Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn

Written by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing from Painful Spiritual Abuse exposes how misguided religiosity hinders ones growth, faith and perspective of God. In this book, Arterburn and Felton describes ‘toxic faith‘ as “a destructive and dangerous involvement in a religion that allows the religion, not a relationship with God, to control a person’s life.” They added, “it is a defective faith with an incomplete or tainted view of God. It is abusive and manipulative.

This book illustrates the different roles that each person plays in a toxic faith systems and the motivations of both the church leaders and the followers within that system. This book also provides many personal accounts and stories about being part of a toxic faith system. Morever, this book tells the characteristics of a toxic church vs a healthy church. It talks about religious addiction in contrast to a relationship with God. Lastly, this book aims to help people move from a toxic faith to a true faith.

This book helped me to see that any Christian can have unhealthy faith without realizing it! I really liked how Arterburn specifically explained each element of toxic faith. In addition, “Toxic Faith” helped me to understand the structure of an unhealthy system (i.e. a religious organization) and the role of all the players involved. This is a must-read for any Christian who wants to grow in his/her relationship with God. Also recommended for victims/former members of destructive religious cults. Amazon Customer

This book helped me gain valuable insight into my own personality, and what caused me to be attracted to cults and churches that were unhealthy, and also understanding of unhealthy leaders. It was very hard for me to understand how a leader could believe they were doing right, when in fact they were very far off base, and practices did not line up with scripture. My husband & I would often discuss whether leaders made a conscious effect to manipulate people and hurt people, or if they really thought they were doing right in God’s eyes. This book answered a lot of puzzling questions, and helped me see what really happened. If a pastor was taught or believes he/she has to earn God’s favor, and never grasped the concept of a healthy faith and grace in their own lives, they will project those same views to other believers and their congregations. This book gave me understanding. And this understanding helped me to gain some empathy for those leaders who harmed us, and I was able to begin to overcome the resentment and anger I felt toward them. — Mary (Amazon)

This is such an important book — If I and my family had only been aware of this book’s contents we might have `escaped’ our toxic church prison twenty years earlier — Toxic Sheep No More (Amazon)

The last church I attended was toxic but when I was in it I didn’t fully realize it. I kept making excuses for the pastor’s behavior (and the church leadership’s behavior). Leaving that church was like coming out of a fog. Reading Toxic Faith was like reading a play that the church had been acting out… It toook a minute for me to get into the book because right away I was hoping to hear about the bad church system I’d just left, but first the book talked about how toxic faith begins (with us). This book isn’t filled with a lot of Bible Scripture, but it’s filled with knowledge from two guys extremely gifted by God in their insight and keen discernment. The book helped further my healing after leaving a toxic faith system. Just because a church is big, popular, located all over the world, teaches the Bible extremely well (this is was what fooled me with my church), and started out with good intentions in its early days doesn’t mean it’s immune to toxicity! I highly recommend this book. — Lisa (Amazon)

This book literally saved my life. This book most defiantly help me understand how I got away from Jesus into a false belief or trust in things, ways, understanding other than Jesus Christ alone! — Tomcat (Amazon)


Healing From Spiritual Abuse by Ken Blue

Ken Blue’s Healing from Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience is one of the best known books on spiritual abuse. In this book, Ken Blue defines and identifies several key areas in spiritual abuse that occurs within the Christian Church. Ken Blue also offers various examples of stories from people who experienced this kind of abuse. In addition, this book provides insightful information for its readers about what makes a church leadership abusive. Ken Blue tells this by comparing healthy ones to abusive church system by looking at the leadership demonstrated by Jesus Christ’s servanthood as well as the non-hierarchical structure in the early church.

This book offers grace-based biblical answer to spiritual abuse which can help provide a way of healing for people who are abused spiritually. And even though the primary intended audience for this book is for the victims of spiiritual abuse as well as the perpetrators of abuse, this book is still very useful for everyone.

Ken Blue interweaves simple, down-to-earth definitions of spiritual abuse with examples from the experiences of real people. Having grown up in an abusive church, I found it difficult even to give myself permission to pick up this book and start reading. His style was disarming, and the accounts of people’s experiences were chillingly compelling. After the first few chapters, I was able for the first time in my life to use the word abuse in connection with that church… Near the end, the author includes a checklist of characteristics of a “Significantly Aberrant Christian Organization.” Honestly scoring my church on that list is what precipitated my escape, for it gave me compelling, common-sense reasons for breaking off contact with that organization… Walking away from spiritual abuse is a slow, painful process. My journey to healing didn’t start, or end, with this book. But it was essential to one of the most significant steps I had to take in leaving the abusive environment behind.  — Amazon Customer

Ken Blue discussed not only the abused side of spiritual abuse, but also covered the abuser. This was a balanced look at where spiritual abuse comes from, and steps to take to be healed from it. It had an awesome emphasis on the grace of God. All those who have been feeling like the church has done more harm than help to them should read this book. There is a firm biblical foundation in all that is written. It was an awesome book to read to get a better understanding of what is really going on with the church, and how people are able to abuse church goers so easily. I would recommend it to all people who are in the church, be they part of the church staff or occasional church goers. Dubs70

This book shares the highest place on my list of books that helped me overcome a 5-1/2 year experience (1987-1992) of intense spiritual abuse, and thus I believe it will also help others. Ronald M. Henzel

I recently had to leave a church with very controlling pastors. I read this book and discovered that nearly everything about the way church leaders’ abuse members was done to me and even worse to some of my friends. I now have learned not to let people control me the same way but also not to let abusive leaders destroy my faith in God. — Chandler Isaac Klebs


The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Jeff VanVonderen

It is a known fact that there are church leaders who manipulates and controls their congregations through fear, guilt, shame and intimidation. Some do so unintentionally. But such abusive setting is toxic for the believer, who often find themselves burdened and lost in their walk with God. Some of them become confused and develops a distorted view of God, while some remains in the abusive system, either unaware or just didn’t know how to escape.

Written by  Pastor David Johnson and Counselor Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is one of the best resources for Christians who have been in abusive church situations. This book is written for Christians who have been wounded by the church and for those which may be causing it. In this book, Johnson and Van Vonderen (who became famous as the most talented interventionist in the A&E show ‘Intervention‘) examines the unhealthy spiritual dynamics in churches and how such event can trap people in abusive systems, the impact of abusive leadership in a congregation or ministry, and how the abused can recover and return to a right relationship with God, one of love, hope, and grace.

Other Reviews:

I believe that this book has the ability to help anyone who’s ever been spiritual abused or who is going through it. As a victim of spiritual abuse, I found myself healing as I read. But I kept thinking to myself, “If only so and so can read it too and be healed from this spiritual abuse.” The sad part is that everyone cannot be free from spiritual abuse unless they accept that something is wrong with their church or leader. This book explained in great detail how churches are being destroyed by spiritual abuse and how lives are also being destroyed. Some people never recover from such abuse. — Amazon Customer

I have used this book for almost 20 years in ministry because of the author’s clarity of issues, Schriptural basis, exaninations of self and others, understanding godly authority and thoughtful questions in seeking the Lord’s will, ways and solutions for proper, healthy decisions. — Bonnie Brown (Amazon Review)

This book just confirmed that what I thought I was experiencing was actually REALLY happening. I have left my old church about 1.5 years ago and have experienced incredible healing since then. My husband and I are SO much happier now. — Rebecca (Amazon)

My wife worked for a church-based organization and over a period of 2 years she suffered what we thought was bullying. She told the leadership who placed my wife in the wrong. She eventually was forced out of her position and was made to feel shame and humiliation. Someone told us that this was spiritual abuse. This book has helped both of us to begin recovery and to retain faith. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Thank you so much David and Jeff. — Eugene Delacroix (Amazon)