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Here’s the dilemma that led me to read this book – Studying the Bible means we form beliefs. These beliefs may differ from the beliefs of people who are not reading the same material. How do we, as Christians, wrestle with the Bible without being divisive or proud? There are several pitfalls here. When we disagree with someone we are implying that they are wrong. As you can imagine, many people take this personally. Also disagreeing with someone implies that you think you understand better than they do, which can seem proud. But, on the other hand it seems to be false modesty to say “your opinion is as good as mine” when it clearly isn’t. Because of these concerns, some people choose not to discuss the Bible or any meaningful topic. This only covers up the problem; opinions are always there whether we talk about them or not and eventually they are going to come to the surface.

With these thoughts I went to the Covenant Seminary library to find a book recommended to me by a friend. Quite by accident I came across “Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental” by Terry D. Cooper. The title was too good to pass up. This is a hard book to review because it is so concise, only 134 pages long. If I relay what it says I pretty much have to quote the whole thing.

The opening section deals with the wide spread nature of judgmentalism. Interestingly, he says, “When we think we have completely eliminated judgmentalism from our thinking, we probably need to take another look. In fact, when we think we have ‘arrived’ at a non-biased, completely neutral and totally fair-minded perspective, we’re probably very deluded.” If this is true, and I suspect that it is, this means that the content of this book is highly relevant to everyone. One of my favorite lines in the book is a quote from David Augsburger, “Conflict is neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong. Conflict simply is. How we view, approach and work through our differences does – to a large extent – determine our whole life pattern.” The truth of this statement is why this book is so important. Conflict simply is. It’s how we deal with it that matters.

The middle part of the book is laid out around contrasting attitudes –
1. Healthy Judgment vs. Judgmentalism
2. Critical Thinking vs. Thinking Critically
3. Reflective and Open-Minded vs. Sound Bites and Cliches
4. Insecure Arrogance vs. Confident Humility
5. Responding with Judgments vs. Reacting with Judgmentalism
6. Guilty Judgments vs. Shameful Judgmentalism
7. Authoritative Judgments vs. Authoritarian Judgmentalism

Each of these attitudes is spelled out in detail, explaining what these attitudes look like, the underlying reasons for them, and how to improve the negative ones. One of the most helpful things about this book is that he gives summary tables for most of these points. For example, let me discuss the confident humility vs. arrogance section as this is a personal concern at the moment. Cooper provides a table with eleven features of what it means to be confidently humble and what it means to be insecurely arrogant. In the text that surrounds the tables, the author fills out the meaning of those features. Some of the items in the table are “Confident humility is based on a realistic assessment of itself.” “Insecure arrogance is based on imaginary qualities it claims to have.” “Confident humility is based on qualities of character.” “Insecure arrogance wants to parade accomplishments, attainments or relationships for their prestige value.” And so on.

The book concludes with a chapter on how to be a community of grace, receiving God’s acceptance, love, and forgiveness and then responding to others with kindness and empathy. I suppose the highest praise I could give for this book is that if I was in the leadership of a church I would require people seeking membership to take a class based on this book. Division and strife typically come from poorly handled disagreements. This book teaches how to handle differences with grace and excellence.