Book Review: Toxic Faith

Are you a religious addict? Is your church or group toxic to your soul? Even if you are certain these terms don’t apply to you or your group, you might want to read this book anyway.

I don’t recommend Christian books very often. In the not-so-distant past it was a different story; I was always reading the latest Christian self-help books and fiction novels and spent a lot of money during highschool and college buying and voraciously reading them. Then I had some…unpleasant experiences in which I grew up rather suddenly and shockingly (more on that in another post).

All those books I had bought before and read, now served to bring me very little comfort when I turned to them again. In fact, I was so disgusted with most of them and the false advice and teachings they contained, one by one they found their way into the recycle bin. The hard lesson was learned that anyone, for better or worse, can be an author. This in no way automatically qualifies them as an expert, which is a most important distinction to make.

But I recently stumbled upon a book that ought to have several copies in every Christian church’s library as well as a prominent place in every person’s (Christian or not) bookshelf. If I had the money, I would buy boxes upon boxes and begin mailing them out to every person I know. The name of this book, so highly esteemed by myself, is simply titled, Toxic Faith, and is co-authored by two Christians, Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton. Mr. Arterburn is…an author (I know, I know) and speaker, while Mr. Felton is a licensed therapist and ordained minister.

The authors state they want to see people freed from the toxic effects of religious addiction, and embrace the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Originally written in 1991, the book begins with an introduction, and then outlines the authors’ 21 beliefs of a toxic faith system (any faith system), elaborating on those and many other aspects of religious addiction and spiritual abuse throughout the rest of the book.

“Anyone can become addicted to anything.” (p. 120)

Several profiles of both group dynamics and individuals (including individuals from “clergy” to layperson who might be addicted to religion) as well as case studies are presented with lists, making it helpful to see a bigger picture. For example, if your church or group teaches any of the following, they are teaching a false belief. If they teach several of the following, you might just be in a toxic group.

Those toxic beliefs include:

  1. Conditional Love: God’s love and favor depend on my behavior
  2. Instant Peace:When tragedy strikes, true believers should have a real peace about it
  3. Guaranteed Healing: If you have real faith, God will heal you or someone you are praying for
  4. Irreproachable Clergy: All ministers are men and women of God and can be trusted
  5. Material blessings are a sign of spiritual strength
  6. The more money you give to God, the more money He will give to you
  7. Salvation by Works
  8. Problems in your life result from some particular sin
  9. Slavery of the Faithful: I must not stop meeting others’ needs
  10. I must always submit to authority
  11. Christian Inequality: God uses only spiritual giants
  12. Waiting for God to help and doing nothing until He does
  13. Biblical Exclusivity
  14. Heavenly Matchmaking
  15. Everything that happens to me is good
  16. My faith will protect me from problems and pain
  17. God wants to punish me
  18. Mortal Christ
  19. Impersonal God
  20. God wants me to be happy above all else
  21. You can become God

I wish I had read this book 10 years ago; it might have saved me from a lot of pain and confusion. I wish every highschooler could take a class over this book, and that every church would offer a Sunday school class or Bible study going over this book. It would serve to keep churches and pastors and Christian leaders somewhat accountable if they really do care about people, or at least serve as a warning if they don’t.

Do you or anyone you know espouse any of these beliefs? Does the church or faith system you attend preach these concepts?

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Toxic Faith

  1. I am surprised some of these are even Christian precepts for any church. What one says you can become God? That sounds much more Buddhist or something, to me.


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