19 Apr Faithful Disagreement – Book Review
Wrestling with Scripture in the Midst of Church Conflict
Frances Taylor Gench
Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009
135 pages, $17.00, paper.
Reviewed by Nancy Claire Pittman,
Associate Professor of the Practice of Ministry
Director of the DMin Program,
Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Out of her experience with the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and the Purity of the Church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2001-2006, Frances Taylor Gench has written a book about listening to conflicts within scripture while attending to various forms of disagreement in modern churches.
As both Herbert Worth and Annie H. Jackson Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is fully qualified to write such a book. In it her primary goal is to encourage us to read these biblical texts in conversation with others, even with those with whom we disagree. In fact, she is calling us to pay attention to the possibility of multiple interpretations of any given text, not unlike the ways in which Jews might allow for a number of understandings of a text under discussion (10). And although each of us may decide that a “line in the sand” must be drawn somewhere or another, we must also realize that our differing readings of the Bible broaden the scope of our vision and correct personal distortions and idiosyncrasies (11).
Only by reading in conversation with one another can we approach truth about God, Jesus Christ, and the communities in which we live and serve. With this purpose as a guide, Gench reviews biblical texts pertaining to conflict, including portions of the Johannine epistles, Matthew 14:22-33, Romans 14:1-15:13, Jeremiah 28, 1 Corinthians 12-14, portions of 1 Timothy, and the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. For each of these reviews she posits an appropriate theme that is relevant both to current debates over scripture, discernment of God’s will, and church leadership, as well as the ongoing situation of living in and with disagreement among faithful Christians. She draws upon solid biblical scholarship and her own ecclesial experience to uncover salient issues in these texts and then concludes each chapter with questions for group discussion and reflection.
Mercifully, Gench makes no attempt to manufacture some sort of how-to list for navigating modern church conflict based on a presumed claim of what the Bible does or does not univocally present. In fact, one of the great strengths of this book is her ability to discuss the ways in which each of the chosen texts portray communal conflict and offer differing views of how God acts in the faithful community and the world. She is also well aware that there is disagreement among biblical books, especially among those of the Old and New Testaments, in regard to the will of God, ordering communal life, even the nature of Jesus as Messiah. In other words, she allows each author to speak his own truth without explicitly imposing a uniformity upon the biblical voices based on external claims or presuppositions.