and Spiritual Abuse
12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked, John Fischer, 2000. Fischer uses tongue-in-cheek 12-step model for recovery from the spiritually deadly disease of performance based righteousness and elitism. The medicine goes down smoothly with a healthy dose of humor. Here is the chart of Fischer's application of the 12 steps.
Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions and the New Age Movement, Ruth A. Tucker. Brinda M. (Tuscola Assembly) said, "Though it did not have anything specific about the Geftakys ministry, it was very helpful in seeing that much of George’s ministry was 'cultish'".
Be Free: Galatians, Warren Wiersbe. Brent T. says, "This is an excellent commentary on the book of Galatians, that is just right for people coming out of the Assembly. The back cover reads: 'In order to be a better Christian, I must_______. How a person answers that question is all important.' This book debunks the false, performance based teaching promulgated by George, and the book is easy to read."
Boundaries: When To Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud &s Dr. John Townsend, 1992. The Assembly system intentionally militated to break down normal boundaries in peoples lives. The concepts and examples in this book are extremely helpful to recognize where the issues lie and change course. There is an accompanying workbook.
By Hook or by Crook: How Cults Lure Christians Harold L. Bussell, 1993 [originally published as Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians]. Dr. Bussell's perspective is that evangelicals are seldom attracted to aberrational Christian groups because of their doctrine; rather, the appeal is the promise of "something more", a perceived "spirituality".
Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ronald Enroth, 1992. This book has an entire chapter about the Geftakys Assembly. The account is factual except that the names of the couple have been changed. They were the first to begin to publicly talk about the abusive practices of the Assembly and its main leader, George Geftakys. This book identifies abusers, shows how their techniques operate and the consequences in peoples' lives. Margaret Thaler Singer: "This is the most sophisticated, in-depth presentation yet made of the psychological and spiritual consequences of what various pastoral and church-group abuses produce." This book is now available online in PDF format.
Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement, Ron and Vicki Burks, 1992. Ron was taught to subject himself totally to his disciplers in the shepherding movement. Vicki was taught to submit to her husband. This is their story of struggling to break free and rebuild their lives. For Vicki, it is the story of rescuing her "self" from non-being. Ron later earned his PhD. in counseling and was on staff at Wellspring. Here is his dissertation, Cognitive Impairment In Thought Reform Environments.
Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View, Garry Friesen, 1980. This book will clear up a lot of misconceptions about the will of God as it relates to our everyday life. Because of the assembly practice of seeking and giving counsel on everything from dating to pierced ears, this is an area we all need light on. A very clear, very Biblical presentation.
Discovering God's Will, Sinclair Ferguson, 1996. A brief little book with a pastoral tone on how to use the Bible for guidance. Develops three main points: Look for clear commands, look for principles, and look for examples and illustrations. The ACE website has a review of this helpful little book. The last paragraph of the review is great: "Often, when people say they want to know God’s will for their lives, they mean that they want to be assured that everything will go as they plan, without difficulty or trial. One thing we can be sure about God’s will is that this is not his plan. Instead of seeking relief from the prospect of difficulty or worldly failure, Christians should instead seek to honor God with decisions that are obedient to his Word, trusting him to make all our seemingly twisted paths straight in his loving care of our lives."
Exposing Spiritual Abuse: How to Rediscover God's Love When the Church Has Let You Down, Mike Fehlauer. The chapter on "Toxic Love" is about the excessive devotion of people looking for a father-figure. There are two good chapters on positive and negative characteristics to look for in a pastor. Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Church - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 are excerpts from the book.
Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals, Steve Arterburn and Jack Felton, 1992 [originally published as Toxic Faith]. Details the process by which true faith disintegrates into a harmful belief system and even religious addiction, and outlines 17 characteristics of healthy faith. As repulsive as it is to admit it, many of us in the assembly were in that downward spiral into religious addiction. Read this book and wake up to the characteristics. Bill Johnson has written a summary of this book.
Families Where Grace Is In Place: Getting Free from the Burden of Pressuring, Controlling and Manipulating Your Spouse and Your Children, Jeff VanVonderen, 1992. "Here is a message about how God's grace can transform relationships within a marriage and family. The first step is learning the simple difference between God's job and ours... Healthy relationships between husband and wife, between parents and children, are possible only when the filter of God's grace is placed over the processes of marriage and parenting. The Christian family's ultimate goals can be arrived at without using legalistic and manipulative methods." (Quoted from the back of the book.)
Grace Walk: What You've Always Wanted in the Christian Life, and Grace Rules: Living in the Kingdom of God, Steve McVey. Recommended by Jack H.: "These two books go into detail about the dangers and subtleties of legalism, and how important and wonderful grace really is." McVey uses his own journey from legalism into grace to show believers how to get off the performance roller coaster.
Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experiences, Ken Blue, 1993. There is a great chapter on "Healed By Grace". He says, "When we see that we are completely accepted by God solely through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, all religious law loses its manipulative power over us."
Online book The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists in Leadership, Stephen Martin, M.Div,, online book. Written by Dr. Paul Martin's brother, this 169-page e-book shows how "wolves in sheeps' clothing" use Lifton's 8 elements of mind control to create Christian totalism.
How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, Gordon D. Fee &s Douglas Stuart, 1982. Dave Sable says: “One day years ago after I left a seminar meeting, still spiritually hungry and muddled in thought, I wandered into a Christian bookstore and came across this book. It revolutionized my thinking about the Bible.
Two scholars who love the Lord and wanted to acquaint believers with basic ground rules for interpreting Scripture wrote it. It has a great chapter on the use of Parables as well as dealing with historical narratives, the book of Acts, prophecy, the law, Revelation and other writing styles incorporated in God's word.
This book discusses some basic ground rules and restraints we need to follow when seeking to interpret the Bible. I believe it should be required reading for all believers and especially those in leadership who have teaching responsibilities [take note, former Geftakys Assembly leaders who are still leading!]. I heartily recommend that you read and study this book." Joe Sperling also recommends this book.
The Pressure's Off: There's a New Way to Live, Dr. Larry Crabb. Connie Wellik, formerly of the Fullerton Assembly, says this book was "extremely helpful to me in my journey of recovery from spiritual abuse," along with Shattered Dreams.
Reaching for the Invisible God. Phil Yancey at his best--wrestling with difficult questions and refusing to give pat answers. In our quest to know God, he offers this caveat: "The more personal conception of God we have, the more unnerving are the questions about him." He "invites readers to travel through some of the most difficult aspects of nurturing a human relationship with a transcendent God."
Recovering From Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ronald Enroth, 1994. The message of this book is that "mending" is possible. He makes the point that as the damage was relational, the healing must also be relational. Again Dr. Enroth devotes a chapter to the Assembly. One very helpful aspect of both of Dr. Enroth's books is seeing similarities between the Assembly and other hurtful Christian groups. Recovering from Churches that Abuse is now available online in PDF format.
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't!, Dr. Henry Cloud &s Dr. John Townsend, 1995. Henry tells about being in a Christian group for 5 years where he learned a lot but became more "religious" and less "real". This was not a safe group. Later, after several failed relationships, he got counseling and learned how to recognize people who seemed very spiritual but were not "real". Thereafter, he says, "I was able to pick better friends, people who really knew God and His ways instead of a lot of religious language and activities - truly relational people who were able to understand and love others and were honest about themselves and about life."
Shattered Dreams: God's Unexpected Path to Joy, Dr. Larry Crabb. Highly recommended by Connie Wellik, formerly of the Fullerton Assembly, along with The Pressure's Off.
Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life, Jeff VanVonderen, Dale and Juanita Ryan. The authors don't pretend to have a silver bullet for spiritual malaise, but they give a lot of tools to use to rebuild a relationship with God - very thought provoking. This book is must-read if you are recovering from spiritual abuse!
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority in the Church, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, 1991. According to the authors, “Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person. It often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person's state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being. In this application, power is used to bolster the position or needs of a leader, over and above one who comes to them in need.”
Mark Campbell writes: “I hope one of the books that you have, or are going to read, is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I think this is the best book in describing the way the abusive system works; I underlined about every word in the book!”
Brent T. writes: “Of all the ones on the topic, I thought this one was the best." Here is a summary of part of the book on the web that gives a quick overview of this excellent book. The "Recovering Grace" blog has a series of posts covering the book. Also see tape conference on spiritual abuse by these authors in the Media section of this site.
Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1965. Gently but firmly addresses potential causes including inability to receive forgiveness for all sins, not moving beyond past failures, seeing only bad and not good, not recognizing false teaching, lack of faith, not seeing trials correctly, etc. This older book stays centered on Biblical solutions. Very helpful.
Tired of Trying to Measure Up: Getting Free from the Demands, Expectations and Intimidations of Well-Meaning People, Jeff VanVonderen, 1989. Unmask the lies that kept you on the works-righteousness treadmill, discover the liberation of the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and the rest that comes through what Christ had done on the cross.
Toxic Faith - Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction, Steve Arterburn and Jack Felton, 1991. There is a lot of truth in this book; here is a chapter by chapter outline summary. (Mark Campbell's brief article, Defense Mechanisms of Addicts, touches on some of the same themes.) The sequel, More Jesus, Less Religion, focuses less on spiritual abuse and more on the need for promoting healthy faith.
Soon after I read the book in 1990 I happened to see Jim Hayman in the bank and recommended it to him. His response was, "Toxic faith! That's a terrible title. How can faith possibly be toxic?" Maybe for some it wasn't, but for us the description was spot on. It was "faith" that went far beyond the gospel to create an obsessive mentality and lifestyle that caused many of us to do things we would never have done in our right minds.
Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God's Love, Jerry Bridges 1991. Recommended by Brinda M. (Tuscola). As one reviewer says, Bridges shows that Biblical grace is "God's riches at Christ's expense".
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith , Anne Lamott, 2000. As one reader commented on Amazon, "Not for the faint of heart!" Another said, "Worst book ever." True, Lamott writes with a lot of hilarious profanity and irreverence. But another Amazon reader commented, "This book brought me back to God." Lamott is real, down to earth, and, on the Christian spectrum, probably as far as it is possible to go in the opposite direction from the Assembly. Which works for some who need to approach God again sideways if they're going to approach at all.
Twisted Scriptures: A Path to Freedom from Abusive Churches, Mary Alice Chrnalogar, 1997. By wielding distorted Scripture, controlling groups keep earnest believers struggling under the terrible tyranny of oppression, guilt, and fear. The author says, "This book will take you into the inner workings of abusive and controlling groups to show you how they control their members. I will make clear the mind games that many of the major destructively controlling groups have in common." Checklists at the end of each chapter offer good topics for discussion. Ms. Chrnalogar is herself a former member of an aberrational Christian group.
We Would See Jesus, Roy and Revel Hession,1958, re-issued by CLC in 2005. A brief read, a perennial classic that has withstood the test of time. Read the Amazon reviews.
What's So Amazing About Grace, Phil Yancey. "Psalm51", a poster on the Assembly bulletin board, said, "Philip Yancey's books were a catalyst for me in my exit from the assemblies. I highly recommend them, especially Soul Survivor: How 13 Unlikely Mentor's Helped My Faith Survive the Church and What's So Amazing About Grace. He has incredible insights about the human condition, and our need for grace for ourselves and towards others." We would add Reaching for the Invisible God, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud, and Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?. Yancey is so honest and down to earth. Reading him really disarms Assembly grandiosity and perfectionism.
Why Grace Changes Everything, Chuck Smith. Brent T. says, "This book is a real gem. It is very simple, with plenty of real life examples. There is clear exposition of the Biblical doctrine of grace, but it is done in a way that you will want to read the book in one sitting. While this book should not be construed as a heavy theological text, it is a perfect place to start learning about the grace of God, which is so wonderfully different than the concepts taught by George Geftakys."
Without a Doubt, Kenneth R. Samples. Not exactly related to spiritual abuse, but it's a great little resource to bolster wavering faith. "One of the unique aspects of Christianity is that it stands up to honest intellectual scrutiny...Without a Doubt covers questions on everything from the doctrine of the incarnation to religious pluralism, from evolution to moral relativism, with rational answers for even the most stubborn skeptic."
Addendum: We are sometimes asked why we don't recommend books by Gene Edwards - Letters to a Devastated Christian and A Tale of Three Kings. We read those books after we left in 1990, and they resonated, in the sense that they described a lot of what we had experienced. However, they were confusing, because they have two serious weaknesses. First, they blame the victim too much, failing to take into account the deception that takes place; and second, they are soft on the abusers. A look at Gene Edwards' own ministry may reveal why this is the case. Kevin Knox of "The Familyhood Church" blog has a series of posts about his ten years under Edwards' ministry. Strangely familiar in many ways! The Barnabas Ministry has a good review of Letters to a Devastated Christian.
July 3, 2008 from Anonymous: "I also recommend anything by Charles Spurgeon, and The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever (a great book about how to evangelize by the Spirit's leading."