Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture
Authors: Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Authentic Communication by Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis is written for students majoring in communication studies, but it has something to offer to any Christian interested in the subject.
This book is part of the Christian Worldview Integration Series, which is designed to show how Christian convictions relate to the issues and ideas in a college major, career or the culture at large. The authors admirably demonstrate how biblical concepts and communication theories can work together to produce a more effective witness.
One need not look past the Series Preface, written by Francis J. Beckwith and J. P. Moreland, to find practical applications. One point that has largely been overlooked in our day is the value of Christians becoming familiar with subjects outside of the Bible. The editors reference an address by John Wesley, who admonished ministers to know logic, metaphysics, natural theology, geometry and the ideas of important figures in the history of philosophy. Wesley saw that study in these areas (especially philosophy and geometry) sharpens the mind to think precisely, which is a great asset for theology and Scripture. He saw it as a means of growth and maturity, recognizing that we can learn from those who are outside the faith.
Part one of the book deals with components: definitions, perspective taking, the use of words, and the art of persuasion. One of the key points of this section is summarized in a chapter conclusion: “If the term Christian was originally intended to mean ‘little Christ,’ then perhaps we should ask God to make us into the kinds of people who sound and act more like Christ, and less like highly predictable pseudosaviors with our own selfish motives driving our persuasion efforts. I’d love for someone to say to me, ‘He sounds like he’s been with Jesus!’ ”
Part two focuses on application. It begins with an excellent Christian perspective of conflict management. Here, and elsewhere, the reader may occasionally long for greater depth, but that is outside the scope of this introductory study. On the plus side, the book does provide a broad overview of each area with sufficient detail and analysis. A chapter on communicating forgiveness follows.
The remainder of the book is the most stimulating. These chapters touch on how Christians should relate to popular culture. The authors summarize the basic premise: “We must guard against merely copying secular social networks for Christian fellowship. Instead we should embrace the more difficult task of engaging the popular culture with our faith-driven worldviews offered in reasonable and civil responses.”
The authors use William Wilberforce to introduce the idea of a counterpublic, who work to change the publics’ perception. “Counterpublics operate within mainstream culture to challenge the dominant culture’s understanding of their beliefs and the message they advance.” Beginning in the late 1700s, Wilberforce worked hard to change political and public opinion leading to the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire. Against the idea of being “treasonous revolutionaries,” Wilberforce portrayed abolitionists as “reformers who wanted to help the existing government be righteous in the eyes of God.”
A crucial point, one which has applicability to other disciplines, is made by media-ethics scholar Clifford Christians, “Unless we come to grips with our field’s core – its intellectual life – our impact will be partial and ineffective…. We need a powerful stream of Christian thinking that academia as a whole cannot ignore.” This is reinforced by a thought from C. S. Lewis when he writes that what “we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.” This is what this book and others in the series are trying to foster – integrating biblical scholarship with the finest academic knowledge of our day.
One example is found in the second to the last chapter, “Abnormal Communication.” It addresses the following questions: “Is there a communication strategy we can employ that would bring honor to Christ? Specifically, what do we do when encountering people who not only disagree with us but are hostile?” Christians are guilty of adopting the adversarial tactics of our culture. This continues degenerative communication spirals and hardens opponents in their position. Philosopher Richard Rorty identifies what we need as abnormal discourse. This occurs when someone entering a discourse is unaware of established patterns of communication or deliberately chooses to set them aside. One form of this places “dialogic civility over conquest.” The authors provide biblical examples using Jesus, Paul and Peter. “The end result may not be agreement, but it will at least be respect and civility – a communication goal highly valued by the writers of these ancient proverbs.”
The book closes with the chapter, “Social Justice: Speaking for the Marginalized.”
This is an excellent primer, integrating biblical truth and communication theories.
August 23, 2010