Book Reviews

Refuting False Teachings by Untwisting the Scripture

Correcting the Cults: Expert Responses to Their Scripture Twisting by Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes. Baker Books; 2005, 368 pages. ISBN-10: 080106550X, ISBN-13: 978-0801065507. Paperback, $25.20 at Amazon.

A few years back, I was riding in a taxi across Beijing with a very chatty driver. He asked me all the questions that talking foreigners are required to answer: Where are you from? Why are you here? Are you married? Why not? I will be honest and say that how I answer that last question often depends on my mood. Sometimes I just say that my standards are too high (which is true), and other times I respond that I’m a Christian and therefore whether I have a husband or not is up to God. That usually elicits a funny look, but in this case, he told me that he was a Christian as well.

I asked him to tell me more. “I don’t go to a regular church,” he said. “I go to a house church.” “And,” he continued, “our church is different from other churches. We don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God!”

As I kept asking him questions, my mind was searching its language files for the Chinese term for Jehovah Witness. As we neared my house, it came to me. “Is your church Yehehua Jianzheng (耶和华见证)?” I asked. “Yes, that’s it!” he replied. While I had heard that Jehovah Witness churches were in China, this was my first encounter with someone who was a member of that church.

As these, and other foreign and homegrown sects and cults gain traction in China, it is important to have a better grasp on some of the teachings of these groups. Correcting the Cults: Expert Responses to Their Scripture Twisting is such a book.

While it is not the type of book you are likely to curl up with in front of a fireplace and read all the way through, it is a helpful reference tool for someone looking for help in refuting various false teachings. As authors Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes write in the introduction, it is written “to help you, the reader, lovingly turn the table on the cultists and “untwist” the Scriptures so the cultist can see what Scripture really says.” (p. 18)

In the introduction, the authors set out to first give a definition of a cult. While acknowledging that there is no universally agreed-upon definition, they provide an overview of the doctrinal, sociological, and moral characteristics of cults.

Regarding the doctrinal characteristics, they write: “One will typically find an emphasis on new revelation from God, a denial of the sole authority of the Bible, a denial of the Trinity, a distorted view of God and Jesus, or a denial of salvation by grace.” (p. 10)

Regarding the sociological characteristics, they write: “These included authoritarianism, exclusivism, dogmatism, close-mindedness, susceptibility, compartmentalization, isolation, and even antagonism.” (p. 11)

Regarding the moral characteristics, they write: “Among those that crop up most often are legalism, sexual perversion, intolerance, and psychological or even physical abuse.” (p. 13)

Unfortunately, the book does not directly address any of the cults that are unique to China, such as Eastern Lightning. However, it does address some of the false teachings of foreign cults and religions such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Baha’i, all of which have a growing presence in China.

The format of the book is a simple and straightforward look at specific passages in Scripture that are often twisted by cults. There is a Scripture reference that raises an important question; an explanation of the common misinterpretation of the passage; then an explanation of the correct interpretation. Here is an example:

Genesis 1:26-27: Does this passage support the idea that God has a physical body?

Misinterpretation: Mormons argue that, because humans were created with a body of flesh and bones, God the Father must have a physical body, since humanity was created in God’s image. (Smith, 1975, 1:3)

Correcting the Misinterpretation: A fundamental interpretive principle is that Scripture interprets Scripture. When other Scriptures about God’s nature are consulted, the Mormon understanding of Genesis 1:26-27 becomes impossible. John 4:24 indicates that God is spirit. Luke 24:39 tells us that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. Conclusion: Since God is spirit, he does not have flesh and bones. Moreover, contrary to Mormonism, God is not (and never has been) a man (Num. 23:19, Isa. 45:12, Hosea 11:9, Rom. 1:22-23). (p. 22)

Using that format, the authors march from Genesis 1:1 right through to Revelation 22:18. The table of contents is laid out so that each chapter is a book of the Bible. This means that it is very easy to find a particular verse or passage as needed. Another feature that makes the book useful is the indexes at the back, which include a 15-page bibliography, as well as a Scripture index and an index of religious groups.

While the title of the book identifies cults and cult teachings as the subject, in reality, it is not just about erroneous teachings of cults. The authors also address what they consider to be false teachings of groups and sects that do not normally fall within the definition of cults, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Word of Faith Pentecostal movement, even while acknowledging that they do not view those groups as cults.

This prompted two questions for me: 1) If they do not view these sects as cults, then why include them in a book about cults? 2) If “untwisting” the misinterpretations of these groups is important, then why label the book as being about cults?

So, while this is a book about cults, and a helpful one at that, it is not a book about cults exclusively. In this sense, then, I feel that a more accurate title of the book would not include the word “cults” in it.

That said, if you find yourself in conversations with those who are twisting Scripture, but you are not ready with enough information to refute them, then you will find this a very helpful resource.

Image Credit: antique_twist_6D1633 by Steve Miller, on Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio