The Role of Communication in Culture

Communication is a powerful and vital aspect of the human experience, yet many people struggle daily to communicate with one other and avoid misunderstanding and conflict. This struggle traces back to the Garden of Eden when the serpent cunningly deceived the woman, Eve, with his words, who then, by her choosing, disobeyed God (Gen. 3:6). In Communicating for Life, Quentin Schultze (2000) shares his perspective on communication from a Christian worldview. Schultze focuses on and returns to the concepts of co-creation[sic] and stewardship throughout the book. The book has 12 chapters that form three groups of communication: human, spiritual, and mass media. What makes this book so intriguing is how Schultze interweaves Scripture to affirm that God created man in His image to be communicative with Him and with his fellow man.

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Human Communication

The author first addresses the meaning and purpose of human communication in the opening chapter. Schultze establishes the biblical understanding that God created man and made him the steward over all of creation (Gen. 1:26). “God gives us the gift of communication so that we can actively co-create our culture, our whole way of life” (Schultze, 2000, p. 19). Our ability to communicate enables us to act on our inherent creative nature. Schultze asserts that by way of communication, people contribute to culture in ways that are good and bad (p. 19). The art of human communication, according to Schultze, allows us to co-create with others to build our culture and frame the society in which we live and operate (p. 21). The author also points out that “all human communication depends on God’s grace” and “apart from grace, all of our communication tends toward symbolic entropy” (p. 34). There lies the battle line in human communication that has plagued the world since the fall of man. That which is absent of God’s grace is intended to deceive and meant for evil collides with that which is full of God’s grace and intended to enlighten and meant for good.   

Robert Craig (2007) writes: “Theories of communication constructed primarily in and for a North American cultural context are problematic because they inadequately explain the communication behavior of non-Western people.” (p. 257). This inadequacy ties to the differences in how one interprets the meaning of symbols between one group and another. Schultze refers to this as symbolic ambiguity (p. 61). He also refers to postmodernism as another limitation for human communication in that “people use symbols to create their own, subjective version of reality” (p. 62). The only way to overcome symbolic ambiguity, according to Schultze, is through interpretation, where both parties can agree on the meaning of cultural symbols (62). This point lends itself to the third limitation of human communication that Schultze addresses: failure to recognize and develop one’s communication gifts (p. 66). This failure often links to a condition of self-doubt or one’s jealousy over someone else’s strength using the same skill (p. 68). Schultze writes, “When we live in shalom [(peace)], we encourage and support one another’s efforts to identify our communicative gifts and to exercise them on behalf of God” (p. 67). When we choose otherwise, we then begin to see the effects of sin in how we communicate.

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Spiritual Communication

Quentin Schultze (2000) suggests the possibility that people are all “seducers” of a sort who use communication to get what they want in life (p. 73). When a person is apart from God, sin creeps in to permeate the heart. This permeation of sin causes a breakdown in communication that prompts one to deceive, manipulate, and mislead (p. 74-75). Richard Olsen and Julie Morgan (2012) expounds on how sin impairs or limits our ability to communicate and draw on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collection from the book of Luke (p.145). In the parable, the Pharisee, who was apart from God, communicated his self-praise to God. The tax collector, one with God, communicated only his need for forgiveness. Schultze addresses how sin leads to symbolic domination and uses the example of the crusades of the 11 and 12-century. The symbol of the church was fear and death, whose massage to the lost was “Become a Christian or die” (p. 81). He writes, “Symbolic domination exists wherever the few have power to control the many” (p. 81). This form of domination is seen throughout the world and fueled by a secular worldview. 

“In a Christian worldview, our knowledge of God should shape our understanding of everything else” (Schultze, 2000, p. 91). Schultze professes that a Christian worldview and our knowledge of God reshapes our view about everything and how we choose to communicate (p. 95). The Christian worldview redirects one from a self-serving mindset to one that is inclined to serve others and put their needs first. The Bible affirms this in the book of Philippians. Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (New American Standard Bible, Phil. 2:3). In so doing, Schultze shares four ways that people can serve others with symbolic power: “pray for our neighbors, share our earthly authority with them, nurturing their symbolic giftedness, and keep alive the voices of those who have gone before us” (p. 102). Christopher Marshal (2004) expressed the relational needs of people in comparison to the Triune God. He writes, “Just as the Triune God exists in eternal, intimate, equalitarian relationship within the Godhead, so too[sic] are human beings created to know intimate, enduring, equalitarian relationships with one other” (p. 405). Schultze makes it clear that a person’s power and ability to serve his neighbor responsibly is directly linked to his spiritual relationship and communion with God (p. 110).

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Mass-Media Communication

Quentin Schultz (2000) states a well-known fact that media begins to shape consumer identities in the toddler years of growth (p. 113). From television and radio to billboards and comic books, the commercial industry exploits various mediums to influence buyers and market their products. As people age, they begin to form nitch communities, or Schultze terms as consumption communities (p. 114). He further points out that the church is not immune to the tactic of exploitive commercialism. He writes, “Christian consumption communities encourage the rise of influential parachurch celebrities… who are more interested in selling their products than in nurturing the faith…” (p. 115). The Internet, however, will likely surpass all other mediums as a den of mixed motives. Steve Almond (2019) refers to the Internet as an “epistemological buffet” where people frequent web and social media sites that affirm and feed their biases (par. 8). Therefore, Schultze later asserts the notion that popular media are like a secular “bible” that reflects not only what we believe and why but can also serve to reshape those beliefs (p. 125). How that works to shape a culture, a reverent God-fearing culture, rests in the spirit of responsible communication over irresponsible communication.

In his closing chapter, Quentin Schultze (2000) calls human culture a “symphony,” and says each person has the choice on how to use his or her communication gifts, be it for good or bad (p. 166). When it comes to sharing the gospel, many believers cling to a fear that they might make a mistake and choose not to share at all. However, God does not require perfection, nor can people produce it, but instead, He wants faithful obedience. Schultze explains that how one shares the gospel goes beyond one’s words. He writes, “All aspects of culture have symbolic potential–our clothing, transportation, music, even our house and yard” (p. 169). The art of sharing the gospel requires every believer to show and tell because if one’s word and action are not synchronous, then such a person is a hypocrite and not of the faith. Schultze concludes by pointing out that the call to Christian discipleship is rooted in Jesus Christ. He writes, “our Creator has equipped us with the gospel and has given us the necessary gifts to play our parts… as cocreators of culture” (p. 174).

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Summary

In Communicating for Life, Quentin Schultze lays out an overall compelling argument that shows how communication shapes our culture and the symbols we attach to our beliefs. His premise on stewardship aligns well with Scripture and is biblically-based; however, the term “co-creator” is not biblical. The biblical account in the book of Genesis records that man was last in the order of creation. Some theologians speculate that it was to show that man had no hand in the creation event. Therefore, the inaccurate term “co-creator” infers that man is on an equal level with God in the context of creation. Instead, the accurate word is man is a subordinate creator, for he can only create within the construct and constraints of creation. The gift that gives us this creative ability, as Schultze conveys, is the gift of communication through words, actions, and symbols that enables believers to show and tell.


References:
Almond, S. (2019, ). How mass media became a marketplace. Boston Globe
Craig, R. T. (2007). Issue forum introduction: Cultural bias in communication theory. Communication Monographs, 74(2), 256-258. doi:10.1080/03637750701390101
Marshall, C. (2013). Eternal life and the common good: Why loving one’s neighbour matters in the long run. Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, 44(2), 403-412. doi:10.26686/vuwlr.v44i2.4996
Olsen, R. K., & Morgan, J. W. (2012). A dialectical perspective on communication and ethical reasoning. Christian Scholar’s Review, 41(2), 135.


A Faithful Sower Publishing is a limited liability company that is dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and help guide people into a relationship with God and grow in that relationship. The publisher, editors, and authors achieve that end through prayer and the careful exposition of the Bible to best explain and illustrate Scripture in a meaningful engaging way so others can apply its truths to their everyday life. The mission of the the A Faithful Sower ministry team is to carry out the Great Commission issued to all who choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Jesus commands us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

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