Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review -- "Stop the Runaway Conversation" by Michael Sedler

Up till now, the best Christian book on gossip (and the only book length treatment that I can heartily endorse) is Stop the Runaway Conversation: Take Control Over Gossip and Criticism by Michael Sedler.[1] Unlike the works analyzed above, this creative and aptly titled book is not primarily about what to do when one is gossiped about or even how to keep from speaking gossip. Instead, Stop the Runaway Conversation is focused on teaching Christians “what to do when others want us to engage in ungodly conversation with them.”[2] Sedler concentrates on the idea of an “evil report. . . . When an individual maliciously injures, damages or discredits another’s reputation or character through the use of words or attitude.”[3] He wants to teach Christians to not defile themselves through receiving evil reports. Sedler repeatedly and effectively emphasizes the contaminating effects of sinful gossip on the hearts of those who listen to it.

Stop the Runaway Conversation has many strengths. Sedler knows his Bible, and it shows. He is at his best when he is telling a story from the scriptures and unpacking its principles and relevant applications. He also illustrates nearly all of the applications with true-to-life and personal stories. Each chapter ends with good discussion questions. Sedler teaches believers about the warning signs of impending gossip,[4] pernicious strategies that gossipers use to seduce listeners and create “false alignments,”[5] and how to recognize when fear has seized control of a conversation.[6]

Sedler offers not only warning but hope. “A bleak and depressing picture? Yes, it is. Unless Jesus Christ is active in our lives we have little hope of escaping the snare of deception. Fortunately we serve a God of second chances. . . . What an awesome and powerful God! He cares deeply for His people.”[7] Sedler offers multiple strategies of what to do instead of receiving evil reports, and there is an entire chapter devoted to being cleansed from the defiling effects of gossip.[8]

The criticisms that I have of Stop the Runaway Conversation are relatively minor and mostly matters of emphasis. At times, Sedler offers definitions that I would want to qualify or nuance. I would also value more teaching on the connection between the heart and words of a gossip. Even though at one point, Sedler offers ten heart motives that might produce gossip, he seems to answer the basic question, “Why do we gossip?” with the answer “confusion.”[9] He seems, at times, to lean towards a “need-based” psychology. I would also like to hear more about how the good news of Jesus Christ counteracts gossip. At times, the gospel seems to be assumed rather than proclaimed.

On balance, however, Stop the Runaway Conversation is a very helpful book. Sedler lovingly challenges believers to be bold for Christ.
You recognize that the conversation is heading towards an ungodly discussion. You follow the suggested approaches found in previous chapters, such as asking questions in an attempt to understand the motivation of the speakers: “Do you need to be telling me this information?” “Have you talked directly with the people involved in this scenario?” So what happens after you have questioned the person and made it clear that you are not interested in being a part of the evil report, but he or she persists in telling you? At this point, you must take a stand.[10]
Amen. No matter what has been said in its defense by its many diverse and creative proponents, by God’s grace and in his power, sinful gossip must be resisted.

[1]Michael Sedler, Stop the Runaway Conversation: Take Control Over Gossip and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2001).
[2]Ibid., 14.
[3]Ibid., 15.
[4]Michael Sedler, Stop the Runaway Conversation: Take Control Over Gossip and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2001), 22-32.
[5]Ibid., 59-108.
[6]Ibid., 109-126.
[7]Ibid., 156.
[8]Ibid., 157-175.
[9]Michael Sedler, Stop the Runaway Conversation: Take Control Over Gossip and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2001), 47. It must be noted, however, that Sedler’s definition of confusion is not morally neutral. “Listening to conflicting voices and refusing to submit to the one of higher authority.” (ibid., 47).
[10]Ibid., 77. In his follow-up book, Sedler helps readers to distinguish between times when silence is golden and when it is not. Michael D. Sedler, When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2003).


Since I originally wrote these words, this book has been re-released with a new title and cover: Stopping Words That Hurt: Positive Words in a World Gone Negative.  The first two chapters are currently available online to download.  To my knowledge, the content is the same as before.


Note: With this post, we have rounded up our long blog series systematically working through my doctoral research into the literature about the problem of gossip.

My own contribution to the literature, Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue will be available on Tuesday from booksellers like these!


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