Book Review: Words And Witnesses

Words And Witnesses:  Communition Studies In Christian Thought From Athanasius To Desmund Tutu, edited by Robert H. Woods Jr. & Naaman K. Wood

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In reading this book, I understood that I was perhaps not the best person to read this book.  On the one hand, as someone who is deeply interested in communications theory [1], I was able to understand what the authors were trying to say, which is probably true of few potential readers.  But while I understood this book, there is a lot here I simply and viscerally despised about it both in the authors’ approach to the communication methods of Christian thinkers throughout history as well as in the political ends to which these various historical methods were aimed.  The approach of the authors towards the ways of communicating in this book amount to historical appropriation for blatantly leftist political ends, and as someone who thinks the past should be treated with more respect and who is less than tolerant towards leftist politics in general, there was a lot here for me to hate about this book and very little for me to appreciate.  Someone with a different political worldview and a deep interest in semiotics would likely view this book far more positively.

This book of a bit more than 300 pages consists of 43 essays by a wide variety of authors on a wide variety of Christian thinkers from the second century to today, divided into three parts, with the first focusing on early and medieval Christian thinkers, the second part focusing on the thinkers of the Renaissance to early Modern period, and the third part focusing on modern and contemporary thinkers.  Surprisingly, I was at least somewhat familiar with most of the thinkers discussed and very familiar with the writing and thought of some of them, like Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Peter Kreeft.  Despite the wide variety of authors and of Christian thinkers that they were writing about, there was an astonishing and lamentable similarity in the approach taken in many of the essays of this book:  we have a summary of the life and writing of the thinker involved, some kind of anachronistic judgment of that thinker based on contemporary leftist politics, and some kind of way in which the thinker being discussed can be used by contemporary leftist activists.  Some of the essays, it should be noted, were quite enjoyable to read for one reason or another, but most of them were deeply marred by feminism, leftist identity politics, and appeals to false social gospels and progressive politics of one kind or another.

If one is not fond of progressive politics in either the past or the present, there are very few things about this book that one can appreciate.  For one, one can note the lack of self-awareness about many of the authors, who frequently preach about the importance of listening and humility and civility and decry the evils of otherizing groups of people even as these people show little inclination to listen to views antithetical to their own, show a lamentable lack of humility and civility when it comes to discussing their own political worldview, and show a marked tendency to view conservatives and traditionalists as others unworthy of respect and approval.  This book appears to be intended to make leftist Christians from mainline churches that have been absolutely crushed by a loss of membership to feel good about themselves and to content themselves that their approach to those who have abandoned religious belief is the right one, and that they are far better Christians than those who take biblical doctrine (especially the corpus of biblical law in the Old Testament) seriously.  As a result, those who disagree with the worldview of the authors and their political project will have a hard time taking this book seriously in any positive way.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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