Fall 1995 · Vol. 24 No. 2 · pp. 108–9 

Book Review

Resolving Disputes in Christian Groups

Marlin E. Thomas. Winnipeg, MB: Windflower, 1994. 224 pages.

Reviewed by Gary L. Welton

Thomas, formerly a Mennonite Brethren pastor, is director of Resources for Living, based in Colorado Springs, CO. In this position, he assists churches and other groups in their search for solutions to conflict. Hence, he is well-qualified to author a book on conflict resolution. Although his book addresses both the escalation and resolution of conflict, his emphasis is clearly on the resolution. This is in contrast to the scholarly literature, which tends to emphasize the escalation. His emphasis is on organizational conflict rather than individual conflict, although most principles seem to apply to either level. Also, the focus is on positive outcomes that can result from handling conflict in a constructive manner. As such, the book forms a nice contrast, and serves as a complement to Kenneth C. Haugk’s Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict.

The book has been written for use by study groups rather than simply to be read. Indeed, the book is loaded with pithy suggestions that will quickly be forgotten by the casual reader. The author has included case studies to illustrate his basic points, role plays to demonstrate various strategies for dealing with conflict, and well-constructed study questions for group discussion. As a result, I highly recommend the book as a study manual, for use in Sunday School classes or other small group settings.

One theme of the book is that when conflict is not resolved properly, unfinished issues and feelings will resurface at later times. It is noted that many times we avoid conflict, thinking this is the right thing to do, but that avoidance is not a particularly effective resolution strategy.

The author also notes that there are three areas of conflict: conflict {109} over values, goals, and methods. He notes that within Christian groups, in which we tend to share similar values, we tend to have few conflicts over values, more conflicts over goals, but predominately conflicts over methods.

This book is not a scholarly discussion of the research on conflict. Indeed, when the author discussed research, he tended to overstate the research findings. For example, although it is true that individuals with Type A personality have an increased risk of heart attack, it is not true that heart attacks among young men are always associated with Type A personality.

Finally, there are some apparent inconsistencies that will make for good discussion. For example, in the author’s discussion of accommodation as a conflict resolution strategy, he concludes in one chapter that accommodation usually does not work, but concludes in another chapter that accommodation is one of the strongest and best ways to resolve conflict.

Although the book was not everything I anticipated, I found it to be a very profitable encounter. Thomas has made an important contribution to a very serious problem in the modern church. I congratulate him for his book and his continued work in this area. I hope many groups will use this book as a study tool.

Gary L. Welton
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Grove City College
Grove City, Pennsylvania