Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Word Pictures by Brian Godawa

If there has been one publisher in the last year that has been an absolute delight to work with, it has InterVarsity Press. Their generosity in review material and eager participation in our blogging efforts have made this relationship a joyful surprise. And if one author has likewise been a joyful surprise, it has been one from their roster, Brian Godawa.

Brian's second book, Word Pictures (much like his first, Hollywood Worldviews), is intelligent, well-reasoned and compelling (which is somewhat ironic given his subject matter). He suggests that, while the Bible is chock-full of narrative, the European Enlightenment introduced a new paradigm of truth and knowledge that demanded a foundation solely on rationalism and empiricism and Christian thinking quickly followed suit. "The study of theology and apologetics" he proposes, "turned from the narrative text to the factual event behind the text. It's almost as if the biblical narrative became eclipsed by the pursuit of factual empirical verification of the text; a modern scientific obsession". In two early chapters (which also happen to the titles) he contrasts the "Word Versus Image" forms of communication and the "Literal Versus Literary" forms of interpretation.

But the book truly hits stride when Godawa starts talking about the idea of subversion. In subversion, the narrative, images and symbols of one system are discreetly redefined or altered in the new system. Using Acts 17, a chapter often cited in rational apologetics discussions, he argues that Paul was undermining Stoicism, subverting it through the Christian worldview. As Brian describes, "Paul is subverting their concept of God by using common terms with a different defintion that eventually undermines their entire narrative. He begins with their conventional understanding of God but steers them eventually to his own".

If there's one thing I did not like about the book, it was a couple of aesthetic choices. There were pictures scattered throughout, supposedly to support the argument for image, but they were mostly distracting and some were quite arbitrary. Also, each chapter was printed in a different font to accent how "the very art of typography itself influences the way we think". However, the only accent for me was how annoying different fonts in a book can be. In fact, it made one chapter almost unreadable. There is a reason, after all, why most publishers stick with a very few fonts for the body text of their books.

Aside from those few gripes, however, the book was a pleasure to read and a worthy follow up to Hollywood Worldviews. The idea of subversion in our culture was a fascinating concept and one I had not heard articulated before. This idea of subversion carries the second half of the book and I could barely put it down from that point on. It seems clear that subversion is taking place whether Christians are the ones weilding it or not (I had not considered that The Matrix may be an intentional subversion of Christian themes for New Age ideas). As Brian suggests, "We need to be actively, sacredly subverting the secular stories of the culture, and restoring their fragmented narratives for Christ".

This book was a free review copy generously provided by InterVarsity Press.

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