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The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church
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The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church

4.34  ·  Rating Details  ·  358 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
In a breakthrough book first published in 1991, the authors address the dynamics in churches that can ensnare people in legalism, guilt, and begrudging service, keeping them from the grace and joy of God's kingdom.Written for both those who feel abused and those who may be causing it, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse shows how people get hooked into abusive systems, the ...more
Paperback, 234 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Bethany House Publishers (first published October 1991)
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Nov 15, 2012 Meredith rated it it was amazing
I read this book several years ago. Literally it saved our family! The title may scare some people away. As Christians, we don't want to think that abuse happens in the church, but it is alive and well. We think any book that speaks of psychology must be wrong; therefore, many won't read this book. This book is gracious. The authors realize they are dealing with wounded people. "The results of spiritual abuse are usually the same: The individual is left bearing a weight of guilt , judgement or c ...more
Aug 12, 2008 Debby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Spiritual manipulation, control and abuse is indeed a very deceptively and intricately woven web designed for entrapment. It is amazing how subtle this type of manipulation, control and abuse can be, how difficult to spot and even more difficult to break away from or get others to recognize it fow what it is - abuse of power in a spiritual leader. Reading this book can be like installing a Spiritual Carbon Monoxide Detector in your heart and mind. You may not need it, buy boy are you glad you in ...more
Jul 03, 2010 Survivors rated it really liked it
If all churches required their Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, pastors, assistant pastors and congregations to read this, just think of the pain and damage that would be avoided.

As a youngster, I was in a church where the pastor used brow-beating as his whip of choice. Coming from a household where yelling and anger was common, this subtlety caused corrosion that lasted well into my adult years.

Sadly, even when the church this particular pastor 'ran' slowly rotted and died, he just move
Jun 20, 2014 Lauren rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be so personally helpful that I've already been recommending it to family members. Before I started reading, I was uncomfortable with the use of the word "abuse," but the book illuminated the complexities of this issue that make "abuse" a legitimate term. As with any problem area, there are, of course, differing levels of abuse, ranging from words and insinuations to full out physical abuse. With my background of extremely conservative fundamentalism, the book was most eye-o ...more
Kathleen L. Maher
Jul 20, 2009 Kathleen L. Maher rated it it was amazing
Spiritual Abuse--the manipulation of a religious seeker by one in spiritual authority--is a force in modern Christianity to be reckoned with. Few religious figures have discussed it. It's a bit of a skeleton in the closet, or a family shame. But tens of thousands have fallen prey to the subtle power of spiritual manipulation and abuse, whether financially (think Jim Bakker in the '80's), sexually (FLDS Compound), emotionally (Jimmy Swaggart's tearful plea for his throne) or physically (Waco, Tex ...more
Keren A.
Dec 27, 2011 Keren A. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-reading
This book was personally very helpful and healing. However, its application and writing deals with more than just spiritual abuse. I fear that some types of people will be turned away from the title: 1)people who don’t believe there is such a thing as “spiritual abuse,” 2) people who believe spiritual abuse exists, but don’t think they’re in a context where it would come up, and 3) people who may think this is only a book written only for lay people. Realistically, though, this is a helpful read ...more
Lynn Joshua
Dec 30, 2012 Lynn Joshua rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book for those who have been wounded by the church and who need God's healing, and also for those in any position of leadership. (Although I don't know that manipulators will recognize their behavior, because so often they have the best of intentions and sincerely believe that their way is the right way.) This book covers warning signs such as: authoritarianism, lack of accountability, an us-versus-them mentality, an attitude of group superiority, and labeling those who ...more
Aug 20, 2012 Melinda rated it it was amazing
The title of this book turned me off but it was recommended on a list of top ten favorite books of folks I respect. That being said I like how one reviewer wrote the following... pretty much sums it up...

"The book talks about churches having inverted values. They focus a lot of energy on smaller issues while ignoring larger ones. Spiritual relationships should bring peace, not shame. That isn't to say that everyone will always get along and there will never be conflict. It becomes abusive when y
Apr 20, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I grew up in a spiritually abusive church, with a pastor who was on a "mission" to save souls. He was not there for his congregation, he was there for himself. (Much like the people who continue to knock at my front door to this very day.) It was not until years later that I understood no man can "save" anyone's soul.

This book touched me very deeply; I would have to say in a most profound way, as it spoke directly to me about my own situation vis-a-vis organized religion in general, and the Eva
Jun 22, 2012 Ruth rated it liked it
Reading this book has confirmed to me that the ministry which sponsored the Christian high school that I attended qualifies as spiritually abusive. Reading this book has also made me doubly thankful for the grace of God.

Aside from some light criticisms I have regarding sloppy copy editing, my only other critique is that there are a few points which could have been fleshed out. It seemed in some places that differing points of view were not taken into account. On the whole, however, this book is
Sep 17, 2008 Judith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A shockingly accurate description which takes the veil off of unrighteous leadership and makes it easier to recognize and address. A must read.
Jun 10, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting book to me. One that I couldn't put down.
There are 3 sections to the book-
1 Spiritual abuse and it's victims
2 Abusive leaders and why they are trapped
3 Post-abuse recovery

They gave many examples of spiritual abuse, some more severe than others. One was, it is not abuse for a church to hold certain dress standards but it becomes abuse when people are shamed when they do not hold to those same standards. The book talked about how some churches will have a couple of app
Feb 04, 2016 Becca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, while dated, gives a fabulous exegesis on spiritually abusive systems. I highly recommend this to anyone who left a cult-ish background, or any PKs (Preacher's/Pastor's Kids) out there.

There is a section on healing, as well, which has quite sound exegesis. Some of the stories aren't quite for every situation (the spiritual abuse I endured was much more subtle) but an excellent read even if you THINK you might have endured spiritual abuse.

This book made me grateful for my parents (who
Apr 20, 2015 Phil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, christian
I'm very glad I stumbled across this book! It helped me to straighten out in my head some of the experiences I had growing up in church; and in a situation very similar to that of one of the authors. There was definitely a few lingering effects from growing up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist environment that I might not have identified otherwise. I have to thank God that I have been out of that situation for some time now and have found a good church! And, bonus, one of the authors is one ...more
Sep 23, 2015 Terri rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
If you read one book on spiritual abuse, make it this one.

It was part of Jesus' mission to expose an abusive system.
1. "His confrontation landed on those who saw themselves as God's official spokesperson- the most religious, the best performers. they gave money, attended church and had more Scripture memorized than anyone. They set the standard for everyone else.
2. Jesus broke the religious rules by confronting those in authority out loud.
3.He was treated as the problem because He said there was
Anne Snyder
Jan 23, 2016 Anne Snyder rated it it was amazing
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is an insightful book that describes spiritually abusive patterns where people are told that they have to perform and measure up in order to gain acceptance and love. The book describes the problem, then goes on to offer hope for leaving the system, and finding true rest in Christ and His salvation. Freedom from these entrapping mindsets and expectations can enable people to truly understand that they are valuable in God's sight, and yearn to develop their rel ...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Jul 29, 2008 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it it was amazing
If you have ever had to deal with church people who are professional in guilt trips and manipulating you for the glory of God, so they would think, this book is an eye opener. Those Bible thumpers who can use the Bible to twist your arm and mess with your human conscience in order to get their agendas fulfilled. They are using something intimate to the heart such as spirituality and manipulating you. It happens all the time!
Jul 24, 2009 Jane rated it it was amazing
This was the book God used to help me understand some of the error that I was in. It is great for anyone coming out of a place of church or minstry wounding. I am re-reading it to write a paper on it for school.
Jul 09, 2009 Ryan rated it liked it
This book is hit and miss. Some chapters are absolutely brilliant and apply to all religions. It is most valuable when it focuses on systems that are abusive, rather than born-again Christian theology.
Feb 23, 2009 Joe rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a excellent book which thoughtfully addresses a problem which is so prevalent in many sudo-churches.
Andy Hickman
Jun 28, 2015 Andy Hickman rated it really liked it
Valuable book addressing the power dynamic at work & questioning an authority who considers himself above questioning. (p19) 1

The use of spiritual vocabulary shifts the issue into the area of spiritual-power which inevitably leads to some form of abuse.

“Spiritual abuse is 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.” (p20)2

Johnson, David, and Jeff Van
Apr 14, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Wow. I don't think I realized how much I needed to read this. I found myself reading this book and looking back over my life and seeing how much all of it applied - both in the past and the present, in church situations and friend situations. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is good. Really, really good.
That is due to its purpose. More than anything else, this book is about the gospel, what Jesus has done for us in making us right with God. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is downtr
Jun 10, 2013 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent analysis of the troubling, abusive trends in the church today, particularly its evangelical wing. Highly recommended for those who are in the church or who have left, believers and unbelievers alike.

Some organizational difficulties, a lack of real-life examples, and a slight overload of technical information in the first half of the book make it a little hard to keep track of the author's points. Still, the information is very good, very sound, and so very important.

As I read, I foun
Paul Goodman
Feb 13, 2013 Paul Goodman rated it it was amazing
Very appropriate and up to date reading. The author tackles a subject perceived as "taboo" in most evangelical environments. Church members have been shamed, manipulated and weighed down in many evangelical churches by a distortion of the Scriptures. For example, there's a false notion out there that a spiritual leader is synonymous to "anointed of the Lord." As far as I'm concerned, Jesus is the only true anointed of the Lord - the Christ. This kind of misconceived notion of "spiritual authorit ...more
Jan 24, 2011 Carlie rated it it was amazing
Wow. I wish every Christian I know could read this book. I don't even personally feel like I'm really a person who has been deeply abused by the church, I started reading it because I was curious about what in the world the term "spiritual abuse" could mean. That said, I found it super encouraging, eye-opening and centering, for lack of a better word.

Johnson has a way of peeling back the cultural habits, inclinations, traditions, and myths of the church and letting you see with acid clarity the
Joy Matteson
Oct 11, 2014 Joy Matteson rated it it was amazing
Not enough is said in the church about the damage done by spiritual abuse, especially by those place in authority. All my life I heard, "Submit to those in authority in the church, obey your leaders, etc", never, "if your church leader (or parent) is laying suffocating burdens on its members (or children) in the name of Christ, you are not obligated to submit and obey. This is not of Christ." If I had heard that from my parents and church leaders, perhaps such spiritual abuse would have not been ...more
Jan 19, 2016 April rated it really liked it
An indispensable read for anyone who has been hurt by the church and left wondering, "What just happened?" Johnson and Van Vonderen identify the dynamics of spiritual abuse, why people stay in spiritually abusive situations, and give suggestions on how to heal and recover. The authors provide many concrete examples for those who suspect they are survivors of spiritual abuse: abuse of pastoral power, false authority, hypocrisy, secrecy, victim-blaming, shaming, manipulation and control using scri ...more
Jan 06, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read and very well written. There is so much nonsense taught under the guise of Christianity these days. Prosperity gospel is one that comes to mind I see this on Christian TV programmes all the time. Jesus came to bring us freedom from sin and freedom from the law not to give us a whole new list of rules to obey. The key is grace - grace is a gift not something to work for.

The book also gave me insight into my own faith. How much am I striving for in the flesh? How much
Mar 10, 2016 Mombeam rated it really liked it
Great introduction to the subject of spiritual abuse, manipulation, and cult-like behavior especially in the first few chapters, but most chapters are useful only for Christians. Toxic Faith was a more comprehensive overview applicable to all faiths.
Jan 15, 2011 Lynne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christian
This book does a pretty good job detailing what happens when churches and their members "go bad" and start hurting people. The larger thing missed in all books like this, though, is that the Bible itself (and Jesus Himself) said that most of those who call themselves "Christian" would not be, but would be filled with evil spirit and worldly values (not the Holy Spirit and Jesus' values) instead.

Read this book to learn that its not your spiritual job to take crap from someone pretending to repre
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