over at Cripplegate singled out the issue of what a cult actually is, and then the sub-question of whether Mormonism fits the definition.
I think Jesse agreed with everything I said (which wasn't really about the meaning of the word "cult"), and used it as a launching pad for his related discussion.
That said, I am going to commend the article to you and say that I fundamentally agree with everything Jesse says in it, and with the difficulties he raises. Then for my part, I'll use his article as a launching-pad for a proposal to address the issues he raises. I'll do it here because Frank has hijacked Pyro this week for a terrific series on Passion 2013, and I have some hot items already on-tap for Pyro. And this blog has been too idle. So:
What if we were to abandon the use of the word "cult" as too non-specific and too-problematic? Leave it to the OT scholars, with their special little use for their special little world.
What if, instead, we were to use three basic categories? To wit:
False World Religions
Basically, this would be every world religion other than Biblical Christianity. There is no Gospel, per se, in these religions whatsoever — except insofar as you want to stretch that term to its snapping-point as a catch-all for false religions' diagnoses of and prescriptions for the human dilemma. So this is the category for Hinduism, Buddhism, Confuscianism, and the like.
Damning Perversions of Christianity
These are religions that pervert the Gospel and other central Biblical truths to the extent that any adherent who embraces the official position is unsaved, is still under God's wrath, and will go to Hell.
This is where we would easily categorize Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Islam, for starters. Full preterism would go here as well, denying the cardinal doctrine of the bodily return of Christ, and so mangling hermeneutics as to render the Bible meaningless.
Aberrant Christian Teachings
These would be movements that are right on the Gospel and the core doctrines, but vary to a harmful degree on other important teachings. I would categorize leaky-Canonism here, partial preterism, and other teachings.
Now, this is just a proposal for discussion.
What I like about it is that it resists postmodernistic temptations to find neutral definitions. It is not motivated by a burning desire to remove the offense of the Cross, and to be well-liked. It puts the Cross and God's Word front and center, where they should be. Dainty accomodationist elitists may not like it for that very reason.
But against it is the fact that it still doesn't answer all possible questions.
Where, for instance, would Seventh Day Adventism fit? I'd argue that some Seventh Day Adventists fit under the second category, while others fit under the third. And certainly the third category would require a lot of argumentation and discussion. Blindered covenant-theology hardcores like monergism.com would put dispensationalism under the third, all the while eyeing the second with a fond sigh. Dispensationalists in turn would put those hardcores under the third. And some reconstructionists would put them both under there.
However, given that no humanly devised taxonomy would be without problems, is this a preferable way forward, an improvement over the less-nuanced "cult"?