We live in a distracted age- Facebook, 24 hour news cycles, alerts and notifications, text messages, emails, etc. etc. ad nauseam. We are more “connected” (at least, technologically), more informed, and more entertained than ever before. The problem, according to Alan Noble, is that “the constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true.” (Kindle Location 62). While Biblical Christianity offers a Gospel that more than sufficiently addresses these existential questions, our distracted society relegates our witness to just another voice in the cacophony of worldviews (a term Noble challenges). “To understand the contemporary challenge of bearing witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to consider our way of life in this distracted age, and what effect it has on our ability to reflect, contemplate, and respond to conviction.” (99).
Much like Carl Trueman in his Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Noble draws heavily on the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. Part 1 of Disruptive Witness is a cultural critique of our distracted age. Noble describes the frenetic pace of our society and concludes, “this is the electronic buzz of the twenty-first century. And it is suffocating.” (176). Indeed, while we all intrinsically feel this, Noble articulates it, puts it front and center, and calls for us to consider the consequences of such a way of life. And this call isn’t for technological asceticism ; No, Noble states, “Wise Christians will discern how to appropriately use new media and technology, not withdraw and rail against it.” (232).
Moreover, Noble argues that , “barriers to belief created by technological and societal trends towards distraction have been dramatically strengthened by our increasing secularism in the West.” (452). This has resulted in “thick” and “thin” beliefs, carried along by the latest Twitter trends or societal pressures. Thus, Christianity is viewed as an ‘option’ among many, a possible selection in the marketplace of ideals. Picking up the language of Charles Taylor’s ‘the buffered self,’ Noble continues, “the world simply does not feel like a place where the supernatural intervenes. The cognitive barrier facing us is, How do we speak to people who feel that things are continuing as they have since the beginning? Who believe that the divine doesn’t interrupt our lives and there will be no second coming to interrupt this march of mechanical time? Our witness must work to disrupt the normative experience of life in a closed immanent frame.” (736).
If part 1 serves as cultural critique, part 2 offers a way forward for the Church in the distracted age. How can we disrupt the noise and offer Christ to a dying world? Noble outlines three approaches (in three chapters): Disruptive Personal Habits, Disruptive Church Practices, and Disruptive Cultural Participation. Here, for me, is where the book stands out. Perhaps paradoxically, Noble isn’t calling for the radicalization of evangelism practices or church reorganization (think: emergent church). No, the solutions offered are actually… quite simple- praying before a meal, glorifying God in art and beauty (via a ‘double movement‘), finding time for quiet and reflection, observing a sabbath- all of these are personal ways to fight the cultural drift and disrupt the noise. Churches can practice meaningful liturgies with intentionality, solemnizing the sacred, and avoiding subcultures that inadvertently capitulates to the whims of society. Lastly, we can engage with culture especially at the ‘crosspoints’ where the ‘immanent frame’ begins to crack and the sunlight of transcendence begins to pour in- think funerals, to use Noble’s example.
I highly recommend this book for multiple reasons. First, it offers a valuable critique of our technologically advanced society. Secondly, it asks us to reconsider how we engage with the world around us. Thirdly, it reaffirms the reality of a transcendent God, a reminder that all distracted Christians (including myself) can benefit from. And finally, it points us to the biblical and historic practices of the church, but does so with a fresh perspective and a renewed motivation. Buy the book. Read the book. Share the book.