of Ben Makuh


Book Reviews


Communicating with Grace and Virtue: Learning to Listen, Speak, Text, and Interact as a Christian [a review]

This is a simple, short, straightforward meditation on the art of communication. It is all too easy to spew words out of my mouth or through my thumbs onto a screen without reflecting upon what I am saying, how I am saying it, or whether it even needs to be said in the first place.

Through eight brief chapters, Quentin Schultze helps to frame communication as something that holds great possibility and yet as something that requires greater virtue and attention than we often give it. On the way he explores other aspects of communication such as the communal nature of communication, the power of story, and the pros and cons of communication technologies.

My one real quibble with the book lies in his chapter about story as an engaging way to communicate. While he is undoubtedly right that listeners tend to be able to be enraptured by story, he makes this problematic statement:

The Gospels engage partly because they are narratives. The book of Leviticus, filled with laws and commandments, is not equally engaging; much of its meaning comes from where it is located in the greater biblical story of God’s people, who needed specifics about how to live faithfully under God’s law.

Again, on the surface, this is undoubtedly correct from a merely descriptive vantage point (the old trope about how boring Leviticus is), but it strikes me as a fairly sloppy thing to say. Leviticus speaks to gender and sexuality, oppression and power, justice and righteousness, and even what to do with viral outbreaks in a community. In short, the book is talking about nearly every single hot topic in our culture today! Stating that its significance is mostly as an historical artifact of a bygone people meeting a need that is no longer needful is to misunderstand the book, how to read it, and what role it plays in the life of the Christian today.

Lest I sound like a pedant here, let me explain why this is a red flag. "Using story in communication" is a noncontroversial, popular thing to do these days. We no longer frame civic conversation in terms of right and wrong or values or even truth. We talk about "narratives." Why? Because it’s engaging to do so, just like Schultze describes. Yet to use the power of story to communicate simply because it is "effective" is to fail to catechize one another in other non-narrative forms of communication. Communicating propositions about the world as it is invites us out of our subjective stories into the much less comfortable territory of axiomatic and even dogmatic reasoning. Yes, it’s important to touch hearts and "create audience empathy and sympathy," as Schultze argues a little later. But employing pathos without logos or ethos falls far short of the art of rhetoric.

This concern aside, this book is nevertheless a decent examination of our words and how to use them well.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

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