Out of the Cults and Into the Church: Understanding & Encouraging Ex-Cultists. By Janis Hutchinson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Resources, 1994. 221 pp. Paper, $10.99.
As one who was in a very small yet dangerous cult group for 14 years before becoming a Christian, I was attracted to this book. Though I have been out of the cult for 26 years now, I found much of what Hutchinson writes to be true to my experience.
This book will do what the subtitle suggests; help you to understand what ex-cultists are going through and to encourage them in their struggles.
Particularly helpful is the author’s explanation of the many things which cultists “lose” when they leave a cult. Of course, we who are not in cults tend to think that those who leave cults only gain. How could there be losses? Hutchinson points out that the loses are profound, including friends and community, extra-biblical revelation, elite status, sacred myths, goals, and self-esteem (see, for example, pp. 35-70, especially p. 69).
If we are aware of these losses, we can be more compassionate and better able to point out how there are often corresponding “gains” to be found in the true Body of Christ. Hutchinson gives many practical suggestions in this regard. In fact, each chapter ends with several pages of application.
Readers of JOTGES will be disappointed that the gospel is not clearly articulated in this book. There are a few hints, however, of the author’s view. For example, at the end of the book there are two pages “About the Author” (pp. 221-22). There we are told that “with God’s help, she escaped [from literal kidnapping by an extremist group of Mormons] and later received Christ” (italics added). Of course, receiving Christ is used in many different ways today so it is difficult to tell from this what she did. Perhaps more telling is Hutchinson’s dealing with the question, “Are there some saved cultists?” (p. 209). She favorably quotes John Allen, the author of Shopping For a God, who says, “there are without doubt many real Christians—confused, perhaps [!], and in an inconsistent position, but nonetheless Christians—within the fold of cult groups.” While I believe that there are some (not “many”) cultists who are apostate believers and hence are born again, I am convinced that while in the cult they no longer believe the true gospel. However, Allen indicates (by himself quoting from another source) that there are some Moonies who are definitely Christians, and not only that, “who have been truly converted to Christ through the Unification Church.” While I am not well versed in the gospel of the Unification Church, I would be amazed if there is even one current Moonie who is proclaiming the clear gospel. Allen fails to give an example of what these special Moonies preach or believe, so we are unable to verify his claim. However, there are many today who identify “true Christians” not by their doctrine, but by their love for Jesus Christ. Possibly this is what Allen means, that there are some Moonies who love Jesus Christ. This I could believe. However, to be saved one must believe in Jesus, not love Him. There are many unsaved Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox people who love Jesus Christ in the sense that they feel close to Him and are trying to work their way to Him.
Despite this weakness, I recommend the book, especially for friends and family members of former cultists, and for pastors and church leaders who are sometimes faced with visitors and new church members who have recently come out of cults.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society