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Book Review - The Walking Wounded

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1998, Volume 15, Number 1, pages 94-95. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - The Walking Wounded. 

J. Reynalds. Huntington House, Lafayette, LA., 1996, 207 pages.

This paperback in 15 chapters was written by a “speaker, journalist, and author” apparently with limited academic or professional credentials, further evidenced by lack of an index or bibliography and sparse, limited chapter footnotes. The book is aimed at Christians who have had negative experiences with “faith theology” espoused by extremist Christian groups. They believe any and all personal problems can be overcome by faith alone, and if this fails, the fault lies with weakness in the believer.

As Reynalds puts it, faith theology teaches that “God’s done all He’s gonna do” and “now it’s all up to you” (10). He describes it as a “man-centered gospel that preaches divine health and divine prosperity” such that “illness, financial hardship, and other trials are often attributed to fear or lack of faith” (p.vi). He considers such a belief system a “distorted, unbiblical doctrine that is destroying people’s lives” (p.14). He holds that “it is no indication of a lack of faith when healing doesn’t occur or when a need isn’t met” (p.14) and “the faith movement error is devastating thousands of lives worldwide” (p.31). Most of the chapters contain examples of people who have suffered because of the extremist faith theology position. Reynalds considers faith movement extremists to be more like cults than orthodox Christianity. “Serious problems can arise,” he writes, “when faith theology is misapplied or carelessly interpreted” (p.203). Throughout the book, he offers a more reasoned, positive position than the movement he criticizes. “We don’t have to prove anything,” he tells us, but “just relax and bask in the fact that God really loves us just the way we are” (p.58). This introduces a major weakness in the book. Does God love serial killers and terrorists who bomb buildings and airliners just the way they are? He writes “God has a wonderful plan” for you if you “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” This implies that God may not have as wonderful a plan for Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and the unchurched. The author here is approaching the same kind of gross overgeneralization or somewhat careless interpretation as that which he criticizes.

In chapter 7 he urges us to check the “doctrinal position” of a mental health counselor before agreeing to therapy, to ask about Freud and Jung, and “which school he or she adheres to.” “Somebody who’s on the level won’t mind you asking questions like that” (p.93). What about cognitive and behaviorist therapists, or humanistic therapists using experiential and transpersonal methods? What about Christian counselors in denominations with theology markedly different than your church or who have personal problems not worked through? This reviewer has served on several ethics committees and has learned that being a “Christian counselor” is no guarantee there will be no illegal, unethical, or immoral therapist behavior. Most therapists so value the dignity and integrity of everyone, regardless of their religious belief or even lack of it, they do no harm to one’s spirituality. Any licensed mental health professional who attempts to change anyone’s religious belief can and should be reported.

Chapter 7 ends with four tables of data based only on “psychiatric” symptoms and care. Table 1 considers “difficulty with social contacts, concentrating, making decisions, and handling emotions” to be psychiatric symptoms. “Psychosis-like symptoms” are listed but not explained. Table 3 lists “length of stay in a Psychiatric Clinic” from one week to more than three months. Most inpatient facilities are called hospitals or institutes, and what about treatment by psychologists, social workers, or other licensed mental health professionals? These tables and data are vague and incomplete.

On the positive side, the book focuses on one specific subject and analyzes it well, with real-life examples, in simple language and a direct style. Despite the negatives cited, the book is refreshing in its simplicity and the author’s caring and warmth, and his earnest, genuine attempt to be helpful flow through each chapter. Unstated goals also emerge: to help those spiritually or psychologically injured to heal, to restore self-esteem, to renew trust in others and faith in a higher power. In his closing pages, in better phrased, less sectarian language, he urges readers to find a church where they can feel accepted, then “let God heal you” to “come back to a place where you can again trust” (p.201). These positives more than make up for the deficiencies noted, and if readers can take them into account, the book is recommended for its insight into a form of Christian extremist theology and its potential negative effects of spirituality and mental health.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Center for the Study of the Self

Gloucester, Virginia

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1998