Books On Spiritual Abuse

Yes, there is such a thing as ‘spiritual’ abuse. Spiritual abuse happens when a system is set up in the name of God that hurts people. The Pharisees were the original spiritual abusers. A lot of people think that Jesus was upset with their legalism, and there is no doubt that he was, but really that was just a part of a larger problem. They were taking advantage of people in the name of God.

Not everything bad that could ever happen to you in a church setting is really spiritual abuse. Even in a healthy environment people hurt and get hurt. It becomes abuse however, when the person who is hurt is blamed, when their value is based on performance (against a standard that can’t be met), when they are afraid to leave but hate to stay.  These are the kinds of features that you find in a spiritually abusive environment.

Unfortunately it is not just cults that treat people this way, it has become all too common to find in more mainstream settings. If you have been a participant in a system like this, you need healing.  Every system is unique, but the essential features which cause it to hurt you are pretty much the same. For this reason, I recommend the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson as a starting point. It is a very effective description of all of the components of an abusive religious system, and it is good reading not just for those who have been abused but also for the average person. Equally as good is the book Ken Blue’s “Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience.” Being aware of how these systems work can help us avoid making a wrong turn into trap that has God’s name on it. 


One of the most common forms of spiritual abuse within the charismatic movement is based on the theology of the “Shepherding Movement.” There are a number of different books which deal with the Shepherding movement from different angles. David Moore’s book “The Shepherding Movement” gives the full history, although it is somewhat sympathetic to the leaders. “Damaged Disciples” by Ron and Vicki Burks gives a compelling personal account of how the system worked as does Adam Harbison in his more recent book “Savage Shepherds.” The systematized abuse of the  Shepherding Movement made it worse, but sometimes there are abusive people in systems that are themselves not as abusive.  Jesus brings freedom not bondage. If this topic is important to you, I encourage you to look at Abusive Church site.

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  1. looks like a great site for recovering saints…
    what are your thoughts on the book “War on the Saints” by Jesse Penn Lewis..its available online for free..
    there are several editions that vary somewhat..
    Have you heard of it?

    1. I am only familiar with Lewis from her role in the life of Evan Roberts. Ho do you think that her book relates to the Spiritual Abuse topic?

      1. I think the book is very very relevant. It addresses false teachings that oppress and crush the personality. Like the misapplication of picking up your cross ..among many other things…teachings that make a person passive etc.
        chapter Chapter 4
        Passivity occasioned by wrong interpretations of the truth of “Death”

        This condition of passivity may come about by wrong interpretations of truth, even the truth of “death with Christ” as set forth in Romans 6 and Galatians2: 20, when it is carried beyond the true balance of the Word of God.
        In the light of the misconception of the truth of “death with Christ” as conceived to mean passivity, and suppression of the actions of the personality of the man

  2. Page 48 of the subtle power of spiritual abuse by vanvonderen
    talks about Martyring yourself. You beleive that having needs and opinions is selfish. Being affected by insults and thoughtless actions is immature, and having any feelings is being oversensitive. Going without is a prime virtue.
    Feeling numb to life is the end result.
    From page 87:
    We have seen many people who have taken ton the burden of trying to die daily. They become preoccupied with themselves, always looking to see if something needs to be denied or fixed. They are constantly trying hard not to FEEL, , to NOTICE, or to WANT.

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