A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

This book, A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards is a classic in the evangelical movement, and its perspective and terms have entered into the mainstream of evangelical thought. Edwards claims that this book was written to ‘comfort’ those who have been abused by authority. Unfortunately, this book is sometimes used as a tool of abuse.

The story examines the relationship between the “three kings” of Israel — Saul, David and Absalom. These three kings are compared based on their view of authority and how their behaviors reflects Christian responses to authority and submission.

  • King Saul abused his authority but David refused to challenge him because he was “the Lord’s anointed.”
  • David was a good king and refused to stop Absalom’s rebellion against his authority.

The moral of the story is that you should either respect abusive authorities, or you are Absalom. Clearly, this book provides a dangerous perspective on spiritual authority and harmful to anyone who is under the authority of an abusive pastor. Moreover, this book leads people to stay in abusive churches and to refrain from speaking out when they really should.

Other Reviews:

This book, in my opinion, is very misleading and could be harmful to anyone under the authority of a pastor who is abusive or misusing his authority. It makes an interesting point that we cannot know if someone has been placed in leadership by God or by their own doing. But it goes on to teach that you should always submit to such a leader and just hope that God will change the situation (as David did not get involved in Saul’s removal as king). However, the New Testament is full of instruction on confronting and correcting sin, in love, even of our pastors. They are representing God and should only hold their positions if they are emulating Jesus, the Good Shepard. To do nothing in response to an abusive leader, is not love or godly submission at all. — Melanie R. Sunderman (Amazon)

Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings, which he claims to have written to “comfort” (p. xii) those who have been abused by authority, uses a combination of highly selective Scriptural accounts of the life of David, fictionalization and fabrication to lead readers into practicing denial of truth, isolation and passivity in the name of “healing” (p. xii). Edwards’ approach goes way beyond a call to love and do right by those who hate and wound us, and potentially deceives wounded believers into enabling the victimization of themselves and others, while at the same time it seeks to deny them the ability to recognize their victimization for what it is. — Verity3, Amazon

Several folks mentioned this book as a good resource for those who have been spiritually abused. But as I read it-and took extensive notes-I found it to be just the opposite. It harms those who have been–or who are being-spiritually abused… Gene Edwards is known for his biblical fiction. I am afraid that this book is also biblical fiction. Edwards is simplistic-not wise-and selects portions of scripture to illustrate his preconceived notions rather than to take the whole counsel of God’s Word. He also misunderstands the use of the Old Testament. Not every Old Testament story may be applied in a one-to-one relationship to believers today. Pastors and elders in churches today are not God’s “anointed.” That is an Old Testament, theocratic term which implies absolute submission by divine right. In the New Testament, it applies only to Jesus… While I enjoyed some of Edward’s writing, and while I honor his sincerity and his emphasis that every believer pursue humility rather than pride or vengeance, I cannot recommend this book to anyone. It is biblical fiction, nothing more. –Stephen A. Smith (Amazon)


Spiritual Authority by Watchman Nee

Perhaps the fountainhead of modern abusive church teachings is this classic, Spiritual Authority by Watchman Nee. Watchman Nee was responsible for a Christian movement in China called “Little Flock“. But because of his Christian faith, Watchman was put in prison by the Communists and died there in 1972. Then, Watchman Nee’s successor, Witness Lee was the founder of an abusive church movement called “Local Church“.  This movement claims for itself to be the sole move and expression of God on earth today and Local Church members also claim to be the most orthodox of Christians.

Passages from Watchman’s book clearly commands heavy shepherding and unquestioning obedience such from page 71: People will perhaps argue, `What if the authority is wrong?’ The answer is, If God dares to entrust His authority to men, then we can dare to obey. Whether the one in authority is right or wrong does not concern us, since he has to be responsible directly to God. The obedient needs only to obey; the Lord will not hold us responsible for any mistaken obedience, rather will He hold the delegated authority responsible for his erroneous act. Insubordination, however, is rebellion, and for this the one under authority must answer to God. What Watchman Nee speaks here is he wants us to submit to who is just above us.

I attended a church where this book was required reading. The pastors and elders were controlling, and wanted to know about everyone’s lives in detail. This book was used to deceive everyone, and get the lay members to submit. Eventually, the churches in this movement basically dissolved, and the work came to nothing. A lot of people were hurt in the process. I can’t believe this book has so many positive reviews and so few negative ones, in light of how many people it’s hurt in the past. This book was mostly based on the example set by Moses. However, Moses was a poor example for our time because He was under the Law. When Jesus established the covenant of grace, He came as a servant, though He is also our Lord. — Martin Pierce, Baltimore, MD (Amazon)

Trying not to attack those that misused its teachings, I will say that this book lay at the heart of some erroneous teachings championed by two movements, one originally based in New England (in which I had twelve years’ experience), and one based in Florida (I’ve only read about this one). It can, and has, led to a concept in which an evangelical organization becomes run from the top down, like the Roman Catholic Church. So read it and understand it, but realize that much of its teachings come from a time in the Old Testament in which God really did speak to Moses, and Moses spoke to the children of Israel. The average person back them did not have the advantage of the indwelling Holy Spirit or of the law of God written on his heart, and the canon of scripture was not yet complete. If you want to submit to a human figure in the way that the children of Israel had to in the wilderness, then you risk spending your Christian life in the wilderness. — Howard M. Merken (Amazon)

Any church that requires the reading of this book by Watchman Nee should be look twice since this book justifies authoritarian leadership system which may only lead to spiritual abuse.


Types of Churches that Abuse

There are several different types of churches that abuse people. Again, remember we are talking about groups that are otherwise generally inside the mainstream framework of Christianity.

1. Churches that are centered around a single personality. It doesn’t matter what your theology is. Lord Acton’s maxim that “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true inside the church, just like it is everywhere else. And in fact, being a pastor does open a variety of doors of temptation associated with power. It can easily go to your head. And you can use your influence in a variety of ways that prevent your own sins from being dealt with. For someone who is less scrupulous, this can become a gateway to true abuse.

Recently, this clip of Baptist pastor Jim Standridge has been going around. He publicly humiliates people in the congregation from the pulpit. This is an example of an abusive system. No normal church pastor would feel the license to be so raw with his congregation. They have allowed him to gain enough power that he can do whatever he wants.  Continue reading