Reading the Bible, Transforming Conflict is a highly instructive, thoroughly engaging, deeply relevant volume. It achieves its three goals in spades. First, to understand through well chosen case examples the relevance of scripture to life’s communication-rooted conflict issues; second through communication science to lay bare the emotions, facts, and personal power play dimensions in interpersonal issues present in them; and third to show where God’s grace works in each. Issues of conflict, keeping face, forgiveness, respect for self and other, negotiation, romance, and social health are highlighted in separate chapters. Dempsey’s placement of the scripture stories in their cultural context brings them grippingly alive. Then Shapiro’s subsequent analysis of each through lenses developed in the social sciences gives one an understanding of conflict’s roots and how to resolve when possible its unhealthy aspects.
The book is well written. The late social psychologist, Robert F. Bales, notes that conflict issues are better approached by first exploring them outside one’s milieux before coming to grips with them. Dempsey and Shapiro do this well before they bring them home with examples that personally apply to each of us. This book is also lectio divina at its best. It doing so, it achieves a welcome goal: the creation of an appetite in the reader to study and pray scripture so that its lessons may bring peace to one’s life, and the life of others.
Each discussion is amply furnished with references to scripture scholarship and social science understandings of conflict. These are placed unobtrusively in the notes to each chapter at the end of the book and provide good material for further study in any area that has caught one's interest. The honesty both in text and notes in admitting alternative views, when such exist, is exemplary. The authors’ questions within each chapter about conflict as seen in scripture as well as their echoes in one's own life are truly thought provoking. They form excellent guides to ways for avoiding or diminishing unhealthy conflict in one's life. Missing from this book, however, is a system view of social interaction. Its inclusion in a future edition or second volume on this topic would be desirable. All in all, a remarkable book well suited to personal enrichment, spiritual growth, and pedagogical use. It meets the goal of Orbis Books “to publish works that enlighten the mind, nourish the spirit, and challenge the conscience,” and “by exploring the global dimensions of the Christian faith and mission, to invite dialogue with diverse cultures, and religious traditions, and to serve the cause of reconciliation and peace.”