BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today’s interview is with Ron Rhodes. Ron is president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries and author of over sixty books, including three silver medallion winners. He is a keynote speaker at conferences across the United States and he teaches cult apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Talbot Seminary and Biola University among others.
The purpose of this interview is to learn from his work in apologetics dealing with cults and give his advice to Christian apologists. Well thanks for joining me for this interview today Ron.
RR: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
BA: Well I want to thank you for all your work and you have written many books and I am sure many of our listeners are familiar with your work and your ministry but maybe to get started, would you mind telling our listeners a bit about yourself and your ministry.
RR: Sure. I have actually been involved in apologetics for quite a number of years. In fact, I was about… I guess it was about 1988 when I joined up with CRI and I really signed on at CRI because I wanted to work on the journal – the Christian Research Journal and lo and behold about six months later, that’s when Walter Martin died and went to be with the Lord and so I got drafted to do the Bible Answer Man - Didn’t want to do it at first actually. Who wants to go on the radio and get asked really hard questions everyday but after a while it grew on me and I ended up doing the Bible Answer Man show for about eight years. Then in 2002 I had a change of direction and I left CRI, gave them my blessings. I wanted to start a new ministry and do apologetics a little bit differently.
Basically what we do at Reasoning from the Scriptures ministries is number one, we provide apologetics answers, but beyond that one of our goals is to help people grow with the realization that apologetics is more than just being right, you know Christianity is more than just being right doctrinally, there is a personal relationship with Christ that is involved and that has to show itself in the way you interact with other people, such as kindness and respect.
My feeling personally is that a great deal of apologetics today is a little bit off in this area. In other words, all the strong answers are there but to me, I have just seen so much arrogance in apologetics among so many people that even though we are winning the arguments, we are really not seeing as many conversions as we should. So that is one of the reasons I kind of changed directions. The strong answers are still there but I feel like we have to literally shine Jesus in our lives so that people can actually see that there is something different and see that we are really sincere in our beliefs and so that’s really been the focus of Reasoning from the Scriptures since 2002 and I have been doing that ever since.
BA: Well I am totally behind what you are saying there Ron, and so I do appreciate your ministry and its vision, but backing up just a little bit more, I am curious as to how you actually became a Christian and maybe what got you interested in the area of apologetics in particular.
RR: Well in my childhood I thought I was a Christian. In fact up to my mid teen-age years, I thought I was a Christian but I really wasn’t a Christian. I attended a liberal Christian church and I went through a confirmation ceremony and I sang on the on the church choir. I did all the right things but I had never heard of a personal relationship with Christ. I didn’t even know what the Gospel was. Nobody talked to me about trusting in Christ because you got a sin problem. In fact what they talked about is that the Bible is inspired, kind of like Shakespeare is inspired. You know its inspiring to read.
The second coming is when somebody discovers God again in their heart. They just kind of redefined all the doctrines. Meanwhile I was pursuing a career in Hollywood of all places. In my late teen-age years and early twenties, I ended up doing a lot of big TV shows, like the Tonight Show and Jerry Lewis Telethon and Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas and just a lot of different shows. Right in the middle of that I found myself working with Pat Boone and his family. Pat Boone, Shirley Boone and his four daughters and one day back stage – I think it was at NBC studios – if I am recalling it correctly. They were doing the Glen Campbell Show in studio A and I was doing the Merv Griffin in studio B and backstage, Shirley Boone was talking about Jesus.
That’s the first time I ever saw anybody cry tears of joy from a personal relationship with Jesus. I certainly never saw that in the liberal church I grew up in. So that really piqued my interest and discovered that they were very much into Bible prophecy and they were talking about the Second Coming of the Lord, which I had never heard of.
One thing led to another and I decided to look into this further. Long story short, I ended up becoming a Christian out of that and I dumped Hollywood, went to seminary and haven’t looked back. I have been involved in ministry ever since. My wife Carrie likes to tell people that she thought that she was going to marry a rock star but she got a seminary student. So it’s kind of a switch for her as well.
But you know God really worked providentially in my life. You wouldn’t think that somebody would discover Jesus in Hollywood of all places, but that’s exactly what happened.
BA: That’s one of the things I want to talk about today is how we come across cults and things like that and I have seen a lot of people either come out of those sorts of environments and just either leave God or kind of kick them the other way and then they really find the truth and you know maybe they do get into apologetics or they finally just pursue and find good theology and they go after it like that.
I am wondering in your own journey, as I said, I wanted to know how you got into apologetics in particular. Maybe what sparked that interest.
RR: Well you know first of all, after I became a Christian, I found myself just starving for Christian books. I mean I just couldn’t get enough. I kept on reading more and more and more. It just so happened that a lot of the books that were in pretty wide distribution at the time, at least where I was were books written by some of the Dallas Seminary faculty. You know people like Charles Ryrie, who did the Ryrie Study Bible. J. Dwight Pentecost and John Walvord. I mean I just ended buying a lot of books by those guys and digesting them. That’s one of the reasons why I ended up going to Dallas Theological Seminary and meanwhile the backdrop is that my cousins are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So you can imagine what that is like. I am growing up not only in a liberal church but I am going over for lunch over at my cousins’ house and learning all about Jehovah’s Witnesses theology. So after I became a Christian, you know a genuine Christian, that’s when I began to appreciate that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult and that my cousins were lost.
So I started to have a lot of discussions with them and I discovered that they knew more than I did, so I needed to study up on that. So I bought a book by this guy named Walter Martin. Never heard of him before but I picked up a book called The Kingdom of the Cults and I just digested it. That really equipped me to talk to my cousins and a long story short, I not only was able to talk to my cousins but I also started to teach on the cults at my church using Walter Martin’s book.
Little did I know that one day, Walter Martin would actually hire me, but I am getting ahead of myself. Meanwhile I go to seminary and during seminary, I gravitated towards apologetics and at Dallas Seminary, my primary mentor was Norman Geisler. You know that Norman Geisler is very heavily involved in apologetics and he has written, I don’t know. What? Ninety books by now? Something like that. And so I studied under him, all of my apologetics, all of my philosophy, all of my - you know - Bibliology. All of my prolegomena. You know the initial things that you study in theology.
He was also my advisor for my doctoral dissertation and my doctoral dissertation was on the New Age movement. So that had kind of an apologetics emphasis. The problem that I had at Dallas Seminary and writing on the New Age movement is that the faculty didn’t initially want me to write on the New Age movement. This was back in 1980 and the faculty at Dallas Seminary told me that they didn’t think that this movement was going to amount to anything. That it was going to fade out pretty quick. I felt like it was going to become big and so did Norman Geisler. So Norman Geisler actually had to write some letters of recommendation to some of the other faculty members of Dallas Seminary and he had to talk them into letting me do this doctoral dissertation on the New Age movement.
Now as you know the New Age movement ended up becoming absolutely huge. In fact you could add up all the different cults in the world like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons and the Christian Scientists and all of that. If you put them all on one big bucket, you would not equal what’s in the New Age movement. And so I like to remind my former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary every once in a while – just joking of course – but it’s always fun to do that because very often you can miss things like that and part of being a good apologists is sort of keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s coming down the pike. I am glad that I wrote on the New Age movement because that actually became my first book called the Christ of the New Age movement, published by Baker Books.
BA: Well great and I see well you are catching up with Norman Geisler. At least it looks like it because I think you’ve written some sixty some books, which I am personally curious how you can write so many but as you say, many of them are apologetically oriented and some of the ones I have read have been a series with different titles. Reasoning from the Scriptures With ___ and you fill in the blank. Maybe it’s Mormons. Maybe it’s Masons. Maybe it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims down the list.
So I wanted to ask you a few questions along the lines of dealing with cults in the interview today, but as we go that direction speaking of cults first how do we actually define a cult because that is sort of a slippery term.
RR: Well that’s an important beginning point because not only is it important to define the cult correctly when you are speaking probably like at a seminary or you are teaching in church or whatever but its real important if you are writing a book because today people, you know they like to see you if you call them a cult and its real important to define what you mean by the term.
When I use the term I don’t use it as an insulting thing. I don’t use it in a pejorative way or a slanderous way. I use it as a theological term and I use it as a term that refers to a group that emerges from a parent or a host religion and it often claims to be the true form of that parent religion but in fact it actually denies one or more of the essential doctrines of that religion. So as an example you might talk about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly come out of the parent or host religion of Christianity. They actually claim to be the true form of Christianity. All of the other Christian denominations are said to be apostate and satanic. But in fact they deny one or more of the essential doctrines of Christianity. For example they deny the doctrines of the Trinity. They deny the absolute deity of Jesus Christ and say that He was just a lesser god. They deny salvation by grace by arguing for a works salvation. It even involves going door to door to hand out Watchtower literature.
Now I should a distinction between essential doctrinal stuff and peripheral doctrines. You know if you have a different view of the rapture for example, that’s a minor doctrine, that’s a nonessential. It doesn’t matter if you have a different view of the rapture. That doesn’t make you a cultist. If you have a different view on how you get baptized, well that’s not going to put you outside of orthodoxy.
If you have a different view of me than your view on church government then you know whether it is ruling by elders or rule by the congregation. Well that’s ok. That’s not a real big deal. But if you have got a different god. If you’ve got a different Jesus and you’ve got a different Gospel, well those are essential doctrines and so what makes a cult a cult, is that even though they emerge out of a parent or host religion, they in fact do deny one of those essential doctrines.
I’m not trying to gang up on Jehovah’s Witnesses, you know the Mormons are the same way. They for example have a different concept of god. They do claim to believe in the Trinity but by that they mean three separate distinct gods. They do believe that Jesus is our savior but they also believe that Jesus came into being at a point in time, being the first spirit baby born to the heavenly father and one of his unnamed wives and they do believe in salvation by works. They emphasize becoming more and more perfect as time passes.
So again, let me just say it is real important we get that definition down. I could tell you that when a Jehovah’s Witnesses or a Mormon comes by, I will never use the term cult. In fact it is providential that you interviewed me today because just a little while ago, I was witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses on my doorstep.
So they came to sort of warm me up for the interview but in any event, I would never call them a cultist to their face. That would just erect a big barrier between us so I keep the discussion more focused on the issues as opposed to labeling them or tagging them.
BA: Well that’s a helpful definition and that’s good advice certainly. Further on that point some people do tend to maybe sometimes lump cults in with Christianity as if they are sort of a denomination amongst Christians – what you sort of alluded to there, but how do you respond to that? You mentioned the challenge to the New Age movement, but what kind of challenge do you think that maybe the US or the world faces when it comes to cults in general.
RR: Well I think it’s very often it’s difficult for Christians, especially biblically illiterate Christians such as we have today to see a clear distinctions between what they believe and what other people believe whether you are talking about Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or even New Agers. It’s kind of important to ask that question I think because there are some groups like the Mormons that are actually seeking to portray themselves as mainstream Christianity.
For example the Mormons today work with many inter-faith groups and they work with Protestants and Catholics on disaster relief programs and when they associate like that with Protestants and Catholics it makes it appear that the Mormons are just as Christians as the others. And to compound the problem, when you pick up a lot of denomination books today – Christian denominations – you can open up those books and a lot of times, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons are right in there so it kind of makes it look like we are all part of the same family even though we might have some minor differences.
I think one of the reasons why Christians maybe are not picking up on the fact that these are actually cults is that cults use the same words that we do. You know that’s the challenge. They use words like jesus and christ and god and salvation and resurrection and second coming, but they don’t mean what we mean when we use those words.
As an example I could say to you “Jesus Christ is God. He died for our sins. He rose from the dead. Scripture speaks of the Second Coming.” Now I think that you can agree with that statement. I certainly agree with that statement. Problem is, a Jehovah’s Witnesses would agree with that statement too, but he would not mean what you mean by those words. When I say that Jesus Christ is God, they would say “Well. Yes, he is god. He is a lesser god than god the father.” When I say that “Jesus died for our sins,” they would hear that as saying that Jesus died on a stake, not a cross and he really only took care of Adam’s sin not our sin.
Yes, he rose from the dead but not physically. He rose spiritually as the arch-angel Michael and yes Scripture speaks of the second coming but it’s a spiritual second coming and it already happened back in 1914. So then you can see what I am pointing out. We use the same words but we mean something entirely different. And the same thing is true of the New Age. You know you mentioned New Age just a moment ago. A new ager might hear me making this statement and interpret it this way: “Yes. Jesus Christ is god but that’s because everything is god. This telephone I am speaking into is god. My desk is god. Everything is god so yes Jesus is god too. He did die for our sins but the real significant thing there is that his spiritual blood of his esoteric person or ethereal person flowed into the spiritual earth and as far as the resurrection is concerned, those spiritual Christ energies that went into the earth at the crucifixion, flowed up out of the earth and that’s the resurrection. When those Christ energies fall on the rest of humanity, all other human beings recognize that they are Christ. That’s the second coming.”
I know that sounds kind of bizarre but that’s what one of the major New Age teachers today, David Spangler believers. And in fact George Trevelyan, another New Ager over in the UK has taught the same basic thing. So again the big problem is that cults use the same words we do but they mean something entirely different. That’s why I always warn Christians that they have got to always define their terms regardless of what terms they use. If you talk about Jesus or Christ or sin or salvation or the cross or the resurrection, always define what you mean by those terms because cultists redefine them consistently.
BA: More excellent points there. Well you have talked about the popularity in the rise of cults and the New Age movement, but with the popular rise of the New Atheists, have we seen any change or growth or decline of any of the cults?
RR: Well I actually believe that the cults are continuing to grow just as atheism continues to grow and my working hypothesis is this: I believe personally that satan is behind all of these false belief systems and I also believe that satan is a master marketer. He has something for everyone. He goes after various niche markets providing a variety of deceptive options to satisfy peoples varied desires. Now let me just give you an example of what I am talking about here.
If you like the idea of becoming a god, then maybe Mormonism is for you. If you like money and wealth, well then maybe the Health and Wealth Gospel is for you. You see that it is so predominant in the Word of Faith movement. If you don’t like the idea of getting sick and even dying, maybe Christian Science is for you. Do you miss the loved ones in your family? Do you want to communicate with them? Well maybe Spiritism is your ticket. Maybe psychic contact is what you are looking for. Do you not like the idea of a God to whom you must give an answer at a future judgment? Maybe atheism is for you. Are you a person who says we ought to be open in terms of morality for example, open sex, then maybe the Children of God are for you. They engage in what’s called flirty fishing. Don’t like the idea of the Trinity? Maybe the Jehovah’s Witnesses might fit your ticket.
The point that I am making is that satan is a master marketer who provides many niche false religions. I believe that he has designed all of these to collectively draw people away from the true God and the true Jesus and the true Gospel and he has been very very effective. That’s why apologetics is so important. That’s why lay apologetics is so important. The task cannot possibly be accomplished by professional clergy. If nominal mainstream lay Christians don’t get involved in the process, I can tell you that we have lost. We have absolutely lost. That’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. I try to help train your average Christian who has not had a seminary training how to answer people who are in false religions, and atheists and agnostics and skeptics and so forth.
BA: Yeah very helpful. I want to shift back to speaking about cults in particular Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses but I don’t want to delve all the way into the deeper issues of their particular beliefs but I want to maybe draw out some principles from you Ron about how Christians can go about dealing with their friends or their family who might be part of these groups. So I wonder what are some overarching if you will ground rules that you might lay out for having a dialogue with someone whose caught up in one of these sorts of groups.
RR: You are going to get me on a soapbox here because I could preach for three hours on this one. I’ll just give you maybe four, five points real quick, to whet your appetite.
You have to begin by making sure that you are loving. You know earlier in the interview, I talked about how one of the problems that we have in apologetics today is arrogance and pride. You know we tend to talk down to people that we don’t agree with. You just can’t do that. You’ve got to let Jesus shine through you and you have got to understand one pivotal fact and that is that cultists like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have been trained to view themselves as God’s grateful martyrs. They’ve been trained to expect to be treated rudely by Christians on the doorstep and so you don’t want to be rude because you are going to make them feel like they are the true people of god, like god’s true martyrs. So what you want to do is to let Jesus shine through you in everything that you do.
I am not talking about a phony thing. I am talking about a real genuine close relationship with Jesus that shows itself in the way that you deal with them. So that’s the beginning point. A warning that I would give is that cultists are very well trained in how to answer your objections.
If you say “Well. We are already Christians in this family,” they’ve been trained in what to say. If you say that “The football game is about to start,” they’ve been trained in what to say. If you say, “Well you are that group that denies the Trinity,” they’ve been trained in what to say. In fact no matter what you say, they have been trained in what to say and the reason I am warning you about that is that shows a lot of Christians off track. Christians start to get a little bit gun-shy at this point. They start to feel like the cultist has an answer for everything. So my advice is this. Don’t worry about it if they do that. All you have got to do is keep bringing the discussion back to Scripture where it belongs and as long as you keep bringing the discussion back to scripture then you are going to be just fine.
Here is another thing. Ask questions to make them think. You see I discovered a long time ago that you can’t shove your theology down their throat. In fact I have a confession to make. I used to use improper methodology in witnessing to cultists. This is after I became a new Christian and I read up on what Walter Martin said in the Kingdom of the Cults. Whenever they showed up on my doorstep, I would win every single argument theologically. In fact I now call that the flame-thrower approach of evangelism. I would literally fry them on the doorstep. Problem is I never witnessed a single conversion and so I changed my tactics and instead of trying to shove my theology down their throat, I started to ask strategic questions that would make them think. Those questions made them come up with their own conclusions in their own mind. That’s what you want to have happen.
You know just to give you an example, if I am talking to a Jehovah’s Witness who really talks a lot about Jehovah, I might say, “You know in Isaiah 44:24, Jehovah is talking to His people and Jehovah says that He created the universe all by Himself alone and Jehovah also said that there is no creator but Him. Period. But in the New Testament, Colossians 1:16, it says that Jesus is the creator. Now if Jehovah is the only creator and there is no creator but Him and if Jesus is the creator, well then what does that say about Jesus?”
Well that’s the kind of question I am talking about. It’s the kind of question that gets them to thinking. That’s where my Reasoning from the Scriptures books I think can help people because in each one of those books, there’s over 350 questions in each book that can help you lovingly nail them to the wall. You don’t want to leave them nailed there. You want to take them by the hand and walk them to Jesus, but those questions are designed to help them think. Now there is a couple of other points, if I have got time. Do you think I have got time to share a couple of more?
BA: Certainly, yes.
RR: Another key point is always define your terms like I mentioned earlier because they use the same words we do, like Jesus and resurrection and ascension and Second Coming. So always define your terms, but also always check your Scripture verses.
Typically when they cite Scripture, they cite Scripture out of context. So you are going to want to make sure that you look up those verses. Just as an example, one Mormon came up to me and said that in the Old Testament there is a prophecy of the coming of Joseph Smith. Now I knew where he was coming from. I didn’t let on that I had actually written books on Mormonism, but I said “Really, where is that in the Bible?” and he said “Well it’s in Genesis 50. Genesis 50 has a prophecy of Joseph Smith.” Herein lies the importance of looking up Scripture verses.
I opened my Bible to Genesis 50 and lo and behold there is no prophecy of Joseph Smith. It is actually only in the edition of the Bible edited by Joseph Smith. That’s the only edition of the Bible where there is a prophecy of Joseph Smith. My point to you is this: No matter if you are talking to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, always look the verses up because almost always they misquote them.
And then as a final point, I would simply say this. Very often Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons start off by talking about some topic that is not critically important. Maybe they want to talk about holidays, like Christmas or something, why you shouldn’t celebrate those days. It’s important to segue to the stuff that matters. As quickly as you can, get onto talking about the true identity of Jesus, what He accomplished at the cross and the Gospel of grace. That’s the important stuff. What you can do is share your testimony and work all that stuff into your testimony. Work in that Gospel of grace and share about how you know that you couldn’t save yourself, but that you know that you would go to heaven if you died because of that grace of God in salvation.
BA: Very helpful there Ron and maybe some of our listeners, you know they have encounters with Mormons and they are always going to hear this thing about the burning in the bosom and how if you just read the Mormon literature or read the book of Mormon I should say, that if you just read the book of Mormon, that you would have this burning in the bosom and that it will be confirmation to you that you will know that it’s true. Talk a bit about where they are coming from and maybe how Christians should respond to that appropriately.
RR: Well in terms of the burning of the bosom thing, it is interesting that there is many religions that depend upon subjectivism as a testimony. And you know the Mormons are one. The Rajneesh cult was another. They had a lot of subjectivism about feeling that the truth is true. Whatever you believe is true. Of course today relativism is predominant. Relativism is the idea that you could have your truth and I can have my truth and that’s all very subjective because people feel it in their heart that they have got the truth.
The problem is, is that we know from Scripture that satan has the ability to affect our emotions and so one of the problems becomes this. Is it possible that the burning of the bosom is actually rooted in a fiery dart of the wicked one. It’s possible you see very often even New Agers can believe that they’ve got the truth because they feel the subjective confirmation in their hearts. We need something more objective than that and so if somebody comes along and asks me to pray about some new piece of literature that’s got some new doctrines in it, I really don’t have to pray about whether or not that is true because the Bible has already given me the barometer of truth and as we test all things against Scripture as the Bereans did in Acts 17 and as Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Corinthians 5:21, we can see quite quickly that what’s in the book of Mormon is in fact falling short of Biblical truth.
So my exhortation to people is to always test everything against the Bible and you don’t have to pray about whether the Book of Mormon is true because the Bible has already told us it is not true.
BA: Well another thing that comes to mind is how many times - you know – Christians, you have mentioned there how the various tips we have for preparing, for speaking with a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but inevitably Christians can find themselves maybe tied up in knots after conversations with people and I am thinking, are there common mistakes or pitfalls that people are making when they are speaking with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Maybe they’ve tried to prepare but they keeping getting tied up in knots. What are some mistakes maybe to avoid or how to keep from that happening?
RR: Well this is another one of those things I could get on a soapbox and just preach for hours. Let me just give you a couple of pointers there. First of all if you are right in the middle of talking to a cultist on the doorstep and your mind goes blank and you are just not sure what to say, all you have to do is to say, “Well why do you believe that? What evidence is there for that? What Scripture verse proves that?”
In other words with this strategy you just keep on shifting the burden of proof back on to them so that they have to prove their statements. Even if you don’t know how to ask them, the very fact that you are making them prove your position, buys you some time. It can buy you know five or ten minutes right there. And as they are explaining their view, that is typically when thoughts are going to come to your mind in regards to how to answer them, so just keep that strategy in mind.
Now in terms of common mistakes that Christians often make, well I can think of quite a number of them. First of all never assume that all cultists believe exactly the same thing. Don’t assume that all Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the same thing. Don’t assume that all Mormons believe the same thing. You know one of the problems that Christians have when a Mormon rings the doorbell and they identify themselves as a Mormon, you know Christians will typically tell them what they believe.
“Oh. You are that group who believes we will become a god ruling your own planet.” And typically you might hear the cultist respond by saying “Well. I don’t believe that,” and now you recognize that you have made a big mistake. You don’t want to tell a cultist what they believe. You ask them what they believe. You use those questions I talked about earlier. Ask them what they believe and then once you have found out what they believe, then you can move on from there and answer their wrong views.
There is a couple of other things you can avoid doing. Don’t have inappropriate body language. Sometimes you will be talking to a cultist and you might have a furrowed brow or a really intense state. You might be having some very loud exhaling of your breath or shake your head or sometimes you might even make a fist or something. You got to watch your body language. A lot of Christians make that mistake. They just really kind of put up a barrier between them and the cultist.
And another mistake and this will be my final point on this issue is that very often if you have made a really good point to the cultist about their wrong viewpoint on something, they will switch the subject real quick and the mistake is to let them do that. The mistake is to go along with them and now talk about a brand new topic. What you want to do is shift back to that important topic that you were just on. Don’t let them shift away from it and make them face the consequences of the point that you are making. Don’t go on to a new step until you have completed that previous issue that you are talking about.
You know for example if you are talking about the deity of Christ and you make some really good arguments, they might shift to something entirely different. Bring it right back to the discussion on the deity of Christ and tell them you could talk about that other subject a bit later, because the topic of the deity of Christ is so very important. So those are just a couple of pieces of advice I’ll give.
BA: Well also very good pieces of advice there. And we have talked about these theological differences and beliefs that people have but I am also thinking about maybe emotional or psychological, sort of community ties that people have as well. How significant do you think these sorts of ties are or they could be barriers as well that people have and is it important that we take that into consideration when we are talking matters of faith with them. I mean I am thinking you know if you are really into – heavily involved in this sort of communities it’s not going to be just “Oh. Well I am proven wrong. I will leave.” So what are some of these things and how they affect people as well?
RR: That’s a very important point because you know a cultist might actually come to understand that you are doctrinally right but they still might choose to remain in the cult because they don’t want to lose their friends and family. What I am talking about is called dis-fellowshipping and shunning. If you question the group for example the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, if you question them, you could be disfellowshipped from the group and nobody will talk to you. You can be shunned even by your family members. Nobody wants to go through that.
That means it’s very difficult for a cultist to leave the cult and that leads me to make the point that only god can move a person to conversion. God is the one who converts. Ron Rhodes doesn’t have the power to convert anybody. I can be a faithful witness and I can tell the truth in the name of Jesus but only God can convert. And so my policy is to be there, to be a witness and to share the truth and as I am sharing the truth, I am always praying that God would their open hearts so that they would be open to conversion. You might remember that verse in the book of Acts where the text says that God opens Lydia’s heart so that she could understand and respond to the apostles teaching. Well I always pray that God would open the Mormon or the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ heart so that they can respond to the teaching that I am giving them and my hope is that it will lead to conversion but only God can move them to make that decision that will result in them being shunned and disfellowshipped.
In fact there was one Mormon who became a Christian as a result of reading my book and he called me for counsel because now his wife was disfellowshipping him and shunning him. The Mormon elders advised her to divorce him because you can’t get saved as a woman in the Mormon church without a Mormon man, a Mormon husband. So that’s the kind of stuff that sometimes comes up. That’s a very very powerful motive.
I would also say this. There is a lot of fear and disillusionment in a lot of the cults for example another aspect of fear has to do with the warning that if you leave that group, satan is going to get you. Satan is going to get you and your family. There is also a lot of disillusionment in the sense that a lot times false prophecies are made that don’t pan out.
I remember back in 1975, when the Watchtower Society gave a false prophecy that Jehovah was going to show up and overcome all the human governments that year and it didn’t happen, hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were so disillusioned that they ended up leaving and so that’s something that’s part and parcel of being in that kind of community, not to mention the guilt. Those communities where everybody is always watching you, you are always trying your best to live up to community rules and the rules of the organization or the cult and nobody is good enough to earn salvation. Nobody is good enough. And so there is a whole lot cultic guilt among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mms and that’s really enforced and fanned into a flame by this community environment that they have.
BA: Well maybe this next question, you are starting to get at the answer a bit here already but Ron, it’s basically this. You know when people are, you know when you have seen people come out of cults or becoming Christians what sort of steps are the most important along the way do you think for people coming out of these groups.
RR: Well let me just say that if you as a Christian have the privilege and honor of leading a cultist into saving faith and he converts due to God’s work, your job is not yet finished. You still got to be there for him and really what you want to do is #1) get him into a good church. The reason why you want to get him into a good church is really a couple of reasons. First of all he needs to have a brand new family. A new family of believers. He is not going to be shunned by his former family and friends who are members of a cult. Secondly he needs to really learn correct Bible doctrine as well as good hermeneutics or how to interpret the Bible rightly.
You see he has had a long history of interpreting the Bible wrongly. Now he needs to learn how to interpret the Bible rightly. So hopefully the Christian who led the cultist to the Lord will take responsibility in getting that former cultist into a good church. The problem that you have got to watch out for is that there will be some baggage and that baggage can be kind of hard for example, there will be baggage of legalism.
Sometimes those cultists will have a hard time coming to fully embrace the grace emphasis in the New Testament, but through continued study in the Bible, that baggage can be overcome, but you have to be there for them to help them overcome that obstacle. I think there is also baggage related to trust issues. A lot of former cultists have trouble trusting leaders of churches after all the leader of their former cultic group led them astray and they don’t want to be led astray again. So sometimes they have difficulty in trusting somebody again.
I think that you can be a friend to the cultists and help them work through these kind of issues as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord as they grow to see that there is a grace environment among the leaders of the church. They can overcome that kind of a baggage and I guess the final kind of baggage I would mention to you has to do with what you might call separation anxiety. That’s where you are separated from your family.
This has happened a lot in the kingdom of the cults. I remember one cultist who was a member of a sexually deviant cult and this lady became a Christian but she was so so distraught because not only was her husband in the cult but her young children remained in this sexually deviant cult and she was largely involved in getting her children involved that cult in the first place. So now that she became a Christian and recognized that she was the one who led her children into that cult in the first place, well obviously she was quite distraught that they were still a member of the cult and she was full of anxiety because she wanted to do everything possible to rescue them but this is pretty common in the Kingdom of the Cults - just an awful lot of carnage that we have to deal with.
That again points to the fact that you as a Christian need to be there for them. Your job is not finished once they convert to Christ. You have to be there with them to work through these difficult issues and it could take months.
BA: Wow well definitely more good advice and insight there Ron and as we start to wrap up I know that many of our listeners, they are interested in becoming better defenders of the faith. You often teach on apologetics in seminaries and I wonder if you would share what you think are some of the most important pearls of advice you would want to pass on to, if you will, the next generation of Christian apologists.
RR: Well I can only tell you what I do. What I do is number one is to keep aware of what’s going on in the culture and the reason why that is important is that that can help you stay can help you stay aware of the kind of threats that are arising and have already come about, that stand against Christianity. I do that by reading news magazines, newspapers. I even receive publications from Hollywood so I could have a heads up on the new movies being produced that may conflict with Christianity. For example before Paranormal Entity even came out as a movie I had a one year head-start knowing that it was in the works because I knew it was in production.
By keeping an awareness of what’s coming down the road, it helps you to prepare in advance for what you need to do apologetically to help people, you know Christians in the church to work through that stuff. I think 1 Peter 3:15 is key. We need to be prepared in advance to give an answer and there is a lot of ways you can do that. If you are a lay apologist and you don’t have any seminary training and you are just starting out, well you could beef up your theology as a beginning point.
One thing you can do to do that is to start reading Paul Enns’ Approaching God which is a daily devotional in Systematic Theology. Every day you get Systematic Theology. One day is the personality of the Holy Spirit. The next day it might be the deity of the Holy Spirit. The next day might be the Trinity. The next day might be the deity of Christ. You know through the year you have got a good education in Systematic Theology. You might also daily beef up in apologetics and my book, 5-Minute Apologetics for Today might help you there, because it is like a daily devotional in Apologetics. Only each day it deals with some issue like relative truth, or atheism or the problem of evil or answering the cults or whatever. So through a one year period you can really get boned up on those issues.
Then just in terms of answering some of the common questions that people have about Christianity today. My brand new hot of the press book, The Big Book of Bible Answers would I think be a big help. It’s a big 400 page book on the most common issues that we are facing today. I might also mention one final thing. You might even be interested in taking some distance learning courses from a seminary that teaches apologetics. If so a good seminary is Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Marietta, California. Besides me teaching there, Norman Geisler teaches there and Wayne House and a bunch of other apologists and you can look at those modules and learn right off of DVDs no matter where you live. So that’s just a good way to learn from a distance even without actually having to go to attend a seminary in Southern California.
BA: Super. If our listeners want to find more of your resources where would you like to point them online Ron?
RR: Well you can just go to my website at ronrhodes.org. Free articles you can download. You can sign up for the free newsletter. We don’t ask for any money for that newsletter and we don’t give your address out to other people. You are not going to get spammed or anything. We take it very seriously so if we could be of help, do stop by the website and if you don’t find what you are looking for, our email address is there as well.
BA: Excellent! Ron it’s been a great pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for taking the time to do the interview.
RR: Hey. It’s been fun. Thanks for having me.