Redeeming Power by trauma psychologist Diane Langberg is the best book I’ve seen that introduces, equips, and challenges Christian leaders to deal with systemic abuse and historic oppression. Buy it, savor it, share it!
I have survived multiple situations of spiritual abuse by people in positions of power in churches, ministries, and non-profits—starting from my early 20s in the mid-1970s, and going into my 50s in the mid-2000s. I’ve invested much time over the last 15 years processing those destructive experiences and writing about what helped me understand and heal from them, and that supports other survivors.
If it had been available in 1975, I know Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church by Diane Langberg would’ve given me great comfort and confidence in my observations about sick spiritual systems when my local church started spinning into a four-way split, each faction with abusive doctrines and practices. That three-year experience from 1975 to 1978 of devolution into division brought me to the brink of questioning whether to continue in my faith as a young Christian—or to ditch it. I wasn’t crazy, and we were being controlled by false authorities who demanded unconditional submission to them, not Jesus. But, if that was what “church” was, it was evil!
The only resources available to reset my spiritual GPS in the aftermath of that trauma were the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and a very few Christians I could trust enough to talk with about what happened. There would be NO books on spiritual abuse recovery for another 15 years. The first Christian books on identifying and dealing with religious toxicity go back to the early 1990s. Then and now, most of these aim to serve abuse survivors and their support networks. Far fewer targeted pastoral care and counseling professionals, or church and denominational leaders.
Thankfully, in the last 30 years we’ve seen a significant increase in knowledge about tactics and destructive impacts from various forms of abuse/violence. We have far more resources available on post-traumatic stress, recovery from abuse, and finding purpose beyond the trauma. There have been stronger, more focused critiques of malignant individuals and toxic institutions in both Church and community. Advocates from different kinds of survivor communities have gotten connected, especially since the #MeToo movement and its related Christian streams. More recently, we’ve started to see a better understanding about systems, power dynamics, and how people and processes interconnect—all crucial concepts if we are to discern, detail, and dismantle systemic abuse and generational oppression.
So many constructive changes for abuse survivors in three decades! But, still lagging far behind is the production of educational and training resources to bring leaders in Christian organizations. They desperately need to get up to speed on abuse identification, intervention, and prevention. Redeeming Power contributes greatly to filling in that gap.
It is the book I’ve waited 45 years for, but didn’t know at the onset that this is exactly what leaders and abuse survivors needed. I grew in my understanding of systemic abuse along the way, by those multiple toxic experiences over the 30-year period from 1990 to now. So now I have a sense of where this book fits in relation to what we need.
Meanwhile, overlapping with the timeframe of my first traumatizing church experiences in the 1970s, Dr. Langberg began her professional career. This means she was developing as a practitioner and theoretician at the same time the modern discipline of trauma psychology was emerging and deepening. A humble professional, she became a student of survivors of abuse/violence, learning via listening to grasp the scope and nature of trauma, health, post-traumatic growth. This unique history amplifies her credibility to speak to leaders about the impact of abuse and the importance of acting as Christ would to minister to survivors.
In her timely capstone work, Dr. Langberg shares the distillation of learnings from the span of her career. She’s gifted us with a Grand Tour volume—so expect an emphasis on big picture themes and key concepts, not a highly detailed textbook or visually-oriented training manual. Consider it more as one-to-one conversations with Dr. Langberg, sharing from the heart her experiences, conclusions from years of listening to survivors, and how those seeped to the surface gradually. Even with her personable narrative style, she interweaves material that is distinctively:
- COMPREHENSIVE on sources of abuse: cultural, emotional, financial, physical, political, racial, sexual, social class, spiritual, systemic, verbal. Her case studies often show how perpetrators use multiple forms of abuse to entrap victims and then silence them.
- BALANCED in examining both individual situations and institutional systems, “healthy/robust” versus “toxic/sick,” in congregation and community.
- INTEGRATIVE so we see how people and processes, situations and structures, are all interconnected in systems. This systems perspective is crucial; without that framework we cannot identify “systemic abuse” or “historic oppression” and invest in constructive change.
- PRACTICAL materials that are accessible and applicable for different target audiences: survivors, support/advocate people, and ministry leaders/professionals. She also references select case studies that are more commonly known and that represent typical issues, tactics, and consequences regarding abuse.
- TIMELY for guiding us in this era of extreme social unrest that involves conflict between genders, races, cultures, political perspectives, and theoretical versus incarnational approaches to Christianity.
Dr. Langberg does not deal with every theology or denomination. And indeed, it is not necessary because EVERY theological stream has shown itself capable of promoting and protecting abusive people. Instead, she offers general principles for bringing light into any/all forms of darkness that attempt to cover abuse-inducing deficiencies and defects. She does address some systems, such as abuse in the Southern Baptist Church, Roman Catholicism, Willow Creek Association, Harvest Bible Church, and Sankey Orphanage—along with examples from American culture: Larry Nassar, Boy Scouts of America, Harvey Weinstein, and Jeffrey Epstein.
She also consistently brings our focus back onto basic truths that should motivate us in why we treat all people with dignity and respect:
- God makes all people in His image.
- That design makes each person sacred and of value to Him, and therefore to us.
- Jesus entered our world to bring light into the darkness and love to benefit others.
- No one deserves abuse or silencing; all deserve advocacy and protecting.
- To support survivors of abuse and serve them requires us to listen and learn more than we speak.
I am grateful to have Redeeming Power for such a time as this. The past 25 years, I have spent a lot of time with seminary students and graduates, church planters, social change agents, and ministry leaders. I see the arrival of this book as an answer to long-time prayers of many abuse survivors to challenge and equip our leaders. If they master the concepts Dr. Langberg sets forth, they are far more likely to discern misuses of authority, avoid idolatrous deception, and engage in fruitful ministry through the congregations and organizations they are charged by the Great Shepherd to oversee.
And Dr. Langberg is quite pointed that Christians who serve as pastors, role models, and leaders have greater responsibility to guard against soul-hijackers who seek to co-opt and drain people for their own benefit. So, Christlike character is the measure of legitimate leadership—not charisma, gifts, skills, platform, or accomplishments.
With such an emphasis on Christ, no wonder it feels like her every paragraph has something for the heart worth highlighting. Her writing is theologically rich, devotionally deep, intellectually integrative, appealing to conscience, challenging our volition. Buy it, savor it, share it!
Note: I was on the launch team for Redeeming Power and received an advanced reader’s digital copy of Dr. Langberg’s book.
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Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church is now available. Check out Dr. Langberg’s website or the Brazos Press webpage for additional information about the book plus links to sources for ordering.
You can follow Dr. Langberg on Twitter.
Facebook, book hashtag: #RedeemingPower.
Twitter, book hashtag: #RedeemingPower.