Runaway Radical: On Spiritual Abuse and Telling the Truth

Runaway Radical: On Spiritual Abuse and Telling the Truth April 1, 2015


“We’re often told there’s some sort of vending machine equation to Christianity. Insert the currency of sacrifice and you will be rewarded with miracles, success, fame, etc. The more you give, the more you will be blessed. But what about when that doesn’t happen?”

By Nicole Tera

I didn’t think writing a simple book review would be so hard to do. Usually I can’t write fast enough when I read a book that strikes a chord with me. But I read the new book, Runaway Radical, the day it came out and I still feel unable to write a review on it.

I think that’s because Jonathan was so honest, and so truthful, and his story so closely mirrors what I have experienced, and felt, that I feel as if he’s told a piece of my story I did not think I could ever tell — although silence seemed unjust, unbearable.

Jesus never sugar-coated or edited His message to get more followers when He invited people to walk with Him. He told the truth — if you want to follow Me, there will be pain, and there will be hatred, and there will be loss, and there will be death — but there will be Love.

On the contrary, most Christian writers want to “sell” something to you — to as many people as possible — so they will talk about their faith but not their doubts and their convictions but not both the failures and successes of actually attempting to live out those convictions.

This book is different.

Jonathan Hollingsworth did as the rich young ruler was unwilling to do — he sold what he had and traveled around the world to give to the poor. But the result was not what you might expect.

We’re often told there’s some sort of vending machine equation to Christianity. Insert the currency of sacrifice and you will be rewarded with miracles, success, fame, etc. The more you give, the more you will be blessed.

But what about when that doesn’t happen?

What happens when we give up everything to live the radical Christian life and — unlike the advertisements we’ve read in the form of best-selling books — we get crushed, shut down, crucified?

Think about it, have you ever heard a modern-day story like that before?

Read this book and you’ll know why you haven’t. It’s not because it doesn’t happen.

You might think that if abuse were truly happening, you would know. But if you’ve ever been a victim of any form of abuse, you will know that is not true — abusers are often very, very good at what they do.

The signs of spiritual abuse are often subtle. There are no bruises or broken bones. There is no test that can be administered and sent off to a lab. There is often no “proof” or “evidence” at all.

But it is no less damaging than any other form of abuse. In fact, because it is done in the name of God, the name of “church” and “ministry,” and such an easily silenced secret, it is uniquely destructive and often fatal to the victim’s faith.

Yet here is a story from a man who has been knocked down, crushed with hopelessness, silenced, and has risen again to speak hope.

I believe that as a result of Jonathan giving his heart to God, unrestrained, God shared His heart for the abused with Jonathan. I do not believe what happened should have ever happened, but I also do not believe Jonathan’s sacrifice was in vain — was a waste.

He did not fail, just as Jesus did not fail when they hung him on a cross. The religious leaders hated Him, too. But the lies weren’t true. They can strip and beat and spit on and shame and hang and kill. But there is a resurrection after the crucifixion. The truth will set free.

And isn’t that the original radicalism — true “radical Christianity” lived out — love crucified to set the prisoners free, to make the dead alive, to show a grace that is not counterfeit but real and costly and encompassing and for those of us who have realized most that we are in need of it?

Yes! God’s grace is not for those who earn it, but for those who have realized at last that they cannot earn it — by shunning evil or by doing good — and yet are in desperate need of it. And so we ask God to take us up in His arms, like a father would take up a helpless infant, that we might rest our head against the heart that was pierced and broken for us, and know such a love.

Even when we cannot believe such a love exists, for us — because that is what abuse does.

Abuse says that we are unlovable. But it is a lie.

Abuse puts victims in a prison that they’re told will get smaller and smaller until they are crushed, if needed, if they try to escape or ask for help.

Abusers tell us this lie because what they have imprisoned us with, essentially what they have built their empire with, is so fragile, in the big scheme of things, and the truth we have is so powerful actually, that they are living in constant fear and feel they have to make others more afraid to retain their illusion of power, their success.

But one courageous person in the possession of truth, like Jonathan, or Amy — or you, or me — could make it all crumble, set free all the prisoners and destroy forever all the prisons they’ve used to build their empires.

Because one person, no longer silent, could begin a revolution of truth-speakers, of victims who no longer believe whatever lie, whatever fear, once kept them silent.

Thank you for your courage, Jonathan. Keep speaking hope and truth. When you tell your story, you tell a bit of mine — a bit of all of ours. And, one day, I believe, we will all be free. And whole.

Read an excerpt from Runaway Radical at the Patheos Book Club here.

Nicole Tera is a 20-something freelance writer, artist, knitter, pianist, runner, motorcyclist and social justice activist. She enjoys volunteering in her community and training service dogs.

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