Good Disagreement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church by Andrew Atherstone
There is a little bit of the playground and its visceral realities still in all of us. We prefer to get our own way and sometimes go to some lengths to achieve that. We easily dismiss, obstruct, even ostracise those who do not suit our world view. Indeed if no one is looking any one of us have it within us to inflict harm on others who inconveniently do not see the world as we do. This playground politics is played out at almost every level of our living and loving. We still go to war. We still have a dark capacity for destruction. Political dialogue is fraught with conflict and contestation. In the world of journalism it’s sometimes impossible to know who is telling the truth.
It is not surprising therefore that the turmoil that comes from failure to live in harmony is a reality at every level of church life. Archbishop Justin Welby has asked us to seek to transform bad disagreement into good disagreement. This is the core subject matter for this book.
There are ten chapters. There is a distinctly evangelical bias but what holds the persuasiveness of the narrative together is the illustration of how Christians can engage with one another and their profound (and destructive) differences. Chapters Two, three and four deal with the new Testament. Ian Paul looks at reconciliation; Michael Thompson at division and discipline; and Tom Wright at Paul. Chapter Four opens up the disagreements that stand at the heart of the Reformation and there are subsequent chapters on ecumenical disagreement and disagreement between religions. The final three chapters move into some personal material as a number of authors look at how good disagreement might take shape between people and in various contexts.
It is absolutely inevitable that such a book should raise more questions than it answers. This is a mark of its skill and intelligence. We do not find out whether there is something deep within the religious psyche that disables us from a different sort of harmony. Again and again we are confronted with the gap between theory and practice in the nurture of peace. This is a fundamental need is at every level of society and this book makes a good start in introducing some of the questions and opportunities that lie ahead of us. I would recommend it to a Christian community seeking to explore reconciliation. All of us will need some help in putting some of the questions at the end of each chapter to work. The editors are to be congratulated on drawing together some interesting and stimulating essays.
Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College
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