How does one shake off a shipwrecked condition – one induced by a Christian group that demanded such extreme submission as to devour the soul of the believer they claimed to have discipled? Leaving him or her so damaged that they run from the faith in terror – destroyed inwardly and outwardly by the controls foisted upon them that they no longer want to have anything to do with God in any shape form or manner?
With brilliant insight, pathos, and compassion, Gene Edwards’ Letters to a Devastated Christian addresses the many hurts former Christians experience at the hands of other Christians. Remitted in a series of letters to a young man we will call “Ken” Edwards uses personal experience, professional counseling skills, and common sense to help the individual apply the steps required to first deal with the pain and subsequently master it, eventually evolving into wholeness and health again. Here is a brief excerpt:
You asked me what I know of “Discipleship,” Authoritarianism,” “Shepherdism,” and/or Hyper-eldering.” Well, I could accurately answer that without knowing anything about any authoritarian movement that has arisen in the last 200 years. The basic characteristics have been here from the church’s most primitive times; authoritarian oppression seems to be a genetic thing inherent to man.
I am certain authoritarian movements will surface again and again throughout future generations just as they have in the past. And there will be followers aplenty, I hasten to add.
‘We are the cutting edge of God’s work in this generation.’ You might think I’ve just described the motto of the group with whom you’ve been associated. Not at all. I’ve just described many of church history’s most famous movements. Either presently or sometime in the past, many–if not most — have held this view. Some groups state these ideas straight out. Others only imply them…the latter being every bit as effective.
“I once had the experience of living in common with a group of very dear and wonderful people. This experience lasted for three years. I want you to know Ken that it was hard. It was also wonderful. It was both a sweet memory and at times a nightmare. There were about a hundred of us in the experiment, and as far as I know, without exception, we were deeply grateful for the experience. We also heaved a sigh of relief when it was over! I think I can speak for most of those who went through that three-year experience by saying, “It was great, but it should not become a life-long way of living. Every Christian ought to have a go at it, but it is not to be recommended as a thirty-year-long lifestyle.”
“But let me say, now, living in common in authoritarian groups is often begun–wittingly or unwittingly–for the purpose of control. Let me tell you a little bit about our own experiences. As I look back upon the experience of living in common I first remember that no group of people ever went into anything so naively. We started off living in community, and that was an experience that had always been wonderful. And so, the Christians within the fellowship wanted to go the full distance. Some of us, including myself, were very reluctant. As we got into living in common, we found ourselves changing things radically every few months. Why? Because nothing worked! Little by little it dawned on us that we had a mammoth project underway that none of us had been prepared for. During the three years we lived in common, we tamed most of our problems, but some we never resolved. (Such as how to keep automobiles running or how to get people to remember to pick us up from work at 5 o’clock if the cars were running!).”
Letters to a Devastated Christian goes on to describe how the tendency to want to control people’s lives exists in all of us. To the extent that some are more heavily susceptible than others, the desire to control produces more than your average pain becoming dangerously close to unleashing long term damaging results. According to Edwards, some Christians never recover. Edwards’ book mentions all types of religious movements past and present which can all be prone to corrupt ways: communal groups, conservative groups, and radical groups. The letters expose the unscriptural use of “coverings,” the fallacy of the “plurality of leadership,” and several other destructive techniques that have left many a believer bereft of joy, peace, and purpose.
Letters to a Devastated Christian reads like personal letters to a son or daughter, at times humorous, at others moving. Most of all, it offers an understanding viewpoint that can only be acquired from having also walked that distance.
Gene Edwards, one of the most prolific magnificent writers of our time, has authored over twenty-five books including, The Tale of Three Kings and Your Lord is a Blue Collar Worker.