What is the Take Away?

Another new phrase has pressed itself upon us: “the take away.” To “take away” was used to refer to stealing or removing something from its place. Now it means what is valuable out of a larger whole. “What was the take away from that book, film, sermon, lecture, etc.?” The “take away” is what someone finds important or worth remembering. My take away is what suits me.

This new phrase concerns me, since it is another expression of reductionism and over-simplification—something like an executive summary. The executive has no time to read the whole document, so another person reads and summarizes it for her, usually in bullet points, (whose only job is to over simplify and place things in a rather random sequence).

Book, films, sermons, and lectures require serious scrutiny. Consider what is being offered and who is offering it. You may need to experience something you did not want to take away. Perhaps a film takes away your naiveté about religion or jazz or dogs. You got more than you expected. Perhaps you received something you would like to take away from your awareness, but you cannot because it is larger than you are.

I had a student who kept asking me to put things in “a nutshell,” to which I would often reply, “Dave, there is no nutshell for this concept.” It would be wrong to ask, “What is the take away from The Gospel of John?” because we should want all of it. There is no Cliff Notes version of the Bible or of Homer.

Truncated information may lead to loss. “The take away” often takes away needed knowledge. We want the skeleton without the meat, the blueprint without the building, the recipe without the meal. Thus, please take away the take away.

Author: Douglas Groothuis

Author of Christian Apologetics, Truth Decay, On Jesus, On Pascal, and others. Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary since 1993. Head of The Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree Program and Co-Director of The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. Senior Fellow for Apologetics.com.

5 thoughts

  1. Excellent set of thoughts. On occasion, I have used “take away” only because I failed to give thought to its meaning and message. That means I was not very thoughtful of what I wanted to say and kept the discussion on the surface. That appears to be what happens wen we ask for a take away – we invite surface thoughts rather than encourage one to go deeper and to think through the implications of a conclusion.

    Quite frequently, people want to go directly to application prior to exploration of observations. The consequence of such an action is to miss truth and meaning while skimming over them. We live in a “What’s in it for me?” culture in which we do not wish to spend time thinking in depth but simply want the “nutshell.” We want fast foods that leave us malnourished in the end, especially when we eat on the run.

    The “take away” and surface thinking are no different. Seeking for what’s in it for me starves the soul, because it focuses inward and not upward. Meat is missing in nutshells. They contain a lot of fats and fail to provide balanced nourishment. The best olive oil comes from crushing and extraction. Delineating truth requires thinking deeper and beyond ourselves,

  2. I have problems getting people to scroll down in emails. They want it all in the subject line and two or three lines. Otherwise it needs to be broken down into several emails.

  3. This is a good reminder on our tendency to hurry through too much without enough reflection. But we postmoderns aren’t any more shallow or impatient by nature than past generations, just that we are absolutely inundated with information at every turn and programmed to hurry everywhere because we are overextended. Back in the day, you read a book and went to bed when it got dark. That is, if you were lucky enough to own a pair of eye glasses and a candle. Now, we have too many options without the discipline to prioritize in favor of the health of our souls. We’ve become greedy for more of…. what? What are we running from? Would it be the end of all things, for example, if we Just Said No to all those mostly moronic social media offerings for a week or two, for starters?

  4. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief. I recently read your article in CT about Becky. I have no words only prayers and a deep gratitude that you would share you sorrow with me.

    Thank You,

    Mr. Dana Babcock

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