How Do We Speak Truth in A Distracted Age?
How do we communicate the truth of the gospel in a world that is increasingly secular and distracted? If this question has gone through your mind, then you need to get a copy of the recent book Disruptive Witness, by Alan Noble.
Noble sees two large trends that make sharing the gospel difficult today: (1) Modern technology that offers endless distractions and gratifying activities, and (2) Secularism, which eradicates the sense of transcendence in daily life. As a result of these cultural two forces, Noble says:
“When we speak of Christianity we cannot assume that our hearers understand the faith as anything other than another personal preference in an ocean of cultural preferences” (p. 2).
Distractions and Secularism
How does the endless sea of distractions affect us? Noble makes a few helpful points. For one, it makes us mentally fatigued. We become addicted to novelty, and like other addictions, it drains our energy. We become worn out by continually seeking new experiences.
Second, we become cognitively overwhelmed. We begin to wonder, “With boundless intellectual options, can truth really be known with any degree of confidence?”
Noble is careful to define our “secular age” not merely in intellectual terms (that is, a worldview in tension with Christianity), but as a lived reality in a world with endless live options for belief. In the past, people traditionally kept the beliefs of their parents or community, but today people are expected to discover their own authentic truth, and many will change their beliefs over time. Professor Noble explains:
“At the heart of the secular age is the individual in their effort to create and project their identity in a chaotic and hostile world. For Christians this means that open dialogue about the merits and truth of the Christian faith can all too easily be interpreted by our hearers as reasons why they should choose to add Christianity to their identity. And then reasoning about faith becomes futile, because their objections to Christianity are not so much logical as existential: the faith (if properly described) simply does not fit with their conception of themselves and so they may reply, ‘Christianity just isn’t my thing.’”
As a result, says Noble, people are more concerned with how Christianity fits with their “authentic identity,” or improves their quality of life, than whether or not the historical evidence supports the resurrection of Jesus.
Communicating the Gospel in a Secular Age
One of my favorite parts of the book is that Noble does not give grandiose advice about transforming culture. In fact, some may accuse him of having a fatalistic view of culture when he says, “There is no reasonable, society-wide solution.” But I think his point is to get Christians to reflect on how to respond on three levels: (1) personal, (2) church, and (3) cultural participation.
Essentially, Noble says we ought to resist not only the secular message of our times, but the trivializing mediums by which we speak, write, and visually depict our faith. Our goal should not be merely to draw attention to the Christian faith for that is to play into the seductive lure of modern technology that trivializes the message of Christ. Rather, the goal is to disrupt people and to haunt them with transcendence.
For instance, we could have a rodeo at church, but according to Noble, while this may impress people, it would not disturb them from their distracted slumber. And neither does a T-Shirt with a creative Christian slogan. Christians need to think more creatively and deeply about ways to unsettle people from their secular assumptions.
Noble offers some suggestions for how to do this in his book. Given how important it is that we effectively speak truth in our secular age, I hope you not be too distracted to get a copy, read it, and discuss it with a friend.