June 21, 2020 Book Review

The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal

The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal

Samuel T. Logan Jr.

Reviewed by: Andrew H. Selle

The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal, by Samuel T. Logan Jr. New Growth Press, 2019. Paperback, 192 pages, $14.85 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP minister Andrew H. Selle.

This book is no abstract discourse. The author startles us with a personal confession of sin and repentance regarding his violation of the Ninth Commandment that led to the end of his tenure as president of a major Reformed seminary. In an excellent book about godly communication, this fine scholar and OP minister crystallizes what he learned during his pilgrimage (1).

The first chapter, “The Power of Words, Divine and Human,” lays a solid theological foundation. God’s Word creates reality. Whenever he speaks, something happens. We can hardly overstate the implications for our own speech. Because the ability to communicate is a crucial feature of humanity’s creation in God’s image, our words also contain meaning and power. Like God, people speak, and things happen. Unlike God, sin pollutes human communication, with disastrous results. “God’s image becomes an anti-god” (17).

Our Lord’s warning should take our breath away: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36). “Careless” words? We expect a stronger adjective, like “evil” or “godless” or “destructive.” But Jesus leaves us no excuse for “rotten speech” of any kind (Eph. 4:29), whether said mindlessly, or in anger, or even with noble intent. Digital social media, with its “online disinhibition effect” (83), raises the stakes because any cyber communication can become both global and permanent. The author presents invaluable guidelines for its proper use.

Our speech must be gracious (moved by grace and offering grace) even with our opponents—which is where we are most tempted toward sinful communication. We must speak in a godly manner with every person. One gem to take home: “If, in the end, I cannot agree with you on this subject, what would you most like to see from me and others who take my position?” (124). Indeed, let’s carefully listen, affirm what we can, and speak truthfully to all. We should do the same when talking with a fellow Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist.

The writers of our Reformed standards grasped the massive significance and pastoral practicality of the Ninth Commandment. Imagine a church characterized by “the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own” (WLC Q. 144). Not only in the church, but in the culture, we are salt and light. The Holy Spirit transforms our communication according to the template of New Creation itself.

In all his labors over decades of ministry, Dr. Logan nurtured a vast network of contacts within the worldwide Reformed communion and far beyond it. His book reflects that rich experience. It also raises issues of ecumenicity: How do we relate to professing Christians whose doctrine and practice differ from our own? Where are the limits? Who decides them? The author’s strength is his generosity and charitable judgments toward any who credibly claim the identity of Christian. If we err, let us err on the side of acceptance (Rom. 15:7).

Yet every strength carries with it a potential liability, and in this case, it might be to pretend Christian unity when, at the root, profound disagreements about core convictions torpedo it. The author is well aware of that sober reality, yet has taken the risky path of engagement, dialogue, and persuasion—and true Christian fellowship whenever it is possible. He has much to say, and when such a seasoned and humble churchman learns from God, the rest of us do well to listen.



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