August 20, 2021
By J. Gerald Harris
ATLANTA – Tonya Shellnut has just released a book, “Wounded and Defined: Trading Victim for Victory,” in which she details her own personal and intimate journey of pain to providence, confusion to clarity, and fear to faith. Robert Noland, who co-authored “I can Only Imagine” by Bart Miller of Mercy Me and Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Way of the Father,” is a contributing author to Shellnut’s book. “Wounded and Defined” reads like a fictional novel, but it is absolutely true. It should be made into a movie.
Shellnut is a familiar name to many Southern Baptists. As a representative of Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Church Alliance, Shellnut assisted some of our Baptist institutions and many of our churches by challenging them to develop governing documents, policies, bylaws, and matters relating to religious liberty.
Today, she serves as the state government relations director at ADF to keep legal doors open for the gospel so that Christians can freely proclaim God’s truth in culture. Shellnut and Rich, her husband of 26 years, have five children, and they are extremely passionate about strengthening families and battling the cultural war being waged against traditional family values.
In her book, Shellnut describes her victimizations with such openness and honesty, I felt like I was a helpless witness to her abuse and maltreatment. She writes of the trauma, self-condemnation, and a fear of men that haunted her day and night. Her negative experiences left her feeling insecure and insignificant, consequently causing her to view herself as “damaged.”
The destruction of her childhood innocence, a dysfunctional home, and the desire to be loved and accepted led to what Shellnut refers to as “a nosedive that I was starting to believe was the point of no return.”
Then a relationship was established that Shellnut thought would be positive and lasting. She received a promise ring from this young man, but he proved to be unfaithful to any promise he had made resulting in an ugly confrontation and his suicide. The suicide only made matters worse for Shellnut and sent her “to the darkest place (she) had ever been.”
However, while Shellnut writes about abuse, victimization, alcoholism and defeat, this book is really about gripping realizations, guided rehabilitation, genuine romance, and a glorious redemption. The trajectory changed when Shellnut met Rich. The metamorphosis was not easy, but Rich drew a line in the sand and established some standards if their relationship was to involve matrimony, which it eventually did.
While rays of hope for a meaningful future began to emerge there was a miscarriage, the tragic death of Tonya’s mother, and the constant wounds of life that haunted her continuously. In her desperation, she began to pray, read the Bible and go to church. In time, Rich and Tonya both trusted in Christ as Savior.
Shellnut keeps no secrets in her book and even after her salvation she admitted to having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. But then Shellnut explained, “God got my attention. He began to break through the hardened fortress and show me how He could take over and define my life.” That is when God’s ministry of healing and hope began.
The remainder of the book is a marvelous testimony of how Shellnut decided to no longer be a victim, but a victor. This is a book that every Christian, everyone who has been victimized in some way, and certainly every pastor needs to read. We have made much about those who are guilty of sexual and domestic abuse, but we have neglected to focus on the victims and how they can be rescued, restored and redeemed.
“Wounded and Defined” is a marvelous book that digs deep into the suffering and distress of those who have been victimized, but it also highlights the pathway to conquering the guilt, shame, wounds and devastation of abuse. Shellnut’s book honors the God who is able to “give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).
This is a riveting book that exalts the power of the living Christ to help the downtrodden and molested win and become not only victors, but heralds of the only true God with whom all things are possible.
“Wounded and Defined” may be purchased at www.tonyashellnutt.com
Gerald Harris served as pastor for more than 40 years before becoming editor of “The Christian Index” (the Georgia Baptist state publication) from 2003 until 2019. He is the author of five books. He has served as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, was on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, a trustee of the SBC Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), and chairman of the Resolution Committee of the SBC. He currently serves as a trustee of Shorter University and fulfills a preaching and teaching ministry called Love Lifted Me Higher.