Sam Logan reviews Dr. Diane Langberg's latest book: REDEEMING POWER
I highly commend this new book by WRF member Dr. Diane Langberg – REDEEMING POWER: UNDERSTANDING AUTHORITY AND ABUSE IN THE CHURCH (Brazos, 2020).
Dr. Langberg has made very important contributions to the church of Jesus Christ and to that portion of His church which is represented by The World Reformed Fellowship. This book represents a further attempt by Dr. Langberg to call that church to fuller obedience to the Scriptural description of what the church SHOULD be.
Among Dr. Langberg’s excellent contributions in this volume is her early discussion of the nature of power. Here are a couple of her especially important observations:
There are many types of power. Verbal power involves using words, often in artful ways, to manage situations and control others. Verbally gifted humans can use words to bless others or to do terrible, long-lasting damage. A related kind of power we rarely think about is silence. Silence can be a wonderful gift. Silence can also be a weapon. The sting of silence used to punish or ignore goes very deep.
Now stop before reading further.
Stop and think about this.
I suspect that all readers were nodding positively when reading the second and third sentences of the previous paragraph. I know I was. After all, I recently published a book on this subject, entitled THE GOOD NAME: WORDS THAT HURT AND WORDS THAT HEAL. But I was taken aback by that next sentence, “A related kind of power we rarely think about is silence.” When I read that sentence, I said to myself, “Oh, my.” I almost stopped reading . . . this was getting too real! Especially in my closest relationships, I began to see how I have often used “hurt silence” to control some situation with which I was uncomfortable.
That’s what Dr. Langberg has a habit of doing – speaking biblical truth in a way that seems obvious and compels agreement and then following through with implications of that truth that I/we might have actually known but which I/we prefer to ignore. There is great SPIRITUAL and BIBLICAL “power” in these words from Dr. Langberg.
And the discomfort continues:
Spiritual power is yet another kind of power that can be dangerous unless it is exercised in obedience to God. This form of power is used to control, manipulate, or intimidate others to meet one’s own needs or the needs of a particular organization, often by using words cloaked in nice-sounding spiritual language and concepts.
Here, I believe, we have the primary impetus for the book – it is largely an examination of the ways in which power and authority have been MISused in church and other “religious” environments. And that is precisely why this book is so important for Christians and the leaders those Christians follow.
One of the types of power that Dr. Langberg identifies as being often misused in religious environments is what she calls “knowledge power:”
Using theological knowledge to manipulate people to achieve our own ends is a misuse of power. Exploiting our position in the home or church to get our own way, serve our own ends, crush others, silence them, and frighten them is a wrong use of power.
This, of course, is a tricky one. We must act according to what we believe the Bible says and if we are confronted with a situation where we believe, on the basis of our “knowledge” of Scripture, that there is clear disobedience to the teachings of that very Scripture, guidelines are needed with respect to how we should proceed. Dr. Langberg recognizes the need for nuances here and she provides them.
First, she provides them in theory by supplying a superb conceptual framework:
Godly power is derivative; it comes from a source outside us. It is always used under God’s authority and in likeness to his character. It is always exercised in humility, in love to God. We use it first as His servants and then, like him, as servants to others. It is always used for the end goal of bringing glory to God. That means our uses of power must look like Christ because he is the One who brings God glory.
That’s the theory . . . but what might this look like in practice? Here is one of the many places where Dr. Langberg’s work is especially powerful. She provides three real-life examples of what such BIBLICAL uses of power would look like - one from a fishing village in Brazil, the second from a conference for Arab women, and the third from a royal household in the Middle East. I won’t repeat them here. But they do exactly what Dr. Langberg intended. And Dr. Langberg ends this chapter appropriately, with an extended discussion of this subject - “Jesus Becomes Vulnerable for Us.”
But exactly how and why do such abuses of power occur? Dr. Langberg’s third chapter addressing this difficult subject. It begins this way:
How is it that humans are so easily led to misuse power? Power was given to us so we could do good, yet why do we so often use it for evil instead? Deception seems to be a key factor in leading us to use power to take what is not ours and that which will bring death. Any study of power misused is also always a study of deception, first of the self and then of others.
“First of the self” - four words, as explicated by Dr. Langberg, among the most important (and disturbing) words of the book. Dr. Langberg’s years as a counsellor pay special dividends here. She has, in a sense, “heard it all” - from unfaithful spouses, from drug addicts, from Christians who believe that “others” just aren’t listening to their warnings, etc., etc. She has exactly the kind of experience that is necessary in order to be able to say that power misused most often originates in a form of self-deception. I suspect that many who read this book will be, as I was, quite uncomfortable when reading this chapter.
I will share a couple of additional highlights of the book before sharing one concern.
Especially in light of some recent expressions of “Christian nationalism” (a subject which The World Reformed Fellowship will discusses in detail in a separate blog), I found the linkage which Dr. Langberg points out between Adolf Hitler and Christianity in Chapter Four informative and, of course, disturbing. Her powerful discussion of the power of words in Chapter Five echoes similar concerns that I have expressed elsewhere. And her discussion in Chapter Ten of “Christendom Seduced by Power” really should be required reading for all who are or who want to be Christian “leaders.”
My one wish for this book would be that Dr. Langberg had delved more deeply into the realm of false accusations as they relate to Christians who slander their brothers and sisters.
Even with that wish, I return to the main message I want to communicate. REDEEMING POWER is a superb book which ought to be on the list of “required reading” in evangelical churches today.
Note 2: Samuel Logan is a member, former International Director and current Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. His latest book is The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal (by New Growth Press, 2019). The views expressed represent the author, not necessarily the WRF or any organization (as highlighted in Note 1 above).