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COLLECTIONBook reviews
TITLEKingdom of the Cults, by Walter Martin: Review
AUTHOR 1Paul Dodenhoff
NOTES This review was originally posted to an internet forum and so is written in an informal style.
CONTENT Kingdom of the Cults
Author: Walter Martin
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN, 1997
Review by: Robert Stauffer

A little background on the book may be in order first. Kingdom of the Cults was first published in 1965 and revised and reprinted in 1977, 1985 and, most recently in 1997, this last coming complete with a CD-ROM. In the "About the Author" paragraph, it says that Walter Martin "was fondly and respectfully known as the 'father of Christian cult apologetics.' Many cult apologists credit him with their introduction to the field. He held four earned degrees, having received his Doctorate from California Coast University in the field of Comparative Religions." He died in 1989.

The latest edition of Martin's book includes chapters on Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Buddhism, New Age Cults, the Unification Church, Scientology, Eastern Religions, Apocalyptic Cults as well as Unitarian Universalism, Islam, "Scaling the Language Barrier," "Critiquing Cult Mind-Control Model," the "Psychological Structure of Cultism," and "The Jesus of the Cults." Also included is a lengthy chapter on Seventh-Day Adventism, with whom Martin has some issues but does not consider a cult, unlike some other Christian apologists, and a newly written chapter on Herbert Armstrong's "Worldwide Church of God," who in recent years have radically shifted in their theology, rejecting British-Israelism, accepting the doctrine of the trinity, and most other commonly held evangelical Christian doctrines.

Rather than try to give examples of his work here, I have attached the response I wrote last year and to which I referred in an earlier post. It was written rather quickly but it will give at least some idea of what Martin's book says. It is not a scholarly treatment of the Faith but apologetic itself, so please bear that in mind. Also, it was written before the latest edition was released, so it does not address any of the errors or comments by Managing editor Gretchen Passantino.

Once again, in the new edition, no direct references to the Bahá'í texts are ever made, but only to secondary sources, including references to portions of Bahá'í websites ( and Passantino also quotes from Udo Schaefer's The Light Shineth in Darkness, which she cites as an example of "the lengths to which Bahá'ís will go to convince people that they can embrace all religions, including Christianity, at the same time." I've not read Schaefer's book, but from the quotes she cites, I would have to take issue with its analysis of Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith's relationship to it.

As I re-read Martin's article, it occurred to me that this could develop into quite a long response, so I hope you will forgive the fact that, while long, it is in no way comprehensive, but simply raises a few of the questions and issues I have with the article.

Also, please understand that this is not an official Bahá'í response or rebuttal of Mr. Martin's work. I am speaking here as an individual Bahá'í. Both from a "faith" point of view and an academic one, I have problems with Mr. Martin's treatment of the Bahá'í Faith. But I must say at the outset that I do understand his point of view as an evangelical Christian writing a polemic about a rival faith. It is the inaccuracies, some seemingly small and insignificant, others larger and very important, that I am concerned with. I have used both the 1965 edition and the 1985 edition here. I was unable to locate the 1977 edition, but did find a 1996 trade paperback edition in a local Christian bookstore which reads the same as the 1985 edition. So here goes:

1. Martin, in his cursory eight page polemic, never once quotes directly any of the writings of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice, the legislative body of the worldwide Bahá'í community. I am sure you would agree that any work purporting to be an accurate theological expose of any faith would contain at least some direct quotes from the sacred texts of that faith. Indeed, Martin quotes at great length from the writings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Science, Spiritism, Theosophy, the Worldwide Church of God, and in the 1985 edition even the Unification Church. It is notable that he accords only four pages to the teachings of Islam and references only three Suras from the entire Qur'an without quoting them.

One must ask why Mr. Martin chose not to quote from the Bahá'í sacred texts. Since he is not able to answer that question himself, it must be left to our own surmising or to the present leaders of the Christian Research Institute to answer for him. It cannot be that he did not have access to the texts. They are readily available in many public or university libraries, or from any Bahá'í center or the Bahá'í National Center. To be sure, one must read them, carefully, as one would the Bible or any sacred text for the first time and dig through much that is unfamiliar to the average Western reader. It can be a bit daunting. I can only hazard the guess that either this was the case or that Mr. Martin felt it unimportant to do his homework. His theological refutation of Bahá'í doctrine would at least be more credible if he had read and quoted from the Bahá'í sacred texts, especially the Kitab-I-Iqan (Book of Certitude) or the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. The 1965 edition of Martin's book lists only two magazine articles about the Faith, one book each by Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi and a handful of books about the Faith. The 1985 edition lists only four authoritative works by Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, the same two magazine articles as the 1965 edition and seven polemical works by Christian authors. (One does not learn about the Bahá'í Faith, or Christianity for that matter, by reading about them. One must study the Bible or whatever sacred text is involved.)

The only quote from one of the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith that Mr. Martin uses is a quote by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, found in an early edition (Dec. 31, 1913) of the Bahá'í magazine (not "brochure" as the 1985 edition of Martin's book calls it) Star of the West. This quote occurs in the middle of an alleged interview (more about this later) with an un-named Bahá'í "teacher." I find it interesting that this quote occurs in this context since I know of no Bahá'í who quotes from any Bahá'í magazine when elucidating the tenets of the Faith. Rather, he or she would quote from the Writings of the central figures of the Faith. I have never heard a Christian quote from Eternity, Moody Monthly, or Christianity Today when sharing the Gospel with someone. Rather, one would presumably refer only to the Scriptures. (At least that's what I always did!) This is not to imply that all Bahá'ís have a solid grasp on every aspect of the Bahá'í Writings, just as all Christians do not have a solid grasp of the Bible.

2. Mr. Martin uses the term "Manifestation" often in his essay when referring to the Bab or Bahá'u'lláh. I have no problem with his use of it except that I fear that not all non-Bahá'ís would understand what the word means in Bahá'í theology. In my opinion, as Mr. Martin uses the word, it seems to be just another word for an "incarnation" of God, something in which Bahá'ís do not believe. Rather, we believe that the Manifestations of God are perfect reflections, perfect mirrors of all of the attributes of God. In the Kitab-I-Iqan (the Book of Certitude), Bahá'u'lláh discusses at length what is meant by any of the Manifestations who lay claim to be God and, at the same time, the Servant of God. Theologically, this seemingly sets us apart from Christianity. Again, although he would have been at liberty to disagree, he could have referred to the Kitab-I-Iqan to gain some understanding of how Bahá'u'lláh treats this seeming discrepancy. Alas, he did not.

3. A few minor (?) errors: Martin says that Bahá'u'lláh was renounced by his brother, Mirza Yahya, who allied himself with a sect of Islam know as the "Ski-ihs" (Martin's spelling). I have checked all of my Islamic and Bahá'í reference material and have found no mention of such a sect. In point of fact, Mirza Yahya became the leader of his own faction of the Babis, taking the name of Azal and claiming to be the vicar of the Bab. His followers became known as Azalis. I can only assume that Mr. Martin again did not read much Babi or Bahá'í history, as this is a well-known episode, not only among Bahá'ís, but among Islamic scholars in both the east and the west. It may be that Martin was thinking of the Shi'i sect of Islam, in which both Bahá'u'lláh and his brother grew up, or perhaps he was thinking of the more mystical Shaykhi sect who sought for the return of the Qa'im ("He Who Will Arise"), many of them finding him in the person of the Bab (pronounced "B-ah-b"). In either case, he was still in error about Mirza Yahya.

In the 1985 edition, he states that the Faith in America was given a boost by the fact that Woodrow Wilson's daughter became one of the earliest converts in the States as a result of the work of Bahá'u'lláh in America. Two points: Although Wilson's daughter read some of the Bahá'í literature that was available at the time, there is no record of her having ever converting to the Bahá'í Faith. Martin perhaps cannot be faulted in this matter since this is still an unsettled matter among Bahá'ís as there is no written record of it in Bahá'í archives. However, I would think though that such a conversion from Christianity to a "strange" Persian religion by the daughter of a President of the United States, especially around Wilson's time, would cause quite a stir and be easily verifiable. Secondly, and more importantly for the historical record with which a scholar should be concerned, is the fact that Bahá'u'lláh never came to the United States! Indeed, he was never freed from his exile in Akka, Palestine by the Ottoman empire! Surely Mr. Martin must have read that in one of the handful of books he read about the Faith! Yet this error is repeated in the 1965 and 1985 editions of his book. I can only assume it is in the 1977 edition. For over thirty years, then, this historical inaccuracy has been repeated. Perhaps he meant 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son and appointed Interpreter, Who visited the U.S. in 1912 and had a great influence on the growth of the Bahá'í community here.

Another seemingly minor point: Mr. Martin also says: "Some members of the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young shared their new faith in Bahá'ísm during public concerts and network television talk shows." Perhaps I should chalk this up to an unfamiliarity with rock music performers. Neither David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash or Neil Young have ever been or claimed to be Bahá'í. Here again, I believe that Mr. Martin means to refer to the duo Seals and Crofts, both of whom are still very active Bahá'ís and share their faith in their music. Some of you may remember "Hummingbird" or "Light of the World", both songs about Bahá'u'lláh.

Mr. Martin also states that the Bahá'ís, having no clergy or ecclesiastical body, "employ" teachers who "conduct discussion groups in homes or Bahá'í centers..." I am assuming here that Mr. Martin uses the term "employ" in the sense of using rather than that of hiring for wages. There are no paid Bahá'í teachers since it is a sacred duty in the Bahá'í Faith for all believers to teach the Faith. But no one is paid for teaching. There are some volunteers who work at the various national headquarters or at the World Center in Haifa who receive a stipend, but even Bahá'í pioneers to other countries must support themselves. I called these "minor(?)" errors which have appeared in Kingdom of the Cults since its first printing 32 years ago. For if, after 32 years, these errors are still uncorrected (surely I'm not the first to point out or notice these since even other Christian polemical writers give the correct info on these matters) should we not question the accuracy of some of his other information, particularly those pertaining to Bahá'í tenets of faith?

4. Mr Martin states: "Since the Bahá'ís are not overly strong in publication of statistics and the information must literally be ferreted out, it is hard to estimate their growth." Again, Martin shows his lack of serious scholarship, if indeed scholarship implies (and I believe it does) doing research and reporting it accurately, when approaching the subject of the Bahá'í Faith. Statistics are readily available to anyone who asks for them! One can call either a local Bahá'í Assembly or Center, the National headquarters in their respective country or contact the the World Center. Here in the U.S., one can also contact the Bahá'í International Community (the Bahá'í N.G.O. at the United Nations), or the Bahá'í Office of Public Information at 866 U.N. Plaza, New York City or the local P.I. Rep of a local Bahá'í Assembly.

As of September 1996, the Office of Public Information reported 133,709 Bahá'ís in 7,228 localities in the U.S. and a world wide community of over 5,000,000 in 235 countries and dependent territories in 121,058 localities worldwide. The Bahá'í Writings have been translated into 802 languages and dialects of the 2,112 tribes, races and ethnic groups represented in the Faith. But Mr. Martin did not even have to contact the Bahá'ís for this info. He simply had to look in the Encyclopedia Britannica or the World Christian Encyclopedia. But he didn't. He chose instead to avoid doing his homework again.

5. The major portion of Mr. Martin's treatment of Bahá'í doctrine is based on an alleged interview as mentioned above. I say alleged because it is unverifiable. In his critique of every other so-called "cult," Mr. Martin is quite prolific in his use of names of the groups individual teachers, writers and leaders and as mentioned previously, just as prolific in his use of quotations by these leaders, teachers and writers. Yet here, he is unusually silent in these matters. Additionally, in the 1965 edition, Mr. Martin says, in the paragraph prior to the interview:
"In the course of researching the history and theology of Bahaism the author had many interviews with adherents of the cult during which direct questions were asked concerning Bahaism in its relationship to Christianity. The following are excerpts in question and answer form from a number of these interviews with recognized Bahá'í teachers and leaders. The quotations are direct in all instances and were compared with my notes after each dialogue." (emphasis mine).
On page 257 of the same edition, following the interview he says:
"The author was impressed during this interview with the fact that the Bahá'í teacher who granted it had been a disciple for fifty years and was in a position to understand the historic views of Bahaism. Throughout the course of the interview which was held in her home, we had the opportunity time and time again to present the claims of Christ, and it became apparent that her god was Bahai Ali." (emphasis mine.)
In the paragraph before the interview, Mr. Martin indicates that the interview is excerpted from "a number of interviews with Bahá'í teachers and leaders" indicating that he culled the answers in the interview from a number of separate interviews with different people. After the interview, however, he indicates it was the product of one interview with one unnamed "Bahá'í teacher" of fifty years. Which was it? In the 1985 edition, the paragraph before the interview reads:
"In the course of researching the history and theology of Bahá'ísm, I conducted numerous interviews with authoritative spokespersons for the Bahá'í movement. The following is a transcription of relevant portions of an interview with one well-prepared and candid Bahá'í teacher." (emphasis mine).
The paragraph referred to previously following the interview remains the same in the 1985 edition. All of the questions and answers are the same in the two editions. What prompted the correction in the 1985 edition to make the paragraph prior to the interview agree with the paragraph following it agree in the 1985 edition? Didn't Mr. Martin or his editors know if it was excerpts or just one interview? Why, as in other chapters, is this "teacher" or any of the other "authoritative spokespersons" never named by Mr. Martin? Most important, again, in my opinion, is his dependence upon an "interview" for information (even from an "authoritative spokesperson") rather than on the Bahá'í sacred texts themselves, the ultimate Authority in matters of Bahá'í faith and practice. If one were to write such a work about Christianity, would it be easier to use to one's advantage the words of an adherent, even if he or she were an "authority," or the actual words contained in the Holy Bible? Again, Mr. Martin shied away from doing his homework.

Further, the answers given to Mr. Martin's questions, while not incorrect, are certainly not complete. I cannot say with certainty if the "Bahá'í teacher" (or teachers, or "authoritative spokespersons") involved were quoted completely or not. Given what I have seen thus far, I have my doubts. However, even if they were, why were their comments not verified against the Bahá'í Writings?

6. Mr. Martin refers throughout the 1965 edition to the Bahá'í Faith's country of origin as Persia and its Founders as "Persians." This is correct. In the 1985 edition, however, he changes this to "Iran." (I do not know what the 1977 edition says.) This too is correct since Persia has been known officially as Iran for over 100 years. Most Bahá'í writings, even today, use the words "Persia (Iran)" and most of the adherents of the Faith from that country are called Persian. I suppose both are correct but I must question why Mr. Martin changed this in the 1985 edition since he could have used Iran in the 1965 edition had he preferred it. It may just be for the sake of familiarity by the average reader looking for Persia on the map and not being able to find it. Or could it be, given the time the 1985 edition was published, that in the minds of many, it served to further demonize the Faith since it came from Iran? To paraphrase: "Can any good thing come from Iran ... especially a religion?"

7. Mr. Martin makes a number of statements concerning various issues. Among them are:
  • "No true follower of Bahá'u'lláh, by his own admission, can claim this moment peace with God and the joy of sins forgiven ... "(pg. 276, 1985 ed.),
  • "The fact that the major prophets of Bahá'ísm contradict each other is paradoxically overlooked by Bahá'ísm which in its quest for an ecumenical syncretism prefers to avoid rather than explain the great contradictions between the major faiths ... (pg. 276, 1985 ed.)
  • ..."the Bahá'í faith will pick and choose out of the Bible that which will best benefit the advancement of their own theology...(pg. 276, 1985 ed.)
  • "There was no virgin-born Son, there was only an Iranian student, there was no miraculous ministry, there was only the loneliness of exile, there was no Redeeming Savior, there was only a dying old man; there was no Holy Spirit, there was only 'Abdu'l-Bahá; there was no ascended High Priest, there were only the works of the flesh; and there was no coming King, there was only the promise of a new era...(pg. 277, 1985 ed.)
  • ... Bahá'ísm has carefully cloaked itself in Western terminology and has imitated Christianity in forms and ceremonies wherever possible in order to become appealing to the Western mind ... Bahá'ís are perfectly willing that Christians should maintain their faith in a nominal sense, just so long as they acknowledge Bahá'u'lláh and the general principles of the Bahá'í World Faith...(pg. 278, 1985 ed.)
  • "Bahá'ísm undercuts the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith by either denying them outright or carefully manipulating terminology so as to "tone down" the doctrinal dogmatism which characterizes orthodox Christianity...(pg. 278, 1985 ed.)
  • "Bahá'ísm has few of the credentials necessary to authenticate its claim to religious supremacy. An honest Bahá'í will freely admit that in not a few respects, their system was patterned after many of the practices of Islam and Christianity...(pg 278, 1985 ed.)
  • "The cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, including the absolute authority of the Bible, the doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, His Virgin Birth, Vicarious Atonement, Bodily Resurrection and Second Advent are all categorically rejected by Bahá'ísm." pg.278, 1985 ed., emphasis mine.)

This response is already rather long. To answer these charges would make it a great deal longer and would, I believe, not serve the purposes of this list. I could quote at great length numerous passages from the Bahá'í Writings by Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi to counter Mr. Martin's comments. I will state here that the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, as found in their sacred Scriptures unequivocally defend the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, the Vicarious Atonement, the Resurrection and the Second Coming.
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