I am glad to heartily recommend this book co-authored by my friend Dan Woodard whom I met over four decades ago when Dan was attending university and I was in seminary.
Truth really does set us free.
As a child I had a nagging sense that something was broken. I would lie in bed at night and ask God why my family could not be like other kids’ families. Fighting, yelling, and sounds of broken glass were common. Life only got worse with time.
Drug and alcohol addictions in one’s family tree cause generational damage. Years, even decades went by before it dawned on me that I had been damaged. I was damaged in my understanding of how relationships were supposed to work. I was damaged in ways that were never addressed by all the wonderful theological training I had received. The help I needed was there in the Bible all along, but it was overlooked due to my unconscious assumptions.
My wife Nancy and I thought that the essence of spiritual maturity was just keeping the rules. Whatever happens, just keep the rules. Try your best. When you fail, rededicate your life to keeping the rules better. Work harder. Our pastor’s preaching seemed to promise it should work if we would live our lives for Jesus. We were doing the things that our church told us we should do to be “good Christians” and have a “good family.” There was a long list of rules we were following. However, that nagging sense that something was not right prevailed even with our most sincere efforts.
For several years I had been working sixty to eighty hours per week in Christian ministry. Eventually we came to feel exhausted. Life came crashing down one morning when Nancy and I tried to decide whether we were going to stay married or not. For twelve years we had been trying to make our relationship work. Our relationship was fractured almost beyond repair. I needed to get real about being burned-out and having a burned-out marriage.
Dan Woodard and I crossed paths on a personal level about the same time both of our lives were at a crossroads with our common paths. Our rules-based religious experiences were not working as promised. By this time Nancy and I and our three children had become church planters in the inner city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Dan had become a missionary in northern Ontario, Canada, during which time he and Deanna were married. God was blessing our ministries in various ways. Yet we were on a treadmill of trying to do better. It was a treadmill fuelled by insidious rules, unspoken rules not taught in Scripture. We had inherited these rules from our forefathers, both in our family trees and in our church backgrounds. These rules needed to be identified and exposed to the light of God’s Word so they could be broken and bring freedom.
Nancy and I set out to find answers. Nancy discovered answers while doing a research project on adult children of alcoholics/addicted parents in a program in pastoral counselling. These rules were don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust, don’t think, don’t choose, and don’t change. These shook both our worlds. The truths we learned continue to shape us. About a year into this journey I remember sharing what we were learning with Dan and Deanna at a pivotal time in their journey. They were as stunned as we had been.
Let’s Break the Rules is a story of how God works in the lives of His children, especially those who experienced a dysfunctional family background. It is also more than this. The Bible describes the local church as a family. Churches and Christian organizations can be just as dysfunctional as families, and for the same reasons. Sometimes these reasons are generational and invisible.
Dan Woodard does a masterful job of sharing his life story in this book. I have known Dan since the mid-1970s when I was his Greek professor in Bible college. I was blessed to be their pastor in the early 1990s. I have observed Dan and Deanna throughout their entire married lives. God has transformed them from a rules-based Christianity to a grace-based faith. We have travelled this journey together. I can assure you Dan and Deanna have lived what he is describing.
Along with co-author Dan Reinhardt, the two Dans lay out some answers that may have plagued your relationships for years. Having been a lead pastor for over thirty years, I know that church health is much more than having an accurate statement of faith. For this reason, the authors are diligent to show from Scripture the roots of recovery. You may wonder why you have never heard these truths before, though they are plainly evident in Scripture. After you read this book you will understand. When rules are not exposed for what they are, they hide so we do not see them. They govern our relationships in negative ways, even in spite of our robust doctrinal statement.
Be prepared for this book to rock your world. Do not be afraid to go there and open the door to these insights and principles. You just may find the reality of the Christian faith in ways you never thought possible. I remember when I was faced with a deeper look at my own past, facing these unspoken rules that were governing my relationships. It felt like there was a monster on the other side of the door, breathing out fire and smoke to devour me. I was afraid to go there. When I finally opened the door to take a look at the past and how it was impacting my present, I discovered there was no monster there at all.
It all starts by breaking the don’t talk rule. Once I opened that door, all that was there was a pile of fake rules and another pile of aha moments. Breaking each of the rules brought a refreshing wind to our marriage, our ability to parent and now grandparent. It radically changed the culture of the churches we served.
Truth is like that, isn’t it? Truth really does set us free.
Dr. Rev. W. (Bill) E. Coleman
Retired Lead Pastor, Faith Church, St. Thomas, Ontario
Professor, Heritage Baptist Seminary, Cambridge, Ontario
Ambassador, Compassion Canada, London, Ontario
July 29, 2020