A Book Review from Books At a Glance
Danya Karina Albright
There is no way around it, this book will hurt your heart. This fact isn’t lost on its author who concludes by acknowledging that domestic abuse “is a dark subject to engage with, but your engagement with it is desperately needed” (306). While reading the many details and dynamics of evil that corrupt the covenant of marriage is often overwhelming, Strickland slowly lifts the veil and reveals the unseen complex dynamics of abuse and the damage that it causes.
Strickland’s book begins with matters foundational to all abuse cases and then turns to different categories of abuse in later chapters. As such, this book serves as both an introduction and a help for specific kinds of cases. Although most pastors and counselors will not read through the book cover to cover, this book will serve as an important reference source to be consulted when particular abuse cases arise.
Strickland begins by situating her book towards helpers. A helper can be anyone who desires to provide wise and Christ-centered counsel to a victim, or victims, of domestic abuse. One fundamental truth that helpers need to know up front is that they cannot solve or stop abuse— only an abuser can. Rather, the goal of a helper is to tenderly and prayerfully gather enough examples of coercive control to make an accurate judgment about a victim’s situation in order to expose and drive out sin while protecting the vulnerable.
The book has reflection questions throughout each chapter and includes many excellent resources designed to assess and understand each person’s story and heart. However, as Strickland acknowledges, there is no flowchart to follow because each case of abuse is unique. Since 85 percent of domestic abuse victims are women, the language that Strickland uses to refer to the abuser and the abused reflects this.
Part 1: Understanding Oppression
The first five chapters provide an essential framework for understanding oppression and what the Bible says about it. Strickland prefers the word oppression over abuse, “since it provides a framework for [an oppressor’s coercive, controlling, and punishing behavior] that is addressed in Scripture and captures the domination that it involves” (24).
A wise helper looks beyond outward behavior and looks at the heart of the oppressor and at the impact of his behavior on his wife’s heart. Abusive behavior flows from self-worshipping desires, life-choking attitudes, and manipulative actions, and this affects the orientation of his heart. At root, an oppressor’s unrepentant heart has a severe worship problem that dethrones God, which cripples his relationship with God and stunts Christian growth. Oppressors struggle with toxic entitlement and are relentless in their pursuit of coercive control. Oppressors are master blame shifters and condition their wives and children to be compliant or else be terrorized. Strickland acknowledges that sustained and verifiable repentance usually does not happen. This, however, does not mean that helpers should not want to, “participate in the Holy Spirit’s work of lifting an oppressor’s blindness and to help with fostering his repentance” (300).
Victim care, “is a long-haul ministry” (55). Since most of the wounds that abuse victims have are invisible, victim care is characterized by cautioned tenderness. In chapter four, Strickland describes the seven main impacts that oppression has on sufferers: physical anguish, shame, faith struggles, hypervigilance, intrusions, avoidance, and overwhelmed emotions. Oppression is often indescribable and disorienting, making it hard for a victim to provide a full picture or a coherent story. Therefore, a helper slows stories down, gently keeps asking clarifying questions, and seeks to know the cries of her heart. A helper restores a victim’s relationship with God and helps her to connect to God’s Word by giving her a biblical framework of her suffering through the words of Scripture that capture her experience and address her stories. Rather than offering opinions and telling a victim what to do, a wise helper cautiously restores her agency by helping her make a safety plan with which she is comfortable and committed to following through.
Part 2: Uncovering Oppression
Oppression occurs in different forms in Christian marriages: physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, and financial. In chapters six through ten, Strickland unveils the complex and damaging dynamics of each form of abuse through real-life examples and case studies. At the end of each chapter, there is an inventory that diligently seeks to uncover and understand each form of abuse while keeping the whole context of the marital relationship in mind.
Domestic abuse stories are not easy to tell, and victims fear reaching out to their church for help. Chapter eight stands out as Strickland aims to equip the helper to prepare the victim to share her story with her church. The author also writes a challenging and equipping note to pastors and elders.
Part 3: Upholding the Oppressed
Chapters eleven and twelve focus on helping mothers and their children take the next step toward freedom. Chapter eleven describes the impact of childhood domestic abuse. It includes a self-assessment for mothers to help them see how abuse affects their parenting and helps identify coercive patterns in their oppressor’s parenting.
Chapter twelve also addresses the church and aims to equip helpers to help church leaders see where their abuse ministry might need improvement. This chapter is especially helpful to discern the difference between godly and ungodly repentance.
Appendix A includes a resource that guides victims and their helpers to create a safety plan. Appendix B describes ten ways to educate and engage with a victim’s church. Appendix C detects red flags of abuse during dating. Appendix D provides a two-part premarital abuse assessment. Appendix E offers an abusive argument inventory. Lastly, Appendix F introduces the helper to different types of domestic abuse experts.
As a resource-oriented book, Strickland’s work is purposefully repetitive. This mirrors the overall approach towards counseling those oppressed. Strickland acknowledges that God’s people need truths to be repeated to them and urges the helper to offer repetitive counsel to a victim as she goes through the process of recognizing the forms of oppression and the severity of her situation.
The book serves as a warning. It warns of the dangers of labeling a behavior as abusive and therefore the entire marriage as abusive when it is not. The book cautions helpers to take slow and wise action. It warns of the dangers of a victim fleeing abuse before she is fully ready or prepared. The book warns of the dangers of bad biblical teaching and a church’s failure to call an abuser to repentance.
Despite its repetitive nature and length, I found this book to be an excellent resource to understand a victim’s story and heart. If you are overwhelmed by helping others walk through the deep and turbulent waters of abuse and are seeking to understand how to discern and address the issues at hand, this book is highly recommended. Strickland will equip you with a framework for wisely considering oppression through a biblical lens, and then walk with you as you seek to care for those God has placed in front of you to minister to with his compassion and care.
Danya Karina Albright holds a degree in neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is a Christian Counseling (MACC) student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. She is a contributing author at United? We Pray and, along with her husband, is part of the core planting team at Vive Charlotte (PCA) in the University City region of Charlotte, NC.
Buy the books
IS IT ABUSE?: A BIBLICAL GUIDE TO IDENTIFYING DOMESTIC ABUSE AND HELPING VICTIMS, by Darby A. Strickland