The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse – A Much-Needed Resource in the 21st Century

“Spiritual abuse is a real phenomenon that actually happens in the body of Christ. It is a subtle trap in which the ones who perpetrate spiritual abuse on others are just as trapped in their unhealthy beliefs and actions as those whom they, knowingly and unknowingly, abuse.”

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

https://www.amazon.com/Subtle-Power-Spiritual-Abuse-Manipulation/dp/0764201379When Dee and I began researching Christian topics over nine years ago, it didn’t take us long to discover that Christendom is riddled with problems involving spiritual abuse. We have shared countless testimonies of abuse within the church across denominational lines. And in our opinion, one of the most important books that has ever been written on this topic is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

This powerful book was first published in 1991 by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, and because it has been in such high demand through the years, it is still in print.

Here is a little background information. David Johnson began pastoring at Church of the Open Door, located just outside Minneapolis in 1980 — incidentally, the same year John Piper was called to pastor Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Johnson, a graduate of Bethel College, received his theological training at Bethel Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He continues to serve as a pastor at Church of the Open Door, where he has been for over 37 years. Under his direction, the church grew from 180 to a congregation of 5,000 (as of the original printing of the book).

Jeff VanVonderen served as Pastor of Counseling at Church of the Open Door when he co-wrote The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. He worked at the church for 15 years. In addition, he co-founded and is the former Director of Passages Counseling Center, a licensed out-patient mental health clinic in Minneapolis. Jeff VanVonderen is a Certified Case Manager Interventionist – Masters Level (CCMI-M) and a nationally known speaker on issues concerning church and family wellness. Perhaps you have seen him on the A&E program Intervention.

Here are the important themes of the book:

  • What are the abusive spiritual dynamics that can develop in a church.
  • How do people get hooked into these abusive systems?
  • What are the marks of false spiritual leadership and their impact on a congregation?
  • What are the scriptures and doctrinal concepts that can be misused to keep Christians under bondage?
  • How can an abused Christian find rest and recovery?

David Johnson begins the book by sharing that a woman came forward for prayer at the end of a church service. She had fear in her eyes, and David soon realized that she was afraid of him! He quickly realized that she was afraid of him as a spiritual authority – a “representative of God”. He later realized that she was a victim of spiritual abuse. In the book’s introduction, David Johnson shared:

“It was this one woman who opened my eyes to the impact unhealthy spirituality can have on men, women, and children… What I see in this I cannot ignore. I see the symptoms of a disease for which I have finally found a name: spiritual abuse.”

In his introductory comments, Jeff VanVonderen explains that he and David Johnson have been pastoring together at Church of the Open Door for over a decade and that they have seen some ‘incredibly wounded people’.  Remember, the book was written in 1991. We can’t help but wonder where these wounded Christians attended church before they finally made their way to Church of the Open Door…

The desire of Johnson and VanVonderen is to bring grace and liberation to wounded people, which we believe they have been tremendously successful in doing.

In Chapter 1, they define Spiritual Abuse as follows:

the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.

In Chapter 2, Johnson and VonVonderen explain that spiritual abuse is not new. They cite passages of scripture that demontrate it was prevalent during Biblical times. They remind their readers that Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Part I of the book (Spiritual Abuse and Its Victims) also includes the following chapters:

3. Abused Christians

4. The Pre-Abuse Set-Up

5. Identifying the Abusive System

6. When You Cannot Leave

7. Abuse and Scripture

8. Revictimizing Victims

Part II of the book concerns “Abusive Leaders and Why They Are Trapped”. the first chapter is this section is “Because I’m the Pastor, That’s Why!” And the final chapter in this section is “The People Get Devoured”.

Finally, Part III focuses on Post-Abuse Recovery, and the first chapter in this section is titled: “How to Escape a Spiritual Trap”.

Over at Amazon, Gennie left the following recommendation (see screen shot of her review below).

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R19Q0JOV5PB1N3/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0764201379Dee and I are unpaid, unsolicited endorsers of this outstanding resource regarding spiritual abuse. It is our hope that those who have not read it will take the time to do so. Amazon is currently offering both new and used copies, as well as a Kindle version.

As David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen share in the book:

“Spiritually abusive systems are easy to get into but hard to leave.” (p. 184)

It is our desire that if you are in an abusive system this book will give you the knowledge and skills to leave. Furthermore, we hope that this helpful information will prevent you from getting sucked into a spiritually abusive system in the future.

Knowledge is power!


Comments

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse – A Much-Needed Resource in the 21st Century — 70 Comments

  1. Predates Enroth’s book by about a year. Must have been a ground breaking book indeed in a pre internet world.

  2. Second.
    First

    Deb wrote “We can’t help but wonder where these wounded Christians attended church before they finally made their way to Church of the Open Door.”

    Being from the area I know of at least one church that was the source of these walking wounded that ended up at Open Door and other churches. There were whole sections of the pews where the refugees tended to sit together.

  3. Fourth. Bah – the worst place to finish.

    You’re all rubbish.

    Up Yours,

    Roger Bombast

  4. I read the resources in a generic way it was very helpful. My old faith tradition injected into every single cell, we all have it coming, no matter what, we all have it coming. So basically every bad thing that ever happened to U is your fault and U deserve worse than that. If one thing was ever made clear, this was it, we all have it coming, if we are abused, raped, murdered, in Auschwitz, fill in the blank, we have it coming and it is totally our fault. Yet though God murders my children I will praise His name (Job). Just go back and read that discourse and walk away looking the same at God. I never did.

    I won’t go into my pov on Job and God’s bet with Satan. Nothing more than a wager, I watched my mother bury two of her children, it did something to her it should not have, I get that. Trust me I get that in spades. But it did, count that to our spiritual weakness and failure, trust me I get that as well. I wont go into much about how their souls are on mine because I did not preach the gospel correctly to them. Even when I did I was told oh Brian deathbed confessions are almost always false conversions. To play with people like we are some theological treatise. It was my family. It broke my heart, it still breaks my heart, it should not I get that but it does.

    This good news some folks speak about, I dont see that to much, I really do not.

  5. This book was the first one I read on the subject. It was outstanding. It beamed much light on past experiences and I realized I could stop struggling with guilt over my “disobedience”, “lack of faith”, and “rebellion”, because all of it came from my disagreement with what I realized was spiritual abuse. I’m thankful for that book!

  6. This book is excellent, and helped (along with others) show me that I viewed the world through the assumption of shame and *not-good-enough-ness*, and helped me decide to leave an abusive ministry that was sucking me in like a black hole of guilt and supposed “duty.”

    But I especially appreciate the approach to healing, since that was like a breath of fresh air after the “grace by effort alone” mentality I was force fed.

  7. @ brian:

    I feel you on the “injected into every cell” part, it’s almost like genetic engineering to try and make you into a non-human. And someone I am very close to almost destroyed his life by believing that every bad thing that happens to us is our fault, because we didn’t make the effort to prevent it. Even if it is clearly beyond our control.

    That kind of theology seems to take delight in our despair, and gets a thrill in spewing as much contempt on human beings as possible. That, in itself, is a grooming tactic to bring about a perverted spiritual gratification in the abuser, and is itself a cycle of abuse.

    I hope you can one day extricate that stuff from your DNA, so to speak.

    For what it’s worth, God is an abomination viewed through that old lens, but I hope you can one day see with your real eyes in clarity that that is not who God is. There is healing from that scubola — Greek for a word I’m not allowed to write in English — but even the best news, viewed through the lens we were forced to adopt, looks like death until that lens is destroyed. If you get a chance, one book that has helped me destroy that old lens is “A More Christlike God,” by Brad Jersak.

    Once I abandoned the destructive theology you mention, Christ really did become good news and fresh air to a stifled soul.

    But looking through the old lens, there is nothing that can appear good — not even the source of goodness. I hope you can smash those glasses into dust one day.

  8. @ brian:

    And there is no appropriate response to what happened to your family other than a broken heart. Stoic indifference in the face of such tragedy would be inhuman and mechanical. It is a sign of life that a heart bleeds when it is wounded.

    You are right to feel pain and anguish for what happened. But that is hard to accept without feeling ashamed, I get that — and it is not weakness, but a sign of life. Contrary to that old abusive theology, we are not machines — we are living beings with hearts that bleed, and need gentleness for healing, not iron willpower.

  9. Another great resource is the materials compiled by Steve Hassan regarding undue influence. His BITE model is spot on and should be required reading. His website is https://freedomofmind.com/freedom-of-mind/

    Based on the theory of cognitive dissonance, the BITE model explains why people have so much difficulty leaving improper authority structures. When cognitive dissonance is present, the mind seeks to resolve the tension. It does this by conforming information, thinking, emotions and behavior. Think Romans 12:1-4 – if one is conformed to wrong information, then thinking, emotions and behavior will follow suit.

    Where an organization can control behaviors, information, thinking and emotions it becomes very difficult to escape the authority. If you submit to _____ as your authority, then your behaviors, emotions and thinking will align to the information. I -> B+T+E. Similarly, the spiritually abusive system is reinforced by prescribed behaviors (B -> I+T+E). That is why it is so critical for your ultimate authority to be Jesus Christ. For 34 years my ultimate authority was the _____. I submitted to his teaching on baptism (information), which aligned me with his system of salvation (thinking), which caused me to love him in place of the Savior (emotions), and led me to submit to his prescribed practices (behaviors).

    This was the same trick that the Serpent played upon Eve. Hath God said? (information), you will be like God (thinking), you will know good and evil (emotions), so here’s the fruit (behavior). Hassan also notes that the same BITE model can be used for good. For example:
    Hear the gospel (information), Christ Lord, not sinful me (thinking), new emotions (fear to love, obligation to gratitude), and new behaviors (follow Christ, not Satan).

    For me, Colossians was instrumental in seeing through my false spiritual authority with its false teaching, false practices, and false veneration.

  10. Excellent book! I purchased mine several years ago and recently ordered another for my sister.

  11. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

    As pointed out on another thread “wolves” is plural, they hunt in a pack. Brad Sargent’s work helped me identify the systematic nature of abusive systems and identify the various roles people play in them such as enforcer or enabler. The concept puts an entirely different spin on the old adage “there are no lone wolves in Christianity”.

  12. This book should be mandatory reading. Another very good book by Jeff VanVonderen is “Tired of Trying to Measure Up.” It is also still in print. It’s a very good antidote to worm theology.

  13. I grabbed that book earlier this year for a plane trip. It’s good to see it being recalled. On top of the things we’re all familiar with, I appreciated and grew from its graceful perspective towards the perpetrators and participants in abusive systems.

  14. Ken F (aka Tweed) wrote:

    This book should be mandatory reading. Another very good book by Jeff VanVonderen is “Tired of Trying to Measure Up.” It is also still in print.

    Yes! I have that one as well and bought one for a family member too! Love it!

  15. This book has been so helpful to my wife and I in recovering from spiritual abuse.
    Today, David French published a good essay at National Review about the dangers of abusive church leaders.
    A sample:
    “I’ve seen it happen so many times that by now I almost expect scandal when the popular, legalistic figure rides into town. My childhood church’s most charismatic pastor — an arrogant man who claimed to hit “home runs” when he preached from the pulpit — ran off with another man’s wife. Bill Gothard, a giant (for a time) in the Christian home-schooling movement — a person who created in essence a second set of scriptures to teach Christian families how to raise godly children.”
    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/453729/roy-moore-christianity-built-on-fear

  16. Well, it’s obvious to me that the trouble with all of you is that you’re looking for the perfect church.

    What I would say is, if you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it – you’ll spoil it.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Arnold Smartarse

  17. An excellent book! I have a couple of copies, one for loaning and another all marked up with dates and people. It is partly my journal of an awful time in a spiritually abusive church.

    One slight disagreement I have is with the quote from chapter one:

    “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.”

    Specifically the first part.

    Spiritual abusers do not only target the needy, as if needy people are more susceptible to being abused. If we think that we are strong and capable and not needy, we may blind ourselves to how the spiritual abuser is at work. Some of the most potent abuse in churches happens at the leadership level, between leaders, etc. Since it is all IMHO about control, (under the churchianity guise of leading, teaching, influencing, discipling, mentoring, etc.) people are often blind to what is actually happening. And remember that the abuser does not necessarily recognize that he is abusive. He may see himself, or have been told, that he must be strong, be effective, be be decisive, is wise, is very well spoken, should write a book, etc, etc.

    So even if you think you are not needy, beware. Be wary. Hubby and I are chatting about how to tell a wolf from a sheep. I’m thinking pull at the fleece a little and see if it slips, or get them to show their teeth. But he says you only know after your have been bitten.

    ☹️

  18. Heather wrote:

    So even if you think you are not needy, beware. Be wary. Hubby and I are chatting about how to tell a wolf from a sheep. I’m thinking pull at the fleece a little and see if it slips, or get them to show their teeth. But he says you only know after your have been bitten.

    I would agree. Most people who get sucked in aren’t in any particular need. You may be looking for a church and not know what’s going on beyond the Sunday service until you have gone too far down the rabbit hole. Many Christians are wanting to do “the right thing”. It’s a double edged sword that can be a great strength and a great weakness.

  19. Excellent book and many thanks. The curse Christ puts on those who “lead the little ones astray” is done for good reason.
    You posted a link to a former Maranatha Ministries a while back (an abusive church if there every was one)- the website has an excellent post on this subject
    https://maranathaministriesrevisted.com/2017/09/29/66-staying-leaving-and-recidivism/

    “Steve Hassan uses the experience of Korean War prisoners to explain cultic brainwashing, why members stay in a group, and why members experience distress after leaving. Although I have learned much from Steve’s work I feel this explanation is inadequate. For how many Korean War prisoners of War wanted to return to North Korea after arriving back into the U.S.? Rather I prefer the explanation of of Robert Vaughn[9] who uses the analogy of a battered, or abused, woman to explain why people fail to leave a sociological cult, or leave and then return.”

    “Manipulative tactics such as love bombing play a role, but the member makes that free will choice and convinces themselves that the cult’s mission is worthy that the cult will meet their needs.
    Leaving, though, is less a matter of a free-will choice. Members are under duress because of these factors.”

    Thank you both!

  20. Another excellent post from the site you linked to recentlyhttps://maranathaministriesrevisted.com/2017/09/29/66-staying-leaving-and-recidivism/

    “In fact rejection of non-confirming information is equal to acceptance of the group’s Transcendent Belief. In my own story this played out as my friends tried to dissuade me with articles that exposed the true nature of MCM. Yet I rejected these articles because they were non-confirming, not in spite of the non-confirming information they contained.”

    and
    “Members have convinced themselves that only the group can give the answer, the path, and the total solution for their lives. The“world”is a scary place and outside the cocoon of the group they might fail or be lost (literally and metaphysically). This, I think, is the explanation of why members find leaving a group so difficult and why members return after leaving. It also explains why about 10% of sociological cult members, after a group explodes, will join another abusive group. I also believe it is why some ex-members (see Kip McKean and some ex-MCM pastors) start a new sociological cult after the original group blows up. They simply think they have nowhere else to go and nothing else to give to the world.”

  21. In the not-so-subtle spiritual abuse category, Perry Noble published a lengthy article on Facebook yesterday proudly proclaiming “I am unqualified!”
    You see, he recently flashed his lights at a slow driver. He lied about his weight on his driver’s license. And so on. Meanwhile, as of now his wife, whose name is Lucretia, NEVER EXISTED. Today, he’s hitting the followers up for donations to help him start his new church.

  22. From the Marquee up top:

    The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse – A Much-Needed Resource in the 21st Century

    Well here’s another valuable resource.
    It’s from Paul Simon.
    Just substitute ‘religion’ for ‘lover’ in the lyrics and you’ll get the picture.
    Sue me if I play too long…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTiyLuZOs1A

  23. It’s good to note that most people joining don’t know the underbelly of this beast ( spiritual control). When you walk in everything seems to be ok you would never join a cult but what does one look like to a person who has never had any education on it or has been through one? When we walked into LBC yes they love bomb you but you don’t know that is what they are doing. It’s like boiling a frog slowly in a pot! Then before you know it your in trouble and you don’t know what to do! It is more than subtle they are insidious. John Chrysostom wrote:

    Excellent book and many thanks. The curse Christ puts on those who “lead the little ones astray” is done for good reason.
    You posted a link to a former Maranatha Ministries a while back (an abusive church if there every was one)- the website has an excellent post on this subject
    https://maranathaministriesrevisted.com/2017/09/29/66-staying-leaving-and-recidivism/

    “Steve Hassan uses the experience of Korean War prisoners to explain cultic brainwashing, why members stay in a group, and why members experience distress after leaving. Although I have learned much from Steve’s work I feel this explanation is inadequate. For how many Korean War prisoners of War wanted to return to North Korea after arriving back into the U.S.? Rather I prefer the explanation of of Robert Vaughn[9] who uses the analogy of a battered, or abused, woman to explain why people fail to leave a sociological cult, or leave and then return.”

    “Manipulative tactics such as love bombing play a role, but the member makes that free will choice and convinces themselves that the cult’s mission is worthy that the cult will meet their needs.
    Leaving, though, is less a matter of a free-will choice. Members are under duress because of these factors.”

    Thank you both!

  24. There are good guys and jerks in any theological system, but it has been my experience (happily!) that a theology such as Wesleyan Arminian that starts with the chief attribute of God being His love rather than His glory tends not to be so power hungry. That translates into less abusive.

    Some thought systems just seem to draw the abuser like a magnet.

  25. Max wrote:

    I prefer my preachers to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    Well, quite so; indeed, I’d go further. I’m not nitpicking your comment, Max, because I know what you meant, but let’s put it this way: I prefer to be in a gathering of believers where everyone (or at least a critical mass of people present) is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and everyone is able to contribute.

    Taking this another step further, it has implications for how the church should grow locally – even allowing for the fact that the church in Anywheretown is generally split into separate, independent and mutually exclusive “churches”. It means that believers are encouraged to be interdependent, as opposed to headstrong and INdependent, or helplessly dependent. It’s harder for a superstar mythology to grow around some central charismatic guru or leader who comes to believe that he is the brand. It’s also harder for “Jesus™” or “the Gospel™” to become a mere plastic brand, as well, because the primary emphasis is how it’s lived out in the community rather than how it’s packaged in a presentation.

    Naebdy’s pretending this is perfect. The early church had its problems, and attracted its share of sociopaths and charlatans. But it’s still better.

  26. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    I prefer to be in a gathering of believers where everyone (or at least a critical mass of people present) is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and everyone is able to contribute.

    Amen and Amen!! Whose job is the ministry? Every believer has a part!

    Without the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit in a local gathering, folks are doing church without God.

  27. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    It means that believers are encouraged to be interdependent, as opposed to headstrong and INdependent, or helplessly dependent. It’s harder for a superstar mythology to grow around some central charismatic guru or leader who comes to believe that he is the brand.

    This morning, in an article “Has the church let you down?” Mr Noble said, “There is NOTHING that has the power and potential of the local church…
    …which is why I will do whatever I can to serve her for the rest of my life.”
    Whereas in reality he despises the local church, a substantial portion of which is his former splinter which declared him an unfit leader. So the charismatic guru is opening a new splinter. At the old schism, he was obsessed with “reaching” 100,000, which he confessed last year drove him away from his wife and drove him to drink.
    Today, he has a better goal. “Will the vision be to reach 100,000
    Nope…
    We are going to reach 1,000,000…(believe it with all my heart!)”

  28. Dave A A wrote:

    Today, he has a better goal. “Will the vision be to reach 100,000
    Nope…
    We are going to reach 1,000,000…(believe it with all my heart!)”

    Terachurch: When Gigachurch becomes too small for Founding Pastor/Apostle’s Ego.

    P.S. “The demons also BELIEVE (with all their hearts?) and tremble.”

  29. linda wrote:

    There are good guys and jerks in any theological system, but it has been my experience (happily!) that a theology such as Wesleyan Arminian that starts with the chief attribute of God being His love rather than His glory tends not to be so power hungry. That translates into less abusive.

    I have heard the same point made when comparing Christianity to Islam.

  30. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    Terachurch: When Gigachurch becomes too small for Founding Pastor/Apostle’s Ego.

    Hmm… the time will come when the prefix won’t sound cool enough for the CEO’s ego:

     Petachurch?
     Exachurch?
     Zettachurch?
     Yottachurch?

    Not likely to happen.

  31. linda wrote:

    Isn’t Calvinism as expressed by the neoPuritan under my thumb guys very akin to Islam?

    Yes.

    I saw a really interesting interview with a wee laddie named Faisal Malick a few years ago. He was born in Iran, I think (he did say, but i can’t remember) and was raised a devout Sunni Muslim. When he travelled to the US to study, he did so with the intention of converting American christians to Islam. Long story short, he encountered God and became a christian – very specifically, he confessed Jesus as the Son of God.

    There are many fascinating things about his story. At no point was he a flat-earth fundamentalist (modern-day flat-earthism is, AWWBA, rooted in christian fundamentalism); he grew up respecting Jesus, or Isa, as a Prophet. It’s simply that he believed the Bible to have been corrupted and changed and his mission was therefore to rescue Christians from this deception. Likewise, his understanding of Islam itself is first-hand and very close. In the interview I watched, he made a fascinating assertion.

    Islam is an Abrahamic faith, as you know, and the Prophet of Islam was descended from Abraham via Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away by Abraham, at quite a young age. Malik’s observation was that, at the heart of Islam and all of its rules and emphasis on the glory and greatness of a transcendent God, is the longing for a Father’s love. I think it’s the same with neocalvinism. The endless dissection and specification of a transcendent God they have no relationship with.

  32. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    The endless dissection and specification of a transcendent God they have no relationship with.

    I’ve seen a lot of similarities between Islam and Calvnisim as well, especially the whole idea of submitting to God simply because he is the most powerful, and completely leaving aside the real reasons to trust him. There is no trust; only fear.

    Not to mention, views about church and state governance, emphasis on heavy intellectual study, instilling a sense of moral and intellectual superiority in the Elite, disparaging other denominations within the same basic belief system, along with very clear and authoritative lines of control and gender roles.

    But at least under Islam, you know for certain whether you’re “good enough” for God — just do the list of things required of you, and you’re in. Under Calvinism, you still have to do the list of things — but don’t worry, it’ll never be good enough. In any case there is certainty that you will be a worthless shell of humanity no matter how hard you try.

    In Calvinism, you have no way of knowing if you are Elect — even if you do everything perfectly, are an exemplary doctrine-sniffer, lead a more righteous life than even Calvin himself, you still could be one of those reprobates who fall under the category of “Evanescent Grace,” meaning that you can show all the outward signs of being a perfect Christian, and even have the identical outward signs of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (and even perform miracles!) — but God still rejects you, and there’s nothing you can do about it, and there’s no way you can tell. I even had a pastor who admitted as much, and said he didn’t even know if HE was saved — but he trusted that God was good. I admired him for his candor and courage, but I’m not sure that is an option in Calvinism, since even the definition of “good” becomes purely arbitrary, and God can “sin” (in the sense of doing what would be sinful in all human cases) with impunity.

    In that sense, Islam seems a little more “fair,” at least in respect of good works.

    But I’m glad we have a Third Option that is actually good, and actually loves us.

  33. The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday wrote:

    Under Calvinism, you still have to do the list of things — but don’t worry, it’ll never be good enough. In any case there is certainty that you will be a worthless shell of humanity no matter how hard you try.

    So how is it any different in any other non-Calvinist strain of Evangelical Prostestantism? I’m still not good enough, can never be good enough, and because I can’t achieve perfection, God had to punish his beloved son in my stead in order to confer perfection on me.

  34. ION:

    “Yotta” is a real prefix, signifying 10^24.

    This is a big number.

    For instance, the sun’s power output is around 220 yottawatts. This is a big lot of power. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s this big.

  35. Muff–not every Christian holds to a penal substitutionary atonement. Some see the death of Jesus on the cross simply defeating Satan and his forces, others as demonstrating the awesome love of God. Those latter, while not denying the trinity as the apostolic Pentecostals may, will quickly tell you Jesus is Jehovah.

  36. @ Nick Bulbeck:

    Incidentally, 2 is also a big number. According to an official Whitehouse tweet this morning, 2 is the most non-small number you’ve ever met in your life.

  37. @ Nick Bulbeck:

    That should be “White House” – I was probably thinking of comedian Paul Whitehouse. as I’ve just been reading up on The Death of Stalin in which he had a part.

  38. Muff Potter wrote:

    God had to punish his beloved son in my stead in order to confer perfection on me.

    The Bible does not teach this, and does not even hint at it. How did you end up believing this?

  39. Muff Potter wrote:

    The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday wrote:

    Under Calvinism, you still have to do the list of things — but don’t worry, it’ll never be good enough. In any case there is certainty that you will be a worthless shell of humanity no matter how hard you try.

    So how is it any different in any other non-Calvinist strain of Evangelical Prostestantism? I’m still not good enough, can never be good enough, and because I can’t achieve perfection, God had to punish his beloved son in my stead in order to confer perfection on me.

    That assumes that all strains of Evangelical Protestantism support Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory (PSA for short).

    They don’t necessarily all support that doctrine, but the Calvinist strains necessarily do. I’ve been to plenty of “Evangelical” churches that reject PSA, and though I identify as leaning on the Evangelical side I reject that doctrine as one of the most destructive heresies to have been uttered. (Even though I was raised Evangelical, I reject Eternal Subordination of the Son, PSA, complementarianism, worm theology, etc., all those other doctrines that turn God into a power-hungry petulant toddler)

    PSA has been dealt with before, and is still a huge issue, but essentially I reject it because it causes a split in the Godhead, a schism between the Father and the Son that leaves the Holy Spirit completely out of the loop. It is a theology that, quite frankly, makes abuse “ok because God does it.” It makes authoritarian control “OK,” because “it exists in the Trinity.” The Eternal Subordination of the Son, and subsequent Penal Substitution, makes abuse “ok” because the terrible idea of “sinners in the hands of an angry god” supplants the historical view of the Church up until the middle ages: Namely, that Jesus is not an example of “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” but rather “God in the hands of angry sinners.” Jesus takes the very mechanism by which we spew our hatred of ourselves and others onto God, and uses it to initiate relationship with us, just as he wrenches Death out of the hands of the Enemy and uses what was meant to destroy us, as the very means by which he saves us.

    In a nutshell, though. We could talk about this for a very, very long time…

  40. Muff Potter wrote:

    So how is it any different in any other non-Calvinist strain of Evangelical Prostestantism? I’m still not good enough, can never be good enough, and because I can’t achieve perfection, God had to punish his beloved son in my stead in order to confer perfection on me.

    As far as not being good enough: The simple fact is we are all sick and broken; some of us are just better at hiding it than others. I don’t think anyone can truly claim to be perfect, and that’s exactly why Jesus became one of us, to live the Christian life that only Christ can live.

    To heal us.

    (In the words of Athanasius, “God became a Man that men might become gods.”)

    Notice that up until the Middle Ages the prevailing view (Augustine was sort of an outlier) was that Jesus died on the cross, not to satisfy God’s wrath against humans, but to satisfy man’s wrath against himself and against God, and to take the hatred and death that kills us, and put it to death. Death itself became the instrument by which he gave us life. The moral of the story: not even our worst was bad enough to triumph over God’s love.

    But the simple fact is, we (or at least, certainly I, and everyone else I have ever known) could never be good enough to take out the very thing splinter that is killing us, to heal our chronic disease of blindness and wanton self-destruction. In that sense, we’ll (or at least, I’ll) never be “good enough” to stop destroying ourselves and others around us on our own.

    But the key there is “on our own.” The problem with most of these terrible theologies is that they exhort you to live the Christian life “on your own,” and give so many manuals and instructions that there’s really no need for Christ anymore — and that’s why they fail, and steal, kill, and destroy our joy.

    Are you familiar with maritime search and rescue? If so, consider this: Nine times out of ten it is the victim’s own fault for getting into a dangerous situation in the first place (DISCLAIMER: THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO ABUSE VICTIMS, ONLY MARITIME DISTRESS). Should the rescuer then simply leave them to their fate? That would certainly be “justice,” wouldn’t it? But nobody in their right mind can claim that would be the right thing to do; everybody in the SAR business knows the victim is probably at fault, but they go out anyway. Why? Because they’re just looking for someone to blame, and want the victim to know the full extent to which they did not conform to the law? To make them pay for the property damage they caused? Or to make an example of them?

    Might I suggest, it is because they are too focused on saving lives to be concerned with blame? They know already who is to blame; but how does that solve the problem of death? Is the refusal to follow laws put in place for our own safety, itself worth capital punishment?

    Let’s take it further, though. Let’s say the victim is hypothermic, exhausted, and nearly in shock after hours of trying to keep above the waves, until a helicopter comes on scene and lowers a basket to them. If the victim has enough strength to get in the basket, who really saves them? I think only the staunchest Calvinist would say, “The victim is the primary rescuing agent. But their choice to get in the basket completely negates the will and skill and utter superiority of the flight crew that flew out to save them.” But would the victim have any capacity at all to save themselves if the helicopter was not there? I think only the staunchest Nietzschean would say “yes.”

    See the connection with PSA vs. Christus Victor?

    But let’s take it again even further. Let’s say the victim is not only exhausted, hypothermic, and in shock, but has completely lost any useful muscle function — may be even unconscious — and cannot pull themselves into the rescue basket. A swimmer then jumps out of the helicopter, gets into the water with the victim, and clips the victim to his own harness. Then both he and the victim get hoisted to the helicopter, and the victim’s life is saved — even though they were unconscious and had no way to give consent to rescue.

    Was that victim “good enough” on his own to effect rescue? Was it “unfair” for the swimmer to use his superior strength to rescue said victim? Should we despise the rescuer for condescending to the victim, getting into the water with the victim, experiencing the same environmental conditions as the victim, and yet using his own “good-enough-ness” to save the victim’s life?

    To me (and to the early church) that is a much more beautiful Gospel than “Jesus-died-to-protect-you-from-his-rage-a-holic-dad.”

  41. Ken F (aka Tweed) wrote:

    The Bible does not teach this, and does not even hint at it. How did you end up believing this?

    The pronouns in my previous comment were strictly generic and for exposition. I do not subscribe to the doctrine of PSA (penal substitutionary atonement). Quite the contrary, I find it odious.

  42. Muff Potter wrote:

    The pronouns in my previous comment were strictly generic and for exposition. I do not subscribe to the doctrine of PSA (penal substitutionary atonement). Quite the contrary, I find it odious.

    Whew! Based on all your previous comments I was a bit surprised when you came across sounding like you believed it. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  43. The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday wrote:

    We could talk about [PSA and related topics] for a very, very long time…

    Indeed we could, and I don’t doubt I would find it a very stimulating conversation.

    We’re about to head off to a church gathering (it being 9:47am in Scotland at the time of writing) but I shall pick this up later this afternoon…

  44. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    Indeed we could, and I don’t doubt I would find it a very stimulating conversation.

    In my experience over the last four years, it has been a VERY stimulating topic — in the same way stepping barefoot on Legos is stimulating.

    I’ve been trying to pull those “Legos” out of my spiritual “feet” for a while now…

  45. I can’t help thinking that a lot of the emphasis on PSA derives from the widespread practice of altar-call-based evangelism that has been popularised and entrenched during revivals/awakenings over the last two hundred years or so.

    The cultural practices derived from these movements have led to tend to focus around the event of “getting saved”, along with:
     The emotive/emotional appeal that quickly wears off
     The emphasis on immediate results/statistics over fruit
     The widespread use of superficial, easily-visible measures of church growth
     The phrase “evangelistically speaking” – meaning, evangelists tend to exaggerate
     The strong functional equivalence between “leading someone to the Lord” and making a sale

    PSA, if believed, creates a consumer need that churches can purport to fill without having to present any real evidence.

    Another factor is that, whilst the news preached by the first-century church was apparently good for the poor, PSA is much more equitable for the rich. If a forgiven person looks the same as an unforgiven person, then you have a religion that is very appealing to the middle classes and the rich; it means I can indulge myself here and now, without consequence. Since we’re all sinners, but God has sent his sonjesus™ to dieonthecross™ for my sin, then to all intents and purposes my sin doesn’t matter. Most usefully of all, my sin towards other people doesn’t matter – I can treat them how I like, and as long as I’m powerful or influential enough, I can push the consequences onto them. This invisible “God” has forgiven me, and so should you – as the saying goes.

  46. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    The cultural practices derived from these movements have led to tend to focus around the event of “getting saved”, along with:
     The emotive/emotional appeal that quickly wears off
     The emphasis on immediate results/statistics over fruit
     The widespread use of superficial, easily-visible measures of church growth
     The phrase “evangelistically speaking” – meaning, evangelists tend to exaggerate
     The strong functional equivalence between “leading someone to the Lord” and making a sale

    That’s actually a really good and concise summary of the culture — especially the idea of instant gratification and statistics rather than actual deep-seated healing.

    I remember in the Evangelical culture I went to college in, if somebody wanted to evangelize to somebody they knew, that person became a “prospect,” and a lot of the people working in ministry had degrees in business and marketing.

  47. The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday wrote:

    I remember in the Evangelical culture I went to college in, if somebody wanted to evangelize to somebody they knew, that person became a “prospect,” and a lot of the people working in ministry had degrees in business and marketing.

    I remember when I first heard the Campus Crusade dogma of Multiplying Ministry, it sounded like a spiritual pyramid scheme. Much later, I was not surprised when I learned Bill Bright’s background was in sales & marketing.

    “Not one hungry man telling another where he has found bread, but convincing a well-fed man that he is hungry in order to close the sale on another loaf.” (Or at least a bill of goods.)

  48. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    ION:
    “Yotta” is a real prefix, signifying 10^24.
    This is a big number.

    When I first heard that prefix used, I heard it as “Yoda”.

  49. Ken F (aka Tweed) wrote:

    Muff Potter wrote:
    God had to punish his beloved son in my stead in order to confer perfection on me.
    The Bible does not teach this, and does not even hint at it. How did you end up believing this?

    Penal Substitutionary Atonement, i.e. SCRIPTURE(TM)!

    Muff is a survivor of Calvary Chapel (and There Can Be No Salvation Outside of Calvary Chapel).

    And they teach nothing else. I was involved in a similar “Plain Biblical Christianity” group before CC got started, and I can affirm that I NEVER heard anything other than that until I got out. (Ditto with YEC and End Times. Literally NOTHING else.)

  50. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    I was involved in a similar “Plain Biblical Christianity” group before CC got started, and I can affirm that I NEVER heard anything other than that until I got out.

    Me too. When I started seeing essential beliefs such as PSA having such poor Biblical support it made me question a lot of other beliefs as well. But I also found the much older Christian beliefs that are truly good news.

  51. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    For instance, the sun’s power output is around 220 yottawatts. This is a big lot of power. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s this big.

    Change the sign of the exponent and we get soooooo close to zero, that it might as well be zero…

  52. The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday wrote:

    In my experience over the last four years, it has been a VERY stimulating topic — in the same way stepping barefoot on Legos is stimulating.

    Never mind Legos, try stepping on D4s (four-sided tetrahedral dice) sometime.
    My old Dungeonmaster went barefoot a lot, and he still has the puncture scars on the soles of his feet.

  53. Ken F (aka Tweed) wrote:

    When I started seeing essential beliefs such as PSA having such poor Biblical support it made me question a lot of other beliefs as well. But I also found the much older Christian beliefs that are truly good news.

    As a guy who’ll turn 62 this Friday and has just been through his second prostate cancer scare, I’ll take Christus Victor (especially as “Victory over Death”) over that kind of PSA any day.

  54. It’s an excellent read, and although written from an evangelical perspective, is valuable to anyone in an abusive faith setting.

    Persons in liturgical churches may also find the chapter on outward appearances helpful. Not only can liturgy become an end, rather than a means, but narcissists may be drawn to liturgical settings due to their inherent on outward appearances. Additionally, the clericalism in some liturgical churches affords narcissists a built-in supply of recognition and adulation.

    Lastly, Deb’s point about the incredible damage wrought by spiritual abuse is spot on. Not only do some victims struggle with the aftermath for the rest of their lives, but you have whole faith communities whose underlying value systems are warped and eroded. In my case, I even had one parishioner urge me to go kill myself. That really illustrates how very toxic churches can become that experience spiritual abuse.

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