by Kimberly Muehling
In Disunity in Christ, social psychologist Christena Cleveland looks at the community of the church and examines the ways in which we tear each other apart. Cleveland tackles not only the difficulties within local church communities but also the challenges that churches from different denominations find when they try to work together.
This is not a feel-good book! These are hard things to hear, yet hear them we must. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2–3, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
And Jesus, after Judas has left the Passover supper table to betray him, says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35).
Cleveland is honest about the ways in which she has failed and how she has learned to live in disagreement with others in her faith community. She writes that she has come to see, and even cherish, the ways in which people she would have avoided in the past can teach her about who God is and how God is at work in the world.
Cleveland takes the reader on a journey through sociology to explain why we fall into destructive patterns. Why do we love being part of a team? Why is the “other” guy clearly less talented than my (humble) awesome self? Why does my brain work so very hard to tell me that I’m right all the time? This is a book that takes time to digest.
There is a way forward when we look to Christ and follow him. The church community flourishes when we base our identity on the One who gives us everything, and not on the things that we think give us value.
“We need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to care deeply about and pursue other followers of Christ, including the ones that we don’t instinctively value or like…to be a follower of Christ means to allow our identity as members of the body of Christ to trump all other identities…to be a follower of Christ means to put our commitment to the body of Christ above our own identity and self-esteem needs” (97–98).
This book would be excellent to use in an adult Sunday School class or small group study. The chapters are relatively short and engaging. Each chapter ends with questions that would work well for individual reflection or group conversation.
Hard, but important, this book serves as a very understandable and useful explanation for why we do what we do, encouraging us all toward love and unity in Christ.
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart, Christena Cleveland (InterVarsity Press, 2013). 220pp. $24.25 (paperback). ISBN 9780830844036. Reviewed by Kimberly Muehling (Fort Garry EMC), chair of the Board of Church Ministries .