Static: Tune Out the “Christian Noise” and Experience the Real Message of Jesus
By Ron Martoia
Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2007
Review by Carl McColman
Kind of an inverse Screwtape Letters, this book is built around a charming story line in which author Martoia, an evangelical preacher and Bible teacher, counsels his good friends Jess and Phil on the art of Christian witnessing here in the colorful wilderness of the thoroughly postmodern twenty-first century. What quickly emerges (er, pardon the pun) is a mandate to deconstruct (oops, I did it again) the classic “If you died tonight, do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” approach to spreading the gospel.
Martoia unpacks a simple truth that Catholics and all the other sacramental/liturgical types have known for quite some time now: that the take-no-prisoners, repent-or-be-damned approach to evangelism is, far from being an effective strategy for boosting church attendance, actually a chief contributing factor to why so many non-believers have such a low opinion of Christianity (and why so many non-evangelical Christians resent how the born again crowd have given the entire religion such a bad name). The author patiently recounts foible after foible as Jess and Phil blunder their way through attempts to witness to Marty, a secular co-worker of Phil’s; by the end of the book, I was wondering why Marty still even bothered to hang out with these two. But the juice in Static is not the humor in its depictions of how old-style evangelism no longer works (if it ever did), but rather in Martoia’s thoughtful exploration of key Biblical and cultural themes in his quest to articulate a vision of Christianity that remains scripturally-grounded, Christ-centered, orthodox (in the best sense of the word—think Brian McLaren), and entirely relevant to today’s world.
Why “static”? Because, as Martoia sees it, many of the buzzwords of contemporary evangelical Christianity: gospel, sin, salvation, being born again, repentance, and so forth—have accrued so much cultural baggage and stereotypical connotations over the years that to the average person (both inside and outside the church), the meaning of these words and their theological power has been lost, like a weak radio signal submerged beneath the hiss and crackle of airwave interference. The signal-to-noise ratio between the radical power of Christ’s liberating message, and the stultifying, stick-in-the-mud theology of repression that has come to characterize too much repentance-based religiosity, has reached a tipping point in the postmodern world: all but the most theologically naive are, simply put, immediately turned off to a religious message that is seen as controlling, manipulative, superficial, and insincere.
Into this morass wades Martoia, who clearly loves the Christian message and wants to find new ways to share it with people, even if that means slaughtering decades- or even centuries-old sacred cows in the process. For example, he provides a brilliantly simple reading of the story of Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3) to argue that conversion is really a process much more than a one-moment decision. Granted, for those whose experience of Christianity is eucharistic rather than propositional, this will hardly be anything new. But what a delicious treat it has been for me to “listen in” as the Bible-believing characters in this enjoyable tale marvel at the discovery of a deeper, more nuanced spirituality—one that cannot be reduced to a formula, but for that very reason is so truly, truly freeing.