Disruptive Witness

Feb 26, 2019Book Reviews

As Christians all of us are called to share the good news of the Gospel, but what if we don’t really understand how this good news is being heard?

 

This is the striking question that Alan Noble seeks to answer in his book Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.

Noble’s argument is that we live in a distracted, secular age where faith in Christ is seen as just one option among many, and where we are all numbed to eternal things through constant engagement in digital distractions.

The author, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, engages with philosophers like Charles Taylor and James K.A. Smith to show how we live in a culture where individual choice and personal expression are the ultimate sources of human flourishing.

In this distracted, secular world faith in Christ becomes a personal preference to be signaled rather than a source of eternal hope to be lived out. Sharing our faith becomes personal expression rather than persuasive proclamation. And we develop thin beliefs that are easy to put on and take off rather than thick beliefs that involve deep trust and robust application.

In this context Noble challenges believers to bear a disruptive witness that breaks through the barrier of distracted, secular individualism. This witness is developed through personal habits, church practices, and cultural participation. The goal is to engage with people in such a way that they see faith in Christ not as a personal preference but rather as a source of transcendent hope.

At the heart of this disruptive witness is what Noble calls a double movement; a practice in which “the goodness of being produces gratitude in us that glorifies and acknowledges a loving, transcendent, good, and beautiful God.” In this practice the believer acknowledges goodness, beauty, and blessing wherever it is encountered, and then turns that into gratitude towards God for creating such beauty and goodness. These two movements of acknowledging and glorifying help us break through our closed world of consumption and expression to see the wonder and transcendence of God.

This double movement is internal as well as external. Noble observes that one of the greatest challenges of our distracted, secular age, is that what we feel and experience internally becomes authoritative. But the message we find in Scripture is that our internal feelings and thoughts are actually descriptive, not authoritative.

As Noble writes,

“The double movement draws us out of ourselves to a higher good. When we look inside and find abiding sin, the guilt of that sin takes us to the cross, where the One who took that guilt upon himself forgives us.”

By acknowledging what we find in ourselves (the first movement), and then taking what we find to God (the second movement), we find hope and life not in ourselves but in the person and work of Christ. In a world where we are so often curved inward upon ourselves through consumption and distraction, this double movement is vital in helping us break through our self-centeredness to the eternal God who rescues us in His self-giving love.

If there is a gap in Noble’s work it is that in seeking to provide a path toward a disruptive witness the author focuses mainly on what we do in response to our world. He does not deny the sovereignty or power of God in this world, but the nature of his argument is unavoidably man-centered. This is a vital aspect of the argument, since the purpose of the book is to diagnose our condition and show us a way forward. But it is also vital for us to remember that the ultimate disruptive witness is found not in human practices but in divine revelation.

We live in a secular, distracted world, but the witness of God in His Word continues to go forth in the power of His Spirit. We live in a world of unique challenges, and Noble helps us to see how we can have a disruptive witness in this secular, distracted world. But this disruptive witness is only truly possible when we fall on our knees before the ultimate disruptive witness of the cross.

Overall Noble’s book is helpful in both describing the world in which we live and prescribing a way forward. By diagnosing our current condition, and then calling us to a double movement the author provides us with indispensable wisdom for life in a distracted age.

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