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Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church

by Diane Langberg

Power. It’s a God-given role that every human possesses. Everyone has the prerogative to have self-possession and influence over others. But people who use power for abusive personal and institutional gain have tried to redirect the power and dignity of those under their authority toward themselves. They have forgotten that all power comes from God and is meant for the good of self and others.

Diane Langberg wrote a book to help Christians understand biblical authority and some ways that professing Christians and the Church has abused that God-given authority. Her book is titled, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church. Langberg begins with the history of power that is grounded in the Creation narrative. Then she continues to trace the movement of power after the Fall showing how it became something to be exploited for personal gain. She emphasizes that though this reality will always exist in a fallen world, Christ has come to redeem power from its fallen use and will banish it under His complete rule. 

Langberg provides helpful categories for the effects of power in the hand of abusive individuals and systems: by silencing, diminishing human effort and potential, and shifting relationships from being mutually beneficial. She also lists a variety of ways this power can be achieved: words (or silence), rage, physical size, specialized knowledge, wealth, controlling presence (or neglectful absence), and spiritual power. It is spiritual abuse that is the focus of this work. 

Langberg does an excellent job capturing the unique power that religious leaders possess and the unique harm that follows when that power is abused. Under the proper Lordship of Jesus Christ, power is a gift. Untamed, the consequences are devastating. Langberg also discusses key aspects of exploitation including vulnerability, deception, and enabling cultures. 

In the second section of the book, Langberg details what abuse of spiritual power can look like to prepare people to recognize abuse when they see it. In the final section of the book, Langberg guides the reader to peer into Scripture to see power that is redeemed under Christ. 

One critique to mention is that on Langberg’s copyright page it is stated: “Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are the author’s paraphrase.” So in Langberg’s book, she chooses to make the default Scripture references her own paraphrase of a Bible verse, and she chooses to occasionally insert an actual Scripture quote that is cited with a familiar bible translation, i.e., ESV. While the principles are certainly biblical and true, using her paraphrase of a bible verse sprinkled with quotes from familiar translations may confuse the reader. 

Langberg points out in her book that the recipients of individual and institutional abuse understand that the misdirected power of abusers seeks to diminish their personhood. However, one can come away from reading this book with the realization that in a post-Marxist world, Christians seem to be uncomfortable with even using the term “power.” Certainly, the world cannot be reduced to that single category. Yet Christians, of all people, should be the most eager to recognize the concept — it’s part of the Imago Dei after all. 

Overall, this is an incredibly helpful resource. Those working in ministry must have an appropriate sense of the unique power that comes with their calling and how to steward that power in a redemptive way. Langberg helps fill that gap in knowledge while also providing the necessary framework for recognizing abusive dynamics in progress. For those who have been abused, it helps provide language for what happened and a biblical category for the atrocity of exploiting power in the name of Jesus. 

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