The One Indispensable Truth
An Interview with James L. Ferrell, author of The Peacegiver

Editor’s Note:  James L. Ferrell, managing director of the Arbinger Institute, a renowned management consulting firm (and author of the bestseller, Leadership and Self-Deception) that specializes in peacemaking, recently wrote The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.  Here, the author answers some questions for us about his inspiration for the book.  The Peacegiver will be serialized in future issues of Meridian.

Your book, The Peacegiver, is being hailed as “life changing.” What is the book about and why do you think readers are responding the way they are?

A number of years ago, in the movie, City Slickers, the trail boss character (Curly) said that there was “one thing” that life was about-a single key to happiness. The characters then went about trying to figure out what that one thing was. For me, The Peacegiver is about that “one thing”-the one indispensable truth from which all peace and happiness flows. That one thing is the practical meaning of the atonement-how Christ is able to change our hearts, and what we must to do receive the peace of his healing. It is the one book I would have written if I had only one book to write.

I believe people are responding well to the book for two main reasons: First, because it is about this deepest, most important issue in life; and second, because it is written in a style that makes this deepest, most important issue come to life. It is a doctrinal book that unfolds as a story. Not just any story either, but a story that is, in a deep way, the story of every reader. So when we read the book, more than merely reading about the atonement, we find ourselves within the atonement, and we discover for ourselves what the atonement offers to and requires of us today-in our marriages, with our children, and in our relationships with our associates and neighbors.

So would you say that the book is more of a story or more of a doctrinal work?

I would say it is both. In fact, I think it would be a mistake to make a distinction between the two. After all, the scriptures themselves-the most doctrinal of all works-unfold as a series of stories. However, I didn’t set out to write merely a story. Rather, I was filled with impressions and convictions about the atonement-about its awesome and awesomely practical meaning and power. I chose to write the book as a story for the reason I just mentioned: I didn’t want the book to be merely about the atonement. Rather, in order for the book to have power and meaning to people, I wanted it to enable an experience with the atonement.

I think it was best said by C. Terry Warner (author of Bonds that Make Us Free) in his review of the book:

The Peacegiver tells the story of a man struggling, with the help of a loved one, to come unto Christ. Ferrell has ways of taking us into this man’s mind and heart, so that in reading the rich details of his often difficult journey we find ourselves embarked on a personal journey of our own, repentantly reviewing thoughts and feelings that for too long have darkened our spirits. The path for this journey opens up to us because the story and the scriptures it brings to life keep clearing away the deceptions that have held us bound. This is a book of discovery-discovery of Christ, of others, and of ourselves. And it is therefore also a book of profound hope-unlike, I think, any other book you have ever read.”

What led you to write the book?

There were a number of factors. Perhaps the earliest was that during an extended study of the Old Testament, I discovered the little-known story of Abigail and a glorious truth that captivated my soul. That story, and what it came to mean to me, kept presenting itself anew in my life. I was struck by the power the story gave me to come unto Christ-especially when it seemed most difficult to do so. I felt the world needed to know that story, and that we all would be a lot better off if we tried to live by it. In short, the story of Abigail wouldn’t leave me alone-that was probably the first factor that ultimately led to my writing the book.

In addition, I was working on a professional book that had to do with issues of peace and peacemaking. In the middle of that project I began to feel a yearning. If I was to write of peace, my soul kept telling me, I wanted to be able to go all the way to the source-to be able to talk about the real foundation of peace. That meant that I had to speak of Christ-the Prince of Peace-a figure and topic the professional audience couldn’t consider. As I began to have these yearnings, I couldn’t keep my mind on my other work. So I put it down for a time and started on a book that became The Peacegiver. It was my late-night writing project for many months.

How would you describe the book’s message?

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I would say it is two things: (1) that the atonement makes sense and we have the capacity to understand it better than we usually do; and (2) that the atonement offers a change that is deeper and even more glorious than we normally suppose. When the Savior atoned for our sins, for example, he did far more than merely pay for our sinful acts. He went through an experience that enables him to change our sinful hearts-our darkened desires, our complaining natures, our bitter memories. He assumed the burden of all of our sinful, unloving desires, and overcame them. “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,” he promised-a promise he could make because he took our stony hearts, with their bitterness and desires for sin, into his soul and found a way to break the chains of sin that bound them. Knowing firsthand the way out of our individual captivities, he now offers each of us a new heart-free from the addictions and desires for sin that have held us captive. This is a miracle like no other, and in pondering the atonement, we can understand at least the outlines of how it was done. The Peacegiver is about how it is that the Savior is able to change our hearts, how that change changes everything-including our relationships, for example-and about what we must do to allow him to work this mighty change in our souls.

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