There is so much good stuff in this post i can't help but quote most of it. Go there and read the rest and his interaction with the commenters.-jpu
I realize that this definition of spiritual abuse could still be seen as quite broad. In the interest of clarifying the content of what might be considered as spiritual abuse, I suggest that spiritual abuse be identified as having four distinctives:
1) It distorts Transcendent relationality – Spiritual abuse is comprised of effort that damages, perverts and/or hinders one’s understanding of and relationship with God. (See, Soulcraft, How God Shapes Us Through Relationships by Douglas D. Webster.)
2) It strikes at the core of who we are – Most basic to our being or essence is that we are designed to be God-centered. Spiritual abuse encourages one to make something or someone the idolatrous center of one’s being, thus falsifying what it means to be made in the image of God. (See Being Human, The Nature of Spiritual Experience by Ranald Macaulay & Jerram Barrs.)
3) It is systemically behaviorally dysfunctional – Spiritual abuse does not take place in an environmental vacuum, but requires a social context that is highly dysfunctional in character. In theological and sociological concepts, what is required is a “fallen world” expressed in a distortion of rules, roles and personal boundaries. Very little of depth and quality has been written regarding the place of theological foundations specifically within a social context. (Perhaps the best book currently in print on this topic is, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen.)
4) It contains two essential theological errors –
a. Abuse of authority is a primary characteristic found within spiritually abusive systems. (Luke 22: 24-27; I Pet. 5:3; Luke 11:39-52 - See Shepherd & Sheep, a Biblical View of Leading and Following by Jerram Barrs.) This error is yet dependent upon a more basic false belief.
b. An inadequate view of what constitutes authentic spirituality – False spirituality is defined as a way of life lived out, both internally and externally, in contradiction to a Christian Worldview. (Col.3:1-17; I John 1:5-10; Matt. 5-7; Matt.22:36-40 - See, True Spirituality by Francis A. Schaeffer.)
These four distinctives are both inter-relational and inter-dependent. I find it quite helpful in discussing this topic, to include both theological and behavioral components. Spiritual abuse, presents itself ultimately as a systemic package. Consequently, the nature of the healing process from this type of abuse requires considerable time and thought, ideally presented holistically. Consequently, abbreviated, simplistic bumper-sticker answers to the scars and pain of spiritual abuse are not sufficient. Because people are of immense value to God, when people ask serious questions, they deserve serious and thoughtful answers.