Christian apologetics vs. Cult apologetics

What are the differences? What are the similarities?

There is at least one guy in Korea who claimed to be Jesus or others following them did. Here’s one case mentioned by a poster in another thread as a challenge to the reasonableness of believing the witness to Christianity:

He’s dead now. He did not come back. And he had a failed prediction of the apocalypse - 1988 brought us Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but not quite the end of the world.

(This same poster who used this example, by the way, implied that Jesus too had a failed apocalyptic prophesy, though he didn’t give the verse… Presumably, he meant the words of Christ immediately preceding the Transfiguration which are often confused as being a statement about the parousia but are instead quite clearly about the encounter on Mount Tabor which immediately follows.)

The similarities are clear: supernatural teaching, usually centered around one figure claiming some importance, gather a group by convincing them of that leader’s authority through various means, and so on.

I offer that there are manifest differences between all these kinds of phenomena and the ancient world encountering the spread of Christianity, both during and immediately after Jesus’ life, up to about 100 AD, when the last living apostle would have finally died (John).

  1. Worldly benefits.

Jesus gained no worldly advantage, save for the one moment He is anointed at Bethany and the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The rest of His public life was rigid, hard, and without much material consolation at all. He claimed to have come to serve, not to be served, “and He loved them to the end,” as John tells us. Finally, He willingly accepts His death, after having predicted it in detail on at least 3 occasions.

Cult leaders gain much in this world. Money, power, prestige, and so on. Ron L. Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, noted this explicitly. That’s why he created Scientology.

  1. Expectations violated without making good on the difference.

Jesus completely defied the Jews’ expectations for the Messiah. Nobody would have predicted the Messiah to do much more than overthrow Roman rule in Israel and establish a worldly kingdom. Instead, Jesus said he had come to suffer, and that His kingdom was not of this world. When He did die, the disciples had given up, as the account of Emmaus so bluntly tells us. But then they claim that He came back to life, and then the following increased… His teaching, including about Himself, continued and actually accelerated. And all this in a society which was violently opposed both to a supernatural Messiah and a replacement for Caesar, both of which Jesus was.

Cult leaders might violate all kinds of expectations about what God or a prophet or the parousia are like, just as Jesus did. But they do not have everyone against them before they even start. And when they fail in this world by repeatedly bad prophesies or by dying, typically their followers just give up and go away, much like the followers of the failed messianic revolutionaries mentioned by Gamaliel in Acts 5:36-37…

  1. Success as a sign of Divine confirmation

Christianity spread like a fire over the whole planet within a few centuries. It went from intense persecution to being the state religion of the Roman Empire. Contrast this with Islam, which won converts by threatening to kill them. With Christianity, it was the other way around. (Please, spare us the “Inquisition” quips.)

Cults don’t enjoy such success, and usually they dry up soon after the founder’s death, or they morph into something else. God doesn’t seem to be rooting for them.

  1. Sublimity of the teaching

Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount. That alone should be enough. But there is the entirety of His doctrine. It is not for nothing that people were shocked by how and what He taught, saying nobody had ever spoken like it before… Let’s not pretend that there weren’t loonies in the ancient world - no, according to Luke (who claims to have spoken with many eye witnesses and trusted persons), Jesus was able to do intellectual fisticuffs with the most learned doctors of the Torah when He was 12.

Cults teach about the spiritual, but such teaching on its own responds less to our broken human nature and the greatness of God and more to the simple gratification of the leader’s ego.

  1. Way of life of the leader

Christ lived perfectly what He taught. He was perfectly moral, He loved the weakest and the poorest without fear of human opinion. Etc.

Cult leaders are not always the nicest of guys. It hardly seems necessary to belabor the point.

  1. Surprise of the advent

Every Jew was waiting for the Christ. The least that God can do is give people a heads up as to when and how He is coming to Earth. And so He did.

Cults come by surprise. By this I include Islam. Nobody is waiting for them… Second-coming cults don’t fit this category, but they have their own challenges (why does Jesus want to have so many wives all of a sudden, etc.).

  1. Miracles

Jesus is claimed by all close contemporaries who testify to the details of His life speak of His miracles in support of His authority. Then so too do some of His followers. And thousands and thousands and thousands of people supposedly saw at least a few of these miracles, not just 2 or 3 interested parties.

Cult leaders often do not have any miracles to their name at all. If they or others make do indeed make the claim, it is never something done out in the open like Jesus often did, it is always a secret, or something unclear as to its true cause (“I won the lotto, therefore” etc.)… Quite different from bringing the dead back to life in front of a grieving mother and a large crowd.

Note that I do not add sincerity or zeal of disciples, except with respect to what is mentioned in point #2.

Add your own!

So how about you offer your definition of “Cult” so that the discussion doesn’t immediately get confused by people assuming different and contradictory features of cults.

Hi, E!

…sorry, I couldn’t find a question…

I do not understand where you are heading with this post…

I did glance at an error:

Jesus did not defied the Jewish expectations of the Messiah… rather, the religious Jews did not fully understand the Revelations about the Messiah; they politicized it and rendered it in mere human terms–putting aside God’s Salvific Plan: the Promise!

Maran atha!


Difficult to define. A little like religion. And game.

I’ll throw one out there that would catch most groups I have in mind, for the most part… Smallish, modernist, highly supernaturally oriented groups centered around one charismatic individual and his teaching.

I would not call Islam a cult, for example.


The questions are at the top of the OP. I present my answers, which I invite discussion on and contribution to.

As for your point, yes, they did not understand what it really meant, and that is exactly why their expectations were defied.

Also - it is “L. Ron Hubbard,” not “Ron L. Hubbard.” My mistake.

I can’t spend much time making more contributions in this thread or others at present. I will be taking a long hiatus from CAF very shortly… finals and all that, plus some other projects needing serious attention.

But what I have offered here is, I suggest, a set of significant differences between Christianity and many other groups claiming some kind of special spiritual authority. And all of this plugs into the question of the production of contemporary written apologies and proclamations, and the absence or presence of contemporary written contradictions. There is an enormous amount of the former for Christianity given the state of the world and its resources (no Kinko’s to buy paper at, strong oral traditions, etc.) from which it emerged, and there is none of the latter. The opposite is true of many other religious groups. If, for instance, John claims that Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people, and you went to where this supposedly occurred shortly after and can find nobody whose mother or father was part of that group, and this was a common theme, certainly someone would have taken the time to disseminate a text dispelling a fairy tale being pushed as commonly available contemporary historical truth which was literally endangering the lives of those buying into it. The only way to make sense of it is to admit that indeed, there was a man Jesus whom people really saw doing what they believed to be miraculous things. The question of whether or not these things were actually miracles is separate from the social phenomenon, but it too, I suggest, is only reasonably answered by saying that no, it was not an elaborate plot of clever magic tricks with dozens of insiders - again, the question of motivation looms incredibly large. WHY would people do that? It does not make any human sense, as I explain above, namely in #1, both for the founder and His closest followers. And the lack of human sense, together with a misunderstanding of the actual historical circumstances of 1st century Palestine, is the major theme in most critiques of Christianity’s origins as being “uncertain.”

This is what I can offer. I hope others can contribute, as I don’t have the time to offer much more.


So Christianity began as a cult?

Hi, E!

…thanks for the clarification!

I concur with you that the greatest error of those “seeking” historical truth is that they do not account for the absence of recorded writings that would dispel the “myths” they want to inject into Christianity.

…the best they can offer is something to the effect of: ‘can’t find evidence’ or ‘it’s inconclusive.’ However, they put quite a show on debunking Christianity with spins and tales of the dark-side (sorry, it crept in and I couldn’t help but let it through). :hypno::hypno::hypno:

…even when faced with facts such as the perils that Jesus’ Followers faced, and the subsequent persecutions throughout the early centuries… they simply ignore the facts that have been proclaimed in blood.

…speaking of which… the early Christians were rejected and distrusted on the grounds that they were cannibals–what with drinking the Blood and eating the Flesh… and still today non-Catholic Christians doubt Jesus’ Command to drink His Blood and eat His Flesh (‘for my Blood is true Drink and my Flesh true Food’).

…it is bewildering how man, while claiming to seek the Truth, refuses to engage Him!

Maran atha!


Hi, Paul!

…no, I think that what is being offered is a counter point–cults usually remain small in scope and geography; they are centered on a head/s who’s aims are usually temporal gains and the life expectancy of the cult is usually tied to the cult’s leader’s. Their claims come undone within the leader’s lifetime and they only experience regeneration through the efforts of similar-minded people who attempt to bring them back from extinction.

Maran atha!


The Heaven’s Gate cult didn’t seek temporal gains. The leader voluntarily underwent castration, led an ascetic lifestyle, and killed himself along with the rest of his followers.

So it is true that Heaven’s Gate didn’t survive the death of the leader, but does that mean you can only recognize a cult after it has died out?

These criteria would mostly rule out the Korean religions e_c mentioned at the outset, since those churches still exist while their leaders are dead, and have members all over the world (the World Mission Society Church of God established 100 churches outside of Korea as of 2007.)

I’m not familiar with Heaven’s Gate and don’t need to be to point back to the 7 criteria I listed as a generally good guide to evaluating their divinity, truth, inspiration, etc.

What is odd is that their founder made no claim to divinity in his lifetime, as far as I see. When he died - unwillingly, mind you - some followers proclaimed him to be God. If he were still around, he might have completely contradicted them.

So you have to incorporate that into the mix… Doctrinal ambiguity, the lack of the leader, what he left to establish order (a family? an office? this is the problem for Sunni/Shia!), and so on.

I’m afraid I won’t be back to these boards for quite some time after today. Carry on, my wayward sons!

You mean like how the 1st century Christians disagreed with each other about Adoptionism?


…I’m not good with names/titles… is this the group that expected to be taken up into that spaceship hidden in the tail of the comet?

…actually the behavior of the group/cult demonstrates that it is a cult… they are usually extreme isolationists… they tend to live at the “end of the world” extreme… some subscribe to the need for war/battle prep as they both accumulate weapons and train their “elite” teams to defend their compounds (yeah, that’s almost a giveaway: compounds); their leaders tend to demand absolute obedience; they usually post guards/ushers to both keep outsiders out and members from having easy access to exits; early on the control is demonstrated through various practices (as with the castration bit) such as portioned food intake, limit on ownership of personal property/wealth (to which only the leadership has full control/use), termination/curtailed external interaction with both friends and relatives that are not members of the cult/group;, conjugal rights limited/controlled–some have even practiced forced/coerced labor and sex…

Then there’s the big command to not criticize the leadership and/or cult’s program…

Conversely, the group does not have to remain small and limited to a particular geography (two main ones are the JWs and the LDSs–though they swear that they are just as Christian as any other group their practices are very much cult-like–on this case I would say if it seems like a cult…).

Maran atha!



…as noted on the previous post… there are generalizations and cumulative practices that define/separates cults.

Since I am not familiar with most religious groups I can only gauge their status through knowledge of their practices… and as a rule most state-run religions are cults since their whole existence is to support the controlling power… and as I stated on the previous post cults are not limited to size/geography.

Maran atha!



…I’m not familiar with most heresies… but the fact that Scriptures do not claim Jesus as the Father’s adopted Son anyone subscribing to such interpretation is not a Christian disagreeing with other Christians but an interloper seeking to create his own brand of religion…

…just as a matter of reason, could you see the Gospels stating that Jesus was St. Joseph’s adopted son while also claiming that Jesus was the Heavenly Father’s adopted Son?

…it would take a well trained Chinese acrobatic team to twist *that *into theology!

Maran atha!


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