REST ministries Home Page
Recommended Reading
by Ron Henzel



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 is safety. 
    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:  
  1. "Special" Claims
  2. Authoritarianism
  3. An "Us Versus Them" Mentality
  4. Punitive Nature
  5. Overwhelming Service
  6. Followers in Pain
  7. Closed Communication
  8. Legalism
  9. No Objective Accountability
  10. Labeling [those in opposition]
    To Arterburn and Felton, "religious addiction" is something that is experienced by both the leadership and the followers in a "harmful faith system" -- i.e., the abusers are just as much trapped by the system as those they abuse.  
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 New Trends, 
     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: 
  1. Spiritual Abuse and Its Victims
  2. Abusive Leaders and Why They Are Trapped
  3. Post-Abuse Recovery
In also has an epilogue entitled, "Message to Perpetrators of Spiritual Abuse."  This book is filled with vivid descriptions which successfully capture and portray the experience of being in a spiritually abusive group.  It is especially strong on the dynamics that lure people into these groups and keep them there. 
[Back to Categories]


Christian Books on Cults & Their Methods

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: 
    The Text of Scripture 
    • Misreading No. 1: Innacurate Quotation
    • Misreading No. 2: Twisted Translation
    Scripture As Rhetoric 
    • Misreading No. 3: The Biblical Hook
    Scripture as Literature 
    • Misreading No. 4: Ignoring the Immediate Context
    • Misreading No. 5: Collapsing Contexts [i.e., confusing unrelated contexts]
    • Misreading No. 6: Overspecification [i.e., getting more out of a text than what is in it]
    • Misreading No. 7: Word Play
    • Misreading No. 8: The Figurative Fallacy
    • Misreading No. 9: Speculative Readings of Predictive Prophecy
    Scripture as Evidence 
    • Misreading No. 10: Saying but Not Citing
    • Misreading No. 11: Selective Citing
    • Misreading No. 12: Inadequate Evidence
    Reasoning from Scripture 
    • Misreading No. 13: Confused Definition
    • Misreading No. 14: Ignoring Alternative Explanations
    • Misreading No. 15: The Obvious Fallacy [i.e., setting forth the cult's interpretation as the only "obvious" one]
    • Misreading No. 16: Virtue by Association
    The Authority of the Bible 
    • Misreading No. 17: Esoteric Interpretation
    • Misreading No. 18: Supplementing Biblical Authority
    • Misreading No. 19: Rejecting Biblical Authority
    World-View Confusion: The Heart of the Matter 
    • Misreading No. 20: World-View Confusion [i.e., failure to understand the world-view of the Bible]
    Even though this book is close to 20 years old, it would be difficult to improve upon it.  If there was one updating that could be made, it would probably be in providing specific examples of how some spiritually abusive Christian groups (including entire fundamentalist, charismatic and Pentecostal churches and denominations) practice some of these "misreadings."  Nevertheless, for someone who is recovering from a spiritually abusive group, and has come to the point where he or she is ready to start untangling the mental confusion that spiritually abusive groups create, this is an excellent place to start. 
[Back to Categories]


Christian Books to Help You Regain Your Spiritual Balance

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: 
  1. God Revealed as Creator.
  2. God Revealed as Redeemer.
  3. God Revealed as Lord of Grace.
  4. God Revealed as Lord of Destiny.
And then it covers each topic, from revelation to the atonement, from adoption to the resurrection, in concise (hence the name of the book) but remarkably comprehensive fashion. 
    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:  
  1. Word-Study Fallacies
  2. Grammatical Fallacies
  3. Logical Fallacies
  4. Presuppositional and Historical Fallacies
     Carson is a scholar, and some of his discussions tend to be technical, but he always works at bringing his writing to the level at which laypeople can understand it.  One of my favorite examples of both Carson's writing style and an exegetical fallacy is found in his treatment of "Fallacies of causation," under "Presuppositional and Historical Fallacies:"
     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."  

[p. 133]

    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 The Bible, 
     by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart. 
     (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982) 
     ISBN 0-310-37361-1
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 buying it! 
    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.  
[Back to Categories]


Secular Books on the Techniques of Psychological Control

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 Jay Lifton. 
     (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 in cults. 
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. 
[Back to Categories]


Secular Books That Will Add to Your Perspective

Decision-Making Group 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.  Third Edition. 
     (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: 
         "Who is the True Believer? 
         "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." 
Hoffer's focus was on the mass movement, and how the leaders of those movements have been able to manipulate fanatical individuals down through the years.  Approaching his subject from a purely secular perspective -- not in any way attempting to account for the activity of God within history -- it is only natural to expect that some of his observations and conclusions are incompatible with the Bible.  However, that does not detract from the value of this book for spiritual abuse victims who are seeking insight into their experience. 
[Back to Categories]
Resources for Recovery:
Suggested Organizations | Recommended Reading
Online Articles | REST Groups

Copyright © 1997 REST ministries, All Rights Reserved.
Comments?  Questions?
Our email address is

This page hosted by  .
Get your own  Free Home Page.