Street Press, 1990).
ISBN 0-89281-311-3 (paperback).
|Hassan writes out of his experience as a former
member of the Unification Church cult (the Moonies), but his observations
are very relevant to victims of Spiritual Abuse.
|Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, by Robert
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1961).
|Lifton is one of several psychologists who studied
the brainwashing techniques employed against American prisoners of war
by the Communist Chinese who ran POW camps during the Korean War.
These studies have since assisted in the understanding of what happens
|Obedience to Authority, by Stanley Milgram.
(New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
|Milgram conducted the famous mock electric-shock
experiments in order to determine how far a person would go in hurting
someone else for the sake of obeying an authority figure. His work
is now standard material in first-year college psychology courses.
Interaction, by Bobby R. Patton and Kim Giffin.
Second Edition. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.)
ISBN 0-06-045061-4 (paperback).
|In some ways it was disconcerting to discover
that many of the phenomena that I experienced in my spiritually abusive
group had been covered in the textbooks I was assigned in college courses
I had taken in interpersonal communication and group psychology.
(If only I had been paying more attention to what I was reading!)
On the positive side, at least I kept those books instead of selling them
back to the college bookstore! I have included three of these titles
among our recommended reading list. Patton and Giffin's work is helpful
for its insights into group cohesiveness (pp. 66ff.), and also for the
fact that it reproduces the complete text of a classic article, "Groupthink,"
by Irving L. Janis (1971), in its appendix.
|Nasty People: How to Stop Being Hurt by Them Without Becoming
One of Them,
by Jay Carter. (New York: Dorset Press, 1989).
ISBN 0-88029-687-9 (hardcover).
|If Jay Carter were to meet the leader of a spiritually
abusive group, he would have a ready-made label to describe that individual:
he would call him or her a "Nasty Person." He would also describe
him or her an an "Invalidator," because that's what the "Nasty Person"
does best: he invalidates you in order to validate himself.
|Management of Organizational Behavior, by Paul Hersey
and Ken Blanchard.
Fourth Edition. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982).
ISBN 0-13-549600-4 (paperback).
|This book is primarily a textbook for students
of management, but it has two chapters which give additional perspective
on the issues faced in a spiritually abusive group. Chapter 8 is
on "Situational Leadership, Perception, and the Impact of Power," and has
pertinent things to say about the use of coercive power in the workplace.
Chapter 10 is on "Constructive Discipline," dealing with disciplinary issues
in the workplace, but with obvious implications for church and Christian
fellowship group settings. It is especially interesting to note that
the ethical standards advocated in these secular books by far exceed what
is practiced in spiritually abusive Christian groups.
|Organizational Psychology, by Edgar H. Schein.
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1980).
ISBN 0-13-641332-3 (paperback).
|This book contains insights into coercive organizational
structures, and helpful comparisons and contrasts with other types of organizational
structures. Victims of Spiritual Abuse will be struck by the similarity
between Schein's "Coercive Organization" and their own group experiences.
|The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements,
by Eric Hoffer.
(New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1951).
ISBN 0-06-080071-2 (paperback).
|As the back-cover blurb of my paperback copy
of this book sums it up:
"According to Eric Hoffer --
"He's a guilt-ridden hitchhiker who thumbs a ride on every cause from Christianity to Communism.
"He's a fanatic, needing a Stalin (or a Christ) to worship and die for.
"He's the mortal enemy of things-as-they-are, and he insists on sacrificing himself for a dream impossible to attain.
"He is today everywhere on the march."