Ten Myths Concerning Communication (part 1)

Charles H. Kraft’s book, Communication Theory for Christian Witness, has a chapter of ten myths in Communication Theory for Christian Witnesscommunication. These are quite helpful and challenging because there are several sacred cows in American Evangelicalism that he debunks. For example, I had a friend once who was offended that a church service did not conclude with an altar call. Although this was at one point a very effective tool for communication and calling people to respond, it has descended into emotive pleas with little substance (actually, I may be giving the altar call a little more credit than it actually deserves here). At any rate, see how many of these you can agree with:

1. Hearing the gospel with one’s ears is equivalent to “being reached” with the gospel.

2. The words of the Bible are so powerful that all that people need to bring them to Christ is to be exposed to hearing or reading the Bible.

Response: don’t dismiss this one right away. The basic question here is where is the power of the scripture? Is it in its words themselves (ala fundamentalism), or in the message those words convey (ala Karl Barth)? This is a false dichotomy and the answer lies on a continuum and not an extreme, but a provocative statement nonetheless.

3. Preaching is God’s ordained means of communicating the gospel.

Response: “Preaching,” as a word in common parlance, drums up pictures of a man standing in front of a captivated audience. Kraft offers that preaching in the NT sense is more dialogical in nature and entails large numbers of people rather than a single speaker. Perhaps a town hall meeting where the discussion topic is Christ and several are proclaiming Him boldly would be analogous to the NT model. If giving speeches is the only use of the word “preach,” then how can everyone be preachers, as we are commanded.

4. The sermon is an effective vehicle for bringing about life change.

Response: He may be overstating his case here. The sermon does produce life change. But his argument is that the sermon alone produces life change apart from meaningful interaction on a personal level with parishioners. Sermons are effective and necessary, but the ministry should entail more than sermons.

5. There is one best way to communicate the gospel.

Response: I agree with him wholeheartedly here. There are many tools and many methods, some will work in certain contexts and others won’t. We should be willing to communicate the appropriate content of the gospel in whatever medium that is (1) effective to the hearer and (2) doctrinally sound.

It’s good to read material that challenges our thinking. If we read only those thinks that reinforce our beliefs, then we can fall into literary groupthink and never grow. I think Kraft is onto something here.

I’ll save the last five for later, but what do you think of these? Do you agree with any? Which ones do you most agree or disagree with?

  1. Not having read the book or knowing the remaining 5 myths in communication, it occurs to me that at the foundation is getting the idea of the Gospel across to those who are lost. Relaying the information can take many forms – from blogging (nothing actually spoken) to preaching (only words in the air) – to action (being doers and not hearers alone).

    Saying that only one way is correct should raise eyebrows. However, ultimately I think, the lost must be presented the Gospel using any variety of media available.

    I am reminded of working out in the weight room at the YMCA with a friend whom I have been praying for and asking what Jesus means to him. Altar call? Maybe not exactly….

  2. Tom- yes you are correct, these are mainly gospel communication myths. In my context (that is, a seminary environment), if one says, “preach the word,” immediately everyone envisions a pulpit and an audience in rapt attention. I do believe there are those who are called to “preach,” but we should broaden our perspective, to some degree, as to what preaching is. Preaching can be done, as you say, through public speaking, or through any other non-conventional means also.

  3. 1. I don’t necessarily disagree with this one, but I think that best way to be presented with the gospel includes more than just hearing it. If it were, then the babble-heads on street corners in seedy parts of town would have converts by the dozen.
    2. I don’t like the way this statement is phrased. I think the “meaning” of the Bible, specifically that of Christ’s sacrifice and our ability to use it as substitutionary atonement in all that people need to bring them to Christ. The problem, though, is that most people don’t read the Bible and those that do are often confused because you can’t get the full meaning of it through 20 minutes of scimming. That would be like walking in to the middle of a movie, staying for five minutes, and then walking back out. You’d end up thinking that Luke and Han must be evil for helping some dangerous female criminal escape her prison cell while they killed dozens of guards that obviously were the good guys because they A) wore white and B) didn’t shoot and kill anyone in the entire scene despite massively superior numbers so that means they must be good hearted and never shoot to kill.
    3. Uh… that’s a nice thought, but what about the many other ways the Bible shows people receiving the gospel… heavenly visions, friendly conversations and talking donkeys?
    4. Obviously whoever thought up this one hasn’t been to most churches lately. I find that most sermons are effective vehicles for balancing your checkbook or catching up on some sleep. I’m blessed to be in a church where the sermons are currently energizing and effective, but the sermon format is only as effective as the person delivering it. That’s like saying automobiles are effective vehicles for transportation. However, if the only automobiles you’ve ever seen are up on blocks in someone’s front yard, you sure aren’t going to pay them much attention.
    5. I agree with your response whole heartedly.

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