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Finding value in God’s design: Book helps readers understand what separates us

“Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart”
By Christena Cleveland
IVP Books, © 2013, 220 pages

If the metaphor about the body of Christ being represented by various body parts is accurate, why do we sometimes struggle to find value in those parts we don’t understand or in which we don’t find agreement? The eye is essential for the body, as is the foot; however, if you’re not the eye or the foot but the nose, it can sometimes be tempting not to value those parts as highly as the nose.

That metaphor can easily be applied to the various perspectives, attitudes and histories we bring to church. My view on politics becomes the “correct” view, as does my attitude about worship music or certain theological views.

These attitudes and views—formed through a fairly homogenous church experience—can cause division and prevent the church from realizing the potential God gave it.

In “Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart,” Dr. Christena Cleveland approaches this challenge from her perspective as a social psychologist and as someone who loves the church. She teaches at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and is an award-winning researcher.

Addressing the challenge of homogeneity in the church, Cleveland said in an interview with the Christian Examiner: “You kind of grow up with people who looked just like us, talked just like us, interpreted Scripture from our vantage point in the world, and then it’s comfortable for many of us to move into adulthood and look for that,” she said. “Because when we think of the family of God, we think of people like us.”

That perspective can cause us to view other believers in a different light, thinking since they don’t agree with me on certain things, they are somehow not “correct” or as “mature” or as “knowledgeable” about the faith.

Recently, Cleveland has been working with youth organizations and sees the need to try and reverse this tendency toward homogeneity.

She hopes we “can switch this at the early end and show kids that when you come to Jesus, you come to Jesus with people who are like you and also not like you, because Jesus is for everyone. I’ve been hoping we can turn that tide a little bit because these kids are going to walk into churches and say, ‘Wait a second. This is nothing like the Jesus that I met at camp, or at least this group of people looks ways more homogenous than the group of people I met Jesus with.’”

Cleveland highlights several significant issues in “Disunity in Christ,” including the detrimental nature of creating divisions and categories; the dangers of group identity; the influence of culture on our judgment; and how our identity in Christ is preeminent.

Using the model of the various parts of the body of Christ, Cleveland believes we should seek God’s guidance in learning to see value in things we necessarily don’t understand or agree with.

“Seeing the wisdom in that and just saying, ‘God, if this is your design, if it’s your design for us to have different perspectives just like by definition the eye is going to have a different perspective on the world than the foot is or the backbone is, then help me make sense of it and help me value it and help me put it all in perspective.’”

“Disunity in Christ” is well-written and readable. Cleveland utilizes personal experiences and demonstrates her points with a multitude of examples. While she writes from a social psychological perspective, the book is applicable to anyone concerned with living out the gospel in a challenging world.

In the end, Cleveland hopes readers will walk away from the book with “interpretive humility.”

“I want people to come away thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t know everything; maybe there are some things going on beneath the surface that I’m not as attuned to as I would like to be,’” she said. “‘Maybe I should approach different groups and different people in the body of Christ with a lot more humility.’”

Disunity in Christ

by Scott Noble
Editor of the Minnesota Christian Examiner

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