If you’ve never gotten onto a river ride that you mount using a giant spinning table — well, I’m not sure if I would recommend it to you. Oh, they are easy enough to find. There’s one on the Rio Loco ride at Sea World, and I’m sure Six Flags or any other theme park with a river ride has one as well. But I waver in suggesting it to you. Because as enjoyable as the rest of the ride may be, that wooden platform is completely and utterly unbalancing. Literally. You step off of a firm concrete slab, onto a twirling place of confusion, where neither your feet nor your stability is right. You mentally know that this is completely safe, but still your adrenaline jumps as you rush to a boat as quickly as you can, for a moment irrationally worried that you might be left behind. And sometimes, that’s what life can be like for young adults.
I should know. I am one.
Teenagers step off of the calm platform of home, and we are thrown into the rotating timetable of our culture, spinning much faster than we had expected. Young people often mentally know what we believe, but still our worries and anxieties and doubts can spring up, surrounded as we are by our culture’s women’s studies and anarchy and dubious friends. And in the midst of all of this, if we’re not careful, we may rush to just any idea our culture presents us, buckling in without first examining. And while on a river ride, all boats are equally safe choices; in the ride of life, there may be serious consequences.
Authors Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet know this. Our worldviews and ideas are our boats, and if we don’t choose ours carefully, we’ll end up in the wrong one. So in their book they attempt to slow down the spinning deck for us, and let us examine the ideas culture is presenting us.
A Practical Guide to Culture is fundamentally a book written for those who guide teens, such as parents and youth pastors, as it even says in its byline “Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World“. But even though I myself am still in the last year of teen-hood, this book was just as useful and applicable to me. (While reading, I just mentally changed any phrasing along the lines of “We should encourage our teens to” into “I should”)
Stonestreet and Kunkle begin by defining their terms, precisely what they mean by culture, and why engaging this culture matters at all, especially in response to a current view that has thrown its hands up in despair and refuses to engage at all. We live in this world, and this world is one of ideas and worldviews and arguments and idealogies; and we must learn how to properly examine and respond to each. They point out that to “rightly understand and approach culture,” we must recognize that “[n]o matter how chaotic, grave, disturbing, broken, or troubling our cultural moment may be, its full meaning is revealed only in light of the larger Story of which it is a part.” (p. 43) They then remind us that Christians are to be people of hope, for we are the reconcilers of all things.
In part two, “A Read of Cultural Waters”, Brett and John examine some of the ‘currents’ which have shaped our present day. The influx of information, the rise of identity outside of Christianity, the dominion of our devices, and the paralyzing of our young people in permanent adolescence has each played their part in the shaping of our world.
Our twenty-first century, having inherited that twentieth-century baggage, is full of contradiction. We strive to champion and expand human rights without knowing what a human is. We educate students on the whats and hows but offer no coherent vision of why. We dramatically protect, heal, and save some babies in the womb while targeting others for extinction, particularly those with disabilities. We fill our lives with entertainment, gadgets, experiences, activities, and other distractions, but have no clear telos, or ultimate purpose. In short, we want human flourishing without God. But it won’t happen. (p. 104)
A Practical Guide to Culture then goes on to examine the many big ‘waves’ in our culture, from porn to addictions to consumerism to gender identity to media to racism. Each gets its own chapter, examining and answering the lies culture tells us about them, pointing out the Biblical view, giving practical steps on how to deal with each, listing resources for further learning, and ending each with a view of hope, with how the great Story of the Gospel can bring peace, healing, and renewal to all.
Finally, Brett and John end the whole of their book on a positive note, exploring how to study the Bible, and why it’s trustworthy enough that we should even do so, as well as what true Christian tolerance looks like. Finally, they challenge us in how we respond to our culture, creating goodness, contributing what is missing, confronting evil, and reconciling all through the Gospel. They end this book by refocusing us once again on our true hope. Not “a short term fix — like an election or predicting the rapture,” for “any hope placed in a change of circumstance isn’t biblical hope. Biblical hope rests squarely on the fact that the biblical Story of the world, from creation to new creation, is our true Story, secured by the resurrection of Christ.” (p. 336)
Now, A Practical Guide to Culture isn’t a definitive work on all cultural topics, nor even on just the ones it mentions. But how could it be? Such a work would be larger than all those Encyclopedia Brittanica’s glaring dustily at me from their ne’er touched pages. (I’m sorry, but I can access it all online, and, well, you all don’t have a Ctr +F key, so…) What this is, is a launching-off place. Do you want to swim strongly through the current issues of our day? Stonestreet and Kunkle have given us a diving-board, showing us the fundamentals, and providing materials on each topic for learning more.
One of the parts which stuck out to me was when this book discussed how the Gospel encompasses and completes our humanity. “Christ didn’t save us from being human; He saved us so that we would be fully human again.” (p. 65) This is an idea that I’ve just newly began contemplating the last year or so, when I was at Summit Ministries (at which both Stonestreet and Kunkle frequently speak, so I quite probably heard it from them). There’s something so very thrilling — terrifying — overwhelmingly exciting about Christ’s renewing and restoring of humanity. It’s a reminder of how precious we truly are in His eyes, how even the angels wish to know the mysteries given to us. It’s wonder full. It’s overwhelming. It’s unbelievably beautiful, as if you walked into Narnia again, and had found that it was you it had been waiting for all along.
Then to take this idea into our purposeless culture, saying “We have a better Story!” What do you think that could do to it? Today’s culture is an grey echo-chamber, the dust swirling about in the air forming empty illusions. What could happen if we tore open the shades, letting the Son shine through in glorious color?
So that’s why I love that A Practical Guide to Culture ends with a note of hope. We already know the ending; good wins in the close of the Story. So there’s no need for young people or their parents to panic when they step off into the rotating table of our culture. Yes, it’s turning and shifting beneath us, but we know the immoveable Rock, and we can know how to properly keep our balance. Our job is to be faithful. Faithful in keeping our own balance, and faithful in helping others to do the same.
“What is cultural success? It’s a life lived like Hans and Sophie Scholl, deeply engaging the moment in which God has placed us and courageously navigating the threatening currents, knowing that we serve a cause, and a God, far greater than ourselves” (p. 73)
Hey ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed my very first book review, as much as I enjoyed reading this book! Older readers will know that I love and have written several times in the past using the analogy of the great Story (here and here for starters), so this was an excellent reminder of that as well. If you enjoyed this review, would you like to see more book reviews in the future? We’re nearing our blog-iversary, and I’d like to hear what you’d like to see more of, so that I can better encourage and serve you! Let me know below!