Confronted with the stubborn fact of church disunity, every new generation of Christians asks the same question: “Why can’t we all just get along?” And every old generation has the same set of answers at the ready. “We already tried to get along before you got here,” say some. “All the things that divide us are nonnegotiable,” say others.

In any generation, the friction among Christian “tribes” is palpable. Collin Hansen, the editorial director for the Gospel Coalition, approaches this subject not as an impartial observer but as a committed member of a particular tribe: the “young, restless, Reformed” believers whose emergence he profiled in a classic 2006 CT cover story and a 2008 book by the same name. Yet his latest work, Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Crossway), suggests a strategy for “church unity and an effective gospel witness in the world.”

This is a matter of no small urgency, Hansen argues, because a divided witness won’t suffice to gain a hearing for the gospel in the current cultural climate. In the foreword, NYC pastor Tim Keller describes the book as “an extended essay on how Christians in Western societies today . . . need to respond to a culture quickly growing post-Christian.”

To this end, Hansen proposes that Christians learn from believers who make them uncomfortable, because the ones who annoy us are likely the ones we need most. Instead of trying to be well-rounded, we should settle for being well-surrounded. If we can’t embody all the strengths of every Christian tribe, we can at least associate with brothers and sisters who have what we lack (and lack what we have).

Two-Thirds Blind

There are three types of Christians in Hansen’s telling. There are the courageous, who love to take a stand against clear opposition and relish a clarifying doctrinal dispute; the compassionate, who sympathize, listen with all their hearts, and seek to heal whatever pain they find; and the commissioned, who keep their focus on evangelism and outreach to unbelievers, devising new forms of communicating the gospel as the need arises. Each type habitually partners with like-minded believers. As Hansen writes, “We tend to cluster around Christians with similar personalities, who reinforce our strengths but turn a blind eye to our weaknesses.”

And we all have weaknesses. Within each of the three groups, Hansen says, we are “conditioned by our various cultures and experiences to hear certain aspects of the gospel more clearly than others.” Or, to use the metaphor of the book’s title, we can end up “at least two-thirds blind” if we look only with our own eyes.

Article continues below

Even as Hansen celebrates each of the three types, he remains keenly aware of their blind spots. The courageous, for example, are often so certain of their convictions that they have trouble heeding legitimate criticism, and suspect other Christians of being theologically naive. The compassionate are so motivated to comfort their wounded neighbors that they neglect to speak uncomfortable truths at all, and blame other Christians for doing most of the wounding. And the commissioned are so eager to reach their culture that they uncritically adopt everything the culture has to offer, having no patience for theology or mercy ministry that lacks an immediate evangelistic payout.

Hansen’s key point is that “each group goes bad to the degree it distances itself from the others.” His solution is to have each group confess its need for the others.

This is a brief book (120 pages) geared for immediate impact, written in a tone that alternates between chatty and prophetic. Hansen doesn’t pretend to hover above the fray. He freely admits belonging to the type labeled “courageous,” and that he struggles to see his own blind spots. “With my highly attuned gift for discerning other’s motives,” he observes, “it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else.” By candidly admitting his bias, Hansen both models what he preaches and tells a more gripping story.

When Hansen realized he could not see past his own presuppositions on crucial questions, he began experimenting with taking the perspective of fellow Christians motivated by mercy or mission. Hansen knows by experience how deep the ruts of routine run: “You bemoan the church’s ineffective public witness in a changing culture, yet you offer the same self-congratulatory solution to every new challenge.” Here is a way out.

Reading Blind Spots, I was reminded of John Wesley’s response to concerns that a growing narrowness and isolation were jeopardizing his revival movement. He watched his Methodist conferences turn in on themselves, splitting apart as they grew self-confident. “I thought it might be a help against this,” he said, “frequently to read, to all who were willing to hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God is carrying on in the earth, both in our own and other countries not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations.” And so he did, giving monthly reports of God’s movements out beyond Methodist land. Today’s evangelicals, no matter where they reside on Hansen’s map of motivations, ought to strongly consider doing something similar.

Article continues below

The Best Defense

Strengths are almost always the bright side of weaknesses, and that holds true for Blind Spots. The book’s great strength is in finding a new way to slice the pie. Hansen avoids rehearsing intractable denominational or confessional divisions. He makes no mention of the liberal-versus-conservative narrative that drives our evangelical heritage. By ignoring these categories in favor of his own, Hansen opens up new possibilities. But these fault lines haven’t gone away. It’s left to the reader to figure out how Hansen’s advice would play out across them. And it’s hard to believe his categories (which represent “the heart, the head, or the hands of Jesus”) have as much purchase on actual church life as the older categories, tired as they may be.

But this book of cultural analysis moves almost subliminally towards a concluding Bible study that is its best moment. Hansen paraphrases 1 Corinthians and applies it to the modern church. “God has a plan to unify us in our diversity,” and our blind spots mean we need to make friends unlike us. Then comes an extended meditation on John 15, and a call to abide in Jesus himself rather than adjusting our mutual perceptions and fiddling with our fellowship ratios. “Abiding in Christ,” Hansen recognizes, “is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings.”

Blind Spots dares evangelicals to forge powerful new experiences of unity in diversity. Jesus prayed that his church “may be one,” as the Son and the Father are one, so that a watching world might know God’s loving purposes (John 17:20–23). When we allow Hansen’s trio of “disharmony, discouragement, and disillusion” the final say, the world sees us—and we see each other—through a profoundly distorted lens.

Fred Sanders teaches theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He is the author of The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Blind Spots
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Blind Spots
Author
Publisher
Crossway
Release Date
April 30, 2015
Pages
128
Price
13.07
Buy Blind Spots from Amazon