How does the world around you influence how you think? What motivates and inspires you? Why you do what you do? Recently, I read a book called Disruptive Witness. It showed me some surprising stuff about our society and how deeply we’re affected by it.
The first section talks about our current situation, which is what I’ll talk about here. A few of the main points really rocked me, because they are so true yet so subtle! I also love that the author, Alan Noble, explains it all without a condemning tone. It’s an honest assessment of where we’re at. So, here are a few points in a (hopefully) organized list!
1. We’re obsessed with image. Although we may not realize it, our main focus is on finding, crafting, and displaying our personal image. It’s present in every aspect of life: we experience our jobs, leisure activities, relationships, and even small things like food choices through a lens of “what does this say about who I am?” Noble had a great example of taking a hike alone while thinking about what a hipster you are. We may project any number of personas on ourselves subconsciously.
I’ve definitely seen this in myself. There’s a persona that goes like this: a girl who drinks coffee, reads her Bible, wears flannels, styles her hair in a half-bun, and attends a church with loud music. A ‘cool Christian.’ I can barely sit at a coffee shop and blog without thinking about it! (That’s. . . literally what I’m doing as I write this.) I’m sure you can think of a few personas you fit into as well. Our value of image is deeply ingrained.
2. We have a lifestyle of distraction. We’re bombarded with countless messages every day, and we know it. Ads, social media posts, conversations, and the news pull us in many directions. In the time it takes to scroll Instagram, we’re told to eat more spinach, help refugees, buy a new toothbrush, check out our friend's new shoes, fight climate change, and support the building of a wall all at once! These causes butt heads with each other, demanding our immediate attention and allegiance.
“A superficial but constant engagement with media invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. . . causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 26)
Since we can adopt views so quickly, they often remain surface-level in the back of our minds while we neither take action or understand them fully. This leads to cognitive dissonance, which I have experienced for sure. My brain has felt exhausted from the bombardment of so many causes and images, and the contradictions, questions, proposed actions, and insecurities they bring. The pace is stifling.
When taken together, the combination of these two points brings a shocking conclusion . . .
3. Christianity is seen as just another consumer choice. Essentially this puts faith on the level of ‘fun facts about me:’ on the same level as favorite restaurants, athletes, and vacation spots. It’s a trivial preference. Jesus is seen as a hobby or just another thing to pin onto our identities. Sadly, this makes the gospel feel far less weighty and easier to dismiss.
“The gospel appears thin, superficial, and inconsequential—just another image vying for our time.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 29)
It breaks my heart. Some people call themselves Christians but don’t take it seriously, while other people see faith as just another preference and dismiss the whole thing altogether. We struggle to portray the true depth and importance of our faith and may even accidentally trivialize it by our actions and words.
Here is one more barrier to consider:
The modernity of life makes it hard to sense God. In the past, the consensus was that God existed. People attributed a lot in life to his power and his creation. However, the advancement of science and the ease of modern life has made that far harder to see.
“We struggle to recognize beauty in the natural world because it has been so thoroughly conquered, and wonder is squashed through scientific language and nature-channel explainers. We are masters of our health, our safety, our morality, our time, and our success. Living in this society, it’s hard to sense the transcendent.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 57)
The problem is that the more advanced and automated life becomes, the less we see of life’s magic and wonder. That’s why the moments in which we remember them are beautiful. It’s why fairytales and books like Narnia are so crucial. It’s why we adore a child’s innocent amazement at the world around her. And it’s why a mountain range or the power of the ocean pulls on us in such deep places! But within the confines of our normal lives, wonder is often squashed.
Altogether, these facts of our current situation may seem hopeless. How can we live real, unaffected lives for Christ in this climate?
The second section of Disruptive Witness is all about that! Noble explains how to effectively witness in this climate and gives practical tips about how to break down barriers and show Jesus as who he is. I really enjoyed the read, and highly recommend it! (And if you purchase the book through the link on this page, I will receive a portion of the profit. Isn’t that neat and professional-sounding?!)
Whether you grab a copy of the book or not, I hope these points have helped you understand our culture. I know it’s made me realize shocking things about how I think and has shaped my understanding of witnessing, which is a great place to start!
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!