Category Archives: Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor

What is a “cult”?

I’ve been working on a series of lectures I’ll be giving for a ministry training program called Church Birthing Matrix. The title of the class they’ve asked me to lead is “Cults and Apologetics.” So I’ve been thinking about the definition of “cult” – and how that applies to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  (I also address this in chapter 1 of my book “Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor.”)

There is no single definition of a cult that everyone finds useful or acceptable. Typically, two kinds of definitions are given: sociological and theological. (For a detailed analysis, see this article.)

Sociological Definition
Sociologically, a group is considered a cult if it has socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. It may emphasize the authority of a charismatic leader, promote isolation of its members, and exercise a high degree of control over them. Types of control might include behavior control, as when members are pressured to conform to high expectations, or when leaving the group is strongly opposed. Cults also practice information control, as when alternative sources of information are forbidden or people sharing alternative ideas are vilified. A cult may exercise a degree of control over thoughts and emotions as well. Of course, no one can control another person’s interior life, but a cult uses various techniques to covertly exercise dishonest influence. For example, the group might say, “If you leave you will lose all your family and friends” or “If you don’t comply you will be put to shame before others.”

Theological Definition
Theologically, a cult is a group whose beliefs and/or practices are considered unorthodox compared to the essential teaching of the mainstream movement to which the group compares itself. Thus there can be cults of Islam, like Sufism or the Nation of Islam. A cult of Christianity, then, is a group of people claiming to be Christian, but who embrace doctrines which deny (explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the historic, biblical Christian faith. Cult groups usually deny biblical teaching in one or more of these six key areas:

  • How God has revealed himself
  • The nature of God
  • The nature of Jesus
  • The nature of salvation
  • The nature of the church
  • What happens in the future

Should We Even Use the Word?
The LDS Church certainly qualifies as a cult of Christianity on theological grounds. Many people believe it qualifies on sociological grounds as well. But in popular usage, a cult is a group of strange people, out of step with ordinary society, brainwashed to believe and do bizarre things, and being held emotionally captive by some magnetic leader. People think of Jim Jones’ followers drinking poison Kool-Aid. These negative stereotypes – and the emotional tone associated with them – render the term “cult” less than useful for any meaningful discussion.

It is no surprise that Latter-day Saints are offended when their church is called a cult. If we want to have real conversations with our LDS neighbors that open up opportunities to share our faith when them in a positive way, labeling them as cult members is unnecessary and counterproductive. Besides, Mormonism is much more than just a theological position. It is a way of life, an identity. This calls for a broader approach to faith-sharing than resorting to perjorative labels.

Latest Book Distribution Report

I still can’t believe a major publisher would be willing to publish my little books, so I’m like a proud dad whenever I get my statements.  I’m thoroughly gratified that anybody would want to buy what I’ve written.  So here’s my thank you to everyone who has invested in my stuff.  As of July 1, 2013, you all have bought the following number of books (in all formats).

By the way, if you haven’t read them, and would like to do so, you can order them just about anywhere online, but the best price comes from my store:

Understanding the Book of Mormon: 5,638 copies













Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor: 3,253 copies

A Quick Christian Guide for Relating to Latter-day Saints















Thanks for Your Support

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has taken an interest in my books.  As of the end of 2012,    you have invested in 2,314 copies of Understanding the Book of Mormon and 1,702 copies of Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor.  If you haven’t seen the books yet, or you want more copies, you can order them at our Online Store.

More New Audio Resources Are Online

I have added to the library of resources available from Utah Advance a seminar I conducted in California in March 2012 called Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor – related to my book of the same title (available here).

Those of us who know Latter-day Saints respect their family commitments and moral values, although we may wonder about odd-sounding beliefs.  Who are these people?  What matters to them?  How do they view us?  How do they live out their lives?  If we understand the values and practices of our LDS neighbors and friends, we can be better prepared to have meaningful faith conversations with them.

  • Understand the powerful experiences that shape the Mormon identity.
  • Explore the six core relationships that define Latter-day Saint life.
  • Learn effective principles for communicating wisely with LDS friends and neighbors.

Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor, part I   (51:51)

Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor, part II   (1:15:01)

How Christians Should Engage Latter-day Saints

Russell Moore is a thoughtful theologian who has done some helpful thinking about how evangelical Christians engage Mormonism.  I encourage you to read and think about his recent comments on “How Christians Should Engage Latter-day Saints.”  This represents the kind of reflection that will help us learn how to present the good news of God’s grace to Latter-day Saints in a way that sounds like good news to them.  Scroll down to read my comment in response to his thoughts.