If anyone is equipped to speak to the issues of abuse in the church it is Christian psychologist Diane Langberg. Recognized as a leading authority in the field of abuse and trauma counseling, Langberg has written and taught extensively on the subjects all over the world. She is also, however, a devout follower of Jesus Christ. She loves God, the Word of God, and the church. It is because of her love for the church, and her concern over the abuse of power in the church that she has written this book! Redeeming Power analyzes the relationship between power and abuse and contrasts that with the example of Jesus Christ in order to call the church to greater faithfulness. It is a book that all Christians in authority would benefit from reading.
The book is broken down into three parts. Part one focuses on the definition of power and provides readers with a Biblical definition of power and its purpose. Langberg also explores the relationship between vulnerability and power, highlighting a significant and all too often misunderstood dynamic. She also explores the roles of deception and culture in the development and use of power. Part one helps readers see both the good potential of God’s design in power, and yet the serious temptation towards abuse.
Part two, easily the most thoroughly developed section of the book, focuses on the abuse of power. Langberg demonstrates her knowledge of the subject well in this section, describing with vivid detail, powerful prose, and heartbreaking narrative what abuse looks like. She explores abuse within several scenarios including human systems, gender, race, and church. She gives a detailed analysis of the types of abuse that exists, the impact of abuse, and the justification of abuse. She helps readers not merely to see what abuse looks like, but to see why it is inconsistent with the person and work of Jesus Christ and the church that is supposedly following Him. She gives readers a pronounced contrast for the sake of clarity and rebuke. Here we see Langberg writing as one of us, but writing with an aim to critique us all and invite us to repentance for the ways in which the church has been guilty of all kinds of abuse.
Finally, part three closes out the book by looking to the subject of “power redeemed.” In these final two chapters Langberg calls Christians, and leaders in particular, to follow the example of Christ. “Christ is building his kingdom in the hearts of men and women, not in the externals we have come to love, protect, and praise,” she writes (162). We are to imitate the character of Christ in our lives and therefore in our use of authority. This final section is, in my opinion, the least well developed and doesn’t offer as much practical help for correction as I would have liked. There are some good evaluative topics to wrestle with but it is not nearly as robust as the descriptive portions of the book are. The book’s analysis is spot on, it’s description of the way forward not quite as thorough (though it should be said prescriptive help is not non-existent).
Redeeming Power is the book that leaders need today. No one thinks that they are missing power, or that they are seduced by the lure of “empire building” or protecting their own example of ministry, but we need understanding of abuse of power and we need evaluative questions that can probe our own hearts and practices. Leaders, especially pastors, need to read this book and seek to understand the pitfalls and temptations that exist in all ministries. Far too many pastors and church leaders have been exposed in recent years for us to ignore these issues. It is time to for us all to do some hard internal investigations. Diane Langberg is a good guide for that evaluative process.