Cult Evangelism: Which Methods Are Effective?
by Robert M. Bowman
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
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.
Taken from Witnessing Tips column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 7. The
Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller. Copyright © 1994 by the Christian
Research Institute. Permission kindly granted to Faith & Reason Forum
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.