A Review of “Disruptive Witness” by Alan Noble

We live in a world that has lost the skill of reflection. The distractions of our age have left North Americans, particularly, undisturbed by the transcendent, eternal, and moral. Any unsettling thought can be quickly dismissed by checking our email, playing on our phones, or moving onto the next task. Speaking the truth of the gospel in this context requires us to think more strategically and intentionally about the ways we live in our world and the means by which we communicate ultimate truth. Alan Noble aims to help readers better understand their context and the unfortunate ways that we have all accommodated to the culture. Disruptive Witness is a timely book that speaks to an issue many of us have simply not identified.

Alan is, in my opinion, one of the sharpest young philosophical minds to emerge onto the Christian landscape in recent years. He is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has made a name for himself writing both provocative and challenging pieces in a variety of spaces (Christianity Today, The Atlantic, and Buzzfeed). His work is nuanced, and often attempts to critique his own community in important ways. I have grown to love Alan’s keen observations and thoughtful challenges. Disruptive Witness carries Alan’s talents forward in a more thoroughly developed format.

Alan believes that “the convergence of two major trends in our own time calls for a new assessment of the barriers to faith” (2). For Noble, 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 theism is seen as one of many viable choices for human fullness and satisfaction, and in which the transcendent feels less and less plausible.” Secularism and distraction combine to create a unique barrier to the gospel call in our day and age. Noble seeks to defend that thesis before offering a proposal for how to confront the challenges to this witness. The book, then, is broken down into two parts. Part one defends the diagnosis of the problem, articulating what the distracted and secular age looks like. Part two turns attention to a proposal for fighting back against it, offering personal, church, and cultural strategies.

It’s hard to know exactly how to categorize this book. Is it a volume on Christina living? Is it a cultural commentary and work of social criticism? Is it a book on ecclesiology? Is it a book on evangelism and apologetics? Is it philosophy book or an aesthetics text? It’s hard to say. The topics covered in their respective chapters range from things like Facebook and social media consumption, to saying grace at meals. Readers will have a hard time limiting this book’s relevance and range of application. It is a book for everyone. The various endorsements and reviews of the book indicate its diverse appeal (endorsements range from Alan Jacobs to Beth Moore!). The book’s breadth makes it an incredibly useful tool for the whole church.

Disruptive Witness was challenging to me personally. I found myself convicted of my own social media consumption and my own blind assumptions about cultural adaptations. It can and should be convicting and insightful to the church too. In many ways I think the contemporary church is a lot like the fish in water. We are so accustomed to the cultural waters we swim in that we don’t really see them, and, as a result, we are blind to the many accommodations we have made. Noble offers some unique perspective and challenge to us. Not everyone will be ready to agree with him on the usefulness of liturgies in corporate worship, but if it gets us thinking about the unintentional ways that we mitigate the impact of our witness then it is worth the time to read.

Alan Noble has written an important book, one that offers a critique to a problem we often don’t see. His thesis too has implications for our preaching, our counseling, our VBS, and our apologetics, as well as our evangelism. While he doesn’t explore every facet of these implications, he opens up an important conversation. If the message of the gospel is not breaking through barriers we certainly want to pray for the Spirit’s power to awaken hearts, but we also ought to evaluate the ways in which we are communicating that message in a distracted age. Disruptive Witness is a useful tool for evaluating our current cultural climate and thinking strategically about how to live distinctly as Christians within it. I highly recommend this book. It is easily going to be one of the best books I read this year.

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