I can relate to the woman on the cover of this book, screaming into her purse in utter frustration. How many times have I let my sinful emotions take the reins and direct my spirit? More than I can count. It’s a daily battle, for sure—not only for me, but for all of us. It’s no wonder then why Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unglued is so popular among women. By tackling as common a problem as self-control, it certainly reaches a wide audience.
And I wish I could like it. I really, really do.
As I read her book, I found myself relating to many of Terkeurst’s personal stories (and there are many). She intimately tells the tales of her frustrated outbursts at family, her “freak-out” reactions when stressed, and her struggles with jealousy, anger, and bitterness. Following each narrative, she offers her own strategies for how to deal with those situations. Sprinkled throughout the book are some Scripture references, but most of the content relies on this two-part structure.
Though at times her storytelling is too comical for such a sobering topic, she, for the most part, aptly describes the sin that most women (including me) fight against day by day.
But there’s one huge problem: she doesn’t call it sin.
MISTAKES: A MAN-CENTERED VIEW OF SIN
When I was a kid, taking tests meant following a multi-step process to ensure the best grade possible. After I answered each question, I put a symbol next to it to estimate how confident I was in my solution. A check meant I knew it was right; a wiggle-line, I wasn’t sure; and a question mark indicated that my answer wasn’t much better than a guess.
Then, once I reached the end of the test, I returned to the beginning and reviewed my responses again. Often, that second look helped me catch mistakes I had made. “Whew!” I would say to myself. “Glad I double-checked!”
Mistakes, like accidentally marking the wrong answer, are amoral. It’s not sinful to forget someone’s name, slip and fall while ice skating (cringe), or misspell a word. We are imperfect creatures with imperfect minds and bodies.
But sins are not mistakes. “Mistake” implies that your intentions were good and your error was innocent. But when it comes to sin, nothing could be further from the truth. The Word teaches us that our sin—our transgression of God’s holy Law— comes from the heart, from our evil desires, and we are held accountable for all of our sinful words, thoughts, and actions.
Unfortunately, Terkeurst does not seem to recognize this distinction in Unglued. She repeatedly renames her sin as mistakes, errors, issues, and junk—seemingly to soften the blow.
But if I view my unjust anger or selfish envy as just “issues” or “junk” in my life, it becomes all about me. It’s something I want to get rid of because it interferes with my happiness and harmony in relationships—not because it offends the holy God of heaven.
The word “sin” appears in the book only twice, once as part of a Scripture reference, and the other in the epilogue during her (insufficient) description of the gospel. (More on that later.)
What’s the big deal? you may wonder. It’s just a word, after all. But in fact, her choice of words points to something much larger. It reveals Terkeurst’s view of our relationship with God.
THE MYSTERY OF THE STOLEN GLORY
The ultimate question is—what’s at stake here? What happens when we let our sinful emotions take over, instead of listening to God’s wisdom and following His Spirit?
It doesn’t take much to read between the lines of Unglued and see what Terkeurst believes about this. Every time she addresses a different “mistake” she made, the emphasis is on how it affects her relationships with others and her own view of herself.
Whenever she throws a fit and screams at her kids, she regrets it. Why? Because she disrupted her relationship with them, and now she feels like a bad mom.
If she reacts angrily to her husband, she regrets it. Why? Because their marriage is negatively impacted and now she feels like a bad wife.
That’s why, according to Terkeurst, we need to prevent these outbursts from happening again—so we have some harmony at home and no longer feel so bad about ourselves.
See the pattern? See the problem?
While self-deprecation is never the answer and our relationships with others must be protected, there is so much more at stake: God’s own glory!
Never once does Terkeurst emphasize the fact that when we sin, we refuse to give God glory and instead, please ourselves. She completely neglects the fact that the absolute, most significant goal of our lives should be to glorify God—because that is what He is most considered about.
Striving to grow in self-control, or in any other area, just to make our lives better is ultimately selfish. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, but finds a new, “church-y” way of feeding our man-centered desires. Worst of all, it steals glory away from God, who gave us His Spirit so that we would bear fruit for Him, not ourselves.
Like the Pharisees, we may be able to fix our “mistakes,” clear out our “junk,” and repair our “issues” on the outside, but inside, the stony heart remains untouched. Such false change is not of the Spirit, but of the flesh.
NO LABELS… EXCEPT “EXPLODERS” AND “STUFFERS”
In the book, Terkeurst explains that after listening to women for years, she has determined four categorical “reaction types” to describe what we tend to do with our emotions.
These are: exploders that blame others, exploders that shame themselves, stuffers that build barriers, and stuffers that collect retaliation rocks.
(Wondering where this stuff is in the Bible? Me too.)
Exploders let out their anger and frustration in the burst of a moment, while stuffers hold it in and allow bitterness to fester, ultimately leading to the cutting off of relationships. She encourages us to figure out which one we tend to be, so that we can be honest with ourselves.
But ironically, in several chapters, Terkeurst advocates for the dropping of negative labels that may cling to us because of our bad behavior.
For instance, in chapter 3, “The Prisoners,” she mentions a friend named Christina who was given a prison sentence for being involved in a scandalous real estate scheme. Terkeurst brushes off her friend’s actions, barely explaining the situation and suggesting that Christina didn’t “fully understand” what she was getting herself into—even though she tells us Christina “took full responsibility for her mistakes” (32). (That word mistake again.)
Rather than being concerned with God’s glory, Christina’s relationship with the Lord, and her need of repentance for breaking the law, Terkeurst emphasizes the fact that Christina probably feels really bad now and may only think of herself with the label of “prisoner” for the rest of her life. She hopes one day Christina will see her own life’s beauty.
But what she really needs to see is Christ’s beauty in His forgiveness and redemption!
Though I’m confused on Terkeurst’s view, what I’m really concerned about is how God views labels. We see in the Word that He uses them: if you sin, you’re a sinner. If you commit adultery, you’re an adulterer. The only way for a sinner to become a Christian—the best “label” for us—is through the gift of faith, and not through earning it! God grants us salvation so that we can be Christians. He leads us to repentance so that our identity is in Jesus Christ. Praise God for that!
THE GOSPEL + OBEDIENCE: LET NO MAN SEPARATE
I’ve spent a lot of time with children over the years—as an English teacher, tutor, camp counselor, Sunday school teacher, you name it! One thing that is abundantly clear: their lack of obedience points to the necessity of the gospel.
When I taught in the public school, I was forbidden to speak of Christ to my students unless they brought it up—and even then, it was risky business. Thankfully, I had a few opportunities to share God’s truth with them. But after I left the public system and taught at a private Christian school, everything changed. I was now free to teach the Bible and share the gospel with my classes! I also hoped their behavior would be better, since they were under the watch and teachings of Christian adults.
In some ways, it was. But they were still rebellious! No amount of explaining the school rules, or even God’s law, could change their hearts. I had to remind myself to offer them the gospel often as the only real solution to their disobedience.
Unfortunately, Unglued does not teach this truth. Though the whole point of the book is to help us exercise our self-control and become more holy (or at least, be better people), Terkeurst misdiagnoses the problem and writes the wrong prescription.
It is clear she has a very minimized view of our sin—seeing it as something that can be resolved with some of her 1-2-3 techniques and quips of Bible verses. To cover up for the fact that these strategies don’t cause lasting change, she labels it “imperfect progress,” just in case someone were to ask her, “I’ve taken all your steps; why isn’t it getting any better?”
But the unlikable truth is that we have inherited a sinful nature that cannot be altered or shaken off by our own efforts. Without Christ, we are “dead in our sins and trespasses,” and we have hearts of stone. Every day, unbelievers offend God, spite Him and His mercies, and are at war with Him.
Before we are saved, we can’t end the war on our own because we are dedicated to it. We don’t want to stop sinning, and we won’t. We want to be separated from God, because we hate Him.
The hope isn’t in ourselves, but in God, who by His mercy and power alone can make us alive and change our stony hearts into hearts of flesh. Only then, when He saves us and gives us the Holy Spirit, can we bear fruit in true obedience, out of love for Him. This is the gospel.
But the gospel didn’t show up in the book at all until Terkeurst’s attempt at it in the last few pages of the epilogue. I wish I could say that she gave a comprehensive, Christ-exalting description of the gospel. But instead it was weak, it was man-centered, it was without Christ’s atoning death, and therefore, it wasn’t the gospel at all:
“It was God’s love and grace that eventually sent Jesus to invite mankind back. Back from our sin. Back from our brokenness. If only we’ll proclaim Jesus Christ as our risen Lord, God’s grace will never run out.” (191)
She finally says sin here. But there’s no cross. Jesus came merely to invite us? No, Lysa. He came to die. He came to die a bloody death on the cross for the sins of His people, to die in their place. And before we can proclaim Christ as THE risen Lord (which He is), we must believe in Him for the forgiveness of our sins, repent, and turn to Christ alone for salvation. This is what she doesn’t say.
According to Terkeurst, the sole benefit of this so-called gospel is that “God’s grace will never run out.” Man-centered again! Though we do need God’s grace for our Christian lives, the greatest benefit of the gospel is that we are saved from our sins, saved from the wrath to come, the burning of eternal fire… and most of all, that God is glorified.
WHEAT OR CHAFF?
This is an important topic with far-reaching implications for women everywhere, Christian and non-Christian. But unfortunately, as we have seen, Terkeurst fails to address it biblically and Christ-centeredly.
So the final rating is: CHAFF.
Here is an additional resource on some of the dangers of following Lysa TerKeurst and her teachings.