Six Sociological Characteristics of Cults

Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions: The Essential Guide to Their History, Their Doctrine, and Our Response (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 31–34:


I noted previously that even though cults should be defined from a theological point of view, we can nevertheless gain valuable insights into certain aspects of the cultic mentality from sociology. . . .

[1] Authoritarian Leadership

Authoritarianism involves the acceptance of an authority figure who exercises excessive control on cult members. As prophet or founder, this leader’s word is considered ultimate and final. . . .

Often this authoritarianism involves legalistic submission to the rules and regulations of the group as established by the cult leader (or, as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, submission to the Watchtower Society). Cult members are fully expected to submit, even if they do not agree with the requirements. Unquestioning obedience is compulsory. [Read more…]

Receiving Compliments

“I don’t do well with praise.” —Chloe O’Brian in Season 8 of 24

Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 220–22 (numbering added):

awk-ward (ôk-wərd), adjective. How you feel when someone compliments you.

Why are compliments so difficult to receive?

Most of us, unless we’re blatantly arrogant, feel embarrassed when someone encourages us. . . .

Usually we’re battling the fact that we love being encouraged but don’t want to be proud. We wish people wouldn’t say anything, but another part of us is crying out, “More! More!” It’s the dilemma of Romans 7:21: “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

Here are some practices I’ve learned to help me receive encouragement (at least better than I used to):

  1. Thank the person for taking the time to encourage you. I don’t have to evaluate the accuracy of their encouragement. All I know is that they made a point to express gratefulness when they didn’t have to say anything.
  2. If the compliment is vague, ask for clarification. We’re not fishing for more praise; it’s just that it helps to know how God specifically worked in a person’s heart. You might respond, “Thanks so much! So what is it about the meeting that encouraged you?” If someone isn’t really sure what they liked, or if their second answer is just as vague (“It was just cool”), I usually say, “Great!” Not every interaction needs to be profound.
  3. Express gratefulness for the opportunity to serve. My most common response to encouragement is, “It’s a privilege and a joy.” Because it is. God is giving me grace to follow the example of Paul who said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). More importantly, we’re declaring our allegiance to the Savior who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).
  4. Draw attention to the contributions of others. Most of the time when people encourage me, they’re unaware of the parts others played. I can increase their awareness. “I’m just grateful to be on this team; these guys practice so hard.” One of the best ways to turn awkwardness into gratefulness is to remember how God has used others in my life. And when I’m actively looking for evidences of grace in other people, I have less time to think about myself.
  5. Internally and intentionally “transfer the glory to God.” That’s a phrase I first learned from C. J. Mahaney, who was quoting the Puritan pastor Thomas Watson. It means acknowledging that any benefit or fruit is because of his grace, and therefore all the glory is completely and rightfully his. It’s not mine. So at some point after the meeting, possibly when you’re driving home, it’s wise to specifically give thanks to God and give him glory for all that you’ve received encouragement for.

None of this means we won’t struggle later with pride. I may put someone’s encouragement on constant replay in my mind, try to make others aware of how well I did, or exaggerate someone’s comments in a later conversation. The best thing to do then is confess my pride to God and again transfer all the glory to him.

News Stories in Photographs

In 2009, I wrote this:

The Big Picture (RSS) is a blog I enjoy having in my blog reader because it offers a broad, vivid perspective of God’s world.


The Big Picture is a photo blog for the Boston Globe/ Entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Alan Taylor. Inspired by publications like Life Magazine (of old), National Geographic, and online experiences like’s Picture Stories galleries and Brian Storm’s MediaStorm, The Big Picture is intended to highlight high-quality, amazing imagery—with a focus on current events, lesser-known stories and, well, just about anything that comes across the wire that looks really interesting.

The Big Picture blog transferred to new hands last month. Three picture editors at the Boston Globe now run it.

Alan Taylor’s last post for The Big Picture was on January 21, 2011. But this month he began a similar photo blog for The Atlantic called In Focus (RSS). More info here.

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism

Coming in fall 2011:

More info.


Introduction: Collin Hansen

  1. Fundamentalism: Kevin T. Bauder
  2. Confessional Evangelicalism: R. Albert Mohler Jr.
  3. Generic Evangelicalism: John G. Stackhouse Jr.
  4. Postconservative Evangelicalism: Roger E. Olson

(The authors respond to the other essays, following the format of the Counterpoints series, which breaks down into two categories: Bible and Theology [formerly called Exploring Theology] and Church Life.)

Conclusion: Andrew David Naselli

More on this later. We still have work to do.

Get Out of the Way

Yesterday The Atlantic interviewed Tim Keller “about how his success as a writer has affected his church and the process he went through to write his latest book, The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus , which comes out this week.” The final Q&A includes an outstanding illustration about humility when preaching and teaching God’s word:

[Question] As you were writing King’s Cross, was there anything you learned about the Gospel of Mark that you hadn’t noticed before?

[Tim Keller] No one thing. I’ll tell you, the thing I struggle with is doing justice to it. When I’m preaching I don’t quite get the same— When you’re writing a book, you feel like you’re putting something down. It’s a little more permanent. And therefore I actually struggled just with a feeling like I’m not doing justice to the material, which is the Gospel of Mark, or more directly, Jesus himself. There’s a true story, evidently, of [Arturo] Toscanini. He was director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra years ago, here in New York. And there was some place where he had just conducted—actually it was just a rehearsal. He conducted a Beethoven symphony. And he did such an incredible job with it that when it was all done, the musicians gave him a standing ovation. And he started to cry. He literally started to cry, and he actually had them sit down, and he wouldn’t let them applaud, and then he said, “It’s not me, it wasn’t me, it was Beethoven.”

Now, what he’s getting across there is a feeling like, “I’m just trying to do justice to the material.” And usually I don’t. And if occasionally I do ok, you shouldn’t be applauding me. It’s just, I got out of the way. I just got out of the way and we actually heard how great the music was. And I feel the same struggle. I’m just trying to get out of the way. And you can’t. [Read more…]

How to Play Uno in Real Life

“What to Do When Someone Is Different from You” is chapter 8 in Dave Swavely‘s Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005). It has four headings:

  1. The Principle of Acceptance
  2. The Principle of Personal Conviction
  3. The Principle of Edification
  4. The Principle of Conscience

Here’s an excerpt from the section on edification (120–23):

Even when we have freedom before God in particular areas of our lives, we may sometimes need to restrict our freedom for the purpose of building up our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is because God does not want anyone to act against his conscience (see the next section), and we must be careful not to tempt anyone to do so. Paul explains all this in Romans 14:13–21 . . . .

One time I was playing Uno® with three of my children. The youngest one, Madison, was only four and still learning how to win and lose with grace. So when things were not going her way in the game, she would be tempted to whine and cry. In one particular game, she was not doing well at all, and she was on the edge of losing it. I, on the other hand, was about to win, and I almost put down a “Draw Four” card which would have put her deeper into the hole and almost certainly sent her over the edge emotionally. But I didn’t want to have to discipline her for throwing a tantrum, and I wanted her to have a good first experience with the game, so I kept the “Draw Four” card in my hand and picked one off the pile (which disadvantaged me, of course). Then the next time around, the only card I could play was the “Draw Four,” but after staring for a moment into her gorgeous blue eyes and noticing her quivering lip, I kept it in my hand and drew again. This happened a third time, and a fourth time, until Maddy finally won the game, and I was left with a big stack of cards! [Read more…]

Judgmental Statements

Dave Swavely, Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 1–3 (numbering added):

Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5–6 . . . says that we should not judge one another, and that we should not “go beyond what is written” (NIV, ESV). . . . [I]t seems to me that the most committed Christians are actually more susceptible to this problem than those who are not as strong.

The sin of judging is a root cause in most of the interpersonal conflicts that arise in the lives of believers, and so learning to identify and avoid this sin will go a long way toward promoting peace and joy in the body of Christ. And legalism, which is the institutional form of judging, is a dangerous disease that plagues many of our Christian institutions, from churches to schools to families, sapping their spiritual strength and weakening the work of God in their midst.

Here are some examples of judgmental and legalistic statements that I have heard from Christians, all of which we will discuss at some point in this book:

  1. “I know what you’re thinking,” or “I know why you did that.”
  2. “There is no way someone can drive a car that expensive and be a godly man.” [Read more…]