Alan Noble
Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age
InterVarsity Press, US, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0830844838

Alan Noble Disruptive Witness 

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"Noble offers guiding questions about messaging in a distracted age and invites new ways of telling stories as well as intentional conversations with those unlike ourselves."

In a year of constant disruption to our ways of life, worship and thinking, it might seem like a bad joke to consider one more. But a Christian’s witness is serious business, according to author Alan Noble, English professor at Oklahoma Baptist University and a reformed Presbyterian, whose provocative book Disruptive Witness is a healthy challenge to those still concerned with advancing the Christian Gospel.

First, Noble explores how we have become a “distracted, secular age” and its implications. Consequently, if the Christian church is to reach this current age, he says it must become even more disruptive. Noble then looks to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s work for guidance, and identifies two major trends in contemporary western culture that need disrupting:

1. “The practice of continuous engagement in immediately gratifying activities that resist reflection and meditation”;
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".

In other words, Christianity is often perceived as ‘just another’ option for distracted, buffered selves. Noble sees this view of secularism as more a fact about our modern situation than an enemy to overcome, and suggests its rise has inspired a preferential view of technology, inviting inward choices to form ‘my identity’.

Noble points out how such trends don’t direct us “toward human flourishing but instead help us project our identity and remain distracted...the market has been driven to produce a society that prioritizes the sovereign individual". Noble rightly suggests flourishing for the sake of others - once derived through a shared narrative - now has been replaced by a projection of ourselves as well as a culture full of gods and options for spirituality. 

His solution? Noble offers guiding questions about messaging in a distracted age and invites new ways of telling stories as well as intentional conversations with those unlike ourselves. Though some of his strategies and references to Taylor can feel thick and heavy (Noble is an academic, after all), his call for careful discernment about any communication is still worth the read, especially for those Christians interested in navigating today’s rapid-fire media, one rife with interpretations. 

Perhaps his best argument (and evangelistic metaphor) for disruption is this: “Unlike the gentle act of sowing seeds, a plow’s work is violent, disruptive and exhausting. It unsettles the ground and softens by tearing up. When a field has been plowed it no longer appears the same. The hard surface has been broken to reveal the vulnerable but fertile womb of the earth. It is much easier to simply cast the seeds and hope for a harvest, but a good farmer knows that the ground needs cultivation. This is the work of witnessing in the twenty-first century. We need to focus on what takes place just before the parable of the sower begins. Our task is to communicate our faith and truths of our world in such a way as to disrupt our buffered and distracted culture.”