Healing Church Strife in the New Testament and Today

New Title From James Christensen and Thomas F. Johnson
Healing Church Strife in the New Testament and Today
Beyond Matthew 18:15-17
  When churches experience troubling conflicts, they are likely to be offered Matthew 18:15–17 as the only solution. This book opens our eyes to the rich variety of conflict solutions that are described throughout the New Testament. Healing Church Strife explores options for our time, and the reader receives practical suggestions that are biblically based.
James Christensen MSW, PhD, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), specializes in helping churches manage conflict. During the past fifteen years he has worked with congregations in northwest Washington, Alaska, and in Vienna, Austria. In addition, he trains pastors and other church leaders and consults with church judicatories on policies and practices. Currently he serves as Conflict Consultant for the Northwest Coast Presbytery. 
Thomas F. Johnson, MDiv, ThM, PhD, a former Presbyterian minister, college and seminary professor of Bible and theology, seminary dean, and university president, is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association. He is the author of 1, 2, & 3 John in the Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Baker Books).

Healing Church Strife in the New Testament and Today
Beyond Matthew 18:15-17
by James Christensen and Thomas F. Johnson
Wipf and Stock / Wipf and Stock Publishers
978-1-4982-3394-1 / paperback / $11

What prompted you to write this book?
In Jim’s work with conflicted churches, he consistently encountered a lot of uncertainty about what to do about it. Often church leaders either resort to accepting conflict as a given condition or they deny its existence or important. But those responses were based in an underlying lack of available options. A third response was often a formulaic statement that would supposedly work in every case, and often that formula was a quotation of Matthew 18:15-17.
But the instructions in that text did not match other texts in the New Testament that described conflicts and how they were treated. The New Testament churches often did not do what the Matthew text prescribed. We became curious about what those alternative strategies were. The book began to take shape.

What surprised you as you were writing the book?
We were very surprised by the sheer volume of conflict related material that the New Testament contains. Every book directly or by allusion refers to conflict. The first task was simply to list the relevant texts. After that, it was a matter of recognizing patterns.  We were also surprised by the consistent effort to put conflicts on a trajectory toward reconciliation, although in many cases, those efforts did not succeed.

What did you learn by writing the book?
We learned many things, of course. One of the main things was that the New Testament church and its leaders were creative and flexible in dealing with conflict. They often stumbled and failed. But they never gave up. They never just let conflict run on without confronting it in some way. The picture, for us, is of a community, and a group of leaders, that didn’t know what to do most of the time. They worked by trial and error. Sometimes their responses were brilliant, their wisdom deep. At other times they were short-sighted and even petty. But they kept on trying.

Who do you hope to reach with this book?
We hope to reach pastors and other church and denominational leaders. Beyond that we hope to reach seminaries and others who prepare candidates for ministry or who train leaders.

What differences in church practice do you hope to see as a result of your work?
We hope that church leaders will look at the conflicts they encounter without fear, but instead with the confidence that they have many sound resources available to them. We would like to see the Bible understood and used as a guide and its varied and complex stories of conflict received with gratitude.

What one key message does your book bring to the church in our time?
Conflict will occur. There are many positive ways to deal with it. The stories in the New Testament shed some light on them. Keep on keeping on. 

Although conflicts within the Corinthian congregation are well-documented in Paul’s letters, there are two situations where the lack of conflict rather than the presence of conflict is the problem as Paul sees it. I Corinthians 5 refers to a serious moral offense occurring, yet the Corinthians are arrogant about it. They are boasting (v 6), evidently about their moral “freedom.”  

Paul puts himself at odds with the person who is committing the offense. He has already passed judgment on him. There is the conflict, and it is “settled” unilaterally by Paul’s judgment.  Further, Paul puts himself at odds with the Corinthians as a whole. He tells them what they should feel: sorrow (Should you not rather have mourned . . . .?” vs. 2). 

He tells them what they should do: evict the offender from the congregation and “hand this man over to Satan” (vs. 5). They should not associate with such persons, or with others who violate the norms of sexual morality or who are greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunks or robbers. “Do not even eat with such a one” (vs. 11). Thus he provokes and urges the Corinthians to enter into conflict with such offenders, and to shun them.  

“Doctors James Christensen and Thomas F. Johnson have done the church a much-needed favor in providing practical, biblically-based wisdom by which to deal with the most challenging social and spiritual juggernaut of its existence: conflict. This book does a better job explicating the New Testament’s teaching on healing strife than most books five times its length. . . . Do not let its brevity and accessibility deceive you. It will take just a few hours to read...and a lifetime to apply.”
—Charles J. Conniry, Jr., Vice President and Dean, George Fox Evangelical Seminary College of Christian Studies


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