“When I was asked to write a book on conflict resolution, my first thought was, Write one? I need one!”
Tony Merida’s honest humor in the introduction to Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution: A Guide for Turbulent Times intrigued me. When later he humbly confessed—“It took me a while to realize that one of the keys to being a good pastor is saying ‘I’m sorry’ a lot”—I was sold.
As one small contributor to conflict-resolution resources, I’m thrilled whenever another voice adds to the growing collection on the peacemaking bookshelf. I devoured this 117-page jewel three times in preparation for writing this review. With each journey through, my appreciation increased for its contribution to helping readers aim high for the blessedness of being called a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9).
Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, one thing is obvious: it always brings conflict with it. Stress, fear, exhaustion, anger, and sorrow are at an all-time high, sparking all sorts of relational fires in our marriages, households, churches, families, and friendships. Though we all want peace and harmony with others in this turbulent time, even Christians find themselves fighting, arguing, yelling, insulting, escaping, avoiding, or shutting down.
In this short, biblical, and practical book, pastor and author Tony Merida shows us that it doesn’t have to be this way—even in a pandemic! Merida not only paints a stunning picture of Christ our Peacemaker, he also shows us how to stop wishing for peace and go make it.
By design, Merida—founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina—has written “a little book.” He doesn’t attempt to match Ken Sande and Alfred Poirier (both of whom he relies on heavily—and rightly so) in length or how-to steps for resolving conflict to God’s glory. Merida’s laser-like aim drives his choice to stay succinct and to the point.
And everyone—pastors, church members, husbands, wives, children, even unbelievers—can profit from his emphasis.
Christ’s Supremacy in Peacemaking
In his treatment of Colossians 1, Merida surveys the preeminence of Christ, culminating in his role as the ultimate Peacemaker who made atonement for sin on the cross.
This is the genius and benefit behind the book—and why I commend it as a splendid addition to biblical peacemaking literature. What you’ll find on each page isn’t necessarily how-to, step-by-step instruction for conflict resolution (though Merida gives more practical advice than he takes credit for). Rather, you’ll find motivation and inspiration to employ peacemaking skills when conflict arises. I left this book more enamored than ever with the Prince of Peace’s beauty and more dependent than ever on the Holy Spirit’s help for conflict resolution.
I left this book more enamored than ever with the Prince of Peace’s beauty and more dependent than ever on the Holy Spirit’s help for conflict resolution.
Another benefit is the book’s timeliness. The subtitle, A Guide for Turbulent Times, couldn’t be more appropriate. Written at the outset of the coronavirus lockdown, it speaks practically to the formidable and polarizing challenges of COVID-19. With the virus’s resurgence, the book will be a welcome aid for surviving the pandemic with minimal relational wreckage.
Pastoring for more than 30 years now, I’ve seen the non-negotiable necessity of redemptive conflict resolution if a church wants the blessing of dwelling in unity (Ps. 133). Merida shares insights that affected me and encouraged me in my peacemaking efforts. For example, he grounds his theme in the gospel—not just the cross, but also the new creation to come. “Bring the future into the present,” he writes. “Show the world what kind of King we have and the kind of kingdom we belong to.” Stressing gospel truth past and future—cross and consummation—opened my eyes to how strategic peacemaking can aid our evangelistic mission in the places we live, work, and play. Effective peacemakers give the watching world a taste of the peace to come in the conflict-free new earth.
Being a Peacemaker
In his most practical chapter, “How to Be a Peacemaker,” I was tempted to take issue with his starting place: “Me First—Is There a Log in My Eye?” I don’t dispute the importance of that step, but I’ve always put his second “M” first: “Minor—Can I Overlook This Offense?” But I ended up agreeing with the switch. Even in an offense I choose to overlook, why wouldn’t I always want to begin with a healthy examination of my own heart for any sinful contribution I may have made?
Effective peacemakers give the watching world a taste of the peace to come in the conflict-free new earth.
By far the biggest effect for me was a renewed motivation to more consistently seek and savor Jesus in my spiritual disciplines. It’s too easy to rely on training and techniques in conflict resolution without the Holy Spirit’s help in empowering those efforts. Thankfully, Merida doesn’t let us get away with that.
One other helpful emphasis struck me afresh: never underestimate the presence of spiritual warfare in conflict. To venture into conflict resolution without the Spirit’s power leaves us vulnerable to the enemy—and with little hope of success.
We Need More of This
Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution may have profited from more sources but, again, Merida meant to keep things brief. My most constructive comment is actually no criticism at all—it felt too short.
With racial unrest, economic uncertainty, political polarization, and social-media rage, we need more helps for Christ-centered conflict resolution than ever before.