Disruptive Witness

Alan Noble: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age

Disruptive Witness
Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age
(IVP, 2018)

WHO: Alan Noble, assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and cofounder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture.

HE SAYS: “Our task is to communicate our faith and the truths of our world in such a way as to disrupt our buffered and distracted culture.”

THE BIG IDEA: Today’s society holds all beliefs equal. This book lays out individual, ecclesial and cultural practices that, like a plow in hard soil, disrupt people’s assumptions and point them to Christ.

In this well-organized read, the author begins by describing the world we live in today as a “distracted, secular age.” In this first section Alan explains how we are endlessly distracted, hold thin, disorganized beliefs, and long for fulfillment.
In Part 2, “Bearing a Disruptive Witness,” the book challenges readers to see how the gospel message has always been disruptive, individually and in society. Alan tells Christian readers that to have an impact, they need to have disruptive personal habits, church practices and cultural participation.
Each chapter is summed up with a conclusion paragraph.

“The modern person can debate religion and politics freely, without any anxiety about what is at stake—because very little is at stake. Between the buzz of our lives and the fluidity of our narratives, there’s no reason any truth should ever threaten our understanding of the world or ourselves.”

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Why is your book titled Disruptive Witness?

Every Christian is called to bear witness to their faith, to give a ready answer for the hope within us, but how we bear that witness is determined by the needs of our time. This book tries to evaluate the particular challenges to bearing faith in a contemporary world. Specifically, I consider the way secularism and technology of distraction create barriers to belief for most modern people. These barriers are not usually overcome with better arguments, but by offering a disruptive witness, one that unsettles the listener’s assumptions about God and encourages them to be contemplative, rather than distracted.

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A lot of what you write about relates to personal faith, but you also talk about it relating to the broader church. Unpack that a bit.

The concerns I have about how we represent the faith, how we engage in dialogue and how we organize corporate worship cannot be addressed on an individual basis only. This is both a collective and personal effort. There are steps that we can personally take to offer a disruptive witness to our neighbors, in the way we deal with tragedy and beauty and art, for example. But other actions require collective effort, in the kinds of worship we participate in and the kinds of institutions we support.

You write about how the church adds to the problem by emphasizing marketing and branding. How do you think that plays into millennials’ seeming disenchantment with the church?

I do think the attraction to liturgy and more historic Christian traditions among many millennials reflects in part a hunger for a religion that transcends the flat, immanent, optional, branded, marketed, slick version of evangelicalism that they may have been raised with. But I think it’s also true that there are plenty of millennials who are attracted to that kind of church because it feels like home. Churches that mimic the multimedia experience of concerts and TED talks resonate with us because they appeal to our culturally conditioned aesthetics.

You engage in a lot of conversations on social media: How has that played into the writing of this book?

My experiences on social media definitely influenced the book, particularly in the way I have seen people share their faith. For a great many people, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the public square. These are spaces where Christians witness to non-Christians, make arguments about the Bible and generally promote our worldview. In my participation on social media, I’ve been able to consider the kinds of interactions that are profitable and the kinds that are not and the ones that appear profitable but may actually contribute to the trivializing of our faith.

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