Diane Langberg’s newest book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, is an important, emotionally challenging, and convicting read. The book focuses on the dynamics of power—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although power is “inherent in being human,” given by God so that male and female in union could rule and subdue the earth and “not each other,” its abuse has “produced outcomes that have rolled down from generation to generation, infecting us all.” Langberg expounds on the concept of power in three distinct but interconnected sections: Power Defined, Power Abused, and Power Redeemed.
In the first section, Langberg describes the many types of power, yet clarifies that all power is from God and given to humans as a trust. Power is always to be expressed in humility in order to bless and serve; it is not to be exploited to dominate, harm, and hurt. While this is the ideal, Langberg affirms that humanity is easily deceived and that it is this deception of power that leads to and perpetuates abuse. The author nuances how people rationalize the misuse of power to justify sinful actions. Her chapter on the Power in Human Systems is especially enlightening. In it she examines how “systemic abuse occurs when a system, such as a family, a government entity, a school, a church or religious organization, a political group, or a social service organization enables the abuse of the people it purports to protect” in order to protect the system rather than persons. Her challenge to not be “anesthetized by so-called good systems, controlled by bad ones, or complicit by a deliberately chosen blindness,” is balm for the soul to those who have been victimized by abusive power.
While Langberg consistently contrasts Jesus’s expression of power in word and deed with sinful humanity’s exploitation of power, the chapter on Power between Men and Women is especially relevant and poignant. In it the author weaves together her personal story of growing up suppressed by the church with many of her clients’ (mostly women) stories of abuse and trauma. She concludes that “abuse of power is a cancer in the body of Christ,” and is fed or perpetuated by a worldly standard of masculinity and an unbiblical concept of male headship. Both of these skewed perspectives contradict God’s original design of shared stewardship and power and instead baptize male rule over women. Langberg believes the solution is to restore the governance of God and,
Fight against the devastating, divisive, and destructive outcomes of a division of labor God did not ordain and work to restore God’s governance over male/female relationships, which ought to be the place of greatest beauty in displaying the image of our God.
In succeeding chapters Langberg discusses the concept of race and power, generational trauma, and spiritual abuse. Her charge is deep and wide. In the last section the author gives hope and explains that the way forward is through the Redemptive Power and the Person of Christ. Her prophetic voice to the church is that in these troubling times, and “through those we have mistreated, he is turning on his light, exposing us to ourselves (and others), pointing out the cancer, and calling us to fidelity to him alone.”
The question remains, will the church allow the light to purify or will it continue to misconstrue and wrongly define biblical power and (mis)use it for personal and worldly gain? Langberg does not accuse, instead she boldly invites the reader to consider redefining power.
My advice: Buy this book. Read it slowly. Chew on its words. Digest its content. Let its truths tutor your mind, penetrate your soul, and motivate you toward embracing, modeling, and conveying a more humble, Christlike expression of power.