Book Review: Toxic Faith

Toxic Faith is a book by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton. It was first released in 1991 in hardback and then released as a paperback as Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals because bookstore owners did not like the original title.  After going out of print, it was rereleased as a slightly revised and updated edition, with the original title, in 2001.

The book appears to be written entirely from Arterburn’s perspective, so we assume Felton is but a ghost writer. His interest in freeing people from toxic faith begins when his godly grandmother, who made $8,000 a year, was audited by the IRS because they couldn’t believe that she gave 35-40% of her income to charity.

As Arterburn discovered some of the ministries to which Nany was giving her hard earned money, he realized that toxic faith had robbed her “of the great blessing of knowing her money had been used to further the kingdom of God.” (p 2) All the while these “ministries” were fueling their jets to fly to Palm Springs with the money they were bringing in.

After telling a few even more shocking stories, he launches into describing what he calls toxic faith.  Briefly, “forms and variations” include “compulsive religious activity, laziness, giving to get, self-obsession, extreme intolerance, and addiction to a religious high.” (p 24) Chapter 3 follows with detailed explanations of 21 toxic beliefs of a toxic faith. (pp 33-78)

He takes us through the stages of toxic faith and summarizes the three players in this system.  The “first and most dominant role” is that of the “persecutor.” The second is the” co-conspirator”(s) “who manipulates, plots, and plans to keep the persecutor in power or position.”  And lastly the “enabler” “who allows, rather than promotes, victimization.” In my view, he brillantly clarifies the fact that the persecutor is not the only responsible party for toxic faith to flourish.

Jeremiah 23:34 says, speaking of Judah’s false prophets, (the LORD speaking) “‘Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, “the oracle of the LORD.” I shall bring punishment upon that man and his household.'” (NASB)

And II Tim. 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (NASB)

Chapter 9 is entitled “Treatment and Recovery” while Chapter 10, “Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith” is the last, where Arterburn lists and describes these characteristics in detail.

This last chapter is where I have a serious concern that is worthy of note. In his list on page 259 entitled “The Nature of Mature Faith,” item number seven is “Advocates social and global change to bring about greater social justice.”

On the surface this may sound reasonable and even laudable, but if one is familiar with the New Age and with the Emergent Church movements, a red flag arises high. It rises even higher when one reads from whom the praises come in the front of the book: Bill Hybels, Dr. Robert Schuller and Dr. Tony Campolo, all players in the Emergent Church movement to one degree or another, which itself draws from the New Age.

According to Michael D. LeMay in his book, The Suicide of American Christianity, Chapter 8, these three men are interconnected and to one degree or another support, overtly, covertly or inadvertantly, the tenants of the emergent church.

These tenants include promoting social justice (“appealing to more the human perception of justice rather than God’s definition” and bringing this about by “forced wealth redistribution through taxes”; groups would include Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology [p 98]), communism (forced wealth redistribution) and humanism (man is fully capable of righting the world) (p 99). The interconnection is far too complex for the scope of this review, so I recommend this book if you want to better understand this serious issue.

Do I recommend Toxic Faith? Yes, with the reservations stated above. When you read anything at all, read with eyes wide open and thinking cap on. A suggestion: always read the preface and introduction to a book as well as the endorsements and who wrote them.  This information in invaluable in vetting the author and better understanding his world view. And remember, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be your Teacher as you pray for discernment.

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