Review: The Peacemaking Church

thepeacemakingchurch

The Peacemaking ChurchCurtis Heffelfinger, (Foreword by Ken Sande). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: Outlines a pro-active approach to peacemaking in the church consisting of eight principles that enable us to do our very best to pursue the peace and unity that is ours in Christ.

Church conflicts can be truly painful and leave deep scars on those who get caught up in them, especially pastors. Curtis Heffelfinger is one of them, and writes out of his own experiences of conflict, and lessons learned in working with Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, who contributes a foreword to this volume. After a near fatal church conflict, Heffelfinger developed a pro-active approach to peacemaking that is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He contends that “the best fight your congregation ever experiences is the one you never get into in the first place”. Critical to that is the “eager” in Ephesians 4:3. Over fifteen years, Heffelfinger developed a culture and practices that set a priority on eagerly doing one’s best to maintain Spirit-given unity.

In the next eight chapters, Heffelfingers lays out eight biblical keys to his proactive approach, organized into three parts. In Part One, he focuses on three priorities that preserve unity in Jesus’s church, drawing upon Ephesians 4:1-6. First, he focuses on how we see ourselves as peacemakers–walking worthily, as the Lord’s prisoners, as one called by the Lord. Second, he focuses on the virtues of Ephesians 4:2-3–humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and eagerness–that ought shape our approach to peacemaking. Third, he considers the “right doctrine” on which our thinking ought be based–all the “ones” of Ephesians 4:4-6.

Part Two focuses on three pitfalls to avoid that threaten unity. The first, is anger–murder in the mind. He speaks of the festering rage that can be so destructive in conflicts. Second, he bluntly points out the scriptures that prohibit Christians litigating conflicts in civil courts. I’m glad for the inclusion of this chapter, having observed denominational leaders in conflict with a church (in the peace church tradition, no less) ready to go to court, and being surprised when 1 Corinthians 6 was called to their attention. Third, he turns from going before judges to being judges in the church in the area of disputable matters. He writes:

If you want to do the best you can to preserve unity in your church, you have to learn to think this way: Mine is not to change my brother’s mind; mine is to embrace my brother. We must do that whether he is strong or weak, eating or not, drinking or not, smoking or not, movie- and theater-going or not, and a host of other so-called gray areas, doubtful things, or principles of conscience the Scripture does not color in black-and-white. So the gist of welcoming as a gospel-shaped community is an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters.” (p. 102)

Part Three focuses on two practices that foster unity. The first is intercepting relational disasters before they ever occur. He looks at the example of Abram in Genesis 13 as he deals with potential tensions with his nephew Lot, observing the pro-active, relationally centered, humble, and generous approach of Abram. Second, he focuses on the importance of honoring spiritual leaders, though imperfect, who work with excellence to serve. The complement to servant leadership is respectful followership.

The book concludes with a reflection on Psalm 133 and the images of the fragrant oil and the refreshing and life-giving dew that describe the goodness and pleasantness of dwelling in unity.

I’m not convinced that these practices will avoid all conflict but rather lay the groundwork for constructive differences that resolve into even more durable unity and deeper love. The work is one worth a read by every church leadership board, or even as part of preparation for church membership. It could be used well in an all-church seminar on peacemaking. Curtis Heffelfinger works from passage to passage, undergirding principles with biblical precepts, as well as personal examples that illustrate those principles. Heffelfinger models a vulnerability, a lack of self-protection that seems essential to peacemaking. This book is a good complement to Ken Sande’s work, which focuses on healing and restoring peace. Heffelfinger’s book is about preventive care for the church, preserving the healthy and delightful peace that is God’s gift to his people.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 

Review: Resolving Conflict

Resolving Conflict

Resolving ConflictLou Priolo. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2016.

Summary: A practical guidebook to the biblical prerequisites and principles of resolving conflicts between Christians both in home and church contexts.

It might be said that wherever two or more are gathered there is conflict. It is part of the human condition and just because one is a follower of Christ does not mean you can escape conflict. We can try to avoid it, or we can do it very badly. Lou Priolo argues there is a better way and that is to do it biblically, which offers the potential of making peace with each other and going deeper in shared community together.

Priolo begins by outlining four biblical prerequisites to conflict resolution: humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. He devotes a chapter to each, surveying the scriptures that speak of these qualities. Priolo argues that these chapters are actually the most important of the book. The last, loving forbearance, is especially important where sin is not at the root of the conflict. People may just be different from each other and sometimes learning to bear with and even begin to delight in those differences can circumvent many conflicts.

At the same time, that is not always possible, so how does one, embracing the four prerequisites, resolve conflict? The next ten chapters get very practical with the “how” of conflict resolution. He begins by distinguishing three kinds of conflict: those over differentness, those over sinfulness, and those over righteousness (where we disagree about what is right). He explores how love communicates, how we respond to reproof, the heart motives behind conflict, ways we respond unbiblically to conflict, good questions we can ask to resolve conflict, how far to go in a conflict, and the importance of doing all we can insofar as it depends on us to resolve conflict.

In addition to the prerequisites, this book assumes three things about the reader. One is that you are really serious about resolving conflict, serious enough to taking a hard look at your own contribution to a conflict, to face the ways you have sinned against another, and to be willing to take personal steps to change. Second is that you really want your life to be shaped in detail by the teaching of scripture regarding conflict, as well as in other matters. Every chapter includes detailed biblical material and Priolo wants to call things, particularly our sins, according to what scripture says. Finally, this book assumes you are willing to do some hard work, first in self reflection through checklists and journalling exercises, and then in conversation with another.

For those with familiarity with various forms of Christian counselling, Priolo is a disciple of Jay Adams. The book reflects a rigorous Reformed perspective including frequent quotes of one of the best of the Reformers, Richard Baxter, and in marriage relationships assumes a complementarian perspective, though not aggressively advancing this. One need not share these perspectives to benefit from the counsel and exercises Priolo provides. His discussion of the prerequisites for resolving conflict and the exercises that prompt self-reflection would seem helpful regardless one’s theological persuasion.

The style is highly readable and one gets a clear sense of the author’s voice. It may not be the reader’s and the author encourages people to put things in their own words, not just mimic his. All told, this is a useful resource for conflicts in homes, and in the church.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Nonviolent Action

nonviolent actionNonviolent Action by Ron Sider. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.

Summary: Ron Sider argues from a number of instances over the past seventy-five years that nonviolent action can work and bring about political change.

“I ain’t gonna study war no more”

Ronald J. Sider thinks we have spent far too long and far too much studying war. It is time, particularly for persons of faith, to devote ourselves and our money and our lives to study peace: the use of nonviolent means of protest and resistance in the pursuit of peace and a just order. He argues that both pacifists and just war advocates actually have much in common in advocating the use of nonviolent efforts as much as possible, with the only difference being between war never being a resort and war being a last resort.

Sider builds his case by recounting the numerous instances of nonviolent resistance over the past seventy-five years beginning with Ghandhi’s effort to secure Indian independence from the British empire. The first part of the book recounts Ghandhi’s, and India’s, long road to freedom and Ghandhi’s persistent and principled decision to renounce violence. Following chapters recount Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership of the civil rights movement and commitment to loving, nonviolent resistance, seen most vividly at the Edmund Pettus Bridge as chronicled in the recent Selma. He tells the story of his own involvement with Witness for Peace’s work in Nicaragua standing between invading Contras backed by the U.S. and the Nicaraguan people. And he tells the story of the peaceful People Power resistance to the Marcos regime in the Phillipines including the instance when a wheelchair was more powerful than a tank:

    Cardinal Sin tells the story of bedridden, eighty-one year-old Mrs. Monzon, owner of Arrelano University. Everywhere she went, she used a wheelchair. But Mrs. Monzon insisted on joining the people in the streets in front of the camps. When the tanks came, she wheeled in front of the advancing war vehicles. Armed with a crucifix, she called out to the soldiers, “Stop. I am an old woman. You can kill me, but you shouldn’t kill your fellow Filipinos.” Overcome, a soldier jumped off the tank, and embraced the bold nonviolent resister. “I cannot kill you,” he told her, “you are just like my mother.” She stayed in the street in her wheelchair.

    The marines finally withdrew without firing a shot.

Part Two of the book focuses on two instances of nonviolent resistance in the defeat of the Soviet empire. First he tells the story of a Polish pope and a ship yard worker, Lech Walesa, who led the Solidarity Movement, which over ten years, brought an end to the Communist leadership in Poland. Then he turns to the Revolution of Candles in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual reunification of Germany.

Recent developments are the focus of Part Three. He begins by describing how Leymah Gbowee led a movement of prayer among Liberian women pursuing peace and justice for the women and children of Liberia during the dictatorship of Charles Taylor. He recounts the nonviolent efforts in the Arab Spring, including the wonderful shalom moment of a ring of Christians forming a protective circle around Muslims at prayer. He ends this section by talking of the work of Peacemaker Teams and similar groups in many parts of the world including in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He concludes the book with the contention that it is time to devote serious attention to nonviolent action. We spend billions on military defense and military academies but virtually nothing for nonviolent resistance and peace academies. He argues that pacifism that engages in nonviolent action is in fact as courageous as armed resistance because it also is willing to die in the pursuit of just and peaceful conflict resolution. He further contends the following:

  1. Nonviolence often accomplishes its aims with far less loss of life.
  2. Nonviolence accomplishes its aims more often than violence.
  3. Nonviolence is more likely to lead to democratic institutions.

One of the sobering implications of all this is the willingness to die without killing. One of the questions Sider left unanswered for me was whether there are circumstances where one should not pursue nonviolent resistance, where force must be met with force. I think particularly of instances when a regime has determined a course of genocide. Here, the evidence seems to be that armed peacekeeping forces have been both necessary and successful in places like Kosovo and South Sudan in stopping genocidal regimes.

Perhaps what this points up is the necessity of what Sider argues. Many nonviolent efforts have been spontaneous and sometimes undisciplined. It is time for rigorous studies and the devotion of resources that inform and make possible disciplined and strategic action. War calls for these things as well as courage. It just makes sense that the pursuit of peace requires no less.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities

Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities
Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities by Rick Love
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” So began a song that I learned in elementary school. Peace. It is what every beauty pageant contestant wants. We award huge prizes each year to those who work for peace. Yet despite our deep and seemingly universal longing for peace, we live in strife and conflict torn families, organizations, and local, national, and international communities.

Rick Love is so hopeful that peace can be brought into conflict situations that he leads an organization, Peace Catalysts International, that engages in peacemaking efforts between Christians and Muslims. His book begins with his own peacemaking journey from conflicts in an organization he led to his growing understanding of biblical peacemaking and a vision for how this might be applied in various spheres of life.

He roots the peacemaking strategies he teaches in biblical premises: the God of peace, the peace of God, the gospel of peace, and our call to be peacemakers. He then elaborates eight peacemaking practices of peace catalysts: praying for peace, pursuing peace with all, taking responsibility, loving reproof, accepting reproof from others, asking for forgiveness, forgiving others, and loving your enemies. Under this last, he challenges us particularly around the love of those the church has the hardest time loving: those in the LGBT community, illegal immigrants, and Muslims. He particularly argues that the large majority of Muslims are not terrorists but people like us who are seeking a peaceful existence.

The book goes on to provide practical instructions in mediation with a case study of James and the conflict about Gentiles in the church in Acts, and instruction in team conflict, looking at the rivalries among the disciples in Mark 10. In this chapter, he introduces the very helpful idea of written memos of understanding when a team works out specific resolutions to a conflict and provides a format for these memos.

The last part of the book looks at how peace catalysts spread peace through social peacemaking between groups often alienated from each other and in recognizing six spheres of peacemaking: personal, interpersonal, social, urban, national, and international. I found identifying the sphere of cities particularly helpful with its ideas of seeking common good in a city.

At the end of the book are several appendices with ideas for peacemaking, seven steps to loving reproof, a peace catalyst manifesto, a grace and truth affirmation for Christian-Muslim relationships, and a discussion of the just peacemaking (as opposed to either pacifism or just war) paradigm.

What I most appreciated about this book was how it moved again and again from biblical principle to practice in very concrete ways. I also appreciated the grace and truth emphasis in peacemaking that both seeks common ground and mutual interests in love without compromising gospel integrity, the rule of law, and without covering up real offenses and issues of justice that must be faced.

It is fitting to write this review on the last day of the outgoing year. Each New Year’s, we long that this will be the year without new conflicts and one where old conflicts are mended. We long for a better world. But peace will not come in our families, our cities, or on the world scene without the practice of the nitty-gritty peacemaking principles and the hard but important work outlined in Love’s book.

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Review: The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling

The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling
The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We can’t save the world, and that is because in Christ, God already has, and will one day complete the job that we cannot. That sums up the main idea of this life-long activist’s book.

Wigg-Stevenson’s book is broken into two parts. The first explores the limitations of activism, which begins with his own anti-nuclear bomb activism, increasing despair and conversion both to faith and a different way of thinking about his activism. He chronicles our pretensions to heroism (‘everyone wants to be a David’), the reality that the world is broken beyond repair and that the beginning of a durable activism is the fear of the Lord and a grasp of what it meant for God to save the world (‘take these snakes’, referring to John 3).

The second part of the book explores ‘our deeper calling’, which is a call to peace, not anxious toil–peace with God, peace among the nations, and peace in community. He concludes with what it means to live out our callings which includes a personal and moving tribute to John R W Stott, whose study assistant he was in 2005-6. Stott was a model of a life of passionate commitment to Christ, to the pastoring of God’s people, and to pursuing a global ministry of peace while living as a placed person in London, a single and simple life. In these chapters he also gives us moving accounts of the Tent of the Nations farm on threatened Palestinian land and of a visit to South Africa to learn the story of his wife’s grandfather, a Colored school principle, Perceval George Rhoda, an example of peacemaking in community.

Wigg-Stevenson has not stopped being an anti-nuclear activist. He writes movingly both of his encounters with the children of those who died in Hiroshima and describes in vivid detail the devastation that would be wrought by a single nuclear bomb detonated in Washington, DC during a state of the union address. But he contends that our activism is a stewardship of gifts and call that heralds the coming kingdom of peace, sometimes succeeding in bringing a measure of that future into the present. He also has a telling word coming at the end of an era of evangelical political activism which he describes as asking How can public goods be obtained using Christianity? He advocates, instead, a “kingdom-oriented activism” that asks, What unique and authentic contribution can the Christian church make to the public square?

I hope to see more from this moving and eloquent writer!

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