Book Review | Cultural Engagement

Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues by Joshua Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior was an excellent read over Fall Break! The goal of this book is to look at a variety of issues that are in the forefront in our culture…from a variety of perspectives. The book is formatted in a series of essays and discussions. There are so many great voices that make up the conversation in this book: Rosaria Butterfield, Walter Strickland II, Bruce Ashford, Karen Swallow Prior, and Andy Crouch. Some of the contemporary issues included: Sexuality, Gender Roles, Reproductive Technology, Immigration and Race, Creation and Climate Control, Politics, War, Art, and much more! I have found that it helps strengthen the resolve of my convictions when I consider the perspective of voices coming from another context or experience.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • However, if the church is to offer a foretaste of the coming kingdom, reflecting our King’s commitment to holiness, justice, love, peace, and mercy in tangible ways, then we can’t simply speak in generalities; we must wrestle with the actual issues. Location: 234
  • As John Stott has eloquently written: “Dialogue becomes a token of Christian humility and love, because it indicates our resolve to rid our minds of the prejudices and caricatures we may entertain about the other man; to struggle to listen through his ears and see through his eyes so as to grasp what prevents him from hearing the Gospel and seeing Christ; to sympathize with him in all his doubts and fears.” John Stott, “The Biblical Basis for Evangelism,” in Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglas (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1975), 72. Location: 252
  • Engaging “the culture” begins by interacting with our neighbors face-to-face and treating them as individuals rather than simply offering sweeping declarations about a specific generation or a post-Christian society. Location: 287
  • Engaging culture, rightly conceived, includes studying the world around us—to understand its aspirations, longings, institutions, artifacts, ideas, and issues—in order to better engage the people within cultures. Location: 294
  • “Cultural engagement without cultural wisdom leads to cultural captivity.” Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (1989; repr., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), xviii. Location 314
  • Culture includes (1) formal ideas and worldviews that are directly articulated and passed on to others. While at a popular level this is sometimes the focus of what one means by “culture,” the concept is much broader than just beliefs. In addition to formal theories or beliefs, culture also includes (2) precognitive assumptions which are passed on and inherited through (3) the social and physical dimensions of life—the institutions, symbols, customs, and practices of a group of people. Location: 319
  • Culture has an atmospheric quality. It resembles an odor that can be attached to clothes and fill an entire house but cannot be detected by the person inhabiting them. Location: 356
  • Daily conversations and situations don’t make sense without a larger narrative that provides context. Location: 710
  • As redeemed image-bearers, the people of God are to live out their vocations caring for all of creation in light of the revelation of Christ and reflecting the priorities of our risen Lord. Location: 741
  • By way of general revelation, God universally reveals himself through his creation. Romans 1:19–20 is the classic New Testament passage illustrating general revelation: “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Location: 853
  • Because of his common grace to humanity, God gives general revelation as a gift to all people. Every skill and ability by which individuals—from artists to athletes and comedians to surgeons—contribute to culture has been given by God, the giver of every good gift. Location: 870
  • One of the first virtues necessary for the believer who seeks effective and God-honoring cultural engagement is diligence. The Bible describes diligence, in fact, as the foundation for the other virtues: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5–8 NKJV). The word “diligence” comes from a root word that means “care” and “attentiveness.” One feature of these times when so much news and information is thrust before us minute by minute is that it is impossible to attend with care every single disaster, debate, or development. In the age of the “hot take,” when everyone is expected to have an opinion on the issue of the day and silence is too often assumed to equal indifference, it is tempting to weigh in on everything, regardless of how little we actually know about the topic. Location: 1,141
  • As Andreas Köstenberger explains, “Diligence requires thoroughness rather than superficiality.” One mark of superficiality, Köstenberger notes, is being familiar only with sources whose point of view matches your own. Location: 1,150
  • Humility requires that our views concerning timeless issues and controversies of the day are to be measured by the enduring principles of God’s unchanging Word. Location: 1,177
  • Andreas Köstenberger observes, “Without humility, you will be blind to your own weaknesses, unaware of the obvious holes in your argument, and unable to be corrected by others. Humility allows a [person] to truly learn through submission to the evidence and correction by the insights of others.” Location: 1,183
  • Ultimately, engaging in culture is nothing more—and nothing less—than seeking the truth in order to love with a godly love. Location: 1,238
  • How I feel does not tell me who I am. Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me. He tells me that we are all born as male and female image-bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem. Genesis 1:27 tells me that there are ethical consequences and boundaries to being born male and female. Location: 1,700
  • The supernatural power that comes with being born again means that where I once had a single desire—one that says if it feels good, it must be who I really am—I now have twin desires that war within me: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Gal. 5:17). And this war doesn’t end until glory. Location: 1,710
  • Victory over sin means we have Christ’s company in the battle, not that we are lobotomized. My choice sins know my name and address. And the same is true for you. Location: 1,714
  • If black and white churches are not one in Christ, then they cannot be the moral conscience of a nation riven by race. Location: 3,723
  • The work of the Christian is holy because God has made the Christian holy. Thus, when the Christian works in her vocation, she is reflecting the glory of God to the onlooking world through her work. Location: 5,467
  • If a person went to church every Sunday from the age of twenty-five to sixty-five, he or she would spend around 3,000 hours gathered with the body of Christ. If the same person worked full time during that span, they would put in around 80,000 work hours. The point is simple: the workplace, not the sanctuary, is the primary place where most Christians will live out their faith. Location: 5,575
  • An occupation takes up time. A career is a way to build a personal kingdom. A job can make money. A vocation, however, is a calling from God (the word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call”). That’s what work is, a calling from God to use your gifts and talents to serve others and glorify God. Many assume that a “calling” to work is reserved for only pastors and missionaries—those called to “the Lord’s work.” In Scripture, however, God calls people to a variety of types of work, including what are often considered secular jobs. When God wanted to bring Jerusalem from ruin to restoration, he called not only Ezra the priest but also Nehemiah the urban planner and Zerubbabel the politician. Location: 5,584
  • When work no longer bears the burden of the way I build my identity or prove my worth, then work can be received as the gift it was intended to be. The gospel frees work from the shackles of selfish ambition and sets it on the path of seeking the flourishing of our cities. Location: 5,619
  • According to Amy Sherman, there are a variety of ways that God is at work in the world, and the myriad of human vocations give expression to the different aspects of God’s work.Redemptive Work: God’s Saving and Reconciling Actions Pastors CounselorsPeacemakers Creative Work: God’s Fashioning of the Physical and Human World Musicians Poets Painters Architects Interior designersProvidential Work: God’s Provision for and Sustaining of Humans and the Creation Mechanics Plumbers FirefightersJustice Work: God’s Maintenance of Justice Judges Lawyers Law enforcementCompassionate Work: God’s Involvement in Comforting, Healing, Guiding, and Shepherding Doctors Nurses Paramedics Psychologists Social workersRevelatory Work: God’s Work to Enlighten with Truth Educators Scientists Journalists Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011), 103–4. Location: 5,635
  • How might one discover their specific calling within God’s holistic work? A good place to start is by pondering the words of Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”5 Whatever you do, whether a bishop or barista, do it for the glory of God (Col. 3:23). Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 95. Location: 5,653
  • Yellow highlight | At its core, Sabbath is about enjoying a glimpse of eternity with our creator. That’s the reality of Sabbath rest. It allows us to experience the rest that Christ offers when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). If our work is not about us, as Hugh Whelchel argues,13 then our rest is, likewise, not about us; it points us to Christ and to his eternal work. Heschel writes, He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil [ . . . ] Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Boston: Shambhala, 2003), 13. Location: 5,956
  • There is no such thing as a culture-free human, no less a culture-free Christian. The question is not if we will be in or out of culture, but how will we live in our particular cultural space and time as Christians. Or to put this question differently, how might the gospel itself, the very core proclamation of Christianity, serve as our guide to living faithfully in our present context? Location: 7,314
  • The postures of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common. Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them. Location: 7,565

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