Editors: Diane Langberg
Publisher: Brazos Press
Pages: 224 (Paperback)
There are some faces and stories I will never forget. It’s difficult to describe the change that happens when one bears witness to the pain of abuse and trauma: to the nightmares, the loss, the betrayal, the interrupting thoughts, the avoidance of things once enjoyed. Nothing, nothing impacts my trust for humanity more than hearing these stories.
Power: Having the capacity to do something, to act or produce an effect, to influence people or events, or to have authority. 1
I have it.
I’m a mother: I lead my children. I have power over the emotional environment of my home; my children are vulnerable to my fickle moods. I have control over the schedules and routines, over the values and beliefs emphasized and activities enjoyed or not enjoyed. I decide how and when their needs get met.
I’m a professor: I lead my students. In pursuit of a degree, my students must sit in my classroom and absorb whatever information I present to them. They are taught what I believe is important and true. I have power over their grades and their learning experience.
I am a therapist: I lead vulnerable people. Children and families trust that I will lead them to physical and emotional safety. I have power over the strategies and modalities I choose to use. They are subject to my clinical observations, my “professional opinion,” my recommendations which may have a profound impact on the services they receive, the people they know, and even their living situation.
I have power in merely writing this review, as readers will see my credentials, lean in towards trusting that my observations are astute and worthy of consideration. I have power over the words and concepts I choose to share and emphasize, and even implicitly by the reflections I may not express.
“…far too often, power is used for harm rather than good.”
We all have power, and as Dr. Diane Langberg emphasizes in her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, “any power you or I hold is God’s and has been given to us by him for the sole purpose of glorifying him and blessing others”23. Unfortunately, far too often, power is used for harm rather than good.
Dr. Langberg directly and accurately describes the many ways in which God-given power is often misused and even cultivated by a culture of conformity and ignorance. She confronts believers with the importance of aligning with Jesus’ strong and clear message of justice and obedience. Throughout the entire book, she emphasizes the importance of self-monitoring to ensure that allegiance is not to Christendom but to God’s eternal Kingdom—“to model ourselves after Jesus who used his power without abuse, coercion, or complicity”4.
Langberg further describes how power manifests itself in interpersonal relationships, institutions, and systems, and gives clear examples of the various types of power that are often used to harm (verbal, emotional, physical, knowledge, silence, economic, spiritual, culture). She unpacks God’s intended purpose for relationships, beginning with the creational story of humankind who, in pursuit of power apart from God, brought shame and separation from God. She emphasizes God’s intent to have man and women “rule and subdue the earth, not each other”5.
When one has power, someone is also vulnerable. Langberg provides concrete examples of how abuse shows itself through the exploitation of vulnerability in social, religious, and political spaces. She convicts the reader by asserting that “the exploitation of vulnerable person tells us about the exploiter, not the victim of that exploitation”6. What many fail to consider is that those who do the harm, those who are complicit and abusive “in the name of Jesus,” experience deep and damaging separation from God, bringing it about in themselves, but also causing the victimized to feel alienated from God.
A relevant application for the church today comes through a discussion of the power of men over women. Langberg encourages church leaders to understand and address the spiritual power they hold while also ensuring consistent examination of their own personal stories and paths to leadership which ultimately impact beliefs, skills, and attitudes when helping people in dark places. In illustrating the brokenness, Langberg shares how these inequalities can be played out in church walls: “A female comes before a board of all male ‘shepherds’; with an accusation of rape or battering and ends up being cross-examined rather than believed”7.
She urges her readers to attend to Jesus’ consistent interactions with women where he “protected, blessed, healed, encouraged, and lifted them up…he didn’t silence them”8. I did a spiritual high five to her as I resonated with her sadness of never hearing a sermon series about women in the Bible who obediently used their power and position for the purposes of advancing God’s kingdom.
Additionally, Langberg discusses how human systems in themselves have power, though often undefined. These systems are made up of many parts and have the capacity to control and exploit given the many layers of operation. She cites several social, religious, and political institutions responsible for perpetuating abuse and cover-ups, often leaning towards denial and protection of the offender. She describes how some even doing so insisted they were “protecting God’s work,” Langberg further explains, “which actually translates into preserving an institution rather than the humans meant to flourish in it”9.
Since we all hold some form of derivative power from God’s mighty hand, anyone can benefit from examining the spaces and places whereby this trusted power is stewarded. I found Dr. Langberg’s conversation about deception profound: discussing deception in the garden and continuing with deception’s ability to change thoughts, leading to denial of truth, desensitization, and blockage of pain that God’s people are meant to feel when another person suffers. Further, she reflects on deception’s contagiousness, often causing a series of people to believe and feed lies. Langberg urges the church to name things for what they really are and for what God’s word10 says they are.
“Do not sit down hopeless…go out and speak and touch and love and help one by one, full of grace and truth.”
Langberg ultimately points her readers to the hope in knowing Christ and his deep, image-bearing love for his people. I am called to use my power for good. We are all called to steward our power rightly. I’ll conclude this review with an example of Diane Langberg using her power well with words to encourage all Christians in the responsibility of power. Langberg writes,
- It is vital that you see surely and clearly and call things by their right names. Do not be anesthetized by so-called good systems, controlled by bad ones, or complicit by a deliberately chosen blindness. Do not sit down hopeless, thinking that the problem is too big and change will never come. Put your roots down deep into the Word of God written and made flesh. Bow before the one who rules the kingdoms of heaven and earth so that he might make you into his likeness. And then, like him, go out and speak and touch and love and help one by one, full of grace and truth. He will multiply what you do.11
Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, power as defined by Langberg on p. 4 ↩
Langberg cites this passage from Isaiah specifically in her book, supporting the need for all Christians to care about the vulnerable people among us: Isaiah 61: 1-3, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the oppressed to comfort all who mourn.” ↩
p. 10 ↩
p. 93 ↩
p. 5 ↩
p. 25 ↩
p. 94 ↩
p. 94 ↩
p. 78 ↩
Langberg cites Jeremiah 9:1, 3, 5-6 ↩
p. 90 ↩