Book Review – Divided We Fall by Luder G. Whitlock Jr.
One of the most common criticisms against Christianity that I encounter from both Christians and non-Christians alike is that we are a divided church with a history full of divisions. This is a valid criticism and one which Christians everywhere should take to heart. Christ himself told us that his desire is that we would be unified. Why? Christ gives us two reasons in John 17.20-23: 1) that the world would believe that Christ was sent by the Father, and 2) that the world would know that the Father loves us in the same manner in which the Father loves Christ.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
That sad reality is that the church is not unified. There have been many attempts to unify the church and all of these attempts have their own understanding of what it means for the Church to be one. Who should we unite to? Are we to be one in doctrine? Practice? Liturgy? Should we all submit to one central head of the Church? Whatever the answer, one thing is clear and that is that the Church is fragmented and our lack of unity contributes in some way to unbelief.
Divided We Fall by Luder G. Whitlock Jr. is a book which was written to address the issue of unity and disunity within the Church. Whitlock starts off by establishing the biblical call for unity. After this, he takes the reader on a fascinating tour of church history and the many attempts to unify the Church. This was by far the best succinct abridgment on the topic that I have ever read and gives the reader just enough information to understand the key historical moments. The ample footnotes provide a good launching pad for further study if desired. Next Whitlock begins to develop the doctrine of the communion of the saints (colloquially known as “body life”). This includes a historical treatment of the communion of the saints as well as a bit of flushing out the concept in a user-friendly manner. From here, Whitlock looks at the ecumenical movement, schisms, and sectarianism before addressing some challenges and concerns with attempts at unifying the Body of Christ. Finally Whitlock concludes the book with some well reasoned and constructive steps that believers can take to begin the process of unifying the church.
One of the things that I really appreciated while reading Divided We Fall is that Whitlock leaves plenty of room for diversity within the Body of Christ. That is to say that he doesn’t insist that unity means that we all hold to the same interpretation of scripture as long as we are committed to some key orthodox doctrines. This leaves room for say, a Presbyterian and a Baptist to maintain their doctrinal distinctives while still striving for unity. Whitlock understands that unity and mutual affection between believers does not mean that they have to agree on every doctrine. Instead, unity it is characterized by love, kindness, and a willingness to associate and dialogue with those who believe differently.
Divided We Fall is a wonderful book on Church unity that seeks to honor God and his desire for unity. At the same time, Whitlock avoids the common mistakes of most ecumenical attempts which sacrifice orthodoxy for the sake of getting along. Divided We Fall also avoids the extreme approach to unity which insists that the church must be unified under one human head and share a common liturgy. This book outlines an excellent example of the type of unity which Christ prayed for and the church will be all the better for heeding Whitlock’s wisdom.
Where to Purchase
About the Author
Luder G. Whitlock Jr. served as president of Reformed Theological Seminary from 1978–2001, where he had previously been a professor. Today he is executive director of the CNL Charitable Foundation and the JMS Foundation; president of Excelsis; and minister at large for the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. He and his wife, Mary Lou, have three children and eleven grandchildren.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from P&R Publishing in exchange for an online review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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