Review: Resisting Gossip

“Without wood a fire goes out;
without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Prov. 26:20).
+

“Only you can prevent forest fires” (Smokey the Bear).

Resisting Gossip Cover

+
With gossip being so prevalent in our culture (Facebook, TV, newspapers, chat forums, etc), it can be hard to resist listening to and sharing stories about other people’s business. But how far does gossip actually go? And what does God say about gossip? Can we follow it? Are we just drowning too deep in the culture of gossip? There are some things that are clearly identified as sinful in the Bible that we conveniently avoid. We don’t consider them as significant as immorality, yet they sins still entangle us and hinder our relationship with God and others.
+
In Resisting Gossip author Matthew Mitchell says that he wished to find a one-size-fits-all solution to gossip. But gossip is messier than that. However, God’s wisdom is greater than the challenge. Gossip is a broad, tricky, and a pernicious problem that needs to be dealt with quickly when it crops up. Christian Living books should not provide a single fix-all for every problem. There is no one way to handle gossip. But most importantly in this book Mitchell goes for the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
+
The author gives practical, positive, spiritual advice on not only avoiding gossiping, but what to do if you become a victim of gossip. Mitchell carefully defines gossip and it’s many prevalent forms (no one is exempt here, not even you).

The Chocolate Milk

+ The author presents his material in a clear and accessible way. He is honest about his own failures and successes, and humbly opens himself to the reader.. And this vulnerability helps the readers do the same, especially as Matt consistently applies the Gospel to all of us throughout the book.
+
+ Mitchell uses Scripture to back up his points and avoids easy/moralistic/legalistic solutions.

+
+ He uses a lot of references from Proverbs. It’s one thing to read through Proverbs and read all the verses on gossip. It’s another to see them all throughout this book as the main book to be referenced. Let me tell you, there are verses a’plenty on gossip in Proverbs (which is good, and convicting).
+
+ There are 5-6 Discussion questions at the end of each chapter for either group discussion or personal reflection. While I didn’t go through every question and answer them myself, they seem to be good at making you think on how gossip is wrong, what you would do if you were on either side of the equation, how the gospel and the love of Christ are better than gossip, etc. They make you think, and that forces you to think about your actions and their consequences the next time you want to open your mouth and speak.
+
+ The book supports not just the negative prohibition of the tongue, but the positive use of it too. It would have been easy to stay just on the negative, but the true solutions are all related to the development of the positive use of the tongue (and the heart). It’s like Jesus’ command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Other leaders (religious or otherwise) in the world have given the same pronouncement in the negative “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others” (Isocrates). Knowing the negative is great, but having to follow the positive takes great effort.
+
+ The book is well-organized making it easy to follow along and read. It’s encouraging to know where the book is heading, and to be able to follow along, especially with an important subject like this.

The Spoiled Milk

This book was good for the topic it’s on. Really good. It was revealing, convicting, and all around encouraging to have some wisdom on this topic, to see more of the ins and outs of gossip, and to know what not to do and how to help instead. To speak good of others over bad (even if it’s true!) because you love them (even if you don’t feel like you do). So for this book, there isn’t much wrong to say (except for one thought:
+
– Maybe he could have used more real world examples, maybe they were just enough. I thought the amount was good, but more would always be nice too.

+
+ Yet, it seemed the examples he did use were relevant. They weren’t thought of just so he could put them in a book, but they really fit the situation.

Recommended?

I don’t consider myself particularly prone to gossip. Well, I didn’t. By biblically widening the definition of gossip Mitchell showed me that I may be more of a gossip than I care to admit. In the “Gallery of Gossips” Mitchell lays out 5 different kinds of gossipers. Those who speak, those who listen, and all from a filthy heart. I could think of people for each type. But after reading I realized that I don’t have to go looking for people to fit those positions. I myself have been those things!
+
Using Romans 1:29 (They are gossips) on page 44 hits hard. Why? Because just 11 verses before that Paul tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18), and then gives a description of what those ungodly people are like.
+
Gossip has no easy solution. It took the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive it, and it takes continually returning to the death and resurrection of Jesus to overcome it.

+
Hopefully this book will change the way you talk to, with, and about people.

Lagniappe

 [A big thanks to CLC Publications for allowing me to review this book [PDF] for free. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Advertisements

13 Comments

Filed under Review

13 responses to “Review: Resisting Gossip

  1. Spencer, thanks for your encouraing review!

    Like

  2. Spencer

    Thank you, Matt! It was pretty easy. I enjoyed reading this book, and it did help to think about what I want to say and listen to about, with, and to others. Highly recommended.

    Like

  3. jwdanielsfc

    I’m glad to see Mitchell emphasizes the “positive use of the tongue” while addressing negative speech. In fact, both kinds of third-person speech (negative & positive) constitute gossip. But what is really interesting is that although the bible utters all kinds of “negative prohibitions” against the tongue, the New Testament – especially the Gospels – is a very “gossipy” text. Although he is most often the subject of gossip, Jesus is in fact, portrayed as an inveterate gossip in the Gospels, quite capable of gossiping negatively about others, and knowing when and how to do it with optimal effect, too!
    See my GOSSIPING JESUS at culturaljesus.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Spencer

      No. If gossiping is a sin, then Jesus wasn’t a gossiper. Gossiping is done out of a bad heart (out of the mouth, the heart speaks [Matt. 12:34]), yet when Jesus talked about the Pharisees it was done in love toward the people who were being oppressed by them. Jesus may have spoken negatives about others, but it wasn’t gossip. It was to unveil the deceptive ploys they were using to prey on other people.

      Like

  4. jwdanielsfc

    I appreciate your response, Spencer. If the social process of gossiping, as such, is a sin, then whenever a colleague and I speak privately about how smart another colleague’s child is, we both are sinning. Gossip is “evaluative speech about an absent subject,” and the evaluation can be either negative or positive. You attempt to describe Jesus’ negative speech about the Pharisees as being anything but gossip – because it is Jesus doing it “in love,” and directing it to folks who deserve it. This is an understandable attempt to protect an image of Jesus that is barely human if being human means being social/culturally embedded in your time and place, as well as getting tired, frustrated, sad, even angry.

    What we know is this. Gossip was universally denounced in ancient literature, from Plutarch to Lucian to the Bible to the Talmud. But we also know that despite its negative appraisal, gossip was vigorously practiced by all people, most of the time. Gossip in Mediterranean antiquity was about information control, the construction of social reality and identity, and was practiced in an honor-shame culture – not in a guilt culture like ours.

    Jesus’ negative gossip about the Pharisees in Mt 23:1-7 comes after he has already shamed them into silence (22:41-46) in a social honor-shame game called “challenge-response” (going on since 21:23). But by turning his back on the Pharisees (rendering them absent), and “talking” about them negatively to the crowd (with the Pharisees in “ear-shot”), Jesus invites the crowd and his disciples to construct the Pharisees negatively with him.This is “text-book” gossip of a peculiarly aggressive sort of which all of us are familiar – the kind intended for the subject to overhear.

    The text says nothing about Jesus’ negative gossiping being motivated by love, or not. But it does portray Jesus knowing how to gossip, when to do it, and with optimal effect…namely to win every challenge brought his way by the Pharisees, and to publicly shame the Pharisees so that Jesus acquires their honor. So, Jesus’ “speaking negatives about others” indeed was gossip – unless one flip-flops the definition of such talk depending on who’s doing the talking.

    Jesus’ use of social conventions like gossip, challenge-response, and labeling, reflects the likelihood that gossip, although disparaged by Israel’s religious ideals, was nevertheless practiced by everyone – sometimes for bad, and sometimes for good. And if Jesus’ gossip according to Matthew advanced Jesus’ program, albeit at the Pharisees’ expense, then I think that’s a good result.

    Like

  5. jwdanielsfc

    Reblogged this on Jesus and the Gospels and commented:
    I’ve an interesting conversation going on at the “spoiledmilks” WordPress blog. Sometimes, I think it’s important to respond to typical Christian forays against gossiping that look past the obvious – Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as not only being the subject of gossip, but as an enthusiastic practitioner of such talk.

    Like

  6. Pingback: Interesting Discussion about Gossip | Jesus and the Gospels

  7. Jack,

    Thanks for chiming in. It’s fun to meet someone else whose doctoral work focused on gossip–there aren’t many of us around. =D

    I agree that how you define gossip makes a big difference in whether or not you think Jesus engaged in it. If you define it as “evaluative speech about an absent subject,” then it does seems like a morally neutral (or at least ambiguous) endeavor and could include things that Jesus does in the gospels. I spent a lot of time in my doctoral project evaluating various definitions at play in the literature (by the way I wish I had your book when I was doing my project in 2011–it looks like it would have given me some help with some of the cultural backgrounds surrounding the issue) and also trying to construct one that synthesized the biblical data which is consistently negative about gossip.

    The shorthand definition that I constructed for the sin of gossip as described/proscribed in the Bible is “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” In this definition, the evaluation being shared is negative (and perhaps not even based on truth), it is is being communicated in a clandestine manner, and it proceeds out of something wrong in the worshipping heart of the speaker or listener.

    Given this definition, I don’t believe that Jesus in engaged in sinful gossip. I think the Scriptures present a Jesus was fully human and fully embedded in his culture, and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15). This is a miracle and does require faith to accept.

    I’m pretty sure (from scanning your blog) that you and I have different ideas of what Scripture is and how it operates. But I appreciate that you are trying to wrestle with the text and that you believe in the resurrection of Jesus–the most important miracle ever!

    Like

    • jwdanielsfc

      Greetings Matt!

      Thanks for responding, especially since your book is what caught my attention – or, I should say, Spencer’s review of it.

      You and I agree that the text doesn’t suggest Jesus is engaged in sinful gossip. What I find interesting is that even though the bible is indeed, consistently negative in its appraisal of gossip, so much of the text describes gossip in action – characters gossiping, negatively and positively [By the way, Paul does it too when in his letter to the Galatian churches (Gal 2:11-14), he tears into Peter. Peter, of course, was not present in Galatia to give his side of the story].

      In any event, I suspect your definition emerges out of a pastoral context (given your doctoral degree) and targets a pastoral context, while mine comes out of a cultural/social-scientific one aiming at understanding what is going on in the sacred text. I agree with you that, at least by your definition – [““bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” In this definition, the evaluation being shared is negative (and perhaps not even based on truth), it is is being communicated in a clandestine manner, and it proceeds out of something wrong in the worshipping heart of the speaker or listener.”] – this is hurtful speech. But, Jesus had reasons to gossip about the Pharisees that had little or nothing to do with hurting their feelings, or something of the kind. The point is Jesus, in fact, gossiped, and at the most opportune times, and usually having something to do with honor-shame. But alas, I can’t – and so won’t – try and unpack the socio-cultural world of Jesus here so that folks will understand the connection between gossip, identity, and honor & shame. Not enough time or space. So, you’ll have to buy my book. 😉 …shameless plug!

      I appreciate both the content and tone of your response, Matt. Very refreshing!

      All the best with many blessings to you in your ministry.

      Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti!

      Jack

      Like

  8. Spencer

    I have to say, I’ve enjoyed these discussions, and I’m glad you took and eye on my review and shared it with others. Your responses were mature and well thought out. Thank you both.

    Like

  9. Pingback: A Soft Answer… | Dawning on Me Daily...

  10. Pingback: Am I for real? | sammysmindblog's Blog

  11. jwdanielsfc

    Hi Spencer,
    I remembered this string of conversation from more than a year ago, after reading a review of my book GOSSIPING JESUS that was just released by the Review of Biblical Literature. I hope you will host my posting the link to the review here, and perhaps alert your regular readers to it. The review offers a really good summary of the essential points of the book – which is great for potential readers, and a pleasant surprise for me.

    Here’s the link: http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleID=9418
    Blessings!
    JD

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s