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Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart
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Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,179 ratings  ·  177 reviews
Despite Jesus' prayer that all Christians "be one," divisions have been epidemic in the body of Christ from the beginning to the present. We cluster in theological groups, gender groups, age groups, ethnic groups, educational and economic groups. We criticize freely those who disagree with us, don't look like us, don't act like us and don't even like what we like. Though w ...more
Paperback, 220 pages
Published November 3rd 2013 by IVP Books (first published October 4th 2013)
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Leigh Kramer
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This should be required reading. The trick is to focus on the ways YOU contribute to disunity in the church, instead of coming up with a list of other people who really should read it. We're all guilty of othering but we don't have to stay there. Cleveland offers personal stories, research, and well-reasoned theology to back up her points. She lovingly urges us to remove our blinders and become part of the solution to the division and vitriol that seems to be growing worse each year.

Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was all set to hear about why "those" people or institutions don't get it, and what's wrong with them. After all, I've been reading about this stuff since college, so I didn't figure that would be anything new here. I was wrong. I was disarmed from page one, realizing that I am as guilty of "us/them" thinking as anyone, and this message is for me. With a combination of personal story-telling and academic research, Dr. Cleveland communicates in a spirit of humility and grace, while be unapologe ...more
Robert D. Cornwall
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Writing from the perspective of the social psychologist, who also happens to be a woman and person of color, Christena Cleveland, addresses the problem of disunity within the body of Christ. While most ecumenical conversations focus on doctrine and polity, seeking to find pathways to unity amongst our diversity of church practices and theologies, Cleveland focuses on cultural and ethnic diversity and the dangers of homogeneity.

It is a very good book, raising important questions and suggesting wa
Rachel A.  Dawson
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book. 🙌🏼 This was one I read and studied with a church small group last fall, which I think is the way it should be read. The discussions we had (as Black, white, Hispanic, male/female, varied age believers) were challenging and rich and catalytic. I’m so grateful for the way we were able to use this wise and thoughtful book as a launching point into really honest, sometimes hard, incredibly helpful and hopeful conversations.

I could quote you dozens and dozens of lines and passages, but in
Relevant and needed. If 10% of church leaders read this book, the church would look and act differently. This book is interesting, practical, challenging and funny. At first I wished the book was more theological, but then I realised that perhaps many of our "theological" differences that prevent unity with other Christians and churches are really shallow cover ups for the social psychological reasons that lie beneath. Very insightful cross-cultural helps that will aid reconciliation efforts for ...more
Lynne Stringer
Sep 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: christian, sociology
I found this book a mixed bag. On one hand, it presents many fascinating and thought-provoking arguments on our propensity, as humans, to band together with people who are like us and exclude those who aren't like us, prejudiced against everything about them often simply because of their skin colour, beliefs, cultural background, or the simple fact that they disagree with us.
While this was presented with a great deal of evidence and in a convincing manner, I found that the case was almost overst
Dan Bouchelle
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may be the single most accessible book dealing with racial issues affecting the church that I have ever read. It is based in solid research by an expert author who knows her field but knows how to communicate with those who don’t. It is written in such an humble, approachable style that anyone can appreciate it. This would make a great book for leadership groups, reconciliation groups, or general classes for churches and organizations who want to grow in cross-cultural skills and practice. ...more
Melisa Blankenship
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Cleveland weaves her areas of expertise of sociology and theology to look at the underlying issues of disunity and self segregation. She explains the natural tendency to create in-groups and out-groups and then appeals to the reader the reasons we have to fight against these tendencies. She gives practical ways to counter this tendency backed up by sociological research. She closes with the appeal to whomever is in the seat of power and privilege to expect to have to give something up (time, exp ...more
Heather Bottoms
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Some good information here, and it was a good jumping off point for discussion in our small group. But the author appears to be a better researcher than writer. Very repetitive, and a bit dry at times, but worth reading.
Protim Adhikari
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those looking to build sociological literacy but have no idea where to search or are too intimidated by dense articles, go here; Cleveland curates well.

This is an audience-centered read, especially if the audience is new to formal learning on the sociological dynamics of contemporary Christian communities. For that audience, this is a thoroughly accessible and readable intro. It is accessible because it establishes a sociological foundation via basic vocabulary, categories, and studies. It
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm giving this 4.5 stars because it quite was a fantastic read. I want to meet Christena and be friends with her! Her book sheds light on the social, and sometimes clinical, reasons we separate ourselves from others that don't think like us. Because I'm all about psychology I truly appreciated the perspective she gave and her approach to this issue. I wish there'd been a bit more relating to faith and the church, but at the same time I think she addressed it so well that it worked in her favor. ...more
Amy Hughes
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology, non-fiction
Disarming, insightful, and immensely helpful. Cleveland pastors us through stages of potentially difficult self- and communal reflection about our overriding impulses to divide the body of Christ into "us" and "them." With compassion and directness she exposes our ecclesiology for what it is - not for what we want to believe it is. Her work as a social psychologist melds perfectly with the ecclesiological frame and sheds light on the ramifications of the way we treat one another. A great example ...more
Laura W
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Helpful Read

I found this to be a helpful, thought-provoking, convicting, and hopeful book. It took me a while to get used to the frequent references to different studies and experiments, but it grew on me and I appreciated the intersection she brings between social psychology and theology. It seems like even since she wrote this book, people are treating each other worse than ever. But I feel convicted to guard my language (both in “real life” and online) especially in regard to other believer
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an important book that approaches the divides in the church from a psychological standpoint, showing just how prejudice and bias infect our congregations through seemingly benign actions. Dr. Cleveland's insights are a useful and unique addition to the conversation about diversity in the church. She has convicting words for people from both ends of the political and theological spectrum, and I appreciated the thoroughness and thoughtfulness with which she laid out the evidence. ...more
Mitchell Dixon
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book gave me new categories for explaining ingroups and outgroups. I have often felt distant from "other" Christians and didn't recognize my own biases and tendencies to have a us/then distinction. Cleveland paints a hard but rewarding picture of what until will take and actually looks like. I hope I can begin to step outside my comfort zone and take her words to heart. ...more
Andy Flintoff
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
It was good. Helpful. Honest. Laugh out loud Funny at points. I learned a lot and it put my mind at ease that I don't have to find people exactly like me to be happy. ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really appreciate the author and her non-condescending discussion of this topic. She answered some lifelong questions I had, such as “Should we be colorblind in terms of race?”

Drew Fajen
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Disunity in Christ is a must-read book for any Christian leader in today’s USA. Christena Cleveland shows, chapter after chapter, the ways we divide ourselves from each other and then presents solutions to these divisions. She has research, clinical studies, and great sources in each chapter. Once read, this book can also serve as a wonderful bibliography for further research. She quotes some of my favorite authors, Soong-Chan Rah, Scot McKnight, and Miroslav Volf all in the same chapter, so tha ...more
Tanner Hawk
Jun 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I feel like this is a must-read for anyone who wants to engage in reconciliation work. Love the way Cleveland combines sociology, theology, and personal stories to lay out clear, simple but challenging steps to work toward unity. I also just found the studies she discussed fascinating.

"Jesus talked sheep to shepherds, fish to fishermen, and bookish theology to bookish theologians. He was all things to all people. I think that our differences enable us to speak richly and directly to the hearts o
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
In times of broad church conflict, returning to Jesus' command to love one another seems right. I've been dwelling on what holds us together. That and Paul's frequent, overflowing descriptions of the unity of the body.

A friend recommended Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ to help me think through what drives us to break that unity. I'm glad I read it, and I walk away with my understanding of group identity dynamics confirmed and even strengthened.

Cleveland opens DIC with a cleverly writte
Bob Wolniak
Mar 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: christian
This isn't nearly as negative as the title implies. In fact it is quite a positive and wonderful little book which will make you laugh out loud at times and cringe at others when you see yourself having made some of the typical mistakes we employ to exclude and put down others. The author is very easy to read and hard to put down. She applies some of the latest sociological research to explaining the factors that separate us and provides hopeful steps forward in changing that dynamic. A must rea ...more
Ryan Robinson
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most important book I've read this year. Especially as a Christian blogger, this was an absolutely vital reminder loaded with brilliant insight from the world of social psychology. Christians have divided excessively and often look down on each other as inferior and maybe not really Christians at all. Cleveland goes through a variety of psychological factors which contribute to this divisiveness. Most importantly, she offers concrete advice - backed by research - on how to best over ...more
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this for the Red Couch Book Club, although too slowly/late to participate in discussions (as usual). If you're at all interested in creating real unity within and across the Church, this is a must-read. There is a LOT of academic social psychology in this book, but it's tempered by Christena's great wit and earthiness. I applaud her for addressing important truths that many Christians are too uncomfortable to talk about, and providing practical solutions. ...more
Emily McFarlan Miller
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
If we understand the hidden forces that keep us apart, we can override them to come together, reflecting the body of Christ in its diversity. Completely fascinating.

Full disclosure: I received a galley copy of this book free in preparation for an article I am writing from the publisher, IVP Books.
Cara Meredith
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was blown away by Cleveland's voice and content, the former of which is snarky and hilarious and brilliant, and the latter a must-read for anyone in the church. I love how her psychology-minded brain weaves together a story, examples and a call to action. Loved it. ...more
Gena Thomas
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-read
So very powerful. Every dominant culture church & nonprofit leader should read this. It doesnt just talk about diversity, it gives tools for understanding why true diversity is so counterintuitive & with those practical tools, hope for change feels possible. I'm soooooooo glad I read this! ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
In this book, Cleveland takes a broad range of research and theory in social psychology and applies it to the Christian church. She shows why our identity feels so closely tied to our specific denomination, why we shy away from the notion of being a universal church with those who seem different from us (theologically or culturally), and why attempts at crosscultural collaboration (e.g., a predominantly white church and a predominantly black church joining forces) so often go badly. The tone may ...more
Clayton Keenon
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Big picture, this is a really good book. I loved the examples from sociological research. There was plenty to put into practice.

Two complaints. One minor. One major.

Minor: The book was a bit repetitive. It boiled down to a few big ideas and could’ve been shorter.

Major: She does not explain where we should draw the line between groups. Because sometimes we must.

Cleveland’s goal is obviously to promote unity between diverse groups within the body of Christ. Her main idea is to see others as pa
Abigail Advincula
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, if a tad repetitive. I find most books on cognitive science to be this way, like Thinking Fast and Slow . As mentioned in previous reviews, I like reading about the results of cognitive science studies but dislike reading the actual test set-ups.

I think the point that Christena is trying to make in this book is that creating divisions and differentiating between "us" and "them" feel very natural. Maybe too a sin nature. It is very often the path of least resistance. The aut
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book with the hope of learning why disunity is so contagious in the worldwide church. One of my favorite pastors from my church recently left/got fired (who’s to say?), which made me realize just how many people have come and gone from my church over the past 5 years that I’ve been attending. I’ve also been reading up on racism in order to help diversify my own friend group. This book answered about 75% of my questions, which is a pretty good percentage!

Since I was a psychology major
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Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist with a hopeful passion for reconciling across cultural divisions. She is the first Associate Professor of the Practice of Reconciliation at Duke University’s Divinity School where she is also the faculty director of Duke’s Center for Reconciliation. Christena earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barba ...more

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“People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross.” 8 likes
“The biases we hold against other groups have the ability to wreak havoc on our crosscultural interactions. Before we enter into such interactions, we must do the difficult work of addressing our biases and blind spots.” 5 likes
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