Friday, July 07, 2017

Book Review- A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today's World by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle


As the father of two young girls, I am constantly assessing the cultural landscape that we find ourselves in and asking the question, "What kind of world are my girls going to inherit?"  Some would argue that every generation has had its share of moral challenges and cultural shifts.  This is undoubtedly true; however, let's be honest- we are living in strange, strange times.  There are currently issues arising in the west that simply have never needed to be dealt with or addressed before.  Moreover, various issues that have emerged in the past have seemingly intensified in recent years.

Addiction has always been a challenge, but now it seems we are inventing new ways to destroy ourselves.  Pornography has been a moral problem since its inception, but never has it been more readily available to our children.  There are people who are not only struggling with gender dysphoria, but those who now wear pet collars, eat from a bowl and identify as dogs.  There are grown men who identify as little girls.  Just recently, pop star Miley Cyrus claimed to be a "genderless spirit."  And many in the culture seem to think that such behavior is perfectly normal and acceptable.  And as the Apostle Paul wrote in the Book of Romans, many seem to even give "hearty approval" (1:32; NASB) to such conduct.  How do we raise our kids with a solid Christian worldview when the world around them seems determined to turn away from the very truths and principals it has historically held to?

In their new book, A Practical Guide to Culture, authors John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle are wrestling with these same types of questions:

"It's always been rough out there, but the palpable sense of many American Christians-especially parents-is that the cultural currents have shifted and intensified.  The past few years have brought a tsunami of change, and not for the better.  One issue after another after another hits us like a series of waves at high tide.  We wonder if and how our kids can keep their heads above the water, much less live the sort of flourishing Christian lives we hope they will.  As dads, we wonder how we can too...In our lifetimes, we have never seen the pressure on Christian conviction greater than it is right now.  We try to avoid alarmism, but standing for Christ in our culture is getting harder and harder."[p. 18]

The authors realize that "[t]he kids of today will build the culture of tomorrow" and their goal in this work is to equip families to navigate the cultural landscape reasonably and biblically.  As they write:

"We've aimed this book at parents, grandparents, mentors, teachers, and pastors who have some little image bearers in their lives, as we have in ours, and who want to see them navigate this cultural moment as champions for Christ. [p. 19]

Layout of the Book

The book is divided into four parts.

Part I is meant to provide a framework of culture for Christians.  The authors do a great job here defining culture, putting culture in the context of the gospel, and explaining what success with our children would look like in our current cultural climate.

Part II deals with those powerful yet subtle undercurrents of our culture that often go unnoticed. Important issues such as navigating the information age, what it means to be human, and how we can be human together are discussed.  An important issue addressed in this section is the issue of extended adolescence in children.  The authors contend that if kids can just grow up, they will be way ahead of their peers.  This reader wholeheartedly agrees!

Part III addresses various singular cultural issues (what the authors refer to as the "pelvic issues") such as porn, casual sex, sexual orientation and gender identify.  Others issues addressed include affluence and consumerism, addiction, entertainment and racial tension.

Part IV offers what the authors call "Christian worldview essentials" for parents and kids.  These essentials are "ones that seem particularly important for the task this book seeks to tackle: empowering parents and mentors to help kids navigate the cultural moment."[p. 21]

Book Content

The authors wisely begin their work by defining culture.  As they point out, sometimes the word culture is used, but some do not always understand what it actually means.  They explain:

"Among Christians, culture is a word much used but rarely defined.  It comes from the Latin word cultura, which means 'agriculture.'  If plowing, tilling, and cultivating come to mind, they should.  In its most basic sense, culture refers to what people do with the world: we build, we invent, we imagine, we create, we tear down, we replace, we compose, we design, we emphasize, we dismiss, we embellish, we engineer.  As Andy Crouch says, 'Culture is what human beings make of the world.'"[p. 29]

Further, Kunkle and Stonestreet correctly identify the challenge many Christians face in the west- the seductive allurement to conform to the culture.  They write:

"Culture tends to shape us most deeply by what it presents as normal.  We are creatures of cultural habit.  Our loves, our longings, our loyalties, and our labors can become products of the liturgies our culture imposes.  We live according to them but rarely think through them.  Unintentionally, we become culture shaped rather than intentional about shaping culture."[p. 39]

Of course, this is contrary to what the Bible says- "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2; NASB).

As the late Francis Schaeffer asked many years ago, "How should we then live?"  Or, perhaps more appropriate for today's parents, "How should we teach our kids to live?"

The authors are convinced that the answer lies within the overall story told in the Bible- creation, fall, redemption and restoration.  They explain:

"The Story is the context of our cultural moment.  We must live from it and allow it to shape us." [p. 58]

Kunkle and Stonestreet also contend that a large reason why young people don't know who they are is because we have rejected the universal Story of history and humanity for postmodernism that offers no meaningful narrative.

It should be obvious to the reader at this point that some of the issues dealt with in this work are sensitive in nature.  Topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity are "hot-button" matters that many find difficult to talk about without getting emotional.  Further, it should be noted that these issues are not simply academic matters to be considered and adjudicated upon, but involve real people with struggles and hurts who were created in the image of God.  The authors successfully navigate these touchy issues with just the right balance of grace and truth.  As they are careful to disclose:

"Jesus was 'full of grace and truth' (John 1:14), and He is the model for our engagement of all issues.  We must bring truth to bear by thinking carefully about the intellectual issues surrounding sexual orientation.  We must bring grace to bear by engaging individuals with love, kindness, and hospitality."[p. 188]

And this pattern is followed throughout.

Each issue addressed in chapters 8-15 follows a very helpful pattern for those desiring to discuss these subjects with their children.  These chapters begin by explaining the specific problem and then lies that the culture perpetuates related to this issue.  Then, these falsehoods are factually and thoughtfully dealt with. Moreover, the authors offer how each struggle should be viewed in light of God's Story- "the true Story about all of reality..."[p. 158]  Finally, "Action Steps" are given to those families wanting to discuss and teach about the topic.

Throughout the work, various resources are suggested for those who want to learn more about a given subject.  The resources offered are both practical and easily accessible.  For example, when dealing with porn, it is correctly pointed out that parents must not wait until they discover porn in their kids' lives to address it.  They must do something now!  They go on to suggest various ways to filter, monitor and restrict what children are able to see online and give a helpful list of websites so that readers can take action immediately.  Throughout the work, various books, articles, videos and other helpful tools are recommended.

Chapters 16-19 conclude by teaching readers how to read the Bible on its own terms and by offering a general defense of the reliability of the Bible.   This reviewer appreciated the three step argument offered for the authority of the Bible.  The steps include: 1. God's Existence 2. Expectations of Divine Revelation 3. The Bible is God's Divine Revelation.  The authors summarize their case as follows:

"Beginning with natural theology, we have good grounds for believing God exists.  In addition, we have rational expectations for divine revelation because of who God is and the predicament we find ourselves in.  Finally, the evidence demonstrates that God has indeed spoken and revealed Himself most fully in the Bible." [p. 317]

Finally, the issue of pluralism is addressed and demonstrated to be false; however, the authors recommend what they deem "the right kind" of pluralism.  The right kind of pluralist builds their foundation on the the truth of the Christian worldview and then is able to interact with those around them, regardless of their views, with courage and confidence.


If you are going to read one book this year, I strongly encourage you to consider making it A Practical Guide to Culture by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle.  These seasoned apologists and fathers demonstrate how to teach apologetics and worldview to today's young people with clarity, wisdom and truth.  Furthermore, they put answers and tools into the hands of parents, teachers, mentors and pastors that make engaging the ever shifting cultural sands around us achievable.

There are so many within the body of Christ asking the question, "What can we do about the crumbling culture around us?"  Stonestreet and Kunkle have offered the answer in their latest work.  I have already made it required reading for my wife!

Get your copy here.

Courage and Godspeed,

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