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Why Do Views Differ So Widely Among Christians? Book by Dr. John Sanders Examines Roots of Two Groups’ Values

CONWAY, Ark. (August 25, 2020) — In a season of polarization, Hendrix College Professor of Religious Studies Dr. John Sanders hopes his latest book can create opportunities for people who disagree to discuss their political and theological differences in empathetic ways. 

In Embracing Prodigals: Overcoming Authoritative Religion by Embodying Jesus’ Nurturing Grace (Cascade Books, 2020), Sanders outlines two cognitive models, Nurturant and Authoritative, and how they influence the approaches people take when considering moral, ethical, theological, and political viewpoints. While using these models from his previous scholarly work, Theology in the Flesh (Fortress Press, 2016), Sanders wrote Embracing Prodigals with a broader audience in mind.

“Many progressive people are trying to understand how conservative Protestants and Catholics have the values they do and the ideas of God that they do, and some of the political policies they do. At the same time, conservatives are trying to figure out how progressives can have the values they have,” Sanders said. “After the 2016 election, I started to see my previous book through a new lens, and I wrote this book because I believe it could help start more conversations. Both sets of values, Authoritative and Nurturant, are in our congregations, and they often talk past each other or just stop talking.”

The book shows why Nurturants and Authoritatives disagree about topics such as the salvation of non-Christians, the nature of the Bible, hell, health care, and what to do about income inequality. “For those interested in not just the religious polarization, but political polarization, I do hope it will help people understand one another in this election season,” he said.

Sanders envisions small groups using Embracing Prodigals as a basis for discussion. Being active in that setting was part of what prompted him to write it: At the United Methodist congregation where he is a member, he has participated in discussions surrounding human sexuality, a matter that divides the denomination along Nurturant and Authoritative lines. “A person on one side of the issue became frustrated trying to explain the reasons for her position so I explained them—even though I disagreed with her position. She was quite grateful that I expounded her view clearly and cogently,” he said.

In addition to his goal of creating space for dialogue in a polarized time, Sanders hopes Embracing Prodigals encourages people to practice the nurturing way of life that Jesus did. “Jesus was empathetic and showed grace and forgiveness to others. These should be the core ways of relating to one another in Christian communities,” he said. “I show how various doctrines and practices in churches either cohere with or undermine the values of Jesus. I hope this little book can help heal some of our polarization on theological, ethical, and political issues.”

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit