Awakening Sleepy Christians
In his book, Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell gently calls attention to perhaps the most pervasive sin in the contemporary church. Writing as a seasoned pastor who has personally experienced the consequences of gossip, Mitchell calls attention to the inner heart workings of those who partake in this destructive behavior by arguing that, “Gossip is everywhere… [it] is something we all experience. No one is safe from its tantalizing lure. No one is safe from its poisonous effects” (p.15).
After sounding this alarm, he awakens sleepy Christians by calling them to vigilance in purging their lives of this deadly sin. He accomplishes his task by thoroughly examining the appropriate biblical texts, synthesizing their truths through the lens of pastoral wisdom, and humbly concluding that Christians must learn to recognize, resist, respond, and regret gossip.
Mitchell defines the sin of gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” (pp. 17-18). He then divides his book into four major sections. In section one, he elaborates on his definition, searches the biblical teaching on the issue, and categorizes individuals into different types of gossipers. In section two, he offers concrete escape routes for those tempted to gossip.
Section three is probably the most transparent section of the book. In these chapters Mitchell poignantly describes the pain of being gossiped about and how Christ calls believers to respond in faith in the midst of their suffering.
In the final section he offers practical advice on how repentant Christians can climb out of the gossip cistern after falling into its murky depths. With this roadmap in place, we now examine whether Resisting Gossip delivers its readers to their proper destination.
In answering whether Resisting Gossip delivers the goods, the conclusion is a resounding “YES!” I say that because there are so many things to commend about the book. First, the beauty of Resisting Gossip lies in its simplicity. R.C. Sproul once commented that, “To simplify without destroying is the highest task of the scholar.” After reading this book, I must conclude that Mitchell is a scholar of the highest rank. For example, his exegesis of Scripture is thorough yet accessible, his summary of the Bible’s teaching is comprehensive yet pointed, and his conclusions are straight forward yet deeply profound.
Second, there is an authenticity in Mitchell’s writing. As a reader, I felt as though I had experienced the pain of gossip through the heart of a loving pastor who had personally witnessed the ravages of gossip in the life of his church. In describing his encounters with gossip, Mitchell skillfully walks the line between self-disclosure and autobiography; the result is that readers will see gossip through the eyes of a true shepherd who loves Jesus and is committed to their well-being.
Third, Mitchell lets Scripture define, describe, diagnose, and destroy the sin of gossip. If you are looking for a treatment on the subject composed of modernist psychology that has been baptized with a few Bible verses, you will not find that here. Mitchell ably allows the Word of God to shape and give depth to the subject and as a consequence, his readers are truly edified.
With these strengths noted, there are a couple of minor drawbacks with the book; however, as I type these words, I find it difficult to even refer to them as real weaknesses; instead, perhaps we should think of them as missed opportunities.
First, Mitchell fails to properly show where his book fits into the overall conversation related to the Christian discourse on gossip. This was most likely the publisher’s decision. However, the book is so good, and would have shown so brightly when contrasted with other books on the subject, that readers were robbed of the opportunity to see how incredibly insightful Resisting Gossip really is. Of course, this is only a minor detail, but I think that had Mitchell interacted a little more with some of the other current works on gossip, his case would have been even more compelling.
Second, it would have been great had Mitchell developed more thoroughly the different types of gossipers. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book and it is so helpful diagnostically for those who seek to counsel biblically. As I approached the end of that particular section, I remember saying to myself, “I want more!” Of course, this can be easily remedied by Mitchell; perhaps he can write a second book called Resisting Gossip II that can expand on his thoughtful (and convicting) section on the kinds of gossipers mentioned in the Bible and how they connect with present-day pastoral care.
With those strengths and missed opportunities noted, we can now examine the significance of Resisting Gossip.
Resisting Gossip needed to be written because gossip is one of the most, if not the most, prevalent sin in the contemporary church. All biblical counselors, pastors, lay leaders, and everyday Christians are prone to its temptations and in danger of experiencing its consequences.
Matthew Mitchell has provided a practical guide that helps everyone recognize, resist, respond, and regret this pervasive and insidious sin. Because of its accessibility, strong biblical and theological foundation, and warm-hearted pastoral tone, biblical counselors will find this book an invaluable resource, not only for their parishioners, but for themselves as well. Resisting Gossip’s gospel-centered, elegant simplicity will benefit the church for years to come.