Authentic Communication: Christian Speech--Engaging Culture

  • Tim Muehlhoff, Todd V. Lewis
  • Jun 18, 2010
  • Series: Volume 13 - 2010
book: Muehlhoff-Authentic Communication

Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis, Authentic Communication: Christian Speech – Engaging Culture.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010, 214 pp., $13.99, Soft cover.  ISBN-10: 083082815X

Augustine’s father, a middle-income farmer, worked very hard to get his son the best education in rhetoric that he could, first in Madaura, then in Carthage.  Later in his life, Augustine reflected on his father’s passion stating “his only concern was that I should learn how to make a good speech and how to persuade others by my words.  He took no trouble at all to see how I was growing in your sight [O God] or whether I was chaste or not.  He cared only that I should have a fertile tongue” (Augustine, Confessions, p.45 (II, 3)). 

Integration of our life, faith, and communication is the focus of Authentic Communication. Communication is powerful and vital to the life and ministry of a follower of Christ.  However, it must be understood, prioritized, and integrated well.  The Series Preface written by Francis Beckwith and J. P. Moreland is worth the price of the book.  In that preface, integration of faith and communication is clearly explained and persuasively argued.

Authentic Communication is part of the larger Christian Worldview Integration Series published by Intervarsity Press.  Both authors are professors of communication at Biola University.  Their deep experience in the classroom brings credibility to their research and writing.  I was quickly impressed with the practical application, classroom illustrations, and cultural relevance in this book.  Although the target audience of Authentic Communication is undergraduates at a Christian school, the impressive scholarship and the skillful writing make it a viable, supplemental text for a graduate course in education or communication.   I plan to add it to the bibliography for my course on teaching and learning.

The book is structured well, bathed with scripture references, and flows nicely.  The reader will not be bogged down with the tedium of other academic texts.  There are engaging anecdotes and pithy quotes throughout the book.  The book is divided into two parts.  Part one defines and identifies the components of communication and part two applies communication to various issues.  In this second part, at times the authors seem to use the topic of communication as a platform to subtly declare positions on politically charged issues (social justice, social networking, etc.). 

Part one (the first four chapters) rehearses some of the basic concepts in communication.  Feedback, feedforward, symbolic interactionism, and perspective taking, are a few of the terms discussed and explained.  I found the latter term particularly fascinating since Denver Seminary has recently experienced this through a study of our ‘tacit curriculum’.  What is communicated through our stated curriculum and promotional material may not be what is ‘heard’ or understood by our students.  Perspective taking seeks to ‘hear’ through the ears of someone else (e.g. the gay community, immigrant, or third world Christian).  At times this process can be disturbing and cause tension within the Christian community, as the authors describe.  However, much of this tension results from mistakenly equating perspective taking with condoning the views of another. 

The last chapter in part one (Persuasion: Spiritual Power or Manipulation and Rhetorical Tricks) is excellent.  This chapter would be a wonderful contribution to any discussion on the topic of evangelism.  How is the Gospel communicated?  How is salvation understood (or misunderstood)?  How is conversion manipulated by our words?  In this chapter the authors identify six obstacles to persuasion that have powerful implications for evangelism. 

Part two (the last eight chapters) felt more like a philosophy or spiritual formation text.  The issues of worldview, postmodernism, social justice, homosexuality, civil disobedience, personal transformation, forgiveness, and conflict management seemed somewhat disconnected from the first part of the book.  Although I understand the desire of the authors to offer practical application of communication, this part of the book seemed more focused on the issues than on the communicative skill involved. 

Chapter seven (Communicating About and Evaluating the Messages of Popular Culture), was engaging, but the illustrations from culture seemed a bit dated and there was no mention of music.  Although the authors discussed the cinema and television, they seemed to completely ignore music and lyrics - one of our most powerful cultural communication venues.  In my work with adolescent culture, I have found that musical lyrics are a significant source of their theology, spiritual formation, and worldview. 

The authors dedicate two full chapters (nine and ten) to discuss the issue of Christian counterpublic communication.  How and when should Christians communicate opposition in our culture? Using William Wilberforce as a model, they identify three characteristics of counterpublics - oppositionality, withdrawal, and engagement.  Unfortunately, Chrisitan counterpublic communication is more often condemnation than communication. These two chapters seek to reestablish communication even with those who see Christians as the enemy.  How well do we communicate with the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the homosexual community, or the ethnically different?  In chapter ten, five postmodern ideas are identified as they apply to our communication with those who embrace a postmodern worldview.  Metanarratives are oppressive, truth depends on your point of view, humans are not as alike as you think, reality and meaning are constructed through language, and we are all hopelessly biased. 

Chapter eleven uses Jesus, Peter, and Paul as three who exercised Abnormal Communication.  Abnormal discourse occurs when someone enters a discourse that is unaware of established patterns of communication or decides to set them aside.  There are times when we must consider abnormal communication to reach those who have been lost to the church.  At times that may create tension among those within the church, but it may be the very thing necessary to effectively communicate God’s love and forgiveness to the individuals who desperately need to hear it. 

Larry H. Lindquist. Ed.D.
Director of Leadership Development
Denver Seminary
June 2010