More Than Talk: A Covenantal Approach to Everyday Communication
Book Reviewed: Strom, Bill (2013). More Than Talk: A Covenantal Approach to Everyday Communication (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt).
Reviewed By: Geri Forsberg
Reviewer Affiliation: Western Washington University
Total Pages: 389
Review of: Strom, Bill (2013). More Than Talk: A Covenantal Approach to Everyday Communication (4th ed). Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt (389 pages).
By Geri Forsberg, Ph.D., Western Washington University
Cite as follows: Forsberg, Geri (2014). More Than Talk: A Covenantal Approach to Everyday Communication (4th ed), by Bill Strom [Book Review]. Journal of Christian Teaching Practice, 1, http://www.theccsn.com/featured-book-review-peer-reviewed-by-ccsn-editorial-board-more-than-talk/
In Proverbs 25:11 (CEB) the author writes, “Words spoken at the right time are like gold apples in a silver setting.” I believe the book More Than Talk: A Covenantal Approach to Everyday Communication by Bill Strom provides words spoken at the right time. And they are certainly of great value for our contemporary culture. Teaching people how to communicate effectively—whether it be in small groups, in the family, in organizations, or in intercultural settings—has to be one of the most critical tasks of this generation. More Than Talk is a fourth edition textbook that, in my opinion, can be used successfully to teach communication students, at both the undergraduate or graduate level, how to understand the communication discipline from a Christian perspective.
The premise of the book is that communication is more than mere verbalization. According to Strom, words help us shape our social realities, and they help us develop our spiritual relationships with both God and others. Words are used to build up and support relationships, or they are used to tear down and undermine relationships. The way we communicate with one another either in interpersonal communication or in a public presentation has lasting implications.
Strom sets forth a broad and comprehensive overview of communication with chapters on different types of communication (non-verbal, intrapersonal, interpersonal, intercultural, etc.), and on public speaking, traditional and new social media, research approaches to communication, and ways people can use their gifting in communication. Each chapter is well organized and written in an engaging manner. Strom uses many examples, illustrations, anecdotes, theories, and principles to help the student of communication understand the discipline. Throughout the text, he clearly defines communication terms, which makes this a very helpful introductory book. At the end of each chapter he presents questions, writing probes, and key concepts for further exploration. He also has extensive endnotes which can direct the communication student to relevant books and journal articles in communication.
Strom provides a good overview of the entire communication discipline. He has a good grasp of the essential theories and issues related to everything from public speaking to mass media. He highlights central issues in each area of communication. For example, in his chapter on language he identifies and explains some language pitfalls associated with abstract language, euphemism, equivocal language, dichotomies, profanity, and verbal abuse (pp. 46-49). He also discusses some biblical guidelines for using language: “speak intelligibly … speak culturally … speak with stories … speak actions … speak worthily” (pp. 54-59).
In his chapter on interpersonal communication Strom identifies various models of communication—the linear model, the interactive model, and the transaction model. He identifies and discusses the differences between humans and objects. Humans are unique, non-measurable, and addressable choice-makers, whereas objects are standardized, measurable, and non-addressable things that do not make choices (p. 127). He provides more biblical perspectives on language (pp. 136-137). He concludes that chapter with a brief description of various types of listeners: the pseudo-listener, the selective listener, the monopolizer, the fixer, the ambusher, and the defensive listener (p. 146).
Strom moves through each area of communication discussing theory, providing principles, and explaining how the biblical concept of covenant applies. In his chapter on family communication, he presents an overview of dysfunctional communication, abusive relationships, and healthy relationships. In his chapter on small group communication, he discusses Bruce W. Tuckman’s theory of small group development, according to which we move through stages in the life of small groups from forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (pp. 189-190). In this chapter he also covers types of leadership and the ideal features of small group community.
Strom’s chapter on intercultural communication has important insights for anyone working internationally or working with people from other cultures. To strengthen cross-cultural communication he gives many suggestions including, for example, “Develop the sense of ‘different and good.’… Pursue a common goal…. Become a student of their culture…. Befriend people of similar socio-economic status…. Learn the language of those you want to befriend and influence…. Meet human needs, find points of contact and use redemptive analogies” (pp. 252-261).
Strom includes two chapters on the media: in one he reviews arguments against the media and in the other arguments for the media. In this fourth edition, he has included more references to the new social media bringing this text more up-to-date with emerging technologies. He provides a framework for thinking about the ways people approach media and technology. Some people “reject media technologies and content”; some people “accept technology, and select appropriate content”; some people “critique technology and media messages from a Christian perspective”; some people “accept both media technology and content”; and some people “reject digital media but accept their negative values” [italics added] (pp. 272-279).
Strom’s book concludes with chapters on the approaches to the study of communication by the humanities and social science. His final chapter, “Engaging Communication Gifts: Redeeming People and Culture,” emphasizes the ways and the places in which a student can use his or her communication gifts.
What makes Strom’s book unique in communication studies is his emphasis on a “covenantal” perspective. The word “covenant” and certainly “covenantal communication” is not a mainstream concept in either the culture at large or in communication studies. However, as Strom notes, it has been used by contemporary scholars. Business professor Moses Pava, for example, “suggests that covenantal ideals should shape how business leaders do shop in the corporate world” (p. 20). Religion professor Eric Mount Jr. “believes covenant principles explain how American culture developed through most of the last century as Americans valued ‘obligation, commitment, promise, responsibility, fidelity and vocation’ to hold each other accountable in neighborly love” (ibid.). Relationship experts Jack and Judith Balswick, “recognize covenant as the biblical image for marriage, and contrast it with traditional male-centered models and self-centered contract models” (ibid.). And theologian Russel Botman “claims that covenantal principles are required of politicians and clergy in South Africa as they negotiate equality and reconciliation between black and white people following so many years of apartheid” (ibid.).
For an understanding of covenant, Strom refers to biblical examples such as God’s covenants with Noah and Abraham, Jonathan’s covenant with David, and Ruth’s covenant with Naomi. In each instance the covenant is a verbal agreement that establishes relationship. Strom provides six principles related to covenantal communication: “Covenantal communication recognizes us as persons-in-community more than as individual selves … [and] is motivated by our steadfast love for the benefit of the other…. [It] requires responsible symbolic expression … [and] results in redemptive pacts as to how we will live together …. [It] changes us together … [and] exercises long-term commitment for maximum effect” (pp. 21-30).
When a covenant is established there is an acknowledgement of relationship, an intentional commitment to others, a responsibility towards others, and a loyalty toward others. Strom begins his discussion with an example of covenant in a corporate setting. After “Burkitt Financial” (fictitious name of a real company) discovered their organizational culture was highly individualistic and lacking in respect and care for others, the company brainstormed about a covenant that expressed their company values: “honesty, friendliness, respect, harmony … fun … willingness to change, [and] a desire to operate our business in an ethical, moral, and legal manner” (pp. 17-18). By establishing this covenant, “an agreement between two or more people that guides how they will treat each other,” the company was able to change its ethos and organizational culture.
In the last chapter of his book, Strom provides another example of covenant. This time he draws upon the covenant that members of Trinity Western University (where he teaches) enter into while a part of that community. At the beginning of each year, members of the community read through the covenant together. This covenant includes recognition of the authority of the Bible to guide their lives, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, personal holiness, excellence, integrity, disciple-making, community, and the teaching from Amos “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Lord our God.” (pp. 384-385). That covenant guides their behavior, values, beliefs, and communication with one another.
At a time when we live in such a narcissistic, self absorbed culture it is timely to place an emphasis on community and responsibility toward others. At a time when we are losing our Judeo-Christian moorings, it is timely to emphasize ethics, morals, and values. By providing a covenantal approach to communication, Strom is meeting a very real need in communication studies and in the culture at large. Students of communication—whether they are at Christian universities, seminaries, or in the public school system—could learn a lot from this approach.
Even though this book is directed toward the undergraduate student, it could provide a good starting point for communication scholars interested in further study and research related to covenantal communication. Communication scholars who are interested in ethics, morals, values, and biblical perspectives on communication will find this book beneficial.
1 In an earlier version, More Than Talk: Communication Studies and the Christian Faith, 2nd ed., Strom makes this point clear: “Words are more than mere talk; they are the means by which we co-construct new social realities and spiritual relationships with others and with God” (p. 11).
2 For example, see Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (W.W. Norton, New York, 1991).
Resource Link: http://twu.ca/directory/faculty/bill-strom.html