Overt and Covert Messages


I jut finished reviewing Jenell’s excellent review of Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy.” This review doesn’t quibble with the content per se of Brian’s writing, but evaluates the gender dynamics present in the work. Certainly Brian is moving forward in his relationships and respect of women, yet as Jenell points out, the work also has several limitations in addressing the needs and concerns of women.

Back in seminary I took a Christian Ed. class with Chuck Foster (now retired and I think living in Washington). One of the more insightful things I learned in the class was methods for evaluating curricula (not simply teaching plans, but all works that attempt to impart information to the reader). Chuck suggested at least two criteria (and actually there is a third that I can’t remember) for evaluation. First, one needs to consider the overt messages, that is, the things that the author is blatantly trying to say. That seems to be a pretty obvious point of evaluation. The problem is that we stop there, never looking at other issues.

The second means of evaluating curricula is what Jennell does in her review — to consider the covert messages. What does this mean? All authors pick and choose the stories, examples, and references they use to support their arguments. In considering the covert message one begins to look at the things that the author left out or omitted — the who, what, where, why, and how. Very often these covert messages (or maybe inferences is a better word) say as much if not more about the work as the overt. Jennell offers an excellent example of this type of evaluation.

I write this because I can imagine that Jenell might get creamed for being critical of Brian, who is a mentor to many folks. Yet, as her attempt at dialogue with Brian indicates, this type of criticism is valuable in helping us all to think about our growing edges. I know that Brian will be a better person for Jennell’s review, and I appreciate what she has offered us.

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