Profile of Martin:
Name: Walter Ralston Martin
Dates: 10 September 1928-26 June 1989
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Stonybrook School, Adelphi University, Biblical Seminary, New York University, and California Western University (Martin's daughter also mentions Shelton College).
Religious Denomination: American Baptist Convention; Southern Baptist Convention
Position: Ordained minister
Links: Walter Martin's Religious Infonet
The Writings of Walter R. Martin
The Rise of the Cults: An Introductory Guide to the Non-Christian Cults, 1955. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. Revised editions: 19__, 1980.
The Maze of Mormonism. 1962. Revised edition: Santa Ana: Vision House, 1978.
The Kingdom of the Cults: An Analysis of Major Cult Systems in the Present Christian Era, 1965. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd. Revised editions: Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Bethany Publishing House, 1977, 1985, 1997.
Jehovah of the Watchtower, with Norman Klann, 1953. Revised edition: Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., Bethany Publishing House, 1974.
The New Cults, with Gretchen Passantino, 1980. Santa Ana: Vision House.
This is, obviously, an incomplete list of Martin's prolific output as a countercult writer. It includes, however, all works referenced in this profile. For other listings of his work, see Walter Martin's Religious Infonet under "Book Store" and CRI Bookstore Online (although the writings of the current president, Hanegraaff, seem much more in evidence).
Walter Martin and the Countercult Movement
Credentials | Definition of "Cult" | CRI and Kingdom of the Cults
Martin's approach, however, differed markedly from that of Jan Karel van Baalen, his immediate predecessor in the countercult movement, as did his preparation for the task at hand. Whereas van Baalen received his ordination in the Christian Reformed Church and his advanced theological education at Princeton Theological Seminary, Martin's ordination and education are matters of some ongoing debate.
The inside dustjacket of the fourth edition of "his landmark book" (Abanes 1998:83) claims that "Dr. Walter Martin held four earned degrees, having received his doctorate from California Coast University in the field of Comparative Religions" (Martin 1997:dustjacket). The dustjacket of the 1985 edition adds that Martin "received his education at Stonybrook School, Adelphi University, Biblical Seminary, New York University, and California Western University" (Martin 1985:dustjacket).(2) Martin's daughter, Jill, who operates a website with her husband which is dedicated to continuing her father's work (Walter Martin's Religious Infonet), adds Shelton College to the list of schools from which Martin received degrees.
However, Robert and Rosemary Brown, two Arizona Latter-day Saints who have dedicated significant effort to exposing the various levels of fraud associated with anti-Mormon apologetics,(3) devote a substantial portion of the third volume of They Lie in Wait to Deceive: A Study of Anti-Mormon Deception to the veracity of Martin's academic and professional claims (cf. Brown and Brown 1986:2-65).
Claiming to work exclusively from original sources--official broadcast transcripts, communications with denominational and institutional officials, and court records--the Browns have amassed an array of documentation to support their assertions that Martin "falsely claimed degrees from schools he attended only briefly" and that he also "falsely claimed . . . that he had written a Master's thesis" (Brown and Brown 1986:64). According to the Browns, Martin also "received a questionable Ph.D. degree in 1976" (1986:65), although he had been referring to himself as "Dr." for at least ten years prior to that.
"For about ten years," they write, "Walter Martin referred to himself as 'Dr. Walter Martin' even though he had no Doctor's degree. Then, in 1976, he obtained a Ph.D. degree (Doctor's degree) from a correspondence school. Since the school advertises that 'No Classroom Attendance is required', we can assume that this degree is a 'mail order degree'" (Brown and Brown 1986:41). Martin was ordained in 1951 in the General Association of Regular Baptists, but, as the Browns allege, this ordination was revoked two years later when "the ordination council learned in 1953 of his second marriage" (Brown and Brown 1986:3).(5)
Contention surrounding the legitimacy of Martin's academic credentials have long figured in the lore of the Christian Research Institute, the countercult think-tank he founded on 1 October 1960 and which has gone on to become arguably the largest organisation of its kind in the world. In 1993, four years after Martin's death and in response to ongoing challenges which threaten the essential credibility of the CRI, former CRI employee Rich Poll published an article entitled "Does Dr. Walter Martin Have A Genuine Earned Doctor's Degree?" (cf. Poll 1993) A similar page may be found on Jill Martin Rische's website.
Questions of academic, personal, and professional integrity aside, Walter Martin remains a major figure, perhaps the major figure on the modern Christian countercult horizon. As historian and former Jehovah's Witness, M. James Penton, writes:
In The Rise of the Cults (1955), Martin defined the phenomenon of new religious movements thus:
In the 1980 edition of this particular book, vis-à-vis "cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith," Martin appended the phrase "particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ" (1980:12).(8) This theologically oriented definition is not entirely clear, however. Did Martin refer to deviance by Christians from what he considered orthodox Christianity, as his first sentence appears to indicate, or a theological variance from Christianity by anyone, no matter what the variant's position, as his second sentence suggested? The list of groups with which he dealt in Kingdom of the Cults, and which have been considered over the years by the Christian Research Institute suggests the latter.(9)
That ambiguity notwithstanding, Martin began his most-popular work (The Kingdom of the Cults) with a definition of "cult" which is essentially sociological in nature. He set out with a reference to Charles Braden's definition from the preface to These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults & Minority Religious Movements (1949). Braden wrote: "'By the term "cult" I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in some one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture'" (Braden, quoted in Martin 1977:11, 1985:11, 1997:17; cf. Braden 1949:xii).
Braden, "a lifelong Methodist . . . an ordained clergyman . . . a university teacher in the History of Religion for many years . . . [and] an 'unrepentant liberal'" (Braden 1949:xi), sought to give his understanding of "cult" the greatest latitude tending towards neutrality available in the analysis of those religious systems which are different from the dominant. As such, it corresponds rather well to Stark and Bainbridge's definition of cults (and sects) as "religious movements in a high state of tension with their surrounding sociocultural environment" (Stark and Bainbridge 1985:24; cf. Bainbridge 1997:23-4; Dawson 1998:29-40; Stark and Bainbridge 1987:155-93).(10)
Martin failed to include in his definition, however, Braden's sentence immediately following in his quotation. That is, Braden did not finish where Martin ended, but continued: "If any reader who belongs to a group discussed here prefers to think of himself as a member of a minority religious group rather than a cult, there can be no objection" (Braden 1949:xii). Indeed, no matter what their affiliation--and Braden included in his encomium Unity,(11) Christian Science,(12) Theosophy,(13) Jehovah's Witnesses,(14) British Israelism,(15) and Mormonism(16)--Braden believed that "in general the cults represent the earnest attempt of millions of people to find the fulfillment of deep and legitimate needs of the human spirit, which most of them seem not to have found in the established churches" (Braden 1949:xi). Martin, conversely, named all but one of these as among the most dangerous opponents of Christianity extant, proactive antagonists against the faith to which he had devoted his life.
They are, then, some of the "unpaid bills" to which van Baalen referred and to which concept Martin paid the barest lip-service. However, since "member of a minority religious group" would hardly generate the same animosity or missionary zeal in his target audience as "cultist," Martin chose not to include this in his definition either.
Capitalising somewhat on his truncated quotation of Braden, trading on the legitimacy lent to his own work by that of the Northwestern religious scholar, but paying not even lip-service to the understanding of religious phenomena which informed Braden's research, Martin wrote in 1965, "I may add to this that a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person's interpretation of the Bible" (1965:11; emphasis added). Two of the subsequent editions of Kingdom of the Cults (i.e., 1985 and 1997) emend this to read "misinterpretations of the Bible." This latter understanding set the tone for Martin's entire body of work. For him, anything which differed from his interpretation of Scripture was, perforce, at least heterodox and at most heretical.(17)
As with van Baalen, Martin's preeminent boundary marker was the primacy of Scripture as inerrant, infallible, and insuperable. Even though his ordination in the General Association of Regular Baptists had been revoked in 1953, and his claims to ordination in both the American Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention are, at the very least, suspect (cf. Brown and Brown 1986:9-27),(18) he continued to publish in each edition of Kingdom of the Cults that "I am a Baptist minister, an evangelical holding to the inerrancy of Scripture" (e.g., Martin 1997:18). While the former is questionable, the latter marked as definite a cognitive boundary for Martin as for van Baalen before him and for those countercult apologists who would follow in his wake.
Until his death in 1989, Martin worked tirelessly to further the cause of countercult apologetics, continuing to manage affairs at the Christian Research Institute and to act as the host of its flagship radio program, "The Bible Answer Man." In addition to numerous articles in the Christian Research Journal(19) and Christian Research Newsletter,(20) Martin published major works on the LDS Church ( 1978), and new religious movements in North America (Martin and Passantino 1980). In 1981, he published Walter Martin's Cult's Reference Bible.
What remains his most enduring work, The Kingdom of the Cults has been issued in revised edition on an average once every decade since its original publication in 1965. The latest edition, though (1997), differs considerably from Martin's earlier works.
Under the general editorship of current CRI president, Hank Hanegraaff, by the degree which Martin exceeded van Baalen in countercult vitriol is Martin himself exceeded by those who have posthumously revised his best-known work. For example, Martin's introductory chapter has been revised by Gretchen Passantino, the woman with whom he founded CRI California in 1974 and who acted as his senior research consultant there. Passantino's emendations are fairly easy to discern, not the least for their vituperative tone. In one passage, clearly reminiscent of many of the countercult writers considered in this collection, Passantino adds to Martin's text:
According to Passantino, at the 1993 World Parliament of Religions, "both liberal Christians and non-Christians united in their condemnation of what they termed narrow-minded, fundamentalist religious bigots. When Christianity denies the biblical faith it ceases to be Christianity at all" (Martin [Passantino] 1997:21).
Responding to the belief that all religious paths ultimately lead to the same destination, Martin stated the problem of practical life early on in Kingdom of the Cults.
1. At Martin's memorial service on 29 June 1989, some of the most prominent evangelicals in North America either gathered or sent messages of tribute. Apologist Norman Geisler: "Walter Martin's insightful mind, his forceful logic, and his dedication to orthodox Christianity were seldom, if ever, equaled in the field of contemporary cults." Gordon Lewis, professor of theology and apologetics at Dallas Seminary: "Walter Martin awakened the sleeping giant of the church to the deadly dangers of deceptive doctrines. He understood the cultic mentality, highlighted reasons for the cults' magnetic appeals, and challenged the church to consider neglected doctrine. As a result of his motivating ministry, the evangelical church is immeasurably more alert, discerning, and courageous than it would otherwise have been." Sociologist and fellow apologist Ron Enroth: "Whereas most people remember Walter Martin, I suppose, as a result of his dynamic speaking and his books, I came to know him as a fellow cult watchman, and I remember him best as one who encouraged and supported his fellow cult watchers. He was always very sensitive to the needs of other ministries . . . He represented for all of us an exemplary model of scholarship, fairness, and biblically-based analysis." Other tributaries included: Ted Engstrom, President Emeritus of World Vision; James Dobson, President of "Focus on the Family"; and Bill Bright, President of Campus Crusade for Christ International. The full text of Martin's memorial service, including these eulogies, is archived at Walter Martin's Religious Infonet.
2. As a result of a name infringement suit, California Western University was forced to change its name to California Coast University in 1981 (cf. Brown and Brown 1986:303-8). At the time Martin claims to have been enrolled, institutional officials admit that "[it] is entirely possible that this school offered a degree in Comparative Religion in '76; however, we have no record of this" (Welty 1981, in Brown and Brown 1986:52). Currently, California Coast University remains unaccredited and offers off-campus, self-directed (i.e., correspondence) programs in Administration and Management, Engineering, Behavioral Science, and Education.
3. The Browns' work, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, has been published in several volumes. Each volume concentrates on different personalities in the world of professional anti-Mormonism, and the Browns make compelling cases for the manner in which "professional anti-Mormons work to obstruct and distort the truth" (Brown and Brown 1986:front cover). Among those considered by the Browns are Dee Jay Nelson, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Walter Martin, and Ed Decker.
4. For example, Martin claimed on the fly-leaf of The Maze of Mormonism that he was a descendant of Brigham Young on his mother's side ( 1978:3), and that this fact had been confirmed for him by a Mormon genealogist. Robert Brown confronted Martin on radio talk show with evidence that indicated "it's an impossibility for him to be a descendant of Brigham Young" (Brown and Brown 1984:82). Challenged by Martin to make a statement to that effect which might be tested legally, Brown declined to do so on the air. In their book, however, the Browns remain unequivocal. "We will make a definite statement here, however, that WALTER RALSTON MARTIN IS NOT A DESCENDANT OF BRIGHAM YOUNG. Any attempt to use his name in connection with Brigham Young is an attempt to deceive you---an attempt to impress you with credentials he does not have" (Brown and Brown 1984:84).
6. "Walter Martin's first wife (Patricia Alice Toner Martin) divorced him in December, 1950, charging 'extreme mental cruelty'. Although the ordination council seemed to frown on ordaining a divorced man to the ministry, he was ordained in July of 1951 'with the understanding with Walter that if he remarried, we would have to revoke his ordination'" (Brown and Brown 1986:3). On her website. Martin's daughter defends her father regarding his marriages.
7. For an interesting discussion of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Alberta, and the exodus of the so-called "Penton Group," see Beverley 1986.
8. In The Culting of America, Ron Rhodes discloses his working definition of cult in an endnote.
Ankerberg and Weldon begin similarly. "By use of the term 'cult,' we mean nothing necessarily derogatory or pejorative. But from the viewpoint of biblical revelation, most cults and most cultic religion have serious errors of belief and often incorporate dubious ethical values. For our purposes a 'cult' may be loosely defined as a religious group having biblically unorthodox and/or heretical teaching and which may fail to meet basic ethical standards of Christian doctrine and practice" (Ankerberg and Weldon 1991:iv).
Steven Hassan, an ex-Unification Church member and now an "exit counselor" for those seeking to leave what he terms "destructive cults," states that there are four main types of cults: religious cults (e.g., the Unification Church, Church of Scientology, Church Universal and Triumphant. "Although most claim to be of the spiritual realm, all one has to do to see their true colors is examine how much emphasis is place on the 'material' world--the luxurious lifestyle of the leaders, millions of dollars of real estate, extensive business enterprises, and so forth" [Hassan 1990:39]); political cults (e.g., Lyndon LaRouche, Aryan Nations, Symbionese Liberation Army ["a left-wing terror cult"; Hassan 1990:39]. " . . . most people do not hear about the deceptive recruitment and mind control practices that distinguish them from run-of-the-mill fanatics" [Hassan 1990:40]); psychotherapy/ educational cults "hold workshops and seminars for hundreds of dollars to provide 'insight' and 'enlightenment,' usually in a hotel meeting-room environment" (Hassan 1990:40; Hassan cites no examples, but est, The Forum, and Silva Mind Control could be on his mind here); and commercial cults "believe in the dogma of greed . . . There are many pyramid-style or multi-level marketing organizations that promise big money but fleece their victims" (Hassan 1990:40; again no examples are provided, but groups such as Amway could certainly have influenced Hassan in this area).
9. In the 1985 edition of Kingdom of the Cults, Martin introduced a chapter on Scientology. It was fairly even-handed and, while critical, described the group in a not unreasonable manner. For the 1997 edition , however, (now called a "textbook" by the editors), a new chapter was written by Kurt Van Gordon and edited by Gretchen Passantino. It is considerably more hostile in tone, and includes this definition of "false religion": "We define any religion as false whenever and wherever it departs from the biblical God and His plan of salvation as understood and proclaimed by the historical orthodox Christian Church" (Martin 1997:370).
10. In Religion, Deviance, and Social Control, Stark and Bainbridge refine this definition somewhat, conforming it even more closely to that of Charles Braden: "As we define them, cults are religious groups outside the conventional religious tradition(s) of a society. They may or may not impose stricter demands on their adherents, but their primary form of religious deviance does not concern being too strict, but being too different" (Stark and Bainbridge 1997:104).
11. Of Unity, Martin wrote: "There are many types and shades of heresy to be found today within the borders of Christendom which deserve the concerned attention of all true Christians everywhere. Principal among these is the Unity School of Christianity" (1980:91).
12. Martin urges his readers, "[Let] us now consider the history, theology, and peculiarities of Christian Science, one of the most dedicated enemies of the evangelical Christian faith" (1980:76).
13. "Theosophy as a religion is opposed to virtually every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, and finds no support from Judaism, little from Islam, and certainly none from the majority of world religions, with the exception of Buddhism and Hinduism" (Martin 1977:222). Since the "world religions" normally include only these five, one might question Martin's rhetoric here (cf. Kurtz 1995:21-49).
14. In Jehovah of the Watchtower, the book which was considered his first commercial success and, with Kingdom of the Cults, one for which he is best remembered, Martin wrote: "But in this field [i.e., "cultism"], few of them can compare with 'Jehovah's Witnesses,' who literally 'make hate a religion' and denounce all denominations and, for that matter, all Christendom in the name of witnessing for Jehovah-God" (Martin and Klann 1974:106).
15. In the 1985 edition of Kingdom of the Cults, Martin wrote: "There are many other errors in the theology of Mr. [Herbert W.] Armstrong which could easily fill a small volume, but space does not allow us to deal with it in the confines of a chapter. Let it be said, however, that the theology of Herbert Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God contains just enough truth to make it attractive to the listener who is unaware of the multiple sources of heretical doctrine he has drawn upon for the balance of his theological system, enough of which permeates both his radio programs and his publications to insure the uninformed listener a gospel of confusion unparalleled in the history of American cultism" (Martin 1985:336). Following Armstrong's death in 1986, his successor, Joseph Tkach (1927-1995), led the Worldwide Church of God through a series of doctrinal reversals aimed at more closely conforming the Worldwide Church of God to conservative Christian theology. In the 1997 edition of Kingdom of the Cults, Martin's original chapter has been replaced by an appendix, written by Kurt Van Gordon and edited by Gretchen Passantino, entitled "The Worldwide Church of God: From Cult to Christianity" (Martin 1997:471-94). For a perspective on this shift from within the Worldwide Church of God, cf. Tkach 1997.
16. Throughout his writings, Martin reserved a considerable portion of his countercult opprobrium for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Rise of the Cults, he began his chapter on Mormonism: "Of all the major cults extant in the melting pot of religions called American, none is more subtle or dangerous to the unwary soul than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of Mormonism" (Martin 1980:63). Note that Mormonism has now joined Christian Science, Unity, and the Jehovah's Witnesses as "the most dangerous" cult in America.
17. Martin wrote: "The average non-Christian cult owes its very existence to the fact that it has utilized the terminology of Christianity, has borrowed liberally from the Bible, almost always out of context, and sprinkled its format with evangelical cliches and terms wherever possible or advantageous" (1977:20). Martin called this point "the key to understanding cultism" (1977:19). Further, he declared that "the Church of Jesus Christ has every right not to tolerate the gross perversions and redefinitions of historical, Biblical terminology, simply to accommodate a culture and a society which cannot tolerate an absolute standard or criterion of truth, even if it be revealed by God in His Word and through the witness of His Spirit" (Martin 1977:22).
18. A similar controversy over the legitimacy of ordination credentials surrounds the current president of the Christian Research Institute, Hank Hanegraaff. In a long letter to Elliot Miller, the editor-in-chief of the Christian Research Journal, the main print organ of CRI, former CRI employee Rob Bowman questions the credibility of Hanegraaff's claims to ordination. "But I have personally confirmed recently that Hank is ordained with the International Ministerial Fellowship. The IMF staff told me that they will ordain anyone who completes a four-page application detailing what it considers to be adequate ministry experience, even without theological or pastoral education, who gives five ministry references, and who pays the required fee" (Bowman 1994:8). Since leaving the CRI, Bowman has joined other former employees who oppose the manner in which Hanegraaff manages the organisation and formed the Group for CRI Accountability (cf. Grady 1995; Sardasian 1995; Spencer 1993:95-116).
19. The masthead of each Christian Research Journal states that it is "dedicated to furthering the proclamation and defense of the historical gospel of Jesus Christ" and that its "areas of research specialty include (1) non-Christian religions, sects, and cults; (2) the world of the occult (including practices, phenomena, and movements); and (3) issues of contemporary theological and apologetic concern (e.g., aberrant Christian teachings and practices, philosophical and historical speculations which challenge biblical reliability, and sensational conspiracy theories)" (e.g., Christian Research Journal 17:3 (Winter 1995), 3). While it "strives to take a scholarly approach to all these themes," the hubris with which CRI often conducts its affairs is evident in their review of Irving Hexham's Concise Dictionary of Religion (Hexham 1993). At the end of the dictionary, Hexham provides a "Reading List for Religious Studies," in which he writes, "[in] journals one finds the latest thinking in an area and many ideas which can take years to find their way into books. The following journals will provide a basic introduction to the field" (1993:242). In CRI's review of the book, though, the reviewer wonders why "periodicals like CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL or SCP Journal [Spiritual Counterfeits Project]" are not listed by Hexham (Gruss 1995:49).
20. According to a lead article in the Christian Research Newsletter, "CRI's vision can be stated in two words: Mainstreaming apologetics" (Hanegraaff 1996:1). Another lead article declares: "Unwittingly joining forces with the militant secularists is a growing host of cults whose distortions and perversions will just as effectively lead tens of thousands away from the truth of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus Christ. But as though these battles were not enough, we can expect even greater attacks from within. Liberals will doubtless undermine faith in the authority of Scripture and introduce vile heresies like worship of the goddess Sophia into mainline churches" ("Into the Next Millennium" 1995:1). The headliner for the article reads: "As we at CRI consider the past six exciting years [i.e., since Martin's death] and survey the present landscape to catch a sense of the battles for truth that lie ahead, it's clear that God has used Hank Hanegraaff to fulfill Walter Martin's vision, broadening the scope of the ministry's impact and extending the boundaries of the ongoing battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of millions, both at home and abroad" ("Into the Next Millennium" 1995:1).