Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seeing Clearly: AU alumna reviews Bearing True Witness

“Having seen Christ, his disciples do not consequently look at nothing else; but as witnesses, they are positively entreated to look at everything else in a new way.”
— Craig Hovey, Bearing True Witness: Truthfulness in Christian Practice

Just in time to ring in the New Year! Everyone should go out and get a copy of Craig Hovey’s latest book, Bearing TrueWitness: Truthfulness in Christian Practice. It is a challenge and a call to all believers of the Christian faith. How are we living as God intends for us to live? How are we truthful? Are we truthful? How do we bear the message of the Gospel? Hovey’s responses to these questions challenge the reader to begin to see our lives as Christian witnesses in a new way.

A Christian witness is much like a witness as we know it in a legal sense; we tell what we see, and we share what we experience. This interpretation of witness poses a great risk to modern Christianity in that it implicitly acknowledges that no matter how great our communication skills may be, there will always be people who reject and may even show animosity toward the Gospel. Being a truthful witness is risky because we accept that we will be faced with adversity; it is a challenge because we nevertheless are compelled to do it.

On the other hand, it would be too easy to simply construct a false testimony, something pleasing to the ear to draw in the masses, since that which is a deliberate falsehood, according to Hovey, is typically crafted to be more appealing. We naturally want people to believe us whether we tell the truth or not. As he writes, what is most pleasing to us may be smooth, when what is true and real is rough or difficult to believe. We choose to deceive ourselves; we desire to hear smooth things when it is rough things that are really there under the surface. Even when the ice melts, the ground underneath it is hard and rocky. The truth of the Gospel is not always as smooth as we often wish for it to be.

Our way of seeing clearly as witnesses has been obscured over time. In some of the most provocative sections of the book, Hovey is critical of the way in which the Enlightenment has attempted to overcome the contingency of that which is beyond their control by assuming that we can at some point gain mastery over it. When we attempt to see and understand objectively, we limit ourselves. All of a sudden, that which is unconquerable by the enlightened mind falls outside the field of vision because we refuse to accept that there is something that we cannot eventually master or control. If God is contingent, then in order to see God, we have to re-broaden our vision. We must not allow our vision to be clouded by arrogance and vanity. We must relearn to see clearly.

Christians have a difficult task as witnesses. How does one convey truth, or testify to what they have seen or experienced, if we cannot extend our finger and point to God? As Hovey writes, Christianity is able to identify God through events, by what God does. Likewise, he argues that it is “impossible to identify God apart from God’s story, and stories need storytellers, whose role is that of witness”. We are the storytellers. We do not convince and persuade. We share, and we learn and experience with the people to whom we tell our stories.

In the end, what Hovey has done is reintroduced the idea of truth telling in Christian practice in such a way that all believers will begin to interpret and experience everything with regard to more uniquely constructed ideas of truth and falsehood.

Certainly this is a broad overview of Hovey’s book. It is also heavy in Nietzsche and Foucault, in true Hovey style. Fear not! For readers like me, who are so woefully undereducated in the philosophies of thinkers such as these, Hovey weaves them into this book so skillfully that any references rarely overwhelm or are difficult to understand. So, Craig Hovey, I thank you for that.

I believe that this book is refreshing and hopeful in so many ways. It certainly inspired me to change how I see my interactions with others, and to see the beauty in an unpredictable world and a God who will not be mastered. If you let it, this book will help you to see everything in a new way. I hope those who read Bearing True Witness will come away with an equally renewed outlook.

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My name is Christina Erikson, and I am a 2010 graduate of Ashland University with a B.A. in Spanish and Religion. After taking a year off working in the most Clerks-esque convenience store/gas station imaginable (be nice to gas station attendants, they put up with a lot), I started working at YBM ECC-Gangdong, a private academy in Seoul, Korea, as an English language instructor for children from 6-14 years of age. It’s challenging but rewarding work, and I am constantly surprised and entertained by the ridiculous things my kids do and write about every day. When I come back to the States, I will be attending graduate school to get my Ph.D. in Spanish, specializing in religious influences in Latin American literature and culture. 

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