By: Howard Cole
Book Review: Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble
Imagine having a friend who was dying from a disease. One day you heard the good news that a cure for her disease had been found. Better yet, it was being offered for free!
You try to call her but her voicemail is full. You try to text her, but for some reason your phone would not deliver your text. You rush over to her home and bang on the outside of her doors and windows but she refuses to acknowledge your presence. You desperately want to speak saving truth to your friend but your message won’t get through.
Alan Noble tackles the barrier Christians run into when they attempt to speak truth to unbelievers in a distracted age.
Noble is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. His book Disruptive Witness asserts that we live in an age of constant distraction where many are also oblivious to the transcendent, eternal story of Christianity.
Have you ever heard the old Chinese proverb “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish?” A fish has never lived outside its watery environment, it has no experience or language to describe its normal environment, and so it has no means to convey what it takes for granted. Noble claims the same can be true for us.
For Noble two major trends merge together to create our current cultural environment. Awareness of these trends can enable Christians to disrupt the communication barrier between them and those whom they wish to share the story of Christ.
Those two trends are:
1) the practice of continuous engagement in immediately gratifying activities that resist reflection and meditation, and
2) the growth of secularism, defined as a state in which Christianity is seen as one of many viable choices for human fullness and satisfaction, and in which the transcendent feels less and less realistic
To put it more bluntly: We are both distracted and secular. Once this harmful combination is understood, it can be addressed and the message of Christ can reach those we love.
The book is broken down into two parts.
Part one develops and defends his diagnosis of our cultural climate.
Part two offers multiple ways to disrupt current cultural currents with specific personal, church and cultural habits.
Noble describes his own struggle with distraction in order to challenge the false assumption that our unbelieving friends are actually aware and attentive to the story of God.
“Sufficient to the workday are the anxieties and frustrations thereof. And so, when I need a coffee or bathroom break, I’ll use my phone to skim an article or “Like” a few posts. The distraction is a much-needed relief from the stress of work, but it also is a distraction. I still can’t hear myself think. And most of the time I really don’t want to. When I feel some guilt about spending so much time being unfocused, I tell myself it’s for my own good. I deserve this break. I need this break. But there’s no break from distraction.”
What I liked best about Noble’s suggested disruptive practices was that he didn’t offer strategies, gimmicks or programs. Instead they were ordinary things like praying with your friends and family before a meal and participating in your church’s liturgy. By praying you defy distraction by attending to God and giving him gratitude. By entering into the liturgy during worship (and putting your cell phone in your pocket!) you simultaneously disrupt distraction with focus and reflection while entering the transcendent realm.
If you want to discover how to disrupt the distracted, secular trance of those you love with the truth of the gospel, go ahead and read this book. By focusing and devoting time to sustained thinking, Sabbath and silence, distraction can be disrupted with reflection.