Communication, Media, and Identity
by Robert S. Fortner
This book should be read, absorbed and its insights worked out in all evangelical ministries.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706, 2007, 280 pages, $31.95.
—Reviewed by Donald K. Smith, dean, World Link Graduate Center, Portland, Oregon.
This book should be read, absorbed and its insights worked out in all evangelical ministries. It has the potential to bring God’s people back to a biblical pattern of communication, replacing the domination of unbiblical approaches and confusion of basic terms like “information, knowledge, meaning and understanding.” Communication must emphasize relationship and dialogue. The intentional communicator may control content of a message but cannot control the interpretation of that message. Thus, communication must be participatory, involving both (or all) parties simultaneously as “senders and receivers.” Heavy emphasis must be given to “the hard work of knowing why, when, where, with whom and about what people … communicate.”
This leads to a refreshing and long overdue departure from the inadequate sender-receiver model followed by many (perhaps most) evangelicals who consider themselves communicators—find a formula for “witnessing” that will bring maximum response and then use it everywhere. Multiply it through mass media, and evangelization is accomplished. Fortner shows that such common ideas of communication make assumptions about media power and effect that are inadequate and even wrong.
He argues “that mass media are crucial in cultural formation and maintenance, and … should be considered art.” Art is a part of our environment, it deserves to be studied and appreciated, but it is not necessarily communicative. Genuine communication requires relationship, and the nature of most media does not allow dialogical relationships. Orthodox content does not make communication Christian; rather, sharing truth and beauty through relationship does. God’s good news is the supreme example of both truth and beauty.
A thoughtful and comprehensive discussion of technology’s impact on communication gives a solid basis for thought and application. Technology may expand an audience, but Christians must ask “how any technology could be used to establish, maintain and enhance relationship…with our neighbor and God’s relationship with his people.”
The mere use of technology does convey often unintended meaning. While mass media can be considered art, that does not suggest that it is not communication; art communicates, often deliberately. However, the underlying perspective that relationship is the purpose of communication is invaluable, particularly for those who persist on seeing even “Christian” communication as simply the delivery of correct religious information. Communication, Media and Identity provides a valuable foundation for understanding and planning for proper use of all aspects of communication.
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