Book Review: The Church of Us vs. Them
A Review of The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies
Written by David E. Fitch
The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies by David E. Fitch explores the way Christians are just as caught up in a culture of animosity and enemy-making as the world at large. It takes a look at the “us vs. them” mentality that has infested the evangelical community and created dividing lines on a variety of issues. Fitch asks, “How have we failed to be a people of reconciliation and renewal in the face of such tumult?” He outlines the “enemy-making patterns in church history” and attempts to offer a way forward in understanding and compassion to heal the church and set an example for the rest of the world.
I was really excited when I was pre-approved for this title on NetGalley. The premise of this book is one I can get behind 100%. In my own denomination, this “us vs. them” mentality is ever-present on a whole host of issues, most prominently for LGBT+ rights and the role of women in leadership, and so I was hoping this book would offer some concrete examples for effective reconciliation for evangelical churches who find themselves so divided.
Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me. While I’d say the overall content is good, with a positive, hopeful, and necessary message for our times, the execution of said content was poor. I’ve never read anything by this author before, and was unfamiliar with his name or anything about him. Right off the bat, he writes as if every reader is familiar with him and often refers to his church and work without the necessary context for readers who picked up this book based solely on the topic. While he writes with authority, I’m unsure of his credentials to write on this topic, other than the fact that he’s the pastor of what I assume is a very successful ministry based on the way he refers to it.
A much bigger issue than the one listed above is that the book is not well written. It’s extremely redundant, with the author offering up a solid idea in one paragraph, and then rephrasing the exact same thing in slightly different ways for several more paragraphs. The book could have been a third of the length and much more engrossing had this wholly unnecessary redundancy been stripped away.
I also felt that the core message of each chapter was lost in a cloud of catchphrases that the author seemed quite taken with. References to the “enemy-making machine,” “living beyond enemies,” “the space between us vs. them,” “the space beyond enemies,” and the word “indeed” were used ad nauseam. By the end of the first chapter, they’d lost all meaning because they’d been repeated so many times (often at least once in every single paragraph). I’m sure this heavy use of redundancy in message and phrasing was meant as emphasis, but when you repeat the same phrase at the end of every single paragraph, it’s no longer emphasis. It’s just irritating.
I also get uneasy whenever an author, especially a pastor, uses real people – often members of his congregation – to say, “here’s an example of people who got it wrong and if only they’d done as I said, things would have been wonderful, but instead they weren’t.” This author is certainly not the first to employ such a strategy and he won’t be the last, but I personally think it’s irresponsible writing and church leadership to reduce real people to self-serving anecdotes. If you failed in bringing these people to your way of thinking, then you can’t know how it would have turned out had you “succeeded” because you didn’t. So why shame them in a book just because they didn’t listen to you?
Overall, I really wanted to like this book, but it’s so boring (because of the redundancy) and way too long for the execution of the core message. Plus, the book doesn’t offer any practical advice. Despite the plethora of examples and personal anecdotes, there wasn’t any sort of concrete application at any point. Tensions are high and there’s a lot of division in Christianity, but the only solution offered by the author is to come together and really listen to each other without judgment. Which is a great idea but one certainly doesn’t need a whole book to say that.
I’d be more interested in a book that goes that extra step and discusses what to do after everyone has come together to listen. This book is about the need for that, but where’s the book about what to do after everyone’s sat down together at the table? What does active listening look like? What does respect for your fellow people at the table look like, even if you can’t agree with their opinions? What does moving forward together look like even if agreement isn’t reached? This book isn’t that, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for one that takes the discussion there.
This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.
Photo by Alisa Williams.
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