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September 7, 2000

Communicating for Life

The story of Adam and Eve is, for Calvin professor Quentin Schultze, a classic example of how humans communicate. "First," he says, "they avoid communication and then they distort communication. What began in the Garden of Eden continues today."

Schultze notes that examples of the pattern still abound. The recent Firestone tire crisis, he says, followed essentially that same model of avoidance and then distortion.

Such real-life examples are at the heart of a new book by Schultze called "Communicating for Life." Five years in the making, Schultze's new book examines what he calls "a Biblical theology of communication," an area he says has been infrequently examined.

"The Scriptures refer to the tongue as a rudder of our heart and mind," he says, "but there has been very little written about communication from a Christian perspective. There are all kinds of specialized books on topics such as preaching and effective writing, but comparatively very little aimed at who we are and what we do as everyday communicators. And that's unfortunate because communication is crucial in every vocation and avocation. It's part of our family life, our church life, our politics, our media. Yet we sometimes assume that it comes naturally. I contend that it doesn't. We have all inherited the legacy of Adam and Eve."

A significant theme in the book for Schultze is the fundamental difference between "communication" and "transmission."

"Communication," he says, "is sharing, or common understanding. Most modern communication is really only transmission. It doesn't result in shared understanding as much in noise and confusion. We speak a lot, write a lot, broadcast a lot without really communicating. A preacher might talk for 25 minutes and not really connect."

Interestingly Schultze believes that the modern cacophony of communication voices often only makes communication more difficult.

"We sometimes think we can solve all of our social problems through mass communication," he says. "We sense power in technology and are seduced by the dreams of technological utopianism. But all technologies also present opportunities for evil uses of power if they are not used very wisely."

The book, which is intended for both college classes and educated laypeople, looks at communication from a variety of angles. It begins by examining the meaning and purpose of human communication, as well as the mystery of how people connect with each other and with God through communication. It concludes with chapters on responsible and authentic communication. And between are chapters on such things as the limitations of communication, the spiritual component of communication and the role of the media.

Each chapter begins with real-world examples as a result of input from Schultze's Calvin College students who encouraged him to keep the book filled with anecdotes and stories. As a result the book addresses such disparate people as Alice in Wonderland, Augustine (whom Schultze says wrote the first major theology of communication), Tom Brokaw, John Calvin, John Dewey, David Halberstam, Humpty Dumpty, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Manson, Monty Python, the rock group Oasis, Dorothy Sayers and Simon Wiesenthal.

"My students pushed me to use interesting and relevant examples," he says. "I read a lot and I'm constantly clipping things I find interesting. In this book I wanted to have examples from all kinds of different communication fields, everything from drama to literature to broadcast to print. And then my students encouraged me to add more real-life examples. So the final product brings a lot of life into the book."

And, hopes Schultze, the book will bring communications to life.

Read about a new book by Schultze's colleague Garth Pauley

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Contact Phil de Haan.