In 'A Church Called Tov,' Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer argue that churches can be places of love and healing.
Sharp divides have split congregants at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention. The #MeToo movement has shed light on years of sexual predation across churches. Christianity Today’s podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” has been widely shared and debated on social media.
All of this makes it clear that churches are not always places of healthy, safe fellowship.
In “A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing,” Scot McKnight, New Testament professor at Northern Baptist Seminary, and his daughter Laura Barringer, an author and teacher, argue that churches can be places of love and healing. They call this the Circle of Tov, from the Hebrew word for “good.” By fostering a culture of goodness, churches can “resist abuses of power,” they write, and “eradicate the toxic fallout that infects so many Christian organizations.”
Does the book deliver on the promise to demonstrate a better way? My answer is a resounding yes. It is an easy-to-read, clear guide for churches.
The book is organized into two parts. The first focuses on the formation of church cultures. The authors write that “culture socializes us into what is considered proper behavior,” and “the (church) leaders guide the organization toward a particular culture.” The authors contend that congregations participate in the creation of culture as well by how they respond to the messages and actions of the leaders.
McKnight and Barringer do not shy away from specific church scandals involving their own community, such as Willow Creek’s botched handling of accusations against its leader, Bill Hybels, for predatory behavior. This section provides helpful tips, allowing both leaders and church members to identify warning signs that their church may be supporting a toxic culture.
Part 2 is focused on developing the Circle of Tov within a church. The authors lay out specific ways to foster a culture of empathy, grace, people-first, truth, justice, service and Christlikeness. Each chapter offers clues to help identify whether your church’s culture is promoting the virtue addressed. If such virtue is lacking, they provide guidance on how to fix it.
When both church leaders and congregants understand a church culture of goodness, it makes it easier to effectively grow toward a culture that resists abuse of power and promotes healing.
“A Church Called Tov” is, as its authors wished it to be, a book of hope. It can be used as a roadmap equipping churches to guard against attitudes and behaviors that lead to a culture of harm. It can, likewise, help cultivate virtues leading to a culture of goodness.
A commitment to a culture of Tov has never been more important in American churches, and McKnight and Barringer’s book can serve as an important tool for all of us.
Jennifer Shewmaker is dean of the College of Education and Human Services and professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University in Texas. Her latest book is “Creating and Consuming Media Messages With Purpose: A Guide for Educators.” For more information, see jennifershewmaker.com.