The best ideas always seem obvious in hindsight. That’s the case with Daniel Darling’s forthcoming book, Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loved (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023). This is a book of old ideas seemingly forgotten in our time. Darling writes to remind Christians that we are meant to be agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), demonstrating the truth of Christ’s claims to a watching world (John 13:35).
What makes Darling’s writing compelling is his experience. He writes as one who has experienced hurt and betrayal, but he is not bitter. He remains committed to showing others the love he has received in Christ.
The book is divided into two parts. The first expounds biblical virtues which should mark Christians at all times, but especially in disagreement. The second examines what Darling calls “Worthy Fights.” The structure is important. Darling is not telling Christians never to disagree. He argues that we should disagree about important things, and when we disagree, do so the right way.
The virtues Darling commends are love, peace, forgiveness, joy, and humility. This list would have been totally uncontroversial for Christians at most points in the last 2,000 years, but it seems radical today. The way we treat each other, whether online or in person, has degraded in recent years, and it seems as if Christians have forgotten the virtues we are called to exhibit. Darling calls Christians back to the Bible for our standard for living.
Darling does not argue that Christians must be unified no matter what. There are times when Christians must part ways. Darling notes:
We seem to be forming “tribes” not necessarily based on genuine theological commitments, but on narrowing tribal matters. For instance, though we may share a similar set of theological beliefs as a brother or sister, we may even be part of the same denomination or local church, we don’t see each other as allies because of cultural or political differences. (44)
For Darling, this is a problem. He argues that Christians are dividing over things like political or cultural preferences rather than the things that ought to cause us to divide. He believes Christians are approaching low-level disagreements with the vigor we should reserve for only the most serious disagreements and with a rancor we ought to avoid at all times.
Darling notes a few conflicts which Christians must not avoid. These are few but important, such as the integrity of Gospel witness or the unity of God’s people. I applaud him for including ethnic unity in his “worthy fights” section. There are too many voices in evangelicalism who seem to want to fight for everything but ethnic unity. Darling is right to show that God’s plan for a redeemed humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation is perfect, and we may not neglect this aspect of God’s redemptive work.
Taken as a whole, Darling’s argument is that Christians should not waste time arguing and fighting about the wrong things. We should extend charity where we can, but we must not neglect the boundaries firmly established by God. Even when we do disagree, we ought to do so in a way that demonstrates Christian virtue.
This is a simple argument, but it is refreshing because of how rare this type of approach seems to be. I hope this book is widely read and that there are many more agents of grace as a result.
To pre-order Dan’s book, click here.
- Pray that Christians would increasingly demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, even in disagreement.
- Pray that God would give us discernment to determine what we need to disagree about, and what we can overlook.
- Pray that this would lead to unity that the watching world would find compelling.