Book Review - Unholy Devotion

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5., Number 2, pages 248. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians 

Rev. Dr. Harold Bussell

Zondervan Books, 1983, 128 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Richard L. Dowhower

I certainly wish I had known of this book in November of 1983 when I joined the American Family Foundation in a cult education program for clergy and church leaders in the Pittsburgh area. I would have distributed it to each participant, or at least recommended it.

Bussell, himself a committed Christian from Pentecostal origins and now a part of the Reformed tradition, writes a very sensitive and insightful analysis about why Evangelicals show up frequently among cults. He also shows why it is so easy for Evangelical groups to appropriate cult-like practices and, more by implication and application than direct labeling, why destructive cults appear under Christian/Evangelical banners.

In fact, the book is more about Evangelicals than it is about cults. And that is where its strength lies and its limited readership appeal ends. Since Dr. Bussell's message identifies a laundry list of religious vulnerabilities common to Evangelicals, his approach of combining formidable Biblical knowledge with counseling insights will only appeal to those for whom frequent Biblical allusions are helpful.

Dr. Bussell, Dean of Chapel at Gordon College when he wrote this book and now Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, Massachusetts, describes nine characteristics which make Evangelicals vulnerable to cults:

1. Overemphasis upon subjective experience;

2. Overly spiritualized approach to life experience;

3. Indiscriminate abdication of privacy in sharing personal matters with the group;

4. Uninformed and naive quest for the ideal or original form of Christian community;

5. Religious fervor showing more excitement for the group's leader than for Christ;

6. Spirituality that is more legalism than grace;

7. Utopian expectations about the avoidance of pain;

8. A need for inner peace in an age many view as apocalyptic;

9. Allowing a profusion of heresies to flourish among Evangelicals, including perversions of Biblical models of discipling and shepherding.

Although Bussell discusses these issues quite competently and provides helpful suggestions for readers seeking to grow spiritually, I did feel some discomfort with the book. First of all, I wish the author had not assumed all readers had the same understanding of what "Evangelical" means. I, for example, am evangelical in the tradition of the Lutheran Confessional documents, rather than in the conversion experience motif of fundamentalism and pentecostalism, which is often associated with the political agenda of the religious right. I also wish the book had dealt in greater depth with shepherding/discipling cults, had acknowledged the benign nature of some cults, and had included a chapter on the gullibility and naivete that renders Evangelicals and others vulnerable to fraud, deception, lack of informed consent, and other religious racketeering practices.

Richard L. Dowhower, Pastor, All Saints Lutheran Church,Bowie, MD

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1988