Caring Enough to Confront

by David Augsburger

Publisher: Regal Books, 1986. Ventura, CA

Biographical Sketch

Since 1990 David Ausburger has been professor of pastoral care and counseling at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Before coming to Fuller, Augsburger taught at seminaries in Chicago, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. For over a decade he served as radio spokesperson for the Mennonite Churches. His productions won ten awards for creative religious broadcasting. He has written feature articles that have appeared in over a hundred different periodicals.
He holds a BA from Eastern Mennonite College, a BD from Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and a PhD from The School of Theology at Claremont. An ordained minister of the Mennonite Church and a diplomat of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Augsburger is active in teaching counseling and leading workshops internationally, and in doing supervision and therapy. His areas of expertise are in pastoral counseling, conflict management in the church, cross-cultural counseling and theology, cross-cultural conflict mediation, forgiveness and reconciliation, hatred, prejudice, and violence.

Summary and Significant Contributions

Caring Enough to Confront was helpful in understanding some of the psychological factors at play within the dynamic of human conflict. Augsburger made the case for learning to communicate clearly, fighting fairly, forgiving freely, and loving without reservation.
The book was divided into ten chapters which did not necessarily connect. In the first chapter called, Care-fronting, the author took the word “confronting” which usually has a negative connotation associated with it, and replaced negativity with a positive aspect. Caring is certainly a good trait to have, so care-fronting is really the heart of the book, which means caring for someone enough to confront them in times of conflict. Only if we truly care about our relationship will we maintain it through care-fronting. Letting conflict build under the surface is not the way to maintain a healthy relationship. Augsburger argued that we must confront our issues and learn to effectively deal with them.
The second chapter was all about truthing-it. The focus here was simplified speech patterns. For this student, the section on “questions” (p. 30-31) was the heart of this chapter. The author pointed out six types of questions that are posed not for the sake of gaining informative answers, but rather to make a statement by the questioner. They are, the leading question, the punishing question, the demanding question, the dreaming question, the needling question, the setting-up question and this student has heard them all. It was amazing at how accurately the author described the real meaning behind each of these types of questions in the examples given. The real focus is not the question itself, but understanding the motivation behind the questioner.
The third chapter dealt with learning to control anger so that anger does not control the person. The author used Jesus as an illustration that anger itself is not a sin but the sin comes in our reaction and subsequent loss of temperance. Each person must learn to take full responsibility of his or her actions when angry (p.46).
The chapter on inviting change began by making the point that we must first truly care about someone before we can learn to carefully and tactfully confront (p.52). The author also stated that an atmosphere of support must be the context of any critical remarks. Empathy must precede evaluations. In this type of supportive climate any constructive criticism is much more likely to be received and change is more likely to take place. Augsburger said to confront caringly, gently, constructively, acceptantly, and clearly (p.59-60).
Next the author dealt with the two way venture of faith called, giving trust. The basic summary of this chapter is that trust is a relationship of risk and reliability, of honesty with loyalty, of goodness with genuineness, and is the basic component of any good relationship.
The chapter on ending blame was particularly helpful as it put forth the ground rules for fighting fairly (summed up on p.83). The subsequent chapter dealt with learning to stop blaming one’s own self. As important as it is to stop holding others guilty of past mistakes, individuals must also learn to do the same for themselves. Too many people, according to the author, live like they are constantly on trial. These people must learn to put down the gavel and stop being so motivated by either praise or criticism.
Perhaps the heart of the chapter on experiencing change was the sentence on page 103 where the author wrote, “The capacity to repent determines our capability to love and forgive and our ability to receive love and accept forgiveness.” Vulnerability and penitence are important in both our spiritual and relational growth.
As one might expect, the chapter on prejudice was filled with warning to avoid that ungodly vice. While each individual by nature possesses some degree of prejudice, Christians must learn to see people as Christ sees them.
Finally, the chapter on being a peacemaker, while controversial, made some significant points. The basic summary is, Blessed are the peace-makers. Every Christian should live to make peace-when possible.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strength of this book is in its practicality. The author mixed a little theory with lots of real-world practice. For instance, on page 88 the author stated, “Both giving and receiving of confrontation must occur in the context of good will.” This student might not have understood that theory were it not sandwiched between two illustrations.
The weakness of the book is in its outdated language and questionable doctrine (to be discussed in the “Disagreements” section). The book was first printed in 1973 which accounts for all the hippie references, but this should have been edited out in the 1981 revision. Statements like, “Man, you just can’t rap with them anymore” (p.63); or, “We caught this hippie slut sleeping in a haystack with two long-haired apes” (p.100) are just two examples. Who talks like that?
The section on prejudice was also showing its datedness. Stressing that black men are no threat to white women or encouraging Christians not to belong to whites-only clubs or organizations was almost laughable in today’s culture. Certainly what the author said about the races is true, but the subject matter and illustrations were so outdated that it seemed a bit odd. It reminded this former-pastor of the time an old evangelist stood in his pulpit and railed against the Beatles’ music and lifestyle. It would have been relevant in 1967 but it happened in 2004.

Points of Agreement or Disagreement

The points of agreement have been sufficiently made. The points of disagreement begin on page 101. Here the author seemed to state that by accepting the love of “some significant other persons” (plural) change begins and conversion is the result. Even though he does mention God, he was not clear as to whom these “persons” are that he references. Does he mean that by accepting the love of Ghandi, Mohammed, or the Pope that a person can be converted?
The other point of disagreement was on the chapter of peacemaking. The Vietnam War was raging when the book was written and the author’s distaste for that conflict was evident. He tried to use scripture, church history, and reasoning to encourage Christians to become non-combatants. He went so far as to say, “Jesus Christ never sanctioned war” (p.134). What about Pearl Harbor? What about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Would Jesus have us hand over our country to our enemies? The author sounded more like a Jehovah’s Witness on this subject and not like a Christian.

Potential Application

This book would be helpful in marriages and other personal relationships. While Antagonists in the Church, is a good tool for improving corporate relationships, Augsburger’s book is a good tool for improving personal relationships.
Any book that helps the reader to understand his own motives and learn to be forgiving toward others is probably a good read. Augsburger’s work, while not perfect, can be the catalyst for improving ourselves and our relationships. It would be helpful for husbands and wives to read this book together and discuss its relevance. Perhaps that would be its best application. 

Marcus Merritt
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