Sunday, November 14, 2010

Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture - Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis

Integrating biblical truth with communication theories

Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture
Authors: Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis
Publisher: IVP Academic (
Pages: 219

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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ancient Christian Texts: Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus imperfectum)

Early commentator gets voice at the table

Ancient Christian Texts: Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus imperfectum)
Author: Kellerman, James A. (Translator and Author of Introduction and Notes)
Publisher: IVP Academic (
Pages: 213

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” writes G. K. Chesterton in this well-known quotation from Orthodoxy. What the Ancient Christian Texts commentary series does is bring classic Christian writings to the table so that they too have a voice in the exposition and application of Scripture.

Like the unknown author of this incomplete commentary on Matthew, who was steeped in an early exegetical tradition, their style and content differ from modern commentators. They see things that those of us who are walking around might miss.

That’s not to say that this particular volume doesn’t have its deficiencies. It’s missing Matthew 8:14-10:15, 14-18 and 26-28. The text consists of 27 homilies covering the balance of the passages and an index.

Theologically, the author has “one of the milder forms of Arianism that survived in the fifth century.” A handful of passages reflect the author’s understanding that the Son is inferior to the Father. The author also has views that have been characterized as Pelagianism, but may be more indicative of an asceticism that may seem Pelagian. The translator explains it like this: “holiness and sanctification receive far more attention than grace and forgiveness, and there is a greater emphasis on the power of the human will to resist evil and to choose good.”

Marriage is seen as something that “ceases to be sin, nonetheless it does not deserve to be called righteousness.” The commentator believes that Joseph never knew Mary after Jesus was born, “Joseph saw that she remained a virgin after her birth…. But after he (Joseph) learned that she had been made the temple of the only-begotten God, how could he have taken possession of this temple?” The attentive reader will encounter other questionable thought. Additionally, some of the allegories are tedious.

Like the previous commentary that I read in this series, what makes this worth reading are the devotional insights, which obviously stem from the devout lifestyle of the commentator. He lifts up a standard of holiness that is challenging. There is much that edifies.

It springs from the author’s practical orientation. This is highlighted in his views on teaching: “Teaching was invented not so much for the sake of revealing obscure matters as much as for the sake of stirring up the heart and spirit…. Let him who teaches be an example of his own words so that he might teach more by his actions than by his speech, as the apostle said to Timothy, ‘Set the believer an example.’”

His devout outlook also lends beauty to his writing: “When the sun is getting near its rising point, before it appears, it sends out its rays and makes the east grow light, that the dawn that goes before it may show the coming of the day. So when the Lord was born into the world, before he appeared, he illumined John (the Baptist) by imparting the splendor of his Spirit to him, that he might go before him and announce the coming of the Savior …”

Rather than read this like a book, which can be wearisome, it’s better to use this as a resource to supplement your own study of Matthew. If one’s heart is focused on what can be gleaned, you can easily pass over the chaff to find what will be beneficial.

The ancients still speak and their voice is still heard. It will be worthwhile to have all the volumes in this series.

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