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Dean Merrill: Damage Control


Dean Merrill, Damage Control: How to Stop Making Jesus Look Bad (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2006), 174 pages, ISBN 9780801065651.

From the journalist and author of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church (1997) comes yet another volume which speaks to the too often “narrow-minded, exclusionary, and pushy” (back cover) presentation of the Christian Gospel. Believing that Christians do not live as individuals, but that they are “viewed as a collective body and representation of their leader Jesus Christ”, Merrill is very quick to affirm that what Christians do “reflects on the entire group, including its leader, Jesus Christ.” For Merrill, Christians and Christ are “inseparable in the public mind” (Merrill, 16).

Far from being a negative critique of current Christian testimony, Merrill also affirms the positive ways many Christians live out their faith in today’s world. He describes the responses of many Christians he recently interviewed for this book. When asked this question: “What makes you proud to be a Christian?” his respondents were quick to share their delight with the “ongoing programs of help for the needy, the sick, and the disadvantaged”. They admired” the bravery and endurance [of many] in the face of persecution, especially among Christians in the developing world”. His interviewees believed that “there is less denominational partisanship these days than in times past”, and that the Christian effort was effectively reducing “racism in American life”. Respondents also extolled the seeker sensitivity of many churches (Merrill 17). In the main, these Christians were generally satisfied with what they perceived as the Christian impact on the world.

What Christians do reflects on the entire group, including its leader, Jesus Christ.

However, there is also a darker side to this issue of light. Merrill does not ignore how that modern Christian witness is wrought with challenges. He talks about “God’s Shaky Plan” (Part One), and how God has entrusted a lofty divine message to simple human ambassadors. He reminds his Christian reader that though the “cross may indeed be offensive, its messengers should not be” (39). In Part Two he speaks of the “unintended hindrances”. These hindrances include, for instance, the sometimes confusing rhetoric used by Christians (chapter 6); their territorialism (chapter 7); or their inconsistent behaviors (chapter 8). For Merrill, these are the things that make Jesus look bad.

In light of all this, he concludes with encouragements for his Christian reader to “bridge build”, to be a “representative of a higher kingdom based on love [leading] to the Way, in the pursuit of shalom” (117). Christians, says Merrill, should be persons of “one-way kindness” (chapter 11), “engaging real difficulties in a real world [giving] substance to the faith [they] possess” (131). He, therefore, calls for a Christian to present a clear and attractive message (chapter 11, 12).

Ultimately, Christian readers could do well by including this book in their devotional reading; and Damage Control could also serve as a discussion guide for groups seeking to be even more authentic in their witness for Christ.

Reviewed by Carolyn D. Baker


Further Reading:

The Pentecostal Evangel from the Assemblies of God interviewed Dean Merrill in 2006:



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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2009

About the Author: Carolyn D. Baker serves as Assistant Professor of English at Mayville State University, Mayville, North Dakota; as Adjunct Professor of Bible and Theology for Global University, Springfield, Missouri; and Pastor for Bible and Discipleship at All Nations Assembly of God, an African Refugee church, in West Fargo, ND.

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