Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing from Painful Spiritual Abuse
by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton
Toxic Faith is supposed to help me learn how to reignite my love for all things Christian by exposing tactics of abusive churches and contrasting them with “healthy” churches. The authors start out defining “addiction” and quickly move to list twenty-one “beliefs” that can fuel toxic faith. It’s simply a short list of statements that the author believes he demolishes so spectacularly that you’ll slap your head and say, “How could I have ever believed that nonsense?”
Except he doesn’t.
Right out of the gate, with a strong third place showing, we have this toxic fallacy: “If I have real faith, God will heal me or someone I am praying for.” This statement is easily dismissed by Stephen because his brother, Jerry, had AIDS. Stephen prayed for him, and Jerry went to faith healers, and lots of other folks prayed for him, and he still died of complications from AIDS. [39-40]
Stephen assures us that healing didn’t manifest because, “God doesn’t work that way.”  God, you see, lets some babies die and some babies live. That’s how he rolls. Life and death, sickness and disease? Yep, God is actively involved in all that stuff. How and why he decides who will get AIDS and who won’t, Stephen says, is all about “sovereign will,” which is Christianese for “God is big and he can do whatever he wants.”
Here’s how Stephen explains it, “That he chooses to allow a child to remain sick is his sovereign will. Faith will help us to adapt to his will, understand it better, and grow from and through it. But God is God. He heals whom he chooses. We may not like that one bit. We want to be God or like God, able to change events to meet our pleasure. When we find this to be impossible, our guilt and anger come between us and God.” 
Holy crap! (Slapping my head.) How could I have missed that? God is God. Wow, that explains everything!
Except, of course, it doesn’t.
There are so many things wrong with that argument that it’s hard to decide where to begin. So let’s just allow Stephen to explain exactly how God really works in this world.
While Stephen was preparing his manuscript, as sovereign luck would have it, he ran into a “dear friend” who offered the amazing story of his secretary who was cured of a bone deformity in her hand when her healing was called out by Pat Robertson on a pre-recorded episode of the The 700 Club.
And this was no run-of-the-mill healing, no sir. This was a sky opening, angels singing, “finger of God” kind of healing. Think I’m kidding? Here’s Stephens’ description: “At the instant she looked at her deformed hand, a sensation came over her, a peaceful calm she had never felt. She looked up to see something bright, like a large beam. A finger of light burst from the ceiling and ended at her hand. In an instant, the bone deformity vanished; her hand was completely and instantly healed.” 
This healing was so spectacular that the woman, who was an unbeliever, became a believer, and lived happily ever after.
Let’s just put aside the fact that one premise of this book is that Christians don’t deserve anything special from God, shouldn’t expect anything special from God, and are led into spiritually abusive relationships when they attempt to obtain anything special from God. Instead, let’s take a moment to examine the story of this healing. A story that was itself miraculously revealed at the precise moment that Stephen was preparing his book for publication.
Stephen did not see a deformed hand. Stephen did not see a healed hand. Stephen did not have an x-ray of a deformed hand or even an x-ray of a healed hand. Steven did not even have a written medical report of a deformed hand that had been transformed into a healed hand. What did Stephen have instead? Hearsay. And the worst kind of hearsay possible; hearsay twice removed. It wasn’t his “dear friend” who was healed, it was his dear friends secretary.
And that, my friends, is how God heals people today. Stephen finds this healing more than simply credible but “mysterious” because it was called out on a pre-recorded TV show. There you go, that’s how God works…mysteriously. One day he’s really concerned about a deformed hand, the next day? Well, not so much. Because he’s God. And mysterious.
Earlier Stephen said that the reason we wanted to heal a sick baby was because we wanted to “be God or like God, able to change events to meet our pleasure”. So when your mom grabs the peroxide and a box of bandages to patch your leg, she’s trying to be…what, exactly? And when she realizes that she can’t stop the bleeding and scoops you up to rush you to the Emergency Department, isn’t she offering you up to a false God in a temple full of false Gods? There were only two options, we were trying to “be God” or we were trying to be “like God”.
This is such a spurious line of reasoning that it boggles the mind, but it points to the only reasonable conclusion I have been able to draw from this book. The author is simply playing, “My God is Better Than Your God.” Protestants love, love, love, this game. Stephen has the “God is mysterious in a good way” card, so it’s the only card he knows to play. Never mind that as parents we’d be considered negligent and charged with endangerment if we were “mysterious” in the same way as God. God gets a pass from Stephen simply because…God is God.
Gee, I’m feeling better already.
It never occurred to Stephen that his friend may be lying because he wasn’t just a friend, he was a “good friend”. He was such a good friend, in fact, that he would never pass along a fabricated story from a delusional secretary. So twice removed hearsay is produced as evidence to confirm the premise that God is healing people today on a sporadically mysterious basis, just as the authors card says.
But it’s much worse than that, because the premise of The 700 Club is that God is/was using Pat Robertson to produce hundreds of thousands of healings on a very non-mysterious and non-sporadic basis. A premise that is not borne out by facts.
Toxic Faith misses the mark by miles. It is a poorly thought out apologetic for Stephen Arterburn’s perfect church. He prefers that you jump out of the fry pan of abuse and into a healthy church, which of course doesn’t look anything like that fire you see lapping up around the edges of the pan.
The website “Philosophy and Religion” has a list of the “Charisteristics of a Healthy Faith” by one B. Jackson in a summary of the book Toxic Faith which is, in reality, an outline of the perfect church from Chapter 10 of Toxic Faith entitled “Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith.” 
1. Focusing on a personal relationship with God in Christ, not religion
2. Looking to God to meet the needs for security and significance
3. Growing in faith as evidenced by walking into pain
4. Respect for the personhood of others
5. Serving others for their sake
6. Being vulnerable
7. A trusting atmosphere
8. Celebrating uniqueness by recognizing people’s spiritual gifts
9. Relationships being the heart of everything
10. People being taught to think
11. Balanced thinking rather than extremes in black and white
12. Non defensive
13. Non judgmental
14. Reality based
15. Able to embrace our emotions
16. Able to embrace our humanity as evidenced in the ability to allow for mistakes
17. The ability to laugh
And there you have it folks, just find that place and you’re done. Couldn’t be easier. If you’re looking for this one true and perfect church, however, don’t be surprised if you find that you’ve entered into another abusive relationship.
Toxic Faith has only one redeeming quality; it opens a discussion. It was originally published in 1991 and was on its way to the library for recycling when a friend of The Accidental Heretic mentioned that it helped him during a time of spiritual re-examination. Huzzah! And thank you, my friend.