Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians

Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians by Harold BussellEveryone has a film, a book, a piece of art that has a revolutionary effect on the way they look at everything. And, if one is fortunate (I would say “blessed”), that may happen many times along this journey we call life.

I first read Unholy Devotion as a young Christian, involved in ministry to people caught up in cults. The book received rave reviews within the apologetics community, so it was required reading for any aspiring counter-cult evangelist !

I had no idea what I was in for. Rather than focus on cultic strategies to deceive the naive or unwitting Christian into joining the Baha’i Faith or Watchtower Society, Harold Bussell identifies cultish tendencies among mainline and evangelical groups that set up otherwise solid believers to cash in their pearl of great price for a worthless counterfeit faith, presenting itself as the genuine article.

From the back cover:

The lure of the cults is not doctrine, but style. Not reasoned faith, but the promise of a better life. Many evangelical youth are drawn to cults because too often the marks of spirituality they set forth uncannily resemble the qualities we exhibit in our own Christian churches…

  • We overemphasize subjective religious experience
  • We confuse the Gospel with our response to the Gospel
  • We have confused and inflated expectations of Christian fellowship
  • We spiritualize issues to justify our actions
  • We evaluate leaders on their ability to sway us emotionally

Bussell comes locked and loaded, leaving the evangelical pasture strewn with the carcasses of some of our most cherished sacred cows, including these bogus bovines:

  • You Just Have To Hear Our Pastor!
  • The Lord Led Me
  • But We Have A New Testament Church
  • But Mormons Don’t Drink or Smoke
  • But You Can See the Love on Their Faces

The author tells story after story of real people he has known during years of youth and college ministry, who became easy prey for the cults. Take Terry for instance:

Terry was an active leader in the youth group of the first church I served in California. He had become a Christian the previous year and gave a glowing testimony. Then, astonishingly, Terry became a Mormon… I still remember my confusion and dumfounded reaction to his defense: “But Mormons don’t drink or smoke.” As with many of us, Terry’s conversion to Christianity included adoption of specific cultural taboos important to American Evangelicals. These taboos, along with the popular emphasis on personal happiness and group support, confused Terry in his journey toward spiritual maturity… Evangelicals tend to yoke their definitions of spirtuality with certain cultural convictions… An overemphasis on taboos has misled some believers to feel more guilty about sipping a glass of wine than about sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Rather than focus on the negative, each chapter ends with a set of questions for discussion and lessons emphasizing corrective truths from the Bible on each topic. Bussell points the reader back to Jesus and His Word — the only antidote for false gospels and faux spiritualities. In my case, it caused me to look carefully at my own faulty notions and convictions that have no basis in Christ or His Word. That, in turn, deepened my relationship with Jesus, caused me to treasure Him more deeply and to value His sufficiency in all aspects of my life.

So, this book is for every Christian. It’s not just for those who have an interest in apologetics or the cults, but for believers who want to develop their critical thinking skills, strip away harmful accretions to faith and grow in their affection for the Christ.


  1. Nikki said:

    I would love to read this book. I find this stuff so interesting. When I was in high school half of my close friends were Mormon. I spent a bit of time in their church and in seminary before school. (Only because I had to go if I stayed at their house) I think the whole ” but you can see the love on their faces” thing is the most dangerous. I can see why so may young people would fall into that trap. I never saw the light, but the family value thing is really appealing to an outsider. I also dated a Mormon who wanted me to lie to my parents and meet with missionaries to convert me so we could marry in the temple. This was after 3 weeks! They remind me of used car sales men.

    By the way, don’t you think Eric looks like a Mormon boy?

    March 7, 2007
  2. Clever review Bo. I totally want to add this book to the fray. You might be interested in a blog I recently discovered called “Internet Monk”. It’s at the top of my blogroll–links. Michael Spencer is really into questioning American evangelical movements that resemble cultish qualities.

    in particular.
    Thanks again for the recommendation.

    March 7, 2007
  3. Bo Salisbury said:

    Hey, Sades… Hey, Nikki

    I hope you can find a copy of this book… it’s really good and goes in and out of print.

    And, yes, Eric looks totally LDS. You really dodged a bullet… ask Denise about the temple clothes you would have gotten married in… not to mention the bloody oaths. Yikes!

    March 8, 2007
  4. * We overemphasize subjective religious experience
    * We confuse the Gospel with our response to the Gospel
    * We have confused and inflated expectations of Christian fellowship
    * We spiritualize issues to justify our actions
    * We evaluate leaders on their ability to sway us emotionally

    Each one of these a book could be written on it, especially #3 and #5.

    One of my cousins was drawn into a cult. It’s something we never really discussed. He ended up selling almost everything he owned and gave the money away to the cult. I’ve never understood how a cult could have so much power over an individual. He’s a really smart guy too, so it’s just strange. He’s out of it now, but at a strong emotional cost to his family.

    March 9, 2007
  5. pietyhill said:

    Yes, ZS, books could definitely be written and some have… I have a new blog plan… I come up with a new plan about every month (ADD run amock). I thought I should reveiw the hundreds of books I’ve read… duh! One a week.

    Your cousin was spared… I think many converts do come out of cults, as opposed to those born into them. That’s perceptive on your part… native intelligence will not inocculate a person. It’s all about the emotions and, in my opinion, the arrogance of thinking one knows him/herself completely and making him/herself the rule, the canon, the authority to evaluate various truth claims out there, from advertising to political or religious propaganda… all of it. Ironically, the atheist and the cultist (the follower) have more in common than they know. It takes a certain amount of humility and emotional maturity to resist cults, cultural currents, philosophies and manipulation.

    March 10, 2007

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