Summary: In order to be a Christian within culture, we need to understand what the culture is. Which means we need to be rooted in historic Christianity as a means of disrupting the effects of culture.
The old illustration about two fish being asked how is the water, and then one asking the other, ‘what is water?’ is my best description of Disruptive Witness. We are part of a culture, but we need tools, and language, to help us understand, and describe, the culture around us.
Part One of Disruptive Witness uses Charles Taylor and others to describe and understand our culture from the perspective of Christianity that is always within a particular culture. I have read a number of books about Taylor’s ideas, and I think that Disruptive Witness is one of the most understandable presentations of Taylor’s ideas.
Part Two of Disruptive Witness is focused on what we should do now that we understand some of the benefits and problems of culture. These are largely spiritual practices of the historic church that can help disrupt the effects of culture.
Over the past five years I have been meeting with a spiritual director and I am planning on pursuing formal training in that area when my children a bit older. So part two, while helpful and an important part of the book, was not new to my thinking. But part one was very helpful in giving me the language I have been looking for to understand how to think about spiritual formation within ‘a secular age’.
Much of Disruptive Witness confirms what a number of others have been saying. Charles Taylor, James KA Smith, the liturgical, Catholic, Orthodox and the pentecostal wings of the church all remind us that embodiment is essential to our Christian faith. What that means is slightly different depending on who you ask. But all of historic Christianity has affirmed the embodied reality of humans.
Part of the issue is that we can, at least in part, be disembodied Christians. Can you go to church and not really be present? (I can stream my service to my phone or iPad or TV if I cannot be present). Will anyone miss you or will you miss something from not being present? (I go to a megachurch and as much as my children love to be in their classrooms, no one is looking for me as an individual and we do not participate in the sacraments as part of our regular Sunday service, so whether I watch on a screen or participate in person, I have roughly the same experience.)
In addition to the disembodied nature of a lot of faith traditions, Noble particularly points out the problems with our constant, but distracted attention. The distraction and consistent jumping from task to task, keeps us from thinking deeply and dealing with some of the deeper issues of life. It is isn’t only our phones and social media distractions, it is also our individualism that separates us from community and deep relationships that makes us believe that we are creating ourselves as individuals apart from our communities, not individuals that are within community.
I really do think the part two suggestions are part of how we created a ‘disruptive witness’ to culture about what it means to be Christians. But for me, it is the part one language that gives voice to what it means to be a Christian that makes this book an important read to me. I picked up an advance copy of the book nearly two months ago. I read it through, set it aside for a while and then went back and re-read part one again. It has convinced me that I really do need to read Charles Taylor directly soon.