Book Review – Something’s Not Right

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Wade Mullen’s Something’s Not Right is just the right book at just the right time for a broader evangelical church reeling with numerous revelations of abusive behaviour by those who should be caring for and shepherding the flock.

Mullen, himself a pastor, writes mostly about Christian environments but doesn’t assume his readers need to be in such contexts – indeed one of the strengths of this book is that the principles that he shows us are quite obviously universal. Which is, perhaps, why it is all the more shocking to reflect upon them being used in Christian circles.

Mullen’s method is to “decode the hidden tactics of abuse” so that the reader might “free yourself from its power” and the 9 chapters are successful in achieving their purpose. Mullen takes us through not only the different forms of abuse itself but then also (and this may be very relevant for our current circumstances) the various strategies employed by both abusers and those who to respond to allegations.

Each chapter ends with a helpful summary page that gathers together the key issues to allow for easy revision and absorption and I found it immensely useful to return to them as I progressed through the book to help me understand the overall trajectory of Mullen’s argument.

And that argument is simple. Abuse almost always comes along with a system that contrives to prevent that abuse being properly dealt with, especially when the abuser is in what Mullen describes as a “keystone” role. Chapter 1 sets out the basics of this dynamic. Chapter 2 then looks at “charms”, the various means that abusers use to groom their victims. Chapter 3 looks more deeply at the ways that an abuser will deconstruct their victim’s sense of self with chapter 4 the complementary examination of deconstruction of the external world including support from others. Chapter 5 then looks at the struggle, both internal and imposed by the abuser, to allow the victim to properly address the abuse.

The remaining chapters then turn to how abusers and their protectors respond to allegations. Chapter 6, “On the Defense” lays out the various personal methods used. Chapters 7 & 8 then turn to “Concessions” and “Demonstrations” and help the reader identify those methods used by abusers and their protectors to respond; methods that look like they’re positive movements but are actually simply more attempts to cover-up the seriousness of what is happening.

Chapter 9 closes with a simple question “What Now?” But by this stage the reader is clear, perhaps clearer than they’ve ever been before, about what the next steps should be.

Something’s Not Right is a must-read for our leaders

Something’s Not Right is a must-read. It’s a must-read for those who have exactly that thought, that “something’s not right” about the situation they’re in and which they’re watching. But it’s also a must-read for the wider evangelical constituency as we get to grips with the frequency of allegations that we’re hearing concerning abuse by own very own leaders. And it’s especially a must-read for our leaders, for those who are in every danger of enabling and protecting abuse by simply not being self-aware enough of the traps that they’re falling into.

My review copy of Something’s Not Right was provided by The Wandering Bookseller.

American readers might want to purchase from Amazon (affiliate link).

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  1. chris russell

    Wade Mullen’s work on behalf of those mistreated in evangelical groups is outstanding. Unfortunately the sword of truth cuts two ways in his hands. He shows, actually, how totally inappropriate is the biblical counsel given in James 5:16 to remedy the wrongdoing in question i.e. by means of corporate confession and prayer. The lesson I have learned is that the people of God are not identified by membership in evangelical institutions. If they were, the advice given in James 5:16 would be sufficient as it always has been for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

  2. John Smuts

    I was rather disappointed by this book. He makes some insightful comments about how abuse works in churches but the weaknesses to his approach become clearer when read alongside something like ‘Escaping the maze of spiritual abuse’ by Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys. Whether intentional or not, the reader comes away with the presumption that anyone who mentions Matthew 18 is an abuser. I think this is part of the problem. The antidote to abuse is right use not no use. I don’t want to over state the case but I think (partly) it is when we don’t talk about how to correctly apply Matthew 18 (or James 5 for that matter) that abuse becomes rampant.

    1. David Ould

      hi John, Where is it in the book that you think Matthew 18 is handled poorly?

      1. John Smuts

        Thanks David. I don’t think Mullen handles Matthew 18 badly. He just doesn’t handle it at all. As I said, I don’t know if it is intentional or not, but the references to it give the impression that any church that tries to implement Matthew 18 must be, de facto, abusive.

        e.g. “Similarly, abusive organisations – and often those affiliated with Christian communities, using Bible passages like Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 6 – work to dismantle and attack the reputation of the American legal system.”

        I’m sure Mullen is right that this can and does happen, but it is hard to read that without assuming that anyone who uses those passages must be attacking the legal system. Presumably he is referring to abusive organisations who use scripture badly to justify themselves. I get that. Therefore I don’t think he means to say that using Mathew 18 is always abusive. However, that is the impression I got in reading his book. At least a strong suspicion towards any church that does.

        1. David Ould

          Thanks John. I don’t think one can fairly make that argument from silence. As you point out, in the context Mullen is clearly speaking about abuse of those Biblical processes.
          Anything more might, perhaps, be more about our own experiences and biases than what he has (not) written?

          1. John Smuts

            Except I’m not making that argument from silence. My point is that one of the causes of abuse within churches is that we do not discuss a distinction between bad applications of Matthew 18 and good ones. Any criticism of how Mullen handles these passages would be an argument from silence. However, my point is that since he makes no effort to do so he clearly doesn’t think it is an important enough issue for his book. Now, maybe I’m either wrong or am exaggerating the significance of this issue (and am happy to be put straight on either point) but I don’t see how it is an argument from silence.

            Anyway, time for bed.

    2. chris russell

      “… when we don’t talk about how to correctly apply Matthew 18 (or James 5 for that matter)”

      Very good point. The disappointment experienced when reading or listening to Wade Mullen arises because he is focussed on the church as a social institution. He is unable to relate the problem of abuse to the words of Scripture because the church is portrayed as being faultless. The problem that arises, for Mullen and other professing Christians, is that following the way of Christ is not required to expose dysfunctional dynamics in religious organisations.

      1. John Smuts

        I don’t follow you Chris. If anyone viewed the church as faultless then there would be no need to apply Matthew 18? Isn’t Matthew 18 all about exposing dysfunctional dynamics in religious organisations?

  3. chris russell

    John, I would have thought that Matthew 18 is not about dysfunctional dynamics in the church at all. At v 17, the assumption expressly is that the judgement of the church itself could not possibly be faulted. This is typically the way in which the church is referred to, by the writers of the New Testament. Certainly there are numerous references, in the New Testament, to grievances between believers, to there being deceivers and false teachers, and also, to various apostate groups and congregations, but these are not statements that characterise the condition of the church theologically i.e. as the Body of Christ. When, however, we refer today to the existence of abuse in the church, we are construing the matter in a way that is extra-biblical. What we, in fact, are talking about is the existence of abuse in religious organisations, which are, in no way, any part of the Body of Christ.

    I note that you say above: “My point is that one of the causes of abuse within churches is that we do not discuss a distinction between a bad application of Matthew 18 and a good one”. The distinction you refer to is imperative. Its proper basis, I’d suggest, is the distinction between the church as a social institution and the church as the Body of Christ, for surely, the most powerful case against the gospel is that believers, in their daily life, choose to identify with the institutional church, rather than the Body of Christ. Often, like Wade Mullen, they don’t even see how critical is the distinction. Having said that, I do think very highly of his research in the field of safeguarding and social work generally.

    1. John Smuts

      Thanks Chris. I think I understand what you are saying now. I certainly agree that Mullen’s stuff on safeguarding is excellent. As I said earlier, I don’t want to over state my criticism because it concerns what he didn’t say rather than what he did say – and that may not be fair since there is only so much you can put in a book.

      However, I don’t see the distinction you make in the NT. There is a distinction between the body of Christ as she is now and the bride of Christ as she will be, but I don’t see the distinction that you make.

      What I find interesting about Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 (and BTW this is one of the main reasons why I’m a Baptist) is that there is no reference to church leadership in either passage. I suggest that at least three things flow out from these passages: 1. They presume that there will be sin in the body of Christ. 2. Hence the people who ‘do’ the disciplining must be open to discipline themselves. 3. That serious sin (e.g. abuse) is dealt with by the body of the church corporately and publicly. This is the area I wanted Mullens to address. Abuse is the abuse of power – as well as having appropriate accountability structures for our leaders we also need to look at systemic issues that encourage leaders to abuse.

      I am well aware that groups can be manipulated by abusers and so Baptist churches are not immune from abuse. (I think all ecclesiologies have their strengths and weaknesses.) However, I’d argue that developing a culture that encourages Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 (Mullens refers to 1 Cor 6 in reference to legal disputes) should be a major factor in safe-guarding against abuse. I’m not at all claiming to have done so – I find it one of the hardest things about church in the 21st century.

  4. chris russell

    John, I’m not saying that it is the NT that makes the distinction between the church as body of Christ and the church as social institution. The NT doesn’t use sociological categories. The aforementioned distinction is one which – for better or worse – I am making. Accordingly I don’t think that we can make the claim that Scripture concedes that there will be sin in the body of Christ. That is not a thesis of 1 Corinthians 5. Similarly your claim that the leadership as such “must [also] be open to discipline” is not a directive that is found in Scripture (which is not to say that leaders are unaccountable). Further, your claim that sin is to be “dealt with the by the body of the church corporately and publicly” is also an administrative directive that is not found in Scripture. To say that these are matters which “flow out” from certain biblical passages is to identify matters which go beyond the passages in question. I agree that developing a culture, say, one that encourages Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, is both critical and necessary, but this would be to develop a culture that is not of this world. It would require us, as followers of Christ, to live in accord with the way that he taught his disciples.

    1. John Smuts

      Thanks Chris. We obviously disagree on what those passages say and therefore there isn’t much point in taking this any further. Thanks for engaging though.

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