Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 07/24/2011 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. This book will increase your love for what God teaches in His Word on conflict and how to handle it.
Guides on how to handle conflict will always find a market, even in the church. Perhaps especially in the church, although Bible-believing Christians should be the best at handling conflict, says author Alexander Strauch in his newest book, If You Bite and Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict, an exposition of Galatians 5:15 and other pertinent biblical passages. Yet we Christians seem to be among the worst at handling conflict - we bite and devour one another - hence the need for Strauch's book.
Strauch's book joins a few other notable worthies on the Christians bookshelf, including those from Ken Sande's Peacemaker Ministries (Sande's own classic The Peacemaker, his new Resolving Everyday Conflict, and my personal favorite, Peacemaking Women by Sande's colleague Tara Klena Barthel and biblical counselor Judy Dabler - every man, especially pastors, ought to read the latter) and Paul David Tripp's War of Words and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, co-authored with Tim Lane.
Where Strauch's book shines is in its concentration on biblical passages about conflict: "Faithful adherence to biblical principles is the best policy when it comes to preventing damaged relationships and discrediting the witness of the gospel." While the Peacemaker and CCEF books are not devoid of such exposition, their strength lies in providing an overall approach to conflict (and life in general). Strauch's book is not devoid of principles or application, but is so insistently and unapologetically focused on the biblical text that I feel as if I've had a rich devotional time every time I complete a chapter. It is so refreshing to interact with a humble, pastoral author who takes God's word seriously, to paraphrase Stuart Briscoe. Strauch never writes to weaken the plain biblical sense and never feels the need to apologize for difficult biblical injunctions. The best Bible teachers I have ever encountered mix pastoral hearts with biblical power.
If You Bite and Devour is functionally divided into four sections, each one anchored by a different verb: Act, Control, Pursue, and Face. The book begins on a hopeful, biblically optimistic note, exploring the various passages teaching Christians how to act in the Spirit, in love, and in humility. The second section continues on with ways a Christian should not act but rather control him or herself, especially in the areas of anger, the tongue, and criticism. The next two chapters, which comprise the book's ostensible third section, recommend pursuing reconciliation and peace, respectively. I particularly enjoyed these two chapters for the scenario frameworks Strauch uses to organize his content: chapter seven uses an interpersonal relationship while the eighth narrates a church's journey of maturation into a peacemaking body. Finally, the fourth section addresses the contentious issues of facing false teachers and how to face controversy, two issues the Western church has historically been very poor at facing. In these final two chapters, Strauch shows his pastoral heart. Within biblical bounds he allows for diversity of personality and temperament, and admits that there are no hard-and-fast conclusions about many secondary doctrinal issues. The issue he uses to make his point is Calvinism versus Arminianism.
This book is for congregations, says Strauch, and I would agree with his assessment of its congregational usefulness. A published study guide but a printable one is available from the online resources section of the Lewis & Roth website. Please do avail yourself of these two fine resources, and learn that even in the midst of conflict, God is doing a refining, redemptive work in His people.