I picked up Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp (ISBN: 9780977080762) as I prepared for a church Growth Group study session. Lane and Tripp are well respected in evangelical circles and I had read their How People Change book a few years ago.
However, over the years, I haven’t spent much time reading “Christian Living” books. The main reason being that I have a lot of books I’d like to read and not enough time. So I’ve mostly resolved to skip popular theology books because these generally lack depth.
Unfortunately, Relationships was one of these books. The authors say the “right” things in a readable, kind and humble tone, but I was looking for more. I hope the problem isn’t the book, but me - that I’ve hardened myself against what I consider softer or lighter works. I will still aim to be fair in my review.
Overall, I couldn’t see a clear progression in the book. The first four chapters sets the scene - arguing that although relationships are tough because of sin, but they are worth it because God is a communal God - he cares about relationships; and human beings are communal - to live without community is to not be fully human.
The rest of the book explores various aspects of relationships. For example, how relationships are built on identity and worship - both of which must be centred on God. They write about the importance of listening and the constructive and destructive powers of speech, about what it means to forgive, to accept others as formed in God’s image (rather than one’s own), to be hopeful that despite the chaos of relationships in the already-not yet, we have God with us.
The book is filled with anecdotes, and most chapters are anchored by one key biblical text with supporting references from others. The authors share personal struggles and practical tips about what we can do when faced with relational problems.
The book makes a strong case for why and how relationships break down and offer a better vision if we understand the true purpose and nature of relationships, and that one must first be right with God.
Closing thoughts and who should read it
The authors say a lot of true things but I personally found the book lacking in depth. Most chapters start with a problem with relationships, and ends with how they can be solved if both parties are willing to seek Christ and be transformed. My main issue is that this is too simplistic a model. If only it were that easy.
I feel that what they say will work if people in a relationship read this book and talk about it - it takes two to clap. I do struggle in my relationships, with my fiance, with church members, with general friends, with colleagues at work.
I was convicted by many things the authors wrote, but there’s an internal conflict within me. On the one hand, I want to be extremely vulnerable and dive into forming and working hard at relationships. On the other hand, I am tired and I know that I don’t easily make or mantain friends.
I’d still recommend this book to those who are struggling with relationships. Are there better resources out there? Possibly, but this is a good starting point.
My rating: 3.5/5
Chapter 1: The shortest and the most important chapter of this book
- This is an introduction sharing their own struggle, and that they are learning as much as they are teaching.
**Chapter 2: Why bother? **
- The authors chart eight facts about relationships, showing that despite challenges and hurt, we can be positive and hopeful because God cares about relationships.
Chapter 3: No options
- The authors argue that humans are communal because God lives in community, within the Trinity and with his people. To live without community is to not be fully human.
Chapter 4: Sin
- The authors point out that sin is the root of relational problems, but there is grace from God to persevere through problems.
Chapter 5: Agendas
- Exploring Ephesians 4, the authors argue that everyone must decide if they want to follow God’s agenda for relationship - mutual upbringing which leads to maturity in Christ - or personal agendas. The former requires hard work and is extremely difficult but ultimately worth it.
Chapter 6: Worship
- Relationships are built on two foundations: identity and worship. Both should find their centres on God.
Chapter 7: Talk
- Words are crucial to relationships and can be used for good or bad.
Chapter 8: Obstacles
- Focused on James 4, conflicts in relationship often arise from selfish reasons, but each obstacle is an opportunity for growth.
Chapter 9: Forgiveness
- Matthew 18: 21-35 offers a model for horizontal forgiveness. It is rooted in God’s forgiveness of our sins.
Chapter 10: Hope
- Relationships are difficult because we live in the “already, not yet.” What we need is true encouragement - having our spiritual eyes opened to see that we are not alone, we have God.
Chapter 11: Burdens
- Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet in John 13:1-17 is a picture of bearing the burdens of others his followers are called to emulate.
**Chapter 12: Mercy **
- Relationships involve showing mercy, which has three characteristics: compassion, forgiveness, forebearance.
Chapter 13: Time and money
- 2 Corinthians 8 is a model for what true generosity looks like, which is ultimately predicated on our receiving much from God.
Chapter 14: Provision
- When facing problems, explanation is good, but imagination is more important, because that helps us to see God’s provision for us, that we’re not alone.
Chapter 15: Moving out
- The kingdom of God is seen in the lives of God’s unnamed people who will reach out and be an impact in the lives of people around them.