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Good practical advice, but could have been better
on January 25, 2012
When sinners come into contact with each other, it is only a matter of time before conflict arises. Nowhere is this more apparent than within family life. Two sinners come together under one roof as husband and wife, and soon additional sinners enter the picture in the form of children. Before long, the home is crowded with sinners constantly interacting with each other, which inevitably creates conflict. If a family is to continue to love one another, they must be able to successfully manage these conflicts as they arise. To this end, Ken Sande's book Peacemaking for Families: A Biblical Gide to Managing Conflict in Your Home was written to provide families with tools specifically geared toward managing conflicts within the home.
There were several aspects of Sande's book that were very helpful. The greatest strength of his work was that Sande's grounded all of his practical advice for managing conflict firmly in the gospel. While there is no shortage of Christian books on the topic of conflict management, many of these works build their arguments using proof-texts about peacemaking rather than grounding their arguments within the metanarrative of Scripture. Their arguments tend to follow the following pattern: Christians should obey the Bible, and the Bible says to be a peacemaker, therefore Christians should be peacemakers. These books turn to verses such as Matt. 5:9 or Rom 12:18 to convince or encourage Christians to behave in this manner. Although there is no doubt that Christians should obey these passages, this line of reasoning runs the danger of ultimately making a believer's obedience man-centered rather than God-centered. By grounding his argument in the gospel, Sande is able to present the biblical commands regarding this subject in a way that is focused at its root on Christ and his peacemaking work that was accomplished at the cross. Why does God command his people to be peacemakers? He does so because God himself is a peacemaker and he wants his people's character to reflect his own. Although the practical techniques between the two approaches may be the exact same, the rationale for obedience is significantly different. One method asks for obedience in response to a command, while the other asks Christians to obey out of a response for what has been done for them. In a culture where legalism and moralism are ever-present dangers within many churches, this distinction is subtle yet critically important.
Another strength of the book is the "As You Grow" section at the conclusion of every chapter. These sections provide immensely practical and helpful material for furthering one's understanding of how the chapter applies to real situations in the reader's life. This section takes the material from the chapter and puts it into questions that the reader is then encouraged to ask of himself or of a conflict he is currently engaged in. This both reinforces the truths from the text as well as helps to make the transition from concepts and tools to real world application. It also serves to provide a reminder over the material that was covered in the chapter that can be valuable as people use this book as a tool for helping them to manage conflicts that arise in their lives later. Every reader knows the frustration of reading a good book and desiring to go back to it after a time to remind themselves of some item in the text, only to spend a great deal of time flipping through pages attempting to locate the desired passage.
Someone might read this book, benefit from it, and sincerely desire to put many of its techniques into practice in his own life. However, when the next conflict arises in his home, enough time has passed that he does not remember exactly the techniques and truths that were contained within the book. Instead of having to flip through a few hundred pages of text to try and find what he needs for the moment, these sections allow him to turn to the last page of every chapter and read these questions to both remind himself of the material as well as apply it directly to his current situation. If he still needs additional information, he can then turn to the specific passage within a chapter to read a more extensive explanation, but the overall time spent looking through the book has been cut down considerably. For a book designed to be helpful in tense situations where time could be a factor, this is very helpful.
One aspect of Peacemaking for Families that could have been improved is Sande's discussion over how to handle conflicts that originate from disagreements rather than sin. In the chapter on negotiation, Sande acknowledges that there are some conflicts within the home that are of this nature. He also wisely notes that these conflicts often start innocently but become sinful through "careless words, critical judgments, hurt feelings, and a lingering sense of bitterness and resentment" (95). To deal with this type of conflict, he gives five steps for negotiating a solution that can help resolve the conflict in a mutually satisfactory way. While this is helpful, it provides no assistance in resolving conflicts in which compromise is not an option. For instance, say that a conflict arises between a couple where the husband feels that God is leading them to move to St. Louis while the wife believes God is leading them to live in Oklahoma City. Assuming that their intentions are free from selfishness, how would negotiation help in this situation? If the wife compromises because her husband offers to let her choose where they will vacation, it would seem as though she may be sinning against her conscious. Nor could they compromise and to move to Kansas City as a middle ground. Negotiation is not helpful here. While this example may be contrived, similar situations are within the realm of possibility and Sande gives readers no other tools for resolving them. Luckily, however, God has provided for conflict resolution within the home in such scenarios by establishing authority structures with the husband charged with headship. Sande's work would have been improved if this biblical reality had been acknowledged and commented upon at some level.
Peacemaking for Families is a useful resource for helping Christians to understand how the gospel motivates and equips Christians to be peacemakers within their homes. It helps readers recognize that conflicts often arise as a result of one's idols and that the cure for this is not trying harder to be peaceable, but rather reordering one's desires around the worship of God. It also provides practical suggestions for managing and overcoming the conflicts that are inevitable when sinners come together in a family. While Sande's work has a significant shortcoming when it considers resolving conflicts not birthed out of sin, for the most part it is a valuable tool that can help Christians to do all they can to fulfill Paul's exhortation to be at peace with all men (Rom 12:18).